(February 23, 2022, JNS Wire) The sight of a Holocaust-era replica cattle car parked on a typically nondescript main city street would cause even the most absent-minded drivers and pedestrians to do a double take. If the structure’s image isn’t sufficiently jarring, those who are curious and bold enough to step inside would surely confront an even more shocking reality within: similar cattle cars were used to transport millions of Jews to concentration camps during World War II, where scores of those who survived the horrific train rides ultimately perished.
The cattle car is part of the Hate Ends Now U.S. traveling exhibition, “The Cattle Car: Stepping In and Out of Darkness,” a 360-degree immersive journey which offers the public a firsthand sense of the tragic consequences born of prejudice and antisemitism and illustrates the manifestation of hate today. For many people, the experience is eye-opening, even life-changing —and that’s exactly what Southern NCSY’s Chief Development Officer Solly Hess, who oversees the exhibit, wants to achieve.
“The goal of Hate Ends Now is to educate students, families, and communities about the atrocities of the Holocaust, engage them in interactive thinking regarding antisemitism, and help them to understand today’s politically charged antisemitic environment of hate and bigotry,” said Hess. “The objective is for people to walk away more educated about the history of the Holocaust and to be empowered to actively fight the current rise of antisemitism and bigotry around the world.”
Launched in December 2021, Hate Ends Now is a project of Southern NCSY, the local division of the Orthodox Union’s international youth movement, in partnership with ShadowLight, an organization that focuses on Holocaust education and social justice.
The 21-minute journey showcases the development and aftermath of the Holocaust through a remarkable collection of imagery and footage dating from 1933 – 1945. It also includes recordings of Holocaust survivors detailing their haunting, life-changing experiences. As visitors progress through the cattle car, they are exposed to the different phases of unimaginable atrocities that took place during the Holocaust. The exhibit’s conclusion ties in present-day footage and images of discrimination and intolerance.
“Since its inception, the impact of Hate Ends Now has been extraordinary,” said Hess. “Participants leave saying, ‘I had no idea,’ ‘How could this have happened?’ and ‘We must take a stand to ensure this never happens again.’ Word of mouth has spread and more communities are increasingly contacting us to host the tour in their cities.”
Maya, a senior at North Broward Preparatory School in Coconut Creek, Fl. and an active member of her local Jewish Student Union (JSU), a program of NCSY. She recently visited the Hate Ends Now exhibit and was deeply moved by the experience.
“Despite all the knowledge I’ve accumulated through personal and educational experiences of the Holocaust, I have never witnessed something as impactful, meaningful and powerful as the Hate Ends Now cattle car exhibit,” she said.
For Hess, educating the broader public about the Shoah is just as imperative as enlightening future Jewish leaders.
“As an organization dedicated to inspiring and empowering the Jewish future, it is our obligation to educate people of all faiths and backgrounds on the lessons of the Holocaust, the devastating consequences of intolerance, and encourage all to take on active roles in their communities to fight hate of all kinds,” he said.
Among its many and ongoing stops, the Hate Ends Now exhibit recently traveled to Tallahassee for a special event with Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. President Wilton Simpson, House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Chairman Randy Fine and state CFO Jimmy Patronis, along with 60 other legislators. Organized by Teach Florida, the OU’s state advocacy arm, and Southern NCSY, the governor and other leadership followed up their cattle car experience with a press conference where they spoke out forcefully against antisemitism and encouraged people across the state to bring the cattle car to their schools and cities.
Southern NCSY Executive Director Todd Cohn gave the benediction and Mimi Jankovits, national grassroots director for the Teach Coalition, the umbrella group for Teach Florida, also spoke at the event.The 20 minutes the legislators spent in the dark and cramped cattle car felt stifling and uncomfortable, and deeply impacted DeSantis, who likened the exhibit to Yad Vashem on a smaller scale.
“You can talk about six million people that were killed —we all know that’s terrible,” the governor said. “You can read it on a sheet of paper. But what does that actually mean? When you see the tragedy, when you see videos and some of the artifacts, having gone through Yad Vashem I can tell you that everyone that walks out of there is just speechless. It really gets you deep inside in ways that simply reading numbers off of a page won’t do. The cattle car gives people a firsthand idea of what this really meant…. I think this is really important. I’m glad [Southern NCSY] brought this here.” [Watch a recording of the event on Teach Florida’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TeachFL/]
With stops throughout the U.S., the exhibit is currently in Florida and will continue to South and North Carolina next month.
To learn more about Hate Ends Now and to view the tour schedule, visit hateendsnow.org