Reading Eagle editorial calls for support for Berks Military Museum (a HAMEC partner)

State Rep. Mark Gillen, director of the Berks Military History Museum in Mohnton, in the Holocaust section of the museum with an artist's rendering of the proposed wing that would house an expanded Holocaust display. (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)
State Rep. Mark Gillen, director of the Berks Military History Museum in Mohnton, in the Holocaust section of the museum with an artist’s rendering of the proposed wing that would house an expanded Holocaust display. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

By Reading Eagle, August 23, 2022. Click for full report.

A year ago state Rep. Mark Gillen and his allies at the Berks Military History Museum broke ground for a Holocaust Museum and Education Center to be located adjacent to the fairly new museum in Mohnton.

It was a leap of faith, as planning for the project at 198 E. Wyomissing Ave. was just getting started, and a big fundraising effort was going to be needed to make it happen.

We were happy to report that the plans are moving forward, with organizers engaged in a capital campaign to raise the estimated $1.7 million required for the work. They are hoping to begin work in early 2023 and have the project done by the end of that year.

We encourage businesses to support that effort and for others to consider making a contribution to support this important project. The museum can use more volunteers as well to help with its education work.

To begin with, the existing museum is quite small and badly needs more space to better achieve its mission of telling the stories of America’s military history and Berks Countians’ role in it. The expansion would double the museum’s size from 4,500 to 9,000 square feet.

“We have so many more things that can be displayed and so many more stories that we can tell, but we need more space,” said Gillen, a Robeson Township who is the museum’s founder and president.

And there can never be too much attention devoted to teaching people at the Holocaust. It’s not a stretch to connect that subject to this local history museum. The heroic veterans who fought in World War II, from this region and across the country, played a pivotal role in ending the Holocaust and helping to expose its horrors to the world.

You cannot tell the story of America’s military history without explaining the Holocaust, Gillen said, and that’s what the new building will do.

Gillen plans to have displays and artifacts detailing the period from the rise of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s through the liberation of concentration camps and the Nuremberg Trials, with much of the material having a Berks or Pennsylvania link.

The more the story of the Holocaust can be brought close to people’s homes, the better. Not everyone will have a chance to visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel or concentration sites such as Dachau in Germany and Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.

We’re pleased to see that the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center in Philadelphia is cooperating with the local museum and plans to place some artifacts and books on permanent loan to the Berks museum. Combined with the local stories and resources available, these are certain to deliver a powerful message.

That’s crucial because with so much shocking misinformation being spread about this topic, the risk of more people denying the Holocaust or grossly underestimating its significance grows.

There aren’t many people left who lived through that time, be they survivors or the military personnel who witnessed the liberation of the Nazi camps. When such witnesses are gone, the risk of their stories being lost grows significantly in the absence of efforts such as this museum.

Victor Hammel of Wyomissing, a major supporter of the museum expansion effort, noted that when he moved to Berks in the early 1970s there would be 30 or 40 survivors at Holocaust remembrance events. Now that number is down to a few.

It’s up to each of us to support this effort to make sure their stories are told in this and future generations.

Donations to the Holocaust project can be mailed to Wm. Koch CPA, c/o Dick Ehst, 2650 Westview Drive, Wyomissing PA 19610. Checks can be made out to the museum. Those with questions can reach Ehst at 610-505-9190.

To volunteer, call the museum at 484-345-8084.

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