One of the most tragic remembrances of the Nazi regime that initiated what would become World War II was the needless killing, some would even say extermination, of people of Jewish descent. Their deaths were caused merely because of the faith they professed.
Of the millions who were rounded up by Nazi soldiers, crowded onto trains that took them to concentration camps and eventually murdered were about 1.5 million children.
“They suffered consequences not for anything they did, but merely for who they were at birth,” said Diane McNeil, who serves as president of the Unknown Child Foundation, Inc., a Hernando-based nonprofit with a mission to remember and give voice to the Jewish children who suffered and died during the Holocaust. “There were six million Jews who died, but we’re only telling the story of the children and that’s what is going to happen in this exhibit.”
The foundation grew out of an effort to demonstrate to children through the collection of 1.5 million pennies the magnitude of the atrocities the Nazi regime inflicted on Jews.
The Unknown Child Holocaust Pennies Project began as donations were solicited by children to everyone, including actors, athletes and politicians, and by door-to-door collections done by a home-school group.
The pennies have been collected and some of them will be on display for the next six months when the Unknown Child Holocaust Exhibit is unveiled at the DeSoto County Museum, on Commerce Street in Hernando.
Sept. 19 is the date the exhibit will be unveiled and will be available during museum hours through March 10.
Doug Thornton is the architect for the exhibit, McNeil said.
“There will be a wall of remembrance and on it will be pictures of children that died in the Holocaust,” McNeil said. “There will be another section with pictures of our students collecting pennies and doing the things they did. There will be another section of photos that will tell the story of what happened to the children in the Holocaust.”
McNeil said there will be elements in the exhibit of what will be part of the permanent Holocaust remembrance park, a part of the Circle G Ranch restoration work underway at the former ranch and honeymoon cottage of music great Elvis Presley and his wife Priscilla.
The park will include a sculpture commissioned by Israeli sculptor Rick Wienecke from Israel, titled the Unknown Child. Wienecke has other Holocaust pieces in Israel and soon in Auschwitz, Poland.
McNeil said the Holocaust should never have happened and can be a stark reminder that it could happen again.
“It should never happen in America, but it could,” McNeil said. “Bigotry, hatred, anti-Semitism, race relations, all of that is nothing in the world but fuel to create this same scenario here that was there. Everything I just named was in Germany.”
McNeil said it is hoped people will see the exhibit and the eventual finished project, which will display all of the 1.5 million pennies collected, recognize the horror of the Holocaust and take ownership to stop the world from repeating the tragic events the Holocaust brought with it.
“A Holocaust survivor whose grandfather died in the Holocaust used to teach them, ‘You are your brother’s keeper,’” McNeil said, referring to Cain’s question to God in Genesis, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
For more information on the Unknown Child Foundation and the project to display the pennies, visit www.unknownchild.org.
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397.