Steps below the Union Terminal concourse—where Holocaust refugees and survivors came to the Queen City seeking refuge nearly 80 years ago—will be the new permanent home of a local Jewish community institution.
The Holocaust and Humanity Center, created and founded by those very survivors and refugees, will set roots this month in the newly renovated Cincinnati Museum Center. There, the center, formerly based in Kenwood, will showcase the artifacts and stories of survivors, including those of Leo C. Wilich. He received this uniform in 1944, during his time at Auschwitz. He was transported to Dachau, then liberated by the U.S. Army the following year. Wilich would go on to settle in Cincinnati and become a founding member of Jewish Survivors from Nazism, the organization that helped get the center started.
Leo C. Wilich, born Lajzar Cwilich, kept his camp uniform in his closet. When he was having a bad day, he would take it out, cry, and remember how lucky he was just to be alive. Wilich passed away in 2001.
In 1950, Wilich applied for U.S. citizenship. Along the stairwell down to the Humanity Center’s main lobby, the documents, visas, and passports refugees and survivors needed to make a new home in America set the tone for a truly personal exhibition experience.
A 60-foot, graphic-novel mural, designed and crafted by Keith Neltner of Neltner Small Batch, showcases 25 vignettes featuring stories of liberators and survivors with direct local ties.
“We’re fortunate that we’re opening this museum at a time when we have some of the eyewitnesses still with us,” says Sarah Weiss, executive director of the Holocaust and Humanity Center, noting that some of the survivors will be a part of the center’s opening weekend.“We are at that moment when, in probably the next decade, a generation will not have the opportunity to meet a witness to WWII and the Holocaust.”