New Los Angeles Holocaust Museum opens

Martyrs Memorial at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust
Martyrs Memorial at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust Courtesy Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust

Southern California’s Jewish community is celebrating the new Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. It’s in the Fairfax District. Several European Consuls General attended Thursday's ribbon-cutting ceremony. KPCC’s Patricia Nazario toured the state-of-the-art facility with a Holocaust survivor from Poland.

Esther Tepper’s family is one of the museum’s major financial supporters. “This is so important for my kids, for my grandchildren.”

Because, the 79-year-old says, she wants their grandchildren to know what she lived through. She’s spent so much time here over the last few weeks workers here recognize her, and she practically knows the $18 million museum by heart.

“It’s here! You see Guicha Vilhelm." Esther Tepper says that was her mother’s name. "And Manic Vilhelm, my brother who was killed when he was 16 years old.”

She tours the museum with her husband, Nisan Tepper. They’ve been married nearly 60 years.

He says Esther is the only survivor on both sides of her family. “She has to say how she was taken to the Gestapo," says Nisan. Esther responds, “Oh no!”

She says she doesn’t like to talk about the German Secret Police, but Esther Tepper recalls how close she came to death at a concentration camp in Poland. She says soldiers took her when she was about 9 years old.

“To kill me, and they said, ‘We know that you’re Jewish.' And I stick to my story that I’m a Catholic girl.”

Tepper is blond with blue eyes, so she says Nazi police believed that maybe she wasn’t Jewish and let her go.

“This is very deep inside, so I didn’t want to," said Esther. She said it's still emotional, "even after all these years.”

Tepper says her father was a professional photographer in Poland before World War II. She plans to donate his pictures to the museum. “I must have seen 50 to 100, at least.”

The museum’s executive director, Mark Rothman, says Tepper’s family sent photo albums to family in Israel when German troops forced them out of their home. “So, she has a very broad album of photographs from her family that would otherwise be destroyed.”

Rothman says artifacts, like Tepper’s photos, help bring Jewish history into focus. Shoes, dishes and a partial replica of a boxcar used to drive Jews to death camps are also on display.

The museum is twice the size of its former home a few miles away. Organizers say that'll let them display more artifacts and hopefully draw more people.

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