Meyers Leonard on His Emotional Visit to Holocaust Memorial

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Tomorrow brings International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27), and with it the opening of a new virtual reality exhibit, The Journey Back, on the same day at Illinois Holocaust Museum. I took in the exhibit yesterday, as part of a media preview, and I found the overall experience was very powerful and moving for me.

It reminded me of the Meyers Leonard press conference I participated in on Martin Luther King Day, and his reaction to having visited the Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial. Leonard described his visit to the monument in South Florida as “one of the most emotional experiences of his life.”

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“It’s such an immaculate piece of work, but it’s also very emotional,” Leonard said to the State Farm Center media, before tip-off of #17 Illinois’ double overtime loss to #4 Purdue on MLK Day.

“As soon as I saw it I froze, and it was like waterfalls for my eyes, this is real stuff to me.”

The former Illini, Portland Trail Blazers and Miami Heat center came back to his former school to discuss the $500,000 donation to the University of Illinois, as well as a host of other, more serious topics.

Viewing The Journey Back is an opportunity for the museum visitor to utilize cutting-edge virtual technology in both present day and historic Auschwitz.

The UN recognizes Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan 27 because that was the day the largest and most notorious Nazi death camp was liberated.

The visitor experiences VR 360-degree sound and video, via two award-winning films, narrated by Holocaust Survivors Fritzie Fritzshall and George Brent.

At the Miami Beach memorial Leonard met a survivor named Alan, a man who regularly speaks to schools and student bodies about the Holocaust.

“We walked down through the walls and read about all the people who passed,” the 2012 NBA Draft Lottery pick told the Fighting Illini podcast.

“And the level of artistry, the level of emotion that comes out of you in responding to this immaculate piece of art work, is just incredible.

“When you see how they portrayed the agony of what they went through, I just cried and cried and cried; tears poured out.”

My experience at a Holocaust museum was very emotional and quite somber as well. The Illinois Museum’s exhibit told stories that resonates with current and future generations, evoking empathy and inspiring visitors to take action.

“One element of it is how most effectively we continue to tell these Holocaust survivor stories,” said Arielle Weininger, the Museum’s Chief Curator of Collections and Exhibitions.

The other part actually comes from Fritzie.

“She was one of 600 women on work detail in a slave labor camp that was associated to Auschwitz. She was the youngest of those 600 women.

“So every day 599 women would give her extra speck of their bread, in the hope that the youngest among them, would survive.

“Fritzie, in turn, made a promise to those 599 women that she would tell their story if she survived.

“So she became our museum president, and she has participated in telling her story through speaking to school groups and church groups, as a civic guide, donating objects of hers to the museum collection, which are currently on display, and in being one of the recorded interactive holographic testimonies in our Survivor Theatre, to being in the VR.”

If you’re familiar with Meyers Leonard, and you follow the news regularly, then you are most likely aware of the Anti-Semitic slur he uttered while gaming on Twitch last year.

You’ve heard him apologize for it, and you most likely know about the works of atonement that he’s completed as he seeks forgiveness from the Jewish community.

“Did I make a mistake? Yes, but am I committed to helping others? Absolutely,” Leonard said on the Illini pod.

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“Was what I did hurtful to others? Absolutely, but I can only hope for love and forgiveness, compassion and to continue to show people my heart, which I have always done, and continue to do.”

That is of course the overall aim of exhibitions like The Journey Back- education, awareness and empathy. We need to make sure genocides like these never occur again.

“What we of course hope is that these types of presentations will create empathy and our visitors will be interested to learn more about the Holocaust,”

“And hopefully they become active citizens to fight against hatred and injustice that they see in our world today. Which is what led to these circumstances.”

We’ll be back soon with another story on this exhibit/the museum, at our site on Chicago Now.

Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”

He has regularly appeared in WGNSports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune, and co-hosts the After Extra Time podcastFollow him on Twitter and Instagram

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