Bowie will soon be the home of the largest collection of Holocaust archives in the world, according to representatives from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Andrew Hollinger, a spokesman for the museum, said that because of recent efforts to search out and collect evidence of the Holocaust, the museum expects its collection to double in size over the next decade. Museum officials found a location in the Bowie area that was large enough to meet their needs and plan to complete construction on a new $40 million archive center there by the end of 2016, Hollinger said. The center will be named the David and Fela Shapell Family Collections and Conservation Center after a Los Angeles couple who survived the Holocaust and donated $15 million to the project, he said.
“We needed a suitable space that was close to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. [to house our collection],” Hollinger said. “The David and Fela Shapell Family Collections and Conservation Center will allow the museum to collect, preserve and make accessible the collection of record on the Holocaust.”
Rabbi Steve Weisman, who leads Temple Solel in Bowie, said he was slightly surprised the archives were moving to Bowie, but also excited to have such a valuable resource nearby.
“If the size of the Jewish community had mattered, this is not the area they would have looked at,” he said. “We’re very proud of the small Jewish community we have and something like this that puts us on the map ‘Jewishly’ is of value to all of us.”
On Aug. 4, the Bowie City Council voted to remove some local zoning restrictions on the proposed archive property which was one of the first legal steps for moving the project forward, said city attorney Elissa Levan, adding that the archive center will be the largest collection of Holocaust artifacts in the world.
“I think that’s pretty exciting for the city,” she said.
City manager David Deutsch said the archive center will be a significant cultural resource for the Bowie area.
“It is certainly a positive addition to the community. Everyone here reacted very positively to it,” he said. “We’ve overcome the hurdle of [removing the zoning restrictions] so we’re ready to work with the folks from the Holocaust Museum on the developing scenarios as [the project] moves forward.”
While the archive center will not be open to the general public, Hollinger said the materials will be available to researchers and that museum staff will be available to conduct research for families looking for information about their relatives.
The facility will include highly specialized laboratories, equipment and climate-controlled rooms to help preserve the artifacts, he said.
Weisman said he hopes to persuade the Bowie officials and the museum to incorporate some public education elements at the new archive center.
“I think having something like that here is a tremendous opportunity. Even if there were something [for example] where 90 percent of the archive is off-limit, but there is a small museum in the entryway for the public school kids to look at,” he said. “Right now the only Jewish institution in Bowie is us, so to have something else in town that’s Jewish is a big deal.”