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Florida Holocaust Museum replaces hate with hope in battle against extremism

Recent anti-Semitic incidents spark education efforts
Stanley and Lucia Igel
Posted at 10:39 AM, Aug 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-06 17:01:27-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The I-Team is investigating the rise of white supremacy in Florida in a series we call "State of Hate."

With hate crimes and incidents tied to extremism on the rise, one local organization is replacing hate with hope, one person at a time.  



"Horrible, horrible things happened"

"I often say we’re running a race," Florida Holocaust Museum Chairman Mike Igel said. "Who’s gonna get to that person’s ear first?"

The ABC Action News I-Team talked to him in front of the centerpiece of the museum’s 20,000 artifact collection: a train car that was used to haul thousands of Jews to concentration and death camps.  

When the box car was restored, a child’s ring was found wedged between the boards.

Jewish residents in Eastern Europe were loaded onto trains and transported to death and concentration camps
Jewish residents in Eastern Europe were loaded onto trains and transported to death and concentration camps.

“Horrible, horrible things happened. People were murdered just for who they were,” Igel said.  

Igel is concerned that if we don’t learn from history, history could repeat itself.  

“Statistics show there is a relative increase in anti-Semitic activity and anti-Semitic behavior,” Igel said.  

The Anti-Defamation League reported incidents targeting Florida’s estimated 650,000 Jewish residents were up 50% last year.  

Anti-Semitic incidents up 50% in 2021
Anti-Semitic incidents up 50% in 2021 (courtesy ADL)


The courage of strangers  

For Igel it’s personal. He carries photos of his grandparents, holocaust survivors Henry Ferber and Stanley and Lucia Igel, to remind him he owes his life to the kindness and bravery of strangers in Poland decades ago.

Stanley and Lucia Igel
Family photo showing Stanley, Lucia and Mike Igel (Courtesy Mike Igel). His grandparents were Holocaust survivors.

“My grandparents were saved by non-Jewish people who didn’t have to do what they did," Igel said. "They hid my grandparents. The people were ultimately arrested for it, were tortured for six weeks, but wouldn’t give up my grandparents. And they were executed for what they did. I wouldn’t be here without that."

The World Holocaust Remembrance Center has added the names of those brave people, Michel and Katarzyna Gerula, to The Righteous Among the Nations list of those who helped Jews during World War II.  

A third person, Roman Segelin, has also been nominated for inclusion on the list for his role in helping save Igel’s grandparents.

The Florida Holocaust Museum displays images of Nazi propaganda from the 1930s and 1940s as a warning. Igel believes people should be educated about the meaning of those hate symbols.  

“Most people say 'I had no idea. I don’t want to be part of that anymore,'" he said.  

Florida Holocaust Museum Chairman Mike Igel
Florida Holocaust Museum Chairman Mike Igel

But swastikas are increasingly turning up in Florida on fliers, on flags at demonstrations, and even tattooed on the neck of a self-proclaimed skinhead arrested for beating a Jewish University of Central Florida student at a neo-Nazi demonstration in Orlando earlier this year.  

He told a detective he didn’t know any Jewish people but was turned against them in prison. During interrogation, the suspect stated that he goes to "anything that's pro-white to see what it's about."

Igel said it’s important to reach people like him.  

"You do your best to penetrate your way in through the education, saying 'Do you know what that is on your neck? Do you know what that means? Do you know what that stands for? Have you ever met someone who’s Jewish before? I’m happy to introduce myself to you. Let’s chat,'" Igel said.


Using technology to educate people  

While white supremacists use the internet and technology like live streaming on social media to spread hate, the Holocaust Museum is using technology too.

“It’s about all of us being the louder voice,” Igel said.  

The museum offers virtual visits and even a chance to ask questions to a virtual Holocaust survivor, thanks to an invention created with support from Steven Spielberg.  

“Dimensions in Testimony” uses artificial intelligence to allow people to interact with a hologram of a Holocaust survivor.  

Adam and Mike
Mike Igel shows "Dimensions in Testimony" exhibit to Adam Walser.

The Florida Holocaust Museum features a display with Mary Wygodski, who was born in Poland in 1925.

“You can ask her about any question," Igel said. "There’s a week worth of intense interviews that are done with the survivors."

Mary Wygodski
Mary Wygodski being interviewed for "Dimensions in Testimony" (Courtesy Florida Holocaust Museum). She was taken to three camps as a young woman and eventually became a kindergarten teacher.

“I was sent to a working camp in Riga, Latvia,” she shared after we asked her about her experience.  

Wygodski survived three camps, moved to St. Petersburg, and was Igel’s kindergarten teacher. Her hologram will teach future visitors to the museum forever.  

When asked why it was important to educate people about the Holocaust, Wygodski pointed to history.

“They should know what happened in the past and learn from the past,” she said.

Igel said just like the strangers who saved his grandparents, you can play a role in fighting hate.  

“There are so many little things you can do and there are big things you can do," he said. "But the key is to take some form of action. Just do something."

You can contact the Florida Holocaust Museum for more information about volunteer opportunities.

"What to do if you are victimized or see a hate crime?"

If you are a victim of or witness a hate crime, you should reach out to your local law enforcement immediately.

You can also report the incident to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

FBI Logo

You can also report the incident to the Anti-Defamation League on the organization's website.

Organizations Fighting Hate Groups & Resources


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