The story of Skokie and the way it rallied a community, a region and a state to stand up to the racism of neo-Nazism is told once again in a new documentary that takes a fresh look at old wounds.
Last week, the film, “Skokie: Invaded But Not Conquered,” had its world premiere at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie. The film moves to broadcast television with a showing this week, at 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24, on WTTW-Ch. 11.
My colleague, Howard Reich, a Tribune arts critic who grew up in Skokie, is among the local people interviewed in the film and served as a moderator of a panel discussion at the premiere, on Jan. 17. The panel featured Rick Hirschhaut, the executive director of the Holocaust Museum, and filmmaker Todd Whitman.
But the session went further, tapping into people from the Skokie community who lived the drama of the 1970s when neo-Nazi Frank Collin attempted to lead a march of his small group of followers. A court battle ensued as the American Civil Liberties Union took up the First Amendment cause, taking the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld Collin’s right to march. He didn’t, instead moving the parade to Chicago.
The heated debates fueled the awareness of community leaders of the importance of educating people about the Holocaust, the panelists agreed. “If not for Frank Collin, would this museum be here?” asked Reich.
That chapter in Skokie’s past likely accelerated Holocaust awareness, Hirschhaut acknowledged, noting that in the ‘70s, Skokie was home to 70,000 people – 40,000 of whom were Jewish, and of those, perhaps 7,000 were Holocaust survivors. “That happened at warp speed because of these events.”
It was Barbara Steiner, a survivor who was among the founders of the museum, who spoke for many at the premiere during the period of questions and comments from attendees. “It’s not our tragedy,” she said, forcefully. “It’s a tragedy of the human being.”
-- Margaret Holt, standards editor