When the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center opens in Skokie on April 19th, the largest exhibit will be a ten-ton German railcar likely used to transport Jews. But the most significant items may be the artifacts collected from more than 500 local residents. Contributors include Gisela Hesse, 96, who escaped Germany in 1938 and kept rare art beneath her bed “to keep [it] protected and nice and straight.” From under Hesse’s bed came a 1943 double-sided watercolor drawing created by Ferdinand Bloch at Theresienstadt in German-occupied Czechoslovakia and brought to this country by Hesse’s sister. On one side, Bloch’s artwork displays a Nazi-approved drawing of a concentration camp—barren, green fields. Its reverse exposes the truth: gloomy dwellings. “[It’s] extremely unique, clearly revealing the nature of deception by the Nazis and clandestine resistance by artists at Theresienstadt,” says Bethany Fleming, the museum’s director of collections and exhibitions. In 2005, the museum began canvassing community centers, nursing homes, and other locations in the search for Holocaust artifacts. While recruiting at a retirement home in the northwest suburbs, a volunteer met Hesse, whose late sister had originally gathered the materials. “It is important that the younger generations learn about the Holocaust. . . . It might keep it from ever happening again,” says Hesse. 9603 Woods Dr., Skokie; 847-967-4800, ilholocaustmuseum.org

Photography: Ferdinand Bloch watercolors on loan to the Ihmac Courtesy of the Walter and Grisela Hesse Family