Power of three: Holocaust Museum dinner honors humanitarians
Humanitarian Award winners, from left, Bill Brodsky, Linda Johnson Rice and J.B. Pritzker. | Contributed photo
Updated: April 15, 2013 6:21AM
The “power of one” comes in all shapes and sizes, but the concept has a universal connection: All those who reflect it stand up for what is right and create a ripple effect in so doing.
That’s certainly true of the three recipients who won Humanitarian Awards last week at the Illinois Holocaust Museum’s annual fundraising dinner at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago. The largest fundraising event for the museum, a facility that generates interest from well beyond just its hometown of Skokie, the dinner raised $2.6 million, enabling the museum to continue on with its important mission.
There is no stronger indication of that mission than seeing the outside of the museum every day. School buses filled with children from different regions consistently pull into the parking lot; students who visit learn the history of the Holocaust but also how to be kind and compassionate citizens in today’s turbulent world.
More than anything else, that is the drive behind the museum’s large downtown dinner every year, and the drive behind all recipients who were honored with these awards.
One of those recipients, J.B. Pritzker, is especially well known among the Holocaust Museum community. The managing partner of the Pritzker Group, the philanthropist was instrumental in raising funds to make the Holocaust Museum a reality after survivors approached him.
“There would be no Holocaust Museum without J.B. Pritzker” says a voice in a video tribute to Pritzker.
Pritzker had to be convinced, said survivor Sam Harris, the former president of the Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois. But once he was, the project became one of the most fulfilling of his busy life.
Harris, along with survivor and current president Fritzie Fritzshall, delivered a new humanitarian award to Pritzker: the inaugural Survivors Legacy Award.
“We are so grateful for your leadership and support of the museum through the years,” said Museum Executive Director Rick Hirschhaut, whom Pritzker helped recruit some nine years ago. “Your dedication to the building of the museum, your commitment to its continued vitality, has set an unshakable foundation and standard for our success.”
“My parents told me as a little kid, whatever advantages you have, you didn’t earn,” Pritzker said. “So it’s your obligation to go out in the world and earn them. Tonight in accepting this award, I feel the people who deserve this award are the survivors who have given so much to build this museum.”
Humanitarian Award winner Bill Brodsky, chairman and CEO of the Chicago Board Options Exchange, was one of the original donors to the museum and backed it from the beginning.
“He’s one of the people who’s responsible for what exists today,” said a friend in his video tribute.
Brodsky called the award “very meaningful.” When he began on Wall Street, he said, he worked in a securities firm started in 1941 by refugees from Hitler’s Germany.
“What made the firm so unique is that the bulk of the firm’s employees were survivors of the horrific concentration camps,” he said. “To them, America is where they restarted their lives in a place where they could bring up their families without fear.”
Humanitarian Award winner Linda Johnson Rice, publisher of Johnson Publishing Co., has fought against racism and gender inequality her whole life, those who know her say.
“Linda is one of the most sincere, thoughtful, caring people that you’ll ever meet,” said a friend in her video tribute.
She helped create the John & Eunice Johnson Education Fund, named after her parents, to further the Illinois Holocaust Museum’s efforts to educate local youth in combating hatred, prejudice and indifference.
“My entire life, I’ve been surrounded by people who have led by example,” Rice said. “People who fought for what was right with hopes that we call could live in a world without discrimination and injustice, accepting one another’s differences.”
The Illinois Holocaust Museum in April will celebrate its fourth year in Skokie. Last week’s dinner, emceed by Bill Kurtis and attended by dignitaries including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, was also a way to celebrate the museum, an annual look back at the many programs that fulfill the museum’s lofty goals and mission.
The museum is the creation of Holocaust survivors who seek to never forget, but they are equally dedicated to teaching a younger generation to stand up against hate and cruelty, to show compassion for fellow human beings when it isn’t always easy to do so.