NORTH ADAMS -- A local antique collector and appraiser is delving into his vast collection of World War II memorabilia to open a Holocaust museum.
Darrell K. English of North Adams plans to open his 650-square-foot space at 45 Eagle St. space in the coming weeks, displaying as many as 400 artifacts tied to the persecution of the Jews and others by Nazi Germany leading up to and during World War II. The materials range from pre-war anti-Semitism to the dark days of Nazi concentration camps.
English has collected World War II artifacts since childhood and has tried for years to open a space to house his full collection. Until now, his collection of artifacts has been displayed primarily at historical lectures he has given, at temporary exhibits, and to school groups studying the Holocaust and the war.
English decided now was the best time to go ahead with the project alone, after being unable to find a financial backer for a museum he was told would cost millions of dollars to build. He also noted that more and more Holocaust survivors are nearing the end of their lives, so it will be up to others to keep the history alive.
"I'm collecting the largest crime that's ever happened in the world and I'm sharing it with the public," said English. "I hope that people walk away a little more enriched."
During a recent interview in his unfinished gallery, a number of English's items were on display, including posters featuring caricatures of and hate speech against Jews, a datebook given to customers of Oskar Schindler, Nazi uniforms, concentration camp uniforms, microscope slides with human blood and torture devices.
The display appears tied more to informing the public about the hate that fueled the Holocaust than to the intangible stories of the millions of victims and survivors.
So far, English, who isn't Jewish, hasn't reached out to any local Jewish groups or schools. He says he is familiar with many of these groups and intends to contact them once the space is open. The collection will be able to be viewed free of charge, though English will be taking donations to fund his operation.
Arlene Schiff, executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires, declined to comment on the museum, saying she was not familiar with English's project.
English said he is aware that some people will find the subject matter uncomfortable, but he will be at the space nearly every day to provide context to the artifacts and this is a story that needs to be told.
"This history did happen," said English. "This was a very dark time in human history."
English calls the museum "the tip of the iceberg" in regards to his World War II collection, which he says includes roughly 10,000 artifacts. He hopes interest in the museum will allow him to springboard to a larger, more well-funded operation. He said people have long questioned his interest with World War II, noting that he's been called the "collector of nightmares." English says wants to leave a lasting legacy, and he hopes people will have a better understanding of his collecting ways once they see it on display.
"Once people get their arms around it, then they'll understand," said English. "They will be able to say that, ‘Yeah, I can see what you've been doing your whole life.'"
To reach Trevor Jones:
or (413) 496-6214.
Follow him on Twitter: @BE_TrevorJones.