Serving as executive director for the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center satisfies the two main pursuits Troy Fears has dedicated his life to: education and nonprofit work.
Prior to starting at CANDLES in July of this year, Fears taught at several local high schools and was principal at Terre Haute South. He was also the executive director for the United Way of the Wabash Valley for seven years.
“When this position opened up, I thought it would a good fit for my education experience plus nonprofit experience,” said Fears, a Terre Haute native. “It kind of works in both areas. It’s been a good fit.”
Chris Newton, a Superior Court judge and a CANDLES board member, agrees — he advocated for Fears for the job.
“It seems everything Troy touches, he does it very, very well,” said Newton, whose children attended Terre Haute South.
Fears “worked hard to improve the athletics department and facilities at Terre Haute South. When I saw his name on the list of applicants, I said, ‘How can we get him?’ When he puts his mind to something, he’ll be successful. He’s what we needed. We want to maintain our relevance, and he’s the perfect person to do that. I’m really excited about having him on board.”
Alex Kor, son of the late Eva Kor, a Holocaust survivor who founded the CANDLES museum in 1995, concurs.
“Troy is a welcome addition to CANDLES,” Kor said. “He brings new energy and new ideas. With his background in education and fundraising, he checks a lot of boxes. He’ll help us get through this challenging time with with the recent loss of my mother and the pandemic.”
Upon arriving at CANDLES, Fears said, “What impressed me the most was the board and the museum itself. Being a lifelong resident of Terre Haute, I’ve known Eva’s background and her commitment to building this museum, but I just thought it was the right time to come in and move the museum forward and expand on Eva’s legacy. The challenge to do that was what excited me the most. We do a great job of reaching out to the public, telling Eva’s story.”
Fears has initiated a series of revolving exhibits provided by Yad Vashem, the Global Holocaust Museum located in Israel. “SHOAH: How Was It Humanly Possible?” a detailed timeline of events leading up to and through the Holocaust, is running now through Oct. 30.
Next up will be “Stars Without A Heaven: Children of the Holocaust,” on display Nov. 5 through Jan. 1, 2022. A list of future exhibits can be found at candlesholocaustmuseum.org.
Said Alex Kor, “The rotating exhibit schedule for the next several months is pretty impressive. It gives people a new reason to come to the museum and explore.”
Fears has also continued the museum’s search for Holocaust artifacts. He traveled to Chicago last week, where the Illinois Holocaust Museum gave him, among other artifacts, a Nazi flag and a copy of Adolph Hitler’s manifesto “Mein Kampf” that had been given to a German couple when they married at a local courthouse in 1939.
Emily Thurston, CANDLES’ Marketing and Communications Coordinator, said, “It’s weird to see that someone’s wedding gift was a copy of this book.”
Eva Kor became internationally famous for openly forgiving Dr. Hans Munch, one of the doctors at the Auschwitz concentration camp where she and her twin sister Miriam were experimented upon. She recorded interviews with him in 1993, and when they met at Auschwitz in 1995, Munch signed documents confirming the existence of the gas chambers, while she granted personal amnesty to all Nazis.
“Not everyone has that same opinion of forgiveness,” Fears noted. “There are a lot of people who didn’t forgive and don’t understand how you could. Eva was able to heal and move forward after she did forgive. She spoke to people who couldn’t forgive. She wanted to hear everyone’s side. She understood and didn’t force it on anyone else.”
Fears has big hopes for the museum in the future. A trip to Auschwitz is planned for June of 2022 if the pandemic recedes as hoped and travel protocols are amenable.
“We are prepared, we’re just really optimistic,” Thurston said.
A long-discussed goal to move into the former First Financial Bank building on Wabash in downtown Terre Haute may proceed further next year. Currently, Indiana Landmarks is renovating and stabilizing the edifice in collaboration with a couple of architects on the museum’s board. Fears hopes to inspect the building personally in spring of 2022.
“It’s a beautiful building with a lot of history,” said Fears, noting that it is close to other local museums and the new convention center.
“We’ll figure out if it’s a perfect fit for us.” A new, larger museum would enable CANDLES to expand its interactive “Dimensions In Testimony” theater, in which Eva Kor and other survivors answer questions from audience members from an exhaustive series of film clips recorded by the USC Shoah Foundation, so that the survivors will appear as 3D holograms instead of on a 2D film screen.
CANDLES closed its doors during much of the pandemic, and currently is only open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The museum will be open, however, on Monday, Oct. 11, to accommodate schools on fall break to visit. Groups are also invited to contact the museum at (812) 234-7881 to arrange private tours during the week.
In the meantime, Fears is both continuing to make plans for the museum’s future and furthering his own knowledge about the Holocaust’s atrocities.
He said, “I learn something new every day I walk in here.”