ROTTERDAM, the Netherlands — They came from Russia, Poland, Germany and Ukraine, bearing tickets bought in the field offices of the Holland America Line passenger ships. They were fleeing the pogroms, escaping tyrants, running from war or just seeking a better life. About two million people made their way to Rotterdam harbor during the peak years from 1880 to 1920 to begin a trans-Atlantic journey that would often end at Ellis Island.
The stories of these migrants inspired the former Rijksmuseum director, Wim Pijbes, and the group he leads, Stichting Droom en Daad (Foundation Dream and Do), to transform a crumbling warehouse on the Rotterdam piers into a kind of Dutch sister-site to Ellis Island. The nonprofit organization he directs, founded in 2016 to support arts in Rotterdam, acquired a city permit in March to turn the old Holland America Line warehouse into an institution that will commemorate those journeys.
“I won’t call it a museum,” Mr. Pijbes said recently as he showed a reporter around the 108,000-square-foot concrete and steel building on a windswept pier, which is home to a number of ragtag hipster start-ups, including an organic food court, galleries and arts groups. “A museum is a phenomenon that has a very strict idea and image in most people’s minds. I want to find a word that has a kind of hybrid function, a place, a platform, an agora.”
The new multiuse facility, called the Fenix, will include restaurants, shops and galleries on the ground floor, while the entire top floor will be devoted to exhibitions related to immigration, past and present.