Upstander Connection

Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

From Łódź Ghetto, Lessons for Living; New Exhibit, Speaker Share a Remarkable Story

Children at work in the Łódź Ghetto

Children at work in the Łódź Ghetto

The Łódź Ghetto was a miserable place filled with truly incredible people.

Ruled by a dictatorial elder of the local Jewish Council, Łódź Ghetto was “home” to about 164,000 Jews between 1939 and 1944—second in size only to the Warsaw Ghetto, and located some 75 miles to the northeast of the Polish capital.

Łódź Ghetto was the second ghetto, after Warsaw, to open following the Nazi invasion and occupation of Poland in September 1939 and the last to be liquidated when Soviet forces finally chose to enter the ghetto in January 1945 (even though Soviet forces were but 60 miles away by January 1944).

And, the Łódź Ghetto became one of the most productive industrial centers in all of Poland, fueled by the slave labor of Jews who manufactured supplies for the German Army in the naive belief by the autocratic Jewish Council elder, Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, that “our only way is work” ethic would ensure the safety of ghetto residents.

Rumkowski, of course, couldn’t have been more mistaken.

Łódź Ghetto is the subject of the latest special exhibit at the Museum, “The Faces of The Ghetto: Their Lives Are Our Lessons,” now through August 20. The exhibit, free with paid admission, features the photography of two ghetto residents initially hired with Nazi consent to take identification photos of each ghetto resident—ID required to work and receive food rations.

But photographers Mendel Grossman and Henryk Ross did more than photograph identification cards. At great personal risk, they secretly documented life in the ghetto, and their unforgettable images leave the visitor with a searing portrait of the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions of Łódź Ghetto where people slowly starved due to meager food rations (caloric intake averaged between 700 and 900 calories a day; the average person consumes about 2,000 calories per day.) Łódź Ghetto was the size of one-square mile, had no running water and no sewer system. Residents were entirely dependent on the Nazis.

Yet, the photographers also captured the nearly imperceptible sparks of hope and resilience in the faces of the suffering population. It is an exhibit not to be missed.

To help inaugurate the new special exhibit, the Museum hosted Dr. Irena Kohn, an independent Holocaust scholar from Toronto and an expert on Łódź Ghetto, on July 24. Dr. Kohn wrote her doctoral dissertation at the University of Toronto (2008) on literary and artistic accounts of the Łódź Ghetto—work that included analysis of the Grossman and Ross photos.

In rich detail, Dr. Kohn explained how ghetto songs, photographs and presentation albums—all meticulously created by inmates of the ghetto—reflected the suffering and hope of residents. The focus of her remarks was a lengthy children’s poem contained in an album, “The Legend of the Prince,” which included 17 incredible hand-painted panels with text with deep allegorical underpinnings.

“We must observe and protect everything with a critical eye, draw sketches of everything that occurs…” Dr. Kohn quoted one diarist from Łódź Ghetto, who wanted the world to know what happened there.

Life in Łódź Ghetto was focused on work. Young children underwent training to work in textile and other factories. “Children were taught as early as possible to show themselves as productive workers, so they wouldn’t be deported,” Dr. Kohn said. Convinced that the only chance for Jewish survival lay in working productively for the Nazis, Rumkowski systematically deported potential political activists or anyone who might have had the capacity to lead resistance to the Nazis, she said.

By 1943, about 95 percent of the adult population was employed in 117 workshops, which created German war supplies. It was because of this productivity that Łódź Ghetto managed to survive long after other ghettos in occupied Poland were liquidated.

In the summer of 1944, Nazi leaders began the gradual liquidation of the remaining population at Łódź Ghetto. Rumkowski, who had been promised “special treatment” by the Nazis was deported to Auschwitz with his family where, on Aug. 28, 1944, he was murdered in the gas chambers along with thousands of others.

Only 877 Jews survived when the Soviet army liberated Łódź Ghetto on Jan. 19, 1945—half of whom were children. All together, only 10,000 of the 204,000 Jews who passed through Łódź Ghetto survived the war.

Henryk Ross managed to bury the negatives to his photographs of Łódź Ghetto, and he survived the war. He dug them up after liberation and began sharing them with the world. Mendell Grossman, who hid some 10,000 negatives in the window sill of his apartment, was shot and killed by a Nazi guard during a death march from a labor camp in Koenigs Wusterhausen in April 1945. Grossman’s sister later discovered the negatives, but during her emigration to what is now Israel, the suitcase in which she carried them was confiscated by an Egyptian border guard and has not been located. The surviving photos are those of prints that Grossman had given to close friends in the Łódź Ghetto before his deportation.

“The Faces of The Ghetto: Their Lives Are Our Lessons” exhibit is made possible by presenting sponsor Frost Bank.

Community Sponsors include:

Temple Shalom

Polish American Foundation of Texas (PAFT)

Polish American Council of Texas

Jan Karski Polish School of Dallas

A special thanks to: 70 kft for graphic design and exhibit curator, Dr. Thomas Lutz.

–Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holocaust scholar to present special lecture on the Łódź Ghetto of World War II Poland

Lodz Ghetto

Lodz Ghetto

University of Toronto Holocaust scholar Dr. Irena Kohn, an expert on Nazi-mandated Jewish ghettos of WW II, will present a special lecture on July 24 in conjunction with a new exhibit at Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance.

Dr. Kohn’s focus will be the Łódź Ghetto of Poland, the subject of a new Museum exhibit, The Faces of the Ghetto: Their Lives are Our Lessons, which features documents and photographs illustrating the plight of Jewish inhabitants of the ghetto.

Her presentation will focus on songs, photographs and presentation albums created by inmates of the ghetto, including The Legend of the Prince—a lengthy children’s poem with allegorical underpinnings.

The exhibit can be viewed for an hour prior to the lecture, which begins at 6:30 p.m., and for thirty minutes afterward. Admission to the lecture is free for Museum members and $10 for non-Museum members. RSVPs requested at rsvp@DallasHolocaustMuseum.org

The Łódź Ghetto was quickly established by Nazi forces after the invasion of Poland in 1939, and eventually housed more than 160,000 Jews who were forced to live in unbearable conditions—overcrowded spaces and unsanitary housing and subjected to forced starvation.

The Łódź Ghetto’s Jewish Council hired two Jewish photographers, Mendel Grossman and Henryk Ross, to clandestinely take photos of Jews working inside the ghetto. The Jewish Council hoped the photos would prove to the Nazis that the work of Łódź’s Jewish inhabitants, and therefore their lives, were necessary to the war effort.

At great personal risk, Grossman and Ross bravely and faithfully documented Jewish life in the ghetto—far beyond their directive—by taking thousands of photographs, which they managed to hide just before being deported to death camps.

Faces of the Ghetto presents their work in oversize prints, bringing museum visitors face-to-face with the Jewish victims of Nazism and extreme intolerance and ensuring that the world will know of life in the ghetto as captured on film by sympathetic observers.

The images capture the nearly imperceptible sparks of individual hope smoldering in the eyes of suffering Jewish men, women, and children—as if to say where ever there is life, there is hope.

Dr. Kohn will also interpret some of the thought processes behind the Faces of the Ghetto, providing context and enhancing the audience’s experience of the exhibit, which is made possible by a generous donation of an anonymous donor and the presenting sponsor, Frost Bank.

Dr. Kohn wrote her doctoral dissertation at the University of Toronto (2008) on literary and artistic witness accounts of the Lodz Ghetto. Her work included analysis of the photos taken by Grossman and Ross.

 

 

Museum Launches New Lecture Program: The Upstander Speaker Series

UpstanderSpeakerSeriesMuseum President & CEO Mary Pat Higgins explained why the Museum is launching the new lecture program at the May 15 inaugural program, featuring New Yorker writer Philip Gourevitch who spoke about his reporting from Rwanda.

The Upstander Speaker Series is part of our continuing commitment to human rights and to ending the silence and indifference to the suffering of others.

As the only institution in North Texas dedicated to the education of Holocaust and tolerance, it’s our responsibility to extend awareness of genocide and human rights in the Dallas community.

The speakers in this series offer remarkable stories of courage, reconciliation, and the power of simple human dignity. Amidst terrible crimes against humanity they bring messages of hope by providing, by proving that actions do matter, that stopping atrocities is possible, and that change for the better will happen if we all stand up.

You won’t want to miss the next two speakers in our series: Dorothy Budd, the local author of Tested: How Twelve Wrongly Imprisoned Men Held Onto Hope (Brown Books, 2010), who will speak in September; and then in December, Harry Wu, director of the Lau Guy Research Foundation and author of several books, including Bitter Winds: A Memoir of My Years in China’s Gulag (Wiley, 1995), will speak, so you might want to get those books and read them before our next two talks.

Sponsors and community partners generously support the Upstander Speaker Series. The presenting sponsor is Bank of Texas. Other sponsors include The Dallas Morning News, the Embrey Family Foundation and the Franklin I. Brinegar Foundation.

Meantime, there are two other Museum events you won’t want to miss.

On Thursday, June 12, at noon in the atrium of the Museum at 211 N. Record Street, the Second Annual Lev Aronson Concert in the Atrium will be held, featuring cellists from all over the globe who will be in Dallas attending the Lev Aronson Summer Music Festival.

The concert also features the festival founder, renowned cellist and native Texan Brian Thornton. A complimentary light lunch and tours of the Museum will be available from 11 a.m. until noon.

You will enjoy the compositions of cellist and composer Lev Aronson who survived the Riga Ghetto and German concentration camps. After liberation, he had to reshape his life. He became principal cellist in the Dallas Symphony and taught music at SMU. May his memory be a blessing.

As a reminder, the Museum’s current special exhibit is “BESA: A Code of Honor,” through June 18, which tells the incredible story of the hospitality and love of Albanian Muslims who saved Jews during World War II. You won’t want to miss this exhibit!

Inaugural Upstander Speaker Series Features New Yorker Writer Philip Gourevitch Lecture On Tragic, Complex Topic: Rwanda 20 Years Later

Philip Gourevitch

Philip Gourevitch

Rwanda is a small country of giant complexities.

Landlocked by African countries known for corruption, Rwanda is home to a deeply divided—and deeply scarred—economically poor population who, despite great tragedy, now trusts its government leaders and perseveres to build a hopeful future.

Twenty-years after the genocide that resulted in the murders of about one million people over a 100-day period between April and July of 1994, it’s almost inconceivable to realize that Rwanda’s economy is one of the healthiest in Africa, that reconciliation efforts appear to be yielding positive results, if only on the surface, and that, in some cases, forgiveness is an active part of the healing process between perpetrators and victims’ families.

For the past 20 years, Rwanda has been a topic of passion for writer Philip Gourevitch of The New Yorker magazine, who believes the country’s layers of simplicity and complexity offers lessons for all of humanity. Gourevitch was the inaugural guest of the Museum’s new Upstander Speaker Series on May 15 at SMU’s Hughes-Trigg Student Center.

“In Rwanda, there is a high ratio of people who have profound things to say about life, death and hope,” Gourevitch said. “They raise unanswerable questions that keep me coming back as a writer to explore…”

One of the world’s authorities on Rwanda, Gourevitch’s 1998 book, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With our Families: Stories from Rwanda (St. Martin’s Press, 1998) won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the George K. Polk Book Award, and many other awards and recognitions.

Young and predominantly rural, the Rwandan population lives in a densely compacted area the size of West Virginia. Rwandans are comprised of three groups: the Hutu, Tusi and Twa. The principal language is Kinyarwanda, spoken by most Rwandans, with French and English as official languages.

At the Upstander Speaker lecture, Gourevitch described how the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) launched a civil war in 1990, which was followed by the 1994 genocide, in which Hutu extremists killed an estimated 1 million Tutsi and moderate Hutu.

In some cases, Gourevitch said, the genocide involved neighbors who had once lived peacefully side-by-side “killing their neighbors. In this respect, the Rwandan genocide was the most intimate genocide in history.” The RPF ended the genocide with a military victory.

Civil war ensued in Rwanda until the year 2000 when all parties agreed the bloodshed should end. Since then, incredible progress has been made to rebuild the Rwandan economy, decrease poverty rates, reduce rates of child mortality and promote equality among the population through a national identity campaign, “We Are All Rwandans.”

For the past 15 years, Rwanda has actively been engaged in a period of reconciliation and justice, with the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the reintroduction of Gacaca, a traditional village court system.

The post-genocide recovery process has been difficult, but limited progress has been made, Gourevitch said. Killers have confessed to victims’ families, seeking forgiveness, but trust between neighbors and groups is slow, difficult and painful, he said. Overall, reconciliation efforts remain largely at the surface level, he said.

“When I asked those who had family members murdered by perpetrators  whom the family still sees every day what they mean by forgiveness, they told me, ‘It means I won’t seek revenge.’ That’s not exactly a high bar for what we consider forgiveness to be, but it is a high bar for civil society in Rwanda.”

Gourevitch said, “People are living better together. You have to make a future that is separate from the past that looks different. You don’t forget the genocide, but you don’t have to remember it all the time.”

This negotiated accommodation between perpetrators and victims is enforced by strict government restrictions on speech, assembly and official accounts of Rwandan history, which, in essence, cumulatively strives to “keep the peace,” Gourevitch said.

Gourevitch spoke for nearly 90 minutes, his vast and intimate knowledge of one of the most difficult topics for society proving to be gripping for the 100 people in attendance.

Gourevitch was born in 1961 to philosophy professor Victor Gourevitch, who translated for Jean Jacque Rousseau, and Jacqueline Gourevitch, who was a painter. Although he was born in Philadelphia, Philip spent much of his childhood in Middletown, Connecticut with his brother Marc, a physician. A Cornell University graduate, Gourevitch earned a Masters of Fine Arts from the writing program at Columbia University in 1992.

The writer’s newest book will be published next year. The topic: Rwanda 20 years after the genocide. The title: You Hide That You Hate Me And I Hide That I Know.

 –Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

At Yom Hashoah 2014, the Power and Passion of Memory Stirs Hearts, Souls As A City Remembers

Appearing frail but unbowed, deeply saddened but not wrecked, the Holocaust Survivors of North Texas filed into Temple Shalom for the Museum’s annual observance of Yom Hashoah, and the audience of 450 joined them to remember.

Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, is the day across the globe set aside to remember the atrocities and effects of the Holocaust by honoring those who survived and solemnly remembering those who perished. The observance of Yom Hashoah is a testament to how the Holocaust changed the world.

Following the procession of local Survivors into the sanctuary, Cantor Leslie Niren of Temple Emanu-el performed a moving partisan song Shtil, Di Nakht Ez Oysgeshternt, or “Quiet, the night is starry.”

“As we recall the horrors of the Holocaust,” said Rabbi Andrew Paley of Temple Shalom in his welcome to the April 27 event, “as we remember and honor the stories of survival and survivors, of endurance and perseverance, let us not be content to merely be informed. We will remember. We shall never forget. We shall be different and we shall transform this suffering into blessing for all the world.”

Museum President and CEO Mary Pat Higgins thanked the local Survivors in attendance for their “courage, spirit and inspiration” and for serving as “a beacon of truth and moral authority.” But, she noted, “We are not free of the dangerous root of the core of the Holocaust.”

And then, in a collective affirmation of humanity’s light over its darkest side, the grandchildren of Survivors made their way to front to tell the stories of their beloved grandparents and to declare their lifelong commitment to keep their stories alive for their children and their grandchildren.

Aviva Linksman, granddaughter of Mike Jacobs; Rivae Balkin-Kliman, granddaughter of Gusta Kliman, and Augie Furst, grandson of Magie Furst, spoke first.

Tanya Johnson, granddaughter of Velvel Wolf Yonson and Leah Bedzowski Yonson; Elliott Tverye, grandson of Asye Tverye; and Lisa Hellman, granddaughter of Dahlia Hellman, completed the testimonies.

Upon concluding their stories, each grandchild ignited a symbolic torch in honor of their loved ones—and all who survived and perished the Holocaust.

Following the first three speakers and upon conclusion of the last three, musical interludes performed by two incredibly talented musicians featured works by Chopin, Kreisler and Debussey.

Playing the piano for the ceremony was Dr. Baya Kakouberi who is originally from Tbilisi, Georgia and is currently the Artistic Director of the Blue Candlelight Music Series in Dallas. Gary Levinson of St. Petersburg, Russia performed on a Stradivari violin, crafted in 1726 and courtesy of the Dallas Symphony Association. Gary is the Artistic Director of the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth.

Steve Waldman, Museum board chair, echoed the feeling of many in attendance when he concluded the ceremony, saying,  “…Isn’t it amazing that so very few Holocaust Survivors became demoralized and turned to anger, violence and revenge? Isn’t it amazing that people who suffered long years living in the most horrific conditions and people who lived through the near total deprivation of life, reacted, after Liberation, by enthusiastically embracing life. The near-unanimous reaction of Holocaust survivors was to marry, to bear children.”

Steve reflected on the profound impact survivors have had on the community and on those in attendance. About 125 Holocaust refugees, survivors, and hidden children reside in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“We are truly fortunate that hundreds of Holocaust survivors came to North Texas in order to live among us. We are grateful to them for contributing to making this a wonderful place to live and to raise families.” Steve ended his remarks by declaring Yom Hashoah “a day upon which the whole community can stand together and pledge: Never again. Not here. Not anywhere.”

Cantor Leslie Niren returned to perform El Maleh Rachamim, or “Merciful G_d.” Rabbi Paley led the Kaddish, or “The Mourner’s Prayer,” which marked the formal end of the ceremony.

A beautifully designed Book of Remembrance produced by the Museum was a treasured keepsake of the evening—a book dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust with pages filled with messages of love and remembrance from families of victims and survivors.

As the audience filed out of the sanctuary, the powerful words spoken earlier in the evening by Rabbi Paley seemed to silently echo throughout Temple Shalom—a takeaway message for this and future remembrances.

“Memory is a powerful tool,” Rabbi Paley said. “Memory has the power to educate – to transmit facts and events from one generation to another.  Memory has the power to inspire – to provide a measure of hope and possibility against the overwhelming odds of darkness and despair.  But, perhaps most importantly, memory has the power to transform – to take that which was, and provide meaning and relevance for those that come after, to be different, to be better, to be stronger, to be more courageous and to, hopefully, be more God-like.”

–Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

Schindler’s List: Timeless Treasure 20 Years After First Released

The schindlers_listessential message of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic film Schindler’s List—widely considered one of the best films ever made—remains timeless because it tells the story of one man’s willingness to make a difference.

“This film’s themes of tolerance and one man making a difference are as important today as they were 20 years ago,” Steve Waldman, chair of the Board of the Museum, told about 200 people who attended an exclusive screening of the movie at Landmark Theatres’ Inwood Theater on April 24 to benefit the Museum and the USC Shoah Foundation.

The screening of the film on the big screen required Mr. Spielberg’s special permission; he views the film as a documentary whose depictions must be treated with respect and contextual understanding.

The film is based on the life of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved the lives of more than a thousand mostly Polish-Jewish refugees during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories. The movie stars Liam Neeson as Schindler.

Schindler’s List was a critical and commercial success, earning $321.2 million worldwide on a $22 million budget ($35.9 million in 2014 dollars). From 12 nominations, it received seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score, as well as numerous other awards.

With some of the proceeds from the film, Mr. Spielberg established the USC Shoah Foundation to capture the eyewitness testimony of Holocaust Survivors worldwide, as well as those of survivors of other genocides, as a lasting archive. More than 52,000 eyewitness accounts have been recorded by the Foundation—among them many from Holocaust Survivors from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“We are honored to be partners with the USC Shoah Foundation in our work to enlighten and inspire people as they think about the consequences of their choices by remembering and teaching the lessons learned from the Holocaust and other genocides,” Steve Waldman said.

Sylvia Moskovitz, Director of Development for the Shoah Foundation, thanked the Museum for its work and mission and for partnering with the foundation. “The testimonies (recorded by the Shoah Foundation) will be available forever as a voice of hope, for education and as a stand against hatred, bigotry and intolerance,” she said.

Museum President Mary Pat Higgins thanked the Museum’s Host Committee for the success of the event: Richard Krumholz (chair), Michelle Bassichis, Jason Downie, Robert Hoodis, Stephanie London, Michael Stern and Alison Weinstein.

Major sponsors for the event were Landmark Theatres, a generous donation in honor of Drs. Michelle and Benjamin Bassichis, Renee and Hill A. Feinberg, Norton Rose Fulbright/Richard Krumholz, Sheri and Andrew Rose and Alison Weinstein.

The Museum is planning another must-attend event on May 15. Philip Gourevitch of The New Yorker will speak at 6:30 p.m. at the Hughes-Trigg Student Center at SMU, 3140 Dyer St. in Dallas on his award-winning book, We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families. The book tells of the amazing efforts to bring forgiveness and healing to attackers and survivors, murderers, orphans, widows and childless mothers who now live side-by-side in Rwanda, 20 years after the genocide there. Admission to the event is $10. RSVP to communications@DallasHolocaustMuseum.org. The presenting sponsor for the event is Bank of Texas.

Meantime, the Museum’s current special exhibit is “BESA: A Code of Honor,” through June 18, which tells the incredible story of the hospitality and love of Albanian Muslims who saved Jews during World War II.

–Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

Two April Events You Won’t Want to Miss: Special Screening of Schindler’s List and Yom Hashoah Commemoration

schindlers_listThe Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance has been dedicated to inspiring people to think about the consequences of their choices by teaching the Holocaust and other genocides.  Now in our 30th year, we remain steadfast in that dedication.

To mark 30 years, the Museum is proud to announce two special Holocaust Remembrance opportunities in April, the exclusive showing of Academy Award winning Schindler’s List and the 2014 Yom Hoshoah Commemoration.

On Thursday, April 24, at the Inwood Theater, the Museum will present an exclusive private benefit screening of Schindler’s List beginning at 6 p.m. The benefit screening will support the Museum and the USC Shoah Foundation in recognition of the vital work of both organizations, which have enlightened and inspired many people through the use of Holocaust testimony.

The film will not be re-released in theaters, so this is a unique chance to experience one of the most historically significant films of our time, one that led to the worldwide recording of Holocaust testimonies.

On Sunday, April 27, at Temple Shalom, the Museum will present the 2014 Yom Hashoah Commemoration, beginning at 6:30 p.m. This year’s Yom Hashoah observance is a testament to how the Holocaust changed the world. Special guests will light the six torches representing the six million who perished in the Holocaust. A musical presentation will allow us to further reflect on the lasting effects of the Holocaust.

Supporting both events enables you to contribute to two meaningful organizations, as well as remember and honor family, friends, and loved ones through words, photographs, and memorialization within our Yom Hashoah Book of Remembrance.

Join us at these events as we commemorate the Museum’s 30 years of education and promotion of tolerance within the human community. Celebrate the noble and necessary work of the USC Shoah Foundation and its impact on research and dedication to testimonial evidence. And finally, join us as we remember the events of the Holocaust and celebrate the lives of victims, Survivors, and Upstanders everywhere.

For information on how to become a sponsor for the April 24 benefit screening or to include your Memorial and Tribute to the Yom Hashoah Book of Remembrance, click here.

Besa: Perhaps the Last Great Untold Story of World War II; Now on Exhibit

"Besa: A Code of Honor" exhibit tells the story of how Muslim Albanians rescued Jews during World War II

“Besa: A Code of Honor” exhibit tells the story of how Muslim Albanians rescued Jews during World War II

 

Seventy-five years ago, when the Nazis began their murderous takeover of Eastern Europe, Jews by the hundreds began relocating into what is now the Republic of Albania, seeking protection.

One of the poorest countries in Southeastern Europe, Albania, where nearly two-thirds of the population adheres to Islam, seemed one of the least likely places for Jews to seek refuge.

Prior to World War II only about 200 Albanians were Jewish. At the end of the war, about 2,000 Jews called Albania home.

Besa is the reason why.

Besa is an Albanian cultural precept, usually translated as “faith,” that means “to keep the promise” and “word of honor” and descends from the Kanun, a collection of laws which regulate Albanian social, economic and religious lives, together with traditional customs and cultural practices of the Albanian society that originated in the year 1400. Besa is an important part of personal and familial standing and is often used as an example of “Albanianism.”

Besa is the subject of a new exhibit at the Museum, “BESA: A Code of Honor,” which tells the story of the Muslim families of Albania who rescued Jews during World War II through the incredible photography of American Norman H. Gershman.

At the opening reception of the new exhibit on March 13 at the Museum, the award-winning film documentary, Besa: The Promise (2012), was screened before a standing-room only crowd at the Museum. The screening was preceded by a marvelous reception catered by the Albanian-American Cultural Center.

The documentary tells the story of the incredible courage of Albanians during World War II through the contemporary journeys of Gershman, who is urgently striving to document the lives of Jewish rescuers before they die, and a shop owner named Rexhep Hoxha, who is desperately trying to return a set of Hebrew prayer books to the survivor his family protected some 60 years earlier during Nazi occupation.

The journeys of the two men intersect at a highly emotional and impactful crossroads as the cameras roll, making the documentary’s ending reveal “a story like no other,” in the words of one reviewer.

On March 23, the Museum will present a matinee screening of the film at 2 p.m. at the Museum Theater. Admission is $5 and RSVPs are required at RSVP@DallasHolocaustMuseum.come. The public is invited.

Rather than hiding the Jews in attics or woods, Albanians brought them into their homes, gave them Albanian names and treated them as part of the family, noted Mary Pat Higgins, Museum President and CEO.

“My father never talked about what he did for the Jews,” one Albanian shop keeper said in the documentary. “He thought it was normal.”

So warm was the welcome for the Jews, said another woman in the film, that her parents used to say, “We don’t know any Jews. We only know Albanians.”

Said Mary Pat: “In a time when religion continues to serve as a divisive force in the world, we are honored to tell the story of these Upstanders, who saw beyond religious difference and chose to act, based on their ethics—Besa—to do what was right and defy Nazi orders. This is history that moves us forward.”

Doc Vranici, Executive Director of the Albanian American Cultural Center, thanked the Museum for hosting the exhibit and for helping share a piece of hidden history of Albania—that Muslims saved Jews during World War II.

Bordered by Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo to the northeast, Macedonia to the east, and Greece to the south and southeast, Albania became a Communist country, following WW II where religion expression of any kind was punishable by lengthy prison terms. As part of the fall of Eastern bloc Communism in the late 1980s, Albania became a democratic Republic in 1991.

However, the effects of the transition from a centralized economy in a rigid communist state to a free market economy in a democratic republic have weighed heavily on Albania’s people, and particularly on its poor people. Despite the economy’s robust growth in recent years, almost one quarter of the population lives below the poverty level of $2 (U.S.) a day.

Albanians treatment of Jews during World War II proves “that there are far more good people in the world than bad,” Gershman said. “This little country—they have something to teach the world.”

The Presenting Sponsor of the new Museum exhibit, “BESA: A Code of Honor,” is the Carl B. & Florence E. King Foundation. Community Partners include the Albanian-American Cultural Center, Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce and Congregation Beth Torah. Running through June 18, the exhibit is free with admission. More information at DallasHolocaustMuseum.org

-Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

Cyberbullying: Prevalent and Urgent Issue for Children, Parents and the Community

Cyberbullying is the intentional and repeated mistreatment of others through the use of technology, such as computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.

On Sunday, Feb. 23, Roberta S. Clark, the Community Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the recipient of the 2013 FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award, delivered a special presentation on cyberbullying.

Her message comes at a time when approximately 20% of young people report a problem with cyberbullying at some point in their lives, according to a 2010 study from the Cyberbullying Research Center.

The ADL website provides powerful statistics on cyberbullying that reveal just how prevalent and urgent the issue has become. In a study of 500,000 third to 12th grade students, 17% reported being bullied at least 2-3 times in the last month. In a survey of 655 teens from 13- to 18-years-old, approximately 1 in 10 reported themselves as the aggressor, having cyberbullied someone online or by text message.

Even more shocking, perhaps, is the rate of bystanders who do not intervene. In a study of classroom behavior, children and youth were present during 85% of bullying episodes, but stepped in just 10% of the time. There are, however, solutions to these problems. Statistics show that allies who speak out on behalf of someone else or take actions that are supportive of someone else are able to halt more than half of all bullying behaviors in less than ten seconds.

The ADL suggests being an Upstander instead of a bystander by taking a few simple steps in order to stop and prevent bullying whenever it arises. Whether or not you know the person who is the target of bullying, it is important to show compassion by asking if they are okay, going with them to get help, and making sure they know they are not alone. Another way to be an ally is to not participate. Choose the high road and let people know by your behavior that bullying is not right. And when confronted with a bullying situation, don’t be afraid to speak up. Tell aggressors to stop or inform a trusted adult if you need help dealing with the problem.

The ADL provides education and resources online for both children and adults.

To be an ally to those who experience bullying, visit http://www.adl.org/assets/pdf/education-outreach/Be-an-Ally-Six-Ways-online-version.pdf

For 10 easy ways to respond to bullying, visit

http://www.adl.org/assets/pdf/education-outreach/10-Ways-to-Respond-to-Bullying.pdf

For facts and statistics on bullying, visit

http://www.adl.org/education-outreach/bullying-cyberbullying/c/definitions-bullying-and-bias.html#ftn2

And for all of the ADL’s resources and ways to help out, visit

http://www.adl.org/education-outreach/bullying-cyberbullying/

 -Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

 

 

For Magie Furst and her family, the lifeline to safety and freedom came through the Upstanders of Great Britain

Magie Furst

Magie Furst

 

The Museum’s current exhibit, A History of the Kindertransport, now through Feb. 28, features the story of Dallas resident Magie Furst and her brother, Bert, who were both saved through the British rescue operation. On Feb. 2, Magie told her story to a standing-room only crowd of 140 Museum members and visitors. This is the story she told.

In 1932, Alfred and Sida Romberg were proud parents of a daughter and son born just a year apart, living a wonderful life in the small German village of Astheim, near Nuremburg, where they owned a general merchandise store.

But a year later, following the appointment of Adolph Hitler as German Chancellor, the Romberg’s tranquil life became a nightmare. Before 1934 came to an end, Alfred Romberg was dead—a heart attack brought on by stress from aggressive perpetrators.

The Rombergs were upstanding citizens once beloved by the entire village. But all that changed when Hitler’s Nazi party came to power. The Rombergs were Jewish.

Following Alfred’s death, Sida Romberg was left alone to raise 5-year-old Magie and 4-year-old Bert. When the anti-Semitism worsened, Sida was forced to sell the store for a fraction of its value and moved the children to the larger town of Eshwege, Germany, where other family resided.

The years in Eshwege were brutal, recalled Magie, now 84.

“Those were bad years, because Hitler was in full force already. We had restrictions on going to school. We went to an all Jewish school until some of the teachers emigrated. And then after Kristallnacht (Nov. 9-10, 1938), we didn’t have school anymore…the Hitler youth, they went after us whenever we went out.

“I remember we went out to get a loaf of bread, and they took the loaf right out of my hand. They wanted to smash it on my brother’s head, but I stood in front of him, so I got the beating instead. I must have been eight years old.”

Following Kristallnacht— a series of coordinated attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria, carried out by SA paramilitary forces and non-Jewish civilians (the German authorities looked on without intervening)—Sida Romberg knew her children had no future in Germany and set out to find visas for them to leave Germany. At the time, Germany was still issuing visas to Jews and others who could prove they had relatives or a sponsoring organization in another country.

When her mother learned of the Kindertransport program, a rescue mission that took place during the nine months prior to the outbreak of the WWII, she seized the opportunity to send her daughter and son to the United Kingdom, which took in nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Nazi Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Free City of Danzig. Children of the Kindertransport were placed in British foster homes, hostels, schools and farms.

In an extraordinary stroke of good fortune, Sida Romberg received permission to work as a domestic servant in England.  The three of them prepared to leave for England together.

Saying goodbye to her grandmother, Magie said, was one of the most painful moments of her life. Her grandmother had been a source of stability and comfort, following the sudden death of Magie’s father, Alfred. Tragically, the Nazis would eventually remove her grandmother from a home for the elderly and deport her to Auschwitz, where she was murdered.

On May 23, 1939, Sida Romberg and her two children arrived in England, but once there were separated as Sida did not earn enough to support herself and her children.

Bert was placed with a wonderful family. Magie did not fare so well. “I became a cheap maid in a family headed by an abusive man,” she said. After a month of suffering, Magie was sent to an orphanage to live.

While the war years in England were tough, Magie said she, Bert and her mother were eternally grateful to the people of Great Britain. “They opened their hearts and homes to us when no other country—not even the United States—would do so,” she said.

Sida Romberg never gave up hope for reuniting the family, and in April, 1945, just a month before the formal end of WWII, the three Rombergs received visas to emigrate to the U.S.

“There is no country like the United States in this world,” Magie said.

Settling in the New York City metro area, the Rombergs thrived. Eventually, Magie would marry and accompany her husband in 1963 to the Dallas area. Three years later, Bert also moved to Dallas after receiving a great job opportunity. Wishing to be near the children she sought so valiantly to protect, Sida Romberg also made the move to Texas.

As she reflects on her rare experience as a rescued child of the Kindertransport, Magie is grateful for being spared the horrors of war even though the separation from loved ones was difficult. And, she feels obligated to share her story as a regular speaker before student groups—sometimes three and four times a week—who visit the Museum.

“We are supposed to be our brother’s keeper,” she said. “We need to make sure that children of the future never have to endure what my generation did.”

“A History of the Kinderstransport” exhibit is made possible by the generosity of Ann Donald Zetley & Florence and Howard Shapiro in Loving Memory of Martin Donald.

–Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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