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Upstander Series Speaker and Chinese Human Rights Activist Harry Wu: Bitter Winds Remain Gale Force in China

Harry Wu

For 19 years, Harry Wu, a young geologist from Shanghai, was confined to the laogai, China’s system of forced-labor camps.

Imprisoned in 12 different camps, beginning in 1960, he was forced to mine coal, build roads, clear land and harvest crops. Routinely beaten, tortured and nearly starved to death, he witnessed the deaths of many prisoners from brutality, starvation and suicide, which he attempted twice.

In despair, Wu, a lifelong Catholic, said, “I stopped praying. There was no hope.”

Harry Wu, now 77, told his gripping story of survival—and detailed continuing human rights abuses in China—to a standing-room only crowd on Dec. 4 as the Museum’s final speaker of the 2014 Upstander Speaker Series. His story is detailed in his harrowing memoir, Bitter Winds: A Memoir of My Years in the Chinese Gulag (1995, Wiley)

Wu was born into an affluent family in Shanghai; his father was a banking official and his mother “had descended from a family of well-to-do landlords.” Wu recalled: “My youth was one of peace and pleasure.

Then in 1949 came the communist revolution, led by Mao Zedong, who became Chairman of the Community Party of China. “My life changed dramatically. During my teen-age years, my father lost all his properties. We had money problems. The government took over all the property in the country. We even had to sell my piano.”

Wu studied at the Geology Institute in Beijing where he earned a degree. In 1956, the Communist Party began a campaign encouraging citizens, particularly students and intellectuals, to express their true views of the Party and the state of society (known as the Hundred Flowers Campaign). Although cautious, Wu eventually voiced some sentiments, by disagreeing with the Soviet’s armed crackdown of Hungary, and the practice of labeling people into different categories.

By the Fall of 1956, Mao abruptly reversed course, proclaiming that the true enemies of the Party had been exposed, and 19-year-old Wu was subsequently singled out at his university. “This was the first time I had ever been singled out as a political troublemaker,” Wu wrote later. “Most of my classmates were more pragmatic than I, and they just repeated what the Communists wanted to hear.”

For the next few years, Wu was criticized in Party meetings and closely monitored until his arrest in 1960 at the age of 23 when he was charged with being a “counterrevolutionary rightist,” and was sent to the laogai to serve a life sentence.

In 1979, at the age of 42, Wu was released from his life sentence, as some blatantly unjust sentences were re-adjudicated following the death of Mao in 1976.

Wu left China for the United States in 1985, after having received a chance invitation to become a visiting scholar from a University of California faculty member at Berkeley who had happened upon an article that Wu had written in an academic journal on Geology.

Arriving in the U.S. with only 40 dollars, a few clothes, and an ink tiger print that he had inherited from his father, Wu had to improvise where he would live since he did not have funding from the university for his first year. At first he was sleeping in the park, and in the subway when it rained. He got a night shift job making donuts at a donut shop for a few months; then a job at a liquor store, and was finally able to rent a cheap apartment. Wu continued to work various odd jobs during this period and in 1988 began working for an electronic chip manufacturer, where he became an assistant manager, and was able to buy a used car. Looking back on this period of his life, Wu felt that there was opportunity and if he just worked hard he could make it. After a series of meetings with a Catholic priest, Wu said he recovered his faith.

During his first years in America, Wu did not want to think about or discuss politics. He felt that he had already lost the years of his youth and he wanted to try to carve out a personal life and enjoy his freedom. But slowly he found himself getting drawn back into the discussion about prison camps in China and his own experiences there.

Called to testify before Congress, Wu became a human right activist.

In 1991, Wu accompanied Ed Bradley of the CBS news program 60 Minutes to mainland China for a story in which they posed as businessmen interested in purchasing factory goods in mainland China that had been manufactured by the slave labor of Chinese prisoners.

In 1992, Wu established the Laogai Research Foundation, a non-profit research and public education organization, considered a leading source for information on China’s labor camps; and was instrumental in proving that organs of executed criminals were used for organ transplants.

In 1995 Wu, by then a U.S. citizen, was arrested as he tried to enter China with valid, legal documentation. He was held by the Chinese government for 66 days before he was convicted for “stealing state secrets.” He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but was instead immediately deported from China. He attributes his release to an international campaign launched on his behalf.

In November 2008, Wu opened the Laogai Museum in Washington, D.C., the first ever United States museum to directly address human rights in China. Wu said he continues to be surprised by Western countries and governments engaging in business deals with a government where human rights abuses on a massive scale continue unabated—abuses such as China’s one-child policy, the political and legal status of Tibet, neglect of freedom of the press in mainland China, lack of legal recognition of human rights and the lack of an independent judiciary, rule of law, and due process.

“Harry Wu’s story of courage, reconciliation and simple human dignity is a history lesson all of us should become familiar with,” said Mary Pat Higgins, Museum President & CEO.

The 2014 Upstander Speaker Series Presenting Sponsor is Bank of Texas; Speaker sponsors include Richard and Trea Yip and The Dallas Morning News.

Be sure to save these 2015 dates for the Upstander Speaker Series, which promise another year of thought-provoking commentary and conversation. Locations for teach of these speakers will be announced closer to the events:

March 26: Michael Sam, currently a free agent in the NFL who, on Feb. 9, 2014, became the first openly gay football player drafted into the NFL.

June 4: Rabbi Michael Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland who has been described by the Polish author Mladen Petrov as the “24/7 Rabbi” for his tireless efforts to rebuild Jewish life in Poland that was nearly obliterated during the Holocaust.

October 26: Roméo Antonius Dallaire, a Canadian humanitarian, author and retired senator and general. Dallaire served as Force Commander of UNAMIR, the ill-fated United Nations peacekeeping force for Rwanda between 1993 and 1994, that attempted to stop the genocide that was being waged by Hutu extremists against Tutsis and Hutu moderates.

Meantime, be sure to visit the Museum’s current Special Exhibit, “Drawn to Action: The Life and Work of Arthur Szyk,” through Jan. 31. Szyk was a Polish-Jewish refugee who settled in the U.S. during WWII, advocating for democracy and fighting Hitler’s hatred with elaborate political cartoons featured on the covers of the most prominent American wartime magazines and journals.

-Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum

Drawn to Action: The Life and Work of Arthur Szyk

HitlerSzykDrawn to Action: The Life and Work of Arthur Szyk is a special exhibition that is open from now until January 31, 2015.

Arthur Szyk (1894-1951) was a Polish-Jew (and in the last decade of his life, an American-Jew) most known for his political and satirical caricatures of the Axis powers and its leaders. “Art is not my aim, it is my means.” Szyk proclaimed.

You’ll notice his illustrations use a stimulating palette of color and are meticulously intricate. His great attention to detail have been compared to what you would see from medieval monks and renaissance painters.

Ironically, before Szyk had even been to the United States, he did a series that depicted scenes of George Washington and the Revolutionary War. They were purchased by President Ignacy Moscicki of Poland as a gift for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and hung in the White House until 1943.

Szyk would consider his greatest achievement to be his illustrated version of the Haggdah, which tells the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt and took him 4 years to complete.

As soon as the Nazi boots stepped onto Polish soil, Szyk reacted immediately. He expressed his feelings by fiercely taking pen to paper in a “creative fight against oppression”. He turned Hitler, Mussolini and the Japanese into extensively embellished and evil caricatures.

His anti-Nazi cartoons continued to be effective propaganda when he left Europe in 1940 and settled in New York. He was on a mission, literally “to alert and inform the Americans about the gravity of the situation in Europe.” Eleanor Roosevelt described him as a “one-man army” for the Allied Cause.

After World War II, Szyk embraced the patriotism of his adopted country and was granted American citizenship in 1948. Szyk continued to work and completed illustrations of Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales and even advertisements for Coca-Cola. Ever the activist, his later artwork allowed him to continue to be a voice against injustice… specifically against Jim Crow, the KKK and lynching.

The exhibit officially opened on October 25, but be sure to catch the Opening Reception for this one-of-kind exhibition November 13 at 6:30 p.m. RSVPS are required at rsvp@dallasholocaustmuseum.org. The public is invited.

Presenting sponsors for the Drawn to Action exhibit are Kathy and Harlan Crow and Gregg and Michelle Philipson Collection and Archive. Community Partners include the Jan Karski Polish School of Dallas.

- Devynn Case, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

 

The Answer: Yes. The Question: “Do Words Kill?” Genocide Prevention Begins With Confronting Dangerous Speech, Expert Says

FiresofhateFree speech is one thing. Dangerous speech is another, an expert in hate speech told a large crowd gathered at the Museum on Oct. 7 to hear the presentation, “Do Words Kill? Hate Speech, Propaganda and Incitement to Genocide.”

There are warning signs to listen for when it comes to dangerous speech, which can ultimately lead to genocide if not confronted, said Dr. Elizabeth White, Research Director for the Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

  • Dehumanizing the target group through speech.
  • Accusing the target group of plotting harm to the larger population.
  • Presenting the target group as a grave threat.

The speaker, the medium of dissemination of the dangerous speech, the socio-historical context and the audience willingness to hear the dangerous message are factors contributing to whether threatening speech takes hold, she said.

“Part of what makes speech dangerous is…when we are confronted by information that is contrary to our beliefs, we reject that information and the presenter of it,” she said.

Effective counter speech is the means to stall and eventually diminish the effectiveness of dangerous speech, Dr. White said. Recent applications of counter speech through effective text messaging have helped calm tensions and possibly prevent violence among groups in some African countries, she said.

Dr. White’s lecture was held in conjunction with the Museum’s newest special exhibit, “Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings,” now through Oct. 15. The special exhibit is free with paid admission.

Prior to her Museum appointment in 2012, Dr. White served at the U.S. Department of Justice as the Chief Historian and Deputy Director of the Office of Special Investigations and, most recently, as Deputy Chief and Chief Historian of the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section.

In both positions, she directed research to develop and support civil and criminal cases against the perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, Nazi persecution and other human rights violations. She also contributed to interagency efforts to deny safe haven to human rights violators in the U.S. and to develop effective strategies for preventing and responding to genocide and mass atrocity.

Dr. White has a Ph.D. in History from the University of Virginia and is the author of German Influence in the Argentine Army, 1900-1945 (Garland, 1991), as well as numerous articles and papers pertaining to the Holocaust, postwar use of Nazi criminals by U.S. intelligence, and U.S. Government efforts to investigate and prosecute Nazi persecutors.

“Fighting the Fires of Hate” special exhibit is made possible by the Museum’s Presenting Sponsors, Joanne and Charles Teichman/YLANG 23 and Louise and Gigi Gartner. The exhibition was underwritten in part by grants from the Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund and the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, with additional support from the Lester Robbins and Shelia Johnson Robbins travelling and Special Exhibitions Fund.

We hope you will join us for two additional special presentations this Fall.

On Nov. 3, at 3 p.m. in the Museum Theater, Juliana Taimoorazy, Founder of the Iraqi Christian Relief Fund, will make a special presentation, “The Plight of the Christians in Iraq.” Ms. Taimoorazy will discuss the history and current situation involving Christian monitories in the region. A Q & A will follow.

On Dec. 4, at 6:30 p.m. in the Museum Theater, Harry Wu, a survivor of Chinese labor camps, will discuss his experiences and his memoir, Bitter Winds (Wiley, 2007) as part of the Museum’s Upstander Speaker Series. Mr. Wu will discuss state sponsored terror and torture and what the public can do about it. Admission is $10 for non-members, $5 for students with ID.

–Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum

 

Tried and Tested: Exonorees Share Lessons of Faith, Forgiveness

Dorothy Budd and Billy Smith sign copies of their book "Tested"

Dorothy Budd and Billy Smith sign copies of their book “Tested” at Sept. 9 Upstander Lecture                           

The three men share a history that none of us could imagine. Richard Miles, Christopher Scott and Billy Smith were wrongly convicted of crimes that they did not commit and served, cumulatively, nearly 40 years in state prison.

Through their long incarceration and the judicial proceedings that would eventually lead to their exonerations, the men developed a deep spiritual faith, extraordinary resilience, and a deep sense of purpose—a response to injustice that all of us can learn from.

Their experiences, tragically, are familiar to more than two-dozen Dallas County residents who were wrongly convicted of crimes and later exonerated with the help of Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins and justice advocates.

On September 9, at the Museum’s Upstander Speaker Series, the three men shared their stories, which are told in the book Tested: How 12 Wrongly Imprisoned Men Held on to Hope (Brown Books, 2010), by Dorothy Budd and Peyton Budd, her daughter.

Dorothy Budd, a former child sex crimes prosecutor and now an Episcopal deacon of Dallas’ Church of the Incarnation, also appeared at the event, telling a standing-room-only crowd in the Museum’s theater that the men serve as an example for humanity.

“It’s easy to say all criminals say they are innocent, so they all must be lying,” Ms. Budd said. “These three amazing men prove there are people in prison who really are innocent.”

Richard Miles spent 15 years in prison for murder and attempted murder. What troubled him most, he said, was the suffering his parents endured while he was incarcerated. “My parents were falsely imprisoned with me,” he said, noting that his father died just months before he was released. “I wasn’t’ allowed to go to my father’s funeral…”

Christopher Scott was wrongly imprisoned for capital murder for 12 years based solely on eyewitness testimony that later turned out to be false. No physical evidence—no gunshot residue, no DNA, nothing—linked him to the crime.

Billy Smith spent nearly two decades in prison, convicted of rape by eyewitness testimony even though he had a solid alibi. DNA evidence later led to his exoneration.

DA Watkins told the crowd that his Conviction Integrity Unit, which he formed in 2007 after taking office a year earlier, routinely reviews and re-investigates legitimate post-conviction innocence claims.

Dorothy Budd said her book isn’t meant to be an indictment of the U.S. justice system. To the contrary, she called it a “great” system but imperfect, as the cases she documented in her book attest.

Mr. Miles said: “There are some people who need to be locked up. I’ve met some.”

Faith, fortitude and forgiveness are takeaway lessons from Richard Miles, Christopher Scott and Billy Smith—lessons for life in even its darkest moments.

The presenting sponsor for the Upstander Speaker Series is Bank of Texas. Other sponsors of the September 9th program include Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett, Liza and William Lee and The Dallas Morning News.

On Thursday, Dec. 4 at 6:30 p.m., the next Upstander Speaker Series event will feature Harry Wu, author of several books, including Bitter Winds (Wiley, 2007), a memoir about his 19 years of imprisonment in Chinese labor camps.

–Chris Kelley, for the 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.

 

 

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

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

 

 

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