Upstander Connection

Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

Archive for the category “Genocide education”

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THGC Announces Video Contest for High School Students

As part of the commemoration of Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month in April 2014, the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission is hosting a video competition open to all Texas students in grades 6-12.  Themed “I Was a Bystander,” the goal of the contest is to encourage students to self-reflect about times when they stayed silent in the face of hurtful behavior and think about what they might do in similar situations in the future.

Students will create a short video, 1 to 2 ½  minutes, that will be judged on relevance to the mission of the THGC and on this year’s theme, originality, creativity, technical achievement, and emergence of an upstanding message or vision. Results will be announced in April, and the winners and their teachers will be invited to receive their prizes at the THGC Quarterly Meeting on July 18 in Austin.

Three winners from grades 6-8 and three winners from grades 9-12 will each be awarded a scholarship: the Gold Key worth $375 for first place, the Silver Key worth $200 for second, and the Bronze Key worth $125 for third. The schoolteachers of Gold Key winners will receive $100 for class supplies.

The 2014 Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month Video Contest scholarship prizes are generously underwritten by Dr. Kelli Cohen Fein and Martin Fein of Houston and by Fran and Mark Berg of Dallas.

For complete details on the video competition, visit the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission website.

http://thgc.texas.gov/resources-for-education/resource/thgc-video-contest

 

 

July Events Promise to Enlighten and Embolden Museum Visitors

Rita Blitt

Rita Blitt

July 1:  Rita Blitt’s Reaching Out from Within: Stories of Perseverance 

Rita Blitt is an international, award winning painter, sculptor and filmmaker.

“When I create, I feel like I’m dancing on paper.” says Blitt about her passion for art. She began painting as a child and has lived a life filled with creativity and achievements.

Today, her paintings, drawings and sculptures have been featured in exhibitions in Singapore, Israel, Germany, Japan, Taiwan and Norway. She also has permanent exhibits in museums, galleries and public settings around the world.  She collaborated with other artists to create films including “Blur,” “Visual Rhythms” and “Caught in Paint,” which was shown at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.  Blitt also authored The Passionate Gesture and Reaching Out From Within.

Her work goes beyond the aesthetically pleasing to her efforts to make the world a better place. “Kindness is Contagious, Catch It!” is a poster Blitt created as a gift to the STOP Violence Coalition, but its world-wide popularity resulted in her presenting prints to every member nation of the United Nations. The Blitt family underwrites the Blitt Family Creative Arts Center at Synergy Services, a violence prevention and intervention center in Parkville, Mo.

Thirteen of Blitt’s colorful and dramatic pieces of sculpture and paintings, an exhibit entitled “Reaching Out from Within: Stories of Perseverance through Art,” will be on display at the Museum from July 1 through August 25, 2013.

July 11: Iraqi war translator Munir Captain

Join the Dallas Holocaust Museum on July 11 as Iraqi war translator Munir Captain shares his stories of despair, freedom and hope.

From 2003 to 2009, Munir Captain and his brother, Omar, served as translators to U.S. forces in their native Iraq.

New residents of North Texas, these brave men still have family in Baghdad, so their personal stories are not only current but relevant as family members in Iraq have faced reprisals for the brothers’ decisions to support American forces and their decision to live as refugees in the U.S.

The brothers bring interesting perspectives on the importance of the regime change in Iraq, the nature of the long insurgency there, the character of the American soldiers, the prospects for Iraq going forward and their own assimilation into American life.

Hear Murnir Captain speak at the Museum theater, 211 N. Record Street Thursday, July 11, 2013 at 6:30 p.m.

A Play for the Ages: The Timekeepers Demonstrates What it Means to be Human

Actors Karl Lewis (Benjamin) and Jeremy W. Smith (Hans) bring an often forgotten story of the Holocaust to the stage.

Actors Karl Lewis (Benjamin) and Jeremy W. Smith (Hans) bring an often forgotten story of the Holocaust to the stage.

What divides us as human beings should not be stronger than what unites us. Yet, history is filled with examples where differences, especially in matters of truth and justice, have produced tragic results.

Conflict over what we share in common—and who we are as individuals—well, this is the stuff of compelling stage drama. Make the setting a World War II concentration camp during the Holocaust, at a Holocaust Museum, and the drama is groundbreaking.

Such is the case with The Timekeepers, a limited-run play now at the Dallas Holocaust Museum Theater on select nights through June 22. The subject matter is strictly for adults. Tickets are available online.

Directed by veteran Texas artistic director Joe Watts, The Timekeepers tells the story of a young-ish German homosexual and a conservative elderly Jewish man who are forced to work together in a camp, repairing watches for the Nazis.

At first, inmate #70649, a character named Benjamin played by veteran Dallas actor Karl Lewis, who wears a yellow star on his camp uniform, won’t even speak to his new colleague. Hans, inmate #2202, whose pink upside down triangle brands his character, played by actor Jeremy W. Smith, a SAG member with television credits, takes the rejection in stride, as though accustomed to it.

Fomenting—and sometimes mediating—the relationship is Capo, a petty thief and camp inmate who oversees the watch repair shop, played by actor Eric Hanson, who makes his debut theatrical performance in the production.

Benjamin was a highly regarded watchmaker in Berlin prior to his deportation. He is expert at repairing watches that Nazi guards confiscated from new camp arrivals. Hans lied about his mechanical abilities—he knows nothing about repairing watches—to avoid certain death as a failed laborer in a camp cement plant.

As is often the case in life where obvious differences overshadow commonalities upon initial meetings, time and humor eventually washes away prejudice and indifference and the two men discover each has a passion for a shared interest: opera.

The two men become friends and even rehearse scenes from an opera that they will perform at a show for the Finnish branch of the Red Cross who will be visiting the camp in a few days.

However, when the show is suddenly cancelled, their common passion for opera instantly disappears and pride and prejudice overtakes each again and erupts in a raw, disturbing, enlightening and all too familiar scene from daily life even today.

To say more about the play by Dan Clancey would spoil an incredibly impactful production by Theatre New West.

In introducing the play, truly a first-of-its-kind production for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance, President and CEO Mary Pat Higgins noted how the Museum is committed to telling the stories of all Holocaust victims.

“Homosexuals are among the Holocaust’s forgotten victims,” she noted. “The Timekeepers, while fiction, is based on a larger story and it allows us to bring the ‘forgotten’ into the light.”

The play continues Fridays and Saturdays, June 14, 15, 21 and 22 at 8 p.m. Talk back sessions with the director and cast will occur after Friday night performances.

By Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum

For Carl Wilkens, the only American who remained in Rwanda during the 1994 Genocide, “I’m Not Leaving” is a clarion call to action

Carl Wilkens speaks to at the Dallas Holocaust Museum on May 16, 2013

Carl Wilkens speaks at the Dallas Holocaust Museum on May 16, 2013

For 100 days in 1994, between early April and mid-July, more than 500,000 people were murdered in the East African state of Rwanda.

The Rwandan Genocide was a genocidal mass slaughter of the Tutsis by the Hutus. Some estimates of the death toll ranged up to 1,000,000, or as much as 20% of the country’s total population at the time.

The genocide was the culmination of longstanding ethnic competition and tensions between the minority Tutsi, who had controlled power for centuries, and the majority Hutu peoples, who had come to power in the rebellion of 1959–62.

Throughout the tragic ordeal, Carl Wilkens, a humanitarian aid worker from Chicago, was the only American to remain in the country. Wilkens moved his young family to Rwanda in the spring of 1990 to work for the humanitarian agency of the Adventist Church. During the genocide, he remained there with his wife, two children and two young Tutsis who would have been slaughtered had he not kept them safe in his home.

Three weeks into the genocide, Carl—at great personal risk—traveled to an orphanage near the Rwandan capital of Kigali, to bring water to the thirsty and starving children living there. Unbeknownst to him at the time, the children were also targeted for mass slaughter. However, his presence at the orphanage, along with negotiations with the would-be killers, resulted in hundreds of lives being saved.

On May 16 at the Museum, Carl Wilkens shared his incredible story in a special presentation, “Rwanda through the eyes of the only American to witness the 1994 Genocide.” More than 120 guests packed the Museum’s theater to hear the presentation, among them several survivors of the Rwandan genocide who lost loved ones to the unspeakable violence.

“The young woman and young man we kept in our home never asked me to stay,” said Wilkens, who been urged by close friends, his employer and the U.S. government to leave Rwanda immediately. “We could not leave.”

He downplayed his role in saving lives during the genocide. “I didn’t do anything by myself. I did it with others as part of a group,” he said. “None of us are God-like heroes on our own. But all of us can be an Upstander for 15 minutes.”

Wilkens said tens of thousands of lives could have been saved if the U.S. government or the U.N. would have permitted non-Rwandans to drive Rwandan citizens out of the small country to the safety of neighboring countries prior to the violence. Rwanda is a small country about the size of Maryland but densely populated with 11.7 million residents (2012 estimate).

Wilkens has written a book about the experience, I’m not leaving (ImNotLeavingRwanda.com), and a new 35-minute documentary by the same name will be released later this year.

For the past nine years, Wilkens and his wife, Teresa, have been travelling the U.S. and abroad to share their experiences with the aim of building bridges to peace.

Slowly, Rwandans are rebuilding their country and healing through the power of forgiveness, he said. He last visited Rwanda in January.

“We are not defined by what we don’t have or lost,” Wilkens concluded. “We are defined by what we do with what we have.”

–By Chris Kelley for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance; Photo by Paula Nourse

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