Upstander Connection

Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

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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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Kindertransport Families, an Inconceivable Choice

It’s an inhumane choice that no parent should ever have to face: leave a child with a complete stranger, so the child might have a chance to survive persecution and, ultimately, avoid being murdered—or keep the child and most assuredly risk his or her life.

But for tens of thousands of mostly Jewish families during World War II, this incomprehensible decision became one they were forced to make.

The Kindertransport was a British rescue operation that enabled 10,000 primarily Jewish children to escape the Nazis in the months leading up to the declaration of WW II. The initiative required a convergence of simultaneous efforts over a compressed time frame—speedy immigration policy creation, collaboration among diverse religious groups and, perhaps, most importantly, the bravery of individuals.

“A History of the Kindertransport” is the subject of the newest special exhibit at the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance.  Running through Feb. 28, the exhibit is free with paid admission. On Sunday, Feb. 2, at 2 p.m. at the Museum, Dallas resident Magie Furst, a Kindertransport refugee, will tell her first-hand story at a special program.

“What do you say to a child that you, a mother, are about to confide to a stranger—a child you most likely will never see again?” asked Dr. Charlotte Decoster, Education and Public Engagement Coordinator for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance, at a special lecture on Jan. 16 entitled “The Last Kiss: Parents Saying ‘Goodbye’ During the Holocaust.”

For parents who applied to participate in the Kindertransport, the special immigration initiative was the only option for their children to escape persecution and almost certain death as Jewish families were rounded up and deported, ultimately, to death camps, said Dr. Decoster, an expert in the study of children hidden and rescued during the Holocaust.  In most cases, parents and their rescued children never saw one another again after the moment of separation, she said.

Through her research, Dr. Decoster, who is also an adjunct professor of history at the University of North Texas, where she received her Ph.D., discovered a painful process parents endured in separating from their children—from awareness of the option to save their children through coping with the aftermath of permanent separation from them.

At one deportation camp in southern France, where parents voluntarily turned 108 children over to Nazi resistance fighters who would see to the safety and security of the children, later research would reveal that 28 of the parents committed suicide.

“For the majority of parents who participated in the Kindertransport and similar child rescue efforts, they did what they thought was necessary—the hope of survival for their children and, by circumstance, their Jewish culture, heritage and religious practices,” Dr. Decoster said.

In most cases, rescued Jewish children were taken in by Christian families, including Catholics, and in some select cases Muslim families. While many of the children were allowed to practice Judaism, evidence reveals some efforts at converting the children to Christianity, Dr. Decoster said.

The Museum’s Kindertransport exhibit allows students to contemplate the event from the perspective of a child, offering them the opportunity to ask themselves the question—and leave behind their answers on a colored index card—“What treasured item would you bring?”

In the final analysis, the story of the Kindertransport, like many from the Holocaust, reflects themes rooted in the depravity of humanity and in its nobility, Dr. Decoster said. In the face of evil behavior that surely would have seen children murdered otherwise, “We saw Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities make a decision to act and do something to ensure the survival of children.”

Presenting sponsors for the Kindertransport exhibit are Ann Donald Zetley and Florence and Howard Shapiro in loving memory of Martin Donald. Community Partners include Catholic Charities of Dallas and the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas.

Tickets to the Feb. 2 program featuring Margie Furst are $5 each. Register online at DallasHolocaustMuseum.org or RSVP to rsvp@dallasholocaustmuseum.org and pay at the door.

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

 

 

 

 

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 USHMM Scholar and Editor Geoffrey Megargee, the Holocaust Remains a Shocking Topic of Research

For years following World War II, many citizens of Germany claimed that they had no idea that Jews had been targeted for extermination during the Nazi regime. The Holocaust that took the lives of 6 million Jews and another 5 million “undesirables.”

However, new research that shows the number of Nazi ghettos, slave labor sites, concentration camps and killing factories actually totaled about 42,500—rather than the 7,000 originally believed to have been established—made that claim specious.

“This really makes us question the claim by some that they didn’t know what was going on,” said Mary Pat Higgins, President & CEO of the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance. “Given the new numbers we’re seeing, German citizens would have encountered an  incarcerated Jew on a regular basis.”

Indifference to the suffering of other fellow beings was at the core of a special lecture on June 6 at SMU’s Dallas Hall by Dr. Geoffrey Megargee, Senior Applied Research Scholar at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s (USHMM) Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, where he is the project leader and editor-in-chief for the Museum’s seven-volume Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, the first two volumes of which are complete.

The task of documenting and cataloging the Nazi ghettos and camps began in the year 2000. The numbers are staggering: 30,000 slave labor camps (many on the grounds of privately-owned German factories); 1,150 Jewish ghettos; 980 concentration camps; 1,000 prisoner-of-war camps; 500 brothels where women were forced to live; and thousands of other camps used for euthanizing the elderly and infirm, performing forced abortions, “Germanizing” prisoners or transporting victims to killing centers. In Berlin alone, researchers have documented 3,000 camps and so-called “Jew houses.”

The existence of many individual camps and ghettos was previously known only on a region-by-region, fragmented basis. Using data from 400 contributors, researchers are now documenting the scale of the Holocaust for the first time—where they were located, how they were run, what conditions were like inside them and what their purposes were.

Living conditions in the camps varied based on their location, purpose and the personality and psychological nature of the camp’s overseer and the expectations placed on guards.

“It’s hard to form a picture of the treatment without sounding like a cliché. It certainly was no Hogan’s Heroes.”

Some of the camps represented the worst of human behavior—medical experiments performed on children and women at Auschwitz-Birkenau by Dr. Josef Mengele, for example.

In other camps, researchers discovered how other camp inmates went without food, medical treatment, and warm clothing  so that younger or more vulnerable others would have a better chance of survival.

“Nothing about any of this is neat,” said Dr. Megargee. “We’ve had to make it neat in order to describe it. What’s clear is that Jews were always at the bottom of the heap.”

Five more volumes of the series are planned between now and 2025. The program was supported by community partners, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Embrey Human Rights Program at SMU.

By Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum; Photo by Paula Nourse

Dr. Geoffrey Megargee speaks to a large crowd at SMU's Dallas Hall

Dr. Geoffrey Megargee speaks to a large crowd at SMU’s Dallas Hall

At Yom Hashoah 2013, Memories from the Heart Shared, Celebrated, Experienced

A boy.
A blanket.
A tattoo.
A brickyard.
A teacher.
A pledge.

Each is a symbol of the Holocaust, each remembered and recited at the Yom
Hashoah 2013 service of remembrance at Dallas’ Congregation Shearith Israel
on April 7, sponsored by the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and
Tolerance.

“This is our memorial day…of unimaginable suffering,” said Mary Pat Higgins,
President and CEO of the Museum, in introductory remarks that followed the
procession of Holocaust Survivors, words of welcome by Rabbi William Gershon of
Shearith Israel and songs by Cantor Itzhak Zhrebker.

Five families spoke of their loved ones’ experience during the Holocaust—each
family suffered tremendous loss—while a sixth group promised to never let those
memories fade.

After each family spoke, they lit a symbolic torch—six in all were lit, symbolizing the
six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Inaugurated in 1953, Yom Hashoah
is also known as Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The boy is now in his late 80s, Leon Bakst. At age 15, Leon fought against the Nazis
with legendary partisan Tuvia Bielski, whose story was depicted in the Paramount
movie, Defiance (2008). Leon is the only Bielski Partisan living in Dallas, and of only
a handful of Jewish Partisans still living. Leon’s story is told in the documentary, The
Reunion (2011). Stacey Gaswirth spoke lovingly of her grandfather’s devotion to
family, friends and country. He was at her side.

On May 15, 1945, life began again for her mother (of Blessed Memory), Michelle
Mantel Bassichis said. It was the day she was liberated from Auschwitz by Allied
forces, Michelle told the 550 people in attendance at the Yom Hashoah service. “I
still have the blanket the soldiers put around my mother when they came to liberate
the camp,” said Michelle.

Mike Jacobs was 14 when the Nazis invaded his small Polish town in 1939. Two
months later, he and his family were packed into a boxcar with 100 other local
Jewish residents and taken to a Jewish ghetto. On his arm SS guards tattooed the
number “B4990.” But their father, sons Mark and Reuben said, would not be defined
by a tattoo. “…in my mind, I was still a free person,” Mike Jacobs, who was in
attendance in the audience, would say years later.

In April, 1943, Israel Prengler (of Blessed Memory), along with other Jews living in
Ludof, Poland, were rounded up for deportation by the Nazis. But her grandfather
and several other family members escaped to a brickyard where they were hidden
for seven weeks by a Catholic Polish family, said Lisa Ido. From the brickyard, they
moved to a farm run by a German woman who hid the family and other Jews until
liberation on July 27, 1944. Later, her family brought the Polish family who hid them
to Dallas, “so they could have a better life. To know what it means to be free.”

When her father (of Blessed Memory), along with other family members, were
deported to Auschwitz, a miracle occurred at the front gate, said Bina Frishman
Domb. A teacher from her father’s school stationed at the gate to document entrants
recognized him, quickly changed her father’s identity on paper to that of a non-
Jew, and saved his life in an instant. Her mother (of Blessed Memory) was also a
Holocaust survivor and like her father, shared their stories. “We promise to never
forget,” Bina said.

The last group to light a torch made a pledge—believed to be the first of its kind at
a Yom Hashoah ceremony. Melissa Rubenstein Gendason, Director of the Southwest
Region of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, stood next to her colleagues at
the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance. Working as
collaborators and partners, the professional staff of the two Museums pledged “to
keep the eternal flame of memory burning brightly.”

-Chris Kelley

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