Upstander Connection

Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

Archive for the category “Museum programming”

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

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.

 

 

 

 

The Rise and Fall of the KKK: Special Museum Lecture Shocks, Enlightens Audience About the Klan’s Huge Influence in 1920s-era Dallas

In 1923, the State Fair of Texas held Ku Klux Klan Day.

In 1923, the State Fair of Texas held Ku Klux Klan Day.

It’s a statistic that a modern city would likely just as soon forget: In the mid-1920s, Dallas had the largest chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in the U.S. with more than 13,000 members.

And, Texas had the largest population of KKK members—men and women—in the nation with more than 159,000 members.

These findings are among the research tidbits unearthed by Dr. Natalie Ring, Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD), who delivered a special lecture to a crowd of about 75 at the Museum on Dec. 12.

“Dallas’ KKK Chapter 66 was the largest chapter in the country, and it controlled city government, the courts, the law enforcement establishment and had strong influence among the clergy,” said Dr. Ring, who specializes in teaching U.S. Southern History.

From dues and fees, KKK Chapter 6 had an annual budget that is the equivalent to $1.3 million today, she said.

Dallas also had one of the largest chapters of Klan women, whose rallies drew huge audiences.

The first Ku Klux Klan flourished in the Southern United States in the late 1860s, then died out by the early 1870s, Dr. Ring said. Members adopted white costumes: robes, masks, and conical hats, designed to be outlandish and terrifying, and to hide their identities. The second KKK flourished nationwide in the early and mid-1920s, and adopted the same costumes and code words as the first Klan, while introducing cross burnings. The third KKK emerged after World War II and was associated with opposing the Civil Rights Movement and progress among minorities.

In the 1920s, the Klan sought to position itself as a law-abiding force for moral order that believed in good schools, clean politics, extreme Christian Protestantism and liberty. Above all, the Klan opposed immigration of just about any kind. Membership peaked in the mid-1920s with membership in the millions, Dr. Ring said.

In practice, the Klan was a vicious hate group, responsible for hundreds of lynchings nationwide. The Tuskegee Institute has recorded 3,446 blacks and 1,297 whites were lynched between 1882 and 1968.

One of the catalysts for the Klan of the 1920s was the 1915 lynching near Atlanta of Jewish businessman Leo Frank after the Georgia governor commuted his death sentence to life in prison. Frank had been convicted in 1913 and sentenced to death for the murder of a young white factory worker named Mary Phagan, in a trial marked by media frenzy. The Frank case is the subject of a special exhibit at the Museum through the end of the year, “Seeking Justice: The Leo Frank Case Revisited.”

However, in Dallas, as word spread about the KKK’s violence against not only people of color in the Trinity River bottoms near downtown Dallas, but Caucasians deemed to have moral failings, and the arrests of KKK members responsible for the violence, public support eroded for the Klan.

In addition, the election of anti-Klan Texas governor Miriam Amanda Wallace “Ma” Ferguson (June 13, 1875 – June 25, 1961) in 1925—and sexual scandal involving national Klan officers—deflated Klan influence and membership by the late 1920s.

The Klan saw resurgence during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Today, KKK members numbers range between 3,000 and 5,000, although that doesn’t include larger unknown numbers of white supremacist hate groups, Dr. Ring said.  She cited the work of the Anti Defamation League (www.adl.org ) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (www.splccenter.org) in raising awareness—and monitoring activities—of modern hate groups operating in the U.S.

Through deeper and better understanding of historical hate groups, we—as a civil society—can better prepare to combat hate, prejudice and indifference for the benefit of all humanity.

–Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum

 

Lynching Revisited: How Could It Have Possibly Happened? Keynote Speaker Introduces Newest Exhibit, “Seeking Justice: The Leo Frank Case Revisited”

Leo Frank

Leo Frank

Leo Frank was the victim of a twisted mentality—a mob mentality rooted not only in anti-Semitism, but in a weakness in Georgia’s legal system, national economic and political turmoil and complex psychological factors involving gender, fear and stereotypes, says Professor William Carrigan.

Dr. Carrigan, a Professor of History at Rowan University in New Jersey and keynote speaker at the Museum’s opening reception for the newest exhibit, “Seeking Justice: The Leo Frank Case Revisited,” is an expert on lynching.

The Museum’s comprehensive exhibit on the Leo Frank Case tells how in 1913 a jury convicted Frank, a superintendent in a pencil factory in Atlanta, Georgia, of the murder of a child laborer who worked in the factory. Thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan’s body was found in the pencil factory cellar.

To the outrage of many, Governor John Slaton, who believed Frank was innocent, commuted the former superintendent’s sentence to life in prison on his last day in office in June 1915.

Two months later, a lynch mob of 25 armed men, which included a judge, a solicitor general of a local circuit, a state legislator and an ex-governor, kidnapped Frank from prison. The mob drove Frank 150 miles to Frey’s Gin, near Phagan’s home in Marietta, and hanged him. A large crowd gathered and took photographs.

“There are just evil, bad people in the world,” Dr. Carrigan told a crowd of 85 people who attended his presentation in the Museum’s Theater on Sept. 9. “But in nearly all cases, lynching involves a mob culture ruled by a mentality permitted by a weakness in the legal system and support…by local law enforcement.”

Dr. Carrigan said a lynching culture—a phenomena seen around the globe, historically—viewed the alleged perpetrator’s crime as so heinous that mob members were permitted to act as jury, judges and executioners, nearly always before a large, cheering crowd.

In the U.S., nearly 3,500 African Americans and 1,300 whites were lynched between 1882 and 1968, mostly from 1882 to 1920, according to figures collected by the Archives of the Tuskegee Institute. Other people of color were also lynched—Native Americans and Mexicans.

It wasn’t until the practice was confronted and condemned by good people and a concerted effort to prosecute violators initiated, that it ended, said Dr. Carrigan, whose many books on the subject include The Making of a Lynching Culture: Violence and Vigilantism in Central Texas, 1836-1916 (University of Illinois Press, 2004).

The Frankcase was the ultimate catalyst for the fledgling Anti-Defamation League in 1913. The NAACP—formed in 1909—also contributed greatly to confronting ethnic and racial discrimination, and specifically lynching in early 20th century America, Dr. Carrigan said. Tragically however, the case helped ignite the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan.

“I would like to create our own ‘garden of the righteous’ to remember those who stood up against the lynch mobs,” Dr. Carrigan said. “We would be a better society to remember those folks rather than the mobsters.”

In 1986, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles pardoned Leo Frank, citing the state’s failure to protect the superintendent and bring his killers to justice as reasons for the pardoning.

The Museum presents this exhibit with the same intent as The William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum, which developed it. To revisit the case of Leo Frank and pose critical questions relating to individual and moral responsibility, respect for individual difference, the fragility of the democratic process, responsible citizenship, and the importance of community.

The exhibit presents the complicated and nuanced story of Mary Phagan’s murder, Leo Frank’s fate, and the historical, cultural, and political backdrop against which these events took place.

“Seeking Justice: The Leo Frank Case Revisited” will run through Dec. 31. The exhibit is generously supported by The Dallas Morning News and Brian Lidji, attorney and co-founder of the Lidji Dorey & Hooper law firm in Dallas.

Exhibit Dates: September 9, 2013 through December 31, 2013

Location: Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance, 211 N. Record Street, Dallas, TX 75202 (In the West End Historic District of downtown Dallas at the southwest corner of Pacific and Record.)

Hours: Monday-Friday 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m.—5 p.m.

Community Partners: African-American Museum, Dallas; Anti-Defamation League; Black Classic Books, Baltimore, MD; Human Rights Initiative of North Texas; NAACP Dallas Chapter; SMU Embrey Human Rights Program; University of North Texas, Jewish Studies Program.

-Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum

Podcast of Think (KERA-90.1 FM) with Dr. Carrigan

 

Delayed Justice: New Museum Special Exhibit Opening Sept. 1 Reexamines Historic Controversial Case

Leo Frank

Leo Frank

This exhibit, examines anti-Semitism in America. Through a large number of artifacts, it revisits the murder case and trial that ultimately captured the attention of the nation and led to the lynching of a Jewish man in Marietta, GA in 1915.

Exhibit Dates: September 1, 2013 through December 31, 2013

Location: Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance, 211 N. Record Street, Dallas, TX 75202 (In the West End Historic District of downtown Dallas at the southwest corner of Pacific and Record.)

Hours: Monday-Friday 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

For Leo Frank, justice arrived too late to prevent his tragic and unlawful lynching. Today, however, his story finds a measure of redemption, serving as a powerful reminder of the evils of prejudice, hatred and indifference.

The Dallas Holocaust Museum will host its newest special exhibit, “Seeking Justice: The Leo Frank Case Revisited,” beginning Sept. 9. The exhibit will run through Tuesday, Dec. 31.

“Seeking Justice” will examine anti-Semitism in America. Through a large number of artifacts, the exhibit revisits the murder case and trial of Frank, which captured the attention of a nation a century ago.

In 1913, a jury convicted Frank, a Jewish superintendent in a pencil factory in Atlanta, Georgia, of the murder of a child laborer who worked in the factory. Thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan’s body was found in the pencil factory cellar.

Frank’s conviction came after a long trial. To the outrage of many, Governor John Slaton, who believed Frank was innocent, commuted the former superintendent’s sentence to life in prison on his last day in office in June 1915.

Two months later, a lynch mob of 25 armed men, including pillars of Georgia’s legal community, kidnapped Frank from prison. The mob drove Frank 150 miles to Frey’s Gin, near Phagan’s home in Marietta, and hanged him. A large crowd gathered and took photographs.

In 1986, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles pardoned Frank, citing the state’s failure to protect the Jewish superintendent and bring his killers to justice as reasons for the pardoning.

The pardon was inspired in part by the 1982 testimony of Alonzo Mann, who as an office boy saw Jim Conley carrying Mary Phagan’s body to the basement on the day of her death. Conley had threatened to kill Mann if he said anything, and the boy’s mother advised him to keep silent.

The testimony gave confirmation to those who thought Frank was innocent. However, those who found Frank guilty still believed the testimony provided insufficient evidence to change their views.

The trial had long- and far-reaching impact. It struck fear in Jewish southerners, causing them to monitor their behavior in the region closely for the next 50 years—until the civil rights movement led to more significant changes.

The Leo Frank caused ripples well beyond Atlanta, GA. The case ignited the rebirth of the KKK and solidified the founding of the Anti-Defamation League.

We present this exhibit with the same intent as The William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum, which developed it.

To revisit the case of Leo Frank and pose critical questions relating to individual and moral responsibility, respect for individual difference, the fragility of the democratic process, responsible citizenship, and the importance of community.

The exhibit presents the complicated and nuanced story of Mary Phagan’s murder, Leo Frank’s fate, and the historical, cultural, and political backdrop against which these events took place.

U.S. Military Translator and Soldier Munir Captain: In Conflict-Ravaged Iraq, Peace is Possible Through Forgiveness and the Practice of Non-Violent Means

Munir Captain speaks at the Dallas Holocaust Museum on July 11.

Munir Captain speaks at the Dallas Holocaust Museum on July 11.

 

At age 15, when many American teens are busy playing team sports and taking driver’s education classes, Iraqi teenager Munir Captain joined the U.S. military as a translator. Later, he would become a special operations soldier in the U.S. Marines for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

But after surviving 33 assassination attempts, Munir sought and received political asylum in the U.S. in 2009 and eventually settled in Dallas, along with his parents and other relatives.

“I learned (in Iraq) that you cannot kill an idea with a bullet,’’ Munir told an audience of about 50 people at a special lecture at the Museum on July 11. “Non-violent, peaceful means are how you change hearts and minds.”

Although Munir and his family now enjoy relative safety and comfort, they cannot escape the continuing violence and tragedy in Iraq, which has claimed the lives as many as 123,000 civilians.

In July of 2011, Munir’s 19-year-old brother and his 15-year-old cousin were kidnapped and murdered by insurgents seeking revenge because of Munir’s alliance with the U.S. An uncle and other family members have also been killed in reprisal attacks.

From an early age, Munir acknowledges that he questioned the ideology of Saddam Hussein’s regime. His questioning of totalitarian authority landed him in prison for eight months when he was a teen boy of 13 and 14, a place where he was sexually assaulted.

At age 15, Munir said he gladly agreed to serve as a translator for the U.S. military and eventually as a soldier alongside Marines who taught him discipline, confidence and public speaking skills.

And, he said, he learned that forgiveness—not revenge—is the most effective means to stop violence, a lesson he learned from his exposure to and conversations with Christians, Muslims and Jews who had each suffered the loss of loved ones and went on to aid those who had suffered similar loss during the Iraqi conflict—regardless of the sufferers’ religious or other background.

Today, Munir works for a local lighting manufacturer while attending community college. He plans to attend Columbia University to complete his undergraduate degree. He speaks to civic and religious groups about his experiences in Iraq and about his beliefs that forgiveness and non-violence are the paths to sustainable peace.

One day soon, Munir said he hopes to establish a foundation in the U.S. that would fund educational and recreational programs for the youth of Iraq who are open and eager to hear his message of hope.

“I want to plant seeds that will bring forgiveness and peace in Iraq,” Munir said.

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

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