Free Speech & Hate Speech: Can They Coexist?

Human Rights PanelDeny the Holocaust in the United States and get ready for the verbal debate you’ll have. Try denying the Holocaust in most European countries and you can count on being fined and hauled off to jail.

Between the two philosophies of protected speech, who do you think got it right?

On July 26, a panel of three experts attempted to answer that very question at the Museum’s Holocaust & Human Rights Educator Conference. The panel, “Free Speech & Hate Speech: Can They Coexist?,” included Cheryl R. Drazin of the Jean and Jerry Moore Southwest Civil Rights Counsel and the Anti-Defamation League of North Texas and Oklahoma; Dr. Rick Halperin, Director of the Embrey Human Rights Program at Southern Methodist University; and Dr. Gregory Stanton, Research Professor in Genocide Studies at George Mason University and Founder and President of Genocide Watch.

Panelists noted that Holocaust denial is just one of many forms of speech—including drawing swastikas and wearing Nazi uniforms—that Europe has cracked down on since the end of WWII. Meanwhile, in the United States, “hate speech” remains a protected form of discourse that has been upheld by major court decisions time after time.

Ms. Drazin sides with the United States on this one. She takes the “libertarian” view of free speech, insisting that “only by protecting the most offensive and heinous speech can we protect all speech.”

Dr. Halperin, on the other hand, takes a “humanitarian” view of free speech, lauding the European approach to criminalizing hate speech and shutting down hate groups. To give listeners a better idea of the two underlying philosophies, Dr. Halperin juxtaposed the American belief in a fundamental “right to life” with the declaration of a “right to life with dignity” as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. By its very nature, he argued, declaring a “right to life with dignity” would necessitate laws against hate speech.

Skeptical of both approaches to free speech, Dr. Stanton argued for a more moderate, “communitarian” approach.   “Hateful rhetoric,” he says, “can be monitored at the community level.” Hateful words that cause harm to a particular community can be addressed with an emphasis on a community’s wellbeing as opposed to an emphasis on the individual’s right to make hateful remarks.

All of the panelists agreed that Americans must pay better attention to the presence of hate speech on television, on the Internet, and in everyday interactions. Even if all speech is legal, it is our responsibility to confront hate speech with countervailing speech—a principle, as Dr. Stanton pointed out, hearkens back to Thomas Jefferson.

Hateful and offensive speech should put Americans on guard to combat such rhetoric and prevent extremism from turning into acts of violence. Whether hate speech is protected or not, our mission to protect human dignity starts with our choice of words. And to that end, we should never be afraid to speak up.

If you haven’t done so, be sure to visit the Museum’s special exhibit, “Survival in Sarajevo: La Benevolencija.”Based on Edward Serotta’s book Survival in Sarajevo: Jews, Bosnia, and the Lessons of the Past, the exhibit, which runs through Sept. 18, 2016. It features photos of Holocaust survivors, Catholic Croats, Muslims, and Orthodox Serbs caught in the horror of the longest siege of a city in the history of modern warfare.

And, we hope you will join us on Sept. 18 when, in recognition of the International Day of Peace, when the Museum will host “Peace Day Dallas – Meet Three Holocaust Survivors.” The survivors will each speak—one at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Each survivor speaker will tell their story then answer your questions. Please allow at least 1 hour for each survivor. On this day, there is no charge to hear the survivors or to tour the Museum. However, space will be limited.

–McGuire Boles, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance





In Sarajevo, Hope Emerged Among the Diversity of the Human Spirit

ESsarajevoAs journalist and photographer Edward Serotta approached one of the last places of refuge in war-torn Sarajevo—an aging synagogue run by a cross-section of Sarajevo citizens—he could hardly believe the devastation that lay before him.

Refugees of all backgrounds, ethnic groups, and religions had gathered at the Jewish humanitarian aid agency known as La Benevolencija with nothing but the clothes on their backs, while Serotta himself, a neutral party in the conflict, entered the synagogue in a flak jacket and blast helmet.

Continue reading “In Sarajevo, Hope Emerged Among the Diversity of the Human Spirit”

From the Safety of the Secret Annex, Anne Frank Reveals Life-Changing Lessons for All of Us Today

anne_frankBefore the world met the bright, optimistic girl named Anne Frank, she and her family lived in complete secrecy behind a bookcase for two years, hiding from Nazi soldiers and sympathizers.

In the red and white checkered journal given to her by her father for her 13th birthday, Anne wrote down her experiences, insights, and dreams in a voice distinctly her own. “I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people,” she proclaims, “I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!”

Continue reading “From the Safety of the Secret Annex, Anne Frank Reveals Life-Changing Lessons for All of Us Today”

Factual Survey leaves indelible mark—but for the right reasons

german-concentration-camps-factual-survey-1945-2014-002For the first seven minutes of German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, the audience sat in communal silence.

Literally, not one sound could be heard in the Cinemark 17 Theater in North Dallas as the official British documentary film on the Nazi concentration camps of WWII began to play.

Before the film, Museum President and CEO Mary Pat Higgins warned the 325 people in attendance at the Aug. 3 special screening that the images we were about to watch would be “full of the painful truth” about the atrocities that happened at Nazi concentration and extermination camps—the “starvation, cruelty, murder, misery and suffering . . .”

It was most certainly painful. And, it is why silence seemed the appropriate response to this film: words cannot accurately capture this depiction of man’s inhumanity to man.

Incorporating the work of British, American, and Soviet camera crews, the film documents the liberation of concentration and extermination camps by the Allies as the war in Europe came to a close in April and May 1945.

Alfred Hitchcock, a one-time treatment advisor on the film, suggested the filmmakers avoid tricky editing to enhance the film’s authenticity and credibility. What we are left with are long takes of the most gruesome scenes from the Holocaust: piles of human remains, ashes from the crematoria, and the signs of lives once lived—bags of human hair, wedding rings, spectacles, and toothbrushes.

Footage accumulated for the film would be used in the postwar prosecution of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg and Lüneburg.

Postwar politics and an urgent need to begin the rebuilding of war-ravaged Germany and Britain overtook the film’s production timeline and reflective script.

Consequently, the film was shelved, although excerpts from it were released as part of other Holocaust documentaries after the Imperial War Museum took possession of the rough cut in 1952. Footage, for example, was used in the 1985 documentary, “A Painful Reminder.”

After funding was secured, work to restore and complete the film began in earnest in December 2008. Factual Survey premiered at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival. A documentary about the making of the film was later shown on HBO (under the title Night Will Fall) on Jan. 27, 2015, Holocaust Remembrance Day, the 70th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

In a brief Q&A following the Cinemark screening, local Holocaust survivor Max Glauben said the film depicted the life he experienced in concentration camps, but the true reality of the atrocities, he said, remain difficult to convey. Max said he would rather focus on the positive lessons he learned as a survivor while reminding the world that evil is ultimately a choice made by each person individually.

The film screening was made possible by Cinemark Theatres, which donated the use of the theater, Academic Partnerships and, in part, with a grant from Humanities Texas, the State Affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Join us on September 10 at 5:30 p.m. for the opening reception and lecture for the upcoming special exhibit “Holocaust by Bullets.” Also, please plan to join us on October 15 for our next Upstander Speaker Series presentation: Ret. Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, former UN peacekeeping force commander for Rwanda at 6:30 p.m. at SMU.

–Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum

For the Chief Rabbi of Poland, the “Spark of the Jewish Soul” Reignites the Jewish Community in Country Decimated by the Holocaust

Rabbi Michael Schudrich
Rabbi Michael Schudrich

In 1939, Poland was home to a thriving Jewish community of 3.5 million people—folks who made their households and livelihoods in cities, villages and farms across the vast country.

Six years later, barely 300,000 Jews survived in Poland.

The Holocaust—and the Nazi’s Polish-based death camps—resulted in the murder of 3.2 million Jews from Poland, some 90 percent of the country’s Jewish population.

Repercussions of this crime against humanity continue today, but there is renewed hope in Poland for Jews. And Rabbi Michael Schudrich, the American-born Chief Rabbi of Poland, may well be the No. 1 reason why.

Rabbi Schudrich was the special guest of the Museum’s Upstander Speaker Series on June 4 at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas. Appointed Chief Rabbi of Poland in 2004, he has played a central role in the country’s Jewish Renaissance. Indeed, since the fall of Communism in 1989, a growing number of Poles have learned of their Jewish roots, and Rabbi Schudrich is the person they often turn to for guidance.

“We cannot change the number of Jews who were murdered in Poland,” Rabbi Schudrich told the crowd of more than 250 at the JCC. “But, we can change the number of Jews who are out there and have yet to discover their identity.”

Today, about 25,000 Jews call Poland their home. As Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Schudrich spends much of his time counseling people who have discovered—or who are trying to determine whether—they are, in fact, Jewish.

After World War II, most Jews living in Poland who survived the Holocaust left the country—many to Israel—and those who remained were forced to hide their Jewish identities under Soviet Communism.

For Jews living in Poland, “From 1939 to 1989, everything that happens tells you it’s not safe to share your Jewish identity with your children and grandchildren,” Rabbi Schudrich said. “ But in the last 26 years (since the fall of Communism), we’re seeing these children and grandchildren have their hidden secrets now revealed because it is safe—that they are, in fact, Jewish, and there is great hope and optimism.”

These revelations of newly found Jewish identity—Rabbi Schudrich called it the discovery of “the spark of the Jewish soul”—are transforming lives and, albeit slowly, Poland itself. Rabbi Schudrich was one of three Jewish leaders in Poland recently awarded prestigious Bene Merito Medals in recognition of their actions in promoting Poland abroad.

Born in New York City, Rabbi Schudrich attended Jewish day schools there and graduated from Stony Brook University in 1977 with a Religious Studies major and received an MA in History from Columbia University in 1982. He received Conservative smicha (rabbinical ordination) from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and later, an Orthodox smicha through Yeshiva University from Rabbi Moshe Tendler. He served as rabbi of the Jewish Community of Japan from 1983 to 1989 before moving to Poland in 1992.

A rising level of anti-Semitism is an issue throughout Europe, Rabbi Schudrich said, but Poland is making great strides in building strong Jewish-Catholic relationships. “I prefer to emphasize what’s working in Poland,” he said. “Good things are happening, and I am an optimist at heart.”

Be sure to join us for our next Upstander Speaker Series on October 15 when Lieutenant-General Roméo Antonius Dallaire, a Canadian humanitarian, author and retired senator and general, will be the special guest. Dallaire served as Force Commander of UNAMIR, the ill-fated United Nations peacekeeping force for Rwanda between 1993 and 1994, and attempted to stop the genocide that was being waged by Hutu extremists against Tutsis and Hutu moderates.

The Upstander Speaker Series is sponsored by Real Time Resolutions and is supported by The Dallas Morning News, G&H Ventures, LLC and Humanities Texas. This project was made possible through a grant from Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


And, don’t miss out on seeing the Museum’s Special Exhibit, “The Wartime Escape,” which chronicles Margaret and H.A. Rey’s (creators of Curious George) escape from the Nazis. The exhibit closes on June 20.

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


For Michael Sam and America, History That Moves All of Us Forward

Michael Sam
Michael Sam

The yellow double triangle, with an appearance like that of the Star of David, and the pink triangle—Rosa Winkel in German—were part of the complex color-coded Nazi concentration camp badges. The yellow was used to identify Jews; the pink was used to identify male prisoners who were sent there because they were homosexuals.

Between 1933 and 1945, about 100,000 German men were arrested as “criminal” homosexuals and about 50,000 were convicted and sent to prison. After 1942, an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 German homosexuals were sent to concentration camps where an unknown number of them died.

Indeed, the hatred practiced by the Nazi regime—responsible for the systematic murder of six million Jews and five million others during the Holocaust—was the first thought of Michael Sam, who made history in 2014 as the first openly gay man drafted into the NFL.

Sam, who is currently appearing on ABC-TV’s Dancing With The Stars while he awaits what he hopes will be another chance to play in the NFL, spoke to a sold-out crowd of 200 at a special Museum’s Upstander Speaker Series event held at the Communities Foundation of Texas auditorium on March 26.

“The Holocaust is probably the most absolute worst crime against humanity,” began Sam, 25. “This event is nothing we should ever forget, and the work that you all do here is absolutely critical. We must remain diligent to make sure nothing like it ever happens again. Against the backdrop of your work, I’m not sure there’s anything else I can say that compares.”

Introduced by WFAA-TV Sports Director and Anchor Dale Hansen—whose “Hansen Unplugged” commentary on the prejudice Sam faced when Sam came out as a gay man generated international news coverage and a high-profile appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show last year—Sam continued:

“Ever since I came out about a year ago, people have called me a hero and courageous. For the record, I do not consider myself either. I was just simply owning my truth. My name is Michael Sam and I’m a person of passion and intensity. I am a football player, a friend, a son, a fiancée, and I am a gay man.”

“The courageous heroes are the many people, especially the youth of today, who are being bullied or harmed, both physically and psychologically, everyday because of their race, religion, or sexuality. They have the courage to go out every single day and face all that they must and pursue their dreams no matter what the obstacles.”

But, Sam said, he can relate to these youth. Growing up the seventh of eight children in Hitchcock, Texas, along the Gulf Coast, Sam faced a tough childhood filled with adversity and suffering.

“I had brothers who bullied me, and I had a family who wasn’t always there for me,” Sam said. “Football gave me everything I have today. It gave me the structure I needed in my life, it gave me my teenage years, it gave me the chance to show off my athletic ability, and most importantly it gave me the opportunity to attend the University of Missouri. My friends and teammates became my family, and football became my sanctuary.”

But he wasn’t just any football player. He was a standout player for the Mizzou Tigers. At the end of his senior season, Sam was named the Southeastern Conference co-Defensive Player of the Year and a member of the All-SEC First Team. He was also named a semifinalist for three other major college football awards.

Early projections had Sam going in the third or fourth round of the 2014 NFL draft. Then Sam came out as a gay man—something his accepting Mizzou teammates already knew and hadn’t cared about. They knew him as an exceptional performer and teammate.

But when draft-day came, it seemed as if the NFL wasn’t as accepting of Sam’s talent. He was the 249th player taken out of 256 drafted. When ESPN TV cameras captured his emotional response to being drafted by the St. Louis Rams—a lifelong dream that he celebrated by kissing his boyfriend (and now fiancée), Vito Cammisano—it didn’t go over so well with some past and current NFL players who took to social media to spew prejudice and discrimination.

Sam made his professional football debut in a preseason game on Aug. 8 against the New Orleans Saints. In four NFL preseason games with the Rams, Sams made 11 tackles and three sacks, including a game-leading six tackles in the final game. Yet, on Aug. 30, the Rams cut Sam. Within days, the Dallas Cowboys had added Sam to their practice squad. On Oct. 21, he was cut again. He is hopeful that he will play in the NFL one day soon

Sam said, “I am proud to be able to play a small part in the NFL and LGBT history by being the first openly gay man to enter into the league. But it is not what I set out to do, and I’m not done yet. I truly believe we are making the world a better place and more tolerant place. I have been welcomed into locker rooms, meeting rooms, and living rooms.”

Sam has received the ESPY’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award and the Human Rights Campaign’s Upstander Award, and he has been named a finalist for Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year.

Meantime, Sam said, his focus will remain on helping youth of today accept themselves for who they are and on teaching the moral and ethical response to hatred, prejudice and indifference for the benefit of all humanity—the mission of the Museum.

“Hatred and violence against LGBT Americans is wrong, just as hatred and violence against black Americans is wrong, just as hatred and violence against Jewish Americans is wrong,” Sam said.

“The moment we let hatred and violence go unchecked in our society, we become weaker as a people. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to push back, to stop prejudice, when we see it.”

“I am proud to stand in this room with so many people committed to this cause to do just that. Despite all the incredible strides we have made in the last century or so, recent events have proven to us that more work needs to be done. I issue all of us a clear and direct challenge: let’s answer hate with love, let’s answer darkness with light, let’s answer intolerance with understanding.”

In his introduction of Sam, Dale Hansen cited a famous quote by the late U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, who once said, “We know the future will outlast all of us, but I believe that all of us will live on in the future we make.”

Said Hansen: “Michael Sam is making it a better future for our kids. We need more Michael Sams in America.”

Please make plans to join the Museum on June 4 for the next guest of the Upstander Speaker Series, Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland, who is playing a key role in the “Jewish Renaissance” of Poland.

And, be sure to visit the current special exhibit at the Museum (through June 20), “The Wartime Escape,” which recounts the WW II escape of Margret and H.A. Rey, creators of the Curious George series.

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












As ‘Propaganda and Persuasion,’ Arthur Szyk’s Art Inspired the American Home Front During World II Like No Other Artist, Dallas Attorney and Art Collector Rogge Dunn Says

Rogge Dunn
Rogge Dunn

Arthur Szyk was a gifted artist who used his pen against masters of propaganda during World War II—the evil Nazi regime, said Dallas lawyer and art collector Rogge Dunn.

“For Arthur Szyk, art was propaganda with a point of view, and he used his gift to stand up” against hatred, prejudice and indifference, Dunn told a Museum crowd of about 75 people at a Jan. 12 special presentation, “Art as Propaganda and Persuasion.”

A fifth generation Texan and a native of Dallas, Dunn is a founding partner of Clouse Dunn LLP, a law firm specializing in business and employment litigation. An avid collector of arts and antiques, he has a special affinity for World War I- and II-era propaganda posters, which he began collecting as a student at the London School of Economics in 1977.

Locally, pieces of his collection have been displayed at the Hall of State at Fair Park during the State Fair of Texas and the Frontiers of Flight Museum.

The work of Arthur Szyk is the subject of the current special exhibit at the Dallas Holocaust Museum, “Drawn to Action: the Life and Work of Arthur Szyk,” through Jan. 31.

During World War II, Syzk engaged in a ‘one man war’ against Hitler’s persecution of the Jews, and also served as a ‘one-man army’ against the evil Axis. He did so through finely detailed, elegant and pointed political and satirical caricature drawings, which served as a one-two combination of social justice and great art.

To effectively persuade a viewer, Dunn said, propaganda art must have a clear objective in mind. He suggested these “pillars of propaganda” are to:

  • Ridicule and vilify the opponent
  • Scare the viewer to prevent the threat
  • Glorify those who have taken action
  • Humiliate the viewer into action
  • Evoke empathy in the viewer by sharing suffering

Arthur Szyk’s meticulous hand-drawn art work was intended to motivate citizens into action both on the war front and the home front, Dunn said.

“In the Internet age,” Dunn said, “We sometimes forget the power of a single image to convey a persuasive message. It still does.”

Special thanks to the Texas Jewish Artists Association for sponsoring the event reception.

Please plan to join the Museum for these special upcoming events:

Sunday, Jan. 25, 3 p.m.: International Holocaust Remembrance Day Commemoration at the Museum.

Thursday, Feb. 12, 6:30 p.m.: Opening reception of the new special exhibit, “The Wartime Escape: Margret and H.A. Rey’s Journey from France”; Louise Borden, author of the War Time Escape, will speak about her discovery of the Rey’s story—a story which had not been previously known.

Thursday, March 26, 6:30 p.m., at the Communities Foundation of Texas, 5500 Caruth Haven Lane, Dallas, TX 75225, the Upstander Speaker Series presents Michael Sam, the first openly gay football player in the NFL, who will speak about his decision to “come out” in the often hostile and homophobic world of professional sports in his message of “Start Where You Are, Use what you Have and Do What you Can.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-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