Living on: Exhibit documents Tennessee Holocaust survivors and liberators

By GWENDA ANTHONY
ganthony@jacksonsun.com

Never again.
That was the fervent sentiment expressed after the Holocaust and the liberation of survivors in the wake of World War II.

It is a promise that Gene Davenport, Ph.D., hopes never rings hollow as The Lambuth-B’nai Israel Center for Jewish Studies at Lambuth University prepares to mount a monthlong exhibit at the Jackson campus.

The traveling exhibition, “Living On: Portraits of Tennessee Survivors and Liberators,” is in cooperation with the Tennessee Commission on Holocaust Education.
Lendon Noe, professor in the Visual Art Department at Lambuth, has played a major role in overseeing to get the exhibit up, Davenport said.

She has arranged for all the speakers and led the group in mounting all the posters. Noe also was responsible for all the artwork related to the original exhibit that is housed in the center.

A reception Tuesday in the lobby of Varnell-Jones Hall will kick off the photo display, part of the Commission’s “Days of Remembrance” observance.

Other cultural and arts events surrounding the commemoration include a book review and discussion of Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter Elie Wiesel’s “Night” and the showing of the movie “Paper Clips.”

“The exhibit is important for two reasons,” said Davenport, chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Lambuth.

“First, it is important to get the exhibit now because so many survivors, who are a vital piece of history, are getting old.”

Ten years from now, some of them may not be around to tell the story in their own voices, he said.

“Secondly, the exhibit is simply to remind us of the horrors of the Holocaust.

“I’m not certain that remembering it that nothing like it will ever happen again,” Davenport said. “But certainly if we forget, it’s bound to happen again.”

As further explanation, he pointed to the recent genocide in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur.

Joel Newman agreed.

“I think any exhibit of this magnitude reminds us of history – either how much we have learned or not learned since the Holocaust,” said Newman, co-founder with Davenport of The Lambuth-B’nai Israel Center for Jewish Studies.

The center is in Lambuth’s Luther L. Gobbel Library and was established in 2003 by the university and Congregation B’nai Israel, where Newman is a lay member.

Newman leads the weekly Friday night services at the Jewish temple on Grand Street in Jackson in place of the rabbi, who usually visits once a month from Cincinnati.

Newman also conducts such life-cycle events as funerals and the naming of babies.

Among the center’s goals is the promotion of understanding and reconciliation between Christians and Jews. It also seeks to become a resource in West Tennessee for the study of Judaism.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to take us to learn,” Newman continued. “Look at the genocides in Rwanda, Darfur, Kosovo and Cambodia, just to name a few.

“The exhibit is a constant reminder that we still have much to do in preventing genocide,” he said.

The vast majority of Holocaust survivors and liberators in Tennessee live in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga, Davenport said.

He pointed to Leonid Sahrovici, who spoke to Lambuth students a few years ago during a Jewish religious observance. The Memphis resident was instrumental in starting the Tennessee Holocaust Commission.

“I would like to attend the exhibit in Jackson, but it’s quite a distance for me,” said Sahrovici said.

“It’s an excellent exhibit, and I recommend it,” added the 79-year-old native of Bucharest, Romania, in a recent telephone interview.

Sahrovici has seen the touring photo display in Nashville and Memphis, where he and his wife, Fredericka, live.

He came to Memphis as a youth after being freed from a children’s labor camp in Romania in August 1944.

“It should be a wonderful presentation,” said Pam Dennis, library director at Lambuth and a member of the center’s steering committee.

“For anyone there, it’s going to be a great educational experience.”