Category Archive: Holocaust Centers and Museums

Rome road race to commemorate the Holocaust

ROME (JTA) – A road race passing sites of Holocaust and Jewish remembrance in Rome will highlight events in Italy marking International Holocaust Memorial Day.

The “Run for Mem” — short for Run for Remembrance: Looking Ahead — is scheduled for Jan. 22, five days before the observance of International Holocaust Memorial Day marking the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz. In some countries, including Italy, events take place in the days or even weeks surrounding the Jan. 27 date.

Sponsored by Italy’s main Jewish organizations, The Run for Mem will start and end in Rome’s historic Jewish ghetto, in a square now named for the deportation of Roman Jews to Auschwitz on Oct. 16, 1943. Billed as Europe’s first sport race past sites meant “to commemorate the Shoah and determine future direction,” the event has two routes – 10 kilometers for athletes, 3.5K for the general public. Both take participants past sites related to the Holocaust.

Participants will be encouraged to stop, read commemorative plaques and light candles. They will also meet with Shaul Ladany, an Israeli Holocaust survivor and champion race walker who survived the attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

Organized by the umbrella Union of Italian Jewish Communities, or UCEI, under the auspices of the government and in collaboration with the Rome Marathon and the Maccabi Italia Association, the event is supported by or partnered with more than two dozen other Jewish, civic, governmental and sports bodies and will be featured on national television.

“Sport as a means of coming together is a way to affirm life and dialogue,” UCEI President Noemi Di Segni told a news conference Monday.

Other initiatives around the country to mark Holocaust Memorial Day include exhibitions, cultural and educational events, and commemorative ceremonies.

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Archaeologists unearth jewelry likely removed from Nazi gas chamber victims

Among items is unique pendant, resembling one which belonged to Anne Frank.

ShowImage (1)Archeologists working at the former Nazi extermination camp Sobibór in Poland uncovered personal items that they believe were removed by Holocaust victims before they were sent to the gas chambers, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum announced Sunday.

The items were found in the location believed to be where victims were forced to undress and have their heads shaved before being sent to their death.

The archeological findings were discovered by Polish archeologist Wojciech Mazurek, Israel Antiquities Authority archeologist Yoram Haimi and their Dutch colleague, Ivar Schute.

The remains of the building dug up by the archeologists are located on the so-called “Road to Heaven,” the path along which Jewish victims were forced to walk to the gas chambers. The personal items found in the foundations of the building probably fell through the floorboards and remained buried in the ground until they were discovered this past fall.

The items found include a Star of David necklace, a woman’s watch and a metal charm covered in glass with an etching of the image of Moses holding the Ten Commandments; on the reverse side of the charm is the inscription of the Jewish Shema prayer.

A unique pendant has drawn particular attention, as it bears a close resemblance to one owned by author and Holocaust victim Anne Frank. On the pendant are engravings of the words “Mazal Tov” written in Hebrew on one side and on the other side the Hebrew letter “Hei” for Hashem as well three Stars of David. It is believed to have belonged to a child from Frankfurt.

Through the use of Yad Vashem’s online pan-European Deportation Database “Transports to Extinction,” researchers found that the pendant might have belonged to a girl by the name of Karoline Cohn, born on July 3, 1929, who was deported from Frankfurt to Minsk on November 11, 1941.

Yad Vashem said that while it is unknown whether Cohn survived the harsh conditions of the Minsk ghetto, her pendant reached Sobibór sometime between November 1941 and September 1943, when the ghetto was liquidated and the 2,000 Jewish prisoners interned there were deported to the death camp.

Additional research revealed that both Frank and Cohn were born in Frankfurt; researchers are currently trying to locate relatives of both families and are exploring a possible familial connection between the two.

“These recent findings from the excavations at Sobibór constitute an important contribution to the documentation and commemoration of the Holocaust, and help us to better understand what happened at Sobibór, both in terms of the camp’s function and also from the point of view of the victims,” said Prof.Havi Dreifuss, head of the Center for Research on the Holocaust in Poland at Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research.

The archeological excavations at the site began in 2007, with the end goal of establishing a museum and memorial site in the former Nazi extermination camp, in coordination with Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research.

During that time, the excavations have led to several important discoveries, including the foundations of the gas chambers, the original train platform and a large number of personal artifacts belonging to victims. Among these were metal discs attached to charm bracelets typically worn by children, upon which were engraved contact information in case the children went missing.

Yad Vashem said the most recent excavations had uncovered signs of the use of mechanical equipment to dismantle the camp, as well as imprints left in the ground where trees were planted in order to conceal evidence of the camp.

“The significance of the research and findings at Sobibór grows with every passing season of excavation,” said Haimi. “Every time we dig, we reveal another part of the camp, find more personal items and expand our knowledge about the camp.

“In spite of attempts by the Nazis and their collaborators to erase traces of their crimes, as well as the effects of forestation and time, we enhance our understanding of the history previously known to us only through survivor testimonies,” he added. “In this way, we ensure that the memory of the people killed there will never be forgotten. This pendant demonstrates once again the importance of archeological research of former Nazi death camp sites. The moving story of Karoline Cohn is symbolic of the shared fate of the Jews murdered in the camp. It is important to tell the story, so that we never forget.”

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Unprecedented work underway to preserve Auschwitz

Conservators face challenge of preserving horrible reality of Nazi concentration camp over 70 years after it was built

POLAND-GERMANY-HISTORY-WWII-MUSEUMOSWIECIM, Poland (AFP) — Brick by brick, plank by plank, workers at the former Nazi German death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau carefully clean its barracks to preserve the Holocaust symbol for future generations.

“This is the largest preservation project in the history of the museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau. It’s unprecedented,” museum spokesman Pawel Sawicki told AFP.

Along with the ruins of the gas chambers and crematoria, the barracks bear witness to Nazi Germany’s killing of around 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, at this camp, which it built in 1940 in the southern city of Oswiecim after occupying Poland.

“Preserving a barrack requires a completely different approach than one used to preserve a church for example. There, the goal is to return the building to its original state, so its most beautiful state,” says site manager Ewa Cyrulik.

“Here, the goal is to leave everything unchanged. The biggest compliment for us is when someone says they can’t really see a difference afterwards,” she tells AFP.

The task is all the harder because these types of poorly constructed barracks have never been preserved before, according to the Auschwitz team.

“My colleagues in the building industry laughed when I told them what I was doing. They said it’d be easier to just tear down the wall and rebuild it brick by brick than to restore it the way we’re doing,” says Szymon Jancia, a construction expert at the site.

“We’re aware that people come here specifically to see authentic objects and buildings,” Cyrulik adds for her part.

Protected from the weather by tents 12 meters (39 feet) high, the two barracks under restoration number among the camp’s oldest.

Work on the barracks began in September 2015 and will continue for another couple of years, while the entire project will take more than a decade and cost millions of dollars.

Auschwitz-Birkenau is really two camps, located three kilometers (two miles) apart.

While Auschwitz has been subject to preservation work in the past, none of the brick barracks at Birkenau have been seriously restored before.

Only simple maintenance work was carried out to respond to critical repairs.

Birkenau’s buildings are much more fragile than those at Auschwitz, which were built long before Nazi Germany took them over and originally served as military barracks.

Birkenau’s buildings on the other hand were meant specifically for the camp and were built in a slapdash manner, using less robust materials.

Their walls are thin, barely the thickness of a brick, and have buckled in places because the roof is too heavy. The wooden frame is rotting. The foundations have been eroded by groundwater.

“It’s a miracle they’re still standing,” says Jancia.

In total, 45 brick buildings at Birkenau will undergo restoration work.

The team will preserve whatever parts are in good condition, and replace those that are in a poor state or threaten the integrity of the entire building.

“Whatever we replace has to be visible to the eye, so as not to be confused with the original,” Cyrulik says while pointing to layers of paint in a slightly different color.

Kneeling in a cramped hole, workers carefully remove earth to get at the foundations that have been weakened by groundwater.

They work by hand, without recourse to machines, as is the case elsewhere on-site.

Inside a nearby tent, they have built a six-meter-long model wall that is propped up by metal bars.

“It’s a wall we built using the same materials and featuring the same flaws as those in the actual barracks,” Jancia says.

“It lets us test preservation methods. The walls are held up by the very same car jacks used for changing a tyre.”

The entire project has so far cost 12 million zlotys (2.7 million euros, $2.9 million) in funding secured by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation.

Created in 2009, it manages the funds meant to preserve the site of the former Nazi German camp.

To date, donors have contributed 101 million euros, including 60 million from Germany, as well as big donations from the United States, Poland, France and Austria.

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Auschwitz Memorial Sees Record Number of Visitors in 2016

World Youth Day was a large boost to attendance. But how about Pokémon Go?

The memorial and museum and Auschwitz-Birkenau announced on Monday that a record 2,053,000 people visited the former Nazi concentration camp in 2016. Tops among attendees are from Poland, the UK, the U.S., and Italy; 97,000 visitors came from Israel, a 59 percent increase from the year prior. Also boosting yearly attendance were the 155,000 people who visited for World Youth Day, including Pope Francis. Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, the museum’s director, said eloquently, “In today’s world—torn by conflicts, increased feeling of insecurity and strengthening of populist tones in public discourse—it is necessary to re-listen to the darkest warnings from the past.”

A few weeks before the Pope visited Poland, there was hubbub about the fact that kids had begun playing Pokémon Go—a newly-released, augmented reality GPS-enabled videogame in which players try to catch, say, a Jigglypuff—at Auschwitz. The museum’s spokesman called it “disrespectful.” Tablet senior writer made the case otherwise, arguing that the forced emotion, the requisite sadness, that is struck upon young visitors is oppressive. “When urged to bow before death, life finds a way.”

Let these kids play their game, then, not even in Auschwitz, but especially there. Let them feel again that mad methectic magic Huizinga spoke about. They can’t make sense of Auschwitz, anyway; they can’t fathom what led to such brutality, can’t make sense of such hate. But they can catch a Jigglypuff and feel a burst of life whistling through the airless chambers of the factory of death. And that’s no small thing, no minor testament to the same resilience the Nazis eagerly and futilely tried to extinguish. Where better than Auschwitz to admit we’ll never have real knowledge, and where better to declare we’ll always have great games?

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The Auschwitz museum has a Twitter account, and this ex-journalist runs it

Whether he’s engaging the misguided (he prefers not to) or tweeting historical facts, Pawel Sawicki sees his job as shielding the memory of the victims

sawicki-1-965x543OSWIECIM, Poland (JTA) — Long before he moved here to become the spokesman for the Auschwitz museum and lead its social media effort, Pawel Sawicki’s life was intricately connected to this sleepy town near Krakow.

A Warsaw-area radio journalist, Sawicki used to visit Oswiecim as a boy on holidays to stay with his grandparents and play with his cousins, who had moved to the town shortly after World War II.

When he was 10, Sawicki learned that Auschwitz was an epicenter of the Nazi genocide against the Jews — he gleaned the details from a book about the camp that he found in his grandparents’ home.

“Most people visiting Oswiecim, especially from outside of Poland, are shocked to discover there’s a town next to the former German Nazi camp, the memorial which they come to visit. For me it was somehow the other way around,” Sawicki said.

That realization, he said, sparked an interest that led him here a decade ago as a reporter — and it consumes him to this day.

This initial connection to the history of Auschwitz was the beginning of a “constant presence in my life that kept sending me to look for more information,” said Sawicki, 36, who began working at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in 2007. Sawicki has encyclopedic knowledge about Auschwitz, which he has shared in countless articles, guided tours, and several radio and video documentary productions.

But the advent of social media has highlighted another role fulfilled by his office: as “a shield protecting the memory of victims” against rampant abuse online, he said.

A case in point was Sawicki’s intervention last month on Twitter when he called out Kurt Schlichter, a columnist for the conservative news site Townhall, for writing that Jewish supporters of Barack Obama and John Kerry “would have made a fine helper at Auschwitz.”

After some deliberation, Sawicki decided to tweet Schlichter’s message on the Auschwitz memorial account, adding: “The tragedy of prisoners of Auschwitz and their complicated moral dilemmas which today we can hardly comprehend should not be instrumentalized.”

With 40,000 likes and retweets, it became the memorial’s most retweeted message ever, topping the one about Pope Francis’ visit in July and exposing Schlichter to withering criticism.

This reach and intense reaction demonstrate the reasons for Sawicki’s careful consideration on whether to intervene, he said.

“In some cases, such actions risk offering a platform to abuse, thereby amplifying it,” he said. “But exposing and correcting such behavior can have a positive effect that sometimes justifies this risk. But it’s always a fine balance.”

The overwhelming rejection by Twitter users shows that calling Schlichter on his words was the right move, said Sawicki, whose office once was the pharmacy of the SS troops serving in Auschwitz.

But he does not engage Holocaust mockers and deniers as a matter of policy.

Sawicki has also demanded corrections from journalists who apply the word “Polish” to death and concentration camps built by Nazi Germans on Polish soil; doing so is a felony in Poland. And the museum will seek apologies or corrections from those who note that the camps are in Poland without adding that they were built under Nazi occupation.

But much of the online activity of the museum is to highlight positive examples of online engagement with Auschwitz, in Polish, German, English and other languages. There are regular “this day in history” tweets, links to articles and comments from recent visitors (“Where was man?” asks one), and news articles referring to Auschwitz and Holocaust commemoration. Earlier this week there were photos of the camp under a blanket of snow with the message: “New year brought snow which changes the landscape of the historical site.”

On the ground, the museum’s task is to safeguard the buildings and environs and to gather, study and publish evidence on German atrocities. But online, “our main goal is to provide education on the scale of the crime and what made it possible,” Sawicki said.

The Nazis murdered more than 1.1 million Jews at Auschwitz as well as 70,000 non-Jewish Poles, 25,000 Roma, and some 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war.

“Our social media policy is an extension of our guidelines as an institution, but it is developing week by week because we’ve never had such direct interaction with so many people,” Sawicki said. It’s both a chance to “educate people from all corners of the world, many of whom will never be able to visit the memorial.”

But abuse online is also a growing problem.

Amid a renewed wave of interest in the Holocaust in recent years in films, books and other media, as well as in visits to the museum — it registered a record of more than 2 million entries last year — the “instrumentalization,” trivialization and denial of the Holocaust has been growing as well, Sawicki said.

“It’s a daily, fast-changing challenge,” he said.

At the museum, Sawicki navigates the institution’s 470 acres with certainty, demonstrating an intimate knowledge of almost all aspects of life — and death — here. Unlike some visiting guides who resort to pathos or sanctimony, Sawicki, wearing a colorful scarf that his mother-in-law made for him, shares in an informal but precise manner illustrative facts and anecdotes that he has spent a decade collecting.

At the Death Wall, an execution site that is located in the yard adjacent to Block 11 in Auschwitz I, Sawicki dryly explains to a group of journalists that around the wall there was sand mixed with sawdust designed to drain blood.

“Some testimonies mentioned that an adult male bleeds about two liters [67 ounces] when shot, so on days with dozens of executions this place was quite literally soaked in blood,” he said.

Sawicki once interviewed a survivor who recalled laughing at the sight of a fellow prisoner wrestling free from under cadavers that had collapsed on him from a cart. SS guards also laughed. Such testimony illustrated to Sawicki the complexities of surviving at Auschwitz, “but also the amazing human personal strength” doing so required, he said.

While most of the hundreds of thousands of people who visit Oswiecim annually likely associate it with death and horror rather than a town with 900 years of history, for Sawicki it is also the place where he started a family after moving in 2007 with his wife, Agnieszka, whom he married while living here. His son, Wojtech, attends kindergarten near here.

For Sawicki, the town’s dark history is no impediment to loving it.

“It has always been a second home to me, and now it is even more so,” said Sawicki, who grew up in the quiet Warsaw suburb of Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki. “We have to accept these aspects of history in Poland and strive to make a better future.”

Agnieszka, however, has had a tougher time acclimating “because she’s a real city person, a Warsaw girl who needed some time to get used to the different pace,” Sawicki said.

The couple have told their son neither about the Holocaust nor about his father’s workplace except to say that it’s a museum.

“We don’t want to introduce it before he’s ready to take it in,” Sawicki said. “So we’re kind of waiting for him to ask the questions.”

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Austria lawmakers vote to seize Hitler birth house

After years of legal wrangling, government decides to expropriate former home of Nazi leader; fate of building uncertain

austria-hitler-house_horo-635x357VIENNA, Austria – Austrian MPs voted late Wednesday to expropriate the home where Adolf Hitler was born, ending years of bitter legal wrangling with the current owner over the infamous building’s future.

A large majority approved the new law, which was submitted by the government earlier this year in a bid to stop the dilapidated house in the northern town of Braunau am Inn from becoming a neo-Nazi shrine.

Local resident Gerlinde Pommer — who has been renting the premises to the Austrian state since 1972 — will receive compensation under the legislation.

It is not yet clear what will happen with the yellow corner house at Number 15 Salzburger Vorstadt Street, located right in Braunau’s historic center.

In October, Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka announced it would be “torn down” to make place for a new building to be used by a charity.

He said the decision was based on recommendations from an expert committee.

But several of the 13-member panel were quick to deny that the commission had backed Sobotka’s push to bulldoze the place where Hitler was born on April 20, 1889.

“A demolition would amount to negating Austria’s Nazi past,” the experts said in a joint statement in October.

Although Hitler only spent the first few weeks of his life there, the address has been a thorn in Austria’s side for decades, drawing Nazi sympathizers from around the world.

Every year on Hitler’s birthday, anti-fascist protesters organize a rally outside the building, next to a memorial stone reading: “For Peace, Freedom and Democracy. Never Again Fascism, Millions of Dead Warn.”

The property has been empty since 2011 when Austria became embroiled in a dispute with Pommer.

Her family has owned the 800-square-meter (8,600-feet) building for nearly a century.

Since the early 1970s, the government had been renting the premises for around 4,800 euros ($5,000) a month and used it as a center for people with disabilities.

But the arrangement came to an abrupt end five years ago when Pommer refused to allow much-needed renovation works.

The famously elusive owner also rejected a purchase offer made by the increasingly exasperated interior ministry.

The issue has also sparked debate among Braunau’s 17,000 residents.

Some want the building to become a refugee center, others a museum dedicated to Austria’s liberation from Nazi rule.

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Paris museum calls Auschwitz a ‘Bauhaus architectural achievement’

Local Jewish leader protests insult to the memory of death camp victims, says early 20th-century art movement ‘has enough lovely projects’

ruboff1526-resp1090-2PARIS (JTA) — A French arts museum defined the death camp Auschwitz as “an architectural achievement of the Bauhaus movement.”

The “Spirit of the Bauhaus,” which opened in October at the Museum of Decorative Arts, includes SS officer Fritz Ertl’s designs for the extermination camp among the major achievements of the modernist art movement and school active in the years preceding the rise of Nazism.

Historians of the movement have debated whether the school, which was denounced as decadent by the Nazi regime, bears responsibility for disciples who went on to work for the Third Reich.

Francis Kalifat, the president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, wrote a letter of protest Friday to the museum director.

In his statement, which Kalifat also sent to Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay, who is Jewish, he wrote: “The Bauhaus movement has enough lovely projects that make it unnecessary to insult the memory” of approximately 1 million Jews who were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Bauhaus was a German art school operational from 1919 to 1933 that gave its name to the utilitarian architectural style perfected by many of the school’s graduates.

Tel Aviv, where many German Jews immigrated in the 1920s and ’30s, is one of the world’s most Bauhaus-rich cities, with more than 4,000 buildings classified as belonging to that style.

After the Nazis shuttered the school in 1933, most of its artists and architects left the country. Some who remained worked for the Nazis with various degrees of enthusiasm, according to Nicholas Fox Weber, the author of a book on the subject.

Ertl, who trained at Bauhaus from 1928 to 1931, became a member of the Waffen-SS in 1941 and contributed the plans of the barracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau, according to Le Figaro. He and another architect, Walter Dejaco, were tried in Vienna in 1972 and acquitted on charges of abetting mass murder.

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Holocaust Museum Dinner in Philadelphia Demonstrates Power of Artifacts to Convey History

16 November 2016, Philly Dinner.At first glance, the wide-wale corduroy jacket in the box atop the tissue paper might be a gift for Dad or Grandpa — an L.L. Bean special he can wear as fall turns to winter. The cut, the color, the buttons, the pockets — they all look entirely familiar, like the brown corduroy jackets found in countless catalogues and department stores.

Without context, this jacket is a study in banality, as prosaic as they come.

But appearances can be deceiving, especially when it comes to material culture. This particular jacket is, in fact, suffused with meaning, history and a life experience that diverged dramatically from the norm. If it represented banality at all, it was the banality of evil.

Last week, Michael and Peter Feuer, whose late father Otto was one of a small number of Jews to spend 12 years under Nazi rule and survive, presented their father’s brown corduroy jacket at the 2016 Philadelphia “What You Do Matters” Dinner of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The jacket, along with a gray-and-blue striped concentration camp uniform, were worn by Otto at Buchenwald, the last of three concentration camps in which he was imprisoned.

The Feuer family has now donated his clothing (along with other items) to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, whose collection of artifacts is expected to double in size in the next 10 years. Peter Feuer, who lives in Rydal, also donated $1 million to the in-progress David and Fela Shapell Family Collections, Conservation and Research Center, which will have climate-controlled environments, preservation equipment and highly specialized laboratories to house and conserve the collection.

Thirty-three Greater Philadelphia residents have helped that collection grow by donating personal items, and the “What You Do Matters” Dinner was held, in part, to thank them.

About 15 donor-survivors were able to attend, including Eve Przemyski, 93, who seemed a little chagrined about being honored in the evening’s affair.

“I’m not Jewish,” she said, then added, with a laugh, “but it’s not my fault!”

Przemyski gave the museum the diary she kept as a teenager, which she titled Behind the Barbed Wire: A Diary of a Year in a German POW Camp 1944-1945. Though she wrote it in her native Polish, she had it translated in the 1990s.

“It’s a very moving story about a teenage girl who lost it all,” her son-in-law, Jack McFadden, said proudly.

When Przemyski gave her diary to the museum in 2011, she also donated family photographs, identity cards, immigration documents and other ephemera that may be of use to families and researchers, especially given that Przemyski’s mother sheltered two Jewish women during the occupation. “They both survived,” Przemyski said.

Boris Altshtater, 78, who was born in the former Yugoslavia, also gave the museum many documents.

“I donated all kinds of stuff, but the most precious were the letters that my father sent me,” he said in heavily accented English. “They were written from Jasonovec concentration camp [in Croatia]. This was the only country in occupied Europe by Nazis that had their own concentration camps and their own guards and they did their own killing.”

Alshtater said his father was allowed to write 20 words in each letter.

“All he said, ‘I work in economy’ — I didn’t know what it meant — and, ‘send me biscuits and marmalade.’ No ‘how am I doing,’ not normal communication. It had sign of Jasonovec with stamp and date it was sent. And under the letter it was saying, ‘writing is the prize for good behavior.’ They killed him a year later.”

As a toddler, Altshtater was in two concentration camps himself — as well on the run with his family in the forest — but there’s much he doesn’t know about his own history. “My mother didn’t want to tell me anything,” he said, but the family did save photographs of the young Altshtater taken in the camps. Those are now in the museum’s collection.

Przemyski, Altshtater and the other survivor-donors were all praised effusively by the evening’s speakers, including Andres Abril, director of the museum’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office. As a slideshow of artifacts was displayed on video screens behind him, Abril said the museum’s success depended upon the power of these objects to illuminate personal histories.

“As the museum was being conceived, original artifacts were seen as a critical part of how we would share this history,” he said. “And in mid-construction, in the early ’90s, the very first artifact was lowered into the building. … It was as if we were placing into the museum the beating heart of what Elie Wiesel called ‘living memorial.’”

Artifacts, Abril added, “transformed the experience at the museum for millions of people, from a history lesson to something far more tangible, far more personal. … Every artifact represents a human being, a family, and therefore every artifact is also a memorial.”

A chair is not a chair, he said; it is Louisa’s chair that was given to her by her parents on her second birthday while in hiding. Even the smallest items, like a ring found in a mass grave, tell the stories of individuals. “These have become our treasures,” Abril said, “and while they have no intrinsic value, when they’re combined with the history and the humanity of their owners, they are transformed into timeless personal witnesses of history.”

The evening’s next speaker, Elaine Culbertson, has been using the museum’s treasures for many years as an educator.

The program director of the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teachers’ Program, Culbertson is the daughter of two survivors who heard many stories of tragedy and triumph from her parents and their survivor friends growing up. She became a teacher in the Philadelphia school system, but at the time she didn’t teach the Holocaust because it wasn’t part of the curriculum. Then one day something happened to change her mind.

“When I heard a boy in my class tell another boy that he was going to buy a leather jacket and he hoped he could ‘Jew the guy down,’ I realized that my African-American students — who assured me they knew no Jews, not recognizing that I was Jewish — had no knowledge of any prejudice other than the prejudice directed against them,” she recalled. “That began my search for materials to teach students about the Holocaust.”

In the process of educating herself beyond her family history, she was struck by the weight of historical objects: “The extraordinary power of a baby’s dress in a glass case at Auschwitz. Or a bit of rouge a woman used to redden her cheeks to pass the selection. Or a Star of David that was fashioned out of a tin plate. These things were palpable,” she said. “Who could not be moved by seeing these things and connecting them to real people?”

When she became a teacher of other teachers, Culbertson took them to the museum and had them choose an object that would illuminate history for their students.

“The one that stops the discussion is the shoes,” Culbertson said of the exhibit of victims’ footwear confiscated at Majdanek, “because that is the one [exhibit] that is about individuals more than any other, and that is the one that invites personal stories to become the focus.”

The next speaker also remarked upon the power of the shoes. Rebecca Dupas, a Washington, D.C., native, first visited the museum as a high school student. Now the museum’s coordinator of community partnerships, youth and community initiatives, Dupas said after she saw the shoes as a teenager, “it hit me — the power of those shoes to remind me that this is not necessarily a story of millions, but a story of one person millions and millions and millions of times. The shoes made the story very individual to me, and it is a feeling and lesson I will never forget.”

Last summer Dupas worked with nine students who also found artifacts that resonated for them.

“For me it was the shoes; for them it was the milk can,” she said. One student said the milk can reminded her that these were regular people with regular families. Another said the milk can was important because it wasn’t a replica, because it was real. “Artifacts are extremely important in our ability to connect to the history.”

Dupas then read a poem, “An Unlikely Voice,” about her experience as an African-American woman who chooses to serve as a Holocaust educator. “In speaking for one, I speak for all,” she said. “I must bear witness, and silence can never be my choice.”

The night’s final speaker was Eli Rosenbaum, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations. Rosenbaum, a Penn alum, has spent his career pursuing and prosecuting Nazi war criminals, including several who made their lives in Philadelphia. He spoke of the role artifacts play as forensic evidence, without which he could not do his job.

Though the evening was replete with video testimonies and fascinating speakers, there was a sort of reverential awe that was reserved for Otto Feuer’s garments — including that regular, old corduroy jacket.

At the end of the night, attendees were welcomed to the front of the room to see the both the jacket and uniform up close. As they crowded around and peered into the boxes, it was clear: Words and pictures tell us a great deal, but there is nothing that compares with survivor artifacts to convey the experience real people had during the Holocaust — a world event that, without this material testimony, would be too horrific to believe.

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