Archives for category: Museum
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Credit: USC Institute for Creative Technologies

It won’t be long before people besides Joel Haley Osment start saying, “I see dead people.”

You know how one of the main laments of Holocaust studies for future (and current) generations is that the survivor population is dying out? How books and movies aren’t the same as face-to-face encounters with in-the-flesh survivors? Well, the University of Southern California is trying to do something about it.

According to a recent CNET article, “As the aging Holocaust survivor population dwindles, USC scientists scurry to create life-size 3D holograms that can answer viewer questions through Siri-like voice-recognition technology.”

The hologram initiative is a collaboration between the USC Shoah Foundation and design firm Conscience Display. According to CNET, they are developing “installations that let students and others converse with the hyper-photorealistic life-size digital versions of the survivors. Viewers ask questions, and the holograms respond, thanks to Siri-style natural-language technology, also developed at USC, that allows observers to ask questions that trigger relevant, spoken answers.”

Quick aside: I knew USC was home to Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation, but I didn’t know it was responsible for Apple’s Siri technology. Nice. Great way to use what you’ve got and keep things in-house, USC!

The initiative is called New Dimensions in Testimony and USC says it will “display testimony in a way that will continue the dialogue between Holocaust survivors and learners far into the future.”

If you can get past the creepy aspect, (can’t help but see this played out in a Scooby-Doo episode), it sounds like a potentially viable solution to stem the despair of those who feel the memory of the Holocaust will die with its survivors. With the amount of Holocaust literature, art and film already in existence, plus those in the works (like mine) or that will be made in the future, I highly doubt that, but still, it will definitely have a less dire effect when there are no survivors on the ground.

This is the part I like best (aside from the cool hologram element, of course): “New Dimensions in Testimony will yield insights into the experiences of survivors through a new set of interview questions, some that survivors are asked on a regular basis, plus many of which have not been asked before.” (italics mine)

Hopefully they can get this project done quickly while the remaining survivors are still lucid enough to answer these new questions with some degree of clarity. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see. But I must say, I trust these guys at USC. They seem to know what they’re doing.

I’m more interested in the “holy-hologram-wow” factor, but for those of you interested in the techie stuff, the aforementioned CNET article goes into greater detail and includes relevant links.

What do you think about Holocaust holograms? Creepy? Brilliant? Not sure? Do you foresee potential problems or glitches? Do you think kids will be freaked out by this or intrigued? Please, do tell.

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AshesHolocaustSweden

The mausoleum at the Majdanek concentration camp outside Lublin, Poland. Photo: CC BY-ND Kasia/Flickr

You know the definition of chutzpah wherein a man kills his parents and then begs for leniency on account of being an orphan? Well, here’s something that closely adheres to that definition: a Swedish artist used the remains of people murdered at Majdanek concentration camp in Poland for his painting, currently on display at a gallery in Lund, Sweden.

The artist, Carl Michael von Hausswolff, defends his use of the ashes, per his artist statement at the gallery: ‘The ash has followed me, always been there …  as if the ash contains energies or memories or souls of people … people tortured, tormented and murdered by other people in one of the 19th century’s most ruthless wars.’”

Uh, yeah, and that’s why you should not have used their ashes in your art. Those ashes are sacred. And they don’t belong to you. According to The Blaze: “[von Hausswolff] apparently collected the ashes 20 years ago, however there is not much information regarding how he acquired them. The Telegraph claims that he ‘took the ashes during a 1989 visit to Majdanek.’ A translation from a description on the gallery’s web site seems to indicate that the artist nabbed the ashes directly from cremation ovens during his visit.”

What an ash-hole.

USHMM curator Kyra Schuster, right.
Photo credit: Bruce R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post

Every few  weeks Kyra Schuster flies down to Palm Beach County in Florida to meet with Holocaust survivors. Yeah, so what, you may ask. Well, here’s what:

Ms. Schuster is a curator for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) and makes these trips as often as she can to retrieve the precious artifacts and remnants that many survivors have carried with them all these years: diaries and suitcases and photos and postcards. All tangible reminders and in some instances testimony to their experiences.

Reminds me a bit of “The Things They Carried,” Tim O’Brien‘s book about what soldiers carried with them in Vietnam. [I’m aware it’s a bit anachronistic to refer to an earlier war using a literary catchphrase from a later war, but please give me some slack, or at least some poetic license.]

“Kyra Schuster is a treasure hunter who measures her victories in tattered scraps of paper and suitcases that outlived their owners,” is how Lona O’Connor described her in last Sunday’s Palm Beach Post.

Ms. Schuster says she loves her job and from my vantage point, what’s not to love? Sure, the subject of the Holocaust is inherently a downer but I kind of have a bit of job envy here. What an endlessly fascinating project to be working on. Well, not endlessly, obviously, and that’s kind of the point.

Per stats mentioned in the article, the median age of survivors in Palm Beach County (which has the second largest community of survivors in the country, estimated to be between 12,000 and 18,000) is 85. That means Ms. Schuster has to cull these artifacts as fast as she can, before they are lost to history by death and default.

A lot of people work best under pressure; deadlines impose a ticking clock and death is the ultimate deadline. Schuster seems to handle it with grace.

Her retrieval and acquisition of these items is not really about the objects themselves, but about the people who donate them. She hears their stories and weaves them into the exhibition for historical context.

The USHMM receives more than 800 calls a year from people with artifacts from Jews living during the Nazi era and the post-war displaced persons camps. My mother-in-law Hana Berger Moran, who was born in German concentration camp, was one of those callers. A baby born in a camp seems unfathomable, but it happened and Hana is living proof. A few years ago she donated her newborn clothes to the museum. They were made by women in her mother’s camp who managed to scrounge up scraps of cloth to make her a shirt and hat. They even found a bit of colored thread to stitch both a pink and a blue flower,  not sure if the baby would be a girl or a boy.

Photo: Soulbrother V2

Check out this opening line from a recent New York Times arts review:

The astounding thing about American slavery is not that it existed — the enslavement of one people by another may be one of history’s universals — but that it persisted.”

What struck me when I read that, is that it can also be said about the Holocaust. The fact that overt racism and mass genocide still exist doesn’t surprise me — they too are among history’s universals — but that Hitler’s attempt to slaughter every single Jew endured seven years before all of his death factories were discovered, and that it happened in the 20th century, during my own parents’ lifetime. That’s what’s incredible about it, how recent it was.

I saw other parallels to the Holocaust in that piece by Times culture critic, Edward Rothstein, entitled,Life, Liberty and the Fact of Slavery,”

“It lasted into an era when its absence could be imagined and its presence could become an outrage.

That was one of the chilling peculiarities of slavery in the United States: As revolutionary ideas of human rights and liberty were being formulated, slavery was so widely accepted that contradictions between the evolving ideals and the brutish reality of enslavement were overlooked or tolerated.

We look back now, shocked at the cognitive and moral perversity.

It’s not a direct correlation, of course, but we 21st century beings also look back in shock at the moral perversity of what Hitler was able to accomplish right under our noses. We weren’t primitive beings in Western Europe circa 1939. For all intents and purposes, we were a civilized people. But maybe electricity and indoor plumbing are not enough to engender civilized behavior among certain people, because although what the Nazis did to the 11 million people they killed was calculated, it was also savage to the core.

Curious to learn more, I Googled, “American Slavery” and “Jewish Holocaust,” which led me to an article about a cool art exhibit at Philadelphia’s Vivant Art Collection (note: it’s no longer there) called, “Transcending History: Moving Beyond the Legacy of Slavery and the Holocaust.” It was organized by the Idea Coalition, a self-described “network of Black and Jewish young professionals who work to build bridges between our communities.” As described by the online journal Zeek, the exhibit showcased 30 different artists, Black and Jewish, “in a deliberate attempt to highlight both parallels and distinctions between the experiences of the two groups who have moved through history on parallel tracks—in both pain and response to it.”

Broadway, The Divide, by Elke Riva Sudin

The piece I was most drawn to (above) is by local Brooklyn artist, Elke Riva Sudin and is called,
“Broadway: The Divide.” It is part of her Hipsters and Hassids series. Cool stuff.

But I digress.

So, what is the connection between American Slavery and the Jewish Holocaust? Or, maybe a more relevant question would be, What is the relationship between Blacks and Jews today? Last night I asked my husband what he thought and he drew upon his middle-school and teenage years living on Chicago’s South Side. He said he remembers a strong bond between the Black and Jewish communities back then [the 1980s] but remarked that it no longer exists.

He followed it up this afternoon with an email:

I grew up in Jackson Park Highlands, which was on the South Side and was a remarkably diverse neighborhood. My next door neighbors were Al and Mary Taylor, successful African Americans with rich southern pedigrees from Mobile and Atlanta, and my neighbors on the other side were Dick and Vivian Handel, who were Jewish. It seems like the houses, which were big and surrounded by leafy yards, alternated Jewish and African American. Ramsey Lewis, the famous Jazz pianist, lived down the street, and Jesse Jackson lived in the neighborhood as well, which was only four blocks by four blocks. So my context was built from that: where we all loved Chicago, and we were all trying to make it, and we were all close friends. It almost felt like the color of our skin didn’t matter. I used to sleep over at Al and Mary’s, and I just adored them.

Interesting and heartfelt, but it doesn’t really answer my question. So instead I’ll leave you with Funny or Die’s Black and Jewish rap, which in internet parlance had me ROFL and LMAO. “Shalom to your mother,” indeed!

Gulf Coast High School student Mario Chang. Photo: Carol Joseph

Fifteen-year-old Florida sophomore Mario Chang, who is part Chinese, African and Peruvian, is also a budding Holocaust scholar.

According to NaplesNews.com, after visiting the Holocaust Museum & Education Center of Southwest Florida, Mario was so touched by what he saw, he wrote a letter about it and sent it to the museum, where he eventually became a volunteer and student spokesperson. 

“He definitely stands out,” says Amy Snyder, the Museum’s executive director, adding that it’s unusual to have high school students volunteer at the museum and even more unusual to have a student who is as committed as Mario.

According to Mario, the everyday message to be taken from the Holocaust boils down to bullying.

“I know that bigotry and bullying is still going on,” he tells Naples News. “I hear it mostly every day in school. And it’s just such a big part of our lives that something needs to be done about it.”

Last spring Dr. Wilson Bradshaw, the president of Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), heard Mario speak at a fundraising event for the museum. So impressed was he with this teenager’s gumption, he offered him a full four-year tuition scholarship: “We were very impressed with Mr. Chang. And here at FGCU, we like to take every chance to keep some of the brightest and best students here in our region.”

Mario Chang's Scholarship. Photo: Carol Joseph

I’m also impressed with how Mario’s personally taken on this cause and at such a young age. And that he appears to have no European ancestry in his mix, which means probably no personal ties to survivors or victims.

His instinct about bullying as the major lesson of the Holocaust as it relates to society today, seems so simple, and it is, but it’s also smart. I mean, think about it. Hitler was the ultimate bully. Per Merriam-Webster, a bully is “a blustering browbeating person; especially : one habitually cruel to others who are weaker.”

Mario told one of the Museum’s board members that if he didn’t stand up for a kid that was being bullied, then he was just as bad as the one doing the bullying. Surely something the “innocent” bystanders don’t want to hear, which is as true today as it was back in WWII-era Germany.

Holocaust trunk by Crabapple Middle School students in Roswell, Ga.

For years Holocaust survivors have been visiting schools telling wide-eyed students about their days spent in camps and ghettos or hiding in the forest or someone’s attic. But it’s not often that a retired Army General from World War II visits schools, telling the same story from a different vantage point.

Middle school students in Georgia are lucky. They get to meet Brigadier General Russel Weiskircher in person. And he’s quite the storyteller, channeling the gravely voice of George C. Scott as General Patton.

Gen. Weiskircher; Photo: Tom Reed

He tells 50 rapt sixth graders at South Hall Middle School: “We asked the people in Dachau, ‘Where’s the prison camp?’ They didn’t know. Shook their heads.”

Gen. Weiskircher, WWII-era

He pauses for a moment and deepens his voice: “One old man!” he booms, “held his nose and pointed. In sign language he said, ‘Follow your nose, you’ll find it.’

There’s an inaudible gasp in the room. “I don’t mean to be vulgar,” says the retired General. “But the stench, I cannot describe to you.”

Although the 5:44 video is rough-shod, the General also had my rapt attention. (I recommend stopping at 4:34, though, as it’s mostly background noise after that).

South Hall Middle School sixth grader, 11-year-old Mason Barnes, said he could have listened all day to the General, says Access North Georgia.

As vice chairman of the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust, a state agency that uses the lessons of the Holocaust to teach about injustice, stereotyping, discrimination and bigotry, 88-year-old Weiskircher’s goal is to help today’s students cultivate an open mind. To do this, he goes from school to school as part of the Commission’s Holocaust Learning Trunk Project.

If the video wasn’t of such poor quality, I might have felt the same way. It’s a short video and I would love to know more of what the general spoke about. (Do I sound like Woody Allen when he complained about how terrible the food was but in such small portions?).

One thing that caught my attention, because I’ve heard about it before but never from someone first-hand, was IBM’s role in the war. Here’s what he told the students:

“[When] we pried the gate open [at Dachau], the first thing we found was a room with IBM key-punch cards. With a card for every prisoner in the German political system. It was being maintained by former IBM employees, Germans who had been trained to do it. There was a key-punch card for over 11 million people. That covered all over Europe, all of the prisoners, many of whom were dead.”


 

Hall of Names at Yad Vashem; photo: David Shankbone

That sentence stopped me in my tracks.

At last week’s 10th Biennial International Holocaust Studies Conference at Middle Tennessee State University, Steven Leonard Jacobs, uttered those words.

The Jewish studies professor from the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa also said: 

“There were 150 members of my family murdered between 1939 and 1945. My father was one of seven survivors. All seven are now deceased. But growing up, I knew my family was different somehow. We weren’t like other families. I grew up with dead relatives. When I would tell stories about playing with friends, my father would say, ‘Oh, that reminds me of my cousin who was killed by the Nazis.’”

Imagine your own mother or father doing that? I’m sure it would become tiresome, if not downright depressing. I’ve spoken with other offspring of survivors who tell similar stories. Perhaps some children would be inclined to stop sharing playground anecdotes with their survivor parents simply to avoid hearing about dead relatives, but Prof. Jacobs seems to have gone in the opposite direction by becoming a professor who specializes in Holocaust studies. He seems to have come to it with great passion and vigor, and I applaud that.

“All of us,” he said, “the second and third and fourth generations of parents who survived this terrible thing, represent a bridge over Hitler. When I was born, my dad said I was the victory. The Nazis didn’t defeat us.”

Indeed, every child and grandchild and great-grandchild and so on down the line is a triumph over Hitler. My husband and children included.

One of the goal’s of this biennial conference is to give middle- and high-school educators the tools they need to teach Holocaust curriculum.

According to the article in The Tennessean, Prof. Jacobs told the teachers that it is not their job to provide answers but to “have a solid knowledge base about the subject and to wrestle with the question: Are there lessons we can learn from it today?”

I, for one, appreciated that question he posed because I can only hear, “We must keep it from happening again,” so many times. Of course, we don’t want mass genocide to ever happen again, but it’s said so often that it’s become trite and I feel almost deaf to it now. Hopefully these new educators will bring some new thoughts and words, and in turn, their students will also breathe new life into Holocaust studies.

Eric F. Ross

 

My heart is bursting!

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum just received a record gift of $17.2 million from Eric F. Ross, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 91. The first article I saw didn’t mention his Ritchie Boy status, but I connected the dots when I read he’d fled Germany in 1938 and enlisted in the U.S. army in 1942. (ed., learn more about the Ritchie Boys from my earlier post.)

Well, it was confirmed that he was, indeed, a Ritchie Boy! These men are my newest most favorite heroes. Is it weird to have a crush on a bunch of octo- and nonagenarians? If you watch the documentary, you might develop one too.

Sara J. Bloomfeld, the museum’s director, said, “Having experienced firsthand Nazi antisemitism and hatred, Eric and [wife] Lore Ross became determined and generous investors in Holocaust education. Their loss and suffering inspired remarkable generosity.”

Lore and Eric F. Ross

According to a Museum press release, the donation will go toward the Museum’s endowment fund, which provides permanent resources to secure the Museum’s future. Even from his grave Ross is telling Hitler and his henchmen that the world will never forget. Thanks to Ross’s generous donation, my kids, both of whom are third-generation survivors, will be able to know their history.

Wolfgang Haney is obsessed.

Born in Berlin to a Jewish mother and gentile father, 87-year-old Haney scavenges flea markets all over Europe in search of Holocaust artifacts. To date he has amassed an impressive collection of yellow Stars of David that Jews were forced to wear during World War II. But those yellow badges aren’t all that he seeks.

Other Holocaust-era relics include telegrams from concentration camps, drawings by prisoners, anti-Semitic postcards, personal letters and other documents of identification.

How do we know he is obsessed?

His collection is taking a toll on his health. He doesn’t sleep well and he gets rashes that cause the pads of his fingers to burst open. “It has almost broken me down,” he says. When his wife complains he’s running himself ragged, he tells her, “You are absolutely right.”

Yet, he cannot stop.

But he knows his work is important, vital to the memory of those who died, physical proof that these atrocities happened to real people. To individuals. To people like you and me.

Apparently his collection fills his entire house. The article didn’t include any pictures so I have no idea if this is of Collyer brothers proportions (which I certainly hope it isn’t), but it does include this description:

“Books are stacked to the ceiling, posters cover the tables, and mountains of documents are everywhere. Three enormous iron safes in the cellar are filled to the brim with red and black folders. Thousands of pages, letters, food stamps, arm cuffs and drawings document the discrimination and elimination of Jews.”

This article also doesn’t say how many stars he has in his collection and a cursory search on Google yielded results almost entirely in German (which I can’t read), so I will have to ask my husband or mother-in-law to interpret for me. I’d also love to see photographs of his house-filled collection, just to get a sense of the variety and the volume of it.

Luckily Haney doesn’t keep it to himself; he  organizes exhibits, gives lectures and publishes books.

I can only hope he wills his collection to a major Holocaust museum in Europe, Israel or the United States. I, for one, would be very interested in seeing it.

If anyone reading this knows anything about this man’s collection, please share in the comments section below.

George and his sister Krystyna, reunited after 60 years.

Instead of closure, Holocaust survivor George Gordon got one hell of an opening.

For 60 years he thought he was his family’s sole Holocaust survivor. As a teenager Gordon (born Jerzy Budzynski) fought the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which is where he saw his father and younger brother shot dead by SS soldiers. As for his mother and sister, the German Red Cross said they could find no trace they survived and so he assumed they were dead. For 60 years. I repeat, for 60 years he thought they were dead.

In 2002 two of Gordon’s friends enlisted the help of the Red Cross’s War Victims Tracing Service on his behalf, hoping to help him achieve closure.

“He was looking for graves,” Red Cross volunteer Tammy Kaiser told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “He never was looking for living people. The only reason he even began searching was just to find out where they were buried so that one day he could visit and pay his respects.”

All paths led to dead-ends until Polish researchers discovered a simple newspaper obituary from 1979. It was for Gordon’s mother, Janina. And it mentioned only one survivor, her daughter Krystyna.

“Gordon, who has seen men burned in crematoria, been shot and tortured, recounts war horrors matter-of-factly,” writes the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “Only when speaking of the night he heard his sister’s voice for the first time in 59 years does his voice waver.”

“‘Krystyna, this is Jerik,’ he said, using his childhood nickname over the telephone to Poland.”

On September 26, 2003, they saw each other again for the first time in 60 years. They met in the lobby of the Hotel Monopol in Wroclaw, Poland, where Hitler had once shouted speeches from the balcony.

Gordon describes his first glimpse: “‘These two women walked in, my sister and her daughter,’ Gordon said, gazing at the diary he kept during his year at Buchenwald. ‘I wouldn’t have recognized her if we’d passed each other on the street — to me she was always a 12-year-old girl — but when I heard her voice, I knew it was her.'”

While this warms my heart immensely, it also makes me sad that he never got to see his mother again. And that she died not knowing he had survived. According to the article, Gordon is not Jewish. He, his father and brother took part in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, but they weren’t Jewish.