Lil Shapiro with three unidentified men, at a Jewish National Fund event, 1960. (photo from JWB fonds, JMABC L.11896)
If you know someone in these photos, please help the JI fill the gaps of its predecessor’s (the Jewish Western Bulletin’s) collection at the Jewish Museum and Archives of B.C. by contacting [email protected] or 604-257-5199. To find out who has been identified in the photos, visit jewishmuseum.ca/blog.
When Jeanne Abrams told a friend she was planning to do her doctorate dissertation on an aspect of Colorado Jewish history, her friend replied, “What a wonderful idea! You’ll hardly have any work to do.” She proved wrong.
“While I was researching my dissertation and finishing up my PhD, I visited the Beck Archives of Rocky Mountain Jewish History at the University of Denver,” Abrams told the Independent. “The director, when she retired, asked me to interview for the job. The rest is history. As director of the Beck Archives, one of my tasks was to become an expert on Western American Jews, and that’s how the book came about,” she said, referring to Jewish Women Pioneering the Frontier Trail: A History in the American West (New York University Press, 2006).
“I’ve always had an interest in American Jewish women, and found there were some differences that I wanted to point out, and that Jewish women played a very important part in settling and developing Jewish communities in the American West,” she said.
Abrams herself was born to Holocaust survivor parents in Stockholm, Sweden. Sheltered there after the war by the Swedish Red Cross, her family moved to the United States when Abrams was less than a year old.
Through her research, she has learned that, in the United States, while Jewish men were very involved in city and organization building, it was often left to the women to develop religious continuity and community.
She said Jewish women “were in the forefront of founding synagogues, keeping Jewish tradition alive in the home, and they also branched out in many areas – particularly strong in philanthropy and charitable enterprises. At the same time, because of a combination of factors, including the more open environment in the West and that kind of spirit of adventure, Jewish women also really ventured into professions, into higher education.
“I think this environment in the West made this area of the country different for Jews in general. I certainly don’t want to suggest that there was no antisemitism in the West but … [Jews] were more prominently accepted into general society, so American Western Jews, men and women … were often leaders in both the general community and the Jewish community simultaneously.”
Throughout Denver’s history, there have been many endeavours that have involved people of different faiths. As an example, Abrams cited the Denver Charity Organization Society, which was organized in 1887 by a Jewish woman, a rabbi, a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister. The society evolved into what is now known as the United Way.
“Jewish women were also in the forefront of political life here in many ways, and I don’t think that most people realize that women voted in the West long before they did on the East Coast…. We’re coming up to the 100th anniversary of the amendment that allowed women to vote in the U.S.,” said Abrams. “In 1893, women were already voting in Denver. It was the largest city in the U.S. in which women could vote. I think people often think of women’s suffrage with the East Coast, New York, and minimize the amount of influence that early suffragettes had in California, here in Colorado, and in many other cities.”
In 1899, the National Jewish Hospital was founded as a place for people with tuberculosis. It drew patients and staff from all over the country, and was funded by people all over the country. According to Abrams, this was likely one of the first national Jewish organizations to hire a Jewish woman in the role of executive director, in 1911.
While Abrams’ research has primarily focused on Denver’s Jewish population, she also has come across parallels in Canada.
“We know Jews have a very long tradition of philanthropy and social justice. I found that across the border as well,” said Abrams. “But, in terms of the hospitals, when I studied them, I’d say, in Denver, the two Jewish sanatoriums actually had more interaction by women than I saw in Montreal.”
With her book, Abrams wanted to impart a sense of appreciation for women in the American West – of them having been leaders.
“They’ve often been overlooked, because historians tend to be very East Coast-centric,” she said. “I think that people generally seem to be surprised that there are Jews living out in the West. If they thought of anyone, they had the stereotype of cowboys living there.”
While more people associate Denver with the gold rush, Abrams noted that more people actually came to Colorado in search of health than wealth, specifically referring to the tuberculosis treatments available.
These days, Abrams has mainly been studying early American history. Her most recent book was, she said, “on America’s first three ladies. It’s called First Ladies of the Republic: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison and the Creation of an Iconic American Role. I’ve moved back and forth, but I’ve enjoyed the different topics I’ve covered.”
This pre-Columbian cultural artifact at the University of Haifa is one of the mysterious art objects from Puerto Rico that were alleged to have been made by members of the Ten Lost Tribes. “This is definitely one of the strangest and most fascinating stories I’ve ever been involved in,” stated the university’s Dr. Iris Groman-Yaroslavsky. “To date, we have not found any similar carved stone art objects from this region of the Americas and, therefore, many researchers assumed that they must be fake. However, the microscopic tests we performed show beyond any doubt that the stones were carved around 600 years ago.”
The story of these art objects, known as the “Library of Agüeybaná,” goes back to the 19th century, when a Puerto Rican monk by the name of José María Nazario presented a collection of some 800 carved stone statuettes, some of which had a clearly human form while others appeared to be artistic or ritual items. No similar statuettes or art objects have ever been found from this region, and it was he who claimed the Lost Tribes connection. In 2001, a research student named Reniel Rodríguez Ramos saw the stones during a study trip and was enchanted. He completed his doctorate in pre-Columbian cultures and returned to investigate the stones. Eventually, he came to Groman-Yaroslavsky’s lab, which specializes in microscopic examinations.
The Goldene Medina exhibit is designed to have the feel of a scrapbook album, to have come from any Jewish South African’s family memoir. (photo from South African Jewish Museum)
The Goldene Medina exhibit arrives in Vancouver July 29 for two weeks. A celebration of 175 years of Jewish life in South Africa, the exhibit was displayed in South Africa, Australia and Israel prior to arriving here, where it is making its North America debut at Congregation Beth Israel. Local Jewish community member Stephen Rom, who is from South Africa, saw it for the first time in Sydney and was instrumental in bringing it to the city.
“You need to remember your past to engage in the present,” reflected Rom. “I was struck by the level of professionalism of this exhibit, which was produced by the South African Jewish Museum in Cape Town. What’s different about it is the way the stories have been written. Nobody is named or personally identified. This is the story of all Jews in South Africa, the community as a whole.”
The Goldene Medina was the Jews’ name for Johannesburg when they arrived during the gold rush in 1886. “This exhibition has soul – it’s not a dry exhibition of facts and figures,” noted Wendy Kahn, national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. “It’s one that tells real stories of families that have been living in South Africa for 175 years.”
“This is a social history,” agreed Gavin Morris, director of the museum, “the story of families and people and their experiences as South Africans and as Jews for 175 years, from our forefathers arriving to contemporary Jewish South Africa. Everything is taken from unpublished memoirs, articles and out-of-print books, to give the exhibit a sense of a scrapbook album, of any Jewish South African’s family memoirs. Our goal was for people to find their own stories in similar stories.”
The stories are excerpts written in the first person and accompanied by photographs old and new. One excerpt, titled “My Mother’s Table,” reads, “At my mother’s table, ‘being full’ was never a reason to stop eating. Some of the many reasons to have some more included: ‘I cooked this especially for you because I know you like it,’ ‘you can’t put so little leftovers back into the fridge,’ ‘it’s freshly made,’ and ‘you don’t like my cooking.’ Refusing more was to snub the generosity and abundance that was on offer. Eating was proof that you were loved and that you knew how to love back.”
Another, titled “Cubs,” reads: “After my mom realized that I only knew Jewish kids, she sent me off to Cubs – not exactly your standard Jewish activity. I came home with my first friend and said, ‘Mom, isn’t it wonderful? Here’s my first friend from Cubs and guess what – we’ve got the same Hebrew teacher!’ He was the only other Jewish kid there and we found each other. My mother gave up after that.”
A third is titled “A Surprise Guest”: “What is the epitome of Jewish chutzpah? Inviting the president of the country to attend your bar mitzvah. And what is Jewish mazel? When the president actually accepts. The bar mitzvah boy delivered his handwritten note to a security guard outside [Nelson] Mandela’s Houghton estate. He hoped to get a card from Mandela in return. Instead, his parents received an official call to say the president will attend. On the day, President Mandela arrived and sat at the main table, between the bar mitzvah boy and his father.”
The excerpts are thought-provoking, poignant, entertaining, informative and never boring. And the photographs are deeply intriguing, telling a story of their own – a timeless Jewish story that has relevance to all Jews whose ancestors have known immigration and resettlement.
Accompanying the Goldene Medina in Vancouver will be the exhibit Shalom Uganda: A European Jewish Community on the Ugandan Equator 1949-1961, curated by Janice Masur.
“As a child, I lived in this remote European Jewish community on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kampala, Uganda, under British Imperial rule, with no rabbi or Jewish infrastructure. Yet, this tiny community of 23 families and 20 children (15 of whom were born in Kampala) identified as Jews and formed a cohesive group that celebrated all the Jewish festivals together,” explained Masur. “Now that most references to Jews in Uganda pertain to … Abayudaya Jews, I want this history – my story about my Ashkenazi Jewish community in Kampala – to be remembered in the Jewish Diaspora.”
The photos and stories that comprise the Ugandan display are, said Masur, “a testament to a determined but isolated group of Jews who were secular in a [remote] place but upheld their Jewish identity and traditions as best as was possible,” given the lack of religious, educational or cultural Jewish institutions. (For more about the Ugandan Jewish community in which Masur grew up, click here.)
The July 29 opening night of the Goldene Medina starts at 7:30 p.m. at Beth Israel, where the display will be up until Aug. 14.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
Dozens of undamaged pottery vessels have been discovered so far at the site.(photos from Israel Antiquities Authority via Ashernet)
In 2015, archeologists began an excavation in the Judean Foothills, between Kiryat Gat and Lachish. In research conducted in a cooperative venture by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, the archeologists believe they have found the Philistine town of Ziklag. Dozens of undamaged pottery vessels have been discovered so far at the site, and it has been determined that the vessels are at least 3,000 years old.
Ziklag is a Philistine name, given to the town by immigrants from the Aegean. It is mentioned many times in the Bible in relation to David (in both Samuel I and II). According to the biblical narrative, Achish, king of Gat, allowed David to find refuge in Ziklag while fleeing King Saul and, from there, David departed to be anointed king in Hebron. Ziklag was also the town that the Amalekites, desert nomads, raided and burned, taking women and children captive.
Ira Hoffecker’s current solo exhibit at the Zack Gallery, Conjunction, runs until July 21. (photo by Olga Livshin)
Conjunction, Ira Hoffecker’s current solo exhibit at the Zack Gallery, opened on June 13 and runs until July 21.
German-born Hoffecker and her family moved to Canada in 2004. “I always liked art, but when I lived in Germany, my husband and I worked in marketing for the movie industry,” she explained in an interview with the Independent.
Once, when her children were still young, they came here for a family vacation and traveled Vancouver Island. “We loved it,” she said. So much that, when they moved here permanently, they settled in Victoria. As if that wasn’t change enough, Hoffecker also decided to switch careers and follow her lifelong love of art. She enrolled in the Vancouver Island School of Art and has been studying and creating ever since.
Hoffecker’s previous show at the Zack Gallery, in 2016, was dedicated to maps. Since then, her art has undergone a couple of transformations. Conjunction is much brighter and more expressive set of works, although the abstract component remains.
On the journey to her new colourful mode, Hoffecker went through a black-and-white stage, which was the focus of her master’s in fine arts’ thesis, which she completed last year. The works she created for her master’s degree include a number of huge paintings – abstracts made with tar on canvas – plus three documentary videos. The theme – “History as Personal Memory” – was a painful one for the artist. She recalled, “One of my professors said that my works are the interconnected layers of urban setting and history. ‘Where is your personal layer?’ he asked me.”
Taking this advice, she has been trying to delve into her personal recollections, to uncover her place in history, her “personal layer” among the historical layers dominating her art. “In ‘History as Personal Memory,’ I tore pages from a history book about the Third Reich, an era in history that many Germans would prefer to forget. Yet I think it is important to face and discuss this past. Such dialogue might prevent the horrors from happening again,” she said.
In Hoffecker’s art, the artist’s memories are intertwined with the history of her nation. “Correlations between my childhood abuse, which I tried to forget, and the history of Germany, which the Germans tried to eradicate from their memories, exist in my paintings and films,” she said.
In her art and her videos, she opens up about the abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of her grandfather, who was also a Nazi. She is convinced that such openness has helped her heal, whereas suppressing the memories led only to the festering of her inner wounds.
The same is true for historical memories, Hoffecker insisted. “Germany needs to remember, to confront and challenge complacency to prevent a repetition of historical atrocities,” she said.
Her master’s thesis was a deep and painful discovery, a journey in black-and-white to underscore the grimness and tragedy of the topic. Once it was completed, she was ready for a change of direction.
“I spent the summer last year in Berlin,” she said. “When I came back home to Victoria, I wanted to paint some colours again.”
Hoffecker’s current exhibit bursts with vibrant colours and optimism. The series Berlin Spaces, like most of her paintings, has several layers. “There are outlines of many famous Berlin buildings there,” she said, tracing the architectural lines embedded in the abstract patterns with her finger. “The Jewish Museum, the Philharmonie, the library, the Reichstag. It is like a reconstruction, when I think about the past. I overlay history and architecture.”
One of the paintings, a bright yellow-and-pink abstract, has writing among its patterns. “It means ‘forgetting’ in German,” Hoffecker explained. “A few years ago, I was invited to have a solo show in Hof, a city in Germany. I worked there in the archives, found many old maps and records. One of their buildings is a factory now. After the war, it was a refugee camp, and there is a plaque to commemorate the fact. But, during the war, it was a labour camp, a place from where Jewish prisoners were transported to concentration camps and death, but nothing is there to remind [people] of that past. The painting reflects the current happy state of the building, but it also reflects the tragic past, the past we shouldn’t forget.”
While not many art lovers will see the horrors of the labour camp in the airy and cheerful palette of the painting, Hoffecker doesn’t mind. Like other abstract artists, she infuses her images with hidden messages, but doesn’t insist on her personal intentions.
“I own the making,” she said. “I bring in my memories and my heart, but I have to leave the interpretation to the viewers. One man in Victoria loves my art. He bought two of my paintings. He said he sees animal in them. I don’t paint animals, but I’m glad people’s own experience resonates with my paintings.”
Hoffecker is very serious about her art, but bemoans the need for promotion. “I did marketing for movies professionally, but I never really cared [about the reaction]. If someone didn’t like the movie we were pushing, it was his business,” she said. “But to promote my own paintings is scary. When someone doesn’t like what I do, I care. It hurts. I don’t want to do it. An artist wants to be in her studio and paint. It is all I want: to paint and to exhibit. I want people to see my work. Besides, a show is the only time when I see many of my paintings together. I never can do that in my studio. I only see one or two at a time.”
“Until now, there has not been any meaningful direct archeological evidence of workshops for the production of purple-coloured textiles from the Iron Age – the biblical period – not even in Tyre and Sidon [in Lebanon], which were the main Phoenician centres for the manufacture of purple dye. If we have identified our findings correctly, Tel Shikmona, on the Carmel Coast [in Israel], has just become one of the most unique archeological sites in the region,” explained Prof. Ayelet Gilboa and PhD candidate Golan Shalvi from the University of Haifa, who are studying finds that have been guarded in various storerooms in Haifa since the 1960s and ’70s.
Tel Shikmona is known mainly for its surrounding Byzantine settlement, including some splendid mosaics. The Iron Age settlement dates to the 11th to 6th centuries BCE, corresponding in biblical terms to the period of the judges, the United Monarchy (Saul, David and Solomon), the kingdoms of Israel and Judah and the Assyrian/Babylonian epoch. It occupies about five dunams (a bit more than one acre) out of the 100-dunam site of the Byzantine city at its peak. A section of the tel was excavated between 1963 and 1977 by Dr. Yosef Elgavis on behalf of the Haifa Museum, with the active support of then-Haifa mayor Abba Hushi. The site was known by archeologists and experts to have yielded rich material findings; for various reasons, however, these have never been published in a comprehensive manner.
The wealth of findings is associated with the Phoenician culture, including an unusual number of vessels imported from overseas, and it is the largest collection of ceramic vats found anywhere in the world from the first millennium BCE that still preserve purple colouring (made from the glands of murex snails). “Rather than being considered a region of secondary importance in this period, the Carmel Coast can now gain its rightful place as one of the most important production areas of the dye in ancient times in general, and during the biblical period in particular,” concluded the researchers.
The Shikmona project is being undertaken under the auspices of the Zinman Institute of Archeology at the University of Haifa, with the support of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the National Maritime Museum in Haifa, where some of the findings are displayed.
In the photo above and those below: People socializing at an unidentified event, possibly a University of British Columbia event in honour of Harry Adaskin, 1985. (The above photo is from JWB fonds, JMABC L.13764)
If you know someone in these photos, please help the JI fill the gaps of its predecessor’s (the Jewish Western Bulletin’s) collection at the Jewish Museum and Archives of B.C. by contacting [email protected] or 604-257-5199. To find out who has been identified in the photos, visit jewishmuseum.ca/blog.
Tour organizer Carmel Tanaka at one of the tours last stops. (photo by Kayla Isomura)
The first Jewish neighbourhood in Vancouver was in Strathcona, which also served as the first home for many, if not most, cultural communities that make up the diverse fabric of the city. The neighbourhood welcomed wave after wave of immigrants of different backgrounds and continues to do so today. The rich multicultural history of this area – too often overlooked amid the social challenges of the larger Downtown Eastside – was given its due in a series of walking tours this spring.
Carmel Tanaka organized the tours, bringing together almost two dozen community organizations. Tanaka is chair of the human rights committee of the Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association and an active member of the Jewish community, but the tour is an ad hoc, grassroots project with no umbrella organizing agency. Partnering agencies include Heritage Vancouver, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre, Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society, the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia and the Jewish Independent. The Cross Cultural Strathcona Walking Tour took place each Sunday in May, with two tours each day. Tanaka said she hopes to make the tour an annual event.
Tanaka came up with the idea after participating in a walk of Hogan’s Alley, Vancouver’s historic black neighbourhood, as part of Jane’s Walks, a global festival of citizen-led walking tours inspired by the late visionary urbanist Jane Jacobs. A week after her exploration of the neighbourhood’s black history, Tanaka took the Jewish Museum’s walking tour of Strathcona.
“We were walking similar streets and even talking about places that are right across the road from each other and I started to think, well, there must have been interaction between our communities,” she told the Independent. “Why not bring the guides, the experts, the archivists and the know-alls into one room and see if we can do something together. What started as a small group of four to five guides, who do existing tours, blossomed into 20-plus participating organizations, including community organizations, heritage organizations, the Vancouver School Board and more. We’ve been told there have been attempts to do something like this before, but not to this degree. It’s very exciting that we’re all working together.”
The tour, which took in Hogan’s Alley, Jewish Strathcona, former Japantown and Chinatown, was intended to build awareness of the contributions of immigrant communities then and now. It took place in May as part of the celebration of Vancouver Asian Heritage Month and Canada’s Jewish Heritage Month.
The theme of the walking tour this year was education and the starting point of the two-and-a-half-hour adventure was Lord Strathcona Elementary School, the city’s oldest. Referred to as the “League of Nations” for its diversity, the school remains one of the most multicultural in the country.
One former Strathcona student, Elder Larry Grant of the Musqueam Nation and Chinese-Canadian communities, recalled the experience of growing up in the area and the impact the cultural mosaic had on him and others.
Opened in March 1891 as East School, it was renamed in 1909 in honour of Donald Smith, Lord Strathcona, who drove the last spike in Canada’s first transcontinental railway. To get a sense of the extraordinary range of ethnicities, a survey in 1940 indicated that the students included 650 of Japanese descent, 300 Chinese, 150 Italian, about 150 Yugoslavian, Ukrainian and Polish students, about 100 of British descent, several from India and a scattering from other European countries. After the regular school day, many of the students would have proceeded to after-school programs in their heritage language at, for example, the Vancouver Japanese Language School and Japanese Hall, a 1906 building on Alexander Street where the tour finished.
Jewish kids would have made their way down the block from Strathcona elementary to the B’nei Yehuda synagogue, since converted to condos but, at the time, the spiritual and figurative centre of Jewish life in the city. The synagogue opened in November 1911, with an after-school program in Jewish tradition. A full-time day school, Talmud Torah, opened there in 1921 and moved to its current location on Oak Street in 1948.
In 1942, when the Canadian government instituted a wartime policy against Japanese and Japanese-Canadians, about half of Strathcona school’s population disappeared, forcibly relocated to camps in the British Columbia interior and elsewhere east.
The tour featured different community guides at each destination along the route, bringing together a patchwork of knowledge about different communities to help participants form an impression about how different communities maintained their distinctiveness while interacting with the variety of cultures and languages around them.
Not far from the industrial waterfront, Strathcona grew, in part, from the maritime trade, especially the 1858 discovery of gold in the Fraser Canyon. But, as guides noted, the area has probably been a gathering place for thousands of years, initially as a summer campsite for the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. The 1858 gold rush, and successive ones further north, brought merchants from China and Jewish provisioners from San Francisco. Indentured labourers from China, who worked on the Canadian Pacific Railway, helped launch the beginnings of Chinatown in the area around Pender Street. Japanese, Portuguese and Italian immigrants followed, with many working in the Hastings Sawmill and other resource-related industries.
The tour passed the National Council of Jewish Women Neighbourhood House on Jackson Street, a locus of Jewish social activity that is seen as a precursor to the Jewish Community Centre. The Vancouver chapter of NCJW was founded in 1924 and helped new immigrants settle, learn English and find jobs. One of their landmark programs was the Well Baby Clinic, which immunized kids and helped new parents care for their families. National Council remains active today, providing services especially for families and youth, educational and advocacy programs around human trafficking and spreading awareness about Jewish genetic diseases.
Later, the tour passed Oppenheimer Park, named for the city’s first – and so far only – Jewish mayor, David Oppenheimer.
An important part of the tour was Hogan’s Alley. The creation of the Georgia Viaduct destroyed a large part of the historic black neighbourhood but Fountain Chapel, a branch of the African Methodist Episcopal church, still exists, though it is now a private residence.
From Hogan’s Alley, the old Canadian National Railway station looms large to the south, and it was the profession of Pullman porter, made up almost exclusively of African-American and black Canadians, that was a launchpad to the middle class for many black families. The development of the black neighbourhood in this location owed its origins to the proximity to the train station.
From there, the tour proceeded into Chinatown and the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. A sawmill at the foot of Carrall Street, constructed in 1886, provided employment for many Chinese men and set in motion the establishment of Vancouver’s Chinatown on this block.
In 1947, the Chinese Immigration Act was repealed, rescinding a racist law and opening the door to more Asian newcomers and establishing equal rights, including the right to vote, for Chinese-Canadians. The tour also recalled how, in 1907, a group calling itself the Asiatic Exclusion League incited a mob of about 9,000 rioters who rampaged through Chinatown and Powell Street, smashing windows and destroying properties. This led to the federal government reducing immigration from East Asia.
The tour continued to the Mon Keang School in the Wongs’ Benevolent Association building, an example of a Chinatown clan society. These societies supported extended family members as they migrated, serving as housing agency, employment office, post office and bank for new arrivals. Chinese men could borrow money here to pay Canada’s discriminatory head tax and to send money home to their families in China.
Mon Keang School provided a classical Cantonese education to the first generation of local-born children and, in the 1930s, was just one of 10 such Chinese schools in the area. By the 1970s, Chinese families were living throughout the city and Chinese-Canadian kids were choosing sports and other extracurricular activities over Chinese school. Mon Keang School closed in 2011 but reopened in 2016 with a grassroots community program taking a different approach to Chinese language learning.
The history of Christian social action in the neighbourhood is demonstrated powerfully at the corner of Hastings and Gore, where the Salvation Army citadel, now boarded up, stands across from First United Church, a hub of social programs in the Downtown Eastside, and nearby Saint James Anglican, which also has a long activist history. While plenty of good work has emanated from these institutions, during the era of Indian residential schools in Canada, from 1883 to 1996, churches were complicit with the federal government in the genocide of indigenous Canadians through the deliberate and brutal attempts to exterminate indigenous cultures and languages.
The walking tour tries to highlight the main aspects of the area’s history, without romanticizing it.
“This is a grassroots initiative led by myself and a bunch of amazing, dedicated team members,” Tanaka said. “We’re really hoping that this will become an annual event and will be able to include even more communities next year. We’ll see what this turns into.”
On display now at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City, the exhibit Auschwitz: Not Long Ago. Not Far Away is the most comprehensive Holocaust exhibition ever mounted in North America about Auschwitz. Dedicated to the victims of the death camp, the goal of this exhibit is to make sure no one ever forgets.
A study conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany reported that 41% of Americans and 66% of millennials say they don’t know about the Auschwitz death camp, where more than a million Jews and others, including Poles, Sinti and Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others, were executed. And 22% of millennials say they haven’t even heard of the Holocaust.
“Seventy-three years ago, after the world saw the haunting pictures from Auschwitz, no one in their right mind wanted to be associated with the Nazis,” Ron Lauder, founder and chair of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation Committee and president of World Jewish Congress, said. “This exhibit reminds them, in the starkest ways, where antisemitism can ultimately lead and the world should never go there again. The title of this exhibit is so appropriate because this was not so long ago, and not so far away.”
The exhibition consists of 20 galleries spanning three floors, and features more than 700 original objects and 400 photographs. They are on loan from more than 20 institutions and private collections around the world, as well as the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland.
An audio guide given to each visitor upon entry details the items on display. Visitors will see hundreds of personal possessions, such as suitcases, eyeglasses, photos, shoes, socks and clothes that belonged to survivors and those murdered at the concentration camp. In one glass case, a child’s shoe is on display with a sock neatly tucked inside. We are left to wonder, who put that sock in the shoe and were they expecting the child to shower and then retrieve it?
Auschwitz was located 31 miles west of Krakow in the small southern Polish town Oswiecim, which dates back to the Middle Ages. Jews were a part of its society for centuries. Auschwitz-Birkenau was conceived and initially constructed to house 100,000 Soviet prisoners of war and slave labour, before it became a factory of death. The architect who designed the camp was Fritz Ertl, a native of Austria. Ultimately, some 1.1 million Jews and thousands of others were killed there. Many who arrived at Auschwitz were sent directly from the overcrowded, sealed, windowless boxcars to the gas chambers and crematoriums.
There are videos throughout the exhibit, including one of Hitler and a large adoring crowd. There’s a concrete post that was a part of the fence at the Auschwitz camp, and a part of the original barrack for prisoners at the killing centre.
A German-made Model-2 boxcar, like those used to transport people to Auschwitz, sits outside the museum. In a video, survivors talk of the horrible conditions and stench inside those boxcars.
Viewers can see the operating table, test tubes and instruments used in medical experiments. There’s a gas mask used by the SS and a model of a gas chamber door used in crematoria 2, 3, 4 and 5 – and testimonies from survivors of the camp. To show the striking contrast between the victims and the perpetrators, there are photos of Rudolf Hess at his nearby residence with his family enjoying the outdoors.
Nazi ideology and the roots of antisemitism are traced from the beginning, to understand what happened before the gas chambers were created. Discrimination and bigotry against Jews existed long before Hitler came into power, of course. In one room, there’s an anti-Jewish proclamation issued in 1551 by Ferdinand I that was given to Hermann Göring for his birthday by German security chief Reinhard Heydrich. The proclamation required Jews to identify themselves with a yellow ring on their clothes. Heydrich noted that, 400 years later, the Nazis were completing Ferdinand’s work.
In a video seen near the end of the exhibition, Holocaust survivors urge people to refrain from hate and to work for peace.
This exhibition was in Madrid before coming to New York. This important and moving must-see exhibition is both a reminder and a warning.
Alice Burdick Schweiger is a New York City-based freelance writer who has written for many national magazines, including Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, Woman’s Day and The Grand Magazine. She specializes in writing about Broadway, entertainment, travel and health, and covers Broadway for the Jewish News. She is co-author of the 2004 book Secrets of the Sexually Satisfied Woman, with Jennifer Berman and Laura Berman.
Located in the Museum of Jewish Heritage, at 36 Battery Place, entry to the exhibit Auschwitz: Not Long Ago is by timed tickets available at mjhnyc.org. An audio guide is included with admission, and tickets range from $10 to $25. Hours are Sunday to Thursday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. (last entry at 7 p.m.), and Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (last entry at 3 p.m.). The exhibit will be in New York until January 2020.