Portraits of Pittsburgh-area Holocaust survivors and their biographies are on display at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.
A video of Holocaust survivor Solange Leibovitz telling her history plays in the small theater in the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh. Videos and photographs of Holocaust survivors living in Pittsburgh are part of the center.
An illuminated sculpture by Mosaic artist Daviea Davis, part of the series Pillars of Light, is reflected in the case holding a concentration camp coat at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh. The coat is part of a collection of holocaust memorabilia from the Freidman family.
By Maria Sciullo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
One by one, their stories wove lessons of fear and loss, but ultimately, strength.
One Holocaust survivor remembered being assigned a number at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, then told he would “no longer need to remember” his name.
Another, a young Jew, posed as a Catholic schoolgirl for 2½ years in Paris.
Twelve stories have been archived through photographs and video interviews composing a new exhibit, “In Celebration of Life: Living Legacy Project.” It was a centerpiece for the grand opening Sunday of the new Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh on Hazelwood Avenue in Greenfield.
Although the center was established in 1981 and is affiliated with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, it did not have a permanent home that could invite groups for its educational program. Teaching training and outreach in schools has long been part of the center’s mission, and “this new space allows us to do all those things in our own place,” its director, Lauren Bairnsfather, said.
Besides the main gallery, the center contains a library, offices and a showcase for artifacts. The most stunning artifact was a striped concentration camp coat, acquired in France by a supporter of the center. As part of the opening ceremonies, an inaugural Holocaust Educator Award was given to Barbara Burstin.
A large gallery at the center’s entrance was lined with portraits of the 12 survivors and their stories. An additional 17 will be added to the exhibit, which was conceived by Hannah Wilson, with photography by Ryan Michael White and video by Garret Jones.
Ms. Wilson said she reached out in May to the area’s 55 survivors of the systematic genocide inflicted by the Nazi regime in Germany from 1941-1945 in which 6 million European Jews and 5 million non-Jews were killed.
In a smaller, multimedia gallery painted in shades of gray, a large-screen television ran the local survivors’ video stories. Sobering tales of their experiences during World War II were contrasted with stories of making new lives, finding love, having grandchildren.
Indeed, in the same gallery was a wall full of portraits showing smiles and frustration, some posing with photographs from the past. Here was a woman holding out a creased photo that must have been from her school days. In another, a man clenches his fists, gritting his teeth in anger.
Harry Schneider was a toddler in Poland when World War II began. His parents, Gertrude and George, fled with him to Russia, where a second child, Henya, was born.
“We ended up in Siberia. It was bitter cold, there was very, very little to eat and actually, my father was taken into the Russian army, so we didn’t see him throughout the rest of the war,” said Mr. Schneider, 78, of Churchill. He is a co-chairman of the Holocaust survivors organization and a member of the center’s board.
After the war, the children and their mother returned to Poland and were reunited when George Schneider began searching displaced persons camps.
Their joy was tempered with sorrow: The rest of the extended family — grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles — had been rounded up by the Gestapo, and were dead. Their home had been destroyed. The Schneiders left Poland, eventually arriving in Washington, Pa., after living in Austria.
The center will be open to the public 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, with school groups primarily on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Ms. Bairnsfather said.
“When you think about students now, they don’t remember [the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks], or they weren’t born yet. It’s hard for me to imagine, but that’s the truth,” Ms. Bairnsfather added. “If they don’t remember 2001 and we are saying you have to care about this thing that happened in 1939, it’s hard. But thank goodness we have the resources to get them engaged.”
Maria Sciullo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1478.
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