Raymond Baum, 70, doesn't "think about the Holocaust enough" because it's too painful for him.
So when the Squirrel Hill resident visited The Andy Warhol Museum Saturday morning with his wife and friend, he was stunned to find a series of Holocaust exhibits in the museum's main lobby.
Coordinated by the Community Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio and the Holocaust Center of Greater Pittsburgh, the various exhibits included the Six Million Pennies campaign of 6 million boxed pennies to represent the number of Jews lost in the Holocaust and "Upstanders," a video slide show of lesser-known everyday heroes of the Holocaust. The events and exhibits culminate today, Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The exhibits were extremely personal for Mr. Baum: His grandmother, a German Jew, was deported from Berlin to a German concentration camp, where she was eventually killed.
"It's very uncomfortable to think about, but you have to," he said. "There are still places in the world today where people and their lives are treated as just pawns."
His parents "got out just in time," and were crossing the English Channel as Adolf Hitler invaded Poland, initiating World War II. They attempted to get his father's mother out of Germany into Cuba or China but were "too late."
"My mother would talk about it, but my dad ... it was really difficult for him," he said. "That's why I'm always inspired by these stories of people, everyday people and heroes who suffered."
Mr. Baum was one of the many attendees of the series of events Saturday, which included a play, "Voices of the Holocaust," performed at the Warhol Saturday afternoon, followed by "A Klezmer's Voice," a musical performance by German-born clarinetist Susanne Ortner-Roberts.
Kauleen Cloutier wrote "Voices of the Holocaust" with a classmate and her professor at Westminster College as her senior Capstone project in 2005. The docudrama is based on a series of interviews collected from Holocaust survivors in Europe by David Boder, a professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology, in the years immediately following World War II.
"I'm in awe of these people, the strength they found and the hope they held on to," she said. "I'm honored to give an opportunity for these people's stories to be heard."
Roger Smith is an adviser of the Smith Fund, which sponsored the "Lest We Forget" exhibit and "Remembering the Children," a video tribute to the approximately 1 million Jewish children who died in the Holocaust. The donor-advised fund of the Community Foundation was one of three platinum project sponsors for the weekend-long commemoration.
Displays from the exhibit revealed a variety of detailed graphics and photos with matching descriptions of atrocities, including specially altered sealed vans that were used as mobile gas chambers and killed about 700,000 people, and lamps made from the skins of concentration camp prisoners and given to German officers and their families.
The exhibits, Mr. Smith said, served a crucial role in educating the community of the Holocaust, with "Lest We Forget" being integrated into Holocaust lessons at middle and high schools in nearby Lawrence and Mercer counties.
"It reflects the enormity of the loss of 6 million lives," said Mr. Smith, a volunteer with the Holocaust Center of Greater Pittsburgh. "I don't think people have a sense of how big of a loss it was."
But the weekend is about much more than remembering the Holocaust, Joy Braunstein, director of the Holocaust Center of Greater Pittsburgh, said.
"It's really important that as human beings we use this day to really think about how to be better people," Ms. Braunstein said. "If more people had stood up for their friends and neighbors and helped or said something, millions of lives wouldn't have been lost."
The annual commemoration today will include a death camp video at the Warhol at 11 a.m. Teens are then invited to decorate penny boxes for the Six Million Pennies exhibit at the museum from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. At that time, winners of the Waldman International Arts and Writing Competition will also be recognized at an awards ceremony at the museum, with the winners' pieces displayed around the museum. In the annual competition, American and Israeli students submit pieces about the Holocaust under three categories: film, creative writing and visual arts.
The day will close with a commemoration ceremony at Heinz Hall at 6:30 p.m, including a memorial candle-lighting, performances from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and firsthand accounts from Holocaust survivors, including Moshe Taube, who was rescued by famous German spy Oskar Schindler. There will be shuttles available from the Community Day School in Squirrel Hill to Heinz Hall. (For more information about today's events, visit holocaustcenterpgh.org.)
Eve Shelton Jones, a retired English teacher from Brookline, Mass., who visited Saturday's museum exhibits, said humanizing the people who suffered through the Holocaust and the people who participated in it is necessary.
"Without context, it's just horror," Ms. Jones said. "Any genocide that happens in any part of the world, people are attracted to the sheer monstrosity of it. But it's critical to understand the why, what caused it, and how it forever changes the lives of so many people."
Correction, April 28: This article has been updated to provide the correct age of Raymond Baum and to adjust some of his quotes.
Clarece Polke: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1889 or on Twitter @clarepolke.