Holocaust Commemorations in Region

Numerous events are planned in the region to commemorate the Holocaust, beginning with a city-wide initiative in Montgomery in early April.

Golabek event in Montgomery April 3

On April 3, Agudath Israel-Etz Ahayem, Temple Beth Or, the Jewish Federation of Central Alabama, Southern Poverty Law Center and the City of Montgomery were sponsoring “An Evening with Mona Golabek,” following a city-wide reading program and teacher training for the city’s schools.

An acclaimed concert pianist, Golabek spoke and performed at Temple Beth Or last July, and during her visit “fell in love with Montgomery” and its Civil Rights movement legacy.

The concert, which she has performed for over 100,000 students, is her true family story, chronicling hope, survival and how through the darkest times, music has the power to help people survive.

She wrote a book entitled “The Children of Willesden Lane,” the story of her mother, who was a 14-year-old pianist in Vienna just before World War II. She was saved through the Kindertransport, a project to save Jewish children in Germany and Austria by bringing them to England where they were sponsored by Jewish and non-Jewish families who helped them survive the Holocaust, while most of their parents did not. Over 10,000 children were saved from certain annihilation.

Lisa Jura used her music to help her survive and that music was passed down to her children, as well as telling her story through that passionate music. Golabek’s concerts are based on her mother’s music.

During her three-day Montgomery visit, Golabek has her main public performance at 7 p.m. on April 3 at the Davis Theatre. For three mornings, she will perform children’s concerts for 9th graders. The sponsors have provided over 2,000 copies of her book for 9th graders in the city, and private schools were also invited to take part.

Montgomery Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Thompson sees this as a unique opportunity for students to see history come to life.

“Golabek’s mother was sent to London to live just before World War II,” said Thompson. “Both her grandparents died in the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. It is phenomenal that students will have the opportunity to learn from Ms. Golabek. I hope parents and children will read this book together.”

Mayor Todd Strange said “We are excited for our students and our city to have the opportunity to join together to learn and to remember. I want to encourage every Montgomery citizen to participate.”

Auburn University at Montgomery
will hold its annual remembrance program on April 25 from 9:30 a.m. to noon. Birmingham area survivors Max Herzel and Max Steinmetz will speak. The program, which will be held at the AUM Gym, is open to the community.

Herzel will also be the guest speaker at the annual remembrance program at Jacksonville State University, north of Anniston. The program will be April 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the Stone Center Theater. Winners of the JSU Imagining the Holocaust writing contest will also be recognized. The contest is open to students statewide.

Historian to speak at Birmingham commemoration

Birmingham’s commemoration will feature keynote speaker Harry Reicher, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and scholar-in-residence at Touro Law Center.

Reicher will speak on “The Catalytic Impact of the Holocaust on the Human Rights Movement of the Post-World War II Era.” In the three years following the Holocaust, the international community moved swiftly to establish a human rights system, designed to bring perpetrators to justice and prevent another Holocaust. Since then, the system has repeatedly failed. Reicher’s presentation will look at the system, where it has failed, and confront the question of whether the world will really learn.

The April 18 event will be at 7 p.m. at the Norton Campus Center at Birmingham-Southern College. It is open to the community, without charge. The program is underwritten by Birmingham-Southern College’s endowed fund for programs in Judaic Studies and Middle Eastern Culture, the BJF Jewish Community Relations Coalition, the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center and the Helena Lubel Fund of the Birmingham Jewish Foundation.

As part of the Birmingham event, the BJF JCRC is coordinating the reading of 5,000 names of those murdered in the Holocaust. Area faith institutions and civic organizations are being asked to take 150 names in a “simultaneous” reading on April 14 or 15. The names can be read at a worship service or program.

Black liberator to speak at New Orleans commemoration

The New Orleans community-wide event will be April 22 at 7 p.m. at the Uptown Jewish Community Center. Guest speaker will be Leon Bass, an African-American soldier who was from one of the first battalions to arrive at Buchenwald during the liberation, where he saw what he called “the walking dead.”

Bass wrote “Good Enough: One Man’s Memoir on the Price of the Dream.” In it, he writes about being part of the 183rd Engineer Combat Battalion, an “angry soldier” who “was being asked to fight for freedom while at the same time, as a black man, I was constantly being told in many ways that I wasn’t good enough to have that freedom.”

Coming upon the concentration camp changed his life. “The price to realize the dream,” he explains, “is to stand up and be counted by doing the right thing, whether large or small, every day.”

He went on to become a high school principal and to fight racism. In 1994 he was the keynote speaker at the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust, and in 1996 he was awarded the Pearlman Award for Humanitarian Advancement from Jewish Women International. He appeared in the Academy Award-nominated Documentary “Liberators: Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II.”

As part of the commemoration, Sarah Smith, Leigh Baltazar and Carla Murphy of Harry Hurst Middle School in Destrehan will be honored as Educators of the Year for integrating Holocaust education into their English curriculum. Students from the Donald R. Mintz Youth Leadership Mission of the Anti Defamation League will also be recognized.

The Northshore Jewish Congregation in Mandeville is holding two programs in observance of Yom Hashoah. Times for the events were not set as of press time, but information should be available from the congregation.

On April 17, Av Szyller, a past president of the congregation, will show pictures from his childhood in France and talk about how the Jews of France were rounded up for the concentration camps.

Szyller was arrested by the Nazis but managed to set off on foot through the mountains to escape. Many of his relatives were not as fortunate. He would return to Europe in 1945 as a U.S. Army sergeant. Last May, Szyller spoke about his experiences to an audience of hundreds at the Stennis Space Center.

Also speaking at Northshore will be Edward Hafer, assistant professor of music history at the University of Southern Mississippi. Hafer is currently researching “Music at the Gates of Hell: Cabaret Performances in the Concentration Camp Westerbork.” Westerbork was located in the Netherlands.

Hafer’s presentation is about the lengths that Jewish prisoners went to try and maintain their sense of worth in the darkest times.

On Feb. 11, he gave a similar presentation at the American Musicological Society’s Southern regional conference at the University of Alabama.

On April 18, Gates of Prayer in Metairie will have a Yom HaShoah memorial service at 7 p.m.

In Baton Rouge, the Educational Services Department of The Advocate is administering the annual Holocaust writing contest. For younger students, essays are based on the film “Porceline Unicorn,” while older students will discuss and design Holocaust memorials.

The winners will be recognized at the Baton Rouge commemoration, April 15 at Beth Shalom at 4 p.m. Plater Robinson will be the guest speaker.

The Alabama Holocaust Commission’s official annual gathering will be on April 17 at 11 a.m. at the Old House Chamber at the State Capitol in Montgomery. A luncheon will follow, which is $10 per person.

The Jewish Federation of Huntsville and North Alabama will hold its commemoration at the Huntsville Museum of Art, where the exhibit “Darkness Into Life: Alabama Holocaust Survivors Through Photography and Art” opened March 18 and will be displayed through June 10.

The exhibit portrays the wartime experiences of 20 Alabama Holocaust survivors and the lives they made for themselves in Alabama following the war. Coordinated by the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center, the exhibit is comprised of photographs by Becky Seitel and paintings by Mitzi Levin.

One of those portrayed is Regina Dembo. At the 2 p.m. program on April 22, Dembo will relate her story of how her parents arranged for her to escape but had to stay behind themselves.

The event will also feature music and dramatic readings. Awards will be presented for the annual essay contest the Federation sponsors in area schools.

Mobile’s annual commemoration will be held April 18 at 7 p.m. at Springhill Avenue Temple.

Beth Israel in Gulfport will hold its Yom HaShoah program on April 18, with details to be announced.

The Ft. Walton area observance will be April 17 at Niceville Community Center at 6:30 p.m. Pam Smith will speak on Holocaust Remembrance and Stories of Rescue. George Collins will speak on Human Trafficking in Okaloosa County.