Holocaust Commemorations in the Deep South

Communities throughout the South will be marking Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, with a range of programs and events.

Currently on display at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is “BESA: Muslims that Saved Jews During World War II.” The photo exhibit will be on display through June.

On April 18, a film of the same name will be screened at the Birmingham Museum of Art.

In New Orleans, Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat will discuss “The Holocaust and the Future of the Jewish People,” as keynote speaker for the community-wide Holocaust Memorial Program on April 7 at 7 p.m. at the Uptown Jewish Community Center.

The memorial program remembers and honors local survivors while educating the public about the horrors of the Nazi regime and teaching the importance of tolerance. The evening is free and open to the public.

During the program, the annual Educator of the Year award will be presented to Susan Ary, 6th grade Language Arts teacher at Lusher Middle School in New Orleans. This award recognizes local teachers who do an outstanding job integrating Holocaust education into their curriculum.

Additionally, high school delegates selected for the Anti-Defamation League Donald R. Mintz Youth Leadership Mission to Washington will be recognized.

Eizenstat has held senior positions in three presidential administrations, serving in the White House, the State Department, the U.S. Treasury, and as ambassador to the European Union. The author of numerous books and articles, Eizenstat has a long history of leadership in the Jewish community and has been an outspoken force in securing justice for victims of the Nazis.

As ambassador, he negotiated agreements for compensation and restitution to Holocaust survivors, as well as the return of thousands of Jewish properties and pieces of looted art.

In his most recent book, “The Future of the Jews,” Eizenstat considers the profound upheaval and challenges occurring today and their potential effect on the United States and Israel, and the relationship between the two.

The Northshore Jewish Congregation in Mandeville will hear from Gerd Oppenheim at its program, April 9 at 7 p.m. Oppenheim lives in Norwood, La., but lived through Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass” in 1938, as a child. He escaped Germany with his mother and cousin in 1940 after his father was sent to Buchenwald, which he survived.

Teens from the congregation will be joined by two of Oppenheim’s grandchildren in planning interactive sessions.

Northshore Rabbi John Nimon said “As the number of Holocaust survivors grows smaller every year, the need to remember increases. We hope that message is conveyed by the participation of the eight teenagers. Although the Shoah did not occur in their lifetime, we all need to remember what can happen when bigotry is tolerated.”

In Huntsville, the Jewish Federation of Huntsville and North Alabama will hold its commemoration at the Huntsville Museum of Art, April 7 at 2 p.m. There will be a live music and narrative program, and a candlelighting in memory of Holocaust victims.

Hilda Nathan, who escaped the Holocaust with her mother, will be the keynote speaker.

The Seventh Candle is awarded to a Righteous Gentile. This year that will be Rusty Nelson, pastor of the Rock Family Worship Center. A donation from the congregation funded a Holocaust education seminar for teachers in the region last year.

In Birmingham, the community program will feature Michael Stolowitzky. The program is at the Levite Jewish Community Center on April 7 at 2 p.m.

Stolowitzky was the only son of a wealthy Jewish family in Poland. He was just three years old when war broke out and the family lost everything. His father, desperate to settle his business affairs, traveled to France, leaving Michael in the care of his mother and Gertruda Bablinska, a Catholic nanny devoted to the family. When Michael’s mother had a stroke, Gertruda promised the dying woman that she would make her way to Palestine and raise him as her own son.

In 2007, popular Israeli author Ram Oren recreated his amazing journey in the book “Gertruda’s Oath.”

In addition, the Birmingham International Center’s Salute to Poland in April includes several Holocaust-related events.

An exhibit about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising will be in Birmingham and Huntsville. Coordinated by the State University of New York at Buffalo, the exhibit opens April 7 at the Birmingham International Center with a 3 p.m. lecture by Peter Gessner, who originated the exhibit. The exhibit will open at the Huntsville Madison County Public Library on April 21.

The Birmingham Holocaust Education Center will have a free film series at the Emmet O’Neal Library in Crestline. The first film, “In Darkness,” will be April 14 at 2 p.m. The 2012 Polish film chronicles Leopold Socha, a Catholic sewer worker in the Polish city of Lvov, who uses his knowledge of the city’s sewer system to shelter a group of Jews in the Lvov Ghetto, first as a business arrangement but later as an alliance.

On April 23 at 6:30 p.m., “The Last Chapter” presents a sweeping history of 1000 years of Jewish life in Poland, depicting the richness of Jewish culture, both religious and secular.

The 1948 film “Long is the Road” will be screened April 30 at 6:30 p.m. It is the first film to represent the Holocaust from a Jewish perspective. Made by and about Jewish displaced persons, the film was shot on location at Landsberg, the largest DP camp in U.S.-occupied Germany.

The series ends on May 6 at 6:30 p.m. with “The Passenger.” A German woman on an ocean voyage runs across another passenger she thinks she recognizes — an inmate from Auschwitz where she had been a guard.
Andrew Demshuk will lead a discussion after each of the first three films, with Andre Millard leading the final discussion.

On April 28, the play “Life in a Jar” about Irena Sendler will be performed at Alumni Hall at the Hill University Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham at 3 p.m. There is no charge, but reservations are requested to bicstaff@bic-al.org.

The Irena Sendler Project began in the fall of 1999 when four, rural Kansas students discovered the story of Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic woman who served in the Polish Underground during World War II as head of the children’s section of Zegota. Sendler smuggled 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and then provided them with false identity documents.

The official State of Alabama commemoration will be April 9 at 11 a.m. at the State Capitol Building in Montgomery, in the Old House Chamber. Rabbi Jonathan Miller of Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El will be the keynote speaker. A lunch is available afterwards for $10.

Montgomery’s Interfaith Holocaust Memorial Service will be April 7 at 3 p.m., at Agudath Israel-Etz Ahayem. Interfaith Montgomery is co-sponsoring it with AIEA and Temple Beth Or. Guest soloist will be Turia Stark Williams.

Mobile’s commemoration, hosted by the Christian-Jewish Dialogue, will be on April 7 at 7 p.m., at Ahavas Chesed.

In Shreveport, Centenary College is holding a Holocaust film series on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. The films will be “Conspiracy” about the Wannsee Conference on April 1, “The Diary of Anne Frank” on April 8, “Mr. Death” on April 15 and “Everything is Illuminated” on April 22.

“Mr. Death” is about Fred Leuchter, one of the best-known Holocaust deniers.

The Shreveport community commemoration will be April 7 at 3 p.m. at Haynes Avenue Baptist Church. Guest speaker will be Livia Gal, a Holocaust survivor from Natchitoches. There will be a video presentation, candlelighting and presentation of awards for the high school writing competition on “What can I do to prevent injustice?”

The Baton Rouge commemoration, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Baton Rouge and the Advocat Educational Services Department, will be April 7 at 4 p.m. at B’nai Israel. Guest speaker will be Donald Hoppe, who will talk about “Countering the Bully Culture.”

Pensacola‘s commemoration will be at Temple Beth El on April 7 at 4 p.m. “Irena Sendler: In The Name of Their Mothers” will be screened. Rabbi Joel Fleekop will also lead a short service.

In Gulfport, there will be a program on “Unto Every Person There Is A Name” at Beth Israel on April 8 at 7 p.m.

The film “We Remember” will be screened at the Fairhope Public Library on April 5 at 1 p.m. The film was a production of Springhill Avenue Temple Youth in Mobile and debuted last November. The documentary chronicles six Mobile-area residents, from Holocaust survivors to camp liberators to an individual who had been a member of the Hitler Youth.

In Florence, Temple B’nai Israel will screen the film “A Beautiful Life” on April 9 at 6:30 p.m.

Jacksonville State University
will have a commemoration on April 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the Stone Center Theater. Max Steinmetz of Birmingham, a Holocaust survivor, will speak.

The Lake Charles second annual commemoration will be on April 18 at the Lake Charles Civic Center Exhibition Hall. There will be Holocaust-themed displays open for viewing starting at 4 p.m., followed by the 5 p.m. memorial program and candlelight vigil.

Among the speakers will be Mark Wygoda, son of a Holocaust survivor and a McNeese State University professor, and Manny Klepper, who survived Kristallnacht.

Mayor Randy Roach will welcome the participants, and Rabbi Barry Weinstein of Temple Sinai will explain the meaning of Yom HaShoah. Music will be provided by the McNeese State Community Clarinet Choir, LaGrange High School and McNeese State. The event is coordinated by the Yom HaShoah Observance Committee for Community Diversity.

Auburn University in Montgomery
will have its 12th annual Holocaust program on April 24 from 9:30 a.m. to noon at the AUM athletic complex. Coordinated with the Jewish Federation of Central Alabama, the program features a film screening, stories from Holocaust survivors, a candlelighting and presentation of high school essay contest winners.

In Alexandria, there will be a community-wide Holocaust memorial service on April 29 at Emmanual Baptist Church. The doors will open at 6 p.m. for the viewing of an exhibit, followed by a program featuring Hank Brodt at 7 p.m. Brodt is a resident of Greensboro, N.C., who was in several different camps.

At 8:15 p.m. there will be a tour of the site for the state’s second Holocaust memorial. It will be located in front of Rapides Regional Medical Center at Elliott and Fourth Streets. The memorial will also mark the area’s vital contribution to World War II, as training exercises and mock battles took place in central Louisiana, and many troops who trained there wound up liberating Dachau and other camps.

In its fundraising letter, the fund states that “General Dwight Eisenhower prepared to liberate Europe here in Alexandria,” and personally went to the camps “to be in a position to give firsthand evidence if there develops a tendency to change these allegations merely to propaganda.” Almost half of the $75,000 cost has been raised through the Central Louisiana Community Foundation.

A mockup of the memorial is on site, but the permanent one is slated for completion by the end of the year.

The Alexandria Museum is now hosting “Questionable Issue: Currency of the Holocaust,” through May 25. In the concentration camps and ghettos, Nazi law made it illegal to have hard currency. All of it had to be exchanged for scrip, which was worthless because there was nothing for prisoners to buy — but it was used to “prove” that the prisoners were paid for their labor.

There will be an opening reception for the exhibit on April 12 from 6 to 8 p.m.