Original “Survivors” featured in Birmingham, Pensacola commemorations
Holocaust commemorations in Pensacola and Birmingham will feature “Survivors,” a play written by Deborah Layman based on the lived of six Birmingham Holocaust survivors. Layman recently moved to Pensacola.
The six survivors in the play, along with other survivors in Alabama, told their stories many times in schools, churches, libraries and synagogues all over the state. Their mission was to influence young people to reject hate in all its forms, to stand up for people who are being victimized and marginalized by hate, and to embrace a mindset of kindness, decency, understanding and acceptance.
Layman became closely acquainted with survivors’ stories through her 12 years of volunteer work with the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center, which was recently renamed the Alabama Holocaust Education Center. She often accompanied the survivors to their speaking engagements, seeing how the students reacted.
The play features the stories of Martin Aaron, Aisic Hirsch, Riva Schuster Hirsch, Ilse Scheuer Nathan, Ruth Scheuer Siegler and Max Steinmetz.
Set in a racially diverse, contemporary high school classroom, the show explores the parallels between the past and the present, with Holocaust stories serving as object lessons about the consequences of hate.
The play was originally commissioned by Keith Cromwell, executive director of Red Mountain Theatre in Birmingham, as part of the 2021 Human Rights New Works Festival.
In Birmingham, it will be the focus of the community commemoration, April 18 at 6:30 p.m. at Red Mountain Theatre. It will be done in the style of a reading, with Birmingham-area actors.
The three Pensacola events will be full performances, presented by PenArts. On April 21 at 7:30 p.m., there will be a performance at the Gordon Community Art Center. A musical prelude will begin at 7 p.m. There will be another performance on April 22 at 6:30 p.m. at Ever’mans Educational Center.
On April 23, the Pensacola Yom HaShoah program, in partnership with the Pensacola Jewish Federation, will be at B’nai Israel at 2:30 p.m., with a memorial ceremony before the performance. All the Pensacola performances are free and open to the community.
The official State of Alabama commemoration, which dates back to the 1980s and is now coordinated by the Alabama Holocaust Commission, will be on April 18 at 11 a.m. at the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery. The state’s proclamation for Days of Remembrance will be read, and Rabbi Steve Silberman of Ahavas Chesed in Mobile will be the keynote speaker.
There will be a Zoom option, and registration is requested at bit.ly/3ZpGcI4.
At Athens State University, a ceremony will be held in McCandless Hall on April 18 at 11:30 a.m. The Curtis Coleman Center for Religion Leadership and Culture is partnering with members of the Jewish community to honor the victims while raising awareness and educating the community. The free event is open to the community.
On April 17 at 6:30 p.m., Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham will screen “Devorah’s Hope,” a docudrama about siblings who supported each other through the Holocaust when the rest of their family was murdered and the world around them was destroyed. Emanu-El will also have a Yom HaShoah Shabbat service with the choir, April 21 at 6 p.m.
The Alabama Holocaust Education Center has been working on a Daffodil Campaign for the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Partnering with numerous agencies and organizations in Birmingham, the AHEC has made thousands of paper daffodil pins for distribution on April 19 at numerous sites throughout the greater community, and is recruiting individuals to hand them out.
The campaign began in 2013 as the Museum of the History of Polish Jews sought to commemorate the 70th anniversary. Daffodils are associated with Marek Edelman, the last commander of the Jewish Combat Organization. Every year on the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising he placed daffodils at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw, and at other sites associated with the extermination of Jews.
The yellow color and shape of daffodils also represent the yellow stars worn during the Holocaust, but also represent hope for the future.
The AHEC set a goal of 7,000 daffodils, as at least 7,000 Jews died during the fighting or hiding in the ghetto, and about 7,000 were caught by the Nazis at the end of the uprising and sent to Treblinka.
The Yom HaShoah program in Huntsville, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Huntsville and North Alabama, will feature a video of liberator John Rison Jones giving his talk, “The Liberation of Mittelbau-Dora (Nordhausen) Camp” at Temple B’nai Sholom in 1994. The 2:30 p.m. program at B’nai Sholom will include a presentation by students at the University of Alabama at Huntsville on “Giving Voice to the Victims and Survivors.”
Nordhausen was one of the most notorious concentration camps during World War II, where about 60,000 political prisoners were forced to work on V-2 rockets and experimental weapons. A transfer of 16,000 from Auschwitz and Gross-Rosen in early 1945 brought large numbers of Jews to that camp for the first time.
On April 1, 1945, an Allied air raid began at Nordhausen, and on April 5 most able-bodied inmates were marched out by the Nazis, leaving the sick and dying behind. The U.S. Army arrived on April 11, including Huntsville’s Jones, a private first class in the 104th Infantry, who saw the atrocities first-hand.
Molly Johnson, professor of history at UAH, will connect Dr. Jones’ speech to the contemporary context of Holocaust education, and her students will read from a selection of survivor accounts, mainly those of Jewish young people from various European countries.
Following the presentations, community members will light candles in memory of Holocaust victims. Rabbis Scott Colbert and Steven Listfield will give related sermons and benedictions.
In Mobile, the Gulf Coast Center for Holocaust and Human Rights Education and the Christian-Jewish Dialogue of Mobile will present “An Alphabet of Soldiers” on April 17 at 6:30 p.m. at Ahavas Chesed. The music is based on the poetry of Auschwitz Survivor Krystyna Żywulska, who escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto and hid her Jewish identity, joining the resistance and helping Jews in hiding. She was taken as a political prisoner in June 1943, composing songs and poetry to deal with the tedium of life in the concentration camp.
Her compositions were produced by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer through the Music of Remembrance Foundation. They will be presented by performers at the University of Mobile’s Alabama School of the Arts, including mezzo-soprano Lori Guy, soprano Kathryn Hedlund, baritone Patrick Jacobs and pianist Christopher Lovely.
Holocaust-themed art and writing from local schools will be acknowledged and displayed.
Selma’s Mishkan Israel and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Selma will hold “Remembrance,” a community event to remember the Holocaust and explore its Selma connections. The service will be at St. Paul’s on April 16 at 2:30 p.m., with Alabama Holocaust Education Center Researcher Ann Mollengarden as the keynote speaker. A reception will follow.
Troy University is hosting “The Americans and the Holocaust” through April 24 at the Troy University Library’s main floor. A traveling exhibit of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, it examines American responses to war and genocide, and challenges the notion that Americans knew little about Nazi atrocities.
Drawing on a collection of primary sources from the 1930s and ‘40s, the exhibition focuses on the stories of individuals and groups of Americans who took action in response to Nazism. It challenges visitors to consider the responsibilities and obstacles faced by individuals — from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to ordinary Americans — who made difficult choices, sought to effect change, and, in a few cases, took significant risks to help victims of Nazism even as rescue never became a government priority.
A free teacher workshop on the basics of teaching the Holocaust will be held on April 12 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Logan Greene of Hoover City Schools will facilitate, and registration through the Alabama Holocaust Education Center in Birmingham is required.
At noon on April 12, Amy McDonald will speak on “Determined to Survive: A Story of Survival and One Teacher’s Passion to Bring That Story to Life.” The book is the life story of Max Steinmetz, a Holocaust survivor who made a new life in Birmingham. McDonald teaches at Shades Valley High School.
Tuscaloosa’s Temple Emanu-El will have a program centered on the history of the Holocaust Torah it received and dedicated in 2015. The program, which is by invitation due to security concerns, will be on April 16 at 2 p.m., with a light reception following.
The University of Alabama Hillel and the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion will host a program on April 10 at 6 p.m. to remember the lives of those lost during the Holocaust. Second-generation Holocaust survivor Esther Levy will share the detailed life experiences of her mother, Tobi Kamornik Gerson. Levy also will focus on the importance of learning history and strategies to promote allyship.
After the event, there will be a reception for viewing the Darkness Into Life exhibit, which is on display at the Intercultural Diversity Center through April 28. The exhibit from the Alabama Holocaust Education Center details the memories and triumphs of 20 Holocaust survivors who made their way to Alabama.
There will be a Holocaust remembrance event at Naval Support Activity Panama City on April 18 at 11 a.m. Featured speaker will be Daniel Sterlicht, Distinguished Scientist for Littoral Sensing Technologies at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division, and cantorial soloist and religious school director at B’nai Israel in Panama City.
The event will be in Building 350, room 136, the Dive School auditorium. Visitors are to go to the NSA-PC front gate on Thomas Drive and mention the Holocaust remembrance for an escort to the visitor’s center.
Alexandria is resuming its community-wide Holocaust memorial events, centered around the Holocaust memorial downtown, after a Covid hiatus.
The April 17 ceremony will start at the memorial at 6 p.m., then there will be a walk to Emmanuel Baptist Church. Featured speaker will be Ira Forman, former U.S. State Department Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, who will discuss “The How and Why Behind the Resurgence of Antisemitism 80 years after the Holocaust.”
The event will also feature music by choirs from Alexandria Senior High School and Bolton High Conservatory, and Rabbi Judy Caplan Ginsburgh. Rabbi Raina Siroty of Gemiluth Chassodim and Meyer Kaplan of B’nai Israel, will participate as well.
The Baton Rouge commemoration on April 17 at 6 p.m. will be a partnership among the Jewish Federation of Baton Rouge, Unified Jewish Congregation of Baton Rouge and The Episcopal School of Baton Rouge.
The school is displaying “Anne Frank: A History for Today” through the end of April. The exhibit will be available to view starting at 6 p.m., followed by the community Yom HaShoah service at 7 p.m. Rabbi Sarah Smiley will lead the service, which will include a presentation of the winners in the Holocaust essay contests for middle school and high school students.
Holocaust commemorations in New Orleans will feature social psychologist James Waller, the inaugural Cohen Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College in New Hampshire.
Waller is director of academic programs for the Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities, and is the author of six books, most notably his award-winning “Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing.”
In 2017, he was the inaugural recipient of the Engaged Scholarship Prize from the International Association of Genocide Scholars in recognition of his exemplary engagement in advancing genocide awareness and prevention.
On April 14 at 6:30 p.m., he will speak at Gates of Prayer on “The Escalating Risk of Mass Violence in the U.S.” The presentation examines what happens when identity politics prevail over democracy, when a paralysis in governance leads to a political vacuum, when de facto social segregation becomes normalized, and when questions of who we are as a society become secondary to who we are not. The talk comes with the backdrop of escalating political violence, the erosion of democratic norms and growing distrust of peaceful political processes.
There will be a dinner at 6 p.m., and reservations are requested by April 11.
On April 16, the community Holocaust remembrance will be at the Uptown Jewish Community Center at 6:30 p.m. Waller will discuss the internal and external factors that can lead ordinary people to commit extraordinary acts of evil, as outlined in his groundbreaking book.
During the program, the Holocaust Educator of the Year Award will be presented to Cassady Cooper and Samantha Burleigh for their integration of Holocaust education into the curriculum at Belle Chasse High School.
There will be two commemorations on April 18. The National World War II Museum will hold a reception at 5 p.m., followed by a 6 p.m. program in the U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. The program will be available in person and on Vimeo, and registration is encouraged.
At 7 p.m., Loyola University New Orleans and Touro Synagogue will host a Yom Hashoah commemoration at Touro, co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, the New Orleans Jewish Community Center and Yad Vashem. The evening will include remarks from Loyola honorary degree recipient, Anne Levy ‘22, about her experiences as a child in the Lodz Ghetto, the Warsaw Ghetto, and in hiding.
Starting at 5:45 p.m., there will be a viewing of the traveling exhibition “Stars Without a Heaven: Children in the Holocaust,” created by Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center.
The program will include the world premiere of “I Still Believe: An Anthem for Children’s Chorus,” written by Shoshana Yavneh Shattenkirk Borve and performed by the Holy Name of Jesus School Choir, conducted by Elyse Ptak. The anthem is inspired by Anne Frank’s famous words, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are good at heart,” a reminder of the power of resilience and hope, even in times of the greatest adversity.
Shreveport’s 40th annual Holocaust remembrance service will be held on April 16 at 3 p.m. at Zion Baptist Church, hosted by Pastor Brady Blade Sr. Guest speaker will be Andras Lacko of Dallas. Born in Budapest in 1936, he contracted scarlet fever in 1944 and was saved from ghettoization and subsequent deportation to Poland. He survived the Holocaust in a military hospital and was later reunited with his mother and father after the Soviet liberation of Budapest.
At the University of North Texas Health Science Center, he has been working on innovative cancer treatments.
There will be a presentation of winners from the annual Literary and Arts competition, with an essay for middle school students, and high school contests in essay, poetry, short story, art and music.
There will be a ceremonial lighting of 11 candles, for the 11 million Jewish and non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust. There will also be a candle lit to represent modern tragedies stemming from hatred and prejudice.
Beth Israel, Jackson, will hold a Yom HaShoah Holocaust Remembrance Seder, April 18 at 7 p.m. There will be a discussion and commemoration led by Beth Israel’s Kulanu Antisemitism Task Force, with reflections and hope for healing the world. Reservations are due by April 14, and there is a suggested donation of $10.
In Oxford, the University of Mississippi College of Liberal Arts, the Provost’s Office, the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, the Department of Art and Art History, and the Jewish Federation of Oxford are co-sponsoring “The Stages of Memory: Reflections on Memorial Art, Loss, and the Spaces Between,” with Professor James Young, the Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of English and Judaic & Near Eastern Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
His talk, on April 13 at 6:30 p.m., discusses how to have physical memorials to tragedy without trying to fill in the void. The talk traces an “arc of memorial vernacular” from the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial to Germany’s “counter-memorials” to the Holocaust, from Berlin’s Denkmal for the Murdered Jews of Europe to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery.
The talk will be at the Jackson Avenue Center’s Auditorium B, and a reception will follow.