Lest we forget: Museum of Jewish Heritage marks Holocaust Remembrance Day

In addition to innovative temporary exhibitions and programing, the MJH displays an extensive permanent collection of artifacts and documents connecting visitors to the dark years of the Showa, to assure we never forget.
Photo by John Halpern

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA

The full name of Battery Park City’s Museum of Jewish Heritage declares itself “A Living Memorial to the Holocaust,” and that mission takes on special meaning every year on Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The museum is marking Yom HaShoah, which this year falls on April 12, with more than two weeks of events from April 8 through April 26. The museum will have free admission and extended hours for the duration of the observance.

A series of events and programs are scheduled throughout April, beginning with New York’s Annual Gathering of Remembrance, held Sunday, April 8, with more than 2,000 Holocaust survivors, their families, civic leaders and the larger community gathering at Temple Emanu-El at 1 East 65th St.

Another highlight event on April 18 will present a multimedia musical program with rare Jewish music created during World War II in the Lodz ghetto.

In addition to the museum’s permanent exhibit, three additional exhibits focus on retelling the story of the Holocaust, approaching commemoration from three different angles.

“I think what this museum is working to do on a daily basis is to make sure that we can provide as diverse and as broad an experience as possible,” said Michael Glickman, the museum’s president and CEO. “You probably would not come across three more different exhibitions that are positioned alongside one another to tell that story.”

The three new exhibits — New Dimensions in Testimony, The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm, and Memory Unearthed — tell the story of the Shoah with technologies old and new.

New Dimensions is in a large, rotunda room with two nearly-ceiling-high screens showing lifelike holographic images of two Holocaust survivors — Pinchas Gutter and Eva Schloss — with two microphones placed feet in front of them. Through cutting-edge technology, the USC Shoah Foundation has created an interactive system allowing visitors to ask Gutter and Schloss questions and receive relevant answers from a vast library of their testimonies. The technology draws on 1,500 recorded answers to interpret and respond to whatever questions visitors ask.

Gutter will sing a song he recalls from his childhood if you ask. He was just eight when the war began—ultimately surviving six Nazi concentration camps. Schloss will detail her relationship with Anne Frank.

Gutter lives in Toronto and Schloss lives in London now, but decades from now, their stories of survival through humanity’s darkest years will continue to live on in a way that nearly mirrors reality through their lifelike interactions.

On April 19, Schloss herself will be a guest during the screening of “116 Cameras” at another commemoration event.

The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm, approaches the story of the Holocaust in way more accessible to children. The short animated film begins with 10-year-old Elliott asking his great grandfather, Jack, about the number tattooed on his arm. When Jack describes his childhood in Poland, losing his family and surviving Auschwitz, the film tells the story in a series of animations through a technique called rotoscope. The 19-minute film was directed by Amy Schatz, with animations created by Jeff Scher.

In Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross, some 200 secretly taken photographs buried underground during the war and recovered in 1945 show life in the Lodz ghetto, where over 160,000 Jewish people were trapped for years under brutal conditions before being deported to the Chelmno and Auschwitz death camps. By the time the ghetto was liberated by the Red Army, only 877 Jews remained.

“It’s really a way to show the variations of life in that time, from pain and suffering, in some cases celebration, to life to death, and then unfortunately we all know what happens at that end,” Glickman said.

The photographer behind the images of life in the ghetto, Henryk Ross, was a Polish Jewish photojournalist tasked with taking identification photos for the Nazis. Instead, he secretly took some 6,000 photographs, later burying the negatives near his home. Groundwater destroyed half of them, and many of those that survived carry scars of water damage, but they remain the most comprehensive record of Jewish life under Nazi persecution.

Ross photographed corpses of those who starved to death, people saving Torahs, and lines of people being herded to trains for deportation. But he also photographed weddings and birthdays, and other moments of rare joys the prove the resilience of those enduring the Lodz ghetto.

“In the eyes of these 200 photographs, and looking at these individuals — in some cases these being the only remnants of a life lived — this gives the visitor an opportunity to experience something they probably didn’t know about, the Lodz ghetto,” Glickman said.

Other events during the commemoration will include testimonies from Holocaust survivors, seminars and performances.

During the commemoration of Yom HaShoah, the three special exhibitions, in addition to the museum’s permanent collection, will be open Monday through Thursday 10 am to 8 pm, Friday 10 am to 5 pm, and Sunday 10 am to 6 pm.

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