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Facing the past guides exhibit and programs at Holocaust Center

Thursday, November 05, 1998

By Sally Kalson, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

More than 50 years after the end of World War II, Jewish life in Germany remains a sensitive subject for the perpetrators, the victims and their descendants as they struggle to coexist with each other and the past.

That difficult terrain is the subject of a new photo exhibit and four weeks of programming beginning this weekend at the Holocaust Center of Greater Pittsburgh, located in the Jewish Community Center, Squirrel Hill.

Events begin Sunday at 7 p.m. with an appearance by American photojournalist Edward Serotta, who will talk about his exhibit, "Jews Germany Memory: A Contemporary Portrait, 1988-1996." Based on his book of the same name, the photos and text probe the complex relationships between Jews who returned to Germany after the war and their non-Jewish neighbors.

The exhibit features scenes such as survivors visiting the hometown in Germany that once expelled their parents; former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on a visit to Auschwitz; and Jewish children riding German trains to summer camp, evoking painful memories of Jewish children riding German trains to the death camps.

For Serotta, a documentary photographer for Time and Life magazines, this book marks the completion of his trilogy on post-Holocaust Europe. He previously published "Out of the Shadows," a study of Jewish life in Central Europe, and "Survival in Sarajevo," depicting a tiny Jewish community striving to help both Muslims and Christians during the recent war-torn period.

Linda Hurwitz, director of the Holocaust Center, said the series

will highlight the ongoing challenge to contemporary Germans looking for ways to live with the Nazi legacy.

"Everyone is trying to gain perspective as time goes by," she said. "What do they communicate to the younger generation? How do they memorialize what happened, how do they shade it? Do they accept responsibility?"

Hurwitz, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, visited Germany in 1995 when the country was celebrating the 50th anniversary of its liberation from fascism. It was clear, she said, that many citizens were trying to face the past head-on.

German artists and writers, she said, are looking at their country's history and responding through their art. German towns have erected monuments to the Jewish residents who were killed, and along the routes of the death marches at places such as Dachau.

Ruth Drescher, chair of the program committee, said of the series, "We hope it will increase understanding of that period and reduce the potential for evil in current situations all over the world."

Sunday's exhibit opening will also feature local Holocaust survivors Arnold Blum and Irma Meyer giving eyewitness accounts of Kristallnacht, or "The Night of Broken Glass" - Nov. 9 and 10, 1938. That date marked the beginning of the end for European Jewry under the Nazi regime as mobs rampaged through the streets, smashing windows and burning Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues.

The rest of the lecture series will run as follows:

Nov. 17: "Remembering Germany - Four Perspectives." Survivors will recall life in Germany before, during and after the war; 7 p.m. in the Holocaust Center.

Nov. 18: "Memory and The Burden of History: The German Predicament." Professor Simon Reich of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs will discuss the real meaning of German reunification; 7 p.m. in the Holocaust Center.

Nov. 22: The daughter of a Nazi officer and the daughter of Holocaust survivors will have an on-stage, face-to-face meeting. Their dialogue will demonstrate the process created by One by One, a Massachusetts-based organization whose Jewish and German members strive to overcome their inherited enmities; 10:45 a.m. in Levinson Hall A, the Jewish Community Center.

Dec. 2: Pittsburgh-based artist Diane Samuels will talk about her 1996 project, when she was invited by the archivist of Musingen, Germany, to "respond as an artist" to the region's history. She focused on two villages: Grafeneck, the site of a euthanasia killing center; and Buttenhausen, which has a unique pre- and post-war relationship to Jews and reconciliation; 7 p.m. in the JCC's Katz Performing Arts Center.

The following videotapes will all be shown at 7 p.m. in the Holocaust Center:

Nov. 9: "Memories of Kristallnacht," narrated by Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

Nov. 23: "Now After All These Years" - inhabitants of the German town of Rhina remember their former Jewish community.

Nov. 30: "Degenerate Art" - masterworks by modern artists banned by the Nazis as "decadent Jewish-liberal culture."

Dec. 7: "We Were So Beloved" - Jews who fled Nazi persecution and emigrated to America.

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