Remembering tragedy and resilience
News | Emma Nichols for the Clarion
The Brushaber Commons plays host to student clubs and events throughout the year, but during the months of January and February, something new sat in the atrium that may have caused students to stop and look.
Bethel University celebrated the lives of Holocaust survivors and remembered the lost through various related events in January and February, including the ‘Transfer of Memory’ exhibit in the Brushaber Commons atrium.
The various events included the opening reception for the exhibit, a panel discussion on ‘Remembering through Literature, Film and Theology,’ a Holocaust movie showing and Holocaust Memorial historian Victoria Barnett sharing a message in chapel.
The ‘Transfer of Memory’ exhibit, presented by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, KFAI Radio and Bethel University, featured photographs and short stories about holocaust survivors in Minnesota, photographed in their homes. Each story represents difficulties that have been overcome and the remembrance of a tragic event, though the overall message is of hope.
“It has a presence. It stays for a month wherever it goes, and we get to work with that community for other events to happen. It’s a great artistic platform for education in these communities,” explained Laura Zelle, director of Tolerance Minnesota and the exhibit’s curator. Zelle worked with Bethel to put on the events on campus.
The exhibit’s photographer, David Sherman, believes that memory of the Holocaust is crucial now; he has seen many survivors he has known passed away. “This is the kind of thing we should be documenting so we know who they were,” he explained. “It won’t be long before there aren’t any more first-hand accounts, and I want to be sure to contribute what I can to maintaining that body of proof.”
Once Sherman and Zelle developed the idea for the exhibit, they began by seeking out participants through press releases and flyers in Jewish communities around the Twin Cities. Those survivors who volunteered were photographed and interviewed in their homes and could say as little or as much as they wanted, which became the short paragraphs beneath each photo.
Sherman enjoyed visiting each survivor’s home. “That made it special to me, that they were opening their homes and personal lives to us. It contributed nicely to their images, and they were photographed in a place that was comfortable and familiar to them,” he said.
The exhibit travels to schools, religious and community centers, but both Sherman and Zelle expressed the importance of having the exhibit on a university campus like Bethel. Because of academic history learned in college, Sherman believes the photographs heighten the importance of this kind of memory.
“The Holocaust is more than facts and figures and numbers. It’s about people, hardship and overcoming hardship. History is academic, but I think there is a particular emotional piece that people need to understand,” he said.
“It’s set up in the commons area, and it's busy. People contemplate there, they reflect and eat. This lends itself to conversation,” Zelle explained. She and Sherman wanted the exhibit to cause students to stop and observe.
“I’m hoping that my images are emotive, I hope that they make people think. In a small way, I want to show the enormity of what the holocaust is about,” Sherman said. “The human spirit is incredible, and our ability to move on. But at the same time, we can’t forget what happened and the atrocities. We have to work and do everything we can so that we don’t let these things happen again.”
Originally, the photos were to be in black and white, but those who worked on it decided that color photos were more appropriate in showing inspiration and pride in the photos. Zelle wanted the photos to show hope for the future rather than evoke memories of the past, as many black and white photos can.
“Color spoke more to the future, lifted you up when you look at them. We didn’t want to hold people back to that time period. We wanted to bring the conversation to todays time,” she said.
Zelle also explained that the purpose of the exhibit is for the survivors to be remembered as heroes rather than victims, as people who overcame great hardship rather than giving up. “It’s about understanding that everybody has a story and a past,” Zelle said. “The holocaust did not define them. They are not stuck in 1945 but they went on to raise families, and that shows resiliency and hope.”