12 April 2018

HOLOCAUST MUSEUM IN BROOKLYN . . . Through the Eyes of Orthodox Jews

A Holocaust Museum in Brooklyn Tells the Story Through the Eyes of Orthodox Jews
The dynamics of the genocide's impact on religious belief and Orthodox rescue efforts are among the topics covered at New York's Amud Aish Memorial Museum


In Eretz Yisrael today is Yom HaShoah, with its many remembrances, which find absent the story of the Orthodox Jews’ who went through the fires of the Holocaust.

Like Holocaust museums the world over, the Amud Aish Memorial Museum in Brooklyn focuses on European Jewish communities that thrived before the Nazis came to power, the killing machine that led to millions of deaths, and the resilience of survivors both during the war and in rebuilding their Jewish lives in the aftermath.

But the small museum also has a particular focus: telling the story of the Shoah through the eyes of Orthodox Jews. Its current exhibit, for example, focuses on Jews who escaped to Shanghai in the 1930s — a familiar story in which 20,000 Jewish refugees fled to the Japanese-occupied area, one of the few safe havens in the world that did not require a visa.

Other members of the nine-person staff include acquisitions curator Chavi Felsenburg, whose grandmother was a hidden child and whose grandfather survived six concentration camps; collections manager Perachya Sorscher, whose grandfather managed to get extra food to the Satmar rebbe in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp; and chief curator Henri Lustiger-Thaler, whose mother was liberated from Bergen-Belsen.

“I felt that the Orthodox community’s story throughout the Holocaust is really not that well-documented and there’s a lot to be mined in that story,” said the museum’s director, Rabbi Sholom Friedmann. “We’re looking at how these Jews during the worst of times looked to their faith, looked to Jewish law as a means to make some sort of meaning out of their experience, and to be able to move forward and have the resilience that they did.”

I feel like I’m doing something that they would be very proud of and very, very meaningful to our family,” said Felsenburg, whose acquisitions include a rescue plea written on a piece of coat lining and smuggled out of a ghetto in southern France.

“We actually had known that such a plea was sent out,” she said of the document, which was rolled up and disguised as a cigarette. “We were re-housing a collection, putting it into sheet protectors and there it is. I did not expect to see it just like that, by flipping pages.”

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