Sep 29, 2010

Learning about the Holocaust in Dallas and Oswego

When John and I were in Dallas we visited the Holocaust Museum. The museum depicts the events on April 19, 1943, in three locations: Belgium, Warsaw, and Bermuda. By doing so they present different responses to the Holocaust. In Belgium three young men derailed a deportation train loaded with Jewish people bound for Auschwitz and set them free. Meanwhile the Jewish residents of the Warsaw Ghetto rose up in revolt while British and American government officials met in Bermuda to discuss the refugee problem in Nazi-occupied countries but took no action.

The Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance teaches about the past, to learn for today, in order to impact the future. I was impressed with the small museum and especially with Mike Jacobs, a survivor whose positive attitude had a lot to do with his survival. He survived Auschwitz (Poland), Birkenau (Poland) and Mathausen-Gusen II (Austria). Americans liberated him from Mathausen-Gusen II on May 5, 1945. Jacobs was one of the founders of the museum dedicated to the memory of the 11 million souls - 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews - who perished at the hands of the Nazis from 1939-1945.

The museum’s Upstander Program challenges people to stand up for what is right and not be a bystander. The sign at the entrance quotes Albert Einstein. “The World is too dangerous to live in – not because of the people who do evil, but because of the people who sit and let it happen.”

If there is a “Finest Hour” dealing with the Holocaust I think it is Oswego’s Safe Haven, another one of the unsung nuggets of history.

The Roosevelt administration chose to ignore the plight of refuges in 1943 but in 1944, with the tide of the war turning the Allies' way, President Roosevelt made a symbolic gesture. His Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, sent Special Assistant Ruth Gruber to Italy to bring nearly 1,000 war refugees to America. Of the 982 men women and children who were selected, Gruber said, "The government officials making the selection chose families and survivors with skills that could help run a camp in America. The first priority was refugees who had been in concentration camps and escaped." Each person selected had to sign an agreement that they would leave the United States when the war was over.

It took the group two weeks to cross the ocean on the army troop transport, the “Henry Gibbons.” There was a great deal of apprehension about what was in their future. Ivo Lederer said that upon seeing the Statue of Liberty, "I don't think there was a dry eye on deck."

Exhibits tell of life in the camp. Even though they were once again behind barbed wire the children attended the local school, they organized concerts and had educational programs for adults.

Even though many of the refugees had relatives in the US and offers of jobs, they had no legal status so the government was in a quandary over what to do with them when the war was over. The refugees were loaded on buses and went across the Rainbow Bridge to Canada where they reentered the U.S. legally and dispersed across the U.S. to become doctors, engineers, and other professionals.