Pre­serv­ing mem­o­ries

U.S. Holo­caust mu­seum’s new South Florida cu­ra­tor wants your sto­ries, ar­ti­facts

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Local - By Ben Cran­dell | SouthFlorida.com

Careskey’s brother Wal­ter re­turned to Breisach, Ger­many, with the U.S. Army. This photo was among those do­nated.

The ef­fort to pre­serve, col­lect and de­fend mem­o­ries of the Holo­caust has al­ways been a race against time and na­ture — but a ri­seven ing tide of anti-Semitism, on hor­rific dis­play in the mas­sacre at the Tree of Life syn­a­gogue in Pitts­burgh last month, has made the task A photo de­pict­ing life in Breisach also was do­nated by Careskey to the Holo­caust mu­seum in Washington. more im­per­a­tive.

To that end, the United States Holo­caust Me­mo­rial Mu­seum in Washington re­cently named an ac­qui­si­tions cu­ra­tor specif­i­cally for South Florida, among the coun­try’s rich­est repos­i­to­ries of ar­ti­facts and eye­wit­ness mem­o­ries of Nazi Ger­many-era atroc­i­ties.

“[The shoot­ing] shows that anti-Semitism did not end with the Holo­caust,” says Robert Ta­nen, the mu­seum’s South­east re­gion di­rec­tor. “Anti-Semitism is ris­ing around the world. That is hap­pen­ing as knowl­edge of the Holo­caust is de­creas­ing and the survivor gen­er­a­tion is rapidly di­min­ish­ing. That is an alarm­ing com­bi­na­tion.”

The Holo­caust mu­seum’s South Florida cu­ra­tor, Aimee Ruben­steen, is a Hol­ly­wood na­tive who comes to the job with a mas­ter’s de­gree in art his­tory from the Cour­tauld In­sti­tute of Art at the Univer­sity of London and ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing at Sotheby’s and the Guggen­heim Mu­seum in New York. She also is a co­founder of Ro­jas + Ruben­steen Projects, a con­tem­po­rary art gallery and event space in Mi­ami.

Ruben­steen, who speaks He­brew, also is able to bal­ance two more crit­i­cal as­sets that do not show up on her ré­sumé: pa­tient con­ver­sa­tional skills and a sense of ur­gency about the job ahead.

“Ev­ery day, ev­ery month, ev­ery year that goes on, there’s less of a chance that I can meet with an eye­wit­ness, a survivor of the Holo­caust,” she says.

What they’re look­ing for

Ruben­steen says the mu­seum is in­ter­ested in orig­i­nal ar­ti­facts and the sto­ries be­hind them from sur­vivors and their heirs — Jewish and non-Jewish — who were dis­placed or per­se­cuted by the Nazis and their col­lab­o­ra­tors be­tween 1933 and 1945.

This ma­te­rial, which now may be in the pos­ses­sion of chil­dren and grand­chil­dren of sur­vivors, would il­lus­trate their “in­di­vid­ual ex­pe­ri­ence” be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter the war, and their em­i­gra­tion from Europe, in­clud­ing doc­u­ments, pass­ports, di­aries, let­ters, post­cards, pic­tures, film, art ob­jects, news­pa­per clip­pings, cloth­ing, toys and ev­ery­day house­hold items.

The mu­seum also is look­ing for ar­ti­facts from camp lib­er­a­tors and other eye­wit­nesses, she says.

One re­cent do­na­tion in­cluded hand­writ­ten let­ters be­tween two fam­ily mem­bers, one in­side a Jewish ghetto and one out­side.

“Some­one might feel like, ‘These are just my fam­ily mem­bers talk­ing about the High Hol­i­days or birth­days or heavy things like los­ing hope,’ but for the mu­seum it pro­vides his­tor­i­cal ev­i­dence of what ev­ery­day life was like,” Ruben­steen says.

The ac­qui­si­tions will be housed at the mu­seum’s David and Fela Shapell Fam­ily Col­lec­tions, Con­ser­va­tion and Re­search Cen­ter in Washington, D.C., a sta­teof-the-art, cli­mate-con­trolled fa­cil­ity that serves as a re­source for fu­ture schol­ars.

Ta­nen ac­knowl­edges that the scale, com­plex­ity and du­ra­tion of the Nazi mas­sacre of 6 mil­lion Jews makes any at­tempt to ex­plain it to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions a chal­lenge. He be­lieves the mu­seum is at its most ef­fec­tive when it hu­man­izes the Holo­caust “one in­di­vid­ual story at a time.”

“His­tory holds lessons for us, but only if we’re will­ing to listen,” says Ta­nen, based in the mu­seum’s of­fice in Boca Ra­ton. “Ed­u­ca­tion re­mains our best tool to counter [anti-Semitism] in the long term. Our mu­seum, lo­cal Holo­caust cen­ters, teach­ers, lead­ers and cit­i­zens all have a role to play in this.”

Ta­nen says Ruben­steen’s po­si­tion is sub­si­dized en­tirely by lo­cal donors.

Ruben­steen is quick to point out that she will go wher­ever she needs to for a con­ver­sa­tion with a Holo­caust survivor and to safely re­view a po­ten­tial do­na­tion in the place where the ob­ject is be­ing kept.

“Even though it might be an emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence, I can at least make it con­ve­nient for them,” Ruben­steen says.

In­di­vid­u­als or fam­i­lies in South Florida who are in­ter­ested in shar­ing ar­ti­facts with the United States Holo­caust Me­mo­rial Mu­seum can set up a visit from Ruben­steen by call­ing her at 786-496-2788 or email­ing aruben­steen@ushmm.org.

U.S. HOLO­CAUST ME­MO­RIAL MU­SEUM

U.S. HOLO­CAUST ME­MO­RIAL MU­SEUM

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