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