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Vol. 3, No. 1
Summer 2005

 

Arts and Remembrance: 60 Years after the Holocaust

By Cheryl Anderson Brown

Only I never saw another butterfly,
The last, the very last, so richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.

Deep within the graying walls of Terezin in Prague, a young man named Pavel Friedmann wrote the first lines of this poem, never knowing that the words would long outlive him. Soon after, Friedmann was transferred from Terezin to Auschwitz, where he was killed in 1944.

On the other side of Europe, another young writer scribbled in her diary, "I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up into the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better." Three weeks later, she and her family were discovered hiding in Amsterdam and were sent to the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen. Like Friedmann, Anne Frank died, but her words have survived. Their words are part of an indelible legacy that has come to represent the six million people who perished in the Holocaust.

The paths of the two young writers crossed once again in a special Holocaust commemoration organized by the Kennesaw State University College of the Arts. Presented in cooperation with the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust, the April 12 event included the exhibition, "Anne Frank in the World," and a dance/music performance of poetry written by Friedmann and other children at Terezin. The commemoration employed music, art and dance to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the other Nazi concentration camps at the end of World War II.

"Many people don't realize the power of the arts in conveying understanding, in bringing comfort, in sharing grief and in inspiring hope," said Joseph Meeks, dean of the College of the Arts, "but we have witnessed that even in the darkest times, people turn to the arts for solace and joy."

Indeed, the people of Terezin, the ghetto where Friedmann and his family were forced to live for 11 years, secretly held concerts and plays, created artwork and wrote poetry.

"I believe there is something essential about the arts that connects all humanity across cultures and time. That's why the College of the Arts presents diverse programming and celebrates people of all backgrounds," Meeks added.

Living Diversity

In recent years, the College's emphasis on diversity has resulted in art exhibitions highlighting Japanese, Latino and African art; theatre productions raising awareness of tolerance and understanding despite differences in gender, race and sexual orientation; and music events featuring compositions and musicians from around the globe, from Korea to Brazil. "People talk a lot about diversity," Meeks said. "In the College of the Arts, we live diversity every day. It is what we do."

As people throughout the world prepared to remember the Holocaust this year, the college's faculty and staff felt the need to once again honor a commitment to the Jewish community by creating another collaborative program, as the college had done with "A Kristallnacht Commemoration" in November 2002. Soon, it became apparent that Kennesaw State University's ties to the Jewish community were very numerous. Not only are many of the institution's students, faculty, staff and supporters Jewish, but two College of the Arts faculty members, Associate Professor of Music Laurence Sherr and Assistant Professor of Art History Daniel Sachs, are the sons of Holocaust survivors.

Both men participated in the April 12 Holocaust commemoration. Sachs prepared a slide show of artwork by Holocaust victims and read a poem written by his daughter. Sherr introduced a solo cello composition he had written by telling the story of his aunt who, like Friedmann, perished at Auschwitz.

Anne Frank in the World

For the last year and a half, the most visible aspect of the university's connections to the Jewish community has been the "Anne Frank in the World" exhibition housed at KSU Center. The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust secured the exhibition from the Anne Frank Center in New York City and was looking for a place to display it a few years ago when Cobb County Commission Chair Sam Olens heard about the project. He immediately decided that Cobb County had to provide the space and he approached KSU President Betty Siegel with the idea. Kennesaw State entered into a three-year agreement to host the exhibition, and may be able to extend the agreement when it expires at the end of 2006.

The exhibition includes more than 600 photographs and 8,000 words of text to tell the story of Anne Frank and her family, following them from freedom in 1920s Germany, to exile in the Netherlands, to hiding in a secret annex above her father's business in Amsterdam and, finally, to death in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

"Anne Frank's story is powerful because it is the story of a real little girl," said Sylvia Wygoda, executive director of the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust. "She makes events step out of the history book. She puts a name and a face on the tragedy."

Through the exhibition, many children have been able to connect with Anne Frank, even though she died before most of their parents were born. Of the more than 75,000 people who have visited the exhibition so far, many of them are school children who first came with a class from school and then returned later to bring their parents.

Most of the visitors are not Jewish, according to Wygoda. "We teach the importance of appreciating differences; that's what attracts people. They get off I-75 to get gas and see the sign; then they come in to find out what it's all about."

The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust is a state agency charged with creating an "awareness of the enormity of the crimes of prejudice and inhumanity and a vigilance to prevent their recurrence." To that end, Wygoda emphasizes that the issues the commission addresses--through sponsored programs, speaking engagements, art and writing contests, the Anne Frank exhibition and other programs--have implications far beyond the Holocaust and the Jewish community. In fact, one of the teachers honored by the commission this year created a middle-school curriculum about genocide in Rwanda.

Meeks agrees that remembering the Holocaust has broader implications. After all, Gypsies, Africans, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, the handicapped and others were also murdered by the Nazis. "Hate is very powerful and we can only counter it with education and understanding," he said. "As a human being, each of us has a responsibility to be vigilant. I'm proud that the College of the Arts can assist in raising awareness."

As the students in the KSU Women's Ensemble sang the words Friedmann wrote in his dark prison so many years ago, they were accompanied by dancers from the Georgia Ballet, including five youngsters who represented the child-poets of Terezin. When the music ended, Holocaust survivor Bert Lewin quietly lit candles held by each of the children. In silence, the flame was passed to each person in attendance.

"We leave here tonight knowing that we will never forget," Meeks told the audience. That is the power of the arts and remembrance.


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