"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

important mission

I am on the board of the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education. This sixteen-year-old organization endeavors to teach the history and lessons of the Holocaust to people of all races and religious beliefs throughout the Midwest to perpetuate understanding, compassion and mutual respect for generations to come.

I first became involved with this not-for-profit when I worked on the project “Portrait 2000.” The photographs and subsequent interviews became the material for the book entitled “From the Heart” which documented the stories of fifty Holocaust survivors who lived in the Kansas City area at that time.

In honor of those survivors, I’d like to share with my blog readers this column by Steve Penn published in yesterday’s Kansas City Star.

“The way the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education sees it, the shooting at the Holocaust museum in Washington might just as well have been a shot across its own entrance.

The local center sees the assault as an affront against all Holocaust education.

Educating the public on the reality of the Holocaust is what the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education is all about. This week, a group of teachers will participate in classes given by the center aimed at increasing their knowledge of Holocaust history.

The classes have taken on a heightened sense of urgency after a white supremacist entered Washington’s Holocaust museum recently, fatally shooting a security guard.

The suspect is James W. von Brunn, an 88-year-old white supremacist from Maryland.

Jean Zeldin, executive director for the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education, said the center’s goal is to teach the history of the Holocaust, applying its lessons to counter indifference, intolerance and genocide.

‘Our purpose … is to educate people so that when the deniers put forth their propaganda, that people know better,’ Zeldin said. ‘We’re probably not going to change the minds of deniers themselves. But we can equip the people who are hearing that stuff with the truth.’

Zeldin said von Brunn was beyond educating.

‘Here you have an 88-year-old man who wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow at airport security,” she said. “But he was so full of hatred. This had been festering for years.’

Zeldin said the Midwest Holocaust center is in solidarity with Washington’s Holocaust museum.

‘I’ve personally been to the Holocaust museum dozens of times,’ Zeldin said. ‘Chances are I met the security guard on one of my visits. You were walking into a place that’s pretty much hallowed ground.’

The wide media attention the story received is a testament to Holocaust education.

‘The fact that so many people feel connected to this and not just Jewish people is amazing,’ Zeldin said. ‘It grabbed the attention of the world.’

Zeldin said the shooting is an example of why the center’s mission is so important.

‘All that our center can try to do is reach those people who minds are still formative,’ she said.

Society can be lulled into complacency. But every now and then an incident occurs that serves as a wake-up call. The shooting at the Holocaust museum only inspires the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education to continue its message.”

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