Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Minnesotans remember the Holocaust in traveling exhibit June 23, 2014

I READ IT IN THEIR STORIES. Courage. Hope. Strength. Fortitude. Survival.

I see it in the lines that etch deep into their faces, in their piercing eyes, in their hands. Courage. Hope. Strength. Fortitude. Survival.

Panels showcase portraits and stories.

Panels showcase portraits and stories.

They are men and women, now living in Minnesota, who survived the Holocaust.

On a recent Saturday, in Owatonna, a rural Minnesota community far removed from the horrible history of Nazis and concentration camps and atrocities against Jews, I was introduced to brave souls who endured almost unimaginable experiences to emerge with spirits still strong, hope alive, lives to live.

Holocaust survivor Leo Weiss.

Holocaust survivor Leo Weiss.

Eva, Ella, Sam, Walter, Paula, Anne, Joe, Trudy, Leo…

The Steele County History Center, 1700 Austin Road, Owatonna, is hosting "Transfer of Memory" through August 17.

The Steele County History Center, 1700 Austin Road, Owatonna, is hosting “Transfer of Memory” through August 17. Museum admission charges apply.

Thirty-five impressive portraits by photographer David Sherman and accompanying information written by Lili Chester tell the stories of these Holocaust survivors in the traveling exhibit, “Transfer of Memory.” The show, created in partnership with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, will remain at the Steele County History Center until August 17.

Their stories will touch you.

Their stories will touch you.

I’m especially pleased that this exhibit is showing in Owatonna, offering southeastern Minnesota residents like myself the opportunity to view the portraits and read the stories without traveling into the Twin Cities metro.

Panels of portraits and stories define "Transfer of Memory."

Panels of portraits and stories define “Transfer of Memory.”

As I perused the panels of photos, plucking laminated story cards from below the portraits, I found myself immersed in the personal stories of survival and lessons learned. Hands gripped to prevent separation. Warnings given to save lives. Lying about age and religion to save one’s self. Death and marches and sickness. Horrible horrible stories.

Hope in a story.

In their words: hope.

But always hope. Hope and faith and more allowed these individuals to survive such awful atrocities.

I wonder if I would have possessed the willpower to continue on, to overcome, as they did.

Survivor portraits and stories impress.

Survivor portraits and stories impress.

These Holocaust survivors offer not only their experiences, but their introspection. Therein lies the power of this exhibit:

Don’t hate, it is a terrible thing. Everyone is born innocent. There is no reason to hate.—  Eva Gross

The United State presents to me and all our sons and daughter (s) an equal opportunity. Have patience, make an effort and be tolerant.—  Sam Rafowitz

The potential of (evil) is there in all of us if we do not remember the past.—  Lucy Smith

FYI: If you are unable to view this exhibit in person, click here to see the portraits and read the stories online.

Permission was secured from curators Laura Zelle and Susie Greenberg and from photographer David Sherman to use these photos of Sherman’s work and the exhibit quotes published here. Original exhibit photos and text are copyrighted.