Home / News / LocalRSS Feed
Alverno will exhibit travelers’ ‘Reflections on the Holocaust’
November 23rd, 2001
“I was surprised” to hear Amy Shapiro, professor of philosophy at Alverno College, say that a trip through Eastern Europe “will change your life,” said trip participant Renee DeBock. “That sounds like a professor talking.”
But the trip was to “Places of the Holocaust,” and Shapiro “was right,” DeBock, 35, told The Chronicle in a telephone interview. “It will take us all a lifetime to keep working all that through.”
The trip was the climax of an Alverno “travel course” of the same name. Shapiro taught the class of 16 people during the last winter-spring semester at Alverno, then led the group into Lithuania, Poland and the Czech Republic last June to see not only where Jews died, but also where they lived.
Class member Jeff Shabman then had the idea that each participant should create something to express his or her reactions to the trip, according to Shapiro.
“At Alverno, we recognize that people have different ways of processing and understanding information,” said Shapiro, who is also director of the Holocaust Education and Resource Center at the Coalition for Jewish Learning, the education program of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. “It seemed to me that this would be a wonderful way for the participants to express their experiences and work some of it through.”
Shabman, who works at Alverno’s Art and Cultures Gallery, discussed his idea with gallery director Valerie J. Christell. As a result, the gallery will mount an exhibit of the students’ works in various media — photographs, paintings, hand-made books, poetry, fabric — called “Reflections on the Holocaust” that will run Dec. 1-Jan. 15.
Christell said the exhibit also will include maps of the areas the participants visited and background information. Everything will be placed in “a large installation space” that will attempt to “surround the viewer and force the viewer into this environment,” Christell said. “I think it will be powerful” for both the participants and the viewers, she added.
DeBock, who is studying to become a high school history teacher, said she will make a collage. At every site the group visited, DeBock took photographs and picked up a stone. (“I wanted a piece of these places.”) She will match the stones with the photographs and combine those with Lithuanian lithographs of peasant farm scenes.
This expresses what to her was one of the overwhelming lessons of the trip: how the destroyed Jews were “part of the area” in which they lived, and how each of the six million murdered Jews “was an individual life” that was also a nexus of family and community relationships.
Another participant, Sue DeBaco, 38, who intends to pursue graduate work in philosophy, did a work in fabric. She said she “took a Nazi flag, bought some sheer material to lay over it, and I am sewing a Jewish star over the swastika.”
“What I’m trying to say,” she told The Chronicle, “is that ... the Jewish people prevailed in a sense. The Nazis didn’t carry out the full extermination program; Jews [today] are a huge presence in the world, so [the Nazis] didn’t win.”
Two participants in the trip did not take the class. Sandra Hoffman, president of Milwaukee’s Generation After organization of children of Holocaust survivors, knows Shapiro — Hoffman is also co-chair of the HERC with Marquette University Prof. Michael Phayer — and asked if she and her husband, Stuart, could come along on the trip.
During the trip’s stay in Poland, Hoffman and others of the group made a side journey to Lodz so that Hoffman could try to find information about her mother’s family — of which her mother was the only survivor.
At the Jewish community headquarters there, a community member found her mother’s family in a five-volume set of books listing residents of the Lodz ghetto. “I could see my mother’s name and other family names,” along with the addresses at which they lived in the ghetto, Hoffman told The Chronicle. “It was unbelievable.”
Though she did not take the class, Hoffman will contribute to the exhibit a work that “will have something to do with my discovery in Lodz.” She also, along with Shapiro, will speak at the exhibit’s opening reception on Saturday, Dec. 1, 7 p.m.
Alverno frequently offers travel courses that combine touring and studying. Shapiro said she had long wanted to offer such a class about the Holocaust not only to show the extermination camps but also to give students “a sense of the places of Jewish life and culture prior to the Holocaust.”
“I couldn’t be more pleased” with how it turned out, Shapiro said. “I was awed by the extent to which these [mostly non-Jewish] people went to understand and involve themselves.... I can see how it’s going to inform their lives for the rest of their lives.”
Gallery hours are: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; Thursdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sundays, 1-3 p.m.; with special hours noon-3 p.m. on Dec. 20 and 27, and Jan. 3 and 10. For more information about the exhibit, call 414-382-6149.