Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Food for Thought: Preserving Your Family Photos, Documents Before the Next Disaster

The recent hurricane here on the East Coast and subsequent wind and water damage that occurred to tens of thousands of homes and businesses has compelled me to write to you with a worthwhile suggestion, as well as some food for thought.

As I have thousands of your precious family photographs already on my museum website, I am constantly reminded of the value of the material possessions that help us preserve and recall our own family’s history.

I know that many of us do not “back up” or photos or documents, as we generally do not anticipate natural (and some unnatural) events affecting us so severely, a tragedy that may occur to one’s property, not only from wind and flooding, but from disasters such as fire, earthquakes (or bombs, G-d forbid).

Many received extensive damage to their homes, especially their ground floors and basements. One can only try to imagine all that was lost, and the emotional impact it had on those who suffered because of it. I come to you here as one who strives to help you preserve your own family history, who has a vast, genealogical interest in his own family history, with a wish that you – perhaps as the fulfillment of a resolution for the New Year – make a full effort in the coming year to preserve and protect your own family legacy.

Can you imagine having all your precious family photographs, etc. destroyed, with absolutely no hope of recovering them? Surely we care more about our own personal well-being and that of our family members, our home itself, etc., but I am talking here solely about photographs and documents, and perhaps other material, family “mementos”.

It is my suggestion that each of us find some way of saving our precious photographs in at least a secondary location, e.g. on an external hard drive, thumbnail drive, CD, etc. Or one can save them to one’s computer, put them online to a photo-sharing program, e.g. with Flickr, or on other such websites.

One must remember, however, that only saving one’s photos to the same relative location is not a good idea, as your precious family photos, etc. can also be destroyed along with your photo backup, e.g. if your house’s first floor floods, and that is where you keep your family albums, as well as your computer who you may back up your files. So perhaps saving your photos (and documents too, let’s not forget) to an outside location (perhaps in a different part of the country) is probably the best bet, whether one backs them up online or in some other physical location.

I could go on, but I think I made my point. Many of us care very much about our family history and the preservation of physical remembrances, etc., so we should make this a priority to back up our precious photos and documents to a safe place. We don’t want to lose valuable family “heirlooms”, nor have to go back and do all our family research over again.

A similar suggestion can also be made with regards to preserving one’s own personal history, either by writing it down or recording it for posterity, before one’s memories fade or worse. Here time is the enemy, not any natural disaster. But that’s for another discussion….

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

New Film: "Stories of the Selfhelp Home"

In the late 1930s, following the ferocious anti-Jewish violence of Kristallnacht, a determined group of young German Jews left behind everything that was dear and familiar and immigrated to Chicago. Here, these refugees set out to create a supportive community for themselves and others fleeing Nazi persecution, eventually establishing the Selfhelp Home for the oldest among them.

REFUGE is a one-hour documentary that reaches back more than seventy years to give a voice to its last generation of victims of Nazi persecution and tell the story of this singular community that has provided a safe haven to more than one thousand Central European Jewish refugees and survivors. REFUGE weaves together historical narrative, archival footage and deeply personal testimony to explore the lives of six Chicagoans against the context of the Nazi cataclysm and how a small group of them came together to care for their own. The film illuminates the lost world of Central European Jewry prior to World War II--middle class, educated, cultured--and the remarkable courage, resilience and character of its final generation at Selfhelp.

In their own words, these refugees and survivors, now in their late eighties and above, speak vividly of loss of family and of place, of separations, and of decisions that meant the difference between life and death. They describe the myriad paths to survival: fleeing to the Jewish ghetto in Shanghai, hiding in the French countryside, being taken in by English families as part of the Kindertransport, and as slave laborers in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. And of those, who perished—husbands, parents, siblings, children. Yet, theirs are also stories of renewal, of finding love and creating new families, and of starting again in a new land.

The film moves back and forth between these stories and examines how the trajectories of their lives came together at the end at Selfhelp. And it reaches into the near future, when the last eyewitnesses to the Holocaust, those who have animated Selfhelp and given it its unique mission and meaning, will be gone. 
You can view the film preview here.
You can visit the Museum's other thirty-two film clips by visiting its Screening Room.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Landjuden of Euskirchen: The Sibilla Schneider Photographic Collection

Sibilla Schneider was a descendant of the Juelich family that lived in and around the small town of Euskirchen, Germany, which is located about sixty kilometres from the town of Juelich. She and her family  belonged to the social group of landjuden, or “country Jews”, which flourished throughout Europe from the Alsace to Slovakia until their lifestyle disappeared in the Shoah. In this online exhibition, you can view nearly three dozen fine (mostly studio) photographs of the Schneider-Juelich-Heumann families from Euskirchen, and learn a bit about their family history.

To view the exhibition, please click here.   

Lost Treasures: The Wooden Synagogues of Eastern Europe

In this new online exhibition, you can view many linocuts created by artist Bill Farran of New York, each a representation of a wooden synagogue that once stood in Eastern Europe. A very brief history of each synagogue is included.

These synagogues stood in such towns as Chodorow, Gombin, Grodno, Gwozdziec, Kielmy, Koskie, Kornik, Kosow Lacki, Lackorona, Olkieniki, Ozery, Piaski, Pohrebyszcze, Przedborz, Sniadowo, Suchowola, Szawlany, Warka, Wolpe, Wysokie Mazowieckie, Yarchev and Zabludow.

You can visit this exhibition by clicking here.