SouthFlorida.com
Hungry for a good conversation? Join our Facebook group "Let's Eat, South Florida" where our readers and writers share tips about restaurants, recipes and more.

U.S. Holocaust museum's new South Florida curator wants your stories, artifacts | Video

The effort to preserve, collect and defend memories of the Holocaust has always been a race against time and nature — but a rising tide of anti-Semitism, on horrific display in the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, has made the task even more imperative.

To that end, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., recently named an acquisitions curator specifically for South Florida, among the country’s richest repositories of artifacts and eyewitness memories of Nazi-era atrocities.

“[The shooting] shows that anti-Semitism did not end with the Holocaust,” says Robert Tanen, the museum’s Southeast region director. “Anti-Semitism is rising around the world. That is happening as knowledge of the Holocaust is decreasing and the survivor generation is rapidly diminishing. That is an alarming combination.”

The Holocaust museum’s South Florida curator, Aimee Rubensteen, is a Hollywood native who comes to the job with a master’s degree in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art at the University of London and experience working at Sotheby’s and the Guggenheim Museum in New York. She also is a co-founder of Rojas + Rubensteen Projects, a contemporary art gallery and event space in Miami.

Rubensteen, who speaks Hebrew, also is able to balance two more critical assets that do not show up on her résumé: patient conversational skills and a sense of urgency about the job ahead.

“Every day, every month, every year that goes on, there’s less of a chance that I can meet with an eyewitness, a survivor of the Holocaust,” she says.

What they’re looking for

Rubensteen says the museum is interested in original artifacts and the stories behind them from survivors and their heirs — Jewish and non-Jewish — who were displaced or persecuted by the Nazis and their collaborators between 1933 and 1945.

This material, which now may be in the possession of children and grandchildren of survivors, would illustrate their “individual experience” before, during and after the war, and their emigration from Europe, including documents, passports, diaries, letters, postcards, pictures, film, art objects, newspaper clippings, clothing, toys and everyday household items.

The museum also is looking for artifacts from camp liberators and other eyewitnesses, she says.

One recent donation included handwritten letters between two family members, one inside a Jewish ghetto and one outside.

“Someone might feel like, ‘These are just my family members talking about the High Holidays or birthdays or heavy things like losing hope,’ but for the museum it provides historical evidence of what everyday life was like,” Rubensteen says.

The acquisitions will be housed at the museum’s David and Fela Shapell Family Collections, Conservation and Research Center in Washington, D.C., a state-of-the-art, climate-controlled facility that serves as a resource for future scholars.

Tanen acknowledges that the scale, complexity and duration of the Nazi massacre of 6 million Jews makes any attempt to explain it to future generations a challenge. He believes the museum is at its most effective when it humanizes the Holocaust “one individual story at a time.”

“History holds lessons for us, but only if we're willing to listen,” says Tanen, based in the museum’s office in Boca Raton. “Education remains our best tool to counter [anti-Semitism] in the long term. Our museum, local Holocaust centers, teachers, leaders and citizens all have a role to play in this.”

Tanen says Rubensteen’s position is subsidized entirely by local donors.

Rubensteen is quick to point out that she will go wherever she needs to for a conversation with a Holocaust survivor and to safely review a potential donation in the place where the object is being kept.

“Even though it might be an emotional experience, I can at least make it convenient for them,” Rubensteen says.

Individuals or families in South Florida who are interested in sharing artifacts with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum can set up a visit from Rubensteen by calling her at 786-496-2788 or sending an email to arubensteen@ushmm.org.

Lake Worth donor’s story

Helga Careskey, 93, of Lake Worth, recently donated a collection of family photographs that depict life in Breisach, the German town where she grew up. Her family managed to escape to the United States in October 1938, missing Kristallnacht by a week or two.

The pictures depict an idyllic life in a village along the Rhine River border with France, where Careskey’s father, the owner of a department store, was on the city council, with friendships that extended beyond their small Jewish community.

Another set of pictures show Careskey’s brother Walter returning to his hometown as a member of the U.S. Army tank company that liberated Breisach. One photo shows Walter in the Jewish cemetery where his grandfather was buried after the family had fled, its gravestones riddled with bullet holes. Careskey says Walter later ordered the mayor to repair the cemetery, which he did.

The decision to donate the pictures to the Holocaust museum was difficult, Careskey says.

“When I gave her those albums, I felt like my left and my right arm were severed. I was so close to those pictures,” she says.

The 30th annual meeting of the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Descendants will gather eyewitnesses and loved ones from around the world Nov. 9-12 at the West Palm Beach Marriott Hotel.

Careskey will be there, as will Rubensteen, on the search for more stories and artifacts.

The recent resurgence in the idolatry of Nazi-era propaganda and symbols makes such meetings and support for the Holocaust museum even more critical, Tanen says.

“It’s important for us to continue to tell the truth. We’re a history museum, and we’re telling the truth of this history, in all its facets, so that deniers and distorters will always continue to be pushed to the margins,” Tanen says. “They’re here now. And, unfortunately, they will certainly be here when the Holocaust and eyewitness generation is no longer with us. Which, again, makes us want to redouble our efforts today to make sure these stories and these pieces of evidence from this history are preserved forever.”

For information about the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., call 202-488-0400 or go to USHMM.org.

bcrandell@sun-sentinel.com

Copyright © 2018, South Florida
74°