HOUSTON, TX (Sept. 18, 2012) – No city, town or village was too small to escape the diabolical schemes of the Nazis to annihilate the Jewish people and the whole infrastructure that had supported them. Six million Jews perished, but 20,000 Jewish communities also were destroyed.
This October, Holocaust Museum Houston will dedicate the completion of its permanent memorial to those Jewish communities that were obliterated during the Holocaust, marking the addition of more than 300 new communities to its Destroyed Communities memorial.
Survivor Riki Roussos with the marker honoring her original home in the Jewish community of Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, dedicated in 2007.
Ceremonies will begin at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, outside the Museum’s Morgan Family Center, 5401 Caroline St., in Houston’s Museum District. Admission is free and open to the public. Visit http://www.hmh.org/RegisterEvent.aspx to RSVP online.
To be considered a “destroyed community,” a community must have had organized Jewish life in pre-Holocaust Europe, such as a synagogue or house of prayer; a Jewish school; a Jewish cultural establishment; a Kahal (an autonomous body regulating Jewish life); a shochet (kosher butcher); or just the presence of a known Jewish scholar, itinerant rabbi, cantor or teacher of Jewish studies, according to Holocaust survivor Edith Mincberg and co-chair of the project for Holocaust Museum Houston.
“There was a whole way of thriving Jewish life before this senseless destruction. Here, locally, we focus on Houston-area Holocaust survivors’ destroyed communities, with more than 300 of them being added to the slope outside our building. It is important that we learn about them, remember them and spread the awareness of their prior existence so we can leave this legacy for our descendants,” she said.
“By leaving this legacy for future generations, this slope of destroyed communities will be a constant reminder of the enormity of the deep, irreplaceable loss and an enduring educational tool explaining that unbridled human hate can lead to murder and destruction of other human beings,” Mincberg said.
“It is vital to know about the history, culture, activities of Jewish life in these towns, because that is the only way one can truly understand what was lost, the true extent of the tragedy perpetrated on the world by the Nazis. The synagogues, schools, orchestras, theaters, newspapers, businesses – everything that made the lives of the Jews so vibrant, so fulfilling – were destroyed. These stones will serve as a reminder not only of the 6 million Jews who were murdered, but also the beautiful Jewish communities that the victims had created, that had thrived for hundreds of years. These stones will help personalize the tragedy by showing how the Jews were murdered, town by town by town by town,” added Ellen Trachtenberg, another co-chair of the effort and a founding member of the Museum.
The “Destroyed Communities” project began even before the opening of the Museum in March 1996. Over the years, the names of more than 35 communities that once were home to Houston area-survivors but where all traces of Jewish culture were obliterated have been engraved on large stones on the exterior slope of the Museum’s main building at 5401 Caroline St.
The Museum has sought to complete the project for years, but the etched concrete stones are expensive to construct, engrave and install.
That’s when volunteer and son of Holocaust survivors Hyman Penn and his family stepped in to honor his own parents and grandmother, offering to finish the project in memory of Houston-area survivors Linda and Morris I. Penn and grandmother Riva Kremer. The gift is being given by Lynn Gordon and Hyman Penn; Pam and Robert Penn, Jordan and Jamie; and Cynthia and Barry Weinberger, Melanie and Lauren.
“The Destroyed Communities memorial will remember the cities, towns and villages of our own Houston survivors, including my parents and grandmother,” Hyman Penn said. “This memorial will be the first thing visitors see when they come to the Museum, setting the tone for their visit.”
Kremer was born Aug. 12, 1906, and spent much of her early life in Grodno, Poland, where her husband ran a dry cleaning business. When the Nazis overran Grodno in the summer of 1941, Kremer – then 36 – was sent to Treblinka, one of the most notorious Nazi death camps. Her husband and son were immediately sent to the gas chambers, but Kremer and her daughter, Linda, were pulled aside and survived.
Kremer and her daughter were sent as slave laborers to the camp of Majdanek, where they sorted clothing and other belongings stripped from Jewish victims. After Majdanek, they endured horrific conditions at camps at Trawniki, Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz. After escaping near death in camps throughout Poland and Germany, Kremer and her daughter were sent to Theresienstadt, a ghetto and transit camp in Czechoslovakia. Allied troops liberated them on May 8, 1945.
Morris Penn was born in Lithuania, where the Jewish population built a vibrant cultural and religious life before World War II. When Germany overran Lithuania in the summer of 1941, he and his family were captured but later fled into hiding. His mother and sister were betrayed and murdered in 1942. He and his brother survived in hiding and eventually made it to Houston in 1949. In December 1951, Morris married Linda Kremer, whom he had met in displaced persons camp in Austria.
The Penn family will be on hand for the October ceremonies, as will Trachtenberg and Mincberg. Other participants will include Museum Chair Tali Blumrosen, survivor Ben Waserman, second-generation member Tobi Cooper, third-generation member David Hassid and members of the fourth generation of survivors. Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss of Congregation Emanu El will lead the invocation, and Hazzan David Propis of Congregation Beth Yeshurun will provide music selections.
Holocaust Museum Houston is dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust, remembering the 6 million Jews and other innocent victims and honoring the survivors' legacy. Using the lessons of the Holocaust and other genocides, the Museum teaches the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy.
Holocaust Museum Houston’s Morgan Family Center is free and open to the public and is located in Houston’s Museum District at 5401 Caroline St., Houston, TX 77004. For more information about the Museum, call 713-942-8000 or visit www.hmh.org.