Holocaust awareness groups express concern over surge in hate crimes

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By KAREN RAPOLLA
Staff Writer

The Center for Holocaust, Human Rights, and Genocide Education (Chhange) at Brookdale Community College (BCC) in Lincroft recently issued a statement expressing concern over the recent surge in hate crimes, post-election.

Chhange, a nonprofit, volunteer organization founded in 1979 as a center for Holocaust studies, addresses human rights and civil rights issues worldwide. Its mission is to educate about the Holocaust, genocide and human rights; promote the elimination of racism, anti-Semitism and all forms of prejudice; and develop creative programs regarding these crucial human issues.

The statement was co-authored by members of the Association of Holocaust Organizations, a network dedicated to the advancement of Holocaust education, remembrance and research, with the widespread support of nearly 100 signatories (institutions and individuals).

Chhange joined Holocaust remembrance institutions and individual scholars and educators to call on others to condemn hatred and ask citizens to be vigilant in the following statement:

“Recent months have seen a surge in unabashed racism and hate speech — including blatant anti-Semitism and attacks on Hispanics, Muslims, African-Americans, women, the LGBTQ community, as well as other targeted groups. Journalists have been threatened. Places of worship, schools and playgrounds have been defaced with Nazi symbols intended to intimidate and arouse fear. White supremacist groups have become self-congratulatory and emboldened.

“As Holocaust scholars, educators and institutions, we are alarmed by these trends.  History teaches us that intolerance, unchecked, leads to persecution and violence. We denounce racism and the politics of fear that fuels it. We stand in solidarity with all vulnerable groups. We take Elie Wiesel’s words to heart: ‘I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.’

“Therefore, we call upon all elected officials as well as all civic and religious leaders to forcefully and explicitly condemn the rise in hate speech and any attacks on our democratic principles. We call upon all media and social media platforms to refuse to provide a stage for hate groups and thus normalize their agenda. And we call upon all people of good conscience to be vigilant, to not be afraid, and to speak out.”

Chhange has noticed an increase in bias incidents and hate speech in local schools and even in senior centers in local communities and responded by meeting with school administrators and faculty to develop individualized programs for each school with goals of promoting tolerance and respect into the school’s culture, thus strengthening a safe, welcoming school community.

Chhange serves to educate the Central New Jersey community through the presentation of many exhibits each year. Soon, the group will be unveiling its permanent exhibit, “A Journey to Life,” slated to open October 2017.

Chhange is also home to an extensive library of books, periodicals and media materials and an extraordinary permanent archive of memorabilia, artifacts and documents from local survivors. Chhange houses the only formal Holocaust/genocide archives in New Jersey, preserving the historical materials of local Holocaust and genocide survivors.

“The permanent exhibit is brand new, opening Oct. 22, 2017. We have had temporary exhibits before, but never one with this comprehensive focus and technology,” said Dale Daniels, executive director at Chhange. “Our survivor histories are in use in our curriculum suitcases. One of our most successful resources [is] we have the full life stories of 11 Holocaust survivors with their photos, personal narrative, descriptive and photos of archival items and much more that travel easily to classrooms in suitcases.

“Moreover, they are the basis for our most significant project, our permanent exhibit which will open on Oct. 22.”

The exhibit plans to connect visitors locally through the survivors who live in our local communities and globally through the universality of its themes. It is dynamic in content and vision and demonstrates that individuals can make a difference in the face of hate and bias.

Chhange has received donations of archival material from over 200 individuals. Materials held include artifacts, artwork, books, correspondence, clothing, memoirs, oral histories, photographs and personal and government documents.

Holocaust survivors and the families of Armenian Genocide survivors have entrusted Chhange with the care and safekeeping of these valuables because they recognize these archival items continue to teach their history in our community — long after they can do it themselves.

“In terms of the survivor stories, they illustrate the guiding principle behind the programming and educational initiatives at Chhange: We tell the human story. And it is the human story in full … that is, not just the experience at the moment of victimization, but the full life experience of individuals in victimized groups … so they are perceived by our audience as people, not victims,” said Daniels.

“Over our 38 years of working with students, educators and the community, we have learned that this connection with one individual’s history elicits a sense of responsibility and a commitment to take action to address injustice,” she said.

Some of the items housed in the archives include a concentration camp uniform and yellow star, an “autograph” book of a Kindertransport child survivor containing messages from loved ones as she left Germany, and the diary of an Armenian Genocide survivor from the Adana Massacre.

There are several hundred artifacts in total, and the archive, which is currently under renovation, will be open to the public year-round. The many programs they offer to the general community include scholarly lectures, film series, book discussions and a selection of collaborative programs.

One such educational program is the upcoming teacher workshop, “Through Their Eyes,” which takes place on Jan. 12 from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on the Lincroft campus.

Educator and artist Susan Stein explores writings of adolescents who lived during the Holocaust and other genocides as well as emails from teens living in present-day conflict areas. Participants of the workshop can expect to gain a better understanding of the power of the individual voice throughout history and today’s events.

Chhange is also presenting the much anticipated, limited engagement of the Anne Frank exhibit “A History for Today.” This is the first time in Central New Jersey that this extraordinary exhibit is being made available to the community. The unforgettable 90-minute journey will begin at Chhange’s BCC location April 2 through June 1. Quotes from Anne Frank’s renowned diary will frame every exhibit panel. The exhibit’s opening event will take place April 2.

“Chhange is honored to be able to share this outstanding exhibit with our local community,” said Daniels.

The exhibit will engage every visitor, whether new to Anne’s story or a studied reader of her diary. The tour is 90 minutes long and available in Spanish with advanced notice. It includes a 25-minute documentary film on Anne Frank. Reservations for tours are being accepted now and will be conducted Monday-Thursday at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.

“A Journey to Life” is the name of the permanent exhibit.

“In 2015 when we had the prototype to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, we called it ‘A Journey to Life: Armenia.’  There has never been a permanent exhibit at Chhange. ‘A Journey to Life’ is the first permanent exhibit,” said Daniels. “Our artifacts are kept in the archives for preservation and are available for use by researching scholars.

“We also offer educators the opportunity to bring in their students for a class on archival items. This includes the opportunity to view select items from the archives. We have had groupings of items on display at Chhange and will probably display a selection of items from local survivors relating to their refugee/immigrant experience when we house the Anne Frank exhibit and ‘Through Their Eyes.'”

Daniels said construction is still ongoing.

“We are in the final stages and hope that we will re-open to the public by Feb. 1,” she said.

“A Journey to Life” will include and serve as a testimony to Holocaust survivors. The stories at the exhibit are based on the memories survivors have shared. Photographs, documents and artifacts were used when available. In addition, to enhance readers’ understanding of the survivors’ stories, historical and geographical details and facts have been added to their stories where appropriate.

The exhibit will serve as the primary teaching tool to carry out Chhange’s mission by educating the public about the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust and the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda as well as other areas of crisis in our world today.

Chhange will offer a variety of programs in 2017 that address racism, anti-Semitism, prejudice and other human rights issues. For more information, visit www.chhange.org or call 732-224-1889 for details.

 

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