By Elizabeth Greenberg | NB Indy
Tears were barely held back at Monday’s opening of the traveling exhibit, “The Courage to Remember,” a visual narrative of the Holocaust.
About 50 people attended the event at the Newport Beach Public Library, which welcomed a 40 panel display along with an inspiring speaker and his story as a Holocaust survivor.
Produced by the Museum of Tolerance, the exhibit “offers a unique insight into the Holocaust,” according to the Library’s webpage. Featuring 200 photographs and an accompanying narrative, the exhibit outlines the Holocaust into four chronological themes: Nazi Germany, 1933-1938; Moving Toward the “Final Solution,” 1939-1941; Annihilation in Nazi-occupied Europe, 1941-1945; and finally, Liberation – Building New Lives.
The sponsor for the exhibit comes from an unlikely source: France’s national railway company, the Société Nationale des Chemins de fer français (SNCF). The railway was involved with villainous deeds during World War II–the Germans used SNCF trains to transport Jews and other victims of the Holocaust from France to concentration camps in Germany.
The exhibit opens with a statement from Guillaume Pepy, chairman of SNCF. Pepy explains his sorrow for the company’s involvement in the “inhumane maneuvers in accordance with the program of the Nazi occupier and it’s French collaborators,” and went on to explain that the exhibit offers “an opportunity to take a moment and remember, so we do not pass on these terrible moments in our history to future generations.”
At the opening ceremony on Monday, Jack Pariser, an 84-year-old Holocaust survivor and Laguna Beach resident, spoke about his life experience and his mission now.
For Pariser, education stopped after the third grade, when the Germans invaded Poland. He was not yet 10 when they came, and his life changed forever. He and his father, mother, and older sister ran away, avoiding the massacre of his Polish village.
Captured twice, the family escaped both times, once from a bounty hunter and once from jail.
At one point, they hid in a tiny hole in the ground underneath the barn of their Christian friend, a space so small that it only allotted enough room for them to lay on their sides. The family of four hid in that hole for 29 months. Pariser recalled that his legs were so stiff from the cramped stay people had to help him bend his legs.
“There were 10 and a half Christians that were involved in our survival,” Pariser stated, the half being the Jew hunter they had bribed to get away from.
Eventually, Pariser and his family made it to the American zone, where he was educated and given a diploma from the German government the allowed him to get into colleges in Germany and the United States.
In 1949, Pariser moved to the United States. He married, raised three children, got a degree in electrical engineering, then a master’s from University of Southern California, and a job.
“I have a lot to give back,” Pariser said after his presentation. “So much. And it’s my turn…People don’t know anything about prevention. I’ve got to do something about that.”
Pariser noted that had he been more involved in the making of the panels, the theme would have been understanding and prevention as opposed to just remembrance.
Pariser ended his presentation with an important message for the audience.
“We, as humans, have a very significant task, and that is to derail genocide, by any mean we could,“ he said. “So I invite you to join me on that quest.”
Though Pariser will not be speaking for the duration of the exhibit’s stay, the panels offer a compelling story of the thousands of Jews victimized during the Holocaust.
“It’s a very powerful exhibit,” Nancy Shneider said as she walked through the 40-panel display. “My great aunts and uncles and my great grandparents died somewhere in Russia, so it’s very hard for me. It’s very powerful.”
Pariser thought that the exhibit was “too Jewish.”
“At least as many people died in similar circumstances as Jews did, and there is very little mention of that [in the exhibit],” Pariser said.
Mayor Keith Curry was on hand to introduce the panels and the theme of the exhibit: Remembrance. His heartfelt speech of the Holocaust set the scene for the presentation and the guest speaker. Mayor Pro Tem Rush Hill also attended the event.
Curry mentioned the exhibit at Tuesday night’s council meeting, noting that Pariser’s words were “tremendously moving” and that the exhibit was “very, very powerful.”
“(The exhibit) provides a very sobering reminder (for) all of us,” Curry said, “of the despotism that existed in the world then, and could exist in the future if we are not all diligent about that.”
The exhibit is on display at the Newport Beach Public Library through July 29. For more information, visit NewportBeachPublicLibrary.com.