After an Article About an Auschwitz Exhibition, More Artifacts Surface | Modern Society of USA

After an Article About an Auschwitz Exhibition, More Artifacts Surface

After an Article About an Auschwitz Exhibition, More Artifacts Surface

Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.

Reporters often have no idea what impact their stories have had.

We may spend days gathering details, conducting interviews, stringing our notes together into what we hope is a well-crafted article, but silence often follows. We have no idea whether anything was significantly altered in its wake.

Sometimes, though, the effect can be seen quickly. My colleague Ralph Blumenthal and I worked for weeks on a story detailing a plan by the Museum of Jewish Heritage, in Lower Manhattan, to convert most of its viewing space into a special exhibition of haunting artifacts of Auschwitz — a cattle car, a Zyklon B gas canister used in the camp’s lethal “showers,” striped uniforms, confiscated shoes and eyeglasses, and 700 other items. Beyond re-emphasizing the museum’s original mission of commemorating the deaths of six million Jews, officials hoped the exhibition would — at a fraught time — remind people of the perils of anti-Semitism and racial hatred.

In late January, a few days after the article ran, I received a call from a Westchester woman named Debra Fisher. She had a precious photograph she wanted to add to the Auschwitz collection. It was a ragged-edged, black and white snapshot taken in 1927 of a group of 28 well-dressed people posed in front of an old-age home in the Hungarian village of Ricse.

The group’s most dashing figure sat front row center, wearing a stylish white homburg and gripping a walking stick. Improbably, it was Adolph Zukor, the legendary founder of Paramount Pictures, who happened to be the uncle of Ms. Fisher’s grandmother Olga. He had left Ricse for America in 1889 as a teenager, prospered in the fur business and — along with other Jewish garment manufacturers and cigar makers like Louis B. Mayer, Samuel Goldwyn, Marcus Loew and the Warner Brothers — realized that there was money to be made in the novelty film clips being shown in penny arcade peep shows and nickelodeons. Those immigrants built what we today call Hollywood.

By 1927, Paramount Pictures had nurtured such internationally famous stars of the Silent Era as Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson and Mary Pickford, so the photograph was taken when Mr. Zukor was making a triumphant return to his hometown. The entire village of 2,000 inhabitants turned out to see the local boy who made it big, though he took some private time to visit the synagogue and pause at his parents’ graves.

Seventeen years later, almost everyone in the photograph, except for Mr. Zukor — Ms. Fisher’s ancestors and their Jewish neighbors — would be taken away by cattle cars to Auschwitz. Most of them would be murdered there. Ms. Fisher’s own father, Oscar Fisher, was 15 when he and two older brothers were deported. He survived because he was assigned to work in an Auschwitz hospital, where he had enough food and warmth to endure the bitterly cold winter of 1944-45. He was able to sneak food to his brothers, Nuchem and Mordcha. Nuchem survived. Mordcha was killed three days before liberation.

Ms. Fisher, an occupational therapist in a Manhattan public school visited Ricse in the early 1980s with her father, who lost 30 relatives in the Holocaust. A statue of a shepherd that Mr. Zukor had commissioned, which bore his name, was still standing in the village, she said. It was next to an artesian well that Mr. Zukor paid to have dug to provide easily accessible water for the town. But the village that once had 200 Jews no longer had any.

“I see the faces in the photograph and I feel a hole in my heart that I’ll never know those people,” Ms. Fisher said.

Ms. Fisher’s photograph is not the only offer the museum has received in the article’s wake. Michael S. Glickman, its chief executive, said the museum has had inquiries from a half-dozen survivor families about donating letters, passports, ghetto identification cards and photographs, and its staff is investigating the materials, including Ms. Fisher’s.

When I spoke to Ms. Fisher, she told me a story, her voice breaking, that illustrated how lifelong the ordeal in Auschwitz resonated. Just before he died, her father told Nuchem that he could not get over his regret about a day in Auschwitz when he could not sneak food to him because an SS guard was too close by.

Mr. Zukor died in 1976 at the age of 103. Ms. Fisher never met him, but she did meet his son Eugene, a retired film executive. When she mentioned Ricse, he dashed into the bedroom and retrieved a model of the shepherd statue from the old village. His father had always held onto it.

Follow the @ReaderCenter on Twitter for more coverage highlighting your perspectives and experiences and for insight into how we work.

Source link