The Virginia Holocaust Museum opened its permanent and unique Children’s Memorial Exhibit on April 7 at a special reception featuring a number of Commonwealth of Virginia elected officials.
The special event included remarks from Attorney General Jason Miyares and Lt. Governor Winsome Earle Sears and Holocaust Survivor Dr. Roger Loria.
Executive Director Samuel Asher welcomed and thanked all the state and local officials, their staff members, school board members, museum Board of Trustees members and other guests for attending the reception.
Asher said, “The Virginia Holocaust Museum had the special opportunity to create the Children’s Memorial thanks to the generosity of Dr. Donald and Beejay Brown.”
He noted, “The exhibit has been over a year in the works … and honors and memorializes the 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered in the Holocaust.
Asher continued, “It’s a significant addition to the Virginia Holocaust Museum. It’s the first Children’s Memorial of its kind in the Commonwealth of Virginia and likely in the country. The exhibit can take your breath away with the dramatic effect of the infinity mirror, somber lighting and empty desks. It’s a stunning visual and infinite panorama … of the victims of the Nazis’ final solution to exterminate the young victims of the Holocaust. ”
In previous remarks prior to the reception, he explained that the Museum preserves and documents the history of the Holocaust. Through exhibits, programs and educational events, the museum employs the history to educate and inspire future generations to fight prejudice and hatred.
“I am startled by statistics from a Schoen consulting study that tell us that 41 percent of Americans can’t identify Auschwitz, a concentration camp where an estimated 1.1 million Jews and minorities were killed at the hands of the Nazis in WWII. We need to do more.”
Asher continued, “The Final Solution of the Jewish Question included the planned extermination of the children and newborn infants. Whether in the Open Air Killings of Eastern Europe or the gas chambers of the extermination centers, the Nazi regime murdered the youngest generation of Jews alongside their families.
In his remarks, Dr. Loria related on how his mother and he (at about age three), escaped the Nazis in Belgium and France and eventually made their way to Switzerland. This included a treacherous walk where only about 300 lived of a total of over 5,300 Jews. “My mother and I were two of the survivors.”
They later would be arrested in France and forced to be a camp with many women and children before they escaped one night. His mother had diamonds hidden in a toothbrush handle, so she gave them to a smuggler to guide them through France to Switzerland with several others, including a baby. He still remembers the Swiss guards lifting up barbed wire to let them safely to crawl under a fence into that country in January 1944.
“I am the only survivor of my father’s family who escaped death,” he noted.
Attorney General Miyares, in his remarks, noted, “It’s a privilege and honor to be here tonight.”
He shared a story of his visit to Israel and Yad Vashem in 2014. “This was one of the most transformative experiences of this life. Seeing the innocent faces of the children who were taken from us … they lost the lives they were supposed to live. It was so heartbreaking to be there, the attorney general said.”
“All That Remains”
Asher also announced that the museum that day had welcomed a new traveling exhibit All that Remains: a Holocaust Exhibit in Fiber.
“This is an amazing exhibit,” he said, “and we are so pleased it could also be here this day as we opened our Children’s Memorial. I encourage all to view the various pieces in the exhibit.
He introduced artist and creator Leslie Klein at the reception who offered remarks on her exhibit, which is in the Downstairs Gallery at the museum until early June.
The mixed media and fiber artist, constructs garments and uses hand-dyed, airbrushed, silk-screened, and embellished fabrics to address her perspective on the Holocaust and Judaic themes.
This series has been an ongoing endeavor, a body of work created over the past 20 years. It consists of conceptual art clothing, wall hangings, drawings, soft sculpture, and installation pieces.
The work addresses the historical events of the Holocaust in layers of meaning and imagery, and the juxtaposition of fabric and design, and in the use of familiar symbolic images
The exhibition, because of its subtle imagery is appropriate to audiences of all ages. Several pieces in the exhibition were specifically designed to allow younger viewers to learn about such events as the Kinder transports and life in the Warsaw Ghetto that are both sensitive and compelling.
Asher also presented a special award to Rick Cohen, a longtime volunteer in many different roles at the VHM, including coordinator of docents.
For more details on all museum exhibits, visit https://www.vaholocaust.org/events/.