Pictures of barely living skeletons, piles of bodies and brave men in military uniforms detail one of the world’s most infamous time periods. Those and the stories of South Carolinians who experienced the Holocaust firsthand will help display what happened.
Dr. Lily Filler, co-chair of the Columbia Holocaust Education Commission with Lyssa Harvey, said the mission to bring more Holocaust awareness to Columbia started with her parents, Holocaust survivors Ben and Jadzia Stern.
“You talk about 11 (million) to 12 million being murdered, that just sort of rolls off your tongue,” she said. “There’s 4 million (residents) in South Carolina. What we’re saying here is every person in the state of South Carolina (would have to be) murdered three times to equal the amount of people murdered during the Nazi regime, including 6 million Jews.”
CHEC formed in 2001 under the umbrella of the nonprofit Columbia Jewish Federation as a way promote awareness and provide educational resources by providing the community with local speakers who were survivors, liberators, children of survivors, historians and educators.
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“We have people in this community that lived in the Holocaust, either being survivors or liberators,” she said. “We need to tell their stories.”
CHEC is partnering with the S.C. State Museum, which will host a free exhibit, “Holocaust Remembered,” starting Saturday, March 19.
The exhibit includes stories from survivors and liberators with connections to South Carolina, including Filler’s parents – her mother, who survived Auschwitz, and her father, who survived Allach Filler said her parents did not discuss their experiences with her until 1979.
“It was a time that was almost indescribable and very difficult to go through,” she said.
Filler said many Holocaust survivors could not go back to their homes and often came to the United States, including a couple families in the Columbia area, through relocation organizations such as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
She said in her family’s case, her father had an uncle in Lexington who sponsored them shortly after World War II.
“My father reached out to the only address he knew, and it was in South Carolina,” she said.
The stories CHEC was able to uncover help personalize a topic that is difficult to discuss but essential to unearth. She said many survivors and liberators became pillars of the community, and some will speak at a 2 p.m. Sunday, April 3 panel discussion at the museum.
The exhibit is geared toward educating younger people, though Filler said adults also can learn a great deal about the Holocaust.
“There’s a lot of gray areas that need to be brought out so the kids get a factual understanding without either feeling guilty or sorry but rather asking the questions, ‘How could this have happened? What lessons could we have learned from this?’ ” she said.
If you go
“Holocaust Remembered” exhibit
WHERE: S.C. State Museum, 301 Gervais St.
WHEN: Saturday, March 19 through Saturday, April 16
COST: Free with museum admission