As the elevator doors opened, the trickling of water from the fountain outside the Sala and Aron Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library greeted me. Stepping closer, I saw it was not simply a fountain, but a sculpture honoring the children murdered in the Holocaust. Jessica Mylymuk, Assistant Director of the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education, led the tour. Before entering the permanent exhibit, she showed me a wall with photos of survivors, members of the 1939 Society. The majority of photos have people smiling—an expression not usually shown at a Holocaust memorial. The photos taken by Bill Aron are a part of The Indestructible Spirit exhibit offering a different representation of Holocaust survivors, displaying their resilience in spite of the suffering they faced. This ability to regain humanity is a common theme throughout the library.
As I entered into the library, a bust of Elie Wiesel stared back. Every spring, this Nobel Laureate and Distinguished Presidential Fellow of Chapman University spends a week speaking to students as well as speaking at public events. On the walls surrounding the bust are pieces of art commemorating the Holocaust. The creators of this artwork were previous winners of the Library’s annual Holocaust Art and Writing Contest, an amazing outreach program for middle and high school students. The rotating exhibit along one of the walls consists of personal possessions belonging to the same smiling survivors captured in the photos.
The survivors not only donate their collections, but also their time. Some take part in the distinguished lecture series held throughout the year. Among them are scholars, filmmakers, and human rights advocates. In December 2014, the lecture series featured author of “Hitler’s Furies,” Wendy Lower. On April 16th, the Rodgers Center will present an Evening of Holocaust Remembrance marking 70 years since the liberation of the camps. Elie Wiesel is scheduled to offer reflections. This will be a ticketed event although, like other events, there is no charge. Tickets are available at chapman.edu/holocaustremembrance.
The Library’s partnership with the Holocaust survivors and their families, like with The 1939 Society, contributes greatly to the uniquely warm atmosphere of the space. This feeling was a new experience for me—a feeling I had never felt before at any of the Holocaust memorials I have visited. It is not the Library’s intention to overload their guests with somberness, ultimately making it easier for them to connect and bring each one of these stories to life.
For more information on the library and the programs offered, visit www.chapman.edu/research-and-institutions/holocaust-education/.
Dvorah Lewis is a contributing writer.