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Exhibitions with accompanying catalogues

Creating Communal Memory of the Holocaust In New York City

Crossing Borders: Trafficking Women From The 1880's To Today

Moshe and his Sisters: Moshe Borger Remembers Mielec

CREATING COMMUNAL MEMORY OF THE HOLOCAUST IN NEW YORK CITY

The Remember the Women Institute has developed and is currently seeking funding and a venue for an exhibit, with accompanying catalogue, about the long-term attempt to create a Holocaust memorial museum in New York City. The exhibit explores how that memorial museum, The Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, complements the other two major cultural New York City institutions that offer exhibits with Jewish themes--The Jewish Museum and The Center for Jewish History. The exhibit will feature the only input by a woman artist in the history of many aborted memorial projects, “Grief Piece,” a model of a sculpture by Mitzi Solomon Cunliffe that was part of Erich Mendelsohn’s design for a memorial in Riverside Park.

New York City was the first location in the United States to plan a Holocaust memorial in 1946-47, but no project was implemented until 1997. The Jewish Museum was already in existence when the first Holocaust memorial project began in 1946, and by the time the current Holocaust museum opened its doors, The Center for Jewish History was becoming a reality. This exhibit will trace the rich and varied history of the unrealized plans for a Holocaust memorial by famous artists throughout the city, culminating in the creation of the Museum of Jewish Heritage. It will also show how this museum relates to The Jewish Museum and The Center for Jewish History, and how it has become an integral part of memorializing the World Trade Center.

These three major institutions-The Museum of Jewish Heritage, The Jewish Museum, and The Center for Jewish History-complement each other with similarities and differences, and at times their histories have intertwined. At one point the Holocaust memorial museum that became The Museum of Jewish Heritage was proposed as a part of The Jewish Museum, and at another point, YIVO, which became part of The Center for Jewish History, was invited to become a consortium with The Museum of Jewish Heritage.

Beginning in 1946 and ending with the opening of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in 1997, there were many prestigious but unsuccessful attempts to create a major Holocaust memorial in New York City. Although the designers of the projected memorials are a “who’s who” of major sculptors and architects and the sites that were approved include some of the most desirable real estate in Manhattan, none of the projects came to fruition. Artists and architects with proposals included: Erich Mendelsohn, Jo Davidson, Chaim Gross, Percival Goodman, William Zorach, Leo Friedlander, Nathan Rapoport, Louis Kahn, and James Stewart Polshek. There were at least ten prospective sites, which stretched from the Hudson River to almost the East River, from the Upper West Side to the southern tip of Manhattan.

Riverside Park at 82nd-83rd Street is the site of the first attempt to create a Holocaust memorial in New York City (and in the nation), in 1946-47. On October 19, 1947, a ceremony was held at the site, where a plaque (intended as a cornerstone) was dedicated (see photo left, for a larger view, click here). On June 17, 1951, the New York City Art Commission unanimously backed the design by Mendelsohn and Yugoslav sculptor Mestrovic. The sculpture was to be of an eighty-foot pylon of two tablets on which the Ten Commandments would be inscribed, a 100-foot wall of bas-relief depicting humankind's struggle to fulfill the Commandments, and a giant carving of Moses. When Mendelsohn died in 1953, the momentum seemed to die with him.

Between 1962 and 1965, there was a second attempt to create a major Holocaust memorial in Riverside Park, with two competing designs by sculptor Nathan Rapoport.

Following the Art Commission's rejection of these memorials, the city suggested and then reneged on a new location at Times Square in September 1965, and then, in November 1965, shifted the site to Lincoln Square Park, across from Lincoln Center. After that effort was halted, in August 1966 the Committee to Commemorate the Six Million Jewish Martyrs chose from a number of possibilities suggested by the city an area in Battery Park. Architect Louis Kahn of Philadelphia presented his design at a December 27, 1967 meeting, and the Art Commission formally approved in March 1968. However, because of the priority of raising money for Israel and Soviet Jewry, on May 18, 1971 the memorial committee halted its activities. There then were several other efforts in various locations throughout the City during the1970s.

By 1981 the New York City Holocaust Memorial Task Force had been created by Mayor Edward I. Koch. This became the New York City Holocaust Commission, which chose the U.S. Custom House as the site for a museum. In the beginning of 1985, Governor Mario Cuomo become part of the coalition seeking to build a memorial museum, and the site eventually changed to Battery Park City. An architect's rendering was prepared by James Stewart Polshek, then dean of the Columbia University School of Architecture, showing a 34-story apartment tower on top of the museum, with a separate entrance for residents. The location along the water had a spectacular view of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. The site in Battery Park City, the concept, and the architect changed during the course of the project. On July 26, 1991, Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) suggested a new museum lease on half of Site 14, facing the Hudson River and Statue of Liberty, and a new lease was signed on August 18,1994. Architect Kevin Roche of Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo Associates designed a simple, austere form, with six sides representing the six million victims of the Holocaust. A groundbreaking ceremony was held on October 16, 1994.

A year after a 1996 cornerstone ceremony, the Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust held opening ceremonies on September 11, 1997. The museum presents the Holocaust in the context of the Jewish history that came before and afterward, with three chronological themes-“Jewish Life a Century Ago,” “The War Against the Jews,” and “Jewish Renewal,” as well as temporary exhibits. The museum expanded and added a new wing in 2003. By placing the Holocaust in historical context, exhibits of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in some ways complement those of The Jewish Museum and The Center for Jewish History, which both deal with more general Jewish history. Furthermore, both The Jewish Museum and The Center for Jewish History have presented Holocaust-related exhibits, and participate in the communal need to memorialize the Holocaust.

Memorialization changes with time and circumstances, and the tragedy of September 11, 2001 added a new dimension to the history of The Museum of Jewish Heritage. As the museum was built on landfill from the creation of the World Trade Center and was located in the shadow of the Twin Towers, it has become part of the memorialization of September 11, 2001. To commemorate the first anniversary of that date, in the fall of 2002 the Museum presented an exhibition observing the yahrzeit, (Jewish observance marking the anniversary of a death) of this collective loss. The exhibition, entitled Yahrzeit, reflected on the tragedy and examined how some responses to September 11 have been framed within the structure of traditional Jewish rituals, the involvement of communal organizations, and the outpouring of individual volunteerism and social action.

Just as Babylon was the center of Jewish culture and learning outside of ancient Israel, New York City plays the role of a modern day Babylon, the center of Jewish culture and learning outside of modern Israel. In this rich atmosphere of Jewish culture, The Jewish Museum, The Center for Jewish History, and The Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust interact to both present a broad range of Jewish history, arts and education, and also to specifically honor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. They serve different purposes and have different emphases, but all of them have significance in enriching Jewish civilization and culture. While all of them have a role in Holocaust memorialization, The Museum of Jewish Heritage most specifically serves this purpose. It is also this museum that can be most directly linked to the effort that began in 1946 to create a significant Holocaust memorial for New York City, and, indeed, the nation. As can be seen in the Museum of Jewish Heritage’s commemoration of the World Trade Center, attempts to memorialize are never static and reflect the events of the time and place. The original idea of a Holocaust memorial sculpture in 1946 has been overshadowed by the need today to include ongoing and changing educational and cultural activities in an institution that teaches as well as remembers. In the future, perhaps these needs and the institutions that serve them will again change with the times.

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CROSSING BORDERS: TRAFFICKING WOMEN FROM THE 1880'S TO TODAY

            “Crossing Borders: Trafficking Women from the 1880's to Today” is the new title, reflecting a change in conceptual approach, for the project proposal that had as its working title “The Forgotten Sisterhood - Trafficking and Prostitution.” This project will create a documentary video (with a later exhibit) about the history, social structure, and lives of the Jewish prostitutes known as Polacas. The so-called Polacas emigrated from Europe beginning in the late nineteenth century and became prostitutes. Sometimes they arrived under false pretenses of promises of marriage, and sometimes, to escape their unbearable lives. Jewish prostitution was generally controlled by a multinational crime syndicate called Zwi Migdal, founded in Poland and operating from the beginning of the 20th century until the 1930’s. The project highlights the “Polacas’” ability and desire to maintain their religious identity within a community that shunned them, as well as the Jewish infrastructure that they built. It includes a section on trafficking of women today. The exhibition will focus on Brazil, with references to Argentina and Uruguay. Portuguese, English, and Spanish versions of this multimedia project are planned.

             This project is intended to correct misconceptions and present the history of the Polacas in Brazil in an instructive, scholarly manner, in order to:  1) demonstrate how the Polacas retained their Jewish heritage against all odds; 2) give them their rightful place in history; 3) demonstrate the relationship between antisemitism, gender bias, and popular conceptions of the Polacas; and 4) counteract other irresponsible, opportunistic, and sensationalist presentations.

             The project will also bring trafficking up to the present, demonstrating how it has never ceased, and continues to acquire more horrendous and diversified personnel, feeding itself off the drug and arms-trading cartels, ethnic wars, and poor women's hunger and misery. The problem exists worldwide, and United Nations demographic data, with maps on trafficking today, will be included. There will also be a reference list of non-fiction and fictional books, films, and other sources. The project is planned in cooperation with Suzanna Sassoun, an internationally known exhibit organizer, and NEMGE, the Center for the Study of Women and Gender, University of São Paulo. Nicole Seale, a student at Cardoza Law School, is serving as a volunteer research assistant.

             If anyone has any family stories or documents related to the story of the Polacas, please contact us at: info@rememberwomen.org.

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MOSHE AND HIS SISTERS: MOSHE BORGER REMEMBERS MIELEC

Project Summary:

To create a portable exhibit, including video interviews, suitable for traveling internationally to Holocaust centers, religious and communal organizations, based on the materials and memories of Moshe Borger, a Holocaust survivor from Mielec, Poland. This exhibit will also include a catalogue with the story and visuals of rare documents and photographs related to Mielec.

Concept:

The Jewish community of Mielec, Poland was deported the first week of March 1942, the first in Poland. The community was destroyed during the Holocaust and most of its population was murdered, but Moshe Borger has rare photographs, letters, and documents that preserve the history of his family, his friends, and his community. These materials (which are typically unavailable for a destroyed community) tell the story of Mielec and its Jewish inhabitants before, during, and after the Holocaust. The materials also provide evidence that the church organist of Mielec helped the Jewish inhabitants after they were deported.

Background:

Mielec had a pre-World War II population of about 6,000 Jewish and 6,000 non-Jewish inhabitants. Almost none of the Jewish inhabitants survived the Holocaust. The Jews of Mielec were deported to Dubienkov and Wlodava, where they lived in dire circumstances while awaiting ultimate transfer to Belzec and murder. As Belzec was not equipped for efficient mass murder, the Mielec inhabitants waited for some time in these two towns. Meanwhile, the organist from the Mielec church had hidden their belongings for them. As the victims waited, they wrote to the organist asking that he sell certain items and send them money for food and other necessities.

Survivor Moshe Borger, then a teenager, was hidden near Mielec with the help of the family of a school friend. His sisters, Sarah and Ziporah, were not so fortunate and were among those deported. He is the owner of rare photos, letters, documents and related materials from his Polish town, Mr. Borger also has extraordinary correspondence between the deportees and the church organist, given to him after the war by the organist. His photographs include a variety of cultural, school, and youth group activities and people from Mielec before World War II, during the interwar period. He also has photographs of Mielec and its post-war monument, in addition to post-war correspondence with his Landsmannschaft and the church organist.

This is an unusual and rich collection. Mr. Borger is willing to share these materials for an exhibit to be created in cooperation with Remember the Women Institute. He believes that these materials should be shown to the public and be known and understood by this and future generations.

Personnel:

Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel and Dr. Nancy Ordway, project coordinators and exhibit co-curators; Moshe Borger, owner of exhibit materials, adviser and one of the interviewees for the project. Dr. Saidel, author of three books on the Holocaust, as well as curator and team member of exhibits on the subject, holds a Ph.D. in Political Science. She recently visited Mielec to see how it looks today, photograph former Jewish sites, and speak with some current residents. Dr. Ordway has a Ph.D. in Jewish History and has coordinated many projects on related subjects. Mr. Borger lived in the United States after the Holocaust and currently lives in Jerusalem.

Ownership:

The project is being carried out under the auspices of Remember the Women Institute, which is seeking as a partner a Holocaust memorial institution that has the capability of preparing a traveling exhibit, housing it, storing it, displaying it, and renting and shipping it. A Holocaust institution with exhibit space and capability to produce and travel the exhibit will be welcomed as a partner, upon agreement of all parties.

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