Six Georgians with connections to the Holocaust are honored in a newly installed permanent exhibition at the Georgia State Capitol. The exhibit was unveiled in a ceremony Jan. 27 coinciding with International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The unveiling followed a resolution read during the morning’s state House session recognizing the significance of the date, which also marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. At the infamous concentration camp in Poland, more than 1 million prisoners, primarily Jews, perished at the hands of the Nazis.
The stories told in the exhibit, entitled “Georgia’s Connection to the Holocaust,” relate accounts of both Holocaust survivors and those who were witnesses to liberation and the remarkable ways in which these individuals rebuilt or carried on with their lives.
At some point, each also made a conscious decision to share their personal stories so that the experiences and lessons of this history are never forgotten.
The panels honor the following individuals and their stories:
Life changed dramatically for Manuela Mandels Bornstein’s family after the German invasion of France in 1940. The family managed to escape Paris and miraculously avoided the fate of deportation and murder that befell over 13,000 Jews who were rounded up and left for days in the July heat in the Velodrome d’Hiver. Despite the constant danger, Bornstein’s family managed to survive the war in the south of France.
After his father was taken and killed by the Nazi-aligned Hungarian police in 1942, Murray Lynn, along with his three brothers and mother, were deported to Auschwitz. Lynn, who barely survived the horrific conditions of forced labor, was the only survivor of his immediate family and was just 15 years old when at last liberated by American troops in 1945.
Like so many, Tosia Szechter Schneider suffered unbearable loss. The family, from Horodenka, Poland, never learned exactly what happened to Schneider’s father, who was taken by the Gestapo and never seen again. After her mother succumbed to typhus in the Tluste Ghetto, Schneider, then just 14, and her older brother lied about their ages and became forced labor farm workers. This at least kept them out of the death camps. In yet another blow, her brother was shot, and Tosia was the only member of her immediate family to survive the war.
Henry Birnbrey is both a survivor and a witness to liberation. Born in Dortmund, Germany, in 1923, Birnbrey was sent to America alone in 1938. He later learned that both his parents had died after the terror of Kristallnacht. Five years after arriving in the United States, Birnbrey joined the U.S. Army and participated in the Normandy invasion in 1944. As his unit advanced through Europe, he saw first-hand the horrors that European Jews had endured.
William Alexander Scott III, a young African American soldier serving in a segregated unit, was ill-prepared for what he and his comrades saw when they entered the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany on April 11, 1945. As a photographer, it was Scott’s job to document what they saw. He recalled: “You have to witness it to even begin to believe it…” Impacted by his experiences, Scott later served as member of the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust and was appointed by President George Bush to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.
In the spring of 1945, John Yates, born in 1921 in Griffin, Ga., was sent as a military observer during the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany. The horrors he saw there, where nearly 200,000 victims had been imprisoned between 1933 and 1945, had a profound effect on him. Yates, who later served 20 years in the Georgia House of Representatives, believes that Holocaust education could prevent such tragedy from ever happening again.
The four survivors – Schneider, Lynn, Bornstein and Birnbrey — attended the unveiling ceremony along with dignitaries from international consulates and a number of elected Georgia officials. Those who made remarks included Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, Israel Consul General Anat Sultan-Dadon, Rabbi Peter Berg, and Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick and Rep. Deborah Silcox, who are the two appointed state legislative liaisons to the Georgia Holocaust commission.
In her remarks, Sally Levine, director of the commission, said, “We are the messengers to a time our precious survivors and witnesses will not see. They are emissaries of Holocaust memory. Their determination to tell their stories and the stories of those who did not survive, serves as a testament to their dedication and courage. They have spoken to students and our communities, they have written memoirs, and they have recorded their testimonies. They have done this, no matter the pain it causes, because they understand the consequences of unchecked hate, anti-Semitism and racism. They have spoken out to fight the silence, the silence of ordinary people, who, during the Holocaust, abdicated their responsibility to protect their neighbors, classmates, co-workers and friends. They remind us that we need to be guardians of justice, freedom and humanity.”
“Georgia’s Connection to the Holocaust” is installed on the first floor of the Capitol building. As part of the Capitol tour, it is expected that tens of thousands of Georgians, including students, will view the exhibition annually.
The Georgia Holocaust commission is a secular, non-partisan state agency. The commission provides Holocaust programming, resources, exhibitions and workshops for teachers, students, law enforcement, the military and religious and community organizations throughout Georgia.
Fran Putney is the communications manager for the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust.