Oral histories collected by ISU students cornerstone of new Holocaust exhibit

September 26 2006

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Kiel Majewski, Terre Haute native and Indiana State University history graduate, brought back photos from the National Archives to accompany the oral histories collected by ISU students for the new exhibits at the CANDLES Holocaust Museum. (Tony Campbell/ISU)
HOLOCAUST MUSEUM REBUILDS FROM THE ASHES

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- When Michael "Mickey" Kor was 13 years old, Nazis stormed into the Latvian city where he lived with his family, and penned the Jewish population into a ghetto.

In 1941, the Nazis came to liquidate the ghetto, and began sorting the people into two lines. Mickey's mother shrewdly analyzed the harsh reality of the situation -- the line they were standing in was for those who were to be killed; the other was for deportees. She quickly sent 13-year-old Mickey to the other line. Mickey was deported to the Stutthof work camp, and he never saw his mother again.

In early spring 1945, Mickey found an opportunity to duck out of a marching formation and into an abandoned barn. After hiding himself for two or three days, he heard the sound of a strange language -- English. The voices were from soldiers in the 250th Engineer Combat Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. Andrew J. Nehf of Terre Haute, a graduate of Rose-Polytechnic College (now Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology).

When Nehf's tour of duty was up, he invited Mickey, who had no living family remaining, to come to America with him. A family down the street from the Nehf household agreed to sponsor Mickey, who later graduated from State High (now University Hall on the campus of Indiana State University), attended ISU and graduated from Purdue University.

Mickey met and married Eva Mozes, also a concentration camp survivor, and brought her to Terre Haute, where she founded the CANDLES Holocaust Museum.

While the story of Eva Kor, who survived the genetic experimentation of Josef Mengele in Auschwitz, is well-known, Mickey's story has never been fully documented for public record until now.

Mickey Kor's above account of how he escaped from a Nazi concentration camp and arrived in Terre Haute, under the care of Lt. Col. Nehf, is one of the stories Kiel Majewski, Terre Haute native and Indiana State University history graduate, has brought to light through the exhibits he created for the CANDLES Museum.

During an undergraduate internship with the museum in fall 2005 and an independent study class in spring 2006, Majewski worked with students in Professor Anne Foster's History 300 class to rebuild the educational exhibits at the museum, which suffered severe damage from arson in November 2003. Students in the research methodology and documentation course conducted preliminary research and the initial oral history interviews, which Majewski built upon for his exhibit.

The results of their work will be unveiled at a reception and fundraiser at the museum on Sept. 28, 2006.

"When you study the Holocaust and World War II, you hear about these big numbers -- 11 million people died in concentration camps and millions of servicemen were killed in Word War II, but it doesn't give you a sense of how that should affect you, and a sense of the personal loss involved," Majewski said. "This exhibit project is a way to shine a flashlight on this huge topic, by telling the stories of the people in our community who have been there."

In addition to Mickey Kor, the exhibit focuses on the stories of Jewish-German immigrant Walter Sommers, who escaped Nazi Germany and then served the U.S. Army during the war in the Pacific; and John Laska of Terre Haute, who helped liberate Dora-Mittlebau concentration camp in Germany, as a member of the U.S. Army's 104th Infantry Division.

The students' work has taken a great burden off of the CANDLES Museum, Eva Kor said.

"The fact that students have been involved is really important," she said. "We appreciate the involvement of the local institutions who are trying to help us.

"We are in the business of learning the lessons from history. Through this project, the students have brought history to life by portraying these three individuals who were there and who now live here."

Kor says the exhibits will play an even more important role decades down the road.

"None of us historical figures will be here forever," she said. "Kiel is taking advantage of the opportunity to portray their stories."

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Kiel Majewski (right), explains to Eva Kor, founder of the CANDLES Holocaust Museum, how he is going to put together the new exhibit which highlights the stories of local residents with a connection to the Holocaust. (Tony Campbell/ISU)
The exhibit is a three-sided structure which houses a video display and photos with descriptions from the U.S. National Archives in College Park, MD.

During the Christmas 2005 break, Majewski traveled to the National Archives, through funding from an ISU Focus Indiana grant, supported by the Lilly Endowment, and searched for important material, including verification of dates and locations compiled during the oral history interviews. He also scoured the 18,000 cubic feet of archived data for photos that had a connection to the towns, camps or army units of those interviewed by the History 300 class.

"I tried to choose photos that had a personal aspect to them," Majewski said, "for example, photos of people that are staring directly into the camera and you can see their eyes. These are real people, and when you look at the photo, you wonder what they were thinking during this time; how were they feeling; and then you can play the video clip and find out."

Majewski says there are about 15 clips which feature the three men, and are anywhere from two to 10 minutes long.

Designed to be transportable, so Eva can take it into school and community settings, the display also can accommodate additions.

"I'm sure there are many stories that need to be told, and a lot of people don't necessarily think their story is of use, but that's not true," Majewski said. "All stories help us get a better idea of what makes up our community.

"I'm hoping that when people see this exhibit, they will come forward and share their stories, so we can really see how many Holocaust survivors we have here in the Wabash Valley, and servicemen who went into concentration camps and liberated them."

Majewski will continue to add to the exhibit as long as there are more stories to tell, he says.

"I don't know how long it's going to go on," he said, "but as long as there are stories out there, there's still work to be done."

If you have a first-hand account of a World War II concentration camp liberation or the Holocaust, you can reach Majewski at (812) 237-7340.

If you have other stories or items of local significance, contact the Research Center for Local History and Culture, currently housed in the ISU department of history, (812) 237-2550.

This project was completed with funding assistance from the Lilly Endowment and the ISU Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, including a Faculty Fellowship grant for experiential learning and community engagement obtained by Christopher Olsen, chair and associate professor of history, and Anne Foster, assistant professor of history.

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RECEPTION INFORMATION

The exhibit reception and fundraiser for the CANDLES Holocaust Museum, 1532 S. Third St., will be from 6-9 p.m., Sept. 28, 2006. The event will include a raffle and live music, in addition to a tour of the new exhibit. Tickets are $50 each, and due to space, the event is limited to 250 people. After the reception, the general public is invited to view the new exhibit during regular museum hours, from 1-4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

CANDLES is an acronym for "Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors." The museum was founded in 1995 by Eva Mozes Kor who, as a twin, survived the genetic experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

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Photos: Publication-quality, high-resolution photos are available at:

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Caption (0581): Kiel Majewski, Terre Haute native and Indiana State University history graduate, brought back photos from the National Archives to accompany the oral histories collected by ISU students for the new exhibits at the CANDLES Holocaust Museum. (Tony Campbell/ISU)

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Caption (0540.JPG): Kiel Majewski (right), explains to Eva Kor, founder of the CANDLES Holocaust Museum, how he is going to put together the new exhibit which highlights the stories of local residents with a connection to the Holocaust. (Tony Campbell/ISU)

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Contact: Kiel Majewski, (812) 237-7340 or kmajewski@mymail.indstate.edu; or Anne Foster, assistant professor of history, Indiana State University, (812) 237-8432 or afoster5@isugw.indstate.edu

Writer: Katie Spanuello, media relations assistant director, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3790 or kspanuello@isugw.indstate.edu

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Story Highlights

CANDLES Holocaust Museum's new exhibit was created by Professor Anne Foster's History 300 classes and Kiel Majewski, Terre Haute native and Indiana State University history graduate.

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