In the Thursday, September 27, 2012 Las Vegas Review-Journal, reporter John Przybys writes a thoughtful and touching article:
Wall of Hope shows local Holocaust survivors smiling for the lives they’ve lived
It’s a safe bet that at least a few visitors will be surprised when they see some of the the portraits that make up the Sperling Kronberg Mack Holocaust Resource Center’s Wall of Hope.
The Wall of Hope features portraits of 60 Holocaust survivors who live in the Las Vegas area. And, in many of the portraits, the survivors smile, rather than wear the serious expressions one might expect from a Holocaust-related photographic exhibit.
It’s by design. The idea, photographer Lyn Robinson explains, is to celebrate the survivors and the lives they have created and recognize their victory in rising above the horrors and inhumanity they have experienced.
The Wall of Hope will be dedicated at 10 a.m. Sunday at the center, 4794 S. Eastern Ave., Suite A. The center provides resources for students, teachers and community members about the Holocast, tolerance and diversity.
Myra Berkovits, the center’s education specialist, said the Wall of Hope was inspired by a similar exhibit in Los Angeles and will serve as a vehicle to honor Southern Nevada’s Holocaust survivors.
A call was put out for a photographer, and Robinson, who earned a fine arts/photography degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, was awarded the commission.
The portraits Robinson created are “incredible,” Berkovits said. “I think the exhibit is as good as it is because she has such compassion and understanding and was so sensitive.”
Particularly striking, Berkovits added, is that “when you see these pictures, everybody is smiling.”
Robinson’s vision was that the portraits not be about the Holocaust itself. Rather, Robinson said, “it’s about these people who are survivors and who they are as people. They have come a long way (in) surviving, and they are really neat people who have all of these interesting stories.”
During her sessions with the men and women, “I wanted them to have a natural smile,” Robinson said. “So I’d interact with them and try to make them giggle so I could get a real smile.”
A few of her subjects did ask “why I wanted them to smile,” she added. “I said: Because we’re celebrating people surviving a horrible event, not celebrating the event itself. We want (to show) who you are as persons.”
The survivors whose portraits appear in the exhibit represent a diverse range of Holocaust experiences. Among them: Ziva Harris, who, as a 2-year-old, was hidden by a Hungarian family; Micheline Rodgers, who lost about a dozen family members to the camps and who was forced into hiding after her mother’s arrest; and Sophie Ray, a Roman Catholic who as a teenager spent time in two camps.
Robinson sometimes found the sessions to be intense and emotional.
“I’ve cried. I’ve laughed,” she said. “I get goose bumps every time I talk about them.”
After Sunday’s dedication, the Wall of Hope can be viewed during the center’s regular hours of operation. Also, Berkovits said, the center offers monthly programs during which specific aspects of the Holocaust – life in Europe’s ghettos in October and Kristallnacht in November, for example – are examined.
For more information and a calendar of events, visit the center’s website at www.lvhresourcecenter.com.
What might guests take away from viewing the Wall of Hope?
“First of all, I want them to know that we have honored the survivors in a very special and personal way,” Berkovits said.
“I want survivors to know that we respect what they have gone through and what they have become and, I guess, how much we look up to them.
“And, I want people to leave appreciating humanity,” Berkovits said, and how people can rise above even the worst of circumstances.
“When people came out of the Holocaust in the late ’40s, the focus wasn’t on what was but on what will be,” she said.
“I just think we have lessons to learn from all of them: That we can be in hell, but that we can come out.”
Doug Unger poses in front of the Wall of Hope at the Sperling Kronberg Mack Holocaust Resource Center. The wall features portraits of 60 Holocaust survivors who live in the Las Vegas area. Unger serves on the governor’s Advisory Council on Education Relating to the Holocaust.