Holocaust Museum: Exhibit describes refugee Jewish scholars at black colleges
Updated: May 3, 2011 1:42PM
The Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center's newest traveling exhibition tells the under-reported story of German-Jewish refugee scholars expelled from their homeland by the Nazis who found new lives at historically black colleges in the American South.
"Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges," scheduled to open Friday, is further indication of how this invaluable facility in Skokie places a high priority on the "education" part of its mission.
Many museum visitors will learn in the months ahead -- likely for the first time -- about the profound connection developed between the professors and students who shared a common history of oppression and an understanding of what it means to be persecuted because of race and religion.
From this mutual understanding grew relationships that were based on caring and concern and a respect and appreciation that lasted a lifetime, say the exhibition planners.
The new exhibition is inspired by Gabrielle Simon Edgcomb's landmark book From Swastika to Jim Crow: Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges (Krieger Publishing Company, 1993) and the subsequent PBS documentary by Joel Sucher and Steven Fischler of Pacific Street Films.
Artifacts, photographs, and two new films, by Sucher and Fischler, featuring both the professors and the students, make up the heart of the exhibition.
Only months after Hitler seized power in 1933, Jewish intellectuals who had held prestigious positions in Germany's renowned universities were targeted for expulsion.
"Those who dared to oppose the edicts were met with brutal suppression," according to a website devoted to one of the films to be shown during the exhibition.
"Often leaving with little more than the clothes on their back, many of these scholars fled to America, hoping to continue their academic careers. They soon found themselves in a strange and mysterious country, a nation reeling from the Depression and ripe with anti-Semitic and anti-German sentiment."
Much to their surprise, the website states, many were welcomed into a group of colleges that the vast majority of white American professors ignored -- the historically all-black colleges in the South.
"Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges" was created and is circulated by the Museum of Jewish Heritage -- A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. The IHMEC exhibition is made possible through major funding from the Leon Levy Foundation. Additional support was provided by the Helen Bader Foundation; The Lupin Foundation; The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation; and public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency; the Alpern Family Foundation; and the Charles and Mildred Schnurmacher Foundation.
The new exhibition will run through the end of May at the museum, 9603 Woods Drive, Skokie. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and Friday, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends.
For a more in-depth feature story about the exhibition, visit the Pioneer Press on-line at www.pioneerlocal.com/skokie/index.html after the opening and read the story in next week's edition.
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