Chapman University brings history to life
Holocaust survivor Tanner Szneer, upon seeing his father Leopold’s prayer shawl displayed in the Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library, began to cry. He uttered two words, my father, in reverence, as if his father were standing there in front of him.
Located on the fourth floor of the Leatherby Libraries, the Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library was a gift to Chapman from Henry and Susan Samueli. Dedicated by Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Elie Wiesel, the library opened on April 11th in 2005 and was named after Holocaust survivors, Sala and Aron Samueli, Henry Samueli’s parents.
The Sala and Aron Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library is set apart from other memorials because of the resources and artifacts from survivors it contains, according to Ashley Bloomfield, who has worked with the Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library since its debut.
“The stories and memories contained within the walls of the Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library help prepare us to become witnesses to the future,” said Bloomfield.
With the help of local families of survivors, Bloomfield notes, artifacts contained within the library were accumulated on loan or by donation.
A child’s shoe from Majdanek is just one example of such an artifact within the library. From a briefcase that carried false documents for hidden children, to a poem written by a boy in Terezin, these artifacts create a story of history, said Bloomfield.
To further engagement, iPads help tell stories through digital text, pictures, and videos. Located just outside of the Samueli Memorial Library are two with which visitors can interact with to help better understand the stories behind the artifacts.
The hope is for the resources to become available to the rest of the world through the internet.
Director Marilyn Harran pulled out a series of pictures recently brought to the library a few days prior. Harran shares about the multifaceted aspect of stories, pointing out in one picture of people enjoying a day on the beach, post war, the ruins and wreckage in the background.
“It’s as if you have two different worlds portrayed in that photograph. Everything has a story,” Harran said.
Harran talked about the metal bowl displayed at the front of the museum. The bowl belonged to Thomas Blatt, a friend of Harran’s who was imprisoned in the Sobibor camp.
For most Holocaust survivors, especially Blatt, the little things like a bowl meant the difference between life and death. If he didn’t have that bowl, or if he had lost it, he didn’t get to eat.
When going through the story of Leon Lyson, a survivor, on an iPad, a student experiences different media used in the retelling of the story about how he came to America and was drafted. It begins with a video of Lyson recounting his part of his story. The next few pages provided textual and imagery retelling of his life before, during, and after the Holocaust.
These are great resources for students to use, and Harran notes that students don’t even have to go off-campus to find such historically rich materials.
It’s important to preserve these memories as the people who survived begin to pass on. Many of the people Harran once knew during the process of creating the memorial have passed away in recent years.
“People put the trust in Chapman University that we will always protect and value these items that mean so much to them, that’s really remarkable,” said Harran. Even though Chapman doesn’t identify with any specific religion or orthodoxy, people have faith in the university and what they do, and that says a lot about Chapman’s work to honor and remember the past.
Chapman works hard to promote these stories and continues to incorporate new forms of storytelling to engage a younger generation in remembrance of the Holocaust and its victims and survivors.
“We can combat hate by using the educational resources we have, starting with this library,” said junior strategic and corporate communications major, Rachael Cohen.
Cohen, the president of Chapman University’s Hillel, said that it is crucial to the awareness of future generations that Chapman has a memorial with resources on campus.
Freshman creative writing major, Lauren Louie, said, “To me, it [the Holocaust] kind of mirrors what my grandparents went through with the Japanese internment camps.”
Even students who aren’t directly connected to Holocaust history can relate to and find solace in survivors’ stories.
Students can learn about the Holocaust and its victims, like Leopold Szneer, through survivors, like his son, Tanner Szneer, who have preserved the memories to pass on to generations through the Sala and Aron Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library.