Exhibit explores local connections to Holocaust
The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)
As Donald Burdick of Forks Township approached the Dachau concentration camp in Germany on the morning of April 29, 1945, he caught the scent something foul in the air. It was a hint of the gruesome scene he was about to stumble upon: about 25 or so railroad stock cars filled with decaying human corpses.
Burdick's personal photos of what he saw that day as a soldier in the U.S. Army were on display Sunday as part of "The Legacy Exhibit, The Story of the Holocaust." Initially created for display at area school libraries, the exhibit was open to the public for the first time at the Sigal Museum in Easton.
The interior of Nazi concentration camps, including the blood-stained walls of gas chambers and ash-filled crematory ovens, is captured in the photos of Burdick and others. There are also the ghostly images of prisoners — some alive, practically standing skeletons; others dead, stacked in piles.
Burdick recalled the liberation of Dachau to an audience of about 100 at The Legacy Exhibit's opening ceremony.
"Twenty years old [then]. Eighty-nine [now]," he said. "It was as if it was yesterday. You're never going to forget it. ... I'll take it with me until my dying day."
The Legacy Exhibit is the brainchild of Marylou Lordie of Easton. She conceived it a couple years ago as a way to bring the lesson's of the Holocaust to students at Easton High School.
With the help of the Holocaust Resource Center of the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley, she began assembling artifacts, especially those with a local connection.
She said she wanted to make the history feel real for students by showing them that some of the people who lived it were their neighbors.
"Beyond that, we are trying to teach a larger lesson, that of standing up," said Shari Spark, coordinator for the Holocaust Resource Center. "If you are not afraid of making a little bit of noise, injustice can stop. … The Holocaust is an example in the extreme of where that didn't happen."
After the exhibit's initial showing at Easton High, it traveled to a dozen other school libraries. Over time, the number of artifacts grew through donations as word of the undertaking spread throughout the community.
"We let it evolve," Lordie explained.
Burdick and others, including Jewish survivors of World War II, also have addressed assemblies and individual classes at the schools.
Following Burdick's account, people filed into the room displaying the Legacy collection. Some stared at the photographs; others recoiled after a quick glance.
Also featured were a chronology of the Holocaust, vintage radio broadcasts and military uniforms.
Among those in attendance was Julia Ben-Asher, a senior at Lafayette College. She said she has been to numerous Holocaust memorials.
"Every time, it's just a really good reminder of how important life is," she said. Her own grandmother, she noted, survived a concentration camp in Poland.
Reaction to the exhibit, however, was not uniform. Alan Bush, who teaches history at Notre Dame High School in Bethlehem Township, said he would not want to bring the exhibit into his class.
This summer, Bush said he traveled to 10 Holocaust sites and concentration camps in Europe to develop a specialization in the subject. But in his own class, he focuses on individual victims and survivors.
"I teach about the dignity of human life — that's my constant message to my students," he said. "I don't feel that it [the Holocaust] has to be proven, especially in the manner of showing piles of dead bodies."
Later, Lordie defended the graphic nature of some of the exhibit's photos.
"We're giving those people a voice," she said of the victims, "to say, 'Please remember me. This is what happened to me.' "
"You do have to prove it, because you do have people saying this never happened," she added. "We have to show what it was like. ... It was so systematic, so deliberate. You cannot ignore the fact that it was mass murder."
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