Although the mission of Tucson’s Jewish History Museum is to tell the stories of Jewish settlers in the American Southwest, the museum is about to highlight another imperative. After raising funds for expansion and purchasing the building on the adjoining Stone Avenue property four years ago, “we started doing extensive archiving,” says Eileen Warshaw, executive director of the museum. “Holocaust survivors started coming to Tucson in the late 1940s. We started to realize there was a big story here. The survivors were very involved in the Jewish community.”
Commemorating those survivors, a 400-square-foot portion of the Holocaust History Center will open on Oct. 20 at 1 p.m. with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, which will include Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and other dignitaries. “Survivors and second-generation survivors will be invited to grab a pair of scissors and cut the ribbon that will stretch across Stone Avenue,” says Warshaw, adding that from 2 to 5 p.m. survivors will be telling their stories in the Jewish History Museum.
One of the second-generation survivors will be Rosie Eilat-Kahn. Her parents, Meyer and Susan Neuman, “were some of the first Holocaust survivors to relocate to Tucson,” she told the AJP. They were both in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps during the Holocaust. Following World War II, they were rescued by the Swedish Red Cross. They met in Sweden, says Eilat-Kahn, adding that her father’s previous wife and three children died in the camps.
The Neumans came to Cleveland in 1950. “My dad took a road trip in 1956 with my cousin who had asthma. My cousin actually stayed [in Cleveland], although he and my dad looked at businesses in El Paso and Tucson,” says Eilat-Kahn. “My parents moved here. They didn’t have the survivors’ [present] community. They were very lonely when they first came here. They had been uprooted so many times.
“My father opened Meyer’s Garage on Grant Road. As soon as he got here he went to Anshei and became a member,” she says. “I started kindergarten there that fall.”
Once more survivors joined Congregation Anshei Israel in the late ’60s and early ’70s, “my parents became very active in a survivors’ group they helped start,” says Eilat-Kahn. “Something that rings true for all survivors was that my mom was worried about helping me in public school. She went to the principal and said, ‘I don’t speak English very well.’ The principal said, ‘You provide a good home. Don’t worry, we’ll educate her.’ My mom did all the things that American moms do.”
Some 205 Holocaust survivors have lived in Southern Arizona, says Bryan Davis, director of the Holocaust Education and Commemoration Project at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona. The design of the new Holocaust History Center has been overseen by an advisory committee, says second-generation survivor, local artist and committee member Gary Swimmer who, with Davis, is responsible for the first exhibit. The history center is a partnership of the JFSA and the Jewish History Museum. Eilat-Kahn — whose parents both died in 2010 — is chair of the Federation’s Holocaust education project and a member of the center’s advisory committee.
“We’re inverting the approach to traditional history. We’re starting by using the individual as a portal into the broader history instead of the other way around,” says Davis. Engaging the community at the history center building, which is a finite space, as well as on the Internet is essential, he says, adding that individual testimonies of survivors can be viewed online at www.tucsonsurvivors.org.
“Every representation of life during the Holocaust diminishes the mass trauma that people experienced in reality,” Davis says. “We want to show the paths of survival, the different countries that survivors lived in, who at one point came to Southern Arizona, by bringing the history of German persecution into the present. Jews ended up all over the world. They were there — then they were here.”
As survivors and second-generation survivors are dying, “people are coming to us,” says Warshaw, “saying they don’t have any way to find out about them. There’s a need from teachers, children and grandchildren to know more” about the Holocaust.
“We’re now actively seeking funds to restore the remaining 1,900 square feet” of the building, she says, “which will also be dedicated to Holocaust history, to lecture-gallery-exhibit space.” A fundraising website has been set up online at www.Kick starter.com/projects/250501971/holocaust-history-center-inaugural-exhibition.
“My late husband, Alan, was the child of a survivor,” says Warshaw. “I know how important it was to him that we don’t forget the lessons of the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism and discrimination still exist in communities where Jewish people live across the world. We must teach the children.”
The Holocaust History Center grand opening will take place on Oct. 20 from 1 to 5 p.m., just north of the Jewish History Museum at 564 S. Stone Ave. The University of Arizona Center for Judaic Studies will provide refreshments. For more information, contact Bryan Davis at 577-9393 or [email protected] or Eileen Warshaw at 670-9073 or [email protected].