On the afternoon of Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Jewish History Museum received a letter from the Consul of Mexico in Tucson, Ricardo Pineda. The letter arrived at the end of an emotionally charged 24 hours, moments prior to closing for Shabbat.
To mark this commemorative date, designated to align with the day that Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz in 1945, the Jewish History Museum held a teacher workshop in the Holocaust History Center on the evening of Jan. 26. Thirty-three teachers studied for three hours with the scholar Magdalena H. Gross of the University of Maryland, who presented multiple sessions under the title “Making Meaning of the Difficult Past.” The workshop examined the ways dominant national narratives often obscure historic truths.
On the morning of Jan. 27, the Jewish History Museum in partnership with Jewish Family & Children’s Services hosted a program titled “To Tell Our Stories,” which provided five local Holocaust survivors the formal space of the museum to share their personal testimonies on this day of remembrance. I opened the program with an acknowledgement of all those voices that we were unable to hear on that morning — the voices of those who were murdered at Belzec and Chelmno, in the pits of Babi Yar and the forest of Ponar.
Consul Pineda’s letter reinforced our commitment to holding education as a primary mission of the Jewish History Museum and Holocaust History Center. He wrote that International Holocaust Remembrance Day “is an opportunity to let the young generations know that blaming and discriminating [against] a specific group can dangerously lead some people to lose their human nature.”
Much like the leadership at the Jewish History Museum, Consul Pineda finds an intersection between the educational imperative embedded in the obligation to remember and the ongoing need to strengthen relations across the diverse communities that make up and enrich our whole community. He wrote, “This day of remembrance has to be a special date of solidarity and compassion, regardless of our nationality, religion, ethnic origin, gender or sexual orientation.”
Reading Consul Pineda’s letter, I was reminded of the evening in the fall of 2013 when Sebastian Covarrubias, the consul’s special assistant, walked across the street from the consulate to the Jewish History Museum where I was working late into the night on the design of the inaugural exhibition of the first iteration of the Holocaust History Center. He introduced himself and offered his encouragement on the project we were embarking on. I wondered how many times over the decades Mexicans and Jews had crossed this street to support each other’s work.
At the opening of the center several months later, standing in the middle of South Stone Avenue, Consul Pineda spoke about the Mexican diplomat Gilberto Bosques, who saved tens of thousands of lives by issuing visas to those fleeing fascism in Europe during World War II. History had largely overlooked Bosques, because rather than issue these visas in defiance of his government, as other diplomats such as Chiune “Sempo” Sugihara of Japan did, he was working on the orders of the Mexican president. In 2014, we worked with the Consul of Mexico to coordinate a Yom HaShoah program at Temple Emanu El that honored the humanity, compassion and courage of Bosques. That same year, Consul Pineda and his staff made it possible for members of our local Jewish Latino Teen Coalition to tour the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Reading Consul Pineda’s letter, I recall meeting the deputy consul, Enrique Gomez, at the opening of the Hélène Berr exhibition at the Jewish History Museum in November 2014. One year later, I worked with Gomez to inaugurate the Stone Avenue Block Party, a program that celebrates the intersections of Jewish and Mexican cultures.
I recall the feeling of protection we felt at the Jewish History Museum knowing the consul’s security team was always keeping an eye out for us from across the street.
Now the consulate has moved from the cottages on South Stone Avenue to the tall glass building on Broadway, but we still hold them close.
Consul Pineda closed his letter with the following: “I would like to express my solidarity — and that of all my colleagues at the Consulate of Mexico — to the Jewish community in Tucson and renew the vows of friendship between our two communities.”
Bryan Davis is executive director of the Jewish History Museum/Holocaust History Center in Tucson.