Allen Langer keeps a photo on his desk of the ship that brought him and his parents from Germany to the United States in 1949, when he was 21 months old; his parents, survivors of the Holocaust, spent four years in the Bergen Belsen Displaced Persons Camp, waiting for a U.S. visa.
The photo is a reminder of the personal story that inspired Langer, along with his wife, Marianne, to sponsor the Contemporary Human Rights Exhibit at the Holocaust History Center on the campus of Tucson’s Jewish History Museum. Marianne, who was raised in the American South, has her own story of witnessing discrimination, he says, that is “different but not so different.”
The Langers will be honored at the Jewish History Museum’s 2018 Fall Benefit luncheon, which will be held Sunday, Oct. 28 at noon at the Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort and Spa.
The guest speaker will be Samuel D. Kassow, author of “Who Will Write Our History: Rediscovering a Hidden Archive from the Warsaw Ghetto.”
Kassow’s book tells the story of Polish historian Emanuel Ringelblum and the secret “Oyneg Shabes” (joy of the Sabbath) society, whose members sought to create a comprehensive archive of life in the ghetto — a chronicle of disease, starvation and deportation by the Nazis, but also of Jewish culture and the beginnings of the resistance movement. Parts of that archive survived, buried in milk cans and tin boxes, with one cache discovered under the rubble of a school in 1946 and another cache found in 1950.
But before Kassow’s keynote address, the Langers will tell their stories.
Langer says he has told his family’s tale often, yet each time is different, and emotional. More than 70 years after the Holocaust, he finds it hard to understand “what people can do to other people in the name of religion, race, color — taking control of other people and committing atrocities.” Recalling that just a few years before his family immigrated to the United States, ships full of refugees from Nazi Germany were turned away from our shores, he says he sees parallels with the global refugee situation today. But he hopes that through hearing stories like his and Marianne’s, people will “form their own conclusions about what is right and fair” so that “one day discrimination of any kind doesn’t exist.”
For Langer, the effect of being a child of survivors is “undefinable.” Yet despite the scars of the past, and the brutal violence going on in places such as Syria even today, he remains hopeful.
Part of his optimism comes from seeing how well his parents managed, after experiencing “a very abnormal, tragic situation” to “make things normal in a big way,” including sending both Langer and his younger brother, Harold, to college.
“It’s somewhat of a miracle to have a generation after that experience,” he says, noting that while his parents’ efforts were remarkable, they were not unusual.
The family was so close that when his parents, who had settled in Louisville, Kentucky, decided to move to Tucson for his mother’s health, Langer, who was two years into his college career at the University of Kentucky immediately transferred to the University of Arizona.
Langer and his brother “were tremendously influenced by the actions of our parents, and their optimism and their faith — because you couldn’t do it without faith, you had to believe … that there was a reason to come through it,” he says, adding that his parents’ “ability sometimes to mask out this experience and look toward the future” was also crucial.
Growing up, Langer says, he “always felt the weight of being different,” of being an immigrant, and not having much. Today, as a successful financial planner, he says his roots are one reason he tries “to understand the plight of others, even now when living a good life.”
Marianne came from a more affluent home, with a maid to help raise the children. “We got to witness [discrimination] firsthand, seeing where Christine could and couldn’t go, where she couldn’t sit” in the segregated South, she told the AJP, explaining that she grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, where in February 1960, the first Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-in helped spark the civil rights movement.
Today, Marianne is an event planner, but when Langer first met his wife, she had come to Tucson as a paralegal on special assignment, working on various discrimination cases. A passion for civil rights was something they had in common from the very beginning.
Sponsoring the display at the Holocaust History Center that brings contemporary human rights violations to light, says Langer, is a way of making sure people know “what man is capable of doing — we have to learn from that, hoping it’ll carry over for generations to come.”
Tickets for the Oct. 28 luncheon are $100. RSVP to [email protected] or visit www.jewishhistorymuseum.org/fall-benefit.