November 10, 2008


Rosa Strygler at our Generation to Generation Dinner

We had our 20th annual Generation to Generation Dinner at the Museum last week and honored Rosa Stryler, our Trustee Emerita, who did so much to help establish the Museum. Rosa is a remarkable woman with a remarkable personal history. The following is an excerpt from my remarks at the dinner.
I can’t imagine a better place to honor Rosa or to contemplate her story. In so many ways, Rosa’s story is our story, the story that we teach in this Museum. Our many visitors can learn about Rosa, and the many like her, on each of the three floors of our core exhibition. On the first floor they can learn about the rich and varied and virbrant lives that Jews led before the Holocaust. On the second, they learn about the violent destruction of that life and the murder of millions, and the obliteration of communities and a way of life. On our third floor, they learn about the most inspiring and stirring story that we tell. Here they learn about how people returned to life after the Holocaust.

Surely the most profound, indeed heroic, phenomenon in the context of the Holocaust is that those who had been confronted with unimagined and unimaginable trauma -- the loss of loved ones, exposure to extreme and unrelenting violence, the constant presence of paralyzing and sickening fear – that these poor souls -- or at least some of them -- were able to choose and lead lives that followed a different path than their experience might have defined for them. Their response to death was desire – desire to grab a firm hold on life and pull from it meaning and pleasure. Surely one could have emerged from Rosa’s past severely handicapped, cynical and suspicious, damaged and demanding. That Rosa and others found their way to distill from life an essential spirit that looked away from dark despair and sought out the bright light of vitality and service and the pursuit of good works must undoubtedly be one of the most inspiring stories of the human spirit.

Just on the other side of the window behind me is the Garden of Stones that tells Rosa’s story with a quiet eloquence. This garden, composed of eighteen boulders out of each of which grows a single oak tree, gives powerful expression to the potent metaphor that life will take root and flourish even in the most unforgiving circumstances. The circumstances that defined Rosa’s young life, and that of so many of you, provided, it might seem, very little prospect for life to renew its vital force. Yet Rosa created a new life in this new land and pursued it with a single purpose that enriched so many other lives and from which we have all benefited.

We sit this evening within view of the Statue of Liberty. Think for a moment of the day when Rosa arrived in New York Harbor, beneath the benevolent gaze of that most beloved symbol. She was an orphan who had lost so much, her family and her childhood -- do you think that she might have imagined on that day, that some day, just across the water she might help to build a beautiful and proud museum that would tell her story? And that she would inspire others to work hard to ensure its survival.

Photo by Melanie Einzig

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