Father Patrick Desbois at the Museum
We opened our newest special exhibition on Sunday night. Here are the remarks I delivered at the opening:
Good evening ladies and gentlemen, my name is David Marwell, and I am the director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. Opening an exhibition must surely be among a Museum Director’s most welcome responsibilities.
After all, it is exhibitions that are unique among a museum’s offerings to the cultural life of a community. To be sure, a museum presents a variety of programs and educational opportunities, but it is the exhibition that defines its singular contribution. Exhibitions, especially history exhibitions, combine many disciplines, apply the best elements of design and interpretation and, most important, showcase original and powerful artifacts. The creation of an exhibition is a remarkable process that involves thousands of decisions each made with a single objective – to enrich the public. And so I welcome the opportunity this evening to welcome all of you and to mark the opening of this remarkable exhibition.
Beyond a welcome responsibility, an opening is also an occasion to acknowledge all who were involved in creating the exhibition, and to thank those whose generosity made it possible. I am pleased to carry out my responsibility and will, with great pleasure acknowledge and thank.
First a word about the exhibition. The Shooting of Jews in Ukraine: Holocaust by Bullets joins another special exhibition at our Museum, Woman of Letters: Irene Nemirovsky and Suite Francaise, the story of a Jewish writer who was born in Kiev in 1903, who emigrated to France, and who perished in Auschwitz in 1942. Now, had Irene Nemirovsky, not left Kiev, she and her family would more than likely have been killed by bullets fired by a German policeman or soldier within a short distance from her home and within earshot, and perhaps under the gaze, of her neighbors. Irene’s fate, instead, was to be arrested in her home and transported by train to the ultimate site of her death, hundreds of miles away. The fate she left behind when she left the land of her birth, and the fate that she experienced when she moved to France define the Holocaust in its deadly diversity.
In much of the West, the Holocaust archetype is the concentration camp –epitomized by Auschwitz – a death factory to which Jews were brought from the far corners of Europe. In the former Soviet Union, however, the memories of the Holocaust are defined by mass shootings close to home. Certainly, information on these shootings, and how they were carried out has been available since the war. Knowledge (as distinct from information) and understanding of them was however, limited. That it was limited has much to do with the cold war and with how the narrative of the Holocaust was formulated and where it found its most articulate expression.
It took what many would suggest was an unlikely actor to investigate and make widely known these monstrous crimes. In a reversal of Irene Nemirovsky’s movements, Father Desbois left his native France and traveled to Ukraine in search of his own family history and ended up illuminating the history of hundreds of thousands of families. I don’t think there is a person who has heard the story of Father Patrick Desbois and his work who has not been immediately and deeply moved by this extraordinary man. His work and the work of his organization, Yahad in Unum, are at the heart of this exhibition. I will save any additional comments about Father Desbois until later, when I will interview him here on stage and give all of you an opportunity to ask your own questions.
Introduction of Eric de Rothschild
Holocaust by bullets was originally created by the Memorial de la Shoah in Paris. It opened there in June of 2007 to significant acclaim and received tens of thousands of visitors. When I visited Paris last year and toured the exhibition, I decided that we had to host this exhibition in New York. We worked closely with our French colleagues to create a North American version of the exhibition, adjusting the design to accommodate our space and revising the English text for an American audience. We are grateful to our French friends, especially Jacques Fredj, the director for the Memorial, Karel Fracopane, his “foreign minister,” and Sophie Nagiscarde, who was the curator of the exhibition.
It is now my pleasure and honor to introduce, Baron Eric de Rothschild, eminent financier, and distinguished leader of the French Jewish community. Among his many positions and honors, he is the president of the Memorial de la Shoah in Paris – a remarkable institution that would not have been possible without his vision, drive, and energy. Ladies and gentlemen, Baron Eric de Rothschild….
Thank the Staff
I want to thank those who made the New York version of the exhibition possible: Lou Levine and his team, especially, Jason Steinhauer, Sherrie Adler, Erica Blumenfeld, Matt Peverly, and Andy Piedilato; Mike Minerva, and his team. Our designers (Rita Meyers Design and Yvette Lenhart Design); the fabricators, Final Push Construction,
Thank the Funders
I do not want to say that it was easy to raise the necessary funds to support this exhibition. It is never easy to do that, but I will say that the three foundations that share the honor of bringing this exhibition to New York and share our profound gratitude, did not seem to need a great deal of convincing that this undertaking was worthy of their support. Their generosity and willingness are simply an indication of their true natures. They share the conviction that the story told by this exhibition is a story that needs to be told and needs to be heard. We are grateful beyond words to each of these foundations and pray that we have proven to them that that their support landed in worthy hands. We thank them all.
We thank the Robert I. Goldman Foundation, especially Walter Weiner, one of its trustees, and one of our trustees, who saw the value of this exhibition immediately, and knew that Robert Goldman, whose family history can be traced to areas where mass shootings took place during the Holocaust, would have been keenly interested in the subject matter of this exhibition.
We thank the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation, and our Trustee, Lily Safra. The Museum is deeply indebted to Mrs. Safra, as we were to her late husband, our friend and trustee, Edmond J. Safra. We have benefitted from Lily’s continued support over the years, and especially for her magnificent gift of this theater, which bears her husband’s name and which is the venue for some of New York City’s most creative and powerful programs. The EJSPF has another intimate connection to this exhibition since they are important supporters of Father Desbois’s important work.
Introduction of Victor Pinchuk
Finally, we thank the Victor Pinchuk Foundation and its president, Thomas Eymond-Laritaz. The Victor Pinchuk Foundation is also a supporter of Father Desbois’s work and an early and passionate backer of this exhibition. As you can read in your program, the Foundation seeks to be a force for good in the world and has initiated innovative projects in the fields of health, education, and contemporary art. The driving force behind the Foundation is its founder, Victor Pinchuk, who has honored us this evening by traveling all the way from Ukraine to be here. Ladies and gentlemen, Victor Pinchuk….
(Photo by Melanie Einzig)