The ceremony featured Halina Peabody and Professor Jassie as two of the speakers.
The ceremony featured Halina Peabody and Professor Jassie as two of the speakers.
Alana McCarthy Light

First-Person Holocaust Testimonies Depicted in “Portraits of a Life” Exhibit

“I believe they represent the conscience of the community. They’re the ones who are best to speak to deep abiding and intractable moral issues. Despite how much they lost in the Holocaust, they keep reminding us to reject hate, discrimination, persecution, and violence.”

These words, spoken by Professor Kenneth N. Jassie of the Paul Peck Humanities Institute, refers to the local Holocaust survivors featured in a Montgomery College (MC) photography and testimony exhibit called “Portraits of a Life”. This education-focused project documented the histories and personalities of more than 30 Holocaust survivors that moved to Montgomery County.

More than 30 Holocaust survivors had their photos and stories captured, as seen here with Manny Mandel’s portraiture. (Brandon Rodriguez)
Halina Peabody discussed her journey for her portraiture. (Alana McCarthy Light)

College faculty, Holocaust survivors, local visitors, MC students, and public figures attended the November 15 opening ceremony. The exhibit appeared in the Silberman Art Gallery on the second floor of the Rockville campus art building.

Holocaust survivors interacted with attendees. (Alana McCarthy Light)
Manny Mandel and Dr. Williams shared words following the ceremony’s conclusion. (Alana McCarthy Light)

Six Holocaust survivors delivered speeches with anecdotes and insights, including Hungarian Holocaust survivor, psychologist, and educator Manny Mandel, who described the display as “living history” and noted that Holocaust survivors are a “diminishing resource.”

Moreover, Polish Holocaust survivor, employee of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC, and educator, Halina Peabody, recalled the process of the exhibit’s creation: “I remember when this picture was taken. [When the photographers] came to my house, at that point, this was something new [and I felt] impressed that somebody wanted to know my story.”

Holocaust survivor Dora Klayman of former Yugoslavia expressed gratitude for the support from various communities she received during her journey. (Alana McCarthy Light)
Belgian Holocaust survivor Josie Traum briefly gave an anecdote of how before her family was taken by Nazis, her mother made sure the church gave Josie underground shelter. Traum noted how she feels very “lucky” to have survived. (Alana McCarthy Light)

Dora Klayman, a Holocaust survivor from what was formerly called Yugoslavia and is now known as Croatia, gave thanks to the Catholic communities that sheltered her after both her parents were murdered by Nazis in the Holocaust. “We are reminded of the difficulties that come to us because people cannot seem to understand that we need to share, every life counts, and we all need to love each other.“

Councilmember Jawando reflected on the exhibit’s teachings on intersectional equality. (Alana McCarthy Light)
County Council President Glass also presented a message calling of intersectional equality. (Alana McCarthy Light)

Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando commented on how intersectional equality and solidarity overlaps with the exhibit, saying that, “as an African American, I have often thought about the kindred spirits and stories between the Jewish community and the African American community. There’s a lot of joint history – a lot of the tactics implemented in the Holocaust were studied and based upon Jim Crow. I think that is unfortunately right now being forgotten in our sheer pain, by some, but a lot of stories in this exhibit are really a testament to the reminder of the love, the joy, the pain, the suffering, and a reminder to embrace our differences.”

Additionally, Montgomery County Coucil President, Evan Glass, discussed how the government must “provide the services and the funding to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to live safely, to live openly, live freely, worshiping where they want, loving who they choose.” As a descendent of Holocaust survivors and the first openly LGBTQ council member, he believes that “hate has no home here in Montgomery County. And we have to collectively say, ‘never again.'”

Community members filled the room. (Alana McCarthy Light)
Viewers toured the gallery. (Alana McCarthy Light)

MC President Dr. Jermaine F. Williams shared personal experiences observing “the consequences of hatred” when he, his partner, and his youngest child visited a Holocaust art exhibit in Berlin. The creator of the exhibit replaced cobblestones in front of homes of abducted Jewish people with names, birth dates, the dates of abduction, and the dates of their murder.

Dr. Williams stressed the importance of Holocaust awareness being crucial during a rise in antisemitic incidents on college campuses, stating that, “many factors that led to the Holocaust are still among us: disinformation, extremism, political polarization, and denials of the Holocaust. Even today, [with] the [ongoing] war in the Middle East, we all witnessed a very recent and horrifying example of this with Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel.”

Holocaust survivor, MC math Professor Ayana Touval, contributed to the dialogue. (Alana McCarthy Light)
Photographer John Hooper discussed the process of making “Portraits of a Life”. (Alana McCarthy Light)

According to Professor Jassie, thousands of visitors have viewed the “Portraits of a Life” exhibit in its 18 years of existence, including Montgomery County Public Schools students. The MC Silberman Gallery displayed the photos and testimonies from November 14 to December 15. Some panels may display at local public schools this spring.

11 professional photographers, two digital storytelling student interns including myself, and several professors contributed to the educational experience. “Portraits of a Life” photographer John Hooper reflected upon the project’s importance, making mention of how “my generation and others are now the bearers of not forgetting the story. I photographed [Holocaust survivor] Herman [Taube]… who said, ‘don’t take anything for granted.’”

Hooper continued, “to the survivors: your journey is not forgotten. Your courage echoes through the generations, reminding us to stand against injustice and to cherish the freedom that binds us all together. We carry your story with unwavering gratitude and respect, so thank you.”

Advocate Editor-in-Chief and digital storytelling intern Alana McCarthy Light, sitting here with Holocaust survivor Halina Peabody, created a video essay. (Brandon Rodriguez)

For more information on “Portraits of a Life”, please visit:
https://www.montgomerycollege.edu/special-programs/paul-peck-humanities-institute/portraits-of-life.html

To view the “Portraits of a Life” catalogue, please visit:
https://www.montgomerycollege.edu/_documents/special-programs/the-paul-peck-humanities-institute/portraits-of-life-holocaust-survivors-brochure.pdf

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About the Contributor
Alana McCarthy Light, Editor in Chief
Editor-in-Chief Alana McCarthy Light captures, coordinates, and edits stories for the MC Advocate. When off-campus, you will find her upcycling, cycling, managing arts events, and more.

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