On Thursday, Jan. 16, a new Holocaust exhibit opened with a program at the Arizona House of Representatives that brought together students, Holocaust survivors and state legislators.
The opening of the exhibit, “In Broad Daylight: Holocaust by Bullets,” at the Arizona Capitol Museum is the first in a three-month series of events and lectures sponsored by the Phoenix Holocaust Association in partnership with Yahad-In Unum, an organization dedicated to documenting evidence of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe.
The Holocaust by Bullets series focuses on a lesser-known history of the Holocaust, in which Eastern European Jews were not sent to concentration camps but instead executed and buried in mass graves.
The morning program opened with comments from House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Rep. Robert Meza.
“All of you, thank you for being here,” Meza said. “We’re going to celebrate, we’re going to educate and we’re going to remember.”
Marco Gonzalez, executive director of Yahad-In Unum, gave the keynote address.
“It is important that the new generation today learn from the Holocaust, learn their history, that they understand that it really happened,” Gonzalez said. “I want you to be a witness when you visit the exhibit.”
Gonzalez explained the history of Yahad-In Unum, which was founded by Father Patrick Desbois, a Catholic priest, in 2004. Desbois knew records of Jews living in Ukrainian villages, but no records of what happened to them, and he went to the villages to find out. Eventually, a group of villagers took him to the site of a mass grave in the forest and told him what they witnessed.
“They saw the killing of the last thousand Jews in the village,” Gonzalez said. “They explained how the Germans arrived in the morning, how they measured the place for them to build a mass grave, how they got the Jews themselves to go and dig these mass graves. And at the end they had the Jews get into the mass grave and they exploded dynamite.”
Since the organization’s founding, Yahad-In Unum researchers have conducted interviews and collected evidence of other Jewish and Roma mass executions in Belarus, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia and Ukraine.
Gonzalez also described the parallels between the Holocaust and other genocides, including the Guatemalan Genocide in 1981 to 1983 and the 2014 genocide of Yazidis in northern Iraq.
“We need to wake up the new generation. These hate crimes are happening again,” Gonzalez said. “I know that today we are very concerned about genocides. And I think that because we have the internet, because we have TV, we cannot be ignorant of things that are happening in the world.”
For Sheryl Bronkesh, president of the PHA, the Holocaust by Bullets exhibits are personal.
“While most people do not know about this part of Holocaust history, it has particular meaning to me,” Bronkesh said. “I’ve grown up knowing about these massacres. My grandfather and great-grandparents were murdered into pits in the woods, along with more than 14,000 other Jews in Sarny, Ukraine.”
Two school groups attended the presentation, including a Holocaust literature class from Dobson High School. Meza and Gonzalez both thanked the students for coming, and emphasized that the importance of teaching the next generation about the Holocaust.
“They are our future, so let’s teach them well, let’s educate them and let’s get them out in the world to fly,” Meza said.
After the program, students and community members crossed the capitol grounds to the Arizona Capitol Museum, where the Holocaust by Bullets exhibit is housed on the second floor.
The exhibit includes two rooms of displays featuring photographs and testimonies of villagers who witnessed the massacres, as well as historical photos and other evidence gathered by Yahad-In Unum. The third room displayed the busts and medals of American soldiers who liberated concentration camps during World War II, as well as the suitcase carried by Bronkesh’s family when they immigrated to the U.S. from a displaced persons camp in Germany and a yellow armband that belonged to local survivor Betty Newton’s father.
A separate 2000-square foot exhibit will open at Burton Barr Central Library on Jan. 26 and at Arizona State University on March 16. A series of lectures, film screenings and concerts over the next three months will culminate in a keynote speech by Father Patrick Desbois on April 20. JN
For more information about Holocaust by Bullets exhibits and events, visit holocaustbybulletsphoenix.com.