Editor's note: Teresa Schmedding, an editor at the Daily Herald, is a Catholic whose family emigrated from Germany in the 1880s. Julie Merar, a Prospect Heights resident, is a Jew whose family emigrated from Russia shortly before World War II. The two women attended "Spots of Light" exhibit at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center together. Here are their personal perspectives of the exhibit.
The phrase "Never Forget" is one that is always in the forefront of my mind whenever I view an exhibit about the Holocaust.
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As a Jewish woman who had many ancestors murdered in Russia and Poland during the Holocaust, I feel an inevitable draw to the materials on display. In each piece of paper, remnant of cloth or set of hollowed eyes, I search for a common thread to connect me to my family's and my people's past. "Spots of Light: To be a Woman in the Holocaust" provided me with a connection unlike any I have experienced to date.
Presented on large screens and laid out like an online news article, the exhibit is bright and welcoming. Out of step with the typical depiction of women during the Holocaust, the "Spots of Light" exhibit brings forward the stories of 10 women and the commonalities that connected them regardless of what their individual circumstances were.
Each of the women displayed their defiance through an act of creativity. Whether it was Lina Benisch piecing together a bra from stolen jacket linings to garner a bit of dignity, Margot Fink fashioning a comb and rollers from bits of discarded wire, or Valy Kohn collecting and writing down recipes to imagine her belly full; these women were all defiant in their creativity and spirit.
The exhibit focused on the women and their personal stories. It highlighted their femininity and strength. Instead of standing back with tear-filled eyes, I stepped forward to experience the humor and wit in these women's writings and drawings.
I normally walk away from Holocaust exhibits with a heavy heart and a sense of being disconnected.
For the first time, I walked away with my spirits uplifted. Not only was I able to identify religiously and historically with the Holocaust, I was able to see myself reflected in it. The faces peering back at me from underneath curled eyelashes and beaming smiles are just like mine. The connection I had always been seeking was not just in being Jewish, but in being a woman.