Holocaust Museum fundraiser to focus on rising hate, racism

  • Mally Zoberman-Rutkoff of Highland Park, right, and her daughter Jordana Rutkoff Greenberg attend the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's annual fundraiser in Chicago. Zoberman-Rutkoff will be honored Tuesday for her volunteer work during this year's virtual fundraiser.

    Mally Zoberman-Rutkoff of Highland Park, right, and her daughter Jordana Rutkoff Greenberg attend the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's annual fundraiser in Chicago. Zoberman-Rutkoff will be honored Tuesday for her volunteer work during this year's virtual fundraiser. Courtesy of the U.S. Holocaust Museum

 
 
Updated 9/12/2020 8:19 PM

Growing up in Skokie among a community of Jewish elders who had witnessed genocide, Mally Zoberman-Rutkoff always felt the weight and responsibility of being a child of two Holocaust survivors.

The now 67-year-old Highland Park resident was motivated by the concern her parents and others in the survivor community had about the horrors of the Holocaust being forgotten.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"My parents cared very deeply," Zoberman-Rutkoff said. "They worried a great deal that no one would care about their stories ... what they had endured. They always worried, would their experiences have any meaning in the future."

Once her parents died, Zoberman-Rutkoff dedicated her time to volunteering for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington -- created to preserve, study and learn the lessons of the Holocaust. She will be honored Tuesday with the museum's National Leadership Award during its annual fundraiser.

The Risa K. Lambert "What You Do Matters" Virtual Chicago Event will feature Hollywood celebrities, including "Wonder Woman" Gal Gadot, "Seinfeld" actor and comedian Jason Alexander and veteran actress Jamie Lee Curtis.

Keynote speaker R. Derek Black -- former heir-apparent to the Ku Klux Klan -- will discuss hate, racism and anti-Semitism. Black was raised in a prominent white supremacist family and spent his teenage years helping his father expand the world's first online racial hate community, Stormfront. He will share why he renounced the white supremacist movement and philosophy.

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"The pandemic is adding fuel to existing hatred," Black said in a statement. "Educational responses to counter hate, teaching critical lessons of Holocaust history and the importance of human solidarity is so important right now."

The museum's Chicago fundraiser typically draws more than 2,000 in-person attendees, including several high school classes. More than 1,500 people are registered for the free virtual program, which will be available for viewing later online.

"It's the largest event for the museum anywhere in the country," said Jill Weinberg, the museum's Midwest regional director.

Weinberg said Black's transformation from a neo-Nazi to an advocate for the museum, promoting understanding of Holocaust history and racial injustice, is why he was chosen to keynote the event. Black is working on a doctorate from the University of Chicago, exploring the medieval and early modern origins of race, racist ideologies and anti-Semitic beliefs.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Its entire focus is on learning the lessons from the past and learning the lessons from the Holocaust," Weinberg said.

She equated the current global rise in ultranationalistic fervor and far right-wing groups with the rise of Nazism in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s.

The museum's Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide monitors worldwide hot spots where genocides have occurred, such as Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur, and regions showing early warning signs of genocide, including the devolving situation with Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim minority and ethnic Uighur Muslims in China. A resurgence of white supremacist sentiments in the United States also worries officials.

"We look at the challenges this country faces. Nobody is a better spokesperson than (Black) who has been on both sides of this issue," Weinberg said. "No other community should ever suffer the way the victims of the Holocaust suffered."

Celebrities participating in the event will read excerpts from Holocaust victims' diaries that are part of the museum's collection.

"The museum is preserving these diaries and making them available to scholars, educators, researchers," Weinberg said. "The next generation will not have the opportunity to hear survivors firsthand. The museum can make sure these stories are not forgotten."

For more information or to view the event, go to tinyurl.com/yxshfp7c.

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