Cuba’s First Holocaust Exhibit Opens at the Sephardic Center in Havana
December 21, 2011
The first exhibit about the Holocaust displayed in Cuba opened December 18 at the Centro Sephardi in Havana. The exhibit, “We Remember – The Holocaust and the Creation of a Living Community,” shines a light on the Cuban Jewish experience of the Holocaust and raises awareness that a small Jewish community makes Cuba its home.
“The opening of this exhibit marks a very important moment for the Cuban Jewish community,” said Mayra Levy, president of the Sephardic Center. “We welcome this exhibit which focuses on the origins of the Cuban Jewish community and the impact of the Holocaust. We also welcome our fellow Cubans and visitors to our island learning more about our community today.”
“We Remember” examines the history of the Cuban Jewish community prior to and during World War II. This multi-media experience documents key periods in the history of the Cuban Jewish community and illustrates the impact of the Holocaust on the community and Jewish communities worldwide. Throughout “We Remember,” video clips of refugees who arrived in Cuba to escape the Nazi regime provide firsthand accounts of their personal experiences, and a one-hour video features testimony of Holocaust survivors’ experiences during the war in Europe.
The USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Jewish Cuba Connection, all Los Angeles-based organizations, partnered on this project. Conscious Display, an exhibit design company in San Diego, designed the exhibit.
“The Nazis sought to destroy Jewish lives and extinguish Jewish life,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “The honor of affixing a Mezuzah on the entrance to this exhibit at Havana’s Sephardic Center and being able to declare Am Yisrael Chai, together with young and old Cuban Jews, is proof that Jewish solidarity and continuity will forever outlast the genocidal goals of the Nazis.”
“We Remember” features video testimony clips from the USC Shoah Foundation Institute’s archive, which contains nearly 52,000 videotaped testimonies of Holocaust survivors and other witnesses. The testimonies were collected in 56 countries and 32 languages. In addition, narrative and photographs from The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s “Courage To Remember” exhibition were utilized in the development of “We Remember.”
“Memories of the Holocaust are woven into local histories throughout the world,” said Stephen D. Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute. “They tell a human story that crosses every national, ethnic, religious, and ideological barrier. In telling the story we draw closer to one another. The Institute is proud to contribute testimony to ‘We Remember,’ an exhibit that explores the history of the Holocaust and Cuban history. The Sephardic Center of Havana is to be commended for its powerful message of remembrance and hope.”
Said Stan Falkenstein, president of the Jewish Cuba Connection: “Missions from around the world who come to Havana will find this exhibit to be a highlight of their visit. This exhibit serves several important functions: it shines the light on an important story, highlights the presence of a Jewish community in Cuba and helps Cubans learn about an important part of Cuban Jewish history. While all Jewish Cubans proudly state that they and their families never experienced anti-Semitism, we also can know with certainty that most of their fellow Cubans never heard of the Shoah. The opening of this exhibit will change that so that the lessons of tolerance and the need to be vigilant against all forms of discrimination will not be lost to history.”
“We Remember – The Holocaust and the Creation of a Living Community” was funded by an anonymous donor and will be permanently housed at Centro Sephardi in Havana.
About the Jewish Cuba Connection: Established in 2000, the Jewish Cuba Connection assists, supports, and empowers the Jewish communities of Cuba through fellowship and action. Key to these efforts is working as equals with the leaders and member of the Cuban Jewish community so that they become stronger and even more cohesive. One of the project’s goals is to empower Cuban Jews by giving them the necessary tools, in some cases, and teaching them skills in other cases, and funding, in still other cases. This approach has engendered strong support from the community: our mutual respect is the glue that ties Jewish Cuba Connection to the Cuban Jewish community and will keep us involved in the short, medium and long terms.
The Jewish Cuba Connection’s work is distinct because its focus is not only innovative projects and more traditional initiatives in Havana, where the majority of Cuban Jews live, but also the needs of Cuban Jews who live on Cuba’s east coast, especially those who live in Guantanamo. Long before Guantanamo was best known as the site of the U.S. military base, Guantanamo the city, located a few miles from the base, is a small, but bustling community in which the largest numbers of Jews outside of Havana currently live.
To find out more about Jewish Cuba Connection’s projects in Guantanamo, email email@example.com.
About the USC Shoah Foundation Institute: Established in 1994 by Steven Spielberg to collect and preserve the testimonies of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust, the USC Shoah Foundation Institute maintains one of the largest video digital libraries in the world: nearly 52,000 video testimonies in 32 languages and from 56 countries. The Institute is part of the Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at the University of Southern California; its mission is to overcome prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry—and the suffering they cause—through the educational use of the Institute’s visual history testimonies.
The Institute works within the University and with partners around the world to advance scholarship and research, to provide resources and online tools for educators, and to disseminate the testimonies for educational purposes. In addition to preserving the testimonies in its archive, the Institute is working with partner organizations to expand the archive with accounts of survivors and witnesses of other genocides.
For more information, visit the Institute’s website, dornsife.usc.edu/vhi.
About the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance: The Simon Wiesenthal Center is a global Jewish human rights organization that confronts anti-Semitism, hate and terrorism, promotes human rights and dignity, stands with Israel, defends the safety of Jews worldwide, and teaches the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations. With a constituency of over 400,000 households in the United States, it is accredited as an NGO at international organizations including the United Nations, UNESCO, OSCE, Organization of American States (OAS), the Latin American Parliament (PARLATINO) and the Council of Europe. Headquartered in Los Angeles, the Simon Wiesenthal Center maintains offices in New York, Toronto, Miami, Paris, Buenos Aires, and Jerusalem. The MUSEUM OF TOLERANCE ANGELES, the Center’s educational arm founded in 1993, challenges visitors to confront bigotry and racism, and to understand the Holocaust in both historic and contemporary contexts. The Museum has served over 5 million visitors, with 350,000 visiting annually including 150,000 students. To learn more, visit www.wiesenthal.com.
Contact: Talia Cohen, USC Shoah Foundation Institute, firstname.lastname@example.org, 213.740.6036. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Simon Wiesenthal Center, email@example.com. Stan Falkenstein, Jewish Cuba Connection, firstname.lastname@example.org, 310-823-4066.