Bill Holston: A Gala at the Dallas Holocaust Museum Reminds Us Why We Should Care

The Dallas Holocaust Museum held its annual awards event. Don Glendenning, a well-respected local attorney was this year’s recipient of the Hope for Humanity award at their dinner on October 30.  In his acceptance speech, Mr. Glendenning quoted Edmund Burke’s well known adage: “(T)he only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.’ He followed that by George Santayana’s quote: “Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.’ These were apt quotations for an evening dedicated to remembering the Holocaust.

The event was a very energetic and well organized affair. We were greeted by the dynamic duo of Nancy Cain Marcus and Nelda Cain Pickens. Opera singer Dane Reese sang the lovely song I Dreamed a Dream, which set the correct somber tone for an evening which was designed to combine remembrance of terror with hope for the future. Alice Murray, CEO of the Museum introduced the number of Holocaust Survivors who were in attendance and the crowd gave a standing ovation. These elderly survivors stand as living tribute to the triumph of human spirit and living witness to the horrors that revisionists still seek to deny.

Keith Cerny CEO of the Dallas Opera introduced a short one act play performed by some wonderful young actors. The story was based on the parallel stories of a young brother and sister who were attempting to survive in a Czech ghetto and a couple of Dallas teen agers seeking to survive the minefield of the teen years. The play was short and adept at tying the memory of historical injustice to relevance for people being ‘upstanders’ against injustice, including mean kids in high school.

A former awardee of the Hope for Humanity award board member, Frank Risch introduced Don. I thought it was appropriate that he pointed out a man like Don doesn’t serve to the extent he does without the partnership of his wonderful spouse, Carol.

Don certainly illustrates the impact on the world that a good man can have who chooses to act with integrity and diligence in this problem filled world.  Don is an attorney with the law firm of Locke Lord. In 2011 he was awarded the Justinian award by the Dallas Bar. This is just a short list of his acts of public service:

Don currently serves as Co-Chair of the Campaign for the New Parkland, Chair of Thanks-Giving Square Foundation, President of Scenic Texas and Scenic Dallas and is on the boards of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, the Dallas Holocaust Museum, KERA, Parkland Foundation, TACA, Texas Trees Foundation and the Tocqueville Cabinet of the United Way. He is a Past Chairman of the Dallas Zoological Society, Past President of Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, Past President of the Rice University DFW Alumni, and a former director of the National Tree Trust.

He is a recipient of the Anti-Defamation League of Dallas Schoenbrun Jurisprudence Award, the Dallas Zoological Society Good Egg Award, the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas Angel of Freedom and Distinguished Lifetime Service Awards and the Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas Pro Bono Award.

I met Don through his work with Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, Inc., where he was a former Board President, and where I now serve as Executive Director. He is still very involved in our work.  As everyone in the course of the evening made clear, Don is a perfect example of the kind of man our city needs. His marks are in most of our public works. The room was full of his admirers. In his very moving words he made very clear the work of Human Rights Initiative is a critical work, especially in the context of remembering past genocide.

The most moving part of the evening for me however was a small card on the table. The card read:

1.5 million children were murdered during the Holocaust. This penny represents just one of those children. By accepting this card you are becoming a guardian of this one child’s memory, giving voice to their name that they shall not be forgotten. ‘For the dead and the living we must bear witness.’ Elie Wiesel.

On the front of the card was a penny and a name. The name was Fira Pozharny, and the card added: “Lived in Pyatka.” I researched this name on the Yad Vashem (the Holocaust memorial in Israel) website. I learned Fira was an 8 year old girl, who lived in the Russian village of Pyatka, in modern day Ukraine.  She is buried in a mass grave in the former Jewish cemetery of Pyatka, along with most if not all of the other residents of the small village. There were about 870 Jews there in 1926. Today there are none. The cemetery is overgrown and bears a simple sign, written in Russian: “Here are Pyatka residents executed by German-fascist invaders in 1941.” I learned that her parents were:

Shaia Pozharny was born in Pyatka, Ukraine (USSR) in 1897 to Avraham. He was married to Rivka. Prior to WWII he lived in Pyatka, Ukraine (USSR). During the war he was in Pyatka, Ukraine (USSR). Shaia was murdered in 1941 in Pyatka, Ukraine (USSR) at the age of 44. This information is based on a Page of Testimony.

Her mother was  Rivka Pozharny nee Kaganovich, who was born in Pyatka, Ukraine (USSR) in 1902 to Meir. She was a housewife and married to Shaia. Prior to WWII she lived in Pyatka, Ukraine (USSR). During the war she was in Pyatka, Ukraine (USSR). Rivka was murdered in 1941 in Pyatka, Ukraine (USSR) at the age of 39.

Years ago I toured the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. It was overwhelming to see the images of entire Polish and Ukrainian communities that simply vanished as a result of the Holocaust. Entire families extinguished. It beggars the imagination.

The Dallas Holocaust Museum became a not for profit in 1984, previously housed in the Jewish Community Center on Northaven, before moving to its present home on the north-west corner of Houston and Pacific streets. They are presently raising money to relocate to a new facility in pursue its mission of teaching about the past to impact the future.

So, why should we really care about this? I confess I’m bothered by the usual adage when referring to the Holocaust, “Never again.” I think it lets us off too easy, because I don’t think most of us mean it. We stood by while 800 thousand died in Rwanda. We said never again.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been ensnared in a civil war; between 1994 and 2003 more than five million people have died as a result of this war. And it’s far from over. Based on a national survey, completed with the help of Congo’s government and international organizations,  roughly 1.8 million women aged 15 to 49 reported a history of rape. What exactly are we doing about that? Then there is the gang violence threatening young children in Central America, driven to America for safety. Do we care? I’m not cynical enough to think we don’t care. I think most of us do care. In fact, I know some who are very involved in doing something about it.  But, what do we do? Don is right; those who do not study the past are doomed to repeat it. One thing we can do is support agencies that do human rights work. There’s my agency Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, representing asylum seekers and immigrant victims of crime and domestic abuse. There’s Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the new SMU Embrey Human Rights Program. And of course there’s our local Holocaust Museum. And, we can study and remember the past.

To do my part in remembrance, I placed the card with the name Fira Pozharny in my journal. Years ago I was inspired by a Rabbi friend to learn the Shema Yisrael, and each morning I recite it in Hebrew. I taped the card to the Sh’ma and each morning as I pray, I will say her name out loud. The names of the men who killed Fira are as far as I know unknown to history. They had to live out their days here on earth with the knowledge of what they did. Their names are now forgotten. Meanwhile there’s the name of  Fira Pozharny. Her name lives on. Take a moment right now and say it out loud. And remember her.

Photo of the cemetery in  Pyatka (via)