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Binghamton alumnus helps preserve the legacy of Holocaust survivors

By : Cait Anastis

Steven Luckert, curator of the Holocaust Museumís permanent collection, was the guest speaker at the March 2 Harpur Forum.
With the world’s eyewitnesses to the Holocaust aging and dying, the role the U.S. Holocaust Museum plays in educating the public and preserving artifacts of the Holocaust becomes increasingly more important.

Binghamton alumnus Steven Luckert, ’80, M.A. ’83, Ph.d. ’93, is part of that effort. In Binghamton to facilitate the opening of the Holocaust Museum’s traveling exhibit “Remember the Children: Daniel’s Story,” at Roberson Museum and Science Center, he spoke to the Harpur Forum last week about the role the museum will play in the 21st century.

The Holocaust survivor community is dying out and artifacts from the era are being lost or destroyed, Luckert said. The museum has been able to preserve a number of items that help humanize the victims of the Holocaust, including a ward-robe used by a family to hide a young Jewish boy in a small apartment in the same building as a German police station.

“He survived and after the war was given to a Jewish orphanage,” Luckert said. The survivor was later able to give the museum the names of the people who had sheltered him, allowing museum representatives to track down the family and the wardrobe.

The wardrobe is part of one of the museum’s exhibits, “Life in Shadows: Hidden Children and the Holocaust,” which explores the history of children who went underground to escape Nazi persecution and destruction. In another case, a dress belonging to a little girl who survived the Holocaust made its way into the museum’s collection, along with the diary of one of her rescuers.

These artifacts have been preserved, but in other cases, items of historical signi-ficance have been thrown out by family members after a survivor’s death because they don’t realize their importance. For example, Luckert described an attempt to track down music composed during the Holocaust. The trail led to the composer’s family, but unfortunately, the documents he had left behind were thrown out after his death.

“There are many cases like that, where documents are in a foreign language and the families don’t understand the value,” he said.

In addition, some information only exists in a survivor’s memories. “If we have a collection of photographs from a survivor, we ask them to identify the people in them because if they don’t do it, no one will know who those people are,” Luckert said. “One of the things we realized is that time is running out. We really realize that this is a race against time.”

Education is also a key component of the museum’s mission. About 2 million people visit the Washington museum annually, and special programs are in place specifically for the U.S. Navel Academy, West Point Academy and Washington-area police departments. A series of traveling exhibitions, including Daniel’s Story, are on display at different sites across the country. Daniel’s Story brings the museum’s message to a young audience, making the information accessible.

“I think one of the great things about Daniel’s Story, is not only does it explain to people the Holocaust through a child’s eyes, it also shows that the Nazis targeted all people, even children,” he said. “The younger the visitor is to get exposed to the dangers, the better it is for humanity.”

The museum’s educational efforts are not all focused on the Holocaust. Its Committee on Conscience works to alert people to contemporary threats of genocide.

Luckert credits Binghamton University for igniting his interest in the study of the Holocaust and preparing him for his work at the museum. Early classes exposed him to the diverse study of the subject and he went on to earn his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in history at the University. As a historian in the field, he has discovered a number of Binghamton graduates who were active in careers linked to the tragic era.

“Binghamton really produced a number of people who went on to do remarkable things with the Holocaust,” he said.
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Last Updated: 10/14/08