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Lives Remembered: Photographs of a Small Town in Poland 1897-1939

Photography exhibit captures the daily lives of Polish Jews before the Nazi invasion

On September 27, 2008, The National World War II Museum will welcome the exhibit Lives Remembered: Photographs of a Small Town in Poland 1897-1939, a traveling exhibition by the Holocaust Museum Houston. This touching exhibition illustrates Jewish life in Europe before the Holocaust through reproductions of more than 100 photographs of the small town of Szczuczyn, Poland.

The photographs capture the ordinary lives of the residents during the years leading up to the Nazi invasion. They were taken by Zalman Kaplan in Szczuczyn, where he established a business as the local photographer. Kaplan’s grandson, Michael Marvins, spent years collecting photographs by his grandfather from the descendants of the families that lived in Szczuczyn.

Marvins’ collection of reproduced photographs shows the complexity of Jewish life before the war and dispels the common myth that Jews in remote communities in Eastern Europe were unsophisticated. The photos, including many not shown previously, depict humble residents, holiday celebrations, daily life and religious activities.

“These were just regular, ordinary people living normal, everyday lives, and they were killed quite simply because of their religion. They were Jewish. What these photos remind us is that, if this could have happened to such ordinary, normal people, it could happen to anyone.”

The photographs reveal another side of the small Polish town contrary to the often associated images of Orthodox Jews. They show a rich and diverse way of life that was not so different from our own today. This exhibit puts faces on the millions of men, women and children who perished in the Holocaust, ordinary people leading common lives. The exhibit shows what can happen to everyday people when hate and intolerance are allowed to flourish.

Tragically, Zalman Kaplan, his wife and two daughters were killed by Polish neighbors, during the chaos of the German attack. These were some of the same neighbors who had probably posed for photos in Kaplan’s studio.

This glimpse into life before the war shows the people of Szczuczyn as similar to many around the world - enjoying life, advancements in technology and living free of labels or hate. Upon close examination, one must wonder, were their lives so different from our own?

Michael Marvins, grandson of Zalman Kaplan and curator of the exhibition, will give a free public lecture on October 4, 2008 at 7:00 pm. A reception will follow, co-sponsored by Touro Synagogue. For other public programming related to the exhibition, visit www.nationalww2museum.org. Special thanks to the World Cultural Economic Forum for support.

The National World War II Museum will supplement the exhibition with a very special display of Jewish artifacts from Eastern Europe. The exhibition will feature a number of sacred objects presented to Harry Nowalsky, a German immigrant raised in New Orleans, for his service to refugees in the Jewish community. Many of the objects had spent the war buried in the Jewish cemetery to escape theft and vandalism. Nowalsky served as an officer of De-Nazification of trade and industry and was one of the people responsible for returning civil government to post-war Germany.

The exhibit, which is on view from September 25, 2008 through January 11, 2009, is presented by ATT Real Yellow Pages with additional support from the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Louisiana, The Lupin Foundation, The Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, the Jewish Community Center, Jewish Family Service, New Orleans Hillel, and New Orleans Jewish Day School.

The National World War II Museum, dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum, has been designated by Congress as the country’s official National World War II Museum. The Museum illuminates the American experience during the war era and celebrates the American spirit, the teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifice of the men and women who won World War II. For more information on The National World War II Museum, visit www.nationalww2museum.org or call 877-813-3329.

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