The Jewish genocide in war-torn Europe claimed millions of lives. In the face of the tragic fate of Jews, local populations of countries occupied or allied with the III Reich along with some ordinary Germans faced a dilemma that they had probably never envisaged: how to react to such a mass atrocity? While individual responses to this question differed widely, only few offered help to people seeking to survive.
What was the daily experience of Jews hiding from the German machine of extermination and those who brought them help, sometimes even risking their lives? The “Between Life and Death” exhibition that juxtaposes these two distinct yet intertwined perspectives will be inaugurated at the Jewish Community in Dresden on 1 March 2020. The travelling display showcases personal stories of Holocaust survivors and rescuers from eleven different countries set against a broader historical context. The opening in Dresden is part of the Week of Brotherhood program, organised every year since 1952 in one German city by the Federal Council of Christian-Jewish Dialogue Assocations.
The exhibition presents accounts from eleven European countries: Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine. Part of it relates to two German citizens. The Jewish seamstress, Alice Löwenthal survived the persecution thanks to various rescuers in Berlin, Strausberg and Weimar. It was only after the war ended that she learned that her two daughters, whom she believed to be in a safe hideaway, had been victims of denunciation . The second example showcases the famous rescuer, owner of a brushes and brooms workshop in Berlin, Otto Weidt. He is one of about 600 Germans recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem in Israel.
By outlining stories of survivors along with those of rescuers, the display highlights the complexity of human relations under extreme conditions. The testimonies are also shown against a broader historical background to offer a more comprehensive understanding of local chances for Jews to survive and for helpers to provide aid.
The Week of Brotherhood has its long tradition in Germany and for the second time after 1993 is being organised in the capital of Saxony in March. Its organiser, the Federal Council consists of more than 80 regional and municipal Associations that advocate collaboration between Christians and Jews. It is a member of the International Council of Christians and Jews, an umbrella organisation of 40 national Jewish-Christian dialogue organisations worldwide. Since 1968, in recognition for achievements against antisemitism the German Council awards the Buber-Rosenzweig-Medaille prize, which this year is offered to the German chancelor Angela Merkel. Many events, exhibitions, panel discussions, film screenings and art perfomrances dealing with the motto of the Week of Brotherhood 2020: "Open your mouth in defence of the others" is being organised not only in March, but throughout the whole year.
The project is a joint initiative of the European Network Remembrance and Solidarity, POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews (Warsaw) and the Silent Heroes Memorial Centre (Berlin). The display had its premiere in Brussels with the official opening in the European Commission headquarters on 27 January 2018 (International Holocaust Remembrance Day), and was subsequently presented also in Amsterdam, Bratislava, Vilnius, Wrocław and Markowa (an important Polish memorial site dedicated to the Polish Righteous), Bucharest and Budapest.
The exhibition “Between Life and Death. Stories of Rescue during the Holocaust” is part of this year’s program of the Week of Brotherhood and will be shown in the Heinz Joachim Aris Hall of the Dresden Jewish Community until 5 April 2020.