Holocaust Exhibit Spotlights Women's Plight
Skokie museum has continental debut of stirring display that runs through Sept. 6.
The imagery of the Holocaust often focuses on the concentration camps, with pictures of groups of emaciated figures with shaved heads and in striped prison uniforms.
The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie has taken a different approach in its newest temporary exhibition. "Spots of Light: To Be a Woman in the Holocaust" takes its subjects out of the crowd and drives home the tragedy by displaying beautiful images of some victims.
This is the North American debut of the exhibit, which was developed by Yad Vashem in Israel, and has been displayed in Austria, Australia, Germany and Spain. It is the first international exhibition to focus exclusively on women’s experiences during the Holocaust. It features stories and photographs from survivors and individuals who were among the 2 million women killed during the Holocaust, implemented by the Nazi regime.
“We see the gorgeous females before and after,” said Yehudit Shendar, deputy director of Yad Vashem, which has an extensive Holocaust archive . “They were struggling to retain their femininity. Intentionally, we show the beauty of these females.”
Multimedia displays are projected onto walls, with the projections changing every few minutes to share about 40 stories, which are accompanied by video and a blend of black and white and color photographs.
Shendar said curators at Yad Vashem worked on developing the multimedia exhibit because of how rare physical objects representing the Holocaust are. They modeled the displays of "Spots of Light" after a computer screen or TV set, with several things happening at once. Not only did it allow them to tell more stories, but it caters younger crowds.
The Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler often took men away to concentration camps first, and parts of the exhibit show how women assumed responsibility for their households.
“Women were left with no bread maker,” Shendar said. “She was the one to make ends meet with no one.”
Each panel is dedicated to a different theme including womanhood, motherhood, love and everyday life. They tell stories about the female experience such as a doctor who performed deliveries and abortions for Jewish women and a woman who made her own bra in a concentration camp by using thread from her blanket and trading all of her day’s food for a needle.
“She was the envy of everyone,” Shendar said.
The multimedia displays are accompanied by objects from the Illinois Holocaust Museum’s collection, which have never been displayed before. The display cases include a bra made in a concentration camp and wedding photos placed near a projection with a wedding scene.
One of the most remarkable items is a book donated by a family in Wilmette that one woman made for another woman’s birthday while they were in a concentration camp. Called “So It Is, So It Should Be,” it includes colorful images contrasting camp life with an ideal life.
“I tried to have these objects speak back to the projections,” said Arielle Weininger, curator of collection and exhibition at the Illinois Holocaust Museum.
"Spots of Light" is the first exhibit from Yad Vashem to come to The Illinois Holocaust Museum and is part of an agreement between the two museums to share displays, training and professional development, said the museum’s executive director, Richard S. Hirschhaut.
“This exhibit is so very personal and poignant and further reinforces how we seek to present the Holocaust narrative in this institution,” Hirschhaut said. “The central role of women in maintaining hope and dignity and humanity is an untold story when we think of the Holocaust.”
"Spots of Light: To Be a Woman in the Holocaust" runs through Sept. 6.