Holocaust Memorial Museum curator to visit Ithaca

By: Linda Glaser,  Cornell Arts & Sciences
March 12, 2019

Historian Judith Cohen, Chief Acquisitions Curator of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington DC, will visit Ithaca March 24-25. The visit is hosted by the Ithaca Descendants of Holocaust Survivors and co-sponsored by Cornell’s Jewish Studies Program in the College of Arts & Sciences. Additional sponsors include Ithaca College Jewish Studies and the Ithaca Area United Jewish Community.

Descendants of Holocaust survivors frequently find themselves in possession of personal artifacts connected to their family members’ experiences during the war. The primary purpose of Cohen’s visit will be to meet with people from the Central New York area who are descendants of survivors, examine the priceless artifacts they possess, and provide guidance on the process of donating their unique items to permanent Shoah archives such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 

On Monday, March 25, from 1-2 p.m., in Olin Library, Cohen will offer an informal presentation, “Collecting and Curating Texts and Artifacts Pertinent to the Experience of Jews during the Period of Nazi Rule and Genocide.”

On Sunday March 24, from 3-5 p.m.,  Cohen will host the interactive seminar “Considering Our Artifacts: Keeping Their Stories Alive” at the Cherry Artspace: 102 Cherry Street, Ithaca. She will explore the process of donating artifacts to archives, and address questions and concerns. The public is invited to learn about this process, and area attendees with personal family artifacts (correspondence, photographs, clothing, art, medals or regalia, other objects) are encouraged to reserve a "Show & Tell" spot in advance: in the final hour of the seminar, Ms. Cohen will publicly view materials from local individuals, hear their connected family histories, and answer specific questions about the donations process. No reservations are required to attend the seminar, but “Show & Tell” spots can be reserved by visiting http://bit.ly/showandtellreservation.

On Monday March 25, from 7:30-9 p.m., Cohen’s multimedia presentation “Jewish Ghetto Photography” will take place at Ithaca College, Textor Hall room 101. The vast majority of, and most widely known, Holocaust photography was taken by German photographers. These photos include such iconic images as the Warsaw ghetto boy and the selections at Auschwitz. We therefore, to large part, visually imagine the Holocaust through Nazi eyes. However, there also exists a considerable corpus of Jewish ghetto photography taken both by professional and amateur photographers. These photographs not only capture aspects of the ghetto hidden to the Germans, but also show layers of ambiguity and nuance that the official photos miss. How do these photographs differ from the better-known Nazi photographs? Does it matter who took the photo or just what appears in the image? This presentation is hosted by Ithaca College Jewish Studies and Ithaca College Hillel; free and open to the public.

Ithaca Descendants of Holocaust Survivors was founded in 2017 as “2nd Generation Holocaust Survivors” and is comprised of Tompkins County descendants of survivors who meet monthly. One of the group’s founding members, Vally Kovary ‘77, says “We have been amazed at just how much help Judy Cohen has provided to our gathering of second- and third- generation survivors in Ithaca. Many of us hold one or many items from our families that miraculously survived the Holocaust, and many of our members have donated family artifacts to the USHMM. With Judy’s well-informed and gentle guidance, we are learning just how important and precious these items are to the world. We look forward to her visit so that anyone holding items that document Jewish lives in Europe prior to and during the Holocaust can benefit from the museum’s capacity to preserve and make accessible these items, in perpetuity.” For more information about the group, email secondgeneration@iaujc.org.

Cohen is a graduate of Harvard University and received her MA from Brandeis.  She has curated web exhibits and written and co-authored articles on the Museum’s collection entitled “Memento Mori: Photographs from the Grave,” “Three Approaches to Exploring the Höcker Album,” “Jewish Ghetto Photographers,” The Mantello Rescue Mission” and “Roman Vishniac: A Different Kind of Holocaust Photographer.”

For information about these events, visit http://bit.ly/holocaustmuseumvisit.

Judith Cohen