The Jewish Holocaust Collection
Juan Perez and Marilyn Montemayor first proposed the idea of Mead Public Library housing a collection of materials about the Jewish Holocaust contributed by survivors now living in Sheboygan. We wanted to be sure that the library was the best location for the proposed collection. The intentions of potential contributors became more clearly known and the Library Board confirmed availability of an appropriate space at the library. And so it became evident that Mead Public Library was the best place to house this new public service for Sheboygan.
The Jewish Holocaust Collection is located in a special room designated the Fela and Anschel Warschau Room in honor of Fela Warschau’s remarkable dedication to educating fellow community members about the Holocaust. The collection of books and other materials housed there is available for consultation in that room only including survivor oral history videotapes that are available for viewing in the Warschau Room. Copies of some books and videos are available for checkout. Please check with a staff member for more information.
The documents displayed in the room are intended to represent the journeys of all the Holocaust survivors who emigrated to Sheboygan—starting with life in a displaced persons camp following liberation, through arrival in the United States, and eventual application for United States citizenship. The photographs displayed on the wall and in albums symbolize both what was lost and what was gained—family members and friends lost to the war juxtaposed with children and new friends gained as the Holocaust survivors continued their lives.
The portraits of the survivors living in Sheboygan at this time are displayed in tribute to their courage and fortitude as well as in recognition of their immeasurable loss. Their faces, along with a statement by Fela Warschau, show what we must never forget about them as well as what we must learn from them. We are fortunate that they are willing to teach us.
Former Director, Mead Public Library
Remarks Upon the Dedication of Sheboygan’s Jewish Holocaust Collection
at Mead Public Library, September 16, 2001
by Fela Warschau
We are here for the dedication of the Holocaust Study Room established by the Mead Public Library. It is inspired by and dedicated to the Sheboygan residents who are survivors and have made personal contributions. In addition to my husband Anschel and me they are: Lucy Baras, Lucy Matzner, Robert Matzner, Regina Jacob, and Morris Zelpe.
The world has changed in so many ways since the end of World War II. One of these is the way in which it views the Holocaust, and therefore the way in which the Holocaust exists in our culture. In the 50s, 60s and 70s, it was an incredibly difficult topic to approach: Anti-Semitism was a tricky and touchy issue. Whether in film, theater, literature or history books, and even in American Jewish communities, there was great fear and confusion in addressing the layers of discrimination that had occurred.
So while the topic of World War II discrimination, primarily anti-Semitism, was frequently touched on or was even the focus in these various formats, real confrontation was avoided—direct, clear commentary or analysis usually did not occur. If it did, it did not come into the mainstream of our society.
Why did this happen? One explanation is that it was extremely difficult to comprehend and sort out the issues and events of the complex war that had just taken place. Politics and prejudices of the United States and the world were complicated during the war and most certainly afterwards. Caution dictated many behaviors. No one wanted to offend anyone by accusing them of bigotry and discrimination. What country might be offended? What culture or group of immigrants might be offended? What would it take to have honest discussions of the issues attached to this history?
To that last question, I believe the answer is time. Even many Jewish survivors did not want to discuss what had happened to them. They wanted to leave the past behind and move on with new lives. It took most of them a very long time to finally talk; some have never done so.
Time marched on; and as we have all seen, we have evolved from that time to a time when the Holocaust started to become a popular topic. Something to really pay attention to. Oral history projects via tapes and videotapes along with museums and memorials have multiplied. Before these phenomena, my husband and I were first interviewed by my daughter Martha who was in touch with an organization called “The Brooklyn Society for Holocaust Studies.” They seemed to be the only organization in the United States devoted exclusively to this research. They sought out all survivors who were witnesses to the war, soldiers, liberators, anyone alive who could testify to their war experiences. They collected all documents and materials from the war they could. At that time interviews were only voices on audiocassettes. Then and now, because more survivors die as each year passes, these oral history projects have had an ongoing sense of urgency.
Along with the interviews, collecting and archiving documents, pictures, clothing and all artifacts have been an essential part of the contributions to history.
For my husband and me this last April marked our 50th anniversary of arriving in Sheboygan from a displaced persons’ camp in Germany. Throughout these years we witnessed the changes in the world at large and in Sheboygan. Our city was once a place where a person of color had to have permission to be here at all and could not stay overnight. It has evolved to a city of tolerance and diversity where various ethnic groups now make their home. Hopefully we are learning from and about each other and our cultures and differences. Let us hope these types of changes continue; and we can all share our world with interest in, and awareness and knowledge of each other.
Today, we are grateful to be here, to have seen these changes. And this dedication of a permanent room by our library for the benefit of Holocaust studies is an incredible event. To honor the Sheboygan residents who are Holocaust survivors by archiving all of our documents and dedicating this room to all of us is a wonderful tribute to this city; and it speaks to the purpose of a library as a true resource and learning center. Our library, the Mead Public Library, will now be one more testament and memorial to ensure the preservation not only of the history of the Holocaust, but also of our collective world history.
Whether we are talking about the Holocaust or any history, it is for everyone. History is not just the past—it is our present and our future. It is not just a way to learn facts; it is a way to learn who we are, how we make choices, how we can determine our future. It is a way to understand each other and to share our world.
Once again, the Sheboygan residents who are the survivors and contributors to our room and who are being honored are: Lucy Baras, Lucy Matzner, Robert Matzner, Regina Jacob, Morris Zelpe, me, and my husband Anschel
My husband Anschel and I are deeply honored to have this study room named after us. Since my role as a speaker on the Holocaust has been a contributing factor to this tribute, I would like to make some personal thank-yous.
First to Dawn Belleau. After she interviewed me and published an article in The Sheboygan Press, I began to receive telephone calls from people asking me to speak to their schools and organizations about my life during the war. The first call came from a schoolteacher named Connie Poppy. Her requests and encouragement to be a speaker were the inspiration for my journey to develop and continue my presentations. I give many thanks to both Dawn and Connie for their continued support and friendship.
There are no words sufficient to thank the tireless Marilyn Montemayor. Without her devotion and time, my role as an educator would not be possible. She travels with me to my speaking engagements, assists with questions and answers and the picture presentations we display. Thank you so much Marilyn for being in my life and giving me your wonderful friendship.
Most important to our dedication today is Juan Perez. Mr. Perez is an active member in our community as well as the President of the Hispanic Advancement Council. He is also the Multicultural Advisor at the Office of Student Services at the University of Wisconsin campus in Sheboygan. After hearing one of my presentations about the Holocaust, Juan began to think about this subject a lot and he developed the idea of establishing a room in our library devoted to Holocaust studies and dedicated to the survivors in our very own city. Juan is a determined and resourceful man. Today his idea has come to fruition. He has made this historic room possible. He has made history. Thank you, Juan Perez.
Very special thanks go to the Library Board who approved this project. To the Library staff and volunteers who worked vigilantly to set up the room—they have catalogued and organized everything; and especially to Sharon Winkle, our thoughtful and meticulous Library Director. She is in charge of this project and oversees all aspects of its development. Thank you so very much Mead Public Library for taking on this project, for all of your hard work and dedication to it—thank you for this gift to our city.
For their generosity we give many thanks to Bernie Markevitch for providing the beautiful flowers; and to Phillip Baruth for providing our musical entertainment. Thank you so much to our photographer, Eugene Schuttey, for his contributions of both his time and providing us with our photographs.
Thank you all for coming here today to celebrate this historic event.