Exhibit honors Bedzin stories from Holocaust

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After two years, Rick Feldman’s mission to bring one exhibit to Riverdale is complete. And it’s just in time to honor Holocaust victims for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

It all began with a visit to Manhattan College. Feldman learned about the Bedzin Ghetto during an event at the school’s Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith Education Center. The exhibit is from the Martin-Springer Institute at Northern Arizona University, and tells the story of eight young people in the small Jewish ghetto of Bedzin, Poland, sharing their experiences before, during and after the Holocaust.

It wasn’t until Feldman’s first interaction with these stories he learned distant relatives were featured in the exhibit. And having been a library teacher for 25 years, he was intrigued and wanted to find a way to bring that exhibit here.

“For me, it’s about the stories connecting the remnants (of the Holocaust), and about pushing the stories forward into the next generation,” Feldman said.

Around Hanukkah 2016, Feldman started to raise money for “Through the Eyes of Youth” with the hopes of bringing it to Riverdale. That included hosting community events with Manhattan College — such as a Bedzin book club — to generate interest.

“It’s easy bring an exhibit” somewhere, Feldman said. “But it’s hard to create an audience around it.”

The exhibit finally found a home at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. It opened Jan. 21, and remains on display through Jan. 26.

Björn Krondorfer, the director of the Martin-Springer Institute who spearheaded the exhibit, said his organization was lucky to have met Feldman.

“We always wanted to bring the exhibit to New York because we know that survivors and their families from this region in Poland are residing on the east coast,” Krondorfer said.

The exhibit was originally designed to honor Doris Martin, the founder of the school’s institute, who was raised in Bedzin and survived the Holocaust. When it debuted, Krondorfer said, the response was overwhelming, gaining popularity among the community and prompting it to go on the road. 

Krondorfer hopes people who visit the exhibit in Riverdale will learn more about the Holocaust. 

“By focusing on the death and survival of young people, we want to bring awareness to the tragic reality of genocide, but also to the resilience of young people,” Krondorfer said. “Without evading the cruelty that Jews experienced at the hands of the Nazis, we also point to the complexity of survival, including elements of hope.”

Feldman has similar sentiments when it comes to the exhibit, and hopes people of all faiths will take something away from it.

“It’s about honoring those people who we lost and the family … and mentioning their names, so that they didn’t live in vain,” he said, “which is pretty much what gives us meaning in life that we’re sharing the truth.”

Feldman also believes “the key is empathy” in continuing to tell stories from Bedzin, especially at a time where he believes there are still similar struggles for civil rights and justice.

“If we keep on exercising that moment of connection, we can solve that issue in our world where we separate and intellectually assume that people are less than us,” Feldman said. “The Riverdale community is really a touchstone for all of these energies because it’s a very integrated community.

“It’s place, it’s time, it’s people.”

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