Forever scarred by years of German occupation, innocent boys and girls in the Polish city of Będzin saw a world of violence, hatred and loss through young eyes.
A new exhibit curated by Northern Arizona University undergraduates that tells the story of young people in Będzin before, during and after the Holocaust will open Sept. 30 on the NAU campus.
“Today, we often encounter survivors as people who could be our grandparents but most of them were teenagers when they experienced the Holocaust,” said Björn Krondorfer, director of NAU’s Martin-Springer Institute. “In this exhibit, we focus on the struggle of young people; we hope that our audiences, especially students, can more easily identify with them.”
The exhibit, titled “Through the Eyes of Youth: Life and Death in the Będzin Ghetto,” is the result of a three-semester undergraduate research project offered by the Martin-Springer Institute. Under the faculty mentorship of Krondorfer and Martin Kalb, history lecturer, 12 students from various backgrounds and academic disciplines conducted historical research, interviewed survivors, conceptualized the display, identified exhibit vendors, created the narratives and proposed the initial design.
Through powerful imagery, quotes and narratives, the exhibit shares the struggles of the youth in Będzin who grew up amid tragedy while still trying to find small joys in life. The students chose to focus on stories of the youth in hopes of resonating with a young audience in a memorable way.
Będzin is the former home of Holocaust survivor Doris Martin, born Dora Szpringer, who founded the institute at NAU with her husband Ralph Martin in 2000. “We thought that creating an undergraduate research project on this ghetto would honor her, and our students would learn the true meaning of the Holocaust through a case study,” Krondorfer said.
The exhibit is divided into four major time periods and follows seven young people from prewar life to harsh living conditions in the ghetto to deportations to Auschwitz and finally, to the end of the Holocaust. Among the seven are two survivors, Jane Lipski of Tucson and Doris Martin, who the students interviewed during the project.
Additionally, four of the students traveled to Washington, D.C., for a paid internship in the summer of 2013 at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to conduct additional research and gather resources for the exhibit.
An opening reception for the public is scheduled for 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 30, on the third floor of Riles, building 15. The exhibit will be open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and will be on display through Dec. 1. School classes are welcome to visit.
Following the opening at NAU, the exhibit will travel throughout Arizona to continue sharing the personal stories of the seven young people. The exhibit is designed for display at schools, universities, community centers, libraries and similar public venues.