dresses
Photo by Dan Zaitz

The heroic and brave stories of Holocaust survivors continue to be told as the Jewish Museum Milwaukee brings back an expanded version of the Museum’s most popular and best-selling exhibit to date.

Stitching Histories from the Holocaust is a highly acclaimed traveling exhibit that originated at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee in 2014. The exhibit is now expanding the discussion around immigration and cross-continental communication and will feature two new local stories of families attempting to flee the Holocaust.

“Jewish Museum Milwaukee is honored to bring back the original exhibit and to share these two new, remarkable, harrowing and poignant local stories,” stated Molly Dubin, Jewish Museum Milwaukee’s curator, in a press release. “Through safeguarded documents, artifacts, and never-realized dreams brought to tangible fruition, we gain understanding of the vital role we collectively play as stewards of history and memory.”

Stitching Histories tells the story of Hedwig Strnad and her husband Paul through the letters they wrote to their Milwaukee cousin. Central to the exhibit are dress designs that the couple sent in hopes of obtaining visas in order get out of Nazi-occupied Prague. These eight ensembles sketched by Hedy Strnad were never stitched together until The Milwaukee Reportory Theater’s Costume Shop used period styles, materials and techniques to bring the dresses to life.

dresses 2

Also new to the exhibit is a collection of 13 postcards written to Mary and George Stern, who escaped from Germany in 1938 and settled in Racine. The postcards were sent from Mary’s mother Sara Spira, who chose to stay behind in Germany. The family maintained communication with Spira up until her death during the Holocaust. This story is exclusive to the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, and marks the first time the postcards will be seen by the public before they are handed over to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

The exhibit will also share the local story of the Oelsner family, who fled Nazi Germany to Japanese-occupied Shanghai in 1939. Known as "The Port of Last Resort," it was their option without a visa. Edith (Oelsner) Shafer, who was born in Shanghai, preserved all the items her mother, Gerda, had saved documenting their journey until they ultimately settled in Milwaukee.

Oelsner family

Manfred Oelsner and Max Kuba arrive in Shanghai, 1939

 

A new 23-foot timeline documents key immigration laws and anti-Semitism during this era, and crucial events and moments in the lives of the three families central to the exhibit. The timeline shows how policy decisions and public sentiment had real and dire consequences for individuals.

The exhibit will kickoff with an "Opening Preview" on April 12, where attendees will listen to Milwaukee's chanteuse and accordionist, Robin Pluer, composer and guitarist Chris Hansen and MSO violinist Glen Ashe for an evening of music reminiscent of the World War II era.  Participants will also enjoy beverages, European-inspired appetizers and a tour of the exhibit. Program admission is $20 for nonmembers and $15 for members. 

For a full list of programs, visit http://jewishmuseummilwaukee.org/events.

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