Mesabi Range College instructor Sue Devereux is helping to bring the Transfer of Memory exhibit to rural communities in northern Minnesota
By ERIN ELLIOTT BRYAN / Community News Editor
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) has partnered with Friends of B’nai Abraham to present Transfer of Memory, a photography exhibition depicting Holocaust survivors living at home in Minnesota.
The exhibit features 39 portraits of survivors living, or who lived, in the Twin Cities by photographer David Sherman, with accompanying text by writer Lili Chester.
“It is important for me to ensure that survivors are remembered in a respectful and beautiful way — by face, by name and by story,” Sherman said in a press release. “Almost 70 years since the end of the war, we are in the midst of a ‘transfer of memory.’ The witness to the horrors, hardships and brutalities of the Holocaust is shifting from those who saw and survived, to a retelling of their testimony.”
The exhibit will be displayed Oct. 1-31 at the B’nai Abraham Museum and Cultural Center in Virginia, Minn. An opening reception, which is free and open to the public, will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 7.
Chester, a second-generation survivor, will speak at the reception and present a short documentary titled But Some Survive, featuring members of her family. Other speakers will be Steve Hunegs, executive director of the JCRC, and Margie Ostrov, of Friends of B’nai Abraham.
Among those helping to organize the exhibit on the Iron Range is Sue Devereux, a longtime instructor at Mesabi Range College in Virginia. For the past 12 years, Devereux has taught a three-credit semester course titled “The Holocaust: Understanding the Ramifications of Prejudice, Racism and Stereotyping.”
“Our intention is for [Devereux] to be incorporating the exhibit in her class,” Ostrov said. “She has a very innovative, creative approach to teaching this.”
Additionally, Devereux has been in contact with area high school teachers, encouraging them to provide Holocaust lessons for their students. She is working with Daniel Wildeson, director of St. Cloud State University’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, who has offered to train Iron Range teachers who are “interested in using the exhibition as a vehicle for providing Holocaust programming for their students,” according to a letter from Devereux.
“One of my goals is for both faculty and students to understand the complexity of all of this, that these were real people, and real people who survived this and came to Minnesota to live very productive lives,” Devereux told the AJW.
A defining moment in Devereux’s career was a student tour to Europe, which she led in 2000. Among the stops was a visit to the Dachau concentration camp in southern Germany; and she admitted that both she and her students were not intellectually or emotionally prepared for what they experienced there.
“It just left all of us utterly devastated,” Devereux said. “I just didn’t really have what I felt were good answers to their questions. I could tell them what happened, but that doesn’t answer, Why, how could this have happened? How could people be so cruel?”
Devereux was granted a sabbatical leave for the 2001-2002 academic year, which she spent researching and creating her course. The course was first offered in the fall of 2002, and has been available as both an on-campus and online class. It is open to students and community members, and includes a tour of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
“It filled immediately with college-age students,” Devereux said. “It wasn’t until the fourth year that our community members could even get in. And I found that very gratifying.”
Instead of a traditional textbook, Devereux uses Kevin Mahoney’s In Pursuit of Justice: Examining the Evidence of the Holocaust, published by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. She also begins the course by showing a film titled Image before My Eyes: A History of Jewish Life in Poland before the Holocaust, directed by Joshua Waletzky.
“We try to understand the loss. When six million Jews were lost, what did the world lose?” Devereux said. “This film documents the extraordinary leadership that the Jewish people demonstrated prior to this time. So when you cut that off, what have you lost? Did you lose the cure for cancer? I want [my students] to understand, yes, it was lives, but what did these lives represent?”
Devereux is moved by the class evaluations she gets from students, many who say the course has “changed my life” and “I don’t think the way I used to think.”
“It just brings an awareness of the culmination of something that seems so harmless: stereotyping, maybe laughing at a racist joke,” Devereux said. “Cumulatively, that kind of behavior and being a bystander to that kind of behavior can ultimately have very, very serious consequences. And they seem to get that.”
Devereux’s commitment to Holocaust education was recognized this spring, when she received the JCRC’s Courage to Teach Award. It was presented at the Twin Cities Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) Commemoration in April.
“The award is given each year to a teacher who goes above and beyond the requirements of curriculum to teach and inspire young people about the lessons of the Holocaust,” JCRC Executive Director Hunegs told the AJW. “Professor Devereux believes the Holocaust was a ‘watershed event’ in the ‘entire history of humanity.’ She teaches her students to understand the ramifications of prejudice and racism, and the danger of remaining indifferent to oppression.”
In addition to her work with the Transfer of Memory exhibit, Devereux has also helped to arrange an exhibit of photos taken at Auschwitz by Twin Cities photographer Mike Rosen. The exhibit is on display through October in the art gallery at Mesabi Range College.
“Really, there’s no underestimating the power of even small bits of knowledge,” Devereux said. “I think that’s the ultimate goal of any program like this, to make students aware and then hopefully get them interested enough that they will seek to do more in-depth study.”
Transfer of Memory, an exhibition of Holocaust survivors by photographer David Sherman and writer Lili Chester, will be displayed Oct. 1-31 at the B’nai Abraham Museum and Cultural Center, 328 Fifth St. S., Virginia, Minn. An opening reception will take place 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 7. For information about the exhibit, visit: www.transferofmemory.org. (American Jewish World, 9.26.14)
Since 1912 the AJW has served as an important news resource for the Jewish community. The Jewish World unites the main Jewish communities in St. Paul and Minneapolis, as well as those in Duluth, Rochester and smaller cities, and bridges the divides between the various Jewish religious streams.