Supported by the Council’s Dr. Hiltgunt Margret Zassenhaus Memorial Fund and on loan from the Paul Peck Humanities Institute at Montgomery College, the exhibit combines survivors’ stories with black and white portrait panels. The result, said Jane Knauss, the project’s creative design director, in a prepared statement to the press, “focuses on survivors of a catastrophic event who have made productive lives for themselves by turning evil into living testimonials of affirmation.”
Montgomery College’s Director of the Paul Peck Humanities Institute, Judith Gaines, conceived of the exhibit and collaborated with Montgomery College Professors Jon Goell and Brian Jones, who served as its project leaders and chief photographers.
“While we remember those who died in the Holocaust, we also celebrate the lives of those who survived,” said Gaines. “They are your neighbors—fellow community members. You pass them in the grocery store or at the post office—never would you imagine the unspeakable horror they endured.”
“Portraits of Life” first premiered at Montgomery College’s 2005 Holocaust Commemoration on April 21, 2005. The exhibit’s venue at the Maryland Humanities Council’s new headquarters will be its first showing outside Montgomery County.
Nesse Godin, one of the survivors depicted in the exhibit, spoke during the opening reception. Born in Shauliai, Lithuania, she was 13 years old when the Germans occupied her hometown. Two months later, she was forced into the ghetto with her family. By 1944, Godin was taken to the Stutthof concentration camp and eventually sent to four labor camps. She survived those and a death march before being liberated by the Soviet Army.
Godin moved to the United States after five years in a displaced persons camp in Germany. She said, “My husband and I raised three wonderful children and dedicated our lives to teach what hatred can do. I took my pain and suffering and anger and chose to teach what happened during the Holocaust. I hope that my sharing memories will teach everyone to make a better world for all the people of the world.”
Godin is co-president of the Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Friends of Greater Washington. She serves on the Board of the Jewish Community Council and the United Jewish Appeal Federation. For her service to the community and sharing her personal story of the Holocaust, she has received many awards and honors, such as the Elie Wiesel Holocaust Remembrance Medal and the “Unsung Heroine” honor from the Maryland Commission on Women.
This story was published on December 28, 2005.