TOMS RIVER – It’s too easy to look away from the atrocities of the past. That’s why it’s important that we never forget them.
Ocean County will be host to the Courage to Remember Exhibition, which consists of 40 panels that detail the events from 1933 through 1945. It depicts the deepening horror that occurred under the Nazi regime.
Esther Feder-Lesell, a Holocaust survivor, shared her memories during a ceremony at the exhibit. She was accompanied by her daughter, Rita Felder.
“I had a hard life as a child,” said Feder-Lesell. “Growing up, the Holocaust took away my youth. I lost family members and friends to the war in the camps.
“But I stand here today as a proud person; I survived a great deal of hardship but I did not give up on life,” she said.
Perhaps the exhibit came at a good time, not too long after a man went on a spree of violence against local Jews. He is now in jail facing federal charges for hate crimes.
“Our reason, for all of us being in this room right now, couldn’t be clearer,” said Ocean County Commissioner Virginia E. Haines, as she addressed the attendees at the opening of the exhibition on April 20. “Today we look back on history, specifically the atrocities of the Holocaust, and we remember the millions that perished, at that time.
“Today, we reflect on our history so that we don’t repeat it,” said Haines, who serves as liaison to the Ocean County Cultural and Heritage Commission, one of the 12 sponsors of the exhibit.
It was developed by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. It’s a traveling exhibition, which means it is installed at places throughout the world. The Center said it has been viewed on six continents.
“We encourage our citizens, young and old, to come and see this exhibit,” Haines said. “It’s so important that we continue to raise awareness about the past. It is so important to remember that when we are indifferent, then intolerance and hatred spreads like an epidemic.”
Michael Cohen, who serves as the Eastern Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, underlined how important it is to create partnerships with other groups to spread the word of what happened in the past, in an effort to slow the rise of hatred in the world today.
“It is our responsibility as those who understand what happened in the Holocaust, to pass that message forward to our next generation and to use every tool at our disposal to create new and innovative ways to teach our children so they will pay attention and stop history from repeating itself,” Cohen said.
The exhibit was scheduled to be in the Mancini Hall of the Toms River branch of the Ocean County library through May 1. After being displayed at the library, the exhibition will be shown at schools, other library branches, public buildings, houses of worship and other venues throughout the area, according to Timothy G. Hart, Ocean County Historian.
Attending the ceremony was U.S. Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-4th), Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer, Ocean County Commissioner Joseph H. Vicari, Ocean County Library Commission Member Bonnie Peterson and a host of representatives from cultural and diversity organizations from across Ocean County that collaborated to purchase and display the traveling exhibit.
The sponsors for the Courage to Remember are the Ocean County Board of Commissioners, the Ocean County Library, the Ocean County Prosecutor, the Ocean County Sheriff, Jewish Federation of Ocean County, the Ocean County College Center for Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Education, Grunin Foundation, the Ocean County Superintendent of Schools, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Ocean County Cultural and Heritage Commission with funding from the New Jersey Historic Commission and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.