Holocaust survivors are becoming fewer and fewer, as many survivors of the Nazi genocide reach their 80s and 90s.

An exhibit at the VINE Adult Community Center this month helps make sure their stories are remembered.

“Transfer of Memory” tells the stories of Holocaust survivors living or who lived in the Twin Cities. The exhibit features 39 portraits of survivors along with a short synopsis of each survivor’s story.

This year is the 70th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust, during which six million European Jews were murdered. Many survivors went on to live full lives despite the tragedy, not letting their victimhood define them.

“Their identity isn’t only about being a survivor of the Holocaust,” said Mary O’Sullivan, VINE’s education coordinator, “and I think that lesson of resilience is something that’s powerful for all of us.”

The resilience is seen in the portraits, many featuring survivors wearing smiles, wedding rings and other signs of long and fulfilling lives. 

It’s in the smile of Sam Saide, who survived the Auschwitz death camp and built a successful auto parts business. It’s also in the embrace of Max and Manya Sherman, who reunited after liberation and were married for more than 70 years.

For David Sherman, the experience of photographing the survivors provided a sense of holiness. It was something the longtime Twin Cities photographer had wanted to do for years, and he said he felt more urgency to do it as years passed.

Sherman was joined on the project by writer Lili Chester, who wrote the biographies accompanying the photos. They were sponsored by the Minneapolis-based Jewish Community Relations Council, which fights for survivors and provides Holocaust education as part of its mission.

“The first thing we said was, ‘start photographing everybody,’” said Laura Zelle, director of Holocaust education at JCRC. “The writing of this story came next.”

Sherman and JCRC put out a community call for participation during the Jewish High Holidays in 2010 and began photographing survivors that year. The survivors shared a variety of experiences; some survived concentration camps and death marches while others were hidden by Christians or fled before the Nazi invasion. All shared harrowing stories of survival.

“The openness that the survivors had and the relationships we developed were really, really unique,” Sherman said. “It was just really a unique experience, and as I thought about it, it was like, ‘this is what holiness is all about.’”

The exhibit has traveled around the region for about three years and has helped facilitate discussions on tolerance of discrimination and prejudice, Zelle said.

“The beautiful thing of the exhibit is that it has created a life of its own,” Sherman said.

In Mankato the exhibit is part of a series of education events on Judaism and the Holocaust. The North Mankato Taylor Library picked “The Pianist,” the memoir of a Polish, Jewish composer who survived the Holocaust, as its annual community read. The library distributed 500 copies of the book and will hold a discussion about it Thursday.

The library also screened a Holocaust documentary earlier this month. In addition several groups are sponsoring an April 30 presentation by the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. VINE has also organized a trip to Temple Israel, a synagogue in Minneapolis (the trip is sold out).

“People are hungry for learning opportunities about other cultures,” O’Sullivan said.

That appears especially true with “Transfer of Memory,” which is booked through next year. When Sherman first exhibited the portraits, people asked what they were going to do with the portraits after the showing.

“Nobody asks that question any more,” he said, “which to me is the most gratifying thing.”

If you go

n “Transfer of Memory.” An exhibit featuring 39 portraits of Holocaust survivors; 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday; runs through April 30 at VINE Adult Community Center, 421 E. Hickory St., Mankato. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

n Community reads book discussion of “The Pianist,” the story of Holocaust survivor Wladyslaw Szpilman. 7 p.m. Thursday at the North Mankato Police Annex, 1001 Belgrade Ave., North Mankato. Call 345-5120 for more information.

n Presentation by Joni Sussman, daughter of a Holocaust survivor. 7 p.m. April 30 at the North Mankato Police Annex.

n Bus trip, lunch and tour of Temple Israel synagogue in Minneapolis. 2-9:30 p.m. May 8. The trip is sold out. Call Community Education and Recreation at 387-5501 to get on the wait list.

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