Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Church hosts Holocaust exhibit

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For a month of Sundays, Rev. Robert Campbell will be happy to see visitors to his stately Winnipeg church bypass the morning worship service and take a look around a back room instead.

Campbell and the congregation at Westminster United Church are hosting a month-long exhibit commemorating former inmates of a Nazi concentration camp in a small chapel at the west end of their building at the corner of Maryland Street and Westminster Avenue.

"Because not everyone coming to the exhibit is a Christian, Sunday may be the most appropriate time to see that," he says of the exhibit, open daily from March 18 to April 15, including Sundays.

Westminster is the first Canadian church and second Canadian venue to display the 27 banners of the Names Instead of Numbers travelling exhibit. The banners were unveiled four years ago at the Protestant Church of Reconciliation, located at the memorial site at the former Dachau concentration camp near Munich, Germany.

The two-metre high fabric banners tell the stories of 22 former inmates of the Dachau camp, opened by the Nazis in 1933, to help viewers understand the human cost of the Holocaust, explains Belle Millo, who is co-ordinating the Winnipeg stop of the exhibit.

"It's not your typical Holocaust exhibit that would focus on pictures that would be frightening," explains Millo, chair of the Freeman Family Foundation Holocaust Education Centre.

The holocaust education centre, located in the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada at 123 Doncaster St., already has a permanent exhibit in place and can't accommodate this one as well.

The banners feature portraits, family photographs and archival material, detailing the lives of 22 European men who passed through Dachau. Some perished there, and others survived and their lives after the Second World War are documented on the banners.

Millo says these banners underline the fact that people of various faiths and political persuasions were targeted by the Nazis.

"I think one of the unique features of this exhibit is that in this particular camp, the victims are of many faiths," she says, referring to how the Germans sent political prisoners, communists, trade unionists and Romas to Dachau before the war.

"It's so unique that the prisoners came from many different backgrounds."

At least two of the men were Roman Catholic priests and others were members of the Dutch or French resistance.

The other remarkable aspect of the exhibit is how it was researched and prepared by German high school students and other volunteers, says a German history professor at Carleton University, where the exhibit was on display until Friday.

Jennifer Evans says the students chose family members or neighbours to study as part of the Dachau Remembrance Book project, which consists of more than 100 biographies. Volunteers are continually adding biographies, including that of Toronto Rabbi Erwin Schild, 92, imprisoned briefly at Dachau in 1938.

"I think as Canadians we don't appreciate the burden of living with this past and tackling it every day in terms of remembrance and saying 'never again,' " Evans says of the message of the exhibit, which hung in the hallway of the history department at Carleton.

"This exhibit shows that there's always memory work to be done and it never goes away."

For people of faith, remembering also includes the imperative to love our neighbours and valuing differences among us, says James Christie, theology professor at the University of Winnipeg, who facilitated the connection between Millo and Westminster United Church.

"We should never take too casually the human capacity to demonize each other and slaughter each other," says Christie, director of the university's Ridd Institute for Religion and Global Policy, which contributed funds to mount the exhibit.

"It's important to love your neighbour and this allows us to read the names and faces of our neighbours."

Regarding people of other faith traditions cautious about entering a Christian church, Campbell says all Christian symbols in the small chapel at the rear of the building will be covered to allow the exhibit to speak for itself.

Visitors will be greeted at the church door by volunteers and directed to the chapel.

Millo expects the faces and names on the banners will provoke questions about the Holocaust, and maybe a little discussion about why it is important to understand other people's faiths and traditions.

"There could even be interfaith dialogue among the volunteers because sometimes we could have docents from both communities," she says, referring to the large contingent of volunteers from Westminster and the Jewish community.

For Campbell, hosting the exhibit also reaches back to a bit of the congregation's history. During the Second World War, Rev. Ernest M. Howse, then minister of Westminster, lobbied the Canadian government to resettle Europeans Jews displaced by the war.

"At a time when Canadian society was not sympathetic to the plight of Jews, Howse certainly stood against that," Campbell says.

Names Instead of Numbers runs March 18 to April 15 in the chapel of Westminster United Church, 745 Westminster Ave. Hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays. Admission is free.

The exhibit is based on the Dachau Remembrance Book Project, a collection of biographies of former concentration camp inmates researched and written by volunteers. For more information, visit the website of the international travelling exhibit at english/index-engl.html

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 12, 2012 J13


Updated on Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 11:18 AM CDT: Adds better picture, adds fact box

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