November 17, 2018

LAMOTH expands Memoir Project with call for more

Gary Steinberg, son of a Holocaust survivor, recently donated to the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) signed copies of his father’s memoir.

Steinberg’s father, Manny, died this year at the age of 90, shortly after completing a memoir that had sat, unfinished, in a box for all of Steinberg’s childhood.

So the question that interests Samara Hutman, LAMOTH executive director, is how many more memoirs and manuscripts written by Los Angeles Holocaust survivors continue to sit in boxes, collecting dust?

And on May 1, at the museum’s annual Yom HaShoah commemoration, Hutman plans to announce the museum’s expansion of the Remember Us Memoir Project, which connects high school and college students across Los Angeles with specific memoirs and Holocaust narratives, giving the students an opportunity to personally identify with individual survivors. As part of the project, students meet with the authors or, if they are no longer living, they meet with the survivors’ relatives.

“I know there are many, many more boxes of incomplete manuscripts in closets and garages and storage areas around Los Angeles that risk invisibility if they are not preserved and archived,” Hutman said in an interview.

To expand its Remember Us collection, LAMOTH is inviting donations of Holocaust memoirs from survivors and their families. She said the museum currently has between 75 and 100 memoirs but wants to collect hundreds more.

“Every day, somebody is cleaning out their garage and giving books away, and those precious gems are possibly being given to stores and maybe even meeting worse ends,” Hutman said.

The expansion of the project already has gotten seed funding of $20,000 from LAMOTH board member and Holocaust survivor David Wiener, whose memoir, “Nothing to Lose But My Life,” is currently used in the Remember Us curriculum by students at Milken Community High School and at Loyola Marymount University.

The funds will be used for staffing and for materials needed to archive new memoirs and manuscripts, including shelving, cataloguing and digitizing. The current collection can be seen in the museum’s atrium, and the expanded collection will be accessible in the museum’s library and archives. Portions will also be shown on rotation in the museum’s bookstore and memoir library.

Hutman said LAMOTH will accept self-published books in any condition and any quantity, including manuscripts (partial and completed), notes and documents written by survivors and immediate family members with connections to Los Angeles. She added that the museum hopes ultimately to digitize its entire memoir collection, with the permission of the authors, families or other copyright holders. And for memoirs penned in a language other than English, and those that need further editing, Hutman said LAMOTH will work with translators and editors to “capture the essential soul and ineffable voice of the author.”

Dana Schwartz, a Holocaust survivor from Lvov, Poland, who lives in Beverly Hills and is on LAMOTH’s Survivor Advisory Board, said she remembers first realizing the scope of personally written Holocaust memoirs in the early 1980s, when she attended meetings of local Jewish child survivors of the Holocaust.

She said one of the women in the group gathered up as many personal writings as she could and put them into a spiral notebook to show to the other group members. 

“Many in that community began writing about their experiences,” Schwartz said. “Amazing memories in poetry and stories. It led many to publish or self publish books.”

Schwartz was struck by how much material from Holocaust survivors remains unknown to the outside world, and she hopes that LAMOTH’s expansion of Remember Us will help bring some of those manuscripts out of storage.

“Many of the books were passed among friends and later discarded by future generations, or given to libraries. I have personally seen many of these discarded books in bins to be rummaged through. Many which had a small printing are disappearing,” Schwartz said. “We, the survivors, have many which will hopefully find a home.”

On May 1, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust Yom HaShoah commemoration will be held in Pan Pacific Park at 2 p.m. The museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will have tables with staff and volunteers who can answer questions about the memoir expansion and be able to accept memoir donations.