By Maria Angelica Troncoso
Rio de Janeiro, Jan 19 (EFE).- “The order was to kill the Jews,” Michael Stivelman, a Holocaust survivor who settled in Brazil after the end of World War II, recalled in sorrowful testimony included as part of a newly inaugurated memorial in Rio de Janeiro to victims of the Nazi genocide.
Now 94, Stivelman escaped one of the “death marches” (mass forced transfers of prisoners from one Nazi camp to other locations) in which Jews died of cold, exhaustion and hunger while walking in long rows under the orders of the German army.
His story is part of the new Memorial to the Victims of the Holocaust, a space inaugurated Thursday that not only pays homage to the Jews but also to other victims of the Nazis, including Gypsies, the physically and mentally disabled, members of the LGBTQ+ community, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Freemasons.
“We want to transmit values, empathy, the importance of coexistence; the importance of being together and respecting one another,” Alberto Klein, president of the Holocaust Memorial Cultural Association, told Efe.
Located in Yitzhak Rabin Park in southern Rio’s Botafogo neighborhood, one half of the memorial consists of an external, above-ground section featuring a 20-meter-tall (65-foot-tall) obelisk that was designed by architect Andre Orioli and looks out onto Sugarloaf Mountain and Guanabara Bay.
That tower is divided into 10 blocks representing the Ten Commandments. The phrase “Thou shalt not kill” is written at the base.
A circular, interactive exhibition area is located below ground and gives visitors a look at life before, during and after the Holocaust through a vast number of images, accompanied by audio recordings.
A digital flame is situated directly below the obelisk, symbolizing life and welcoming people to the exhibition space.
The coordinator of the memorial’s curators’ committee, Alfredo Tolmasquim, said the exhibition space is divided into three modules that show this period of history from the victims’ perspective.
“Life before the Holocaust, because their lives didn’t begin with the Holocaust. They had normal lives, simple or complex; later, we have a module that talks about the period of the Holocaust itself, from the rise of Nazism until the end of World War II; and a third (module) that shows how the (survivors) reconstructed their lives,” he told Efe.
“Our idea isn’t that visitors put themselves in the place of the victims but rather that they” empathize with them, Tolmasquim added.
An estimated 20,000-25,000 Holocaust survivors arrived in Brazil after the end of the war. Of that total, it is believed that around 10,000 settled in Rio de Janeiro, although not all are still living in the city.
Besides Stivelman’s story, visitors to the exhibition space also will learn about Princess Maria Karoline, daughter of Archduchess Karoline Marie of Austria and great-granddaughter of Emperor Pedro II of Brazil, who because of her mental disability was executed by gassing under the Nazi’s eugenics policy.
They also can see exhibits dedicated to Mordechai Anielewicz, leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the largest Jewish insurrection during World War II; and to Lotte Hahm, a lesbian activist in Berlin who survived the Nazi genocide and opened a new lesbian club in that city after the war along with her Jewish partner. EFE