Rio Holocaust Memorial commemorates Jewish victims – and others

Rio Holocaust Memorial commemorates Jewish victims – and others

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Rio de Janeiro on Thursday opened the doors to a Holocaust memorial that honors not only Jewish victims but also lesser-known groups who were also persecuted by the Nazi regime.

Perched on one of Rio’s sculpted hills overlooking Sugar Loaf Mountain and Guanabara Bay, the curators hope the monument will become a place of pilgrimage for a diverse audience.

“National Socialism is not just a story of harassed Jews. They were the main target, but others suffered too,” said Sofia Levy, member of the curatorial team. “The message is: never think it’s none of your business.”

The main exhibition is a journey through a tunnel behind the central hall depicting the lives of the victims before, during and after the Holocaust.

The first section contains colorized photos of birthdays, traditions, and the daily lives of soon-to-be victims. One picture shows Hilarius Gilges, a black German actor and tap dancer who was a communist. A table shows the names of the groups persecuted by the Nazis: Artists, Anarchists, Freemasons, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gays and the Disabled. It also specifies the various Jewish groups being targeted, such as Hasidic and Sephardic Jews.

From there, visitors to the memorial reached the second section on Thursday and were suddenly bathed in sepia-colored light. Below black-and-white photos with text from the Nuremberg Laws that made Jews legally inferior, runs a railway depicting the deportation trains, Hitler Youth members, and a man holding a sign calling for a boycott of Jewish businesses. Graphic images of concentration camps and paper-thin corpses do not appear; Instead, visitors can visually put themselves in the victims’ shoes by standing on footprints to hear recordings of Holocaust victims’ accounts.

Life takes on color again in the final part – for those lucky enough to have escaped the terror. Videos from family archives show births, celebrations and other scenes from life. And an interactive screen contains a database of information and photos from those who have made a new life in Brazil.

Jorge Tredler, 83, leaned across the table and looked at his mother, father and sister. Her family fled Poland and spent years crossing the Soviet Union, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan and other nations before finally reaching Brazil in 1951.

“I feel very emotional, it takes me back in time,” Tredler said. “This place commemorates one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century, so people know about it and there will never be another Holocaust.”

The memorial is Brazil’s third Holocaust-focused institution to be dedicated in just over a decade, following a museum in the southern city of Curitiba and another memorial in Sao Paulo. Levy said the idea was born three decades ago, but work only got underway with a municipal ordinance passed in January 2018 allowing for its creation.

That same month, far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro was sworn into office. He was an outspoken advocate of the Christian faith and conservative values. Many human rights groups have blamed his fiery rhetoric for the recent surge in cases of people promoting Nazism and hate crimes against members of the LGBT community.

“The years when Bolsonaro was in power led to the emergence of extremists with a greater intolerance of difference,” said Fernando Lottenberg, a Brazilian Jew who is the Organization of American States’ commissioner for monitoring and combating antisemitism. “Like (former US President Donald) Trump, he has created an atmosphere conducive to the expression of this type of behavior.”

Brazil has more than a dozen neo-Nazi groups with between 2,000 and 3,000 organized activists, according to Brazilian nonprofit SaferNet, which files complaints about social media intolerance via a hotline with the Attorney General’s Office.

According to the most recent census by the national statistics agency IGBE, Brazil’s Jewish population was around 107,000 in 2010. Many of them are descendants of people who fled rampant anti-Semitism in Europe in the 20th century. And 14 million Brazilians were identified as black in 2010, while 83 million were identified as mixed race.

“A developed society is pluralistic and diverse,” said Alberto Klein, President of the Holocaust Memorial Cultural Association.

AP video journalist Pedro Varela contributed.

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