‘Putting people’s lives at the forefront’: Northwestern hosts Holocaust Remembrance Day event


Daily file photo by Binah Schatsky

The Hillel building. Hillel hosted a Holocaust Remembrance Day event in collaboration with SESP Prof. Danny M. Cohen.

Madeleine Stern, Reporter

Content warning: This article contains mentions of genocide.

Northwestern Hillel collaborated with SESP Prof. Danny M. Cohen to host a Holocaust Remembrance Day celebration of survivor Ava Kadishson Schieber’s life and artwork April 17. 

More than 60 Evanston and Chicago residents, NU students, Holocaust educators and other guests — including Schieber’s two great-granddaughters — attended to reflect on their memories of her.

“It made me so happy to see such an amazing turnout and people that are listening that are then going to turn around, tell the story themselves and pass that on,” Schieber’s grandchild Jonathan Kadishson said.

Schieber, who died last year, visited NU multiple times to share her story of separating from her family in 1941 at 15 years old, escaping Nazi deportation and isolating on a Serbian farm for four years, while pretending to be Deaf and mute. 

The Nazi regime killed about six million Jews and millions of others during the Holocaust. Schieber dedicated part of her life to sharing her story of survival. 

“Sometimes we really struggle to remember millions and millions and millions of people,” Cohen said. “Those numbers are so hard to wrap our heads around, but when we do focus on one person, we suddenly make the memory of the Holocaust completely real.”

Jewish studies professor emerita Phyllis Lassner said Schieber spent time hiding in a chicken coop and referred to chickens as “friends,” an experience that contributed to Schieber’s choice to become a vegetarian.

Ben Kadishson, son of Schieber, said she was a great mom — sewing Purim costumes, letting her three children draw on the walls and teaching them how to paint over the walls, too. 

He said his mother taught him to view the world in proportion.

“We learn. We may not call it learning, or message or even takeaway,” Ben Kadishson said. “(But) it gets absorbed, and sometime — months, a year, a decade later — it will come up in some way unbeknown at the moment.”

Schieber showed him how to understand different perspectives and how they shape individuals and influence thought, he added.

Chicago middle school teacher Brandon Barr said he knew Schieber for about 14 years. She visited his classes to explore the Holocaust with students through meaningful connections and conversations, Barr said. 

“That is at the heart of what good Holocaust education looks like,” he said. “It’s having that story that is a gateway to the larger narrative.”

Barr said natural curiosity drove his students to ask Schieber questions, and she in turn was “gracious” in sharing her story.

A lifelong artist, Schieber exhibited her work in the U.S. and published two books: “Soundless Roar: Stories, Poems, and Drawings,” which shares memories of her loved ones who died during the Holocaust, and “Present Past,” which illustrates her resilience as a survivor.

Attendees last week spent time discussing Schieber’s work and viewing a gallery of her poetry and art.

“I think the power of her art is something that we all can continue to learn from,” said Denise Gelb, Chicago program director of Facing History and Ourselves.

Weinberg sophomore Andrew Kupfer, who attended the event, said learning about the Holocaust is “crucial” to create a fuller picture of human history. 

“We can’t understand it without these individual stories — without putting people’s lives at the forefront of what happened,” Kupfer said.

Attendees left with words from Schieber’s 2002 poem “Farewell”: “leaving traces that glimmer dimmer / after the shine has gone.”  

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