White Oak native director of Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh
When Lauren Apter Bairnsfather visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington a few months after it opened, she was intrigued.
“I had such an experience at that museum,” she said. “I read every panel there. That's when I developed a love for museums.”
That visit was in the summer of 1993, after her first year of college, with her aunt and sisters. That sparked her interest in the Holocaust.
Her first introduction to that time in history was in Anna Marie Nucci's history class at McKeesport Area High School. “She brought in a survivor to talk to the class about the Holocaust. I didn't realize it at the time but I guess that sparked my interest.”
On July 1, she began her role as director of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, whose new home is in Squirrel Hill Plaza in the East End. The center, established in 1981 by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, is a living memorial and resource center that reflects the contemporary relevance of the Holocaust and its lessons.
Bairnsfather and her five-member staff are developing the Holocaust Center into a visitor-based site that offers exhibits, events and a variety of education programs.
Before returning to Western Pennsylvania, Bairnsfather worked at the Holocaust center in the nation's capital, the Spertus Museum in Chicago which is a Jewish museum, and the Morton H. Meyerson Family Foundation in Dallas where she was in charge of a project that documented the establishment of Israel between the two World Wars. She gained museum experience in those positions and gained administrative leadership skills while serving as the dean of Liberty Arts at the University of Texas.
She and her husband, Christopher, and three dogs came “home” at the end of June. “It has been so incredible coming back. It's been such an easy transition.”
Except for visits, Bairnsfather has not lived in this area for more than 20 years. “I left for college and have only been back to visit. I have a lot of McKeesport memories. I still want the Tiger clothes. I guess I'm still a Tiger.”
Growing up in White Oak with her parents, Scott and Ruth Apter — her grandparents, Miriam and Nathaniel Apter, lived in White Oak as well — she said she wasn't that familiar with Pittsburgh. “I'm glad I'm getting to know the city now and I'm enjoying it.”
Living in Edgewood, she said it is the perfect location because she's close to her parents and her job.
As an undergraduate, Bairnsfather interned at the center in Washington before attending graduate school. While there, she had the opportunity to meet Holocaust survivors and record their stories.
“I worked in the photo archives and that was very difficult for me,” she said.
The way the Holocaust is taught has changed, she said, noting the current exhibit at Pittsburgh center, “Interviews and Portraits of Survivors.” Interviews with survivors include memories of the Holocaust but focus on life since then. “There are pictures of people smiling and that's not something you expect to see,” she said. “I'm hoping to bring a lot of people here with different events.”
The MASD graduate's return to the area started with the view coming out of the Fort Pitt Tunnel. “I thought about going a different way, but I didn't. I thought we deserved that view of the city.”
Bairnsfather said she has always done things that have interested her. “I go with what I'm interested in and that has led to such interesting experiences. I have been very fortunate and I have a lot of gratitude.”
Carol Waterloo Frazier is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1916, or firstname.lastname@example.org.