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Holocaust Center's grand opening celebrates permanent home in Greenfield

| Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015, 10:20 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Holocaust survivor Solange Lebovitz (left), 85, looks to fellow survivor Manuel Kolski (right), 101, as he touches the face of Amy-Diana Colin, a professor of European and Jewish literature and daughter of Holocaust survivors, during their conversation at the opening event of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh's new public space in Greenfield on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015. Lebovitz, born in France, and Kolski, born in Poland, both share their stories and photos as part of the center's first multimedia and photographic exhibit honoring the region's Holocaust survivors, 'In Celebration of Life: Living Legacy Project.' All three pictured live in Squirrel Hill.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
People walk among photos of area Holocaust survivors as they view the first exhibit in the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh's new public space in Greenfield on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015. 'In Celebration of Life: Living Legacy Project' shares the stories of area survivors, many of whom were on hand to celebrate the opening together.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Photos of area Holocaust survivors are displayed above their stories of the times at the first exhibit in the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh's new public space in Greenfield on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015. 'In Celebration of Life: Living Legacy Project' shares the stories of area survivors, many of whom were on hand to celebrate the opening together.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Fritz Ottenheimer (left sitting), 90, of Oakland, talks to the Bernstein family as they show him his photo in the program for the evening's opening event at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh's new public space in Greenfield on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015. Ottenheimer was born in Constance, Germany, and his story and photo are on display as part of the center's first multimedia and photographic exhibit honoring the region's Holocaust survivors, 'In Celebration of Life: Living Legacy Project.' Talking to him from center left, Kara Bernstein of Squirrel Hill with her children Noah, 6, and Abigail, 8.

Harry Schneider was 2 years old when World War II began.

When his father, who was in the Polish army, saw all the atrocities the Nazis were committing against Jews, he fled with his family to Russia.

Once they made it there, his father was drafted into the Russian army, and Schneider, his sister and his mother were put on a train to Siberia, where it was bitter cold and there often wasn't much to eat.

When the family returned to Poland after the war, they found that their house had been destroyed and the rest of their relatives had been executed.

“But somehow we survived,” said Schneider, now 78.

His story is one of several that make up the main exhibit at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, which celebrated the grand opening of its location in Greenfield on Sunday.

“There's room here now to tell everybody's story,” Schneider said.

The center has been around since 1981, but it has always depended on other organizations to provide storage, administrative and exhibition space. Until recently, it was based out of temporary offices donated by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh in Oakland, unpacking only a couple of artifacts at a time when they were needed for educational programs.

But now the center has a permanent home in Squirrel Hill Plaza on Hazelwood Avenue, complete with classroom and research space, as well as enough room for all of its artifacts, exhibits and a quiet reflection area for visitors.

The Holocaust Center can host school trips, film screenings and lecture series in its own space, said Lauren Bairnsfather, who took over as director of the center in July.

“It means that we can do much more than we've done before,” she said.

The front room of the new space is occupied by the center's “In Celebration of Life” exhibit, which features the photographs and stories of the Holocaust survivors in the Pittsburgh area.

There are more than 50 survivors in the area, Bairnsfather said, and the center is working on documenting their tales.

Shulamit Bastacky, 74, is one of them.

She was born during the war in a region of Poland that now is part of Lithuania. She was a “hidden child,” whose identity was concealed from the Nazis by a Roman Catholic nun, she said.

Bastacky frequently speaks at schools and for various organizations about her experience.

“But there are few of us that are still able to do that,” she said.

The center's new space and living history exhibit will help record the knowledge of the local Holocaust survivors and honor the memory of the Jews who were killed, she said.

The new location is “beautiful,” said Schneider, who along with Bastacky and other local survivors, had a front-row seat for the dedication ceremony.

“You have to tell the stories so people understand what happened,” he said. “And so hopefully, it doesn't happen again.”

Elizabeth Behrman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7886 or lbehrman@tribweb.com.

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