• From the Archives

    This past summer, I’ve been working at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center as the resident archivist, organizing the Center’s collection of artifacts and relics from local survivors and their families. That work included describing contents and researching the background events surrounding certain items. I’ve found the experience like no other, and now continue to help organize the archive.

    I learned about the HMTC last year, at the LGBT center in Garden City where I volunteer. Senior Director of Education and Community Affairs, Beth Lilach offered docent training to volunteers for a traveling exhibit there, and we started talking. That’s how I learned about the organization and its archive; I was still in school, and needed experience with an archive -so I signed up.

    Without a family history tied to the Holocaust, my understanding of the period was from high school history classes. It was something I understood as a major part of history, but not something I’d identified with; certainly not something I expected to end up working with. But the HMTC had an archive in need of help, and I was in need of an internship. Plus, it seemed like a good cause, and I thought I could help.

    When you hold a relic in your hands, the events become personal. I’ve held passports that allowed refugees to leave Germany and survive. I’ve held handwritten reference letters from the relatives of refugees, assuring that their loved one will find work if they’re allowed to come to the U.S. These items give the events a more personal gravity I hadn’t met before; it almost made me afraid to touch them, like they’d dissolve in my hands.

    Still, I’m glad I’ve had the chance to help the HMTC better understand their collection. In fact, with the research involved in learning more about some of these artifacts, it’s easy to get carried away. I’ve gotten to learn about some amazing lives and triumphs against this dark historic period.

    For me, one of the most memorable finds was the dog tag of WWII veteran Jim Van Raalte, who helped liberate one of the concentration camps. Visitors will recall letters and other items from Raalte in the museum’s permanent collection. I’m hoping that this item will one day find its place by their side.

    And there’s more to come. In the future, we hope to make artifacts in the Center’s collection more visible to you. Not just here, but in the museum’s collection and during programs too, including the upcoming HMTC tribute to liberators in June, 2014.

    If the Center’s mission is one that connects to you, and one that you want to be a part of, by all means, come in and volunteer. And if you’ve got something unique to offer, a talent or skill set you think could help the center, offer it up.

    Share your comments, and let me know what you think. Any ideas on how to bring these treasures to life?

    Christopher Boire is a Nassau County resident from Baldwin Harbor. He’s just received a Master’s in Library and Information Science from Long Island University, with a BFA from NYU.