A broad look at Shoah

The most comprehensive Holocaust exposition ever to appear in the Bay Area will open next month at San Francisco's Herbst International Exhibition Hall.

"Silent Voices Speak," focusing on the Holocaust and contemporary social injustices, will appear in the Presidio exhibition hall from April 1 through May 15.

Sponsored by 89 local organizations, the show will feature an art exhibit, a historical photo exhibit and a 10-part lecture series, all free and open to the public.

"Silent Voices Speak" will provide the best local opportunity to examine "one of the worst atrocities in history," said project director and spokesperson Lani Silver. "On one hand, we'll be studying genocide, hate, racism, murder and honoring the memory of those who died. On the other hand, we'll learn to ask ourselves, 'What can I do to prevent injustice in the future?'"

The Shoah exhibition has three key components contributing to its sweeping magnitude, Silver said.

The first is the German-born, award-winning artist Barbara Shilo's art exhibit "Silent Voices Speak: Remembering the Holocaust." Based on archival photographs from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and her own memories of living in Germany when Hitler came to power, the exhibit combines 14 mixed-media paintings that put a human face on an inhumane event.

"It's a very powerful exhibit," said Silver, formerly director of the Bay Area Oral History Project. "It will educate people and allow them to mourn."

The second is a historical photographic exhibit called "Visas For Life: The Righteous Diplomats," which shares the personal stories of 100 of the Holocaust's unsung heroes. In that display, curator Eric Saul documents and honors diplomats who collectively rescued 250,000 Jews and other refugees from certain death.

"These are people who took a moral stand at the expense of their own lives," Silver said. "To see these heroic people will be very exciting."

This will be the first time Saul's exhibit will be presented in the Bay Area in its entirety, although parts of it were shown before.

The third is a 10-part lecture series that will focus on both the Holocaust and on social injustices of today. It will feature many prominent speakers, including Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt, 1996 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jose Ramos, actor Edward Asner, author and human rights activist Harry Wu, and former U.S. government adviser Daniel Ellsberg, who released the "Pentagon Papers" during the Vietnam War.

"The lecture series will be a living example of people who made a difference and changed the world," said Silver. "Extraordinarily, every single speaker I called said that they would be here."

Lectures topics include "The Other Victims of the Holocaust: Lesbians and Gay Men, Sinti and Roma, Disabled, Dissidents and Others," "Childhood in the Holocaust," "Confronting Genocide in Today's World," "Making the Links: Anti-Semitism, Racism and Hate Crimes."

Two receptions at the exhibition site, both free and open to the public, will kick off the art exhibition and lectures.

The first — to be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 1 — will feature Shilo, Saul and the children of diplomats who aided Holocaust rescue efforts.

The second, put on by the Swiss Consul Roland Quillet, will be held in honor of the Righteous Diplomat Carl Lutz at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 4.

Docent tours, during which survivors will share their stories, are available by reservation.

Although the exhibition has yet to open, Bay Area schools have already committed to more than 40 field trips for 2,500 kids. Silver said this is a sign that the Bay Area is ripe for an exhibition like "Silent Voices Speak."

"It doesn't take a lot of courage to fight social injustice — it just takes a good heart and an intention," added Silver. "People will come out and see Barbara's wonderful paintings, hear Eric Saul's stories and meet the survivors and speakers and I guarantee there will be more compassion in the world."