TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — In response to a surge of antisemitic incidents, many people across the country have expressed concern, eventually leading to a task force created by President Biden to combat antisemitism and other forms of bigotry.
“I think the biggest problem is silence,” Alex Kor, son of Holocaust survivors Eva and Mickey Kor, said. “In order for this to go away or get better, you gotta get everybody to come to the table and talk about it. My hope is that Terre Haute, and CANDLES, and the Holocaust community shines a light on this very sad subject and that people continue to do their part and try to educate. Because really, it comes down to education. People can be ignorant, but education will ultimately win out.”
CANDLES Holocaust Museum has been a voice for education and forgiveness not just in Terre Haute, but all over the state and even further since its opening in 1995. After surviving and enduring the Holocaust and encounters with Nazi doctor Josef Mengle with her late twin, Eva Kor became an advocate for a better world. She founded CANDLES to spread awareness and education, working to create a safe space for the Jewish people of Terre Haute and others until her death in 2019.
“Antisemitism is obviously not a new concept. My parents were victims if you will, but my mom didn’t like that term, of antisemitism. And antisemitism does seem to be rearing its ugly head,” Kor said. “I grew up in Terre Haute, Indiana. When I was in the 6th grade, my family house was the object of antisemitism. They drew swastikas on our house. But this can happen anywhere. It’s up to each and every one of us to do our part, recognizing that collectively, collaboratively we can make a difference.”
While some recent headlines showcase ideologies often focusing on antisemitism from popular celebrities, several voices in the local Terre Haute community are speaking out and standing up against discrimination.
“We see that here, in the Wabash Valley, and not just here at CANDLES, but it just seems to me that more and more people are speaking out and saying hateful things and they may not necessarily be antisemitic, but it could be anti-Black, or anti-LGBTQ, it doesn’t matter,” Troy Fears, CANDLES executive director explained. “Whether it be online or in-person or however, it really is a fundamental part of our society that we can’t allow that to happen. That’s a problem that we have as a society, in my opinion, that we’ve allowed social media to kind of take over and be uncontrollable.”
Within the last year and a half, CANDLES has seen five antisemitic incidents toward the museum, Fears said. Between swastika stickers on the door and extremist propaganda littered in the museum parking lot, CANDLES, along with other Jewish-affiliated establishments in the Terre Haute area have experienced a variety of hateful actions towards their establishments, Fears said.
Regardless of the examples of bigotry in the Wabash Valley, the message of supporting education, communication, and acceptance in order to combat antisemitism, or other forms of discrimination, coincides seamlessly among many prominent voices in the Terre Haute community.
“Often history is really uncomfortable but we have to do our best to teach our kids,” Peggy Grabowski, Terre Haute South High School teacher and STAND Club sponsor said.
Having gone to Poland with Eva Kor to visit Auschwitz and learn more about the history of the Holocaust firsthand, Grabowski described how the trip shaped her lessons and inspired her to create a Holocaust Literature class.
“I’ve been teaching about the Holocaust for some time, but that experience really just shaped my experience and how I taught the Holocaust. It really opened my eyes,” Grabowski explained.
Wanting to pass this experience on to her students, Grabowski gave an assignment that eventually led to students wanting to take action in the community and be involved. The STAND club consistently raises money through various projects to donate to multiple non-profits throughout the Wabash Valley.
“It’s just a cool thing that I’m really proud of. There are so many teachable moments for the students, ‘what did we learn from this, how do we deal with this if it’s happening in our own community? How do you address it?’ Be proactive and not just judgmental,” Grabowski said. “We’re always looking for ways to raise awareness. It’s a way for them to do simple things from local to international. It’s a way for students to be more proactive, when you see these things it’s very alarming, but it’s a platform and way for students to be very active, and it allows students to take a role. They’re our future. I’m super proud of my students, I really am.”
Eva Kor was an advocate for forgiveness and education and helped bring those principles to the community. Those who knew her saw her tenacity and willingness to have an open and honest conversation with people.
“About 10-15 years ago, she was planning another trip to Auschwitz, and the president of Iran was saying the Holocaust never occurred. So she sent him a YouTube video of her at CANDLES, pointing at her liberation picture, and saying ‘look president, I know you’re a smart guy, but you see me, I’m a real person and this is where I was at in 1945. I want to invite you to come to Auschwitz with us on our upcoming trip’ and she got a response,” Kor said.
Fears expressed concerned about history repeating, and encouraged people to speak out.
“I do think there is a fire happening in our country right now with extremists and the rise of antisemitic and hateful and bigotry speech, and it is time for us to put out that fire,” Fears said. “We’re seeing the same things happen now that happened 80 years ago as far as propaganda and hateful speech. We all know what happened 80 years ago, and we’re seeing signs of that now, and we obviously do not want that to happen ever again, so we have to come out as a society and say ‘no this isn’t right and this isn’t acceptable.'”