As many people know, I’ll be leaving my post at the ISJL next week to pursue a Ph.D. in American Studies. The last four years have been amazing for me, personally, professionally and academically, and I know I’m going to miss the city of Jackson and the ISJL office.
My last big project here has been a series of three short videos about Jewish life in Ashland, Kentucky, which were commissioned by the Kaplan Simons Family Foundation. I’m proud and excited to share these videos today:
Huge thanks to all of the participants, the families who shared photographs with me and especially the Boyd County Public Library, where many of the interviews were conducted.
Last month, I had the pleasure of visiting Ashland, Kentucky, to conduct a series of oral history interviews. The trip was funded by the Kaplan-Simons Family Foundation, which was started by the owners of Star’s Fashion World, once a leader among the retail businesses of downtown Ashland.
I was lucky to sit down with Jerry Mansbach for a short interview on the last day of my trip. Mansbach’s father, Joe, founded a very successful scrap metal business in Ashland and became a major supporter of the town’s small traditional shul. Jerry talks here about his family’s story and his father’s success.
More videos from the trip will be available soon on the Ashland, Kentucky, page of our Online Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities. You can also hear a short radio interview that I did about the project.
Today is Yom HaShoah, and while the atrocities committed by the Nazis and their collaborators may seem very distant from today’s American South, many Jewish people in the region have direct connections to the Holocaust.
In the oral history collection, we have interviews with survivors like Mira Kimmelman, who speaks here about settling in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, years after the war:
We also have the story of Meyer and Manya Kornblit, who survived the war and built a life in Ponca City, Oklahoma. Video from an interview with their son Michael was featured on this blog in November.
Our oral history collection also includes an interview with Nathan Swerdlow, of Beaumont, Texas, who was among the first American Soldiers inside Mauthausen concentration camp. Swerdlow, originally from Wisconsin, spoke enough Yiddish to let the prisoners know that the war had ended and that he was an American soldier. For years, he spoke at schools and churches around southeast Texas, educating younger generations about the Holocaust.
These individuals have made a point of sharing their (and their families’) stories, even though it is often a difficult experience. As World War II and the Holocaust recede from living memory, it becomes all the more important to listen to those among us who lived through those events and to find new ways of keeping their memories alive for future generations.
We hope that you have a meaningful day of remembrance, in whatever way you see fit.