IHE Week of Understanding



Each year a highlight of the Institute for Holocaust Education calendar is our annual Week of Understanding. Between March 20th and 25th, the IHE has arranged more than 20 speaking engagements that will reach some 7,000 Nebraska students. Some of these engagements will take place with local Holocaust survivors, such as Dr. Fred Kader along with second generation speakerss Hazzan Michael Krausman and Dr. Steven Wees. This year we are also joined by a new member of our survivor community, Dana Knox, who will share her mother’s unique story of survival. To learn more about these and other local survivors, you can check out the “Survivor Stories” section on the IHE website.

We are also honored to welcome Holocaust survivors and other speakers who have agreed to travel to Omaha especially for the Week of Understanding program. The guests who will be joining us in 2023 are profiled below.

The public is invited to share in these moving testimonies, through two evening engagements:

 Jim Berk, 2nd Generation Holocaust Survivor, March 22,  6:30 p.m. at the Durham Museum

To register for this presentation by Zoom, please visit the Durham Museum’s website. Presented by the Durham Museum and the Institute for Holocaust Education

Melissa Amateis, UNL Graduate Student, March 23, 7 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center in the Benjamin and Anna E. Wiesman Family Reception Room

Born and raised in the Nebraska panhandle, Melissa A. Amateis earned her BA in history at Chadron State College in 1997 and her MA in history from UNL in 2004. She is the author of two nonfiction books: Nebraska POW Camps: A History of WWII Prisoners in the Heartland and WWII Nebraska. Her historical fiction novel, The Stranger from Berlin, was published by Simon & Schuster UK in 2021. Her PhD work at UNL has centered on native fascism and antisemitism in America during the interwar period. She is currently the journals editorial assistant at UNL’s Center for Great Plains Studies and lives in Lincoln.

She will be speaking on – Charles B. Hudson, the Nebraska Nazi: Native Fascism and Antisemitism in Interwar America – Before America entered World War II, Omaha resident Charles B. Hudson published a virulently antisemitic, fascist newsletter called America in Danger. 202

Through Hudson’s writings and life, we can see how he was emblematic of the right-wing movement of interwar America, one that advocated anti-Communism, Christian nationalism, antisemitism, and isolationism.

Meet our guests:

Jim Berk

Jim will be sharing the testimony and story of his mother, Ilona Dorenter Berk who was a remarkable woman. Tough, smart, resilient. She used all of those qualities, including some miracles, to survive the horror of 5 Nazi concentration camps. She eventually settled in Lincoln and carved out a brilliant dress making career. Her son, Jim is a former tv & radio sportscaster now living in the Detroit area, tells her remarkable story in a poignant, powerful presentation.

Sarah Kutler

Sarah is our first 3G speaker. She is the granddaughter of Beatrice Karp of blessed memory. Beatrice was born in 1932 in Lauterbach, Germany. She was 6-years-old when the Nazis took power. She survived the Gurs and Rivesaltes concentration camps, along with her younger sister. With the encouragement of her late husband Robert Pappenheimer, Bea went on to share her story with thousands of children and adults in order to remember the millions of innocent lives that were murdered, including her parents.

Beatrice died in early March of 2019. Being able to continue to tell her story truly brings a blessing to her memory and legacy.

Beatrice’s youngest grandchild, Sarah Kutler, is a student at the Case Western Reserve University’s Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, working on her master’s in social work. She aims to be a counselor for trauma survivors, specifically survivors of sexual assault. While Sarah is learning how to keep her grandmother’s story alive, she takes a social justice perspective on how everyday individuals can engage in introspection, empathy, and social justice to ensure that a tragedy like the Holocaust will never happen again.

Peter Metzelaar

Peter was born in Amsterdam in 1935. In 1942, when Peter was 7, the Nazis seized Peter’s entire family except for Peter and his mother. Peter’s mother contacted the Dutch Underground for help. The Underground found Klaas and Roefina Post who agreed to shelter Peter and his mother on their small farm in northern Holland, putting their own lives at risk. For two years they lived with the Posts, until it became too dangerous and they found another hiding place with two women in The Hague. Peter, his mother, and his aunt were the only survivors of his family. Klaas and Roefina Post have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.

After the war, Peter and his mother immigrated to the United States in 1949, arriving in New York. Peter was 13 and didn’t speak any English, but was placed in the 8th grade. Peter had a long career as a radiology technologist. He and his wife raised two children in California and moved to Seattle in 1997. Peter continues to be an active member of the Holocaust Center for Humanity’s Speakers Bureau.

Rose Viny

Rose was born and raised in Omaha and is the daughter of Holocaust survivors Bluma and Joe Polonski. Her father Joe who was one of only 700 survivors of Treblinka and one of only 3 survivors who escaped from the death camp. Rose will be showing the movie, Escape from Treblinka: The Joseph Polonski Story, at each of her talks and will be sharing her message of Never Again! The film chronicles the life of Joseph Polonski from his childhood in Silvaki, Poland, to the Jewish ghetto, and ultimately to Treblinka. His wit and luck allowed him to become one of just two known escapees from Treblinka. After his escape, he served as an officer in the resistance, fighting Nazis until the liberation and eventually immigrated to the United States in 1949.

The Week of Understanding is an effort to maximize the opportunity for Nebraskans to hear from Holocaust survivors and liberators while these eye-witnesses are still among us. The program is made possible by generous support from The Jewish Federation of Omaha, the Institute for Holocaust Education, the Omaha Public Schools Foundation, and the Shirley and Leonard Goldstein Supporting Foundation (of the JFOF).


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The U.S. and the Holocaust

The U.S. and the Holocaust

A new documentary by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein

Premieres September 18 at 8/7c

The U.S. and the Holocaust is a three-part, six hour series that examines America’s response to one of the greatest humanitarian crises of the twentieth century. Americans consider themselves a “nation of immigrants,” but as the catastrophe of the Holocaust unfolded in Europe, the United States proved unwilling to open its doors to more than a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of desperate people seeking refuge. Through riveting firsthand testimony of witnesses and survivors who as children endured persecution, violence and flight as their families tried to escape Hitler, this series delves deeply into the tragic human consequences of public indifference, bureaucratic red tape and restrictive quota laws in America. Did the nation fail to live up to its ideals? This is a history to be reckoned with.

Online Resources

Learn more about how to watch the documentary HERE

For the Classroom (PBS) use the following link HERE

  • Media Gallery (9), Video (12) for Grades 6-8, 9-12


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‘It’s a scary world out there’: Women share stories of pain, resilience in face of anti-Semitism

‘It’s a scary world out there’: Women share stories of pain, resilience in face of anti-Semitism

Two women shared an Omaha stage Tuesday to talk about how to light the darkness.

One was an Emmy-winning journalist, the daughter of Greek immigrants whose grandmother was part of a tiny Greek island community that heroically hid a Jewish family from Nazis searching door to door for them during World War II. The Nazis threatened to burn down the island. No one told. The Jewish family survived.

Yvette Manessis Corporon wrote a book about the story, which she first heard around her kitchen table as a child from her grandmother. “Something Beautiful Happened” was published in 2017.

Seated next to her at a luncheon put on by the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Federation and Institute for Holocaust Education was Mindy Corporon. Her 14-year-old son, Reat, and father, William, were gunned down by a white supremacist outside a Kansas City-area Jewish Community Center.

Mindy had happened upon the grisly scene, which occurred on a brisk, sunny Palm Sunday in 2014. She remembers seeing her father’s body perpendicular to his truck in the parking lot. She remembers screaming, “What happened?”

The two women happen to be related; Yvette is married to Mindy’s cousin.

“I thought you said the Nazis were gone,” Yvette’s 9-year-old son, Nico, said when news of the Kansas shooting reached their home in New York.

Yvette folded that story into her book. Mindy, who until then had been CEO of a wealth management firm, found a way to cope through the loss by starting an interfaith foundation called Faith Always Wins. The family is Christian.

The fact that victims of an anti-Semitic attack were not themselves Jewish is significant, said Pam Monsky of the Anti-Defamation League.

“For us, that’s the message we want to drive home. Anti-Semitism isn’t a Jewish problem,” said Monsky, community development liaison for the ADL’s Plains states region, which covers Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas and is based in Omaha. “It’s a scary world out there.”

Two years ago, a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue killed 11 people and wounded six, the worst attack ever on Jews in the United States. Such incidents of anti-Semitism prompted an unusual press request from Monsky in the weeks leading up to this lunch event, held at Champion’s Club in northwest Omaha. She didn’t want advance publicity.

An Omaha police officer provided security for Tuesday’s event.

In the 2014 Overland Park shootings, a 73-year-old Klansman and neo-Nazi killed three people total. Dr. William Corporan, 69, and Reat, who had come to the Jewish Community Center for a singing tryout, were shot inside Corporan’s truck in the parking lot. A third person, occupational therapist Terri LaManno, was killed in the parking lot of a Jewish retirement community about a mile away. LaManno was also a Christian.

The shooter also had fired on others at the two places. He was convicted and sentenced to death.

It can be easy to get lost in the darkness of evil and tragedy. Tuesday’s speakers reminded the audience of 300 — which drew from Omaha’s Jewish and Greek communities — that it’s important to follow those who offer light through their moral courage and strength.

Those light-givers can be the courageous, like the people of Erikousa, an island near Corfu, Greece, who hid a tailor’s family at great risk. Yvette described the island as remote, difficult to get to and a symbol of “how bloodthirsty” the Nazis were. They knew a Jewish family from Corfu had escaped their roundup, and they were on the hunt.

“My father remembers the sound of Nazi boots outside the door,” Yvette said. “He remembers them in our home, ransacking, searching for Jews, saying, ‘Where are the Jews?’ They did this from house to house to house, and these poor, uneducated people with nothing to their names except, you know, a garden and a bunch of chickens … kept the secret. Everyone. They had nothing to gain and everything to lose. Despite that, the simplest, humblest, most impoverished, uneducated people in the world all banded together to save this family.”

The bearers of light also include the suffering, people like Mindy who have experienced tremendous loss and still get up to serve others.

“Our world just collapsed,” she recalled.

And yet, hours after she lost her father and son, she went to a school vigil in an attempt to console youngsters trying to make sense of it.

The givers of light can also be those who bear witness to pain and beauty and take those stories of surviving and thriving to the world.


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