In recognition of its 25th anniversary, the Annenberg Foundation has honored its top 25 Visionary Leaders. The list includes local Holocaust survivor Rachella Meekcoms Kryszek, z”l.
Chella, as she is known to thousands of Oregon students and teachers, was one of the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center’s most prolific public speakers. Over the past three decades, Chella told her personal story of survival to tens of thousands of middle- and high-school students in Oregon and Southwest Washington.
“My family was incredibly touched by the honor bestowed upon our wonderful mother by the Annenberg Foundation,” says Chella’s daughter Yvonne Meekcoms Gionet. “It is a fitting tribute to her memory, her commitment and personal mission to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust be used to help fight against intolerance and hatred. She would be proud. We certainly are.”
The Annenberg Foundation is a family foundation that provides funding to nonprofit organizations, both in the United States and globally. The Visionary Leaders are recognized for their innovation in seeing old problems in new ways to craft true long-term change.
Chella was born in Holland in 1928. Her mother died when she was 5. On her 12th birthday, the Nazis invaded Holland. Chella’s father was arrested and taken to a labor camp, and she and her sister, Flora, were forced into hiding. After some months her father escaped the labor camp, and the family was reunited for a few brief days in a secret safe house before being captured by the SS. Chella and her sister were again separated from their father, whom they would not see again. The sisters were sent to Auschwitz, and together endured two years of brutality, forced labor, starvation and disease. Chella and Flora were liberated at the end of World War II, having survived in large part because of their fierce devotion to each other. Following their liberation they learned that almost all the other 50-plus members of their family – father, aunts, uncles, cousins – had been killed; only their stepmother, an aunt and two cousins survived.
Eventually, after moving to the United States and settling in Portland, Chella decided to speak out, giving her personal account of the Holocaust to classrooms of schoolchildren and other groups. Recounting what happens when prejudice and discrimination are allowed to grow unchecked — and arguing forcefully that none of us can afford to be bystanders when hatred begins to take root — she sought to create a world where the rights and liberties of all people are protected. Chella passed away in May of 2013, but her story of survival is preserved on video and can be viewed online on the OHRC YouTube channel.
More information about the award and the other honorees can be found at annenbergfoundation.org/visionary-leaders.