Photo: Les Aigner, Rama Yousef and Rudwan Dawod share their stories as part of “To Bear Witness – Extraordinary Lives.” Photo courtesy OJMCHE.
The exhibition “To Bear Witness – Extraordinary Lives” is a partnership between the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education and The Immigrant Story, in collaboration with Jim Lommasson and NW Documentary and presents a multimedia exhibition focused on the lives of 14 refugees who rebuilt their lives in Oregon.
“To Bear Witness – Extraordinary Lives” features photographs, profiles and short films that capture the stories of individuals who left their homelands for safe haven in Oregon. These brave men and women, born in places as far-flung as Austria, Bosnia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Germany, Hungary, Rwanda, Sudan, Syria and Tibet, witnessed the atrocities of war, genocide, and the Holocaust. Each profile reveals the resilience of the survivor and the generosity of the many who provided assistance along the way. The exhibition will run Dec. 12, 2021 through May 15, 2022.
To Bear Witness takes its name from the words of the late Nobel Prize-winning writer, activist, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who emphatically proclaimed, “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” In this spirit, the exhibition features stories of survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, genocides in Europe, Africa, and Asia, and unimaginable atrocities of war. Each profile is a portrait of courage and human resilience.
“In today’s politically charged environment, the subject of immigration can make for a controversial museum exhibition. The topic brings to mind questions related to nationality, globalization, and identity, not to mention that in many parts of the world, exiles, refugees, and other migrants find themselves forging new lives due to the delayed effects of colonialism,” notes Judy Margles, OJMCHE’s Director. “The quietly poignant voices in the exhibition ultimately humanize the larger themes of assimilation and acculturation; citizenship and belonging; values and social differences. I am enormously grateful to Sankar Raman and Jim Lommasson for working with us to tell these instructive stories.”
Founded in 2017 by Sankar Raman, who immigrated to the U.S. from India, The Immigrant Story is a volunteer-run nonprofit with a mission to foster empathy and build a more inclusive community by sharing stories of immigrants and refugees who often overcame tremendous odds to reach the United States. Sankar, who has experienced violent, racially-motivated attacks, founded The Immigrant Story in response to a Kansas shooting in February 2017 that killed one Indian American man and injured two others.
“To know that maybe even some of our own neighbors have survived through humanity’s worst crises and yet are now living a peaceful and purposeful life – this gives us hope at a time when we all need it the most,” said Sankar Raman.
The Immigrant Story has collaborated with Portland photographer Jim Lommasson, building upon his project, “Stories of Survival,” originally produced in collaboration with the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center. His work focuses on objects survivors were able to carry with them on their perilous journeys. From his photographs of the objects, the participants respond with handwritten testimonies — stories, memories, poems, drawings. Their stories speak to the luminous inner life of these ordinary things and testify to the unspeakable anguish of lives forever left behind.
Also on display are five short docu-series films created by video producers in collaboration with NW Documentary. These personal stories focus on the individual humanity of genocide survivors.