Lena Gilbert does not want her parents’ memories to be forgotten.
Ann and Fred Gilbert were Holocaust survivors. Polish Jews who emigrated to Cedar Rapids after World War II, they lost their parents, siblings, aunts and uncles. The Gilberts, who met as the Dachau Concentration Camp was being liberated in 1945, spent decades telling their stories in Cedar Rapids and later in the Los Angeles area, where they retired before eventually moving back to Cedar Rapids.
But now they are gone - Ann Gilbert passed away in Dec. 2008, and her husband died a few months later. There are fewer and fewer members of their generation left to remind the world of the Holocaust’s horrors and lessons.
That’s why Lena Gilbert and other directors of the Thaler Holocaust Memorial Fund are working to preserve those stories online. The fund recently launched holocausteducate.org to collect stories from Linn County residents impacted by the Holocaust. They hope an online presence can help reach younger generations as the impact of hearing directly from witnesses and survivors becomes more and more rare.
“Before my mom passed away, she asked me if I would tell their story, and so I am,” Lena Gilbert said.
The fund, founded in 1995 by David and Joan Thaler of Cedar Rapids, works to support local Holocaust education efforts. Over almost two decades, those efforts have included sponsoring art and performances, bringing in yearly speakers and helping fund Holocaust-related classes at Mount Mercy, Coe and Kirkwood community colleges.
David Thaler s
. His father, sister and other extended family members died in the Holocaust. Raised in Lwow, Poland, Thaler emigrated to the United States in 1938. He began taking community college courses after retiring from practicing medicine in 1985.
His wife Joan Thaler said her husband was struck by how little the college students he met knew about the Holocaust. That’s why he decided to start the fund. Joan has continued to be involved after his death in 2000.
“It was terribly important to him,” she said.
She said along with the website, the fund also plans to rely more on the children of survivors, like Lena Gilbert, to keep education efforts strong.
“Many of the survivors had a difficult time talking about what had happened to them,” she said. “So their children have sort of experienced it in that way.”
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April is Holocaust Remembrance Month. Nazi youth detention camp survivor Cesare Frustaci will speak at a Yom Hashoah Holocaust Remembrance Day service. It is free and open to the public.
Frustaci will also speak at area community colleges, with limited seating: