GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — There are some parts of history that are very difficult for most people to truly understand. The Holocaust is one of them.
Artist Victoria Milstein is trying to help people at least remember that if not understand at least the spirit it took to resist.
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. Elie Wiesel said that,” Milstein said. “What I want them to take from this is that these are your people, too.”
Milstein’s latest work is called “She Wouldn’t Take Off Her Boots.”
The title comes from a photograph that inspired the seven-foot-tall bronze work that now sits in LeBauer Park in downtown Greensboro. It’s the first and only Holocaust memorial dedicated to women.
The photo was taken by Nazi soldiers. It shows four women and a girl defiantly staring into the camera moments before they were stripped naked, shot and dumped into a mass grave.
“My mother and aunt, my cousin and I survived through hiding,” sid Greensboro resident Shelly Weiner, who was 4 years old when the Nazis came to her hometown in eastern Europe.
The four of them hid in the barn of a Christian neighbor brave enough to take them.
“The rest of the family, my uncle, my aunts, my cousins, my wonderful grandfather, my cousins’ father…were all killed by the Nazis,” Weiner said.
At age 12, Weiner and her parents came to America and lived in the Philadelphia area.
“When I moved here in 1972, one of my daughters was at Kiser Middle School, and she came home and said, ‘Mom, you won’t believe it, but all they’re teaching us about the Holocaust in World War II is one paragraph in our book,’ and she said, ‘Would you come and talk to my class?’ And I did,” Weiner said.
That was just the beginning of her work to keep the memory of what happened alive. But it’s not just the slaughter of the Holocaust that Weiner wants to be remembered. It’s also what came to Eastern Europe in the years after.
“When somebody tells me something like, ‘I don’t trust the government,’ they have never lived under communism. I have,” Weiner said. “They have no idea what it’s like to live in another country where everything is restricted, where there is no free speech, where you know you’re afraid of what your neighbor might tell the police about you.”
For Victoria Milstein, who grew up Jewish and still practices the faith, it was a journey of education making the memorial.
“I thought that I understood the Holocaust,” Milstein said. “I actually immigrated to Israel,…I was a young adult and wanted to learn about the Holocaust. And as a Jew, I’m like, ‘how did this happen?’ I didn’t know as much as I know now and having met all the Holocaust survivors, having been involved with Shelly Weiner and her life and her story in our Greensboro Holocaust survivors, the hardest part is the story of what happened to these women, how it happened not far further their homes and their town squares.”
Which is why she wanted to do a memorial dedicated to women.
“It feels like you’re giving birth,” Milstein said of creating her sculpture. “The inspiration where these women who are no longer with us, so I used my friends as models, and I used my granddaughter’s hands, and I used Shelly’s hands, and I used my twin sister Liz, and it became very personal…these women, they’re our children, they’re our aunts, they’re our mothers. So in some ways…it was very painful to go through that process.”
But now it’s done and there for all to see.
“It was very intentional that this sculpture wasn’t put…in a Jewish campus near a synagogue or a library that would be in the public square,” Milstein said.
See the sculpture and its making in this edition of The Buckley Report.