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The Breman Press Room

The Breman Welcomes New Executive Director Aaron Berger

After a nationwide search, the Board of Directors of the Breman Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Museum (The Breman) has announced Aaron Berger as their new executive director.  Berger joins The Breman after successfully leading two art museums in Georgia.  As director of the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art, Berger worked to stabilize the museum and guided the board and staff through an organizational restructuring.  Additionally, he created educational programs for the 14,000 elementary students that visited the museum annually. 

In 2002, Berger left Marietta to join the Albany Museum of Art as director.  This move made him one of the youngest directors in the country to lead a nationally-accredited museum – at the age of 30.  While in Albany, the AMA experienced tremendous growth in attendance and membership and was ultimately named Institution of the Year for 2005 by the Georgia Association of Museums and Galleries.

For the past six years, Berger has worked as a consultant with museums nationally in the areas of fundraising and management, first with the Atlanta firm Alexander Haas, and more recently with his own firm, Turning Point.  As a consultant, Berger assisted museums with fundraising initiatives ranging from increasing day-to-day support to large-scale capital campaigns. 

“I am honored to be only the second director in the Breman’s history.  The museum has a strong reputation for innovative exhibitions, exceptional Holocaust programming and a loyal following drawing from both Georgia and Alabama,” Berger said. 

In addition to an undergraduate degree in Art History and an MBA, Berger is a graduate of the prestigious Museum Leadership Institute by the Getty Center in Los Angeles.  He has been recognized by the Georgia State Senate for his work with the Albany Museum of Art and more recently, was named an “Up & Comer” in the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 40 Under 40 for 2006.

“After searching nationwide for our next leader,” says Board President Spring Asher, “we found the right person right here in Atlanta.  We are energized by Aaron’s enthusiasm and are confident he will continue to grow the Breman.”

 

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Jane Leavey

Aaron Berger

Jane Leavey, Founding Museum Director, Retires After Nearly 30 Years

Jane Leavey, the Executive Director of the Breman Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum retired December 31st after twenty-eight years as the voice of Atlanta's Jewish history. As an employee of the Atlanta Jewish Federation (now the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta), Leavey identified a need in Atlanta for an archives and history museum focused on the settlement and presence of Jews in Atlanta and set out to build an institution.

Today that museum is robust in financial support with approximately 1,200 members, presents dozens of programs and exhibitions, and welcomes 30,000 visitors annually.

The idea for the museum grew out of the experience of participating in the creation of an exhibition sponsored by Federation that was displayed at the Schatten Gallery at Emory entitled Jews and Georgians: A Meeting of Cultures 1733-1983.

Through the efforts of a volunteer acquisitions committee of individuals with ties to Atlanta and many of the smaller cities and towns throughout the state, wonderful material evidence of Jewish life was discovered. Much of this material was not being preserved becasue there was no existing archive or historical society and, after the exhibition was over, everything had to be returned to the lenders.

After the Federation Board gave Jane and a dedicated group of volunteers the go-ahead, the Jewish Community Archives was established in 1985, a Holocaust resource center and exhibition with a statewide program of Holocaust education and school tours in 1986; participation in an ongoing oral history project begun by the National Council of Jewish Women and the American Jewish Committee in 1989. Throughout those years, exhibitions and public programs were presented in various venues around the city, including Creating Community at the Atlanta History Center.

The museum continued to gain attention and philanthropist William (Bill) Breman offered the lead gift to house the archives and budding museum in one facility. The Breman Museum officially opened to the public in 1996 and includes a gallery dedicated to the story of the Holocaust, an exhibition on the Atlanta Jewish community, and a venue for traveling exhibitions.

Today, in addition to the galleries, the museum offers an extensive archives and research library.

Jane created numerous Breman original exhibitions. Most prominent of these are Where the Wild Things Are: Maurice Sendak in His Own Words & Pictures; ZAP! POW! BAM! The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books, 1938–1950, Seeking Justice: The Leo Frank Case Revisited, and Dr. Seuss Goes to War and More. These special exhibitions continue to travel to other museums throughout the U.S. and even to Australia.

"You can see her leadership, her vision and her creativity in each program and exhibition held at the Breman," says current Board Co-President Joyce Shlesinger. "The museum is where it is today, a center for Southern Jewish history, Holocaust studies and creative programming, as a direct result of Jane's tireless efforts."

Jane, thank you for your gift to Atlanta; thank you for The Breman.

The incoming executive director is Aaron Berger.

 

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Elinor Breman and Jane Leavey

Elinor Breman and Jane Leavey at The Breman Museum's opening gala, 1996.

Holocaust survivor urges students to fight injustice

By JULIE HUBBARD - jhubbard@macon.com

It didn’t take long for the students to gasp.

Middle and high school students at the Georgia Academy for the Blind leaned onto the edge of their seats listening to a speaker relive one of the worst tragedies in history — and something they knew only from their social studies lessons.

They were face to face with a survivor of the Holocaust, the systematic destruction of more than 6 million Jews by the Nazis before and during World War II.

Herbert Kohn, born in 1926 in Frankfurt, Germany, was there to tell students not to be bystanders but to stand up against crimes against humanity, from those inside schools such as Columbine, Colo., to those as far away as Darfur, Sudan.

“Some of these crimes can be prevented,” he said.

Kohn, 83, said his first memory of the Holocaust was at age 6.

There were changes all around him. He told the students he remembers his best friend yelling to him, “What are you looking at, you dirty Jew?”

Just the day before, he had been turned away from school. Jews were no longer allowed to attend public schools.

That was six weeks after Adolf Hitler came to power, he said.

Kohn is one of about 24 Holocaust survivors who volunteer with The William Breman Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Museum in Atlanta. He travels to universities, schools and organizations across the state to tell his story and spread his message against hate and persecution.

“Park benches said ‘no Jews can sit here,’ ” he told the students. “Store windows said ‘Jews are not wanted here.’ Jews became a nothing. You could be murdered, done away with by bullets, gas, any way possible.”

In 1935, his father, Leo, who had fought on the front lines for Germany in World War I, made plans for the family to leave Germany, but emigration laws delayed the plans. Life got worse.

In 1938, Jewish houses of worship was destroyed. Windows in Jewish-owned stores were broken and goods were stolen. The Nazis gathered up Jewish males between the ages of 16 and 60 and took them to concentration camps, he said. “I was there and saw the glass on the street,” he said. “I was there when the (Nazi) storm troopers came to the door.”

They took his father.

“His story was a terrible story of abuse,” Kohn said. “He was taken that night to a sports arena — like Phillips Arena in Atlanta. (They) stayed two days without food, water or bathroom privileges.

“Then they were put on trains to fight amongst themselves to get to the window to lick the condensation off the windows during the three-hour train ride” to the Buchenwald concentration camp.

A third of that group died the first night, either at Nazi hands or after jumping from the train, he said.

His father was saved after storm troopers found a paper in his pocket, he said. It was a July 1938 letter from Hitler’s predecessor, thanking Leo Kohn for his military service fighting for the Germans in World War I.

Because of that, the Nazis sent his father home after three weeks in the camp — 30 pounds lighter and with a head full of gray hair. That letter is on display in the Atlanta museum, as well as other photos of Kohn.

A man from the English consulate helped Kohn’s mother get the family’s visas stamped in order to leave Germany.

“The reason I’m telling you this story in such detail, ... it saved my life,” Kohn said. “(That man) was not a bystander. He took his Christian religion to save lives.”

The family came to America in 1940, where they stayed with a relative in Birmingham, Ala., and started a new life in farming.

Kohn went on to get his degree in agriculture from Auburn University. He became an accountant and now develops housing in Atlanta.

Other members of his family were not so lucky. He said his grandfather died in a Nazi cattle car on the way to Minsk.

Millions more also were killed, he said, including the disabled, women who could not bear children and Gypsies.

Kayla Weathers, a senior at the academy, said she respects Kohn for speaking out against discrimination and persecution. She said his insights gave her a better perspective of the Holocaust.

Schools call each day asking for Holocaust survivors such as Kohn to speak to students, said Mike Weinroth, who’s with the museum.

“A couple of kids leaned over to their teachers and said, ‘we would not be here under Hitler,’ ” he said.

 

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Holocaust survivor Herbert Kohn of Atlanta addresses students at the Georgia Academy for the Blindin Macon.

Holocaust survivor Herbert Kohn of Atlanta addresses students at the Georgia Academy for the Blindin Macon.