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Library presentation features Holocaust survivors in state

By JOHN PFEIFER jpfeifer@paducahsun.com

Jacqueline Kohl had no PowerPoint slides and few handouts for those who attended her presentation of "From Barbed Wire to Bluegrass: Holocaust Survivors in Kentucky" at the McCracken County Public Library Thursday night.

Kohl, professor of English at Eastern Kentucky University and member of the national Holocaust Educators Network, said that people assumed Holocaust survivors would turn to larger cities when immigrating to the U.S., but took time to highlight four individuals who made their way to Kentucky in the years following the war.

She started her presentation by saying, "I want to share the story of four important Kentuckians."

Kohl spent 50 minutes telling a crowd of about 45 details of the lives of Fred Gross, Ann Klein, Sylvia Green and Ernie Marx - four European Jews who survived death camps and alluded capture before being liberated and making their way to America and settling in Kentucky.

Kohl said that she had an unexpected interaction with one of the four in 1994, long before her interest in Holocaust education developed.

She met Green because they both lived in Winchester. Green was a volunteer at Clark County Regional Medical Center where Kohl gave birth to her fourth child, and they had a brief "chance encounter."

"At that time I didn't realize she was a Holocaust survivor," Kohl said, "and I never dreamed that I'd be telling her story."

She also shared the story of Klein, born in Hungary, who arrived at Auschwitz with her parents and was told to walk to the right. Her parents were directed to the left and immediately sent to their death in the gas chambers.

Klein survived and, along with 140,000 European Jews who survived, made her way to America.

Eventually, Klein moved to the Louisville area where decades later she joined efforts with Gross and Marx and the students at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School in Louisville to lobby state legislators to require mandatory Holocaust and genocide education in Kentucky.

Kohl said that a weakened version of that bill - known as the Ernie Marx Resolution - was passed and signed into law in 2008. That bill required that schools provide Holocaust curriculum, but did not require that it be taught as part of a class.

The resolution encourages and supports Holocaust education across the Commonwealth.

Kohl lit six yellow candles at the close of Thursday's program to commemorate Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust Remembrance Day observed April 24 on the Jewish calendar. She explained the six candles referred to the 6 million Jews killed and the color yellow was to remember the armbands that Jews were required to wear.

Today Kohl will spend the entire day at McCracken County High School, where she'll talk to six classes and have lunch with the History Club.

"By the time I'm done, I'll have talked with about 1,000 students," she said.

Thursday's program was a part of the library's "Evenings Upstairs" series. The next "Evening Upstairs" event, titled "America's War in Vietnam: A 50 Year Retrospective," will begin at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 18. It will feature a presentation by George Herring, author and professor emeritus at the University of Kentucky.

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