New outdoor exhibit at Navy Pier tells refugees’ stories through what they brought with them
Photos of dozens of objects are part of a new exhibit, “Stories of Survival: Object. Image. Memory,” presented by the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center. They will remain on display through June 30.
A teddy bear. A scarf. A typewriter. A dress.
These are just a few of the objects brought to the United States by people fleeing their homes amidst persecution and genocide.
Some are survivors of the Holocaust. Others fled crises in South Sudan, Cambodia, Rwanda and Armenia, among other places.
Photos of over 50 of those objects are on display in Navy Pier’s Polk Bros. Park as part of a traveling exhibit, “Stories of Survival: Object. Image. Memory,” presented by the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, where it opened in 2018.
The photos, by Jim Lommasson in partnership with survivors, went on display outside Navy Pier Thursday and will remain through June 30.
Next to each photo are stories about the object, written by the survivors themselves or a relative.
One tells the story of Olga Weiss.
In 1943, Weiss and her Jewish family were living outside Brussels, hiding from the Nazis. She was 7, and enrolled under a fake name at a Catholic school. That December, her parents gave her a domino set.
“My parents wanted to be sure that I, like the other children, had received a gift from St. Nicholas ...” Weiss writes in her reflection, presented in her own handwriting. She brought the dominos to the United States when her family immigrated in 1950.
Christina Gleason and Lindsey Scouten, both professional dancers were at Navy Pier on Friday and said the exhibit immediately caught their eye.
“This is such impactful stuff to read about, and that just caught me off guard,” Gleason said. She felt particularly struck by how recent some of the conflicts were.
Gleason appreciated not only reading about the objects, but also gaining an understanding of the backgrounds of each survivor. “The full human experience,” she called it.
Both appreciated that the exhibit was outdoors and easily accessible, as opposed being inside a museum, requiring an admission fee.
“It’s nice when this kind of stuff is out there,” Scouten said. “Accessibility of the arts is huge for both of us.”