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Holocaust survivor Kati Preston of Barnstead is greeted by Van McLeod, commissioner of cultural resources, during the reception for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Exhibit at the State Library in Concord on Monday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Words and pictures show progression to Holocaust atrocities in Concord exhibit


CONCORD - Holocaust survivor Kati Preston, the daughter of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, was 5 years old and being hidden from the Nazis in a tiny attic by a peasant woman when her mother managed to smuggle her father out of a Jewish ghetto in the tightening grip of German SS troops.

"She was going to take him to Romania where they weren't killing people yet; he decided to visit me in my little attic where I was hidden because he wouldn't see me for a long time." said Preston, now a Barnstead resident. "They caught him on that road and killed him."

Preston spoke at the opening of an exhibit at the state library in Concord that recalls the history and horrors of the Nazi concentration and extermination camp at Auschwitz in German-occupied Poland during World War II.

"I still feel guilty, it wasn't my doing, it was his love for his child that he wanted to see that killed him," Preston said. "The only thing we can gain from all that is (knowing) that it did happen and use it as a tool so that it doesn't happen again."

The exhibit will be open to the public for the next three weeks. Through a chronological series of 31 panels, the ideology and circumstances that lead to the creation of Auschwitz and the deaths of more than 1 million people is shown through words and pictures.

Work to bring the traveling exhibit to New Hampshire began during a testimonial dinner honoring former Manchester Mayor Ray Wieczorek on his retirement from the state Executive Council.

Polish honorary consul Marek Lesniewiski-Lass attended the Wieczorek dinner and mentioned in conversation with state Rep. John Cebrowski, R-Bedford, that the exhibit was soon to open in Boston.

"I immediately jumped on it and said 'we've got to do it in New Hampshire,'" said Cebrowski.

"I have seen the ovens and stood in the gas chamber," Cebrowski said, "I have seen the exhibit, it is an incredible educational tool."

One guest at the Concord opening, Rolf Schutte, the German consul general for New England, said his invitation and presence is not something he can consider "normal" because Holocaust survivors and members of victims families would also be present, but he did not hesitate to accept.

"Germans today do not shy away from facing their responsibility for Auschwitz," Schutte said. "They know these crimes cannot be undone and are convinced that this part of German history cannot be forgotten and lessons must be drawn from it."

Cebrowski and Preston each said that they hope children will be brought to the exhibit, perhaps as part of the school trips to the State House.

Preston speaks to children about the lessons of the Holocaust by explaining how it started from relatively trifling acts and grew into horrific crimes against humanity.

"I just give the the details of how slowly things can progress and how terrible it can become," she said. "I am somebody personally coming to them and saying 'here I am, I was there. Here is a picture of me when I was a kid' so it connects them to history."

The exhibit will run through March 22. The library, at North State and Park streets in Concord, is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

billsmith@unionleader.com


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