Collector retells Holocaust with relics

When civil rights activist Ken Lawrence heard Ku Klux Klan members in the ‘70s denying the existence of the Holocaust, he thought the best way to fight them would be to show, not tell.

In 1978, Lawrence, a now-66-year-old resident of Spring Mills, Pa., started collecting letters, postcards and other historical documents pertaining to the Holocaust. Lawrence talked about his collection, which is made up of about 250 documents, on WPSU-FM Tuesday morning.

Lawrence has spent more than 30 years showing his collections to schools and universities, including Penn State. Lawrence said he tells people who doubt the existence or the cruelty of the Holocaust, “You don’t have to take my word for it. See for yourself. Here’s the mail from the people who suffered at the hands of the Nazis.”

Lawrence recently sold his collection to the Florence and Laurence Spungen Family Foundation, which focuses on health-related issues — especially cancer research, care and treatment — and Jewish causes. He said he wants to ensure the collection will continue to be seen whether or not he is around.

“I’m getting old. I’ve traveled around for 30 years,” he said. “It’s time for somebody else to take over and continue the work.”

While visiting the American Philatelic Society — a stamp collector’s group located in Bellefonte — Danny Spungen met Lawrence and was amazed by his collection, he said.

“I saw this older man holding this Jewish Torah made out of animal skin,” Spungen said. “And it was torn up and used as an envelope. And it had Nazi stamps on it.”

Spungen, who is Jewish, said he knew little about the Holocaust before he saw Lawrence’s collection because his family and friends never talked about it. But that single piece of torn Torah intrigued him.

“To see our written laws being destroyed and used to make shoes, lampshades, and used as envelopes … that’s very powerful,” he said.

After Spungen’s foundation bought the collection from Lawrence, Spungen started taking the collection on the road and using it to teach people about the Holocaust.

“It’s just another way of teaching about the Holocaust without showing dead bodies in a grave,” he said.

The Spungen Family Foundation will loan the collection to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Ill., as a traveling exhibit, Spungen said.

Lawrence said he hopes people who look at his collection learn that the power to prevent another Holocaust lies in their hands, he said.

“I want them to realize that if a disaster of those proportions could have occurred in a country in Europe that had some of the greatest cultural heritage in all history, that we have to be constantly vigilant about preventing this from ever happening again,” he said.

Source: Erin Rowley, Daily Collegian