Gerda Haas, Holocaust Survivor and HHRC Founder
In April 1985, Governor Brennan hosted tea at the Blaine House in Augusta for a small group of Holocaust survivors and allies to commemorate Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust Day of Remembrance. The group had been active in organizing a 1984 seminar to train teachers in Holocaust education at Bowdoin College. Gerda Haas, the leader of the group, had started to organize other survivors and allies after being appointed to the Maine Board of Education and realizing to her horror that many Maine schools weren’t even teaching about the Holocaust. So that day just after tea at the Blaine House, Gerda and her allies walked across to the Secretary of State’s office to file papers to officially launch the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine.
From our inception, the HHRC has presented programs and traveling exhibits for schools and hosted summer educational trainings for teachers. Holocaust survivors who had moved to Maine traveled the state telling their stories in schools as well as writing their memoirs and recording audio and video interviews for permanent preservation with the HHRC. In the mid-1990s, the HHRC published and distributed The Spirit that Moves Us, a three volume resource guide for teaching about diversity, prejudice, human rights, and the Holocaust. The volumes were shared with every school library in Maine.
In 2008, The Michael Klahr Center opened on the campus of the University of Maine at Augusta thanks to a partnership between the HHRC, UMA, and many generous patrons throughout the state. The Klahr Center today is a very active facility welcoming nearly 10,000 visitors each year and hosting workshops, exhibits, meetings, classes, plays, films and other public events. In addition, our free educational programs reach schools throughout Maine. Last school year, HHRC educational outreach programs reached more than 6,500 students and 500 teachers.
While the Covid-19 virus has made all of us look at new ways to work, the HHRC staff is busy transferring all of our programs into on-line presentations, and we expect to be able to connect with more students and teachers across Maine than ever before, with educational materials that provide depth and breadth, while also focusing on Maine’s connections with national and international issues within Holocaust and human rights education.
About Gerda Haas
Born November 23, 1922, Ansbach, Germany
The youngest of two daughters, Gerda lived with her sister Elfriede, parents, an unmarried aunt and her grandmother. Following Kristallnacht, Gerda’s family was forced to sell their home to the Nazis, though they never received payment. The family went to Munich. Gerda’s father escaped to England, and tried, unsuccessfully, to secure passage for his family. Gerda’s aunt passed away and she and her sister Elfriede attended separate nursing schools.
Eventually, Gerda, Elfriede and their mother were deported, separately. Gerda’s sister and mother were together on a transport to the concentration camp at Riga, Latvia and both were cruelly murdered upon arrival. Gerda arrived at the concentration camp Theresienstadt in the Czech Republic in 1943. She survived there until 1945 when the opportunity arose to leave on a transport to Switzerland. Gerda stayed in Switzerland until the end of the war. After liberation, Gerda learned of the fate of her mother and sister, and also learned that her grandmother did not survive.
Through the Red Cross, she learned her father survived and was living in New York. He brought Gerda to the United States in 1946 where she met and married Dr. Rudolph Haas. The two came to Maine, had four children and Gerda graduated from Bates College in 1971, where she worked as a librarian for many years.
She recorded her story in her book These I Do Remember (1983) and traveled throughout Maine and beyond sharing her story. In 1985, she founded the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine. Gerda moved to Minneapolis with her husband in 2002 to be near one of their daughters. Dr. Rudolph Haas passed away in 2006.
Gerda Haas remarks at HHRC’s 2014 Annual Meeting
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