Ann and Fred Gilbert were Holocaust survivors. Polish Jews who emigrated to Cedar Rapids after World War II, they lost their parents, siblings, aunts and uncles. The Gilberts, who met as the Dachau Concentration Camp was being liberated in 1945, spent decades telling their stories in Cedar Rapids and later in the Los Angeles area, where they retired before eventually moving back to Cedar Rapids.
Fred and Ann Gilbert in Germany in 1948. The couple met in a concentration camp and emigrated to Cedar Rapids in 1949. (Courtesy photo)
But now they are gone – Ann Gilbert passed away in Dec. 2008, and her husband died a few months later. There are fewer and fewer members of their generation left to remind the world of the Holocaust’s horrors and lessons.
That’s why Lena Gilbert and other directors of the Thaler Holocaust Memorial Fund are working to preserve those stories online. The fund recently launched holocausteducate.org to collect stories from Linn County residents impacted by the Holocaust. They hope an online presence can help reach younger generations as the impact of hearing directly from witnesses and survivors becomes more and more rare.
“Before my mom passed away, she asked me if I would tell their story, and so I am,” Lena Gilbert said.
The fund, founded in 1995 by David and Joan Thaler of Cedar Rapids, works to support local Holocaust education efforts. Over almost two decades, those efforts have included sponsoring art and performances, bringing in yearly speakers and helping fund Holocaust-related classes at Mount Mercy, Coe and Kirkwood community colleges.
Lena Gilbert of Springville looks at the tombstone of her parents Fred and Ann Gilbert, both of whom were Holocaust survivors at Eben Israel Cemetery in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, April 12, 2012. One side of their tombstone commemorates the over 700 family members who were murdered in the Holocaust. An annual Community Holocaust Remembrance service will be held on Tuesday, April 18 at Temple Judah in Cedar Rapids. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG)
David Thaler. His father, sister and other extended family members died in the Holocaust. Raised in Lwow, Poland, Thaler emigrated to the United States in 1938. He began taking community college courses after retiring from practicing medicine in 1985.
His wife Joan Thaler said her husband was struck by how little the college students he met knew about the Holocaust. That’s why he decided to start the fund. Joan has continued to be involved after his death in 2000.
“It was terribly important to him,” she said.
She said along with the website, the fund also plans to rely more on the children of survivors, like Lena Gilbert, to keep education efforts strong.
“Many of the survivors had a difficult time talking about what had happened to them,” she said. “So their children have sort of experienced it in that way.”
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April is Holocaust Remembrance Month. Nazi youth detention camp survivor Cesare Frustaci will speak at a Yom Hashoah Holocaust Remembrance Day service. It is free and open to the public.
- When: April 7, 7 p.m.
- Where: St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 8300 C. Ave. NE, Marion
Frustaci will also speak at area community colleges, with limited seating:
- When: April 8
- Time: 11:15 a.m.
- Where: Cedar Hall, Room 234, Kirkwood Community College, 6301 Kirkwood Blvd SW, Cedar Rapids
- Time: 7 p.m.
- Where: Chapel of Mercy, Mount Mercy University, 1330 Elmhurst Dr NE, Cedar Rapids
- When: April 9, 3:30 p.m.
- Where: Kesler Auditorium, Coe College, 1220 1st Ave NE, Cedar Rapids