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Free Museum Day at Florida Holocaust Museum offers living history

ST. PETERSBURG — An 85-year-old woman in a royal blue pantsuit and matching eyeliner stood in a hallway beneath the faint lights of the Florida Holocaust Museum. She was slender, with short, dark brown hair and matching eyes. She held her hands crossed in front of her.

People walked all around her, hundreds of them, squinting, reading, shaking their heads.

A man in a tie-dyed T-shirt and black cowboy boots approached the exhibit in front of her. He peered at a placard labeled "Kindertransport." It told the story of the United Kingdom's daring effort to rescue 10,000 Jewish children before the start of World War II. The display included a photograph of two children who had escaped.

The woman approached him.

"I'll tell you that story if you want to hear it," she said, pointing to the picture. "I'm that little girl."

Saturday was Pinellas County's annual Free Museum Day. It drew thousands. People learned to blow glass at the Morean Arts Center. They wandered the Dalí's labyrinth. And a few of them heard the story of Lisl Schick.

She was born in Vienna to an accountant and a homemaker. Her brother, Walter Porges, was four years younger.

Her grandfather was a decorated soldier in World War I.

"We were patriotic Austrians," she said, "who just happened to be Jews."

The day after the Nazis arrived, swastika flags hung off buildings. A sign appeared at her favorite park: "No Jews or dogs allowed."

The crucifix in her classroom was replaced with a photo of Adolf Hitler. The teachers started school with salutes to the fuhrer rather than prayers to God.

Lisl's Christian friends stopped speaking to her. They called her a "dirty Jew."

The night of Kristallnacht, when the Nazis destroyed the windows of Jewish-owned stores and synagogues, her family was locked up at home.

When her father got up to take Lisl and her brother to school the next morning, they could barely open the door because shards of glass covered the street. She saw hundreds of Jewish men on their hands and knees, cleaning, as the soldiers whipped them.

"Daddy," she said, "can't you do something?"

He shook his head.

Her father lost his job, so the family moved in with her grandparents. Her grandfather, the war hero, consoled them. He was certain they would be fine.

"He was totally wrong," she said.

Her parents, though, learned of a way their children might be saved: the Kindertransport.

Lisl held Walter in her lap as the train rolled out of Vienna. Her brother sobbed. Lisl, who was 11, didn't.

For six years, the siblings moved from town to town across England before, somehow, they reunited with their parents in New York. Her entire extended family had been killed.

Lisl, a board member at the museum, has spent a lifetime sharing, she says — "to prevent this from ever happening again."

The man in the tie-dyed shirt had moved on when a woman with white hair and glasses approached.

She studied the display.

Lisl walked up beside her.

"I'm that little girl," she said.

The woman was stunned.

"Oh my goodness," she said. "So you were. … Oh my gosh."

Lisl smiled and began her story again.

Free Museum Day at Florida Holocaust Museum offers living history 09/28/13 [Last modified: Saturday, September 28, 2013 10:45pm]
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