Holocaust education nonprofit partners with North Adams WWII artifact hunter to create ‘The Darrell English Collection’ – Berkshire Eagle

Posted By on July 3, 2021

NORTH ADAMS Jordana Lebowitz carefully stretched a tape measure along the length of an enamelware pitcher produced by Oskar Schindlers factory during World War II, calling out measurements to her team as they discussed and indexed items from Darrell K.T. Englishs extensive collection of Holocaust-related artifacts.

The pitcher, along with one of Schindlers datebooks, an oilcloth Kennkarte with a stamp of a large yellow J and a Nazi childrens book, was among 200 artifacts a small part of English's collection cataloged over five days last week at the North Adams Museum of History and Science, which hosted English and Lebowitz's group.

Lebowitz, the founder and executive director of ShadowLight, a Canadian-based Holocaust education nonprofit, is interested in bringing English's collection to a wider audience both online and in-person.

English, a North Adams native, has been seeking the right platform to highlight his collection. For years, hes tried to make connections with local and national institutions with the simple request: Listen, I have this material, can we work together?

But he's had limited success, getting in most cases either a polite no or no response at all. He may have found his chance by partnering with ShadowLight.

Darrell K.T. English holds identification papers used by a Jewish man in Germany during WWII. A nonprofit, ShadowLight, dedicated to Holocaust education is cataloguing some artifacts from English's collection.

ShadowLight travels with a replica of a World War II cattle car exhibit to universities, schools and educational centers across North America. The exhibit, "The Cattle Car: Stepping In and Out of Darkness," includes displays that explore the experiences of European Jews and other persecuted groups who were deported in cattle cars by the Nazis to concentration camps and to extermination camps. The exhibit will tour six Southern states this summer.

The 200 items cataloged over the last week, The Darrell English Collection, are on loan to ShadowLight and will accompany "Cattle Car" as a companion traveling exhibit with a complimentary online database.

Jordana Lebowitz, founder of ShadowLight, a nonprofit Holocaust education center, collects data from a small enamelware pitcher made at Oskar Schindler's Enamel Factory.

Lebowitz understands English's struggle for acceptance.Like English, institutions have said no to her. Ive also come head-to-head with different organizations who are like, youre doing it wrong, she said.

English and Lebowitz both feel like outsiders. Im not in the league with them, English said of universities and museums. Im not in the game with them.

Im also not, but that doesnt mean we cant do something amazing, Lebowitz said.

Theres no bureaucracy with Darrell, she added. Its just what it is. [Hes] a good person to make something happen with.

But English and Lebowitz, who connected through Facebook, needed help. Through further Facebook connections, they brought on Aaron Kornblum, a former archivist at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Evelyn Riddell, who is starting her masters degree in history in September.

They met in person for the first time on June 25in North Adams. Riddell and Lebowitz traveled from Canada, and Kornblum from California.

They quickly developed a process for cataloguing each item. Kornblum and Riddell handled the details, noting information like an items dimensions and whether it needed conservation, while Lebowitz and English discussed the history of the Holocaust and their hopes for the exhibit. At one point, Riddell began using her iPhone and two pieces of white poster board to take photos for ShadowLights website.

Aaron Kornblum collects data from a datebook that Oskar Schindler handed out to customers "like a calling card." The datebook is part of Darrell K.T. English's WWII-related collection.

English was particularly proud of one of his artifacts, a datebook that he says Schindler (the German industrialist credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust) passed out to customers like a "calling card," though it has not yet been authenticated by outside sources.

According to English, the datebook is exceedingly rare. When asked if he would ever consider donating it to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, he said, No. Its mine. I bought it. I hunted it down. I trapped it. It came out of an auction in Canada. Nobody wanted it. I got it for opening bid.

When you donate to a museum, or some museums, 99 percent of the stuff will get put away somewhere, and never seen, he added.

Darrell K.T. English holds identification papers used by a Jewish man in Germany during WWII. A nonprofit, ShadowLight, dedicated to Holocaust education is cataloguing some artifacts from English's collection.

English has amassed a collection of an estimated 10,000 artifacts from World War II. The reason why goes back 58 years.

I remember going on a trip with my parents up to Fort Ticonderoga when I was about 5 years old, and seeing the cannons and everything else, and I asked my father, could we buy the place? English said. And I came to the realization that wealthy people did weird and great things. They collected things and they went out and they built things. Of course, I wasnt wealthy but I didnt know that at the time.

When English was growing up, they only had two TV channels in North Adams. On one of those channels he saw a "60 Minutes" program on World War II, and has been fascinated since. As a child, he asked his relatives for artifacts, and they would deliver medals, patches, pins, whatever they had.

As a 16-year-old, he drove his car to antique shops and shows in other states. And, now, as an auctioneer and collector, his business is buying and selling rare items. He keeps any World War II artifacts he happens upon. English hopes one day to create a permanent museum to house his collection.

When English acquires an item, he usually doesnt have much information on it.

By the time I get [an artifact], the story is lost, he said. The story is completely gone. Im sometimes a third or fourth recipient of the item. I dont get it directly from the source.

Theyre still at the stage of taking inventory, but when the time comes to authenticate, Kornblum said he hopes to look at Englishs purchase records and receipts.

Aaron Kornblum and Evelyn Riddell collect data from a datebook that Oskar Schindler would hand out to customers.

You like to know, if possible, its provenance, its history, where it comes from, the chain of ownership and production, whose hands it passed through, in which capacity it was utilized, Kornblum said.

Kornblum is interested in what he has seen so far.

Im really pleased with the breadth of the collection, Kornblum said. It has a lot of things about a lot of different subjects, and it looks like theres a lot of different ways to approach the history, and the portrayal, and the understanding of the Holocaust for people.

Lebowitzs main interest in Englishs collection lies in its educational value. She believes in making Holocaust education accessible for everyone, not just those living in big cities with Holocaust museums.

For Lebowitz, who has a masters in education from the University of Southern California, the Holocaust is an excellent teaching tool for social justice. Since its so far in the past, and feels distant for most North Americans, people dont become defensive about it. Its only a small step, then, to begin thinking about refugees, immigration and other social issues which might hit closer to home.

English has rules about where and how his items should appear. At one point during a day of cataloguing, Lebowitz suggested that items in his collection be included in ShadowLight's "Cattle Car" exhibit.

English quickly responded, No, I think it has to be done separately. I think your cattle car needs to be itself. His exhibit would complement hers, rather than be an element of it.

In 2012, English started a one-room museum, the New England Holocaust Institute, in a 650-square-foot storefront on Eagle Street in North Adams. After three years and several donations that helped keep it open, the museum shut in 2015. English had been in talks years prior, with gallerist Ralph Brill, about the creation of a museum focusing on the art of World War II, but plans never fully materialized. Despite the lack of a permanent space, he's worked with Clarksburg Elementary School students,since the early 2000s, on an annual presentation by Michael Little's eighth grade students about the Holocaust, exhibiting parts of the collection and serving as a presenter.

Darrell K.T. English gestures to a rat poison container made at the Auschwitz concentration camp. ShadowLight, a nonprofit dedicated to Holocaust education, is cataloguing some artifacts from Darrell K.T. English's collection.

Kornblum said he wants to help English realize his goal to build a museum or educational center for his collection.

I would love to see his collection housed in a permanent museum, Kornblum said. I think thats really what needs to happen.

While Kornblum said he cant speculate on the timeline or feasibility of building this museum, he pointed out that it took 13 years to create the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Kornblum said it depends in part on securing a source of funding, and on finding a place for the collection, and what youre able to do on that location. Are you renting a space? Are you building your own space?

Of late, English said he has been more aware of his morality.

He wants to leave a legacy, he said, so that 200 years after Im gone, people are still talking about me.

Aaron Kornblum and Evelyn Riddell collect data from a datebook that Oskar Schindler would hand out to customers.

Aaron Kornblum collects data from a datebook that Oskar Schindler handed out to customers "like a calling card." The datebook is part of Darrell K.T. English's WWII-related collection.

Jordana Lebowitz, founder of ShadowLight, a nonprofit Holocaust education center, collects data from a small enamelware pitcher made at Oskar Schindler's Enamel Factory.

Darrell K.T. English gestures to a rat poison container made at the Auschwitz concentration camp. ShadowLight, a nonprofit dedicated to Holocaust education, is cataloguing some artifacts from Darrell K.T. English's collection.

Darrell K.T. English opens a German medical book used at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Jordana Lebowitz, founder of ShadowLight, examines a German medical book with a stamp inside its cover indicating that it was used at Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp. The book is part of Darrell K.T. English's collection of WWII-related artifacts.

Darrell K.T. English holds identification papers used by a Jewish man in Germany during WWII. A nonprofit, ShadowLight, dedicated to Holocaust education is cataloguing some artifacts from English's collection.

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Holocaust education nonprofit partners with North Adams WWII artifact hunter to create 'The Darrell English Collection' - Berkshire Eagle

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