PEABODY — The city’s remarkable Sonia Weitz, rescued from Mauthausen concentration camp as a teenager, wrote her memoir “I Promised I Would Tell” to honor a pledge she’d made to those who did not survive — including most of her family.
With help from journalist Harriet Wacks she established the Holocaust Center Boston North, which has worked to educate people of the horrors born of hate, using books, videos, personal testaments and more. Their concerns extended beyond the persecution of the Jews by Nazi Germany — and included similar madness before and after, in places like Turkish Armenia, Cambodia and Rwanda.
With Sonia’s passing in 2010 came fears that the message might be forgotten with the loss of one of its most eloquent messengers. Instead, Salem State University stepped forward to establish the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. What’s more, the job of transferring materials from Peabody to Salem State is getting assistance from Peabody resident, intern, student and history major Michelle Barrasso.
“I do a lot of different things,” she says. That includes cataloging some 2,500 items and photographing numerous artifacts. Barrasso is also preparing an exhibit at Salem State which will revolve around a suitcase believed to have belonged to a Holocaust victim and a German military uniform of the period.
Barrasso explains the juxtaposition: “Without victims you do not have perpetrators. The two are inextricably bound.”
Of course all this history came long before Barrasso was born. In a sense, she is a beneficiary of the work of people like Weitz and Wacks. “Sonia’s book is extremely powerful,” she says. And as she studies the past, she says, “I’m always moved by what I learn.” For a young woman who grew up here on the North Shore — in a very different world — it was a revelation to discover people’s capacity for inhumanity towards others.