Holocaust and Humanities Center Upstander Weekend Challenges, Uplifts, and Celebrates

The Nancy and David Wolf Holocaust and Humanities Center held its Upstander Awards ceremony on June 11, celebrating 25 finalists for good deeds that serve the Cincinnati community and combat hate locally. In attendance were friends and family of the finalists, as well as donors, celebrities, and local politicians. 

The awards were given out as part of the center’s second annual Upstander Weekend, held at the Union Terminal. The weekend included a 5k run and a day of volunteering at the museum.

“Our mission has and always has been using the lessons of the Holocaust in the past to inspire action today,” said Kara Driscoll, the director of marketing for the HHC. 

Multiple organizations set up information booths inside the museum rotunda that allowed 5k runners and museum guests to interact and learn how they could help the Cincinnati community, and also people all around the world. 

The HHC – which moved to Union terminal in 2019 – has a unique connection to Union Terminal, which once was and still serves as a train station. 

“Our museum is rooted in stories of local Holocaust survivors, we are in fact the only Holocaust museum in the US with that positive authentic connection to its site,” Driscoll said. “Survivors came through Union terminal by train to rebuild their lives.”

The awards and weekend are named after a term coined by Samantha Power, a former US ambassador to the UN, in her memoir, The Education of an Idealist, and is defined on the Holocaust and Humanities center website as “people who stand up for themselves and others. They harness their character strengths to meet their moment and pursue justice, both great and small, inspiring others to do the same.”

“The 25 finalists were selected from hundreds of nominees,” said Kara Driscoll. 

Out of those 25 there were 12 awards given out, all of them named after survivors, liberators, and upstanders whose stories are told in the museum. 

The awards that we’re giving are named after survivors and World War Two liberators-upstanders,” Driscoll said. “We are attempting to connect the past and the present and weave those stories throughout the weekend to honor the legacy and stories of survivors as we celebrate our present stories.” 

The awards are based on characteristics of upstanders, and are named for local survivors, liberators, and upstanders – Edith Carter award for love, Jim Tojo award for leadership, Werner Coppel perseverance, Al Miller award for gratitude, the Frank Bergenstein award for bravery, The Mirsada Kadiric Award hope, The Charles and Else Heiman Award kindness, The Michael A. Meyer Award spirituality, and The Roma and Sam Kaltman Award love of learning. 

Each award was presented by a family member of the person the award was named for. The exception was the Al Miller Award For Gratitude which was presented by the 100 year old WWII veteran Al Miller himself. 

Miller, a local survivor and veteran, was born in Germany in 1922, he left Germany first for England in 1937 and then came to Ohio in 1939. He enlisted in the Army and was part of the famous Ritchie Boys – a group of American soldiers, most of whom were Jews, who used their German language skills to interrogate Nazi prisoners. 

Miller received a standing ovation when he was introduced on stage, and as he presented the award named after him to winner Mason Bailey – a disabilities rights activist who started his own lawn care business. 

Local politicians, Mayor Aftab Pureval, Congressman Greg Landsman, and state Rep Dani Issachson attended, as well as partners and leaders of the business community. 

Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval who addressed the gathered crowd. “Ask yourself, ‘how I can be an upstander for my community,’” he said.

The ceremony was hosted by Katie Couric, the former Today show host, who joked with the audience while speaking. Recounting how she had always thought she was the ultimate ‘shiksa’ (a Yiddish word for a non-Jewish woman, considered by some to be derogatory) before discovering her own Jewish roots. 

Couric discussed her career combatting hate and misinformation, whether it was in Charlottesville, or taking alt- right leaders like David Duke to task. 

“I’m always trying to educate people because any kind of hatred comes from ignorance,” Couric said. “ And the job of a journalist is to help people understand something they don’t.”

The upstander awards serve not only as a way to honor community members, but also as a way to bolster the connections between the Jewish community and the broader Cincinnati region. 

“It’s probably needed in this day and age to hear about goodness, instead of evil,” said Couric. 

Upon leaving the HHC there is a quote from Edith Carter that says, “Everybody, every single human being has an obligation to contribute to this world.”

“Those are the last words that you see before you leave this museum,” said Driscoll. “And we want people to pause and think about Edith Carter.”