Upcoming opportunities to hear from Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz

Memories and Melodies of Auschwitz

Tifereth Israel Synagogue, Des Moines — Monday, April 1, 7 p.m.
(additional appearances listed below)

Celina Karp Biniaz, taken August 2017. — photo provided by the Iowa Jewish Historical Society

“Schindler’s List” survivor Celina Karp Biniaz will return to Des Moines for Memories and Melodies of Auschwitz at Tifereth Israel Synagogue on the evening of April 1st, presented by the Iowa Jewish Historical Society (IJHS). Reservations are required. To reserve your seat over the phone, call 515-987-0897 ext. 213.

Celina Karp Biniaz and her parents, Irvin and Phyllis, lived in a ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland. Her parents’ names were added to the list of laborers to work in a new factory owned by industrialist Oskar Schindler, whose efforts saved the lives of 1,200 Jews.

Toward the end of World War II, the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated by the Soviet Army on January 27, 1945. Biniaz is one of the last living survivors from what became known as “Schindler’s List.”

After the war, Biniaz and her parents moved to Des Moines with her parents. She later enrolled as a student at North High School and then Grinnell College. Her parents attended worship at Tifereth Israel Synagogue for nearly 50 years.

In January 2015, Biniaz attended the 70th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in Poland. Her experience compelled her to write a series of poems from the point of view of the 13-year-old girl who had to endure unspeakable horrors and survived.

To mark the anniversary, her grandson Alex Biniaz-Harris and Ambrose Soehn co-wrote an original three-movement piano composition titled “Melodies of Aushwitz,” which was performed at a reception for survivors the evening before the official commemoration, with Biniaz in the audience.

On Monday, her parents’ Des Moines synagogue will be home to a unique presentation including this work.

Biniaz will share her story of survival and her experiences returning to Auschwitz decades later. She will also recite the poems based on her life, joined by Biniaz-Harris and Soehn for a special musical presentation at 7 p.m.

IJHS director Sandi Yoder told Little Village, “We thought that it would be a unique and meaningful experience for an Iowa audience to hear both. It was providence that Alex and Ambrose were available on the same date as Celina.”

The program will commence with Biniaz-Harris and Soehn introducing a video presentation exploring how they composed “Melodies of Auschwitz.” At the suggestion of USC Shoah Foundation Executive Director Stephen Smith, they researched the testimonies of Holocaust survivors.

In an interview with the USC Shoah Foundation, Soehn said, “Art provides a way [survivors] can manifest and process though these memories that language simply doesn’t allow for. So you get these amazingly beautiful, haunting artistic works that can be used as inspiration for other things.”

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Biniaz-Harris and Soehn will then play the composition, which is rarely performed in public. After the music segment of the program, Biniaz-Harris will introduce his grandmother to tell her story and share her poetry. Audience members will be granted an opportunity to ask questions, followed by a dessert reception.

“I believe that Celina’s story of suffering and forgiveness is an important one for people of all backgrounds, beliefs, ethnic groups, economic status — and anyone who is interested in learning more about the Holocaust from someone who lived through it,” Yoder said.

“With all the division and strife in today’s world, it is critical that we listen to each other’s experiences and points of view and that we learn from the atrocities of the past. Better understanding of the history and the contributions of all Iowa’s diverse cultures—including Celina’s Holocaust experience and the history of the Jewish people of Iowa—lays the groundwork for better understanding of each other.”

The Nuremberg Trials in Germany, where several Nazi leaders were tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity, shed an international spotlight on the genocide that was the Holocaust (also known as “Shoah”). Since then, new evidence exposing the horrific extent of the Holocaust is still being discovered.

Despite the mountain of evidence that has been uncovered detailing this horrific period and the witnesses who lived to tell their stories, today an alarming number of people consider it a distant memory, ancient history or something they are unaware of altogether.

As reported by The Washington Post last year, “Two-thirds of American millennials surveyed in a recent poll cannot identify what Auschwitz is, according to a study released on Holocaust Remembrance Day that found that knowledge of the genocide that killed 6 million Jews during World War II is not robust among American adults.”

Yoder said it is a critical time for Iowans to hear this “once-in-a lifetime” program and it’s message.

“In today’s tense political climate with growing anti-Semitism, discrimination, and anti-immigration factions, Celina’s story is very relevant and reinforces why we need to study and learn from the past—reminding us what can happen when these factions are not held in check but also to learn from her personally how fear and hatred can be overcome.”

Biniaz will also be speaking this week at the campuses Des Moines Area Community College sites in Ankeny, Boone and Urban campus in Des Moines with her presentation Second Chance: My Story.

Celina Karp Biniaz speaking engagements:

Monday, April 1, 7 p.m., Tifereth Israel Synagogue: “Memories and Melodies of Auschwitz”

Tuesday, April 2, 10 a.m., DMACC, Ankeny Campus auditorium: Second Chance: My Story

Wednesday, April 3, 10:10 a.m., DMACC Urban Campus: Second Chance: My Story

Thursday, April 4, 11:15 a.m., DMACC Boone Campus Theater: Second Chance: My Story