Kenneth B. Liffman, a member of the Maltz Museum board of trustees, inspects the Cleveland section of “This Light of Ours.” | Photo / Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage

Civil rights exhibit shines spotlight on struggles

By Carlo Wolff

One of the many striking features of “This Light of Ours,” the stirring exhibit of civil rights photography at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, is how low-key it is. This is a display focused on timeless issues. It is not about flash or theatrics, though it’s packed with drama.

The nine photographers showcased here, who abandoned their objectivity to participate in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, decided to tell the story of ordinary people with extraordinary passion. That’s why, for example, Matt Herron’s photos of black protestors smiling as an integrated march passes through rural, “virulently racist” Lowndes County in Alabama are so moving.

At the same time, “This Light” doesn’t sugarcoat the ugliness that fueled the movement that brought white sympathizers, including Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple Rabbi Arthur J. Lelyveld, to Mississippi in 1964. Herbert Randall’s photo of a bloody but unbowed Lelyveld is one of the more memorable images.

At the heart of this exhibit, which runs through May 14, 2017, is a room about local and state terror. At its center is a cage that partially replicates the “nigger wagon” Jackson, Miss., police used to round up protesters.

On the outside of the cage are quotations about courage, perseverance and human rights. On the inside are photos of the wagon in action. It’s an arresting way to frame the issues that were being played out at that time.

Pictures by Bob Adelman and Herron show police intimidation; black girls taunted by white adults; a black girl trying to make eye contact with a guy wearing a hard hat stickered with a Confederate flag; white guards dragging another black girl on the street; a black girl picketing a department store in Birmingham. Even innocent bystanders were corralled.

The exhibition, which originated at the Center for Documentary Expression and Art in Salt Lake City, has been customized by and for the Maltz Museum. Not only did the Beachwood institution add a section on Cleveland – the exit area celebrates brothers Carl and Louis Stokes, respectively the first black mayor of a major American city, and Ohio’s first black congressman – it also added 3-D, immersive images like a “freedom cross” and a thicket of hate-slogan signs.

The exhibition opens with a recreation of a bedroom in a sharecropper’s shack. It feels lived in, authentic. That paves the way for the heart of the display, 150-plus black-and-white images by photographers of different backgrounds and ethnicities who found common cause in civil rights. Named after an old gospel song, “This Light of Ours” serves up pictures of segregation, like an Adelman image of a socialite gathering in Dallas where, as the caption says, the maid “was just another piece of furniture,” and of determination, like Herron’s photo of Jim Leatherer wearing a yarmulke, so sweaty his T-shirt stuck to him as he walked the 50 miles between Selma and Montgomery, Ala., – on crutches.

Bob Fitch’s photos of the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta are particularly heartbreaking. They show King’s family, friends and mourners devastated by his assassination in 1968. Remarkable blends of directness and respect, these photos show King’s family in moments as intimate as moments get, but there’s nothing of celebrity in them, only sorrow. The photos attest to Fitch’s sense of the gravity of the event. He captured that while maintaining a proper, respectful distance from his subjects.

“It’s impossible not to connect the images that you see with what’s going on in our country today,” said
Ellen Rudolph, executive director of the museum. People protested police brutality then – and today, with “the same messages being telegraphed.”

“The broader message was the civil rights movement was not a moment in time, but civil rights are something we constantly have to fight for,” Rudolph added, noting that “on the eve of this incredibly divisive presidential election we’re still fighting for voting rights.” CV

On Exhibit

“This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement”

WHEN: Through May 14, 2017

WHERE: Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, 2929 Richmond Road, Beachwood

INFO: 216-593-0575 or maltzmuseum.org


Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Oct. 13, 2016.

Lead image: Kenneth B. Liffman, a member of the Maltz Museum board of trustees, inspects the Cleveland section of “This Light of Ours.” Photo | Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage

Charles Mintz framed the Lustron portrait, “Detroit, MI: Miles and Terrence,” in baked enamel, a material similar to that used in Lustron Homes.

Photographer Mintz captures different kind of home

By Carlo Wolff

In the late summer of 2012, Cleveland photographer Charles Mintz presented “Precious Objects,” a show of people with their favorite things, at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood. Now he’s trained his deadpan, open-minded eye on one of the most important parts of people’s lives: their home.

Mintz just published “Lustron Stories,” a book of photographs about a very unusual kind of residence. Published by Trillium Books, a new imprint of The Ohio State University Press, it’s both intimate and affectless. Mintz’s photographs, like the smooth surfaces of Lustron Homes, are oddly opaque yet remarkably expressive.

The $49.95 book is available at Loganberry Books on Cleveland’s Larchmere Boulevard. Mintz has mounted two exhibitions drawing on his Lustron photos and is looking for a local venue to showcase the project.

Lustron Homes are prefab houses of porcelain-baked, enamel-coated steel manufactured in Columbus between 1948 and 1950. About 2,500 were sold, mostly 1,100-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath bungalows, to buyers all over the country, from Los Alamos, N.M. to Maine to Miami. About 1,500 survive.

They sold, without land, for $7,000, or close to $71,000 in today’s dollars. In some cases, they’ve remained with the original family. Mintz photographed 125 between 2011 and 2014. Their owners let him into their lives. While the focus is the people, the context is equally eloquent. These photos are nothing if not balanced. Not to mention lived in.

The Lustron project derived from one Mintz embarked on in 2009 to photograph foreclosed homes in every neighborhood in which he’d lived. His research showed that many had been built after either World War I or World War II.

Since he, like Lustron, was born in 1948, “this is history through my lifetime,” said Mintz, who owns a stucco house in Cleveland’s Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. “The project is about the meaning of having your own home.”

Three of the photographs feature members of the original families, including the cover photo of Clementine and her mother, Anita, in Oak Park, Mich.

In that one, there’s the woman who bought the house, Mintz said. “The other story is the daughter who grew up in the house, which I find fascinating. We all remember, most of us, the home we spent the bulk of our childhood in. The house I grew up in in Cleveland Heights was a wooden house but it was essentially the same as these: a two-bedroom, one-bath bungalow built in 1949.”

Lustron Homes sold to a target audience of nondisabled, heterosexual, working-class families, Mintz said. It was the time of “Leave It to Beaver,” of “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” before the government began to build the interstate system in 1956.

Assembling a Lustron Home might take as few as 350 man hours, he said. But getting the pieces of these low-maintenance, if problematic, homes (you couldn’t nail a picture to a wall, for example) from Columbus to their destinations could be daunting, as semis hauling them had to travel through towns, not to mention on challenging roads. If you had to carry a Lustron Home to, say, Topeka, Kan., you’d have to travel US 40, which in some places was “not much better than a dirt road,” Mintz said. And the semi would have to return to Columbus – empty.

In addition, Lustron ran on money borrowed from the Reconstruction Finance Corp., a federal agency designed to provide economic stimulus, Mintz said.

In “The Idea of Home,” the essay that ends “Lustron Stories,” Mintz says he worked with Ohio History Connection, a Columbus nonprofit and the state’s historical society. Armed with a skeletal database of Lustron Home owners, Mintz wrote “hundreds and hundreds” of letters, eventually connecting with the subjects of these photographs.

“It’s very hard to find volunteers to participate in projects,” he said, “but when you do, with few exceptions, they’re remarkably generous people.” CV


Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Sept. 23, 2016.

Lead image: Charles Mintz framed the Lustron portrait, “Detroit, MI: Miles and Terrence,” in baked enamel, a material similar to that used in Lustron Homes. Photo | Carlo Wolff.

Career Mossad agent Avner Avraham discusses Adolf Eichmann’s clandestine residency in Argentina at “Operation Finale.”

The Maltz Museum’s ‘Operation Finale’ captures intensity of Nazi Adolf Eichmann’s Byzantine story

Story by Carlo Wolff
Photography by Michael C. Butz

Moshe Dayan, from left, an Israeli military leader who would become defense minister during the Six-Day War of 1967, looks on as Adolf Eichmann – viewed through the bulletproof glass booth from which he testified – listens to Moshe Landau, presiding judge at Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem in 1961.

Moshe Dayan, from left, an Israeli military leader who would become defense minister during the Six-Day War of 1967, looks on as Adolf Eichmann – viewed through the bulletproof glass booth from which he testified – listens to Moshe Landau, presiding judge at Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem in 1961.

“Operation Finale,” the name the Mossad gave to its capture of key Nazi mechanic Adolf Eichmann, vamps on the Final Solution, the term Adolf Hitler’s regime used to prettify the extermination of the Jews the Nazis came so close to fulfilling.

“Operation Finale: The Capture & Trial of Adolf Eichmann,” on view at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood, is an extraordinary exhibition. It engages your intellect at the start and tears your heart out by the end.

A co-production of the Mossad, the Maltz Museum and Beit Hatfutsot-The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, “Operation Finale” presents four themes, according to Avner Avraham, a career Mossad agent who curated the Tel Aviv exhibit on which the Maltz Museum’s larger exhibit is based:

• SS Lt. Col. Eichmann’s role in the Final Solution
• The identification and capture of Eichmann in Argentina
• Preparing for and prosecuting Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem
• The legacy of the case.

Another highlight of “Operation Finale” is a thicket of silhouette cutouts of the original Mossad team detailing each member’s specialty.

Another highlight of “Operation Finale” is a thicket of silhouette cutouts of the original Mossad team detailing each member’s specialty.

The idea is to present an installation so comprehensive that an alien visiting from outer space could tell this was the whole story, Avraham said.

The 4,000-square-foot exhibition, which features 60 original artifacts, 70 photographs and seven original films running a total of 35 minutes, is dense, informative and exciting. It starts as a thriller and ends as an epic. It gathers many pieces, several of which the Mossad has never shared, of a very large puzzle.

Unlike the more personal “Violins of Hope” exhibit at the Maltz Museum, which ended in January, “this exhibit touches on people’s emotions in a different way,” said Maltz Museum Executive Director Ellen Rudolph. The feeling here is more collective, and “Operation Finale” is more interactive.

It proceeds chronologically.

After establishing him as a key Nazi operator, “Operation Finale” tracks Eichmann to a prisoner of war camp where he spent 1945 to 1950, then follows him to Argentina, which he entered under a pseudonym, using a Red Cross passport.

Enter the Mossad, dedicated to bringing key Nazis to justice. Avraham, who also helped curate the Maltz exhibit, suggested that Mossad was as slippery as Eichmann. Actually, it was more slippery.

Mossad agent Avner Avraham spent five years curating exhibits on the capture of Adolf Eichmann in both Tel Aviv and Beachwood.

Mossad agent Avner Avraham spent five years curating exhibits on the capture of Adolf Eichmann in both Tel Aviv and Beachwood.

“Operation Finale” uses period photography, originals and replicas of materials including passport forging tools, license plate kits and tourist guides the 11-person Mossad team used to nail Eichmann in Buenos Aires, where he was finally identified in 1957. The father of a girl who was friends with Eichmann’s son, Nicholas, recognized the name of the elusive Nazi kingpin, alerting German law enforcement authorities and triggering the hunt.

“The Grab” would take three years, numerous identity shifts on the agents’ and Eichmann’s parts, and various automobiles and airplanes to bring down Eichmann and transport him, anesthetized, to Jerusalem. It would take close to another year and a 14-person, multilingual Mossad team to prepare for the trial, which led to Eichmann’s conviction on charges including crimes against the Jewish people and crimes against humanity. Despite protestations of innocence and a no-regret attitude, Eichmann was found guilty and hanged in 1962. His ashes were scattered on the surface of the Mediterranean Sea.

“Operation Finale” swarms with media, stressing graphics, an interactive display at the very end asking visitors to identify current hotbeds of intolerance, and, as an emotional climax, an extraordinary triptych virtually putting Eichmann on trial again.

This triptych, its centerpiece the original glass booth from the 1961 Jerusalem trial, is the display’s knockout punch. As Rudolph said, it “kind of raises you up and punches you in the stomach.”

The triptych brackets an impassive, largely expressionless Eichmann with videos of prosecutors and Holocaust survivors, many of whom told their stories for the first time there. Not only did the globally broadcast trial attest to Israel’s intelligence acumen, it also was the first time the world at large learned of the Final Solution; footage includes news clips of liberated concentration camps. This is strong stuff, and parents of children younger than 12 should take caution before exposing them to it.

“The biggest challenge in curating this exhibition, both in Beit Hatfutsot and in the Maltz Museum, was how to present this great drama of the abduction and the trial through objects/materials that the majority of them are old paper documents written in languages that not many can read,” Orit Shaham- Gover, chief curator at Beit Hatfutsot, wrote in an email from Tel Aviv.

“There are few 3-D objects in the exhibition and museums tell stories through objects. Telling this story via such ‘unattractive’ objects was definitely a challenge, and in this respect I think that” the designers in Tel Aviv and Beachwood “did a great job. Another challenge was how to portray the atrocities of the Holocaust without intimidating American visitors (Israelis are used to Holocaust images), but this I think is the challenge of every Holocaust museum.”

Shaham-Gover became involved with the Eichmann exhibit in its American version, and said she was pleased with it when she attended opening day in Beachwood Feb. 19.

Other “Operation Finale” highlights are a thicket of silhouette cutouts of the original Mossad team detailing each member’s specialty, the languages he and the lone female agent spoke, and a mini-biography; a room section lined with vintage radios, all acquired on eBay, broadcasting then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s address to Israelis about Eichmann’s conviction; and placards of photographs of Holocaust survivors, many of them local, keyed to audio that tells their stories.

The colors are largely red, black and white, and most of the photos are black and white, conjuring a pre-digital era in which intelligence agents had to hand-craft their tools and information had to be ferreted out in brick-and-mortar places. “Operation Finale” speaks eloquently of a time when the world was only actual and guilt and innocence seemed clearer than they do today.

Michael “Mickey” Goldman, a key figure in Eichmann’s prosecution, was 17 when a Gestapo train transported him and his family to an extermination camp in Belzec in southeastern Poland in 1942. Eichmann, who headed the Gestapo’s department for Jewish affairs, had lashed the boy in the ghetto nine years earlier.

In Jerusalem, Eichmann stuck to the line that he was only following orders, telling prosecutors that loyalty was the very highest value and a breach of loyalty was worse than murder. He asked for clemency toward the end of the trial.

Goldman summed up the situation succinctly, however, saying Eichmann was not a cog in the Nazi killing machine “but the machine itself.” It was Goldman who scattered Eichmann’s ashes over the waters.

In a telephone call Feb. 24 from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Maltz Museum founder Milton Maltz said museums in New York and Chicago, have expressed interest in “Operation Finale.”

This exhibit and “Violins of Hope,” its immediate predecessor, show “this museum is now getting national recognition for the work it’s doing,” said Maltz, adding it will also be shown in a new building at his International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

Maltz said he felt it was high time the Mossad was recognized, adding it took two years to negotiate with that intelligence agency and Beit Hatfutsot, the Tel Aviv museum where he first saw the Eichmann display on which his Beachwood museum. CV

On View

WHAT: Operation Finale: The Capture & Trial of Adolf Eichmann

WHEN: Through June 12

WHERE: Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, 2929 Richmond Road, Beachwood

TICKETS & INFO: Free to members; $12 adults; $10 students, those 60 and over; $5 ages 5-11. Call 216-593-0575 or visit maltzmuseum.org


Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Feb. 24, 2016.