Gayle Embrey

New book on Holocaust Poland commemorates 10th anniversary of SMU human rights program

'No Resting Place' book coverBearing witness to Poland’s deep physical and emotional scars that linger long after World War II – when the Nazis made the country the epicenter of the Holocaust – is the focus of a new book by SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program.

No Resting Place: Holocaust Poland (Terrace Partners, $39.95) combines more than 200 contemporary photos of occupied Poland’s deadliest Holocaust sites with historical vignettes and poignant observations from those who have experienced one of the most comprehensive, longest-running Shoah study trips offered by a U.S. university.

> Read a preview of No Resting Place: Holocaust Poland

Each December, the two-week “Holocaust Poland” trip – led for more than 20 years by SMU Prof. Rick Halperin – exposes students and lifelong learners to the Third Reich’s genocidal “Final Solution to the Jewish Question.” Both the trip and book are meant to ensure historical remembrance and “history as warning,” says history professor and co-author Halperin. “In our increasingly polarized world, where hate crimes against Jews and Muslims are on the rise, the need for tolerance and understanding has never been greater.”

Dallas philanthropist and SMU alumna Lauren Embrey (’80, ’06) couldn’t agree more. Embrey’s life would be profoundly changed by the 2005 “Holocaust Poland” pilgrimage she took while pursuing a Master of Liberal Studies (MLS) degree at SMU. In 2006, Lauren, her sister Gayle, and their Embrey Family Foundation funded the pioneering Embrey Human Rights Program, led by Halperin, within SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. In 2012, enthusiasm for the program allowed SMU to go from offering a human rights minor and MLS concentration in human rights and social justice to providing a Bachelor of Arts degree in the field, making SMU one of only five U.S. universities to do so. (Since then, two others have followed suit.)

Since Halperin began leading SMU study trips to Poland in 1996, the number of participants has grown from a handful to more than three dozen who went on the 20th anniversary pilgrimage in 2016 (including two dozen students able to travel thanks to a gift from SMU alumnus Mike Disque ’64 and his wife, Cherri). To commemorate the program’s 10th anniversary and trip’s second decade, Halperin teamed up with SMU colleagues Sherry Aikman and Denise Gee to create No Resting Place.

The trio’s primary objective was to produce a book sensitively depicting “the last places ever seen by millions of innocent people who didn’t want to die in such horrific places,” Halperin says. “And unlike most other Holocaust books we wanted this one to be produced in color – because the Holocaust happened in color.”

— Written by Denise Gee

> Read the full story from SMU News

Human rights artists explore global power of murals at SMU Sept. 29

Documentary filmmaker Gayle Embrey with film crewDocumentary filmmaker-philanthropist Gayle Embrey (right, with film crew) will join internationally acclaimed mural artist and community activist Claudia Bernardi at SMU on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011, to discuss their work supporting murals as evocative forms of communication and social change.

“Walls of Hope & Murals as Voice: Building Community Through Art” is sponsored by SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program and begins at 7 p.m. in McCord Auditorium, 306 Dallas Hall. The event is free and open to the public

Embrey is currently producing Murals as Voice Project, a documentary that explores the histories, hopes and dreams communicated through murals on the walls of neighborhood communities around the world. A portion of the ongoing project will be shown at the event.

“The first time I went to Belfast, the murals painted by artists on both sides of ‘The Troubles’ struck me to my core. The stories they told were graphic – sometimes menacing, sometimes celebratory, sometimes tragic,” Embrey says. “The voices conveyed were strong and clear. They had something to say and the power to make viewers listen.”

Not long after returning from Belfast, Embrey watched a documentary on Palestine and again noticed murals in the background.

“I had seen murals around the United States and in Mexico but at this point I became curious about how all these different cultures throughout the world were using murals to give voice to their life experiences,” she says. Embrey’s strong interest in human rights, along with that of her sister, Lauren, led to the creation of the Embrey Human Rights Program in 2006 thanks to a generous donation from the Dallas natives.

Visual artist Claudia Bernardi at workIn human rights work, Gayle Embrey says, “The vehicle of film, or of any art form, is important because it is a non-threatening way to increase public awareness, to educate people about what’s happening in the world. It allows them at the same time, if done well, to form their own opinions and take their own right actions toward social change.”

Bernardi’s Walls of Hope organization uses collaborative and community based art-making, education, diplomacy and community development to support survivors of state terror. She will share video of her work and that of others at Thursday’s event.

A visual artist and human rights investigator born in Argentina, Bernardi (left) has witnessed “monstrous atrocities and unspeakable human tragedies” during the course of her life. She has spent more than two decades designing community projects for refugees and survivors of torture from Latin America. Most recently she has focused on developing art-in-community projects for countries at war or during postwar periods. She also has worked with the Argentine Forensic Anthropology team in exhuming mass graves in El Salvador, Guatemala and Ethiopia.

Written by Denise Gee

> Learn more at SMU Embrey Human Rights Program homepage
> Visit the Walls of Hope website