By Christina Sahovey
Many Pittsburghers know Paul Guggenheimer from his myriad appearances in local theatrical performances, or from the former radio program “Essential Pittsburgh,” which ran on WESA. But what many people do not know is that Paul’s father, James, is a Holocaust survivor with a fascinating story to tell. If you miss hearing Paul’s voice coming through your radio, here’s your chance to hear him again (and even meet him in person) soon, while hearing him discuss his family’s Holocaust story.
Paul and his father, Dr. James Guggenheimer – a dentist who is on the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Dental Medicine – will be speaking together at the Holocaust Center on Wednesday, May 16 at 6:30, as part of our ongoing Generations Speakers Series. For the uninitiated, the Generations Speakers Series are talks in which survivors and a family member (who was not involved in the Holocaust) speak about their experiences alongside one another. The program started in January, and this will be the third installment of the Generations Speakers Series. Additionally, these talks will be live-streamed via our website – you can watch along at home at this link, which will be activated when the program starts on Wednesday.
I caught up with Paul last week and asked him a few questions about himself, his family, and what we can expect from Wednesday’s program. Here’s what he had to say…
Christina Sahovey: Tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be involved with the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh!
Paul Guggenheimer: I first became involved with the Holocaust Center about six years ago when I was hosting a daily radio program. I did several segments that covered the work of the Holocaust Center, including interviews with survivors. Then in 2013, the former director, asked me if I would be willing to become vice chair of the Programming Committee and I have been involved with the Holocaust Center ever since.
CS: Can you tell us, very briefly, about what we can expect to hear from your father’s story?
PG: What happened to my father occurred when he was a very young child so it will be interesting to hear exactly what he remembers. The bottom line is that he was born in Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia after his parents fled Germany (my grandmother was pregnant at the time). And then in 1939, they had to escape Europe and ended up in New York.
CS: When did your father tell you about his experiences in the Holocaust?
PG: My father basically told me next to nothing about his experiences in the Holocaust. Any stories I heard came from my grandmother who told me that my Dad spoke Serbian until they moved to New York.
CS: How has having a parent who lived through the Holocaust impacted you?
PG: When you realize that someone you love, who has cared for you throughout your life could very easily have been killed by the Nazis, it gives you a sense of the enormity of the tragedy of the Holocaust. It becomes more than just an historic event and makes it personal.
CS: In your own words, why do you think it’s important for children and grandchildren (and now in some cases, great-grandchildren) of survivors to tell their family’s stories and preserve the legacy?
PG: I think it’s important to preserve the legacy because it’s a part of what shapes who we are as individuals. And because so many Holocaust survivors and Jewish refugees ended up in America, it’s an important part of what has shaped the United States as we know it. It’s an integral part of our American identity.
Thanks, Paul! We cannot wait to hear the rest of yours and your father’s story on Wednesday evening. We hope you all will join us, too!