Our newest blog post series introduces the members of our small but mighty Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh team!
We kick things off with our Administrative and Volunteer Coordinator, Christina Sahovey!
When did you start working for the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh?
I started working at the Holocaust Center in April of 2016. Prior to that, I worked for our parent organization, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, starting in September 2012 before the job at the Holocaust Center opened up and I transitioned to working over here.
Describe your role at the Holocaust Center: I am the Administrative & Volunteer Coordinator, but I wear many hats that are not described by my title! First, I handle all administrative tasks – like managing our director Lauren’s calendar, answering the main phone line, purchasing supplies, handling building-related issues, etc. I also handle our day-to-day financial tasks, so check requests, invoicing, reconciling our purchasing card, managing the petty cash, and so on. In addition, I do a lot of the legwork for our public events, working with the presenters and vendors, and overseeing things like registration and most of the event planning logistics. Since I manage the facility calendar, I also schedule school groups coming here on field trips and other group visits, and find them appropriate speakers. I also run the volunteer program – interviewing potential volunteers and finding roles that would work well for them. I am the main staff contact for the Generations Group (children, grandchildren, and other relatives of survivors); I am particularly involved with the Generations Speakers Bureau, as this leads into my work with volunteers, events, and group visits. Finally, I also handle all security matters and serve as the main contact for our law enforcement/ Inside Out training. So, I stay busy!
What’s your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of my job is working with the Inside Out program. The Holocaust Center is part of a think tank run by a Duquesne University professor all about the topic of criminal justice reform. Every few months, we host a day-long training for Pittsburgh Bureau of Police academy recruits. They learn about the history and use of police in Nazi Germany, ethical decision-making, learn about white supremacy and antisemitic activity locally and how to respond to calls of this nature, and how these lessons from the Holocaust can be applied to policing today. It is always a fascinating day to watch and be a part of.
In addition, through my role of working with the Inside Out program, I had the opportunity to go to a men’s maximum-security prison, SCI-Fayette, several months ago to observe a class with the inmates. It was a surreal experience to go into the prison and see the inmates just walking around in the yard and in the hallways. While I certainly do not want to glamorize them or what they have done to wind up in prison, I will say that it was refreshing to see how engaged the inmates were when they came to our class – asking a lot of good questions, seeming very interested in the subject matters (the Holocaust, antisemitism, racism, etc.), and joining in for a robust discussion with us. One even wrote to us later, asking for reading recommendations so he could continue educating himself about the subjects of the Holocaust and Jewish history.
Why did you want to work for the Holocaust Center? What attracted you to your job?
My mother volunteered with the Holocaust Center back when I was a kid, in the late 1980s-mid 1990s. Through her, I got to know a lot of the local survivors who are no longer living, which is really special. I also got to know about the Holocaust in an age-appropriate way, but sooner and more in-depth than a lot of my peers knew about the topic. That really kickstarted my interest in the field. I also took a course on the topic when I was in college, “The Holocaust: The Jews, The Nazis, and Occupied Europe” which was one of my favorite courses I took in my entire college career.
Given my personal experience through my mom plus my educational background, when my job opened up while I was working with our parent organization the Federation, it felt like the starts had aligned! I got to combine my own interest, my academic background, and my professional background since I knew all about the Federation’s policies, procedures, etc. It was perfect!
When did you first become interested in the subject of the Holocaust, and/ or what got you interested in the topic (book, movie, meeting someone, etc.)?
As I said above, my mom volunteering here and getting to meet the survivors got me interested when I was in elementary school. Lois Lowry’s “Number the Stars” was the first book I read on the topic as a child, and that also got me more interested in the Holocaust, too. I still think that’s one of my favorite young adult works that I’ve ever read.
What is ONE Holocaust-related book everyone should read, and/ or ONE Holocaust-related movie everyone should watch, and why do you recommend?
When I took the Holocaust history course in college, one of the books we read as a class was Christopher Browning’s “Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland”. It is horrifying and left an indelible mark on me – more than any other book I have read on the topic, I think. For those who have not read it, it is about the Reserve Police Battalion 101 – a group of (as the title states) ordinary, middle-aged men who were not avowed Nazis but who committed heinous acts including mass shootings of Jews and rounding up Jews for deportations. It is a scary glimpse into psychology and what motivates people to do atrocious things as well as covering the historical facts. We also use this as one of our sources in the police trainings that we do now, too.
Share your favorite memory of working at the Holocaust Center to date (bonus points if you can enclose a photo from your favorite memory!)
I don’t know if “favorite” is the best word, but definitely the memory of working here that will stay with me for a long, long time is the event with Magda Brown. Magda is an Auschwitz survivor who lost most of her family in the Holocaust; she now lives in Chicago. She spoke here in Pittsburgh, at Chatham University, on Sunday, October 28, 2018 – one day after the Tree of Life massacre and, essentially, across the street from the scene. Magda and her daughter (who travels with her) were scheduled to fly to Pittsburgh the morning of October 27. When they saw what had happened here that morning, her daughter texted me to ask if they should even come; I texted back and told her to speak with my boss. She did, and a few minutes later Magda’s daughter sent me a text that said: “mom just said ‘now the world needs to hear the message even more.’ Let’s go!” We had an incredible amount of security at that event – literally, an armed officer at ever window or door, and metal detectors at the entry way – and had to move to a more secure location on campus at the last minute, but we did the event the following day anyway. The turnout was amazing – the venue was packed, with way more people than we had anticipated. Magda’s message of hope and strength really helped me that day, and I know the same can be said for a lot of other people who attended that event, too.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Fashion designer, homicide detective, “Rolling Stone” magazine writer (blame watching Almost Famous when I was too young and impressionable), forensic scientist, and history teacher. You know, ‘cause that all makes sense and adds up…
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to stay pretty active and go for long walks, runs, and doing yoga and Pilates regularly. I also enjoy kayaking and I recently got into indoor rock climbing – something that I hope to get more into once indoor rock climbing gyms can safely reopen! I am also a hockey fanatic – I play (VERY recreational) street hockey, I watch almost every Pens game, and I am even dorky and competitive enough to play in a fantasy hockey league with some of my friends. I also like sewing (I’ve been making a lot of masks lately…), DIY fashion, and planning my work outfits – which I do at least two weeks in advance and I refuse to repeat the same outfit within a calendar month! Finally, I also enjoy cooking, baking, and especially craft beers. My boyfriend and I enjoy finding a local craft brewery every time we travel someplace new!
Share a “fun fact” about yourself, or just something that people would be surprised to know about you?
I am a HUGE true crime buff! I can talk about the topic for hours on end, sometimes to the chagrin of others – turns out, not everyone shares my affinity for gory murders, people who go missing under suspicious circumstances, and general mayhem (who knew?). But once I meet a fellow true crime buff, I know I’ve found “my people”! I’m especially interested in lesser-known crimes that haven’t received a lot of media attention for whatever reason, and/ or have been forgotten by time, as they happened years ago. I grew up watching a lot of “Unsolved Mysteries” (seriously, I think I’ve seen every segment of that show) which set the groundwork for my interest. I love listening to true crime podcasts, watching documentaries, and I can also spend an inordinate amount of time online, going down some serious rabbit holes as an “armchair detective” researching unsolved crimes and missing persons cases.
If you could host a dinner party with three famous (or famous-ish) people, living or deceased, as your guests, who would they be and why?
Shirley Chisholm – because she was so smart and is such an inspiration to me. I am glad that it seems like more people are starting to know her story and about her life.
Frida Kahlo – love her as both an artist and feminist icon. I got to see a show of her work when I was in Nashville last year, and it was incredible!
Stephen Colbert – because he’s hilarious and would keep the mood light!