Meet the Staff: Ryan Woodward

When did you start working for the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh?

I started working at the Holocaust Center in May, 2018, but had been volunteering and attending events for several months beforehand.

Describe your role at the Holocaust Center:

I am the Library and Education Associate and get to work on different projects throughout the year. As the librarian, I have been maintaining and updating our collection of resources and work with the staff, students, and the public in reference and research assistance. As part of the Education Unit, I work with school field trips, gallery visitors, and local educators on a variety of engaging, history-focused programming.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

I take a very librarian approach to reference in that if I don’t have the answers, I will try to find them. It is quite satisfying to share something new with staff or the public about this field, for which I have much respect and interest. Researching topics for questions I receive from school groups leads me to learning something new each week. Reference has taken many different forms – book recommendations, advice on visiting historical sites, how to care for personal artifacts – and when you truly help someone find what they’re looking for, it’s hard to top that.  

Why did you want to work for the Holocaust Center? What attracted you to your job?

This position has afforded me the opportunity to do the kind of work I’ve wanted to do for many years, but the actual job had been difficult to find, because of its specificity. I am very fortunate that the duties and responsibilities reflective my education and experience and enjoy that I consistently use all of my degrees in my role at the Holocaust Center. My BA is in Music-Business (arts administration) and I earned two separate masters degrees – an MA in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and a Master of Library and Information Science, and while seemingly unconnected, all are centered around education, programming, and providing historically accurate information. My role at the Holocaust Center thus allows me to be involved in many different projects. There is certainly never a dull moment at the Center, which may not seem to be a great match for someone who thrives on structure and routine. I have found, however, that anticipating some measure of unpredictability both keeps things interesting and gives me the opportunity to still respond in a structured or routine way. Overall, working with this team to deliver impactful programming to diverse audiences on a serious topic is a lofty endeavor and I am fortunate to be able to bring what I know and can offer to that effort. 

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.)?

I don’t remember when the interest in World War II started, but it was early. Growing up, my mom was a middle school language arts teacher, so summers off were filled with weekly trips to the public library. Around age 9, I remember finding a children’s book, Great Lives: Anne Frank by Vanora Leigh. My mom taught the play, The Diary of Anne Frank, to her students each year, so she was prepared for the inevitable questions, “What were they hiding from? What does it mean to be Jewish? What’s the Holocaust?” My interest in the enormity of the Holocaust took hold and has increased ever since. It’s not uncommon for this history or anything connected to civil rights, discrimination, or genocide to resonate with people who grow up feeling different, bullied, or left out. I owe a lot to that initial reading of the Anne Frank book and for years could not remember its exact title or author. Library skills paid off about a year ago, however, when I tracked it down and bought a used copy. Periodically re-reading it provides a good dose of nostalgia, but also serves as a powerful reminder of the impact this history has had on me and its motivation to try to make the world a better place.

What is ONE Holocaust-related book everyone should read, and/ or ONE Holocaust-related movie everyone should watch, and why do you recommend?

You know the librarian won’t stop at ONE, so indulge me.

Books:

Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family by Miep Gies (1987) For anyone touched by Anne’s story, you have to read the account written by one of her helpers, Miep Gies. In addition to the two-year rescue operation occuring at the Secret Annex, you will learn much more about Miep’s resistance activities, including sheltering Jews, working in the black market, and assisting the Underground in occupied Amsterdam. ISBN-13: 978-0671547714

Alma Rosé: Vienna to Auschwitz by Richard Newman (2003) Born into musical royalty in early 20th Century Vienna, Alma Rosé’s childhood was a Who’s Who of classical music composers and performers. She became a pioneering artist as the director of an all-female touring ensemble before finding herself in charge of a very different women’s orchestra at Auschwitz-Birkenau. As a violinist with an interest in the Holocaust, I found this book to be truly stranger than fiction and as fascinating as it was heartbreaking. ISBN-13: 978-1574670516

After Daybreak: The Liberation of Bergen-Belsen, 1945 by Ben Shephard (2005) If some depictions of the end of the war or liberation of the camps ever feel romanticized or forcefully optimistic, this book shows readers the harsh realities experienced by survivors, liberators, and medical personnel at Bergen-Belsen in April of 1945. Liberation has been portrayed as a quick, joyous event when the war was over and the good guys won. After Daybreak examines the unprecedented trauma endured by victims and relief workers after the Nazi threat was over. ISBN-13: 978-0805242324

Films:

Shoah (1985) – Claude Lanzmann’s landmark documentary took over 10 years to make and is over 9 hours long, even edited down from the original content. Absent of any graphic footage, the film is no less shocking, relying solely on interviews with survivors, perpetrators, and bystanders to deliver one of the most powerful documentaries about the Holocaust. 

Protektor (2009) – is a Czech feature film about a couple living in Prague and their experiences related to the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. Something about the film’s style and pacing isn’t for everyone, but I’ve always enjoyed how it encompasses some themes not found in many Holocaust films such as intermarriage, the experiences of women, and the assassination of Heydrich.

Who Will Write Our History (2018) – The Holocaust Center was honored to sponsor a screening of this film during last year’s JFilm Festival. This documentary with dramatic reenactments tells the story of Emanuel Ringelblum and the efforts of his clandestine group to document life and resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto. This is one of the most emotionally moving and powerful films on the Holocaust I have seen.

Share your favorite memory of working at the Holocaust Center to date (bonus points if you can enclose a photo from your favorite memory!)

There have been so many memorable moments at the Holocaust Center, from meaningful interactions with students and visitors to constantly learning from some of the leading artists, scholars, and authors. A standout moment, however, was when the staff were treated to a visit from Zane, Pittsburgh Police Zone 4’s new comfort dog. Our local officers, who keep us safe and are part of the extended Holocaust Center team, brought him by for a visit last year. We all spent time with him, but he’s seen here getting extra love from Jackie.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I think most animal-loving kids want to be a veterinarian at some point, but the math and science involved were not for me. For a long time, I was interested in teaching history or social studies and am thankfully involved in those fields in a way that works best for me. Being a professional, performing musician requires a specific skill and level of dedication I did not have, but that would have been an interesting and fulfilling life. I miss music being a part of my daily routine.  

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I read a lot, mostly history and non-fiction. I spend a lot of time indulging in documentaries, horror movies, and live music. I am a sports fan, particularly baseball, softball, volleyball, and hockey. Last year, I helped create the Pittsburgh Women’s Sports Network, for fans and athletes to connect and support women’s sports in the area. 

Share a “fun fact” about yourself, or just something that people would be surprised to know about you?

For the past few years, I’ve been on the board of the International Women’s Baseball Center, a non-profit dedicated to the education, preservation, and advocacy of women and girls involved in all areas of baseball. In that time, we have held conferences, hosted the largest all-female baseball tournaments in U.S. history, and coordinated equipment drives for underserved youth programs all over the world. At the root of all of our programs is a drive toward equality, creating opportunities, and education, so despite being baseball-centered, the work is not that far removed from the goals of motivations of my job at the Holocaust Center. 

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