This digital exhibition is the story of two individuals: Stanley Steyer and Diana Kintzel. Stanley was a young Jewish man in Poland who survived the Holocaust through ingenuity, luck, and the kindness of others. Diana was a young Polish Catholic woman who fell in love with Stanley, and supported him in his efforts to hide Jews in flight.
Broadly speaking, this exhibition also tells the story of Jewish life in Poland, a land that underwent dramatic changes over the course of the twentieth century. Stanley was born in a Poland that chafed under foreign rule, divided between the German, Austrian, and Russian empires. By the time Diana was born, following World War I, Poland had finally achieved its long-awaited independence. It promised equal rights to all its minorities.
To be sure, Jewish political, religious, and cultural life flourished in Poland in the 1920s and 1930s. Yet antisemitism (hatred of Jews) also increased, both in popular form and through state structures and policies. Polish fascism was born in this period, even before the invasion of Nazi forces on September 1, 1939.
World War II devastated Poland and its Jewish population. 90% of Poland’s Jews were killed in the Holocaust – by bullet in mass shootings; in ghettos, areas of a city designated for exclusively Jewish residence; and in death camps.
Stanley’s entire immediate family was killed in the Holocaust. In 1944, Stanley and Diana were imprisoned, beaten, and tortured, during which time Diana had a miscarriage. The loss continued after the war when their first child, Krzysztof, died tragically at the age of three months. In 1947, Stanley, Diana, and a second child, Thomas, immigrated to the United States. A daughter, Helen, was born, and shortly after, the family moved to Venezuela.
The story of Stanley and Diana provides a model for hope and resistance: Stanley and Diana defied hatred and persecution with the love they had for each other.
And yet, this love could have cost them their lives had the Nazis found out. Stanley and Diana were never free from fear, never free from stress. Even after the war, survival did not guarantee a happy ending.
This digital exhibition was made possible by the generous funding of Helen Sarah Steyer, daughter of Stanley and Diana. Helen was named after her aunt Helena and her grandmother Salomea, both of whom were killed by the Nazis. By honoring their memory, Helen gives us a glimpse into the devastating consequences of racism and hatred. At the same time, the story of Helen’s parents inspires us toward moral courage, as we think critically about our own lives, and the choices we make in the present-day.