Memory & Action
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Memory & Action

Advancing Understanding: Michel Adler

Michel with his parents and older brother in Geneva in 1943.

“There are still people all over the world who believe it didn’t happen, or that it wasn’t as bad as it was. And that’s the role of education.” — Michel Adler

Michel’s father, Camillo Adler, was born in Austria, grew up in Poland and Vienna, and immigrated to France in 1930 to escape antisemitism.

It would eventually catch up with him there. At the start of World War II, after two months in internment camps, Camillo joined the French Foreign Legion to fight the Nazis only to find himself back in France after its surrender to Germany in 1940. To escape the Holocaust two years later, when his son Michel was 16 months old, the family fled again, this time to Switzerland. They would live there until 1951, when they resettled in New York. Even then, Camillo remained watchful and wary.

By the time the Museum opened in 1993, Camillo Adler had passed away, but for his son Michel, the commitment to keep the lessons of his family’s story alive intensified. Michel made his first of what would become an annual membership gift to the Museum that year.

“My parents talked frequently about the Holocaust, wondering what had happened to my mother’s parents,” explained Adler. “To this day, I regret that I didn’t ask them more questions.” Going through his father’s papers, Michael discovered three book manuscripts written in German, which he painstakingly translated and edited for publication. Among them was Camillo’s memoir I Am a Refugee. It recounts the family’s harrowing escape to Switzerland and life in Swiss refugee and labor camps. In 2011, Michel donated his father’s papers, including the manuscripts, to the Museum collection.

Michel recently made a Founder Society leadership gift directed to the Levine Institute for Holocaust Education Impact Fund, which allows Museum leadership to apply the funds where most needed. “By itself, the Museum can’t reeducate the world, but it’s a strong arm in that endeavor,” he added. “There are people all over the world who believe it didn’t happen, or that it wasn’t as bad as it was.” Through his gift to the collection and generous support of the Museum’s educational outreach, Adler is on the front lines in the battle to secure truth and advance understanding.

This article was first published in fall 2017.

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