In partnership with Ballet Austin, the Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities (AIPG) hosted Light From Darkness: Dance, Education, and the Legacy of Holocaust Survivor Naomi Kaplan Warren on September 1, 2021. The virtual event brought together the leadership and communities of both organizations, alongside members of the Warren family, to celebrate Naomi Kaplan Warren on what would have been her 101st birthday. The event also explored the ways in which the Auschwitz Institute and Ballet Austin are each carrying out distinct projects that honor her legacy of creating change for the future through education and the arts.
For AIPG, this legacy is enshrined in the work of the Warren Educational Policies Program: Celebrating the Life of Holocaust Survivor Naomi Kaplan Warren (WEPP). Since 2016, AIPG’s educational policies program has worked with governmental partners, universities, and civil society groups to create educational programs that engage young people in preventing intolerance and hate, as well as building more respectful, diverse, and just societies. In 2020, the Warren family partnered with AIPG to rename the educational policies program in Naomi’s honor, celebrating her incredible courage and her personal commitment to using education and the arts to build a better world for everyone.
The event was moderated by Dr. Kaitlin Murphy, frequent AIPG partner and Chair of the Social, Cultural, and Critical Theory Program at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona. Two of Naomi’s great-granddaughters — Aerin and Kendall Kalmans — also spoke during the event, sharing their personal reflections on how the memory of their “Nunu” inspires them to pursue higher education and raise their voices for those who are not strong enough to speak up for themselves.
Speaking during the event, Dr. Clara Ramírez Barat, Director of the WEPP, described the ways that the Auschwitz Institute’s Educational Policies Program pursues Naomi’s legacy and honors the values she held dear. She explained:
Naomi believed that education is… a powerful means to imagine a world without prejudice, violence, and hate. Recollecting what education meant in her own life, she became a committed advocate of the change that education can bring in the lives of people and what it can contribute to our shared humanity… She is an example to all of us and the Auschwitz Institute is extremely honored to carry on her legacy through our educational work.
Ballet Austin carries out Naomi’s legacy through Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project, a full-length contemporary ballet and community education partnership that uses dance as a convener of public dialogue around issues related to the protection of human rights against bigotry and hate. Light tells Naomi’s personal journey of tragedy, survival, and hope. The production creates opportunities for audiences to view the events of history through a different lens and to connect the past to issues that still plague us in the present.
Stephen Mills, Ballet Austin’s Artistic Director and the creator/choreographer of Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project, reflected on the power of dance as an educational tool to motivate people to action through his remarks during the event. He observed that:
Just like education, dance doesn’t change the world…but if an audience member comes into a theater and lets their guard down, and sees something — a metaphor, an idea — that comes right into their heart…and it changes a person, then that person leaves the theater more likely to do something positive. It’s success through a lot of small, positive actions.
Born in Eastern Poland in 1920, Ms. Kaplan Warren survived three concentration camps — Auschwitz-Birkenau, Ravensbrück, and Bergen-Belsen — during the Holocaust. She ultimately resettled in Houston, Texas, and after retiring from a fulfilling career in 2002 dedicated her life to sharing her story to teach the lessons of the Holocaust, transforming her painful history into a tool of hope, resilience, and change for generations to come.