The Florida Holocaust Museum recently unveiled a new exhibition highlighting the catharsis provided by sharing family history and that acts of kindness can echo for generations.
We Share the Same Sky: The Retelling of Family History Becomes the History Itself, opened to the public Sept. 30. Rachael Cerrotti, who spent a decade chronicling her grandmother’s fight for survival through the Holocaust, led a special presentation.
As a kid growing up in Boston, Cerrotti often heard her grandmother, Hana Dubova, share stories of the Holocaust. Dubova, or Mutti as she was affectionately known, was the only person in her family to survive Nazi atrocities.
Several strangers helped Mutti, then 14, leave her hometown of Prague, Czechoslovakia, for Denmark in 1939. She was among the 7,000 Jews – nearly the entire population in the Nazi-occupied country – that escaped on fishing boats to neutral Sweden in 1943.
“And one of my favorite parts about that story is that it was actually kicked off by a Nazi officer who used his privilege to be an upstander,” Cerrotti said. “He found out that the Danish Jews were going to get deported, and he leaked that information so that they could rally themselves and figure out how they’re going to get out.”
Cerrotti developed an interest in storytelling as a photojournalism student in college. She thought of Mutti’s incredible journey and asked her to retell it from the beginning.
Cerrotti was 20, and her grandmother was 84 when those talks began in 2009. Mutti died just over a year later.
However, Cerrotti soon realized her grandmother left thousands of chronicled letters and captioned pictures. Digitizing pictures became an extensive school project.
She began to retrace her grandmother’s steps through Europe – and eventually New York – in 2014. The We Share the Same Sky podcast launched five years later to national acclaim.
The book followed in 2021. During a subsequent tour, Cerrotti developed a friendship with Erin Blankenship, the museum’s project manager.
“I said, ‘I have all these artifacts … sitting in boxes, and I had this dream for years that I could make a museum exhibition out of it,’” Cerrotti explained. “She goes, ‘Well, let’s do that.’”
The expansive exhibit is on display in St. Petersburg until May 5. It is already making an impact on visitors.
Here are some reactions:
“The exhibition was absolutely wonderful,” said Barbara Singer. “After reading the book and coming and hearing her (Cerrotti) talk, I have a real sense of what she enjoyed and … learned from her grandmother’s experience. She (Cerrotti) spoke about how life, and the callouses we acquire in life … thicken our skin. That made me really realize we all go through journeys, but what a wonderful and beautiful journey she provided for us.”
“I liked that she highlighted how her work was different because she really highlighted what happened in Denmark,” said Kathryn Warner. “That was important for me to know that the whole rescue was one of the main messages she wanted to give – and you see that in the exhibit here.
“I’m just stunned, overwhelmed and impressed that there are over 100,000 photos in this extensive archive of their (family) history. It was very impressive; very well done.”
Carl Goodman, CEO of the Florida Holocaust Museum, said the exhibition’s “combination of history and memory” made it unique. “Usually, you’ll have museum curators looking at events in history from the outside,” he explained.
“In this case, we’ve asked the person whose journey it was to … create an exhibition that is both about her grandmother and the story of her discovery.”
After the event, Cerotti noted that the physical representation of We Share the Same Sky provided a “whole other world of storytelling” compared to the podcast or book. She called people’s reactions to her grandmother’s story “beautiful” and “overwhelming.”
“And that’s a wonderful combination,” Cerrotti added. “We create bonds over stories. And not only do we get to take in a story here together, but we also get to be part of the story here together.”
The Danish Rescue
The Danish rescue played a significant role in Mutti’s and over 7,000 other survival stories. As they worked to create the exhibit, Cerrotti said museum officials asked if she could acquire one of the boats.
“No, I really don’t know how to get a boat,” she replied. “Then fast forward a few weeks, and they’re like, ‘We got a boat.’ This was not the boat that my grandmother was on, but it’s such a tight-knit history.”
The museum held a separate event Oct. 1 commemorating the fishing boat Thor. Goodman said it would stay at a Largo storage facility with thousands of other artifacts until workers fit it through one of the St. Petersburg institution’s windows as part of an expansion project.
While he said the “logistics are pretty complicated,” sometime next year it will contrast the museum’s train boxcar – a vehicle that took Jews to their deaths.