Opportunity For Hope


How is it that some people suffer the worst of experiences and yet go on to lives that are full and joyful?
What is the source of their recovery from tragedy?
Two panelists offer us insights based upon their own lives.

Where did they find the strength?

MICHEL KATALASSurvivor of Rwandan Oppression

JACK MONTGOMERY, Attorney & Photographer, will facilitate the discussion

Messerschmidt hands hi res

THURSDAY, JANUARY 29th, 6:00pm
in conjunction with the opening reception of the permanent exhibition
“Soul Survivors: Legacy of the Holocaust”

Portraits of Maine’s holocaust survivors, with excerpts from their oral testimonies


Kurt Messerschmidt was born on January 2, 1915, in Werneuchen, Germany.In 1921, Kurt entered public school and also attended classes in Jewish education. Kurt excelled as a linguistics scholar, musician, and athlete. Kurt witnessed the intensifying persecution of Jews after the Nazis came to power in 1933. In 1943, Kurt and his family were deported, along with Kurt’s fiancée, Sonja, to the work ghetto at Theresienstadt Czechoslovakia. Kurt and Sonya were married in Theresienstadt , but then separated when Kurt was later sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz- Birkenau. After surviving a death march in early 1945, Kurt was liberated in May of that year. In the early postwar days, Kurt worked as a teacher and translator in Germany while searching for news of his family. After Kurt’s reunion with Sonja, they lived in Munich where Kurt was a soloist in a radio choir broadcast across Europe. On July 3, 1950, they left Germany for Brooklyn, New York, and then settled in Portland, Maine, where Kurt continued his profession as teacher and musician.

Michel Katalas is a survivor of the Rwandan Holocaust. As a young man he was committed to helping to rebuild his country, including a system that would recognize the rule of law. While still in his 20’s he began his training to become a judge. Early in his career on the bench, he was repeatedly approached by governmental officials who tried to dictate to him the outcome of politically charged trials. He steadfastly refused to bend to these instructions and as a result was imprisoned and abused on two occasions. Eventually coming to fear for his life, he fled to the United States where he was later joined by his wife and children. They have settled in Portland where Michel went on to receive his Masters in Law at the University of Maine.

Jack Montgomery is a photographer and lawyer at the firm of Bernstein Shur. The photographs on exhibit in “Soul Suvivors:Legacy of the Holocaust” were made in the 1990’s as part of a project to document Maine’s Holocaust Survivors. They have been displayed in numerous venues.