2010 UNSUNG HEROES

Lolle Boettcher

Lolle Boettcher

Lolle Boettcher poses in the Ohave Sholom cemetery. In the background is the Monument to Holocaust Victims dedicated by the Chevra Kadisha Ohave Sholom. Photo: Lisa Mandel

Lolle Boettcher keeps memories alive, memories of tragedy and memories of triumph, memories that some may wish to forget and that others insist be examined in the hope that genocide end once and for all on this planet.

Boettcher - who is a Presbyterian - is a Holocaust educator. She is a docent at the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center at 12 Millstone Campus Drive, where she coordinates one of the education programs and conducts workshops for law enforcement officials. She also is a master regional educator, a Mandel Fellow (Museum Teacher Fellow) from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

A member of the Central Presbyterian Church in Clayton, Boettcher wears a gold cross, a Star of David and a Chai Life charm around her neck. She bought all three during a trip to Jerusalem. "Lolle is a person who truly represents interfaith values," says Dan Reich, director of education at the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center. "She brings her background as a Christian into her committed role as a Holocaust educator."

Brought up in University City, Boettcher says her background has a lot to do with the work she does today. "As a Christian, because of my classmates, I knew from the get-go that Jesus was a Jew," says Boettcher. "As I learned about the Holocaust, my heart was breaking. It was so shameful for me to find out that 99 percent of Germany was Christian at the time, and that many of the top officials had been baptized. I learned that the history of anti-Semitism goes back to the old rugged cross."

In 1992, while working as a teacher in the Frances Howell School District in St. Charles, Boettcher took a class with Rabbi Robert Sternberg at the Holocaust Center here, which was not yet a museum. "It was a two-week class - no, maybe it was just a one-week class that felt like two," says Boettcher, laughing. "The first day or two, I'd go home and tell my husband what I was learning. Then, as time went on, it became overwhelming emotionally. I couldn't talk about it."

The more she learned, the more Boettcher wanted to know, and the more involved she chose to become. In 1996, Boettcher applied for an educator's fellowship at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Four years later, she traveled to Poland and Israel as part of the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Program sponsored by the Jewish Labor Committee.

"I toured the Warsaw ghetto with a survivor of the uprising," says Boettcher. "I was actually walking on that soil with a woman who lived this history. She was the only survivor in her family. Next, we went to Treblinka. There I was, lighting memorial candles when - well, the bucket gets so full sometimes, it overflows. I was brought to tears, and this woman who goes back every year to this country where her family was murdered - this woman comforted me."

Next, Boettcher visited Israel. "I learned about the valor and courage of these people who had resisted in so many different forms," she says, "and I learned how vitally important it is to show these people not as downtrodden, but as victorious in so many ways, people who have contributed so much to the human race." Boettcher pauses. "I am still learning, but I know now there are no simple answers to complex questions."

Boettcher shared some of what she learned with her junior high students. "Starting with ‘The Diary of Anne Frank,' at first I taught the Holocaust as a three-week unit, but by 2002, I was teaching an entire quarter of Holocaust-related literature," she says. That same year, Boettcher started volunteering at the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center. One of her jobs is to organize trunks filled with educational materials that go to schools.

"Lolle does so much for us," says Jean Cavender, director of the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center. "She carries her cell phone everywhere, and I can recall her contacting me on more than one occasion while she was on one of her training runs - she is an accomplished triathlete - and she would give me her report on the Law Enforcement and Society evaluations from the class the day before. That is the kind of dedication Lolle has for her work with the Museum. She has taken multi-tasking to a whole new level."

Sometimes, when Boettcher speaks about the Holocaust to people who have not sought her out for that purpose, she senses reluctance. "Sometimes I have Jesus of Nazareth syndrome," she says, laughing, "and nobody wants to listen. And sometimes, people hear the story differently from me because I am not Jewish. But I feel only love and belonging from the Jewish community and the people at the Museum. I am deeply grateful to do this work."


Lolle Boettcher

AGE: 62

FAMILY:  Married to Glenn, three daughters (Jenna, 38; Jessica, 35; and Allison, 29), three grandchildren

HOME: University City  

OCCUPATION:  Retired English school teacher 

FAVORITE EXERCISE: Participating in triathlons and running