The Reverend Judith Simonson
The Reverend Judith Simonson has childhood memories of being told not to enter a wading pool because it had been used by Native American children. Even as a child she knew that something was not right about instilling fear of those who were different. And as a first-time voter in Mississippi, she challenged the clerk who did not require her to take the literacy test being administered to African-Americans. Instead, Reverend Simonson insisted she take it too.
Developing an interest in theology, she attended seminary and was ordained a minister in 1980. She has held several positions in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and presently serves as an endorser for Lutheran chaplains in hospitals and nursing homes serving all faiths.
Her personal connection to the Holocaust was through her children’s father. His parents came from Germany; his mother was Lutheran and his father was Jewish. After the Nazis came to power, the family escaped to the Soviet Union. From there, they went to the Netherlands and, in 1939, immigrated to the United States.
While she knew their story, it was only when she came face to face with a Holocaust memorial sculpture of victims—young and old—that it hit Reverend Simonson that they could have been her own children. Even more disturbing was that the perpetrators of this crime sang the same hymns that she did on Christmas Eve.
Although she has been a Museum member since 1997, her first visit was in 2010 as a participant in the annual Day at the Museum program. During that visit she realized that the Museum is the one place that presents the history of the Holocaust in a way in which people can relate. As she said, “This history touches all humanity because it was ordinary people who committed these atrocious deeds and others who displayed incredible courage.”
As Reverend Simonson began thinking about her legacy, helping ensure the Museum can always inspire new generations to act on the lessons of this watershed event was an important part of the example she wanted to leave behind. “It continues to be vital that we tell this story because intolerance is as prevalent as ever,” she said. She established a charitable gift annuity—a planned gift that will provide her with lifetime income, with the remainder designated for the Museum’s permanent unrestricted endowment fund. “I made this gift in memory of my children’s grandfather, Dr. Ernst Simonson,” she explained, “and hope it will inspire others to help secure the Museum’s future.”