If the architect’s motto, “God is in the details,” is true, then Gerald Gurland surely must be one of the holiest men alive. Meticulous in his approach to all projects, persistently and insistently precise and painstaking, Gerry has graced the Center for Holocaust Study with these attributes through his work as Coordinator of Center Exhibits and as our special guide to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Those who have accompanied us on one of our many excursions to the museum in Washington, D.C. can attest to his ability to inform–and entertain–with little-known, inside stories about the complications that arose in the building of the Museum, as well as the profound symbolism contained within the architecture of the museum. It is an enterprise he knows well since he served as Director of Museum Development and Coordinator of Construction from 1988 to 1992. Similarly anyone who has assisted Gerry in mounting any of the exhibits which were coordinated with our annual Kristallnacht conference each Fall can testify to his insistence on getting things “exactly right”–the endless numbering, counting, and measuring–which have made these exhibits such spectacular events.
A 1961 graduate of the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now known as Carnegie Mellon University) and a Fulbright Scholar in the Netherlands (1962-1963), Gerry Gurland has had a long and distinguished career as an architect. As a member of the illustrious firm of I.M. Pei and Partners from 1963 to 1968, Gerry participated in designing the prototype air traffic control towers for the Federal Aviation Agency, presently at twenty-one locations throughout the United States. Later as associate and eventually as a partner in the firm of Richard, Meier and Partners, Gerry served as project architect for the award-winning artist housing project, Westbeth in New York City. Another building for which Gerry served as project architect–The Bronx Developmental Center in the Bronx, New York–won the coveted Reynolds Prize awarded to the building which best exemplified the use of aluminum. During the next twenty years, he served as project architect for award-winning buildings across the United States as well as abroad, e.g., the United States Embassy in Santiago, Chile. In 1990, Gerry was elected a Fellow in the American Institute of Architects.
During his tenure as Director of Museum Development and Coordinator of Construction for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Gerry was responsible for the complete construction of the Museum, the design and construction of Annex III, an adjacent historic landmark building which became the Administrative Center for the Museum, and the integration and coordination of the exhibition design into the architecture of the Museum building. In preparation for these duties, he traveled to Poland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Israel to view and gather information about specific concentration camp sites. And it was during this journey that he began to investigate the fate of his wife Evelyn’s grandparents, an investigation only recently completed.
Before Kristallnacht, Evelyn’s father–a native of Germany–had been arrested as a political prisoner. Fortunately, he was able to bribe his way out of Buchenwald and to leave with his wife and year-old daughter for America. Unfortunately, both sets of Evelyn’s grandparents remained behind. In 1945, Evelyn’s parents were informed that both sets had died of “natural causes” in Germany. By 1988, however –the date of Gerry’s information-gathering trip to Eastern Europe– new information suggested that Evelyn’s maternal grandparents had actually perished in Theresienstadt. Drawing on his capacity for dealing with countless details, Gerry followed a trail of evidence during the next nine years which eventually revealed the tragic fate of Evelyn’s grandparents: in September 1942, they had been deported from Theresienstadt to Treblinka where they perished. Writing in 1997, Gerry described his investigative experience as a “quest for truth which generated profound and often painful emotions at each step along the way.” He still finds it difficult to look back on it and to realize that the facts were there–waiting to be discovered!
Since 1992 Gerry Gurland has brought his sensitivity and quiet persistence to additional venues: as arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association; as advisor to the Chairman of the Housing Committee of the New York State Assembly, and as sponsor of the New York Architects Committee (Manhattan) for the election of President Clinton. We consider ourselves fortunate indeed to have a man of such integrity and so many talents as one of our associates and a member of the Advisory Council of our Center for Holocaust Study. Thank you Gerry for your immeasurable contributions, your dedication, and–most of all–for your friendship. We salute you.