With the Horwitz-Wasserman Holocaust Memorial Plaza complete, the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation is going through a few changes: It will transition its fundraising focus from a capital to an endowment campaign, and Eszter Kutas — a leader of the plaza project — will transition from a consultant to full-time staff member.
Kutas accepted an offer to become the foundation’s executive director, starting April 1.
She comes to the role from her position as assistant vice president at Fairmount Ventures, a consultant firm that provides services to nonprofits and public sector organizations. There, she began supporting the foundation more than two years ago as a consultant. She has been the foundation’s acting director for the past year.
The crux of her work has been developing the plaza, located at 16th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The plaza’s various elements bring attention to different facets of the Holocaust. This includes a section of the train tracks that led to Treblinka, which underscore the deportations, and six pillars that contrast events leading up to the Holocaust with democratic values.
“Understanding of the Holocaust is rapidly decreasing, and most people lack basic knowledge about the Holocaust,” Kutas said, noting a recent study commissioned by the Claims Conference, which found that 41 percent of millennials believe 2 million or fewer Jews died in the Holocaust, among other findings. “Our hope [is] that, with the plaza’s numerous key features, we can bring material reminders of the past to create a space for remembrance and education.”
The primary focus of her position is fundraising. She has helped raise $9 million so far for the capital campaign and is seeking to raise another $4 million for the endowment campaign, which will support maintenance of the plaza and educational programming.
Kutas will also develop the programming. This already includes an iWalk app, developed through a partnership with the USC Shoah Foundation, where users can learn about the plaza and listen to testimonies from Holocaust survivors. Kutas said future programming will include hosting Holocaust expert speakers and providing teacher outreach training.
“The history of the Holocaust didn’t start with concentration camps,” Kutas said. “That’s where it ended.”
The foundation does not mark the first time she’s done work related to the Holocaust.
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 2003, she worked for the Claims Conference in New York City to determine how to distribute a $1.25 billion settlement from Swiss banks to compensate about 600,000 Holocaust victims and their descendants for lost assets.
“I arrived in the Claims Conference early on, when this bank settlement case was just settled,” Kutas said. “The big question was how do we distribute this huge fund and find the rightful owners of these bank accounts. It was about figuring out processes and building it all up.”
After four years at the Claims Conference, Kutas moved to Philadelphia. She worked for Korn Ferry, an executive search agency, and then for Philabundance, where she served in a variety of project management and fundraising roles. She also launched Fair & Square, a nonprofit grocery store, to address the issue of food deserts.
“Similarly at Philabundance and the Holocaust Remembrance Foundation, I arrived at points when an idea was just forming, and the intellectual challenges for me was how to figure out an actionable plan that can bring these ideas to reality and how can I get both support for it internally and support from the outside communities,” Kutas said. “These are the challenges I like to focus my career on.”
Foundation Chairman David Adelman said Kutas has been key to the success of the capital campaign and the development of the plaza’s education programming. When the foundation decided to hire an executive director, he asked Kutas if she would be interested before expanding the search.
She’s been a partner with the foundation since the beginning, Adelman noted, and it’s rare to get the chance to work with a prospective employee.
“She’s been passionate about the project, and it’s a great fit all around,” he said.
Holocaust remembrance is a personal issue for Kutas, who grew up in Budapest with four grandparents who survived the Holocaust in concentration camps, ghettos and as partisans.
Her grandparents spoke about their experiences in the Holocaust, Kutas said, but as she was young when they died, she mostly learned their stories from her parents.
“The world has changed,” Kutas said. “There is much, much more need to talk about these things, as we are farther removed from it happening. It’s extremely important that everyone refreshes their memories and is open to learning more about what has happened. I also feel that Holocaust survivors are very cognizant of this. They see a world that’s turning more hateful, and they feel there is a calling for them, more and more, to share their stories.”
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