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Free film screening in Lowell of “Browsing Through Birke’s” – April 25

April 7, 2017

[Click the image above to view the official film trailer]

flyer Tsongas Industrial History Center presents Browsing Through Birke's April 25, 2017


UMass Lowell Develops “Browsing Through Birke’s” Discussion Guide

April 7, 2017

We have exciting news to announce! An official Discussion Guide to “Browsing Through Birke’s” has been created by two UMass Lowell students — Autumn Sacramone and Suzanne St. Peters — on behalf of the Tsongas Industrial History Center. Please see the excerpt below by BTB’s director Steven D. Grossman, and click the link after the excerpt to gain access to learn all about this remarkable project and access the free PDF download of the Discussion Guide.

From “Browsing Through Birke’s” director, Steven D. Grossman:

“Browsing Through Birke’s has been the most enriching and rewarding labor of love I have ever undertaken. Period. Bar none.

The Birke family came into my world at the suggestion of an old friend, who had settled around Lowell in the early 1990s. She thought the store and the family who ran it would interest me as a subject for a documentary film. How right she was. As soon as I walked into the classic early 20th-century four-story brick façade structure, childhood memories of exploring G. Fox’s Department Store in downtown Hartford, Connecticut, with my maternal grandmother known as “Baba” came flooding back to me. The scale, the humanity, the anachronistic but now newly “vintage” clothing stock, the sui generis feel and smell of the place I daresay, all walloped me with an admixture of nostalgia and a strange romance. I was hooked, and knew right then and there that I should endeavor to find some way to capture this story.”  

( … CLICK HERE to continue reading the full article and to learn more about the BTB’s Discussion Guide!)

UMass Lowell History Students Create Learning Tools Inspired By “Browsing Through Birke’s”

November 14, 2016

I’m so proud, honored and humbled to have the documentary about my family being used to help educate teachers and students across the country. Thank you again to Sheila Anderson Kirschbaum for imagining this project and to Autumn Sacramone and Suzanne St. Peters for creating the discussion guide, a website, and for their dedication and passion. Please read the full story  below via the UMass Lowell News Room on how this Tsongas Industrial History Center project, and partnership, came to fruition:

November 3, 2016
by Katharine Webber
“History isn’t a dead discipline found in dusty books: It lives every day in the people around us.
That’s what history majors Autumn Sacramone ’17 and Suzanne St. Peters ’16 discovered when they decided to go beyond the classroom and become practicing historians.
They created a study guide for the Tsongas Industrial History Center to accompany the 1996 documentary “Browsing Through Birke’s,” which portrays two Holocaust survivors, Nathan and Sally Birke, and their business in downtown Lowell, Birke’s Department Store.
“Projects like this where you get personal, intimate information help students connect with the material more,” Sacramone says. “It humanizes history for them. It seems like it’s such a cold subject, but it’s really not.”
> To continue reading the full story, please CLICK HERE.

Thank You For Attending Our “Browsing Through Birke’s” Event on October 1st

October 30, 2015

Dear Friends:

We are so grateful to everyone who attended our “Browsing Through Birke’s” evening at the United Teen Equality Center on October 1st.  Being present with an audience that cares about our community and the experiences of our fellow citizens made the experience very rich and important for me.

I also want to thank our courageous speakers, Sonith Peou and Senga Wabulakombe, who opened their hearts to us. We all have so much to learn about the people who live near us, who wait in line at the supermarket with us, whose children attend schools, and who own restaurants, drug stores, and jewelry stores. We have so much to learn from our bank managers, our waiters, our teachers, and our politicians.

If you attended the event and took photos, or have any reactions, feelings, or thoughts you’d like to share, PLEASE share them directly with me at or on the Browsing Through Birke’s Facebook page if you feel comfortable.

I wanted to share some brief thoughts after the film, but selected to forgo my words to allow others to share. I’d like to give you a sense of what was on my mind.

We all need some degree of courage—to be brave—to tell our story, and to be open to other people’s stories and lives. It is that courage that I want to talk about and remind others (and myself) about.

First, I want to remind myself to be courageous enough to keep an open mind and be more curious and less judgmental. I need to remind myself to override the instinctive way my brain—all of our brains, actually—wants to take the easier path.

We tend to make assumptions. We often don’t struggle to find new or hidden truths. We tend to have answers, not questions.

I want to make fewer assumptions, or at least question the ones my brain wants to make, when someone:

  • has a beautiful set of pearly white teeth, or is missing some
  • is perfectly dressed, or is wearing worn clothing
  • is driving a Mercedes, or a Chevy with some rust
  • is covered with tattoos
  • has their hat on backwards, or their pants hanging low
  • is working at a convenience store, or a lawyer’s office

I want to remind myself to stay curious, to ask questions and to reach out and remember that each person has a story that is worth my time to hear.

Second, I want to be courageous enough to stand up and not just standby. I want to stand up when someone tells a joke that I find rude or offensive—sexist, racist, classist. I want to be courageous enough to walk away and not participate. Or if there is the safety and I have the courage to say something, I want to speak up.

Third, I want the courage to ask more questions when I have the opportunity. It may seem like I know a lot about my parents’ lives, but I missed many important opportunities because I was afraid to bring up what could be uncomfortable for them. I saw a big NO TRESPASSING sign, which I wish I had helped to take down. I wish I had tried to be more transparent and to help them share more specifics about their lives before and after they came to the U.S.

The first time I asked my father any questions he was 77 years old. I wish I had asked him even then:

  • What did my grandmother look like?
  • What did she cook for him?
  • What was an average day like when he was a kid in Poland?

I wish I knew why he loved his father so much.

Some of you have parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, or uncles who are still alive. Are there questions you feel able or willing to ask them if you push against your hesitation? I encourage you to have the courage to try.

And for those of you who’ve gone through dramatic and/or traumatic experiences, please consider sharing with your family some of what life was like and what some of your relatives were like. You can talk about the sad moments. Or, just as important, you can also share the bright moments, the times of joy, the small moments that matter and stand out to you. I missed a lot of opportunities and I wish I hadn’t.  I now wish I’d had more courage to open those doors.

Again, I thank you.

With warmest regards,


“Browsing Through Birke’s” Film Screening Event in Lowell – October 1, 2015

August 23, 2015

No Browsing at Birke's!

October 1, 2015

A documentary film co-produced by Szifra Birke
About a Jewish Holocaust-surviving family, their quirky
50 year-old downtown Lowell clothing store, and its eccentric owner.

People from all over the world have come to Lowell to rebuild their lives after struggle and traumatic loss. Please join me, Szifra Birke, on October 1st to watch this documentary and hear stories of survival and resilience.

DATE:  October 1, 2015
TIME:   6:00 – 8:30 PM (Film at 7:00 PM)
PLACE:  ** United Teen Equality Center (UTEC), 41 Warren Street, Lowell, MA 01851

. . . 

6pm – 6:45pm:  Light Refreshments
Visit with people from many of Lowell’s immigrant communities and organizations to learn more about their history, culture and experiences.

7pm – 8pm:  Watch “Browsing Through Birke’s” documentary film

8pm – 8:20pmPanel Discussion
With Sonith Peou, a survivor of the Cambodian genocide, Sandrine Mukakinani and Senga Wabul, a couple who survived the Rwandan genocide, and Szifra representing the Jewish Holocaust.

8:30pm – 8:30pm: Q&A Discussion

. . . 

Szifra (SHifra) Birke is the co-producer of the film “BrowsingThrough Birke’s” and the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Contact her at or 978-446-9600.

Please forward this to anyone you think might also be interested or share this event on Facebook!

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Lowell Cultural Council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

** I chose UTEC because each time we rent space there, go to Café UTEC, or choose them for catering, we offer young people real life work experience, helping to prepare them for jobs when they complete the UTEC program—and some additional hours of much needed pay. If you haven’t seen it, the space is beautiful and affordable. Please consider supporting our youth when you have an event. It’s such an easy way to make a difference.

Sally Birke: A Life Remembered

February 13, 2013


On December 28, 2012, Sally Birke passed away at the age of 92. To honor her rich life — the majority of which was spent in Lowell, MA — the family held a memorial celebration on January 5, 2013, at Lowell’s American Textile History Museum. We invite you to watch the video of this uplifting event, and share your own comments, memories, and wishes for Sally Birke, a remarkable, loving woman who will be so greatly missed.

>>  Sally Birke Obituary [Lowell Sun]CLICK HERE

“Unpacking the memories behind a family store” — Hadassah Update, December 2012

January 2, 2013

Hadassah Update: COM Bulletin, Dec. 2012

The following is a feature story that appeared in the Hadassah update of the Congregation of Moses (COM) Bulletin (Kalamazoo, Michigan):

The 26 Hadassah members and guests who attended the October movie-luncheon meeting were treated to the story of Nathan and Sally Birke and their rather unusual marriage and department store. Imagine walking into a retail business and being greeted by a large “NO BROWSING” sign. Then, when you ask if a jacket comes in another color or size, the owner kicks you out and tells you to shop elsewhere. That was the experience of generations who shopped at Birke’s Department Store in downtown Lowell, Mass., often described as the T.J. Maxx or Marshalls of its day with regard to quality and pricing.

The movie had an introduction by Szifra Birke, daughter of Nathan and Sally, who shared her memories of her parents’ past. After the movie, with technology expertise from Joyce Camhi and Diane Fogel, we established a Skype connection with Szifra, and she graciously shared with us many more memories and some challenges she faced when growing up. We wanted to do something to show our appreciation to Szifra and ordered flowers to be delivered to her mother, Sally, now in a nursing home. Coincidentally, it was Sally’s birthday. We later got this note from Szifra: “Thank you all so much for your incredibly thoughtful gesture for my mom. Her birthday flower arrangement is gorgeous. When I saw that they were from the Kalamazoo Hadassah, I was filled with emotion. Thank you again for such a sweet and kind gesture.”

And thank you, Maxine Berke, our new member, for bringing this movie to us. Browsing Through Birke’s left us nostalgic for the characters who populated our childhoods: tough, funny, resilient people who had weathered unimaginable storms, and who somehow managed to continue to be productive, creative life forces.