program description

A PROGRAM TO PRESERVE AND PERPETUATE THE SOUL AND SPIRIT OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS
BY: IRVING ROTH

History that is taught in a classroom environment is often presented as dates and locations of events and major figures that were involved in these events. While this is essential, it does not provide a detailed portrayal of the conditions and circumstances of the people it affected. Modern technology, videos and CD’s are of great help in giving a dramatic visualization of the history of the Holocaust as experienced by many survivors. However, producers and directors tend to give their interpretation of the event from their own perspective rather than the eyewitness account as the survivor remembers it and lived it.

Personal testimony by survivors has been extremely successful in transmitting and reinforcing Holocaust information. Seeing and hearing an eyewitness describe his experience makes history come alive. Students easily identify with a survivor and therefore with the Holocaust itself.

The survivors of the Holocaust remember the life that once was; the great Jewish communities that produced scholars, learning centers, religious and secular writings, theater and uniquely Jewish music. They remember the hardships that they endured in the ghettos.  Each survivor can recount the round-ups, the deportation, the unpleasant smells in the cattle car, the arrival in Treblinka, Majdanek or Auschwitz, the separation from father and mother and the smell of burning flesh.  All this was seared into their memory.  For decades they did not speak of their experiences, for fear that it would not be believed and it would traumatize their children.  The second generation knew they were different from other children. There were secrets.  Few had any grandparents or relatives.  The third generation is American. They are proud, strong and free.  How will they tell the story of the Holocaust?  How will the world know what happened to six million Jews who disappeared in a period of four years?  How will they tell of the thousands of cities and villages where Jewish life existed?

The insight and spirit of the survivor must be transmitted to the third generation. They are the last ones to have direct physical contact with survivors. They must absorb what is within the soul of the survivor.  The third generation must “adopt a survivor” and become their alter ego.  Today, and fifty years from now, they must be able to stand in front of an audience and retell the life story of their adopted survivor with feeling, passion and accuracy.  It is through the eyes of the third generation, immersed  in the life of the survivor, that living history can be truly transmitted without the bias and agenda of historians.

Unfortunately, Holocaust survivors are aging and dying. Live eyewitness accounts are becoming less available and will not exist for future generations. In order to retain this personal testimony and memory, the “Adopt A Survivor” program was implemented in numerous schools (6-12 grades) as well as undergraduate and graduate colleges.

The concept of this program was born when I visited Auschwitz in 1998 with high school students, as part of the “March of the Living”, a 14 day tour through Poland and Israel. On our last day in Poland, we toured Auschwitz I. We had already seen Treblinka with its 17,000 memorial stones and Majdanek with the still intact gas chamber and crematorium. We saw the rubble that  once were the gas chambers and crematoria in Birkenau and the experimental gas chamber and crematorium complex in Auschwitz I. It occurred to me that these young people will be left with the image of corpses turning green from Zyclone B gas. This was not what I had intended for them to remember about my grandfather who was murdered in the Birkenau gas chamber. I wanted them to see him as I remembered him, as a vigorous yet gentle and sensitive human being. For the next half-hour I told stories about my grandfather, my relationship with him and his attitude toward other people. My grandfather was totally devoted to his family and his faith. He inspired me with his knowledge of forestry, his fairness in business, his understanding of the Bible and his profound sense of morality. It was at that moment that I realized that seeing monuments and gas chambers must be supplemented with the experience of a single survivor as he lived before, during and after the Holocaust in order for the student to grasp the enormity of the Holocaust. It was there that I asked each participant to go home, find a survivor and adopt him.

The adoption program requires the pairing of a survivor with one or more students.  To become an integral unit, the students become knowledgeable with the following recommended areas of the survivor’s life:

  • History of the country where the survivor was born and lived pre-war
  • Relationship between Jews and non-Jews during the 19th and 20th century, prior to WW II
  • Lifestyle of Jews in general and the survivor’s family in particular
  • Detailed knowledge of parents and grand-parents, with specific anecdotes
  • Religious, social, educational and economic life of Jewish and non-Jewish community
  •  Details of the survivor’s life from earliest recollection to point of transition (1930s)
  • Transition to 1945 (oppression, ghetto, hiding, concentration camp, partisan etc.)
  • Liberation – return to home, D.P. Camp, waiting to immigrate to Palestine or America
  • Life in a new land – housing, job, education, marriage, children and grandchildren
  • Thoughts on life, relationship with others, religious observance and reconciliation

For this program to succeed, it is necessary to bring together three sets of people. They are educators, adopters and survivors.

  • Educators within their institution must have a deep desire and commitment to Holocaust education
  • Adaptors must be properly motivated to do research via direct interview and discussion with survivors as well as examine sources relating to the life of the adopted survivor
  • Survivors who live within easy access to adaptors and who are willing and capable to share the facts as well as the spiritual and emotional aspects of their life before, during and after the Holocaust

An informal setting is preferred so that sharing of sensitive dialogue and information can flow easily. Nevertheless, some structure is essential in order to collect and retain the facts while absorbing the spirit and soul of the survivor. The teacher / facilitator must be extremely sensitive to the feelings of the survivor since it involves personal and painful experiences.

The project will work best in a school where the Holocaust is part of the curriculum. Once basic guidelines have been established, the teacher will then meet with potential students and introduce the project, its urgency and requirements. It is preferable that the project is an elective and satisfies school requirements. In this way, the adopters will feel that they are participating in an important program while deriving immediate benefit and possibly “course credit” at the same time.

Meet the students who signed up for the program and present the objectives, areas of the survivor’s life, specific methodologies to be utilized and the anticipated results of the project. While there are no written examinations for grading, consideration should be given to an oral presentation by each student on the life and experience of the survivor plus a written journal. An invitation should be extended to staff e.g. the principal, department chairperson and others, to hear the presentation. This was done very successfully in many schools.

Meet with survivors from local areas and elicit volunteers for the project. (Generally, I have found survivors are eager to participate.) Explain in great detail, the purpose as well as the methodology of this program. The survivors need to understand that it involves more than handing videotapes produced by the Shoah Foundation or other organizations to the students.

During the first meeting between survivors and students, ask each survivor to introduce him/herself with a brief biography. Before the meeting, make sure that the survivor is aware that he/she will speak to a group of students. The introduction should be short, about 5 minutes. Following the survivor introduction the students will also introduce themselves and state why they are interested in the project and what they hope to achieve. This, too, should be no more than 5 minutes per student. Keep the meeting informal. During the meeting the teacher / facilitator should monitor the interaction between specific students and survivors as a prelude to pairing students and survivors. One or more students can be paired with one survivor.

Contact survivors individually and inform them as to the specific adaptor/s they are being paired with. Establish a time for the first meeting. A journal in addition to audio and video taping are suggested requirements.

The  facilitator should meet with the adopters as a group on a regular basis to discuss progress, issues and possible difficulties the students may have with the program or survivor. Time constraints are up to the school’s program director. Facilitators review the journals, tapes and videos in order to provide guidance to the adopters. They should also touch base with the survivors, individually, to gauge the progress he or she is making with the adopter/s.

The project will work best in a school where the Holocaust is part of the curriculum. Once basic guidelines have been established, the teacher will then meet with potential students and introduce the project, its urgency and requirements. It is preferable that the project is an elective and satisfies school requirements. In this way, the adopters will feel that they are participating in an important program while deriving immediate benefit and possibly “course credit” at the same time.

Meet the students who signed up for the program and present the objectives, areas of the survivor’s life, specific methodologies to be utilized and the anticipated results of the project. While there are no written examinations for grading, consideration should be given to an oral presentation by each student on the life and experience of the survivor plus a written journal. An invitation should be extended to staff e.g. the principal, department chairperson and others, to hear the presentation. This was done very successfully in many schools.

Meet with survivors from local areas and elicit volunteers for the project. (Generally, I have found survivors are eager to participate.) Explain in great detail, the purpose as well as the methodology of this program. The survivors need to understand that it involves more than handing videotapes produced by the Shoah Foundation or other organizations to the students.

During the first meeting between survivors and students, ask each survivor to introduce him/herself with a brief biography. Before the meeting, make sure that the survivor is aware that he/she will speak to a group of students. The introduction should be short, about 5 minutes. Following the survivor introduction the students will also introduce themselves and state why they are interested in the project and what they hope to achieve. This, too, should be no more than 5 minutes per student. Keep the meeting informal. During the meeting the teacher / facilitator should monitor the interaction between specific students and survivors as a prelude to pairing students and survivors. One or more students can be paired with one survivor.

Contact survivors individually and inform them as to the specific adaptor/s they are being paired with. Establish a time for the first meeting. A journal in addition to audio and video taping are suggested requirements.

The  facilitator should meet with the adopters as a group on a regular basis to discuss progress, issues and possible difficulties the students may have with the program or survivor. Time constraints are up to the school’s program director. Facilitators review the journals, tapes and videos in order to provide guidance to the adopters. They should also touch base with the survivors, individually, to gauge the progress he or she is making with the adopter/s.

VALUE OF SURVIVOR TESTIMONY:

History that is taught in a classroom environment is often presented as dates and locations of events and major figures that were involved in these events. While this is essential, it does not provide a detailed portrayal of the conditions and circumstances of the people it affected. Modern technology, videos and CD’s are of great help in giving a dramatic visualization of the history of the Holocaust as experienced by many survivors. However, producers and directors tend to give their interpretation of the event from their own perspective rather than the eyewitness account as the survivor remembers it and lived it.

Personal testimony by survivors has been extremely successful in transmitting and reinforcing Holocaust information. Seeing and hearing an eyewitness describe his experience makes history come alive. Students easily identify with a survivor and therefore with the Holocaust itself.

BACKGROUND:

The survivors of the Holocaust remember the life that once was; the great Jewish communities that produced scholars, learning centers, religious and secular writings, theater and uniquely Jewish music. They remember the hardships that they endured in the ghettos.  Each survivor can recount the round-ups, the deportation, the unpleasant smells in the cattle car, the arrival in Treblinka, Majdanek or Auschwitz, the separation from father and mother and the smell of burning flesh.  All this was seared into their memory.  For decades they did not speak of their experiences, for fear that it would not be believed and it would traumatize their children.  The second generation knew they were different from other children. There were secrets.  Few had any grandparents or relatives.  The third generation is American. They are proud, strong and free.  How will they tell the story of the Holocaust?  How will the world know what happened to six million Jews who disappeared in a period of four years?  How will they tell of the thousands of cities and villages where Jewish life existed?

NEED FOR THE ADOPT A SURVIVOR PROGRAM:

The insight and spirit of the survivor must be transmitted to the third generation. They are the last ones to have direct physical contact with survivors. They must absorb what is within the soul of the survivor.  The third generation must “adopt a survivor” and become their alter ego.  Today, and fifty years from now, they must be able to stand in front of an audience and retell the life story of their adopted survivor with feeling, passion and accuracy.  It is through the eyes of the third generation, immersed  in the life of the survivor, that living history can be truly transmitted without the bias and agenda of historians.

Unfortunately, Holocaust survivors are aging and dying. Live eyewitness accounts are becoming less available and will not exist for future generations. In order to retain this personal testimony and memory, the “Adopt A Survivor” program was implemented in numerous schools (6-12 grades) as well as undergraduate and graduate colleges.

ORIGINS OF THE PROGRAM:

The concept of this program was born when I visited Auschwitz in 1998 with high school students, as part of the “March of the Living”, a 14 day tour through Poland and Israel. On our last day in Poland, we toured Auschwitz I. We had already seen Treblinka with its 17,000 memorial stones and Majdanek with the still intact gas chamber and crematorium. We saw the rubble that  once were the gas chambers and crematoria in Birkenau and the experimental gas chamber and crematorium complex in Auschwitz I. It occurred to me that these young people will be left with the image of corpses turning green from Zyclone B gas. This was not what I had intended for them to remember about my grandfather who was murdered in the Birkenau gas chamber. I wanted them to see him as I remembered him, as a vigorous yet gentle and sensitive human being. For the next half-hour I told stories about my grandfather, my relationship with him and his attitude toward other people. My grandfather was totally devoted to his family and his faith. He inspired me with his knowledge of forestry, his fairness in business, his understanding of the Bible and his profound sense of morality. It was at that moment that I realized that seeing monuments and gas chambers must be supplemented with the experience of a single survivor as he lived before, during and after the Holocaust in order for the student to grasp the enormity of the Holocaust. It was there that I asked each participant to go home, find a survivor and adopt him.

PROGRAM SUMMARY:

The adoption program requires the pairing of a survivor with one or more students.  To become an integral unit, the students become knowledgeable with the following recommended areas of the survivor’s life:

  • History of the country where the survivor was born and lived pre-war
  • Relationship between Jews and non-Jews during the 19th and 20th century, prior to WW II
  • Lifestyle of Jews in general and the survivor’s family in particular
  • Detailed knowledge of parents and grand-parents, with specific anecdotes
  • Religious, social, educational and economic life of Jewish and non-Jewish community
  •  Details of the survivor’s life from earliest recollection to point of transition (1930s)
  • Transition to 1945 (oppression, ghetto, hiding, concentration camp, partisan etc.)
  • Liberation – return to home, D.P. Camp, waiting to immigrate to Palestine or America
  • Life in a new land – housing, job, education, marriage, children and grandchildren
  • Thoughts on life, relationship with others, religious observance and reconciliation
PROGRAM IMPLEMENTATION:

For this program to succeed, it is necessary to bring together three sets of people. They are educators, adopters and survivors.

  • Educators within their institution must have a deep desire and commitment to Holocaust education
  • Adaptors must be properly motivated to do research via direct interview and discussion with survivors as well as examine sources relating to the life of the adopted survivor
  • Survivors who live within easy access to adaptors and who are willing and capable to share the facts as well as the spiritual and emotional aspects of their life before, during and after the Holocaust

An informal setting is preferred so that sharing of sensitive dialogue and information can flow easily. Nevertheless, some structure is essential in order to collect and retain the facts while absorbing the spirit and soul of the survivor. The teacher / facilitator must be extremely sensitive to the feelings of the survivor since it involves personal and painful experiences.

SPECIFIC STEPS:

The project will work best in a school where the Holocaust is part of the curriculum. Once basic guidelines have been established, the teacher will then meet with potential students and introduce the project, its urgency and requirements. It is preferable that the project is an elective and satisfies school requirements. In this way, the adopters will feel that they are participating in an important program while deriving immediate benefit and possibly “course credit” at the same time.

Meet the students who signed up for the program and present the objectives, areas of the survivor’s life, specific methodologies to be utilized and the anticipated results of the project. While there are no written examinations for grading, consideration should be given to an oral presentation by each student on the life and experience of the survivor plus a written journal. An invitation should be extended to staff e.g. the principal, department chairperson and others, to hear the presentation. This was done very successfully in many schools.

Meet with survivors from local areas and elicit volunteers for the project. (Generally, I have found survivors are eager to participate.) Explain in great detail, the purpose as well as the methodology of this program. The survivors need to understand that it involves more than handing videotapes produced by the Shoah Foundation or other organizations to the students.

During the first meeting between survivors and students, ask each survivor to introduce him/herself with a brief biography. Before the meeting, make sure that the survivor is aware that he/she will speak to a group of students. The introduction should be short, about 5 minutes. Following the survivor introduction the students will also introduce themselves and state why they are interested in the project and what they hope to achieve. This, too, should be no more than 5 minutes per student. Keep the meeting informal. During the meeting the teacher / facilitator should monitor the interaction between specific students and survivors as a prelude to pairing students and survivors. One or more students can be paired with one survivor.

Contact survivors individually and inform them as to the specific adaptor/s they are being paired with. Establish a time for the first meeting. A journal in addition to audio and video taping are suggested requirements.

The  facilitator should meet with the adopters as a group on a regular basis to discuss progress, issues and possible difficulties the students may have with the program or survivor. Time constraints are up to the school’s program director. Facilitators review the journals, tapes and videos in order to provide guidance to the adopters. They should also touch base with the survivors, individually, to gauge the progress he or she is making with the adopter/s.

SUMMARY:

The Adopt a Survivor program provides a personal connection between survivor and adopter. This connection is a bridge toward teaching the Holocaust to the next generation. Adopters gain an in-depth understanding of the historical events before, during and after WWII.

The adopters acquire a significant historical and philosophical comprehension of the Holocaust which is intersected with the personal recollections, and reactions of survivors. Their insight and knowledge will be passed on to the next generation through data and facts and the realization that this happened to six million individuals who were murdered because of bigotry, prejudice, racism and hate.

The objective of this program is to transfer the life experiences of a Holocaust survivor to an “adopter” by taking a joint journey through the life of the survivor. By this personal journey the adopter becomes one with the survivor, absorbing his life, spirit and soul. He will be able to represent the survivor and tell his story with accuracy and feeling to any audience for two or more generations.

 

VALUE OF SURVIVOR TESTIMONY:

History that is taught in a classroom environment is often presented as dates and locations of events and major figures that were involved in these events. While this is essential, it does not provide a detailed portrayal of the conditions and circumstances of the people it affected. Modern technology, videos and CD’s are of great help in giving a dramatic visualization of the history of the Holocaust as experienced by many survivors. However, producers and directors tend to give their interpretation of the event from their own perspective rather than the eyewitness account as the survivor remembers it and lived it.

Personal testimony by survivors has been extremely successful in transmitting and reinforcing Holocaust information. Seeing and hearing an eyewitness describe his experience makes history come alive. Students easily identify with a survivor and therefore with the Holocaust itself.

BACKGROUND:

The survivors of the Holocaust remember the life that once was; the great Jewish communities that produced scholars, learning centers, religious and secular writings, theater and uniquely Jewish music. They remember the hardships that they endured in the ghettos.  Each survivor can recount the round-ups, the deportation, the unpleasant smells in the cattle car, the arrival in Treblinka, Majdanek or Auschwitz, the separation from father and mother and the smell of burning flesh.  All this was seared into their memory.  For decades they did not speak of their experiences, for fear that it would not be believed and it would traumatize their children.  The second generation knew they were different from other children. There were secrets.  Few had any grandparents or relatives.  The third generation is American. They are proud, strong and free.  How will they tell the story of the Holocaust?  How will the world know what happened to six million Jews who disappeared in a period of four years?  How will they tell of the thousands of cities and villages where Jewish life existed?

NEED FOR THE ADOPT A SURVIVOR PROGRAM:

The insight and spirit of the survivor must be transmitted to the third generation. They are the last ones to have direct physical contact with survivors. They must absorb what is within the soul of the survivor.  The third generation must “adopt a survivor” and become their alter ego.  Today, and fifty years from now, they must be able to stand in front of an audience and retell the life story of their adopted survivor with feeling, passion and accuracy.  It is through the eyes of the third generation, immersed  in the life of the survivor, that living history can be truly transmitted without the bias and agenda of historians.

Unfortunately, Holocaust survivors are aging and dying. Live eyewitness accounts are becoming less available and will not exist for future generations. In order to retain this personal testimony and memory, the “Adopt A Survivor” program was implemented in numerous schools (6-12 grades) as well as undergraduate and graduate colleges.

ORIGINS OF THE PROGRAM:

The concept of this program was born when I visited Auschwitz in 1998 with high school students, as part of the “March of the Living”, a 14 day tour through Poland and Israel. On our last day in Poland, we toured Auschwitz I. We had already seen Treblinka with its 17,000 memorial stones and Majdanek with the still intact gas chamber and crematorium. We saw the rubble that  once were the gas chambers and crematoria in Birkenau and the experimental gas chamber and crematorium complex in Auschwitz I. It occurred to me that these young people will be left with the image of corpses turning green from Zyclone B gas. This was not what I had intended for them to remember about my grandfather who was murdered in the Birkenau gas chamber. I wanted them to see him as I remembered him, as a vigorous yet gentle and sensitive human being. For the next half-hour I told stories about my grandfather, my relationship with him and his attitude toward other people. My grandfather was totally devoted to his family and his faith. He inspired me with his knowledge of forestry, his fairness in business, his understanding of the Bible and his profound sense of morality. It was at that moment that I realized that seeing monuments and gas chambers must be supplemented with the experience of a single survivor as he lived before, during and after the Holocaust in order for the student to grasp the enormity of the Holocaust. It was there that I asked each participant to go home, find a survivor and adopt him.

PROGRAM SUMMARY:

The adoption program requires the pairing of a survivor with one or more students.  To become an integral unit, the students become knowledgeable with the following recommended areas of the survivor’s life:

  • History of the country where the survivor was born and lived pre-war
  • Relationship between Jews and non-Jews during the 19th and 20th century, prior to WW II
  • Lifestyle of Jews in general and the survivor’s family in particular
  • Detailed knowledge of parents and grand-parents, with specific anecdotes
  • Religious, social, educational and economic life of Jewish and non-Jewish community
  •  Details of the survivor’s life from earliest recollection to point of transition (1930s)
  • Transition to 1945 (oppression, ghetto, hiding, concentration camp, partisan etc.)
  • Liberation – return to home, D.P. Camp, waiting to immigrate to Palestine or America
  • Life in a new land – housing, job, education, marriage, children and grandchildren
  • Thoughts on life, relationship with others, religious observance and reconciliation
PROGRAM IMPLEMENTATION:

For this program to succeed, it is necessary to bring together three sets of people. They are educators, adopters and survivors.

  • Educators within their institution must have a deep desire and commitment to Holocaust education
  • Adaptors must be properly motivated to do research via direct interview and discussion with survivors as well as examine sources relating to the life of the adopted survivor
  • Survivors who live within easy access to adaptors and who are willing and capable to share the facts as well as the spiritual and emotional aspects of their life before, during and after the Holocaust

An informal setting is preferred so that sharing of sensitive dialogue and information can flow easily. Nevertheless, some structure is essential in order to collect and retain the facts while absorbing the spirit and soul of the survivor. The teacher / facilitator must be extremely sensitive to the feelings of the survivor since it involves personal and painful experiences.

SPECIFIC STEPS:

The project will work best in a school where the Holocaust is part of the curriculum. Once basic guidelines have been established, the teacher will then meet with potential students and introduce the project, its urgency and requirements. It is preferable that the project is an elective and satisfies school requirements. In this way, the adopters will feel that they are participating in an important program while deriving immediate benefit and possibly “course credit” at the same time.

Meet the students who signed up for the program and present the objectives, areas of the survivor’s life, specific methodologies to be utilized and the anticipated results of the project. While there are no written examinations for grading, consideration should be given to an oral presentation by each student on the life and experience of the survivor plus a written journal. An invitation should be extended to staff e.g. the principal, department chairperson and others, to hear the presentation. This was done very successfully in many schools.

Meet with survivors from local areas and elicit volunteers for the project. (Generally, I have found survivors are eager to participate.) Explain in great detail, the purpose as well as the methodology of this program. The survivors need to understand that it involves more than handing videotapes produced by the Shoah Foundation or other organizations to the students.

During the first meeting between survivors and students, ask each survivor to introduce him/herself with a brief biography. Before the meeting, make sure that the survivor is aware that he/she will speak to a group of students. The introduction should be short, about 5 minutes. Following the survivor introduction the students will also introduce themselves and state why they are interested in the project and what they hope to achieve. This, too, should be no more than 5 minutes per student. Keep the meeting informal. During the meeting the teacher / facilitator should monitor the interaction between specific students and survivors as a prelude to pairing students and survivors. One or more students can be paired with one survivor.

Contact survivors individually and inform them as to the specific adaptor/s they are being paired with. Establish a time for the first meeting. A journal in addition to audio and video taping are suggested requirements.

The  facilitator should meet with the adopters as a group on a regular basis to discuss progress, issues and possible difficulties the students may have with the program or survivor. Time constraints are up to the school’s program director. Facilitators review the journals, tapes and videos in order to provide guidance to the adopters. They should also touch base with the survivors, individually, to gauge the progress he or she is making with the adopter/s.

SUMMARY:

The Adopt a Survivor program provides a personal connection between survivor and adopter. This connection is a bridge toward teaching the Holocaust to the next generation. Adopters gain an in-depth understanding of the historical events before, during and after WWII.

The adopters acquire a significant historical and philosophical comprehension of the Holocaust which is intersected with the personal recollections, and reactions of survivors. Their insight and knowledge will be passed on to the next generation through data and facts and the realization that this happened to six million individuals who were murdered because of bigotry, prejudice, racism and hate.