"Their story will no longer be a 10-year saga/ It will become a story of a lifetime/ For them/ And for us/ And maybe/ Being a survivor/ Will no longer mean years of being a victim Instead/ Being a survivor/ will mean a lifetime of strength."
From the journal of Fruma Zlatapolsky, participant in the "Generation to Generation" program, Chicago
Those people who managed to outlive the Holocaust are much more than survivors. They wear many hats, including parents, spouses, grandparents, thinkers, activists, musicians, writers and upstanding members of the Jewish community. Being a survivor is a part of their identity, but not the entirety of who they are.
Yad Vashem, in conjunction with the Israel Ministry of the Diaspora and the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, recently created a new program pairing Holocaust survivors with teenagers studying in Jewish high schools. Currently a pilot program in Chicago, “Generation to Generation” affords Jewish youth an opportunity to get to know these survivors as complex, yet approachable, human beings.
Some 70 students from five Jewish high schools in the Chicago area are currently participating in the program, along with survivors Naomi Jacobson (originally from Czechoslovakia), Steve Katz (Germany), Izzy Starck, Vera Burstein, Agnes Schwartz and Margot Kirsch (Hungary), Eva Ozarowski (Poland) and Chaya Small (Lithuania and Shanghai). It was launched in November 2017 with a series of visits from Yad Vashem educational staff in order to train school staff and survivors in conducting inter-generational conversations, and will conclude in May 2018 with a series of community-wide events with the participation of both the students and the survivors.
Over the course of seven months, in settings outside of school, small groups of students meet monthly with a survivor to talk, think, question and discover the wisdom that comes from living a life full of challenges and opportunities. Guided by their schoolteachers, they record these conversations in special diaries, and will create a form of documentary – film, written or audio – about their experiences at the program's conclusion. "Holocaust survivors, who have had extraordinary life experiences, can inspire young adults and provide them with valuable information at a time when they are making valuable and important life decisions," explains Ephraim Kaye, Director of the International Seminars and Jewish World Department at the International School for Holocaust Studies. "We aim to create meaningful and lasting inter-generational relationships that will allow our next generation of leaders to learn from and be challenged by Jewish people who not only survived hell on earth, but ultimately thrived and went on to lead meaningful and productive lives."
"I will never know the full extent of the past generations anguish but I promise to keep their memory alive," wrote student Rochel Kaltmann. "Their fight for life was not in vain, and as a teenager in the twenty-first century I will make sure that my actions echo their bravery and courage."
The survivors were equally enthusiastic about their newfound connections with the younger generation. "I asked each one to tell me about themselves, and they did," recalled Chaya Small. "I told them that I grew up in Shanghai which was a safe haven for us. I did not go through the horrors of a camp nor do I have a number. I also showed them a one-minute clip of a movie; the scene is a Chanukah party attended by [Righteous Among the Nations Chiune] Sugihara, which influenced him when it came to giving [life-saving immigration] visas in Vilna… The students felt at home and there was a camaraderie between all of us. Thank you for this opportunity to reach out to the young people with their enthusiasm to want to know more."
"We hope this program will empower and encourage our young people to connect to the values of resilience, determination, stamina, motivation and tradition that characterize our survivors," concluded Ephraim Kaye. "These values are as important and essential today as they were to the survivors who emerged from the ravages of the Shoah."