Upon his return from a seminar at the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem (ISHS) in 2009, Paul Hernandez initiated a program with his high school students in Montpellier, France to highlight personal stories from the Holocaust. In cooperation with ISHS staff, Hernandez established contact with Noah Klieger, a French-speaking Holocaust survivor, and decided to set up a videoconference between Klieger and his students.
Klieger, a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, moved to Israel after the war. Over the past sixty years, he has spoken about the Holocaust to more than 100,000 people. He comments, “Wherever I give my testimony, the responses are overwhelming. The students listen, they want to know more, and they give me a standing ovation at the end. After I meet with students, I am encouraged that the educational message of the survivors is in good hands.”
In order to prepare for the videoconference, Hernandez’s students studied antisemitism before the war, different victims’ experiences during the war, and survivors’ lives after the war. However, it was Klieger’s personal story that truly sparked the students’ interest; the more they learned about Klieger’s life, the more they felt more connected to him and the project. Hernandez noted, “…a kind of empathy was created between pupils and Klieger before they even met. The work became more meaningful and personal.”
Following the videoconference, Hernandez’s students strongly suggested another meeting with Klieger. Hernandez worked with ISHS experts to coordinate Klieger’s visit to their school when he came to France to promote his autobiography.
Klieger was very impressed with Hernandez’s students and their interest in his story. He believes that a videoconference is the next best thing to meeting a survivor in person. Klieger places great importance on speaking to and educating today’s youth about the Holocaust, stating, “In a few years, those who listened to me can say they listened to a survivor. I believe [Hernandez’s] students learned something; I hope that they will transmit what they learned in the future.”