Keeping Holocaust Stories Alive: As More Survivors Pass Away, New Ways to Remember Are Found

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Schools across the country will soon be forced to alter the way they teach the most disturbing event of the past century. The reason: Old age is claiming what Hitler could not.

For decades, men and women have visited classrooms to give firsthand accounts of the systematic elimination of Europe's Jews. As survivors, they were the exception, because far more perished than made it out alive. Stories from eyewitnesses to the Holocaust have been seen as the best way to help students understand how a civilized, educated society could collaborate as 6 million Jews were murdered.

That is coming to an end. People who were teenagers when the war began in 1939 are now in their 80s. So educators are looking for new ways to reach students before the Holocaust becomes just one historical event.

"We are going to lose the reservoir" of living experience, said Michael Berenbaum, a founder of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and a past president of the Shoah Foundation, an organization that preserves survivors' testimonies. "Despite all of the power in establishing memory, there's a fragility to it, because it depends on a certain generation of men and women."...

...Of course, the basic demographic shift applies equally to veterans of World War II, whose ranks at Veterans Day celebrations diminish every year. But Holocaust education has always placed special emphasis on individual stories, with advocates arguing that abstract facts and numbers alone don't do justice to the memories of those who died. For decades, groups such as the Yale Fortunoff Video Archive and the Shoah Foundation have worked to film survivors' testimony for posterity. Those videos aren't going anywhere. But time is ticking on the interactions between survivors and students...

One group is taking a wholly different approach. The Peabody, Mass.-based Holocaust Legacy Partners project is asking volunteers to sign contracts committing themselves to getting to know a survivor now so that they can tell their story later."No less than twice each year," the materials state."You will represent their memory by providing firsthand eyewitness testimony to current and to future generations." About 35 people have signed up so far, said Sonia Weitz, a survivor and the head of the program.

Another group is turning to the children and grandchildren of survivors. Facing History and Ourselves, a Brookline, Mass.-based education organization that has worked with Holocaust survivors for more than 30 years, recently started meeting with the children and grandchildren of survivors to talk about how to tell their stories in classrooms. That approach is controversial, with some wondering whether the younger generation's own experience is what needs to be retold.

Even if advocates disagree on how to respond to the shift taking place, most agree that some response is necessary...

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David Hastings - 8/13/2009

All history is in the past. All historical personages, perpetrators and victims fade into the mist of history.

This, quite frankly, seems a determined effort of a small minority in the US to remain in a "victim" role.

One would think the U.S.A. had been the regime that instituted the WWII-era "Holocaust" by the sounds of it: why should American school children be inundated by this history? Why should the country that gave lives to stop this horror PAY for museums and force this historical "remembrance" upon our children?

How many innocent civilians perished during WWII should be the focus: ALL war is horror, ALL war is hell.

We now have confessed proof that some of these "Holocaust Victims" made their tales out of whole cloth, like the woman claiming to have been "raised by wolves" after "escaping" a Concentration Camp. This is just one example, and I see no reason to subject American schoolchildren to possible myths.

Genocides, regrettably, have occurred through the eons, and are ongoing today.

In point of fact, we now (Sibel Edmond's Deposition, 8/8/09) have credible testimony that the Turkish government blackmailed sitting US Representatives to hide and deny the Armenian Genocide.

Are those WWI-era victims of the Armenian Genocide by the "Young Turks" LESS of a victim than the Jews of Nazi Germany? Are the present-day Palestinians LESS of a victim?

Are we going to spend hundreds of millions to not let those fade from memory? Will we build Armenian Genocide Museums?

Both of the above Genocides, as well as others (some stated quite clearly in the Old Testament, btw) should get as much focus as the Nazi Genocide of Jews: a passing reference to the horrors committed by man against man.

This article demonstrates an unacceptable preference, and is of questionable value.