Picture yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s a cliché, but for 14 students in the Holocaust studies senior elective course at TABC it was truly transformative. After months of preparation, these students, under the guidance of Cary Reichardt and Rebecca Lopkin, collaborated on testimonials from six Holocaust survivors and presented their personal stories in a profound performance titled “Bare Witness.”
Reichardt, chair of the history department at TABC, along with Lopkin, director of performing arts, considered this undertaking “a labor of love.” A child of Holocaust survivors, Reichardt felt very close to this project and believes the senior elective program serves to educate the students about the history of the Holocaust, but also to imprint the message of never again.
The students spent countless hours understanding these stories of survival and creating manuscripts to honor each one in a respectful and dignified manner. The project was challenging along the way, specifically meeting and learning about each survivor. “We watched a group of 14 young men, at times skeptical, or even reluctant, emerge as 14 responsible young adults, who we are sure will carry the message of never forget in their hearts for the rest of their lives,” expressed Lopkin.
“This course has been an amazing experience for me from start to finish. After meeting the survivors, and listening to their stories, I was able to wrap my head around the horrific experiences and trauma which they and their families endured during the Shoah,” said Seth Maza. “This project has allowed us all to unleash our own creativity. Whether it was in writing our script, acting, drawing and painting or even composing a musical score, we were able to take ideas and information which we learned within our classroom and in our museum visits, and bring them to life through this production. I feel that this course has given me the tools and knowledge to uphold my responsibility to be a witness for the future to ensure that the world never forgets.”
With the recent rise in anti-Semitic rhetoric around the world, it seems more important than ever to relay these stories. The students recognize that they are the last generation that will have the honor of hearing from survivors directly and therefore carry an obligation to perpetuate their message.
“Hearing the survivors’ stories in a small group setting, as opposed to in a large crowd, made it so much more personal. Looking into their eyes and seeing the pain of what they have lived through is almost too difficult to bear,” said Avinoam Wizman. “Acting out the part of a survivor’s story changed my entire perspective on the Holocaust. As our project continued and became more intense throughout the year, each day of rehearsals, I became more involved and attached to it, feeling an obligation to make sure that it would succeed.”
The students and faculty both agreed that this initiative was incredibly impacting. “Learning about the Holocaust in a classroom is one thing, but hearing stories from the people who lived through it, is a whole other experience. Listening to the countless life lessons from the survivors has changed me as a person,” said Eli Schiff.
The survivors whose stories were depicted in “Bare Witness” came from different places and different backgrounds, yet they shared a harrowing experience that eternally connected them to one another. During a brief Q&A session at the conclusion of the production they each circled back to similar memories and images that even after all these years are as clear as ever.
Sam Bradin, a survivor, told the audience that after the war he questioned Hashem, yet decided to live as an observant Jew so as not to let Hitler succeed. “My will to survive was driven by the urgency I felt to retell my story.”
Rene Slotkin, together with his twin sister, suffered at the hands of Dr. Mengele in Auschwitz. “Mengele experimented on Jewish twins, subjecting us to extreme cruelty,” Rene recalled. “We were mere children yet we suffered a lifetime worth of pain.”
One of the six testimonials delivered in “Bare Witness” was from Alan Moskin, an American soldier from Englewood who liberated Jews in the camps after the war ended. Although he himself did not live through the Holocaust, he explained that the images he saw of the Jewish prisoners when he arrived at the camps were burned into his mind, changing his life forever. Living with survivor’s guilt, Moskin welcomes every opportunity to share with others what he discovered in Germany when he was a mere 18 years old.
These six survivors, Sam Bradin, Paul Galan, Leo Inowlocki, Alan Moskin, Rosa Sirota and Rene Slotkin, are committed to sharing their stories with as many audiences as they are able to, determined to make sure the world never forgets what happened not only to them, but to all those who perished in the Holocaust.
In preserving these stories, “Bare Witness” honored these survivors and commemorated those who perished in the Holocaust. The 14 students who produced and presented “Bare Witness” succeeded in creating a new group of witnesses who will hopefully continue to spread the message of never forget.
By Andrea Nissel