The Moriah School recently hosted Dr. Michael Berenbaum, a leading Holocaust scholar, who spoke to students participating in the “Names Not Numbers” program—the taping of Holocaust survivors while they tell their stories.
Dr. Berenbaum focused his remarks on some of the more remarkable and unusual survivor stories which he has researched, highlighting both the greatest heights of selfless courage and heroism and the lowest depths of evil.
One of the stories Dr. Berenbaum told was the story of Felix Zandman, a Holocaust survivor from Grodno, Poland, who was 10 years old when the war broke out. He died two years ago. As a young boy, Zandman was witness to the murders and beatings of his Jewish neighbors. He, his uncle and two others were eventually hidden in a pit by righteous gentiles, Jan and Anna Puchalski, in return for a kindness they had done the couple in better times.
The scholar told JLBC that he told the story to show the meaning of fairness, of values, of ethics—of the good. Because of the severe food shortage, Zandman came up with the system that “each day someone else would cut the food pieces, and because they watched each other, the pieces would be as even as possible, and then they would draw straws for who got what piece…That way it was as fair as possible.”
Zandman, whose uncle taught him physics and advanced math while they were in hiding, attended the Sorbonne in Paris after his liberation, went on to America, and built one of the world’s largest manufacturers of electrical components, Vishay Intertechnology.
Does Dr, Berenbaum feel that his message got through to the kids who were not participating in the memory project? “I tried to reach all of them and hope I did. If you want to find out, ask the kids… I know what I am saying, but what they hear is up to them. I would hope I got through.”
Dr. Berenbaum, the former Project Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and Director of the USHMM’s Holocaust Research Institute, is currently Director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. A former professor of Jewish History at Yale, Georgetown University, Wesleyan and George Washington University, he is the author and editor of 18 books and co-produced One Survivor Remembers: The Gerda Weissman Klein Story, which received an Academy Award, an Emmy Award and the Cable Ace Award.