June 20, 2024
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June 20, 2024
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‘For the Dead and the Living, We Must Bear Witness’ – Elie Wiesel

I am the daughter of Holocaust survivors. No matter what path my life has taken, whether it be marriage, motherhood, friendships, or professional accomplishments, those four words—daughter of Holocaust survivors—will forever define who I am. Only other “2Gs,” second generation contemporaries, can possibly understand what that really means, and even some of them may not. For, as I’ve come to realize, not all of us experienced being the child of survivors in the same way.

For many, the Holocaust was just a dark cloud hanging over their home cloaked in silence. But unlike many other 2G households, in my home they talked about it. My mother, in particular, shared her experiences of growing up as a young Jewish child in Europe both before, during and after the Holocaust. My brother and I were raised on her memories of antisemitism, yellow stars, deportations, ghettos, roundups, life in hiding, being hungry and mass executions.

All children have nightmares; mine were of cattle cars, barking dogs and Nazis screaming out orders in German. Although my parents showered me with love and affection, I was the vessel by which their lost childhoods, missed opportunities and shattered dreams could be realized. My brother and I were living proof that against all odds, they, and others like them, survived to live and prosper as Jews in a land of freedom and opportunity. Devotion to family, a deep commitment to Yiddishkeit, education, hard work and determination were the values which they instilled within us.

My mother always wanted to write about her experiences before and during the Holocaust, not just to keep a testimony for our family, but in her own words, out of a deep sense of duty to Jews everywhere living in this world long after she would be gone. She was always fearful that it could somehow happen again, even in her beloved America. When she became gravely ill and could no longer speak or write about her memories, I vowed that in my capacity as chairperson of the history department in Torah Academy of Bergen County, I would somehow try to pass the torch.

I set out to create a Holocaust studies curriculum for the hundreds of students enrolled in my class throughout the years who didn’t grow up with an eyewitness parent, grandparent, or even great-grandparent.The goal was to put a face on the Holocaust, for every student, to personalize it for them. I realized that the way to accomplish this would be by having them meet and interact with survivors. It’s been said that everyone who hears from a witness to the Shoah becomes a witness himself. Our young people today need to learn about the world that was lost, the centuries of Jewish life and culture in Europe before Hitler set out to destroy it. It was a world steeped in Yiddishkeit and culture that we will never see again. They need to feel a sense of obligation never to forget what happened to our people from 1933-1945, in order to ensure that it can never happen again.

As educators, we are always searching for different ways to engage our students and have an impact on their lives. It was through these efforts that the “Bare Witness” project was born. This unique program bridges the gap between a history class and a live theater production. In addition to learning about racism, genocide and World War II, students meet with Holocaust survivors, listen to their testimonies, socialize with them in Cafe Europa gatherings,and have countless opportunities to ask questions. Throughout the course, students use journaling, playwriting, role-playing, and visual art to process their feelings, thoughts and insights. They then collaborate to create original vignettes which incorporate the survivors’ stories in order to bring them to life on the stage. Students take ownership of their history and it becomes a part of who they are. This life-changing intergenerational storytelling aims to create new witnesses to the Holocaust.

Our project is essential at this time, since students today are the final generation who will meet and interact with the Holocaust generation. Our students have the responsibility to bear witness for future generations, hence the creation of this initiative. The title “Bare Witness,” was chosen because the clock is ticking, we are running out of time and our cupboards are almost “bare.” We don’t have many eye-witnesses who are able to share their experiences with another generation.

Torah Academy of Bergen County invites, and urges, the entire community to join us at 7:30 p.m., on April 20, at 1600 Queen Anne Road in Teaneck as we bring to life the experiences of four courageous survivors for, as Shimon Peres once said, “Six million of our people live on in our hearts. We are their eyes that remember. We are their voice that cries out. The dreadful scenes flow from their dead eyes to our open ones. And those scenes will be remembered exactly as they happened!”


Cary Reichardt is the chair of TABC history department.

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