July 14, 2024
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North Shore Premieres ‘Names, Not Numbers©’

Five Holocaust survivors will share their testimony, two for the first time, in a documentary created by students from the North Shore Hebrew Academy, at a screening open to the public on May 30.

The project, “Names, Not Numbers©,” invites students to learn how to create documentary films, including researching, recording and editing, as they share the stories of Holocaust survivors with the community. More than 50 schools and universities around the world participate in this program. NSHA has hosted the program for the past eight years; this year 34 NSHA students were involved.

 

Learning by Doing

Students were required to apply for the year-long program, since it demands a significant amount of independent work. During the program, students worked with a number of professionals, including museum curators, journalists and videographers.

The students were divided into groups in order to interview and film the survivors’ testimony. Each year, Lisa Guggenheimer, who has led the “Names, Not Numbers©” project at NSHA since its introduction in 2015, identifies survivors to participate. Some of the survivors are family members of the participants. Most testimonials are over two hours long, which the students must edit to around 20 minutes.

The students also worked with a journalist who helped them develop interviewing skills, including how to formulate questions, how to ask questions that uncover the best story and how to handle the situation if your interviewee becomes emotional or has difficulty sharing information.

Dr. Paul Radensky, senior director for Education at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, met with the students after they took a tour of the museum. The tour provided background information about the Holocaust, including specific information or situations that might be relevant to the stories the survivors will share and also demonstrates the importance of preserving first-person testimony for the public.

After the interviews, a professor from Yeshiva University visited the class for an emunah, faith session, during which the students processed the experience and shared their sometimes emotional responses.

A videographer worked with the students during the year to teach them the basics of documentary filming, including how to work the camera and sound equipment. The videographer also filmed and documented the entire process, including the museum visit and sessions with other professionals.

 

Putting Themselves in Survivors’ Shoes

“It’s so difficult to teach kids about the Holocaust, because the subject is challenging, and it’s nearly impossible to grasp it by reading about it second-hand,” explained Guggenheimer, who “But when they sit across from a Holocaust survivor, ask questions and hear the stories firsthand, it opens their hearts in a very meaningful way.”

Guggenheimer noted that, for the most part, the survivors were children during the war, which can be jarring as the students imagine themselves in that situation. “Suddenly, the students realize, ‘They were my age when this happened to them,’” she said. Survivors shared incredibly difficult moments from their life, including watching their parents perish in front of them, getting deported to concentration camps, being sent away on Kindertransport or being hidden and never seeing their families again.

“It’s so much easier to emphasize and understand the history and the enormity of the tragedy, when speaking directly to the person who experienced it,” Guggenheimer explained.

“The project also highlights the importance of primary source documentation, especially during a time when social media has blurred so much of what’s real and what’s not,” Guggenheimer added. The students explore the idea of Holocaust deniers and how primary source documentation can refute false information and shed light on what really happened.

 

The Sacred Obligation to Tell The Stories of Survivors

The final product is a documentary that weaves together the testimony of all five survivors as well as the students’ emotional journey throughout the program. The documentary will premiere after a celebratory dinner for the participants and their families along with the survivors on May 30. It will also be archived at Yad Vashem, the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, and the Mendel Gottesman Library at Yeshiva University.

“This evening always reminds me that no matter how young our students may be, they carry within them a fierce pride in their Judaism and profound maturity to uphold their sacred obligation of telling the stories of our survivors,” Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey Kobrin, head of the North Shore Hebrew Academy, wrote in an email to parents.

The project has grown from 16 students the first year to 34 students participating this year. The entire experience can also be one of healing for the survivors.

“There are some survivors who have really taken it upon themselves, as their life’s work, to tell their story and make sure no one ever forgets,” said Guggenheimer “but there are others who have decided, for whatever reason, to share their stories for the first time with us. It’s scary for them, but after they share their story or see the documentary, they thank us. Some have said that it felt like lifting this heavy weight off their shoulders. It can be very liberating to share difficult stories, and it’s so important to bear witness and record these testimonies.”

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