Names, Not Numbers
Students Document Survivor Stories
By Suri Epstein, Correspondent, Jewish Tribune
As the years since the Holocaust grow, the number of survivors is dwindling. Today, the last remaining generation of Holocaust survivors were just children or young adults at the time.
Sixty years on, a group of children in Toronto are working to preserve those memories.
Names, Not Numbers, an innovative program created in 2003 by Tova Rosenberg at Yeshiva University’s high schools in New York, has spread throughout the USA.
Netivot Hatorah is currently the only school in Canada to adopt the program. Now in its third year, Netivot’s program involves all 57 Grade 8 students as well as 11 survivors.
Lesley Schwartz, the program’s coordinator, starts the program by teaching a Holocaust curriculum.
“It involves lessons on its history, antisemitism, hatred and prejudice," she said.
Journalist Yoni Goldstein instructed the students in interview skills, which they were able to practise when survivor Max Eisen visited.
Working in groups of five or six, each student was given a biography of one survivor. Through the Names, Not Numbers, customized website they were directed to various links to find information specific to their survivor. After the research was completed, Schwartz worked with each group to create a list of 40 interview questions specific to their survivor.
The same camera crew that works with all of the participating schools arrived from New York to train students in filming and editing techniques. The crew also shot footage of the students participating in the program for a separate documentary film.
When the groups finally met the survivors, every student took a turn asking questions and filming.
“Some of the interviews become very emotional for both survivors and students," Schwartz said. She conducted numerous reflection and debriefing sessions with the students. “It's a lot for them to take in.”
The students edited their interviews to five minute segments. The videos will be screened together along with the documentary at a special closing evening. All of the DVDs are archived at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem.
Response from students has been overwhelming.
“I heard over and over again how they didn’t realize that before the war these people were the same as them,” Schwartz said. “How they went to school, dance class, played soccer, celebrated Shabbat and Pesach. And in an instant everything was taken away from them.
“It’s become personal to the students,” she said. “For many, this program is the highlight of their year.”
This article, written by Suri Epstein, appeared in the May 20/12 edition of the Jewish Tribune.
Max Eisen is a survivor speaker with the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.
Lesley Schwartz is Chair, Museum Educators, Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre.
Netivot HaTorah receives financial support from UJA Federation of Greater Toronto through the Centre for Jewish Education (CJE), UJA Federation's educational pillar, dedicated to strengthening, enriching and promoting the quality of Jewish education in our schools.