[ An End to Intolerance (Volume 5 -- June 1997) ]

Student Volunteers
Continue Shoah Project
For Second Year

Compiled by Leah Trabich
Cold Spring Harbor High School
New York, USA

In 1993, during the filming of Steven Spielberg's movie, Schindler's List, in Krakow, Poland, several Jewish survivors of the Holocaust visited the set of the filming. They approached Spielberg to tell him of their experiences during World War II. In addition to this, they requested that he provide a way which would enable them to tell their stories to the rest of the world. Their inquiries did not go unheard. Spielberg's response was the beginning of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.

The Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to preserving Holocaust survivors' stories all around the world and enabling people of all ages to have access to these stories. The Foundation is assembling an extensive library of survivor testimonies, through work with the world's foremost Holocaust museums, filmmakers, educators, and survivors of the Holocaust.

[ Majdanek Monument ]
Monument at Majdanek
Extermination Camp (Lublin, Poland)

There are sixteen centers around the world taking testimonies. These include centers in Amsterdam, Buenos Aires, Chicago, Frankfurt, Israel, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Paris, South Africa, and Sydney. The day of an interview, a trained interviewer, professional videographer, and volunteer in some instances,arrive at the survivor's home or other location early in the morning. Two interviews often take all day and cover occurrences before, during, and following World War II. After the testimony, the tapes are added to the Shoah Foundation library, and the survivor receives a video copy of the testimony.

The archive of survivor stories will be utilized as a device for global study about the Holocaust and to educate people about racial and cultural tolerance. The Foundation plans to ultimately place the interviews onto CD-ROMs to be used by people of all ages. The immediate depositories of the interviews will be: Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, Fortunoff Archive, testimonies at Yale University, and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Over the past two years, students from Cold Spring Harbor High School, New York, USA, have been privileged to volunteer to help the Shoah Foundation. They have offered this help on school days, weekends, and holidays. Originally begun in the Fall of 1995 as a project under the direction of Maura Minsky, of the New York Shoah Foundation Office, Cold Spring Harbor students are now currently working with Susan Peirez, director of the New York Office with the assistance of Rachel Woursell and Victoria Kupchinetsky. They have also received "long distance" support from Kristie Macosko of the Los Angeles Shoah Foundation office.

So far, Cold Spring Harbor High School is the only school to be involved in such work and this is because the school has an active, global Holocaust/Genocide Project, which greatly impressed the Shoah Foundation. Student volunteers are responsible for assisting with the site set-up and paper work, which includes labeling of tapes. Seeing that the interview goes unedited, it is essential that all work be completed in silence. All phones, faxes, and other machines which may produce noise must be disconnected. The tapes cease every half an hour, and the student must see to it that the subsequent tape is labelled and prepared for recording. In addition, students do everything from helping to set up cameras, to moving furniture at the site.

The following excerpts are from students who have volunteered for the Shoah Visual History Project in its second year of collaboration with Cold Spring Harbor High School on Long Island, New York, USA.

[ Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation Logo ]

I don't ever recall being as touched by someone as I was that day. And, although their stories must have been painful to tell, they stumbled but a few times, and talked with great ease about the nightmare that so many Jews lived through during World War II. . . .

Like Anne Frank, they lived upstairs, and inside a closet which had a false wall where a piece of wood concealed the entrance. Twice, the house was searched for Jews, but the family remained safe. The man who cared for them was very careful, especially in his shopping. He went to different stores that were not in his hometown so no one would suspect anything of the extra food that he bought. Their relatives, who were hidden by another man, were revealed when the Germans offered a higher price for the Jews than they paid in rent. But even the second time that the police came to the bachelor's house and told the public that if they didn't reveal the Jews, those hiding them would be treated as Jews and sent to concentration camps, the bachelor remained true to his promise. They remained hidden there until the war was over, hearing about the Allied attacks over the radio.

I feel that my experience at the couple's house was a very positive one. I truly could feel their hurt from having to survive through the war, and their faith in people, even after their awful ordeals, was overwhelming and a lesson for all of us.

Mary Pottanat, 17 Years Old

The man rode in a cattle car. He said it was packed and he had trouble breathing. He had no water. People were fainting and falling over like dominoes, and he didn't realize how bad things were until they got out of the car and he looked back. He saw people trampled to death on the floor of the cattle car.

When the Germans and Polish police came to his wife's town, they separated the people into three groups: teenagers and the young, parents, and the elderly. The teenagers were put on the train and told they would meet back up with their parents later. She didn't believe it, but had no other choice. She didn't talk about the train ride, but when she arrived at the first camp, she ran up to a soldier and asked where her parents were. He called her "a stupid child."

She found out later that her parents had been gassed. . . . The wife said that the Germans had used her uncle as an example of what would happen if the people didn't obey. He was hanged in a field with three other men. She had a picture that showed it. There were Nazi soldiers in the photo, one on a horse. I looked at the picture and watched her expression. She was upset, and after all these years, she still didn't know why they picked her uncle. She and the other Jews were told to sit in the field and watch the hanging, and they were told that if anybody cried or yelled out, they would be shot.

Matt Coneys, 17 Years Old

Something that was very sad to me was that this war brought so many people closer together on a large scale, but on a smaller one, made so many colder and pushed people farther apart. The woman who was interviewed said that while she was hiding in a barn in Russia, one of the girls she was with had a sickness that made her smell very bad, so they pushed her out toward the edge of the loft they were staying in so that soldiers would maybe kill her and not want to look for others because of the smell. . . .

[ Shoah Student Volunteers ]
Shoah Student Volunteers
Talk to Classmates

The man told about how if a friend or acquaintance died on the Death March, you couldn't stop for them even if it only looked like they were sick and needed help because it meant death for you if you did. One had to look out for one's self. . . .

These were really very emotional interviews. Both survivors did a lot of crying, and I could tell all of their memories were still vivid. Just being in the room created emotions in me as well.

I guess what really sums up this experience from my point of view is what the first survivor's son said at the end of the interview, "I know I can never really understand what my father went through, but I do know that I will always try to support him and help him however I can."

Adam Contini, 17 Years Old

Soon after that, the SS came in and put all into two lines. The people in one line were rounded up and shot that night. The survivor's father had terrible varicose veins, and he was murdered because of his veins, and everyone on his line was shot. Once again, this young girl was left alone.

She only survived because she was big for her age. She stayed in the ghetto, but not for long. One night, they took her into train cars where she spent ten nights and was put into a concentration camp.

She was moved from one camp to another, and she did hard labor, de-icing railroad tracks for the new Latvian railroad. As a child, this survivor had chronic ear infections and became extremely sick in the camp. She had was to remove bodies from bunks if someone died in the barracks. One of the ways she said she survived was through her work in the camp kitchen. She always got hot, fish-head soup and potatoes. One older girl helped take care of her, another girl her age, and a younger boy. All survived the Holocaust. . . .

During this interview, I felt the obvious terror and shock, but my body almost tried to shut out what she was saying. I thought that's why it's so dangerous, because people don't want to hear about an atrocity like this. That's why this project is so important and why I volunteered. People have to hear the true stories of the Holocaust survivors.

Brett Weinberg, 16 Years Old

I remember looking at the pictures of a woman's family. The people looked so much like a family. They looked so close and together. I remember she was talking about life before the Holocaust and how her family was. . . .

I remember the survivor talking about bread. She said that there was barely enough for one person in the ghetto, but they had to split it up among many. She remembered that one day when she was in the ghetto, there were many people around. She looked down for a split second, and when she looked up, she had lost her mother. She started running even though she had no clue to where. She stopped at a tree, and she said the only thing she was really scared about and could think about was that if the soldiers found her, they would cut her up into pieces. She thought she would rather have died quickly than watch herself be cut up. . . .

The male survivor said that when he was a boy, he remembered walking behind an old man while he was coming home from a friend's house. There was a soldier taunting this old Jewish man on the street, telling him to go clean the windows. He was upset by this and felt bad for the old man, so he told the soldier that he would wash the windows for the old man, and he did.

Leah Trabich, 16 Years Old

The survivors' stories depicted the lives of simple people, people who were seized from quiet homes and cast into cattle cars like stock; shipped off into concentration camps where thoughts they dared not speak came true; the camps a place so perfectly evil and baneful, that if one were not worked to death, he was starved. The woman survivor said that when she got to one camp, she was told to go to one line and her mother on the other. She instinctively ran over, grabbed her mother's arm and brought her over to her line where she was saved. The girl was sixteen. Later, her mother on a "health inspection" was sent to the crematoria.

In the last camp she was in, a guard saw her crying and asked her what the matter was and she told him how hungry she was. He got her some bread and asked her name. He left and she saw him again later in the camp and they said "hi" to each other. After the war was over, she was called in by the Americans as part of the war trials and flown over to Europe and they showed her pictures and asked her if she knew the man in the pictures because he was captured and claimed to be innocent and gave the authorities her name to use as a witness. She said she knew him, but felt that he was kind to her only to protect himself in the future. So, she said she wouldn't speak good or bad about him at all, but the authorities told her she had to, so she told them the account of what happened with the bread. Later, he and the many other camp guards were sentenced to death, all of them. . . .

As the survivors spoke, I could picture myself in their places and all these horrors happening to me. Tears were shed. Enlightenment, I would say is what I got out of volunteering for this project. . ."now, all is light."

Adrian Benvenuti, 16 Years Old

The man's father had been an English teacher at his school when he was young, and the survivor was even in his father's class. He said that the best gift his father gave him was the gift of English because that is what saved his life during the war. He had very good memories of his childhood. He was an only child, and his family was very close. His mother would stay up the night before baking all the food for the next day. . . .

I think the interview gave me a new perspective when I look at the Holocaust now. We need to realize that we should treat everyone with care. It's hard for me to imagine being so young but having to survive something so horrible and evil. It makes me think about how strong someone would be to not only survive but to go on with life. One of the survivors said that each day they live, they are surviving and hurting the Nazis who hurt them.

Volunteering for the Shoah Project also made me think of all the things I complain about but that are so small and unimportant when you look at your entire life and other people's lives. I may be upset that I can't go out one night, or I don't like my clothes, but then I remember that I still have my family. I don't have any diseases, and I'm fortunate to live in America.

Sienna Moran, 16 Years Old

When she was about ten years old, things started to change. She wasn't allowed to go to her school anymore, and Jews had to be home at certain times. Eventually Jews were placed in the Krakow Ghetto. This whole time, though, she always remembers having a life, for her parents wanted their kids to have as much of a normal childhood as they could. . . .

One day, the whole camp was split up and taken in cattle cars to Auschwitz. Her brother was put with a bunch of children, and everyone knew that his group was destined to die. Her brother died at age ten, and it greatly upset the survivor today that she could not remember his face.

When she arrived in Auschwitz, her mother put the survivor's hair up and put rouge on her to make her look older and pass as a worker. She made it through this selection and was placed with her mother. They were then instructed to take off their clothes and go into showers. They were all expecting gas to come out, but luckily, it was only water. Before this, when her mother and she had passed the gas chambers, she had told her mother that she didn't want to die. Her mother told her not to worry, for it only took three minutes. All along though, she knew that she was not going to die. She just had a feeling from the beginning that she would live through all of this.

Jennifer Block, 16 Years Old

I remember the second man said that he was working on the railroad in a labor camp. He had lived in many countries and spoke many languages and understood what the guards said. A guard told the prisoners that if he found them with any cigarettes, they'd be shot. A few days later, a man got some cigarettes and lit them, and a guard ran over. He spoke a language the survivor understood, and the guard told him he wasn't going shoot anyone; he just wanted some cigarettes. . . .

"I think that it's very important that others are educated about the Holocaust because the event is relevant to now and current events." -- Lauren Lombardi

The first survivor I heard was in a group that was being shot at while on the trains, and the man next to him was shot very badly, in the head, and he was killed instantly. He also recalled vivid memories of how he was first separated from his family. It was very hard for him to talk about especially when he spoke about his brothers. Both were killed, one of them in the camps. His sister had survived, and he had talked with her before the Shoah interview, and she reminded him of some things to say.

I feel really lucky to have been able to take part in the Shoah Project. I think that it's very important that others are educated about the Holocaust, because the event is relevant to now and current events. I also think it has more of an impact learning about it from the survivors instead of a textbook. Both Jewish survivors said that they had never told their stories before.

Lauren Lombardi, 16 Years Old

The woman survivor lived in Czechoslovakia, and when World War II started, things were okay for a while, but the government instituted laws saying Jews couldn't go out at night. A lot of new laws restricted the Jewish people. They had to put black covers over their windows. They couldn't go to school, and things got worse and worse.

Soon she was taken to a brick factory, and she was separated from her father while she and her sisters went to work there. Conditions were bad. Then after awhile, her father came back, and they were taken in a cattle car for a ride that seemed like a week. She said there was no place to go to the bathroom. People were hungry; there was only a tiny window, and it smelled horrible on the train. People were packed in like sardines and cramped. She was in her teens at this time. Everyone was allowed to pack one bag for this journey, and they had no clue where they were going.

Eventually, the train stopped, and they got out, and they saw the sign for Auschwitz. . .The guards separated the men, women, and children, and so she was separated from her father again. She was in a line to get inspected by Dr. Mengele. She got through inspections as well as her sisters. Then, they were standing outside, and they had to take all their clothes off, and they were told to wait in line for the shower.

Eilish O'Sullivan, 16 Years Old

Never before have I felt such queasiness in my stomach, as the survivor slowly related the grotesque tales of his boyhood to us; how he told us of the soldiers' use of the Jews as target practice, the coldness of night, the disease, and how death was almost seen as a blessing. I felt like leaving the room as he described the discovery of his best friend's body; turning him over in the concentration camp barracks revealed his back, torn up and oozing with thousands upon thousands of lice and other infestations. I could actually see, hear, and feel all these things as the survivor slowly progressed through his account.

It was as if a light clicked on in my mind. My former feelings about the Holocaust were now, thoroughly, "kaput." I take shame in ever viewing these atrocities as lightly as I did. To keep its memory alive is the only way to keep it from happening again, and I now truly realized, perhaps for the second time, why such men and women devote incredible amounts of time and effort towards this noble cause.

Kip Bodi, 16 Years Old

He was German and his father had known someone, so this friend told them to hide, but they didn't believe anything even after seeing their friends taken away. One day, Nazis came and took his family from the house; his brother had stolen something to eat, a small crime, but the Nazis made a big deal of it, and they took his brother away. It was the last time he ever saw his brother. Then his family was put on a train and he was separated from his mother and sister. He was alone on the cattle car, but someone who was from the same town, and had known his father, comforted him. The survivor was fourteen years old at the time.

I remember him saying that he could not even tell time. His head was in the clouds so he didn't know how long he was in the train. He went to Auschwitz and was later liberated there. No one in his family survived. After the war, he came through Mexico into the United States and married another Holocaust survivor. They had one son who was there at the filming. Their son became involved in educating others about the Holocaust. . . .

After just five hours of listening, I was in a trance. Thoughts rushed through my head. . . .What if that was my Mom? my Dad? my brothers? How could I have been as strong as this person I was listening to?

Matt Safaii, 16 Years Old

At the ghetto, he told of how his family lived in one room, and how there were many families all crammed into their building. He told the interviewer that he felt the reason he survived was because of his great athletic ability. Before the war, the man was on the national, Polish soccer team. He entered the war in outstanding shape, which saved his life. He didn't want to bring back these memories he kept saying, and his strong feelings were shown when many times we had to stop so he could catch his breath and stop crying. . . .

There was one particular story that made me cry when the woman survivor told it, and that was when she was in the death camp, Birkenau. She said that at night-time in the barracks, if the SS officers heard any sneezing or coughing or just someone showing signs of illness, they brought the prisoner outside and didn't shoot them, but instead, let them freeze to death. She told the story, covering her ears, and she said that was because when she slept in the barracks, that was exactly what she did, cover her ears, because at nighttime all she could hear was crying. The next day, she would walk out and see the bodies of those who had gone through that drawn-out process of death. The survivor had to get back on her feet and still have the will to survive. It was not easy. . . .

One day, the survivor was walking to the lady's house and the Gestapo stopped her by slamming her down and shoving a gun in her face, demanding why a "filthy Jew like herself was out of her cage." She showed them her working papers, which she did not always carry with her, but that day she did. They told her, if she had not had those papers, they would have shot her.

Jen Insardi, 16 Years Old

. . .The survivor recounted one story of her grandmother -- whom she holds in high respect even fifty years after the war and her death -- stepping into a crowd of Nazis that were beating an old man, a family friend. Her grandmother, brave as she was, stepped in and told the Nazis to stop, and so they did. . . .

The survivor remembered coming back from a visit to her stepfather. The train she was riding on stopped, and Nazis came aboard. She was taken and put into a prison for a few nights. Of that prison, she remembered it being dark and that she had little to eat. She was never beaten as the other prisoners were, perhaps because she claimed to have an American birth certificate. She remembered the other prisoners being beaten within an inch of their lives, and how one man's fingernails were taken out. After two days in the prison, she was released because of her American birth certificate. . . .

She, at first, was reluctant to tell her story because she felt her experience with the Holocaust was just an experience with the Holocaust, proof that a Holocaust was, in fact, going on in Germany in the 1940s. She felt that her story should be valued no more than any other survivor's. She, as well as the other survivors, were lucky. Lucky to escape a country that felt that it could simply "get rid" of an entire group of people. Lucky to have an opportunity to tell their story to anyone who will listen. Lucky to have -- well, survived.

Rachel Salierno, 16 Years Old

He does remember being lined up for selection by Dr. Mengele and barely missed being picked for "selection," which would have meant his death. In the camp, he was sent off to the rarely-watched carpentry section, which happened to stand atop a tremendous flight of stairs. Here he remained until his liberation in 1944, where he kissed the feet of the Russian troops who freed him. He returned to Warsaw, where he then resumed his education, majored in engineering, and became extremely successful. Along with the rest of his family, he traveled to America to start a new life, one that has provided him with three, very well-educated children.

Until I volunteered for these interviews, I believed I had led a very cultured life in my sixteen years. During the interview I filled out paperwork for the videographer, labelled tapes and listened. As I sat there, I began to understand the strength of the spirits of these two survivors. These were two non-Jews who probably could have yielded to the Germans and could have received much better treatment, but instead chose to fight for what they believed in, freedom for both Jews and non-Jews alike. They survived the terrors of the work camps where they luckily received a break and today, can easily say they have lived full, rich lives. Theirs was a moral determination that I will strive to one day attain.

Doug Frisina, 16 Years Old

The first woman I met was not a survivor of the Holocaust, but a refugee of the Holocaust. As a child, she could remember other children calling her names, throwing things at her, and even hitting her. All of this abuse occurred just because she was a Jew. But why did people just stop talking to her? Was it because they didn't like her, or simply because Hitler had so much control over the world at that time that the entire country lived in fear. It all seems too inhuman to be true, but it is. . . .

There was one thing in this interview that actually made me cry. It was the way the survivor talked about her life. She hated it and wanted to die. All she could say was,"Why did God keep me here so long? All I want to do is die." I thought that maybe she lives because God wants people to live and learn from the past.

The Holocaust was horrible. At this point, I feel extremely selfish. When I think about it, I have everything I want; these survivors had nothing. They were treated like animals and dehumanized. We constantly worry about what piece of clothing to wear or what kind of shoes to buy, but these Jewish people didn't have anything. If we have to go to the bathroom and can't wait five minutes, we complain, but they had to wait days. When we go to a restaurant and don't like what they bring us, we send it back; these survivors would have been happy eating almost anything as long as it was food.

I guess we don't realize how lucky we are until we know what it was like. To these survivors, life is a struggle. Not one day can ever go by without their memories haunting them.

Alison Elberg, 16 Years Old

Copyright © 1997-2005 by iEARN. All rights reserved.

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