Witnessing Holocaust history global project

Eli Rabinowitz with students at Herzlia High School in 2018. The Herzlia Vocal Ensemble with Cantor Ivor Joffe was filmed singing the Partisan's Song, and Miriam Lichterman was in attendance.

By Jaime Uranovsky

In January, three organisations from across the globe came together to create an innovative way for Jewish schools around the world to memorialise the Holocaust.

The WE ARE HERE! Foundation, World ORT and the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Centre of Philadelphia (HAMEC) teamed up to honour International Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27 January. 19 ORT schools in as many cities participated in the programme from various countries: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Moldova, the Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, Spain, and Ukraine.

The programme involved the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, which had been shared with the participating ORT school students ahead of time via HAMEC. The students had then prepared and submitted impact statements in response to the survivors’ experiences with the aim of personalising the Holocaust for a younger generation which may be more disconnected from it than its members’ parents and grandparents were. To end off the commemoration, students sang the ‘Partisans’ Song’ in Yiddish, Hebrew, English, Russian, Spanish or in a combination of these languages, and the pre-recorded programme was then broadcast via Zoom.

Eli Rabinowitz, CEO of WE ARE HERE! Foundation, is the glue that brought these organisations together and played an instrumental role in the realisation of the project.

Eli, who was born in Cape Town and who has lived in Perth since 1986, is passionate about Jewish history and writes about a variety of subjects on his blog, Tangential Travel and Jewish Life, which has over 700 entries. He describes the way in which the project came together as a chain. It all started when the Head of Jewish Studies at King David Linksfield read one of Eli’s blog posts in 2017. Eli was subsequently asked to talk to the learners about the ‘Partisans’ Song’ (a topic he had written about) while on his annual trip to South Africa to visit family. While the ‘Partisans’ Song’ was usually sung by the students on Yom HaShoah in Yiddish, they did not understand the meaning of the words.

To Eli, it is imperative that the hope in the ‘Partisans’ Song’ is conveyed and understood by the youth. He explains, “This became something I was worried kids would lose. Nobody speaks Yiddish. It’s a world gone by but it’s a relevant world to me and to educators to talk about”. The song, written in 1943 by 23-year-old Hirsch Glick who was later murdered by the Nazis, is “all about making a better world — that’s what drives me”,
says Eli.

The next link in the chain emerged in the form of Nance Morris Adler, a teacher from Seattle, who came across Eli’s work and worked with him to educate schools in the US about the ‘Partisans’ Song’ and its broader meaning. Eli then established the WE ARE HERE! Foundation which teaches learners in Perth and beyond the importance of being upstanders instead of bystanders, who will respond to injustices in society. He says, “It Stands for ‘mir zaynen do!’ – the last three words of the ‘Partisan’ Song’: ‘We are here!’ We are not going away. We have survived and we will survive.”

Yet another chain link came when Eli was put in touch with the Executive Director of HAMEC in Philadelphia and the two began speaking about the potential of the project. Eli then contacted World ORT which advertised the programme to its schools all around the world and the rest is history.

The team hopes that the programme will be encapsulated into Yom HaShoah ceremonies in a couple of months’ time. Additionally, Eli’s goal is for schools in Australia, New Zealand, and for additional schools in South Africa to get involved. He says, “I don’t want the enthusiasm to drop. I want it to grow so it’s very important to keep this going. It has to do with being positive and having hope for a better world. A lot of Holocaust stuff is understandably very sad and morbid but it doesn’t always have to be like that. It can also inspire you, as Elie Wiesel writes about”.

For more information about the project or Eli’s blog, go to https://wah.foundation or https://elirab.me/

Herzlia featured strongly in last night’s global launch! (Around 27m40s onwards in the Facebook video)

Holocaust Memorial Day 2021: ORT students feel ‘moral duty’ to share survivors’ stories

ORT students have taken part in moving sessions with Holocaust survivors to learn more about their experiences and the effects of genocide.

Participants from 20 schools in a dozen countries across the ORT network joined the global collaboration in the lead up to Holocaust Memorial Day – culminating today with a livestreamed ceremony.

World ORT joined the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center (Hamec) of Philadelphia, United States, and the We Are Here! Foundation, based in Perth, Australia, for the project.

Meetings with survivors are a vital educational tool to help younger generations learn about the effects of what happened during the Shoah and ensure it is not forgotten.

Fifteen students from ORT Herzl Technology Lyceum in Kishinev, Moldova, met Auschwitz survivor Michael Herskovitz (above, right) and his sister Tonya in an online session held in advance of today’s service.
The students were moved not only by Michael’s story of survival amid the horror of the Holocaust, but by his determination to overcome hardship and build a future for himself.

During the discussion the students asked Michael what he had done to survive, whether he had considered making aliyah to Israel in the aftermath of the Shoah, and heard about his service in the IDF during Israel’s War of Independence.

The educational impact of the experience was clear as the students delved deeper into psychological questions – pondering with Michael whether the Holocaust could have happened without Hitler, the role of individuals in genocide, and his personal thoughts on those who held him captive in the concentration camp.

Daria, a 10th grade student, reflected: “I really appreciate the advice he gave us: to remember everything that happened because anything can happen again. Michael is someone we should all be proud of because he found the strength to hope and to survive the terrible things that happened.”

Nicolai, an 11th grade student, said: “After realizing that Nazism and Auschwitz weren’t so long ago, and that people who were alive then are still living now, the word ‘Holocaust’ and its history and horrors have become much more real and scary.

“We are the last generation who can hear these stories first-hand; our moral duty is to pass on those feelings of disgust towards oppression.”

The partnership with Hamec and We Are Here! aimed to give students an international element as part of their wider experience of learning about the Shoah. The museum strives to personalize the Holocaust in order to teach the consequences of racism, ethnic cleansing and intolerance.

Daniel Tysman, Head of World ORT’s Education Department, said: “We’re delighted to have this opportunity to work together with Hamec who have made it possible for our students to spend time online talking to and learning from Shoah survivors.

“ORT students can learn from these difficult chapters in history and from the life stories of the survivors and be truly inspired to make a commitment to challenge intolerance and prejudice.”

During today’s livestreamed event, a global audience heard the testimony of Ruth Hartz, who described how she was hidden as a child in Nazi-occupied France, and the reflections of Kseniya Brodt and Anna Vishnevskaya – students at World ORT’s Kfar Silver Youth Village in Israel – following their conversation with a survivor.

The girls described how they were “overwhelmed with emotions” by the conversation and pledged to “shed light on these terrible crimes in order not to let them happen again. If we forget our past, we won’t have a future.”

ORT students were also recorded singing The Partisans’ Song (Zog nit keynmol) – perhaps the best-known of the Yiddish songs created during the Shoah.

Inspired by the news of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, the song was adopted as the official anthem of the Vilna partisans shortly after it was composed in 1943 and spread rapidly to other ghettos and camps.
The We Are Here! Foundation promotes human rights and social justice and focuses on language, music and other cultural forms. It works to teach the importance and legacy of the song – which it has seen translated into more than 30 languages.

Daniel Tysman added: “We continue to benefit from our partnership with the We Are Here! Foundation to learn about the Partisans’ Song and the importance of standing up for what is right.”

Published in the print edition of the February 2021 issue. Download the February 2021 issue PDF here.

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