Students Perform The Mitzvah of Posterity in Recording Holocaust Survivor Testimony in Yeshiva University High School Project ‘Names, Not Numbers’ Project

August 23, 2015

Source: Times of Israel


Each Holocaust survivor’s story is as unique as a snowflake, every testimonial a vital contribution to history. And, as in the case of the program “Names, Not Numbers” in which elderly survivors relate their first-hand accounts to high school volunteers, the survivors are assured that their own history is now personal for a new generation. Founded by Tova Rosenberg, the Yeshiva University High School’s oral history project teaches students about the Holocaust through hands-on research, filming, and editing. But more than that, the program instills the students with a sense of duty. As the last generation who will personally meet survivors and World War II veterans, they have become their memory keepers.


“They’re really the last generation that has this honor to sit across from a survivor and ask whatever questions they want. They understand their responsibility and they all rise to the occasion,” said Rosenberg, the project’s director. “They understand this isn’t just taking out their iPhone and asking their grandparents a few questions. The students are making a professional documentary.” Rosenberg, who directs the Hebrew Language program at both the girls and boys high schools, founded the project 12 years ago.


Participating students work with professionals, including local newspaper editors, filmmakers and Jewish studies teachers. Ultimately, their 60- to 90-minute documentaries become a permanent part of Jewish institutions worldwide including the National Library of Israel, Yad Vashem, and the Yeshiva University’s Gottesman Library. The films are also archived in several Holocaust museums, including in Skokie, Houston and Toronto.


The project’s name reflects the idea that each person experienced the Holocaust individually. It aims to reclaim lost identities in opposition to the tattooed numbers on inmates’ arms, their affixed badges and serial numbers on uniforms, that the Nazis used to erase the identity of the Jewish people.

To date, nearly 3,000 students have recorded the testimonies of 850 survivors and WWII veterans. For some, it is the first time they have shared their story.

In the project, students hone their interviewing skills in the weeks before the actual recording. They learn when to let a subject get a little lost in thought and when to gently nudge him back on track. They learn how to take survivors back in time through various questions about life before the war — about how the Sabbath table was set, how the different dishes smelled.

Students also learn how to ask painful questions about life in the ghettos, the deportations and life in the camps.


Read the whole story at The Times of Israel.

Updated: Sep. 16, 2015