For the past nine years, Hillel Torah’s 8th grade classes have been privileged to gain firsthand knowledge of the Holocaust through participation in the worldwide, intergenerational Holocaust oral history film project, Names Not Numbers©. Names, Not Numbers© is an ongoing documentary created by students who research Holocaust survivors’ stories at the beginning of the school year, personally interview those survivors mid-year, and take part in the filming and editing process to eventually screen these interviews to their communities at the end of the year.
The program is powerful and meaningful not only to our eighth graders, but to history itself. The interviews portray the real events of the Holocaust and record these important memories forever before the last survivors pass away.
At Hillel Torah, students are paired together in groups and carefully research their assigned survivors’ background and experiences before, during and after the war with their mentors and program coordinators Laurie Hasten and Laurie Pinchot. They also meet with the founder of the worldwide Names, Not Numbers© project, Mrs. Tova Fish-Rosenberg, and practice interviewing techniques with former features editor and current contributing writer at Chicago magazine, David Bernstein. They also learn about the different camera equipment and film-editing skills from the project’s cinematographer, Sandra Stakic.
As part of their immersion into Holocaust history, students also visit the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. Museum interns who are part of the Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (ARSP) program which originated in Germany after the Holocaust, visit Hillel Torah as well. ARSP sends approximately 180 volunteers to countries such as the United States and Israel whose citizens suffered under Nazisim. This year, Nathanael Kleinhans and Leonie Loewisch came from Germany to spend a gap year interning in Chicago and speak to our eighth graders about Holocaust education in their respective cities and about their responsibilities at the museum.
In addition to connecting with our history, this multi-layered project provides a rare opportunity for our students to bond with a survivor and to experience their own personal journeys of discovery. Students are deeply moved and their meaningful interactions with survivors and reflections throughout the project are captured in the film. We are grateful to this year’s featured survivors, Miriam Banker, Sheila Gerber, Abe Rosenblum, Henry Straus z”l, Judy Straus and Eva Zaret, for sharing their incredible stories of strength and survival with all of us. May each of them be blessed for many years to come.
The program culminates with a community-wide premier screening of the students’ film which has consistently drawn over 500 guests. Our 2019 screening was shown on Sunday, May 12, followed by a dessert reception graciously sponsored by Ora and Maury Aaron.
Watching our annual Names, Not Numbers© Holocaust documentary is an unforgettable and inspiring event for all who attend.
Lynn Straus Denton, daughter of 2019-interviewed survivors Judy and Henry z”l Straus is especially grateful her parents’ testimonies will be preserved for years to come. She said, “I want to commend you, the staff and most of all the 8th graders on this impressive project and accomplishment…As having so recently lost my beloved father, it was hard to watch the film, however, we were so happy that he spoke so beautifully, so intelligently, and seemed to be his best self. It had become important to him to tell his story, and he rose to the occasion to do this one last time. We will cherish having this on tape.”
On a recent Hillel Torah Facebook post about the film, grandparent Deborah Leonard wrote: This is such an important project. Every year the HT students become witnesses for those who witnessed the Shoah.
For more information about the Names, Not Numbers© program, please contact Ed Plotkin, Director of Development, at firstname.lastname@example.org.