For the past eight years, Hillel Torah’s eighth 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 a newspaper reporter – this year it was Chicago Tribune reporter Mike Isaacs. 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, Balthasar Geib and Charlotte Kaiser came all the way from their hometowns in Dresden and Stuttgart, 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, Hyman Burstyn, Vera Burstyn, David Dragon, Harold Katz, Suzanne Lieber, Shari Malina, Steen Metz and Lane Rubinstein, 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. Before the screening, there is a special reception for all participants and their families and friends, which was graciously sponsored by Ora and Maury Aaron. Our 2018 screening was shown on Sunday, May 6 and was generously sponsored by Linda and Stanley Weissbrot in honor and in memory of their parents Fay z”l and Morris z”l Weiss and Riva and Joe z”l Weissbrot.
Watching our annual Names, Not Numbers© Holocaust documentary is an unforgettable and inspiring event for all who attend.
“I just had to express how moving the  Names, Not Numbers © program was, “ says Simcha Safran, Director of Operations and Donor Relations at the Kehillah Jewish Education Fund. “I brought my 12-year-old son and it made such an impact on both of us. I have to admit until this year I had never heard of the program. I truly believe it would be beneficial for other schools and parents to be shown the movie and the exceptional teaching and learning opportunities the program offers.”
On a recent Hillel Torah Facebook post about the film, grandparent Deborah Leonard writes, “Very moving program. HT does a fabulous job of making sure we never forget! I am a child of survivors and feel extremely lucky that my young grandkids at HT already know so much about the Shoah.”
For more information or to buy a DVD of this year’s film, please visit www.hillleltorah.org < Giving < Names, Not Numbers < DVDs and Dedications.