Shimon Kronenberg of Suffern, left, and Jacob Braun of Englewood flank Shoah survivor and military veteran Michael Taylor, whom they interviewed for a school project.

Jacob Braun is a high school senior from Englewood. Michael Taylor is an octogenarian Holocaust survivor from Paramus. “Names, Not Numbers,” a multimedia oral history project at Yeshiva University’s high schools for girls and boys, brought the two together.

Braun was one of 20 12th-graders at the boys’ high school to participate in the project this year. All those interviewed are to be honored at a reception and screening on Tuesday, May 4, at 7 p.m. at the university’s Furst Hall in upper Manhattan.

While some participants were able to interview and film their own grandparents, Jacob and his partner, Shimon Kronenberg of Suffern, sought an assignment from project creator Tova Fish Rosenberg, director of Hebrew language studies at both YU high schools.

“My father’s parents went through the Holocaust, but one died before I was born and the other died when I was about 2, so I didn’t know them,” Jacob explained. “This was the first one-on-one encounter I’ve had with a survivor.”

Since Rosenberg began “Names, Not Numbers” in 2003, more than 360 students and 160 survivors and World War II veterans throughout North America have participated in the program. The students make a documentary film and a short secondary production, “Names, Not Numbers: A Movie in the Making,” which are shown at the high schools and at synagogues, camps, and community centers each year. Recently, the 13 DVDs completed to date were accepted into the archives of the Israel National Library — the first time that academic material has been accepted by the library, which has committed to also archiving future productions.

“I see over and over that the project really touches the souls of the students,” Rosenberg said. “I see it in their eyes when they sit across from the survivors and I see it afterwards when they reflect. I can say that for many, it is truly a life-altering experience.”

Mayer Stromer of Teaneck interviewed Chaim Stern, who survived along with one brother. “Everyone in grade school learns about the Holocaust, but to hear firsthand from someone who was part of it, to look into his eyes as he’s telling you about the hell he went through, makes a much bigger impact on you,” said Stromer, a graduate of the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge.

The “Names, Not Numbers” curriculum includes research through a custom-made Website and learning interviewing techniques, documentary film tools, and editing from professionals — journalists or newspaper editors, a filmmaker, and history teachers. This year’s students had sessions with Michael Berenbaum, former director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Research Institute and president of Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Visual History Foundation, who co-produced the Academy Award-winning documentary “One Survivor Remembers.” In a component new to the project, the YU students posed questions to German peers regarding the issues they faced in accepting the role their grandparents played in the Holocaust years.

Each pair or team of students produces an hour-long videotaped interview with a Holocaust survivor or a World War II veteran. These interviews are then edited to 15-minute segments and compiled into the finished documentary.

“Our teachers set up a site with information on the people to be interviewed, with links to other sites to get more information on them and on the towns they came from and the camps they were in,” said Jacob. “We then formulated our questions. We tried to make them as personal as possible, to bring out the real story of Michael Taylor, his childhood, his family, and what it was like for him.”

Taylor said he was happy to share his story. “My history is unique, because I was fighting against the Germans with the French resistance and I also fought in the [War of Independence for the] State of Israel. I made a small résumé about my life, and the boys asked me questions. I was excited to be part of the project.”

Taylor, a 58-year resident of Paramus and owner of Wood-Ridge Hardware, was born Michael Teuchschneider in Brussels, Belgium. His family was interned from 1940 through 1942 in the Vichy-run Riversaltes concentration camp after fleeing to France. Taylor helped his family escape and evade recapture for five months. His parents and eldest sister were murdered at Auschwitz, while three other sisters were hidden for the remainder of the war. Taylor fought for two years in the French Resistance and participated in the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp while serving with the Rainbow Division of the American Army. He then accompanied his three sisters on the first ship to leave Paris for Palestine. There, Taylor joined the Haganah to fight for Israel’s independence.

Jacob said Taylor seemed eager to share his experiences. “Although he was sad to recall some of the bad memories, there was a light in his eyes as he talked about helping to fight for Israel, where his sisters still live, and knowing that with his help the Jewish people are stronger than ever,” said Jacob. “It was amazing to see his thriving spirit.”

Rabbi Mark Gottleib, head of the boys’ high school, said that for students “the project has created a space where the horror that was the Holocaust moves from the world of ‘mere’ history and abstract theory into the realm of rich portraiture and highly personal meaning.”

Teaneck residents Gershi Adler, Yitzchak Fuld, and Max Stern also participated in “Names, Not Numbers.”

Apr 8, 2010 -- Sixty five years removed from the horrors of the Holocaust, survivors have found various paths to healing. For some, it might be telling their story or knowing that those they lost won’t be forgotten. For others it may be the hope that today’s youth learns the lessons of the past and never allows such devastation to reoccur.

Names, Not Numbers (NNN) attempts to accomplish all of the above. Created in 2003 by Tova Rosenberg, director of Hebrew language studies at both Yeshiva University High Schools (YUHS), the program teaches students the skills they need to interview and film an oral history of Holocaust survivors, resulting in a documentary film, Names, Not Numbers, and a second, “making of” film, Names, Not Numbers: A Movie in the Making.

The films are shown each year at their respective high schools; this year’s screenings will be at Yeshiva University High School for Girls (Central) on April 27 and at Yeshiva University High School for Boys (MTA) on May 4. The films have also been shown in synagogues, camps and community centers on Kristallnacht, Yom Hashoah and Tishah B’av.

The program’s role, Rosenberg explained, is to make the Holocaust relevant and personal for this, the last generation who will be able to document it. “I see over and over that the project really touches the souls of the students,” she said. “I see it in their eyes when they sit across from the survivors and I see it afterwards when they reflect. I can say that for many, it is truly a life altering experience.”

The students are aware of their critical role in preserving the story. “The people who experienced these things won’t be here in ten years. The question is, how do we preserve it for future generations?” asked YUHSB senior, Alex Goldberg, who interviewed his grandmother, Mrs. Beatrice Peyser.

To date, over 360 students and 160 survivors and World War II veterans throughout North America have participated in the program, for which Rosenberg was awarded the Baumel Award for Excellence in Jewish Studies in 2004.

This year the films were accepted into the archives of the Israel National Library – the first time that academic material has been accepted by the library, which has committed to also archiving future films.

As part of this year’s program, students were addressed by Dr. Michael Berenbaum, former director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Research Institute and president of Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Visual History Foundation, who co-produced the Academy Award winning documentary “One Survivor Remembers.”

A new component to the program featured German students speaking to students at both high schools, answering questions regarding the issues they faced in accepting the role their grandparents played in the Holocaust.

Rabbi Mark Gottleib, head of school at YUHSB, said that for students at his school, “the project has created a space where the horror that was the Holocaust moves from the world of ‘mere’ history and abstract theory into the realm of rich portraiture and highly personal, meaning.”

Rachaeli Berman, a senior at YUHSG interviewed her grandmother, Mrs. Dorothy Berman, as part of the project. “It made me realize that if not for her survival I would not be here today,” she said. “I think that this project has been an incredibly eye-opening experience for me and my peers. We are able to look at this one event and see so many different stories of survival.”

View video clips from the 2009 YUHSB and YUHSG DVDs.
spacer   spacer

Remembering their faces

By Malka Eisenberg

Issue of July 24, 2009 / 3 Av 5769

One man recounted how the inmates of the Westerbrook concentration camp secretly baked matzo for Passover. Another survivor was among the 1800 Jews traded for tanks by the Germans. And one woman proudly told her story of how she smuggled gunpowder to help blow up a crematorium in Auschwitz.

Their stories and others were recorded by students in Central and MTA as part of “Names, Not Numbers,” an ongoing multimedia project to preserve the oral histories of Holocaust survivors. The program has proven to be a powerful event for the participating students.

“Just sitting across from a survivor and looking in their eyes, [and] knowing they saw what happened is a life-changing experience,” said Rebecca Ringelheim, one of the Central seniors who participated in the program. “I would recommend one hundred percent that anyone who can, should do it.”

Tova Fish-Rosenberg, a Jewish educator and recipient of the Baumel Award for Excellence in Jewish Studies, created “Names, Not Numbers” six years ago. It has been produced every year since its inception as a senior thesis in the Yeshiva University High Schools and in schools across the country. The program involves teaching about the Holocaust through a framework of oral history filming.

“The students are trained by professionals how to interview for an oral history and how to make a documentary,” explained Rosenberg.

Termed “an Intergenerational Holocaust Curriculum Project,” groups of two or three students receive a biography of their subject, either a survivor or a Liat Brody of Great Neck and Devorah Hoffman of Staten Island interviewed psychologist Dr. Leon Gersten of Cedarhurst, a Holocaust survivor saved by non-Jews who hid him for two years during the war, as part of the “Names, Not Numbers,” program at Central (Yeshiva University High School for Girls). Liat Brody of Great Neck and Devorah Hoffman of Staten Island interviewed psychologist Dr. Leon Gersten of Cedarhurst, a Holocaust survivor saved by non-Jews who hid him for two years during the war, as part of the “Names, Not Numbers,” program at Central (Yeshiva University High School for Girls). World War II veteran, research all facets of their subject with help from a website set up by Rosenberg, and augment their research with trips to the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Students learn recording, filming and editing techniques, as well as how to interact with interviewees. They then interview their subjects face-to-face, preserving, often for the first time, their personal history.

The one-hour videotaped interview filmed by each team of students is edited into a fifteen minute format and combined with others into a “Names, Not Numbers” documentary DVD. The documentary director also films the entire process from instructional classes and information sessions to the final interview and editing to create a second film, “Names, Not Numbers: A Movie in the Making.” This documentary is shown at a dinner with the students, interviewees and invited guests at the completion of the program.

Thirteen movies have been produced so far featuring 56 survivors and World War II veterans being interviewed by 140 Yeshiva University High School students. The films have been shown in synagogues and camps as part of Yom Hashoah and Tisha b’Av commemorations. “Names, Not Numbers: A Movie in the Making @ Central” will be shown on Tisha b’Av this year at Congregation Anshei Chesed of Hewlett, Young Israel of Jamaica Estates in Queens, Congregation Ohr Torah in North Woodmere, Young Israel of Plainview, andat Camp Moshava in Canada.

Rosenberg pointed out that students at Central added a “twist,” a different view, to the Holocaust experience. This year, they interviewed Dr. Norman Lamm, Chancelor of Yeshiva University, about his role in producing ammunition for Israel during the 1948 War of Independence, as a chemistry major at YU. Another part of this year’s “twist” was an interview with twin German brothers studying medicine at Yale University Medical School whose grandfathers were in the Hitler Youth and the German army during the war.

Rebecca Honig of Lawrence, another Central student, chose to participate in the program because, “I thought that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. The survivors are dying out and we have to seize the opportunity.”

She said that as a result of her involvement in “Names, Not Numbers” she “values life more.”

Her subject survived a labor camp, a concentration camp and a death march.

“Everything terrible that can happen to a person happened to him,” she said. “The most inspiring thing is how happy he seems regardless of what happened to him. He built an entire life for himself and pushed on.”

“It’s one thing to sit and learn about the Holocaust in a classroom,” she emphasized. “It’s another to sit and hear it first hand. It changes how you think about it, your view of the Holocaust. You feel a lot more connected to it.”

“It strengthened my view about life,” wrote Liat Brody, another Central graduate, in an email. “Life is G-d’s gift; it is precious. We should try to do our best during this lifetime, because life on earth is limited.”

‘Names, Not Numbers’: Listening to the Stories Told by Holocaust Survivors By Alex Weisler

August 12, 2009

Tova Rosenberg knows about stories.

Sitting in her Yeshiva University office in New York City’s Washington Heights, the creator of the Holocaust education project “Names, Not Numbers” recounted a student’s interview with the son of a Holocaust survivor.

The son recalled asking his father, “Why do you survivors have all these stories?”

And the father responded, “Because of our stories, we survived.”

That principle guides Rosenberg’s yearlong intergenerational Holocaust oral history project — an innovative approach that trains Orthodox Jewish day school students in the art of obtaining the stories from survivors and others who have had wartime experiences. The students also edit a feature-length documentary film.

The project began five years ago when Rosenberg received a grant to develop intergenerational education as the principal of a Jewish day school. The program has become a cornerstone of the senior year experience at Y.U.’s boys’ and girls’ high schools in New York. Students in Baltimore; Houston; Memphis, Tenn., and Allentown, Pa., also participate in the program annually.

In addition to her “Names, Not Numbers” role, Rosenberg serves as director of the Hebrew-language program at Yeshiva University High School for Boys.

“I was looking for a way to personalize the numbers and to have the intergenerational connections,” Rosenberg said. The numbers of Jews killed in World War II — 6 million — is too impersonal for students to understand, she said.

“I felt that the way students could learn that would leave the lasting impact on them, really touch their hearts and souls, would be to learn from the survivors themselves firsthand, testimonials,” Rosenberg said.

The program spends a year training students in almost every aspect of documentary filmmaking. Students receive lessons in journalism techniques — this year from New York Times reporter and editor Joseph Berger and New York Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt.

The project’s film director, Eric Spaar, shows the group how to operate video equipment, and high school history teachers help the students conduct research and draft interview questions.

And when it comes time to film the hour-long oral history interview, the students are prepared, Rosenberg said.

“It’s fairly intense,” student David Leshaw, 18, of Teaneck, N.J., said of the experience. “We are the last generation that will really get to interact with the generation that experienced it.”

Students produce two films each year — a straightforward collection of 15-minute interviews, and a more esoteric “movie-in-the-making project” that includes testimony from interviewees but spends most of its time tracking the “Names, Not Numbers” students through the process of Holocaust education and documentary filmmaking.

In addition to interviewing survivors, the program tries to feature other Holocaust elements — the experiences of WWII liberators or American Jews, for instance — to enrich the educational experience, Rosenberg said.

The National Library of Israel in Jerusalem wants to archive the 13 documentaries the program has produced so far and also wants to house the project’s future films. Rosenberg said this was unusual because the library ordinarily does not accept curriculum-based pieces.

Rosenberg said her program prides itself on illuminating forgotten or unfamiliar Holocaust stories — for example, a woman who helped smuggle ammunition to the 300 men who blew up an Auschwitz crematorium and a child who had to relearn how to walk after being concealed in a box for eight months.

The project veered into uncharted waters this year when the girls’ high school students interviewed two German medical students who grew up with grandparents who had been involved in Nazi war activities.

For Ruth Gruener, a survivor who had been hidden as a child, hearing the Germans — twin brothers Klaus and Max Stahl — speak about their experiences was the most powerful part of a project.

“For children, to see people speak, living people, makes a more lasting impression than just to read a book,” she said. “With all the Holocaust deniers and a lot of German people trying… not to be associated with it because of guilt, to have these people speak up, means a lot,” she said.

Before heading back to Germany in October, the twins will speak to students at the boys’ school and will revisit the girls’ school.

Rebecca Honig, 18, a student at Yeshiva University Girls’ High School, said that sitting for a full hour across the table from a survivor brought a new depth to her Holocaust research.

“The Holocaust — it’s not one story, it’s millions of individual stories,” Honig said. “I feel really blessed I was able to hear one of them.”

Rosenberg said that “Names, Not Numbers” is about recognizing the unique connection that can be established when students are made to look into the eyes of those who have seen the worst the world has to offer.

“There’s nothing like having them sit for one hour across from a survivor and being able to ask that survivor any question they want to ask,” she said. “They understand that these survivors [were] the same age that they are, with 60 years in between them.”


‘Names, Not Numbers’ Keeps Holocaust Memories Alive by Gary Rosenblatt


The aging World War II veteran paused at the end of an hour-long interview and addressed the two teenage girls across the table who had been asking him questions. “You have to promise me something,” Sander Dulitz said to them, after describing his three years of combat in the European theater, including landing at Normandy and visiting the Buchenwald concentration camp shortly after it was liberated in the spring of 1945. “Promise me you won’t forget this,” he said, “that you’ll pass it on.” Devorah Weinstock and Sarah Schildkraut, both seniors at the Yeshiva University High School for Girls in Queens, nodded soberly. That moment of connection between the generations is the key to the success of an innovative project that Devorah, Sarah and 16 of their classmates participated in this spring. Known as “Names, Not Numbers,” it allows students to better understand the Holocaust by conducting oral histories with survivors and others involved in World War II.

The students, working in pairs, research their subject, prepare for and video the interview, and then edit it for inclusion in a film that incorporates their work and that of their classmates. It is then shown at their school for students, teachers, parents and the survivors who participated, along with their families. The Holocaust Memorial Film Project by the members of the Class of ‘08 of the YU High School for Girls will be presented on Monday night at the school. “You can see how the students mature over the course of the project,” noted Tova Fish-Rosenberg, an educator in Harrisburg, Pa., who developed the program, as well as a curriculum for it, and has brought it to nine schools around the country over the last four years. (That includes MTA, the YU high school for boys, as well as day schools in Baltimore, Houston, and Allentown, Pa.) “These are experiences and messages they will take with them for life,” she said. Devorah and Sarah said they were moved by their meeting with Dulitz, who in turn thanked them for “the opportunity to tell my story so future generations will know what happened.”

The girls had done research on a Holocaust survivor they had been set to interview, and they had prepared a list of questions to ask. (I was asked to give the project participants some tips on conducting interviews, and was honored to be involved.) But on the morning of Devorah and Sarah’s assignment, “their” survivor had to cancel due to illness, and Dulitz, who lives in Washington Heights and was a security guard at Yeshiva University for 18 years, agreed to participate on short notice. He arrived wearing a World War II veterans’ baseball hat decorated with a number of small medals awarded to his Army unit. He spoke of his relatively carefree life in New York before Pearl Harbor, hanging out with his older friends “on the corner.” But when the U.S. suddenly entered the war at the end of 1941, his buddies enlisted and soon Dulitz did, too, though he was only 18 (draft age was 21) and he needed his parents’ permission. In the Army, he encountered anti-Semitic remarks for the first time in his life, from fellow soldiers. “I hadn’t realized it was hard to be a Jew,” he said. Dulitz fought in France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Holland and Germany, and it was near the town of Weimar in April 1945 that he learned of a concentration camp in the area. He commandeered a vehicle and went on his own to Buchenwald, which had been liberated only a few days before. There he met survivors — “they were human skeletons, just skin and bones” — and was shown the six ovens of the crematoria “with ashes still in all of them.” He described in gruesome detail how bodies were prepared to be burned. Dulitz said he was also shown the abandoned home of the commandant of the camp, Karl Koch, whose wife, Ilse, known as The Beast of Buchenwald, was infamous for her acts of sadism, including preserving the skin of inmates with tattoos. Dulitz said he was shown lamp shades said to be made from tattoos. “I was too young to get the full impact” of all that he saw that day, he told the student interviewers, but it was clear from the details he provided of the sights and smells he encountered that the memory is still vivid. “I’m not here to be a hero,” he said toward the end of the hour, “just to spread the message.” He added that he wished more young people over the years had asked him about his wartime experiences. Rochelle Brand, the principal of the YU High School for Girls, said the project not only gave the 18 seniors who volunteered for it (out of a class of 62) a deeper and more personal connection to history, but “the chance for them to be a link in the chain.”

Observing the girls’ interview, one sensed the almost palpable feeling of catharsis for Sander Dulitz, able to open up and share his memories with an attentive audience, and a parallel feeling for Sarah and Devorah, allowing them to absorb his words and internalize them, making long-ago encounters live again. There is no doubt that these two girls will keep their promise to Dulitz to “pass it on,” like “a baton at a track meet,” as he had said to them. May the names and remembrances of the six million Holocaust victims be remembered always — to preserve life, and sanctify it.


© 2000 - 2008 The Jewish Week, Inc. All rights reserved. Please refer to the legal notice for other important information.


Letter to the Editor on 5/21/08

Jewish Week - New York

Names, Not Numbers’

by Steve Holtzman

After having attended the “Names, Not Numbers” screening earlier this week, I wanted to express a debt of gratitude to Gary Rosenblatt for mentoring the students on interviewing techniques and to Yeshiva University High School For Girls for making this program available to its students (Editor’s column, May 2).
The sights, sounds and emotion that we saw and heard were gripping, heartbreaking and totally enthralling. The connection that the students forged with the survivors and children of the survivors was very apparent by the dialogue and description of their experiences. I was brought to tears several times during the presentation, as I am sure many in the audience were.
This presentation, from its cinematography to its music to its content, was as good as any
I have seen on this topic.
I hope that YU High School for Girls continues this project in future years and also makes these presentations available to the general public

Hollis, Queens


Houston Herald Voice

Names, Not Numbers©’

<font color='red'><i>Photo by JHV: MICHAEL C. DUKE</i></font color><P align='left'>David Goldberg and Sarah Fink interview local Holocaust survivor Bill Orlin, superimposed on a background of Holocaust Museum Houston’s wall of Houston survivors. Goldberg and Fink were among the group of Emery/Weiner School seniors who participated in the “Names, Not Numbers®” Holocaust documentation project this fall semester.

David Goldberg and Sarah Fink interview local Holocaust survivor Bill Orlin, superimposed on a background of Holocaust Museum Houston’s wall of Houston survivors. Goldberg and Fink were among the group of Emery/Weiner School seniors who participated in the “Names, Not Numbers®” Holocaust documentation project this fall semester.

EWS seniors make innovative, multimedia Holocaust documentation project their own

“When we came to the gates [on] the outskirts of Ostrów Mazowiecki, there was a bunch of German soldiers. I visualize this to this day, a bunch of German soldiers standing there. And, when they saw my grandfather, who had a beard, they took a scissors and cut his beard – just as an insult. So, my grandfather, he was a quiet person, but he must have asked: ‘Why are you doing this? I’m a pious Jew, this is part of me. Why are you cutting my beard?’

“I’m assuming this is what he said. So, the German soldier slapped him. And, I remember this vividly, because [the soldier] told me, he said: ‘Gott Mit Uns,’ [which in English means] G-d is with us. . . .”

Of the many horrors Bill Orlin experienced during the Holocaust, this episode, especially, remains, some 70 years later, luridly tattooed on his brain. Orlin shared this haunting memory during an intense, hour-long interview with Emery/Weiner high school seniors, Sarah Fink and David Goldberg, on Nov. 14.

Sarah and David were among the class of 16 students assigned to meet with eight Houston-area survivors as part of an innovative Holocaust-documentation project, aimed at giving a human dimension to the incomprehensible number of Jewish Holocaust victims.

Called, “Names, Not Numbers©,” the curriculum for this assignment centered upon “an interactive multimedia intergenerational Holocaust oral history project,” created by third-generation Jewish educator, Tova Fish-Rosenberg.

The project works by pairing students with local Holocaust survivors. The students are tasked with researching the Holocaust, in general, and their survivors’ histories, in particular, aided largely by a custom-made Internet resource called Web Quest. The students formulate and compose interview questions, and are taught documentary video-filming techniques. With these tools, they conduct a video-taped interview with their survivors, to record their stories for future generations. The students then edit and compile their work, which becomes the class’ “Names, Not Numbers” project.

“I think it vital that students have a real, meaningful experience, and an intergenerational experience, which will have an impact on them for the rest of their lives,” Rosenberg explained. “The current generation of students is the last to benefit from hearing these stories firsthand from Holocaust survivors. Given the opportunity to form a direct link between the older generation and their own, these students will be well-equipped for keeping these memories alive, and for teaching the lessons of the Holocaust to their children,” she added.


EWS seniors Jenni Kamin and Tatiana Stein interview Holocaust survivor Wolf Finkelman as part of the school’s “Names, Not Numbers” project. Finkelman is joined by grandson, Jordan, and wife, Rose.

Rosenberg was in Houston last week to assist the EWS seniors with their interviews. Accompanying Rosenberg was Eric Spaar, an award-winning filmmaker, who is recording the project’s progress, step by step. For, in addition to the documentary that the students will produce, a second, behind-the-scenes film will be made, titled: “Names, Not Numbers: A Movie in the Making©.”

EWS is the third high school in the country to contribute to “Names, Not Numbers.” Unlike the other schools, which incorporated the project into a preexisting curriculum, EWS was the first school to design an entire class around the program.

The class itself is called, “Names, Not Numbers,” and is a senior elective taught by EWS’ assistant director of Judaics, Rabbi Maccabee Avishur.

Explaining how “Names, Not Numbers” fits in with the school’s mission – Connecting with the Past, Preparing for the Future – Rabbi Avishur explained, “We’d been grappling for several years on how to teach the Holocaust ‘the Emery way’ – giving the students an authentic educational experience that allows them to engage the material in a novel way. We had several different ideas that centered on multimedia presentations and the like, but we weren’t committed to those, because we didn’t feel that they would really be meaningful or substantial enough. So, when we heard of this project, we said we can build a course around it that will give the students the chance to learn about the Holocaust in a way that will mean something to them.”

An unplanned, though profoundly important development to come out of this project, Rabbi Avishur continued, has been the “decompression” sessions among the pairs of students and himself, following their interviews with their survivors.

“This was purely an organic development,” he pointed out. “We hadn’t planned on debriefing after the interview, but after the first two students conducted their interview, they lingered about with me, just talking about what they had just experienced, and how this has impacted them almost immediately. Then, it happened again with the second group. And, we said ‘wow,’ this is really important, and I think we should continue doing this, and so we did it with the third group, as well. And now all the students want to have this ‘decompression’ session afterwards.”

The JH-V was at EWS on day two of the interviews. Between filming sessions, several students shared their experiences. Reflecting on their interview with Helen Colin the day before, seniors Noah Meicler and Jeff Croft spoke about the value of having a decompression session with their rabbi.

Going into the interview, Noah and Jeff agreed they were concerned with how to react to hearing a story of unimaginable tragedy and raw emotion. “You really don’t know how far you can go [in the interview], because you don’t really want to upset the person, so you just listen,” Noah remarked. “Afterwards, we sat there and just decompressed. We talked about how we thought it was just amazing – we can’t even fathom a story like that even happening.”

“It’s a difficult transition from such a deep interview, to going back to everyday high school life,” said Jeff, who found it hard to concentrate and eat the rest of the day, and to sleep that night.

Both Noah and Jeff indicated that having the opportunity to discuss what they had just experienced aided them in processing and understanding Colin’s personal story. Additionally, the students noted that they formed a strong connection with their survivor, a sentiment also expressed by classmates Maytal Hasson-Regev and Lauren Slatko.

Maytal and Lauren interviewed Zoly Zamir. “And, I thought it was the most amazing experience,” Maytal remarked, adding that she bonded with Zamir, who also is Israeli. “I really felt that this changed my life.”

Lauren agreed: “The fact that he was so young when he went through all of this, and he had so much strength to continue, his story shows that, as young as we are, 18 and 17, we can have that strength, and we can pursue whatever we want to do.”

Maytal and Lauren, empowered by learning their survivor’s story, had the opportunity to visit with him prior to their formal interview, and exchanged personal contact information with Zamir afterwards, with the promise of staying in touch in the future.

Classmates Gerald Rich and Rebecca Piller similarly found their interview with Riki Roussos empowering. Gerald and Rebecca learned that their survivor’s story deals with a history that often has been overlooked and even misrepresented.

“This was an amazing experience, and I thought maybe this could provide insight on current issues,” Gerald said.

“It’s really surprising to find these facts that no one knows about still, almost 70 years later,” Rebecca added.

Making these discoveries, and recording Roussos’ history, put Gerald and Rebecca in the powerful position of being able to tell a hitherto unknown survivor’s story.

Jenni Kamin and Tatiana Stein also found their interview with Wolf Finkelman to be illuminating, and came away from the experience with a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, his story.

“Mrs. Rosenberg was telling us last week, don’t expect [the interview] to be a certain way, because you may have a list of questions and it’s probably not going to go that way,” Jenni said.

Initially, Jenni and Tatiana thought the interview was going as planned, but then they found it heading in a different direction. “It didn’t play out the way we had in mind, but it’s not a bad thing at all; it was just very different from what we expected,” Jenni noted.

“I really got that it wasn’t so much our story,” Tatiana observed, “it was really that we were listening to his story – this was for him, and not for us.”

With the opportunity to discuss their interview experience with Rabbi Avishur, and with their fellow classmates, Jenni and Tatiana came to realize that Holocaust survivors, individually, have developed their own ways of coping with the horrors that they endured more than a half-century ago, and which remain ever-present for them to this day. And, the students noted that such a lesson is best learned by having the opportunity to listen to these stories firsthand from Holocaust survivors – helping them to see a face and a name, rather than a number.

Assessing the impact that this project has had on its young participants, Rabbi Avishur concluded by saying: “When we first conceived of this class, we thought it will be a good way for the students to have some meaningful experiences with survivors; that they’ll learn about the Holocaust in a way that’s important to them; and that they’ll become active in embodying the lessons of the Holocaust, and incorporating those lessons into their daily lives. That was our original goal. And, I think this has gone way beyond that.

“I already see that the students are actively involved in incorporating those lessons into their daily lives, and, this experience also has created relationships that will daily remind them of what this class means to them. And, I don’t think that’s going to go away any time soon, and I think this will be a lifelong commitment on their parts. Our students have really brought to this project something which probably hasn’t been brought to it before, which is a maturity and intellectual curiosity, and an emotional curiosity that has really turned this project into something completely unique, and more than what we imagined that it could be.”

A special screening of “Names, Not Numbers: A Movie in the Making” will be shown at EWS the last week of January/first week of February. The JH-V will announce the date of the gala when it is confirmed.

YU Logo

YU High Schools Produce "Names Not Numbers" Video to Commemorate Yom HaShoah

Article Photo
Apr 23, 2007 -- Joyce Tessel worried about the relevance of her class project. The 18-year-old senior at Samuel H. Wang Yeshiva University High School for Girls (YUHSG) “didn’t understand why talking to Holocaust survivors” and others who were connected to World War II, could be important to her young life. “But I was so wrong,” she said.

The result is Names, Not Numbers©, an interactive, multimedia intergenerational Holocaust oral history project produced by the seniors at YUHSG and The Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy – Yeshiva University High School for Boys (YUHSB) to pass on the memories, stories, and lessons of that unprecedented tragic time in world history.

Names, Not Numbers was created by educator Tova Fish-Rosenberg. The project combines research through Web Quests, video interviewing techniques, documentary film tools, writing and editing. Web Quest is a customized Web site that helped direct students to information about the Holocaust and its aftermath.

Students interviewed survivors as well as American war veterans who were involved in the liberation of concentration camps. They were given videography instruction by Eric Spaar, director of the film, as well as guidance on conducting interviews from a journalist and an oral historian. Students gained first-hand knowledge of World War II and the Holocaust by being paired with survivors and veterans who reside in their respective communities and filming their interviews.

The students presented the video, a documentary film, and a lecture by Dr. Moshe Avital, a Holocaust survivor and educator, at YUHSG on Sunday, April 15 – Yom Hashoah-Holocaust Remembrance Day. It will be presented again by YUHSB at 6:30 pm on Sunday, April 29 at 2540 Amsterdam Avenue on the Wilf Campus of Yeshiva University in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. The keynote speaker, Sol Goldstein, is one of the last surviving members of his Army company which liberated Buchenwald.

“For many young people, the events of World War II and the Holocaust are remote and don’t resonate on a human or existential level,” said Rabbi Mark Gottlieb, head of school of YUHSB. “This experience transformed lessons in history into a lively program that personalizes the events through the individuals who lived through them.”

Mrs. Rochelle Brand, YUHSG head of school, stressed that Names, Not Numbers brought history to life for her students. “This project has deepened their understanding of the Holocaust. Having the opportunity to interview survivors helps ensure that our students will continue to teach the lessons of the Holocaust to future generations.”