As the population of Holocaust survivors ages and dwindles, there is a growing urgency to ensure that both their eye witness accounts of the atrocities and the tales of their resilience are preserved in perpetuity. Earlier this year, Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Southern Arizona compiled the stories of 36 Holocaust survivors living in Southern Arizona into the book “To Tell Our Stories.” What started as a way to share the stories of Russian-speaking Holocaust survivors on the JFCS website has grown into an educational and historical tool with the potential to impact thousands in our community and beyond.
“We are, all of us, obliged to educate ourselves and our children, in any way we can, to the dangers of thinking less of another human based simply on belief and prejudice,” co-editors Raisa Moroz (manager of the JFCS Holocaust survivors program) and volunteer translator Richard Fenwick wrote in their preface. With ethnic conflicts raging across the globe, these lessons are more relevant and important today than ever.
The book is already being incorporated into local Holocaust studies.
Each 7th grader at Tucson Hebrew Academy will be paired with a Holocaust survivor from the book, says Rabbi Billy Lewkowicz, THA director of Judaic and Hebrew studies. Students will interview survivors and then write their own chapters, incorporating their impressions and feelings. “This living legacy makes the Holocaust so much more real and personal,” says Lewkowicz.
“We felt that our students would benefit from interviewing our very own local survivors as part of their study of the Holocaust,” says Rina Liebeskind, director of education at Congregation Or Chadash. “Our students not only will have a chance to ask the survivors questions, they will also become witnesses to ensure those stories will continue to be told and not be forgotten.”
The Holocaust History Center at the Jewish History Museum is including classroom sets of the book in curriculum kits loaned to schools. “‘To Tell Our Stories’ is an important addition to the kit, as it provides several dozen testimonial fragments and makes local connections to this history,” says Bryan Davis, interim director of the Jewish History Museum. “The format of the book, testimonies that are segmented into a mosaic of memoir-like distillations, lends itself well to classroom use.”
To mark Jewish Book Month and the anniversary of Kristallnacht in November, Congregation Chaverim’s book club will read “To Tell Our Stories” and “March of the Living: Our Stories” by Jan Berlfein Burns. Rabbi Stephanie Aaron hopes that survivors will speak to the synagogue’s religious school and to the class she teaches at Tucson Hebrew High. “It is all of our responsibility, as Jews, to learn about and speak about the Shoah. We must stand with the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of survivors. We all must be remember-ers; the ones who speak about the Shoah; the ones who dedicate our lives to stopping prejudice, intolerance, racism and bigotry; the ones who take a stand against anti-Semitism wherever and whenever it occurs.”
Moroz says that since the book was published, another 27 survivors have requested to add their tales to the sequel. She encourages others who want to share their stories to contact her as soon as possible.
Moroz also hopes that the book will raise awareness about services that JFCS provides for Holocaust survivors. These include case management, in-home help, transportation and mental health counseling. JFCS also provides financial assistance for medical and dental bills, medication co-pays, giftcards for food, utility bills, incontinence supplies, glasses and medical equipment. Social support includes weekly group meetings in English and monthly meetings in Russian, along with volunteers in the Friendly Visitors Program who visit weekly with survivors in their homes.
For information about JFCS services for Holocaust survivors, volunteer opportunities, or to submit a story for the next book, contact Moroz at [email protected] or 795-0300 ext. 2214.
“To Tell Our Stories: Holocaust Survivors of Southern Arizona” is available at amazon.com, Antigone Books, the Jewish History Museum and the gift shops of Congregation Anshei Israel and Congregation Bet Shalom.
Nancy Ben-Asher Ozeri is a feature writer and editor living in Tucson. She can be reached at [email protected].