10/22/2013
 
“Through Their Eyes” Continues Holocaust Survivors’ Histories
 
Holocaust Museum Houston Program to Train Descendants to Share Their Stories Goes International
 
HOUSTON, TX (Oct. 22, 2013) – A program initiated by Holocaust Museum Houston to allow the children and close friends of Holocaust survivors to continue to share their histories when the survivors can no longer do so is being replicated internationally.
 Sandy lessig
 Sandy Lessig

The Calgary Jewish Federation in Calgary, Canada, has received a $40,000 grant to implement “Through Their Eyes: A Survivor’s Story,” which was launched in Houston by members of the 2nd Generation in 2009.

The program is not intended to replace survivors who are still able to speak and talk with students and other organizations nor is it intended to tell the 2nd Generation viewpoint, according to Sandy Lessig, who was the creator of the program. Rather, adult children and family friends who are close to the survivor are taught how to use their parent’s or friend’s own videotaped testimonies, artifacts and life lessons to continue carrying on the message when the survivor is unable or unavailable to do so.

In each 50-minute multimedia session, the survivor’s videotaped testimony is mixed with interactive, historical narration by the survivor’s adult child or close friend who knows their history well. Each presentation is followed by a question and answer session.

Lessig, a 63-year-old Sugar Land resident, has had several phone conversations over the past year with the Canadian federation to discuss how they might replicate the program. “They took it to heart, and wrote a proposal resulting in a grant from the Alberta Human Rights Commission to create their own version of ‘Through Their Eyes’,” she said.

"The Calgary Jewish community is facing the same challenge as in all Jewish communities - our courageous Survivors who have been speaking for over 30 years are getting to the stage where this is no longer possible. It is imperative that their stories continue to be told and we are grateful that Sandy, via Holocaust Museum Houston, has given us a blueprint to continue this meaningful work," said Ilana Krygier Lapides, director of Holocaust and human rights education at the federation.

Lessig will travel to Calgary on Nov. 10 for the community’s observance of Kristallnacht and remain to present the project to the community and work with volunteers and a facilitator who has been hired. Calgary has a Jewish population of about 7,000 people, she said. She has previously presented the program to other Jewish organizations at the Association of Holocaust Organizations annual conference and the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust & Descendants and will be presenting at that organization’s conference in Las Vegas this November. Various communities in the United States also have contacted her about expanding the project.

In addition to Lessig, whose own father, Walter Breisacher, endured antisemitism in his hometown before fleeing southwestern Germany with his family at age 16, participants in the Houston program include:

  • Shelley Davidoff, whose father Sol Stopnicki was born in Poland and was forced to make parts for German tanks at the Flossenberg camp before being sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto. He eventually was liberated by the Russians and sent to the displaced persons camp at Langsberg. Both his father and mother were murdered at Auschwitz. He made it to the United States in 1950.
  • Pepi Nichols, whose mother Louise Joskowitz endured the Krakow ghetto in Poland only to be sent to the labor camp at Plaszow and eventually to Auschwitz and Theresienstadt. Nichols’ father, Rubin, survived Dachau and Gross Rosen before being liberated during a death march by the Germans. Rubin and Louise met at the displaced persons camp in Landsberg, Germany and married in 1947.
  • Fredda Friedlander, whose mother Ruth Steinfeld and aunt Lea Weems, were given by their parents to a Jewish philanthropic organization to hide and shelter. The two never saw their parents again. They posed as Catholics in group homes and with a foster family until villagers began to suspect their true identities. They were sent to an orphanage in France, where they stayed until the war’s end.
  • Heidi Massin, whose father Walter Kase was sent with his parents and younger sister to a Jewish ghetto in Poland. There, in 1941, his younger sister was lined up with other young children and shot to death in front of her family. Twelve-year-old Walter was sent to a labor camp, then to Auschwitz, then Sosnowiec and finally to Mauthausen and two of the death camp’s sub-camps. Walter and his father were liberated by the U.S. Army in May 1945. His father, near death at liberation, survived only another month.
Lessig says the program is vitally important. “As I gave tours at Holocaust Museum Houston and saw the impact of a survivor telling his or her story on the students who visited the Museum, I just could not allow myself to think that someday there would be no eyewitnesses left to teach our children about what happened in the Holocaust. I felt compelled to find a way for a survivor’s story to be told. We have to continue sharing that history.”

“The most important part of this is that the story is authentic,” she said. “It is the survivor telling their own story with their children augmenting the history and making sure each member of the audience appreciates what hatred and apathy can do.”

In Houston, the presentations can be scheduled by schools, churches or civic groups in the Houston metropolitan area by e-mailing speakers@hmh.org or completing the online form under the Education/Outreach tab at www.hmh.org. Venues must have the capability to play and project the DVD-based program and have adequate audio capabilities. The program is not recommended for children under age 10. There is a $125 fee for the first presentation and $50 for a second same-day presentation to groups of up to 50 people. For larger groups, the fee is $250 for the first presentation and $100 for a second same-day presentation, if needed. All proceeds benefit the educational outreach efforts of Holocaust Museum Houston.

The Houston program is generously underwritten by the Stanford and Joan Alexander Foundation and the Sterling Family Foundation.

Holocaust Museum Houston is dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust, remembering the 6 million Jews and other innocent victims and honoring the survivors' legacy. Using the lessons of the Holocaust and other genocides, the Museum teaches the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy.

Holocaust Museum Houston’s Morgan Family Center is located in Houston’s Museum District at 5401 Caroline St., Houston, TX 77004. For more information about the Museum, call 713-942-8000 or visit www.hmh.org.
 
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