Holocaust educational program to be exported to the US

'Witness Theater' project brings together Holocaust survivors and high school students.

Auschwitz 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Auschwitz 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
An intergenerational Holocaust educational initiative that has been running successfully here for the past eight years is set to be exported to the US, thanks to a large financial donation and the determination of the program's sponsors. Presented Monday at the United Jewish Communities General Assembly in Jerusalem, "Witness Theater" is a year-and-a-half long interactive educational project bringing together Holocaust survivors and high school students with the aim of never forgetting the Nazi atrocities perpetrated against the Jews. It culminates in an extremely moving piece of theater, in which survivors retell their stories while students act out the experiences on stage. "The aim is for the two generations to interact and for the survivors to find a positive forum to retell their stories," explained Professor Itzhak Brick, the director-general of the Joint Distribution Committee-Eshel, which currently sponsors the project in Israel together with The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. The program has already been set in motion in the US thanks to a $25,000 donation from Florida philanthropist Rani Garfinkle. Following the Witness Theater presentation at the GA on Monday, Garfinkle told The Jerusalem Post that when she had first seen a taped version of the production she had strongly felt that her husband, who passed away five years ago, would have wanted to support such an initiative. "After I saw it for the first time, it was almost as though he was there telling me to support this," she said. "We only have such a limited period to get out the stories of these people and it makes sense to get young people involved in that." Created by husband and wife team Irit and Ezra Dagan, Witness Theater integrates real Holocaust survivors into the learning process. Students spend 18 months getting to know the survivors, listening to their stories and, finally, reenacting their experiences on stage. Maggie Gad, Eshel's program director and one of the main forces behind the program, estimated that in Israel it cost close to NIS 75,000 per project. She added that the organization was currently pushing the Education Ministry to include the program in the national curriculum. In the meantime, 22 high schools have successfully participated in the program, hearing the stories of Holocaust survivors living in their communities, "Instead of them simply reading about the Holocaust from a book," said Gad. "This is a learning process they will never forget," she added. The writer was moderator of the GA panel "The Drama of Holocaust Survivors in Israel," which showcased the Witness Theater at the conference on Monday.