San Francisco project brings Holocaust survivor, students to explore Jewish Poland

The students recorded the survivors' experiences as oral histories or represented them as artwork.

holocaust survivor 248 ap (photo credit: )
holocaust survivor 248 ap
(photo credit: )
Six San Francisco high school and college students will join Annie Glass, a Holocaust survivor from their city, on her first trip back to Poland since World War II. The trip, scheduled from June 29 to July 8, is sponsored by the San Francisco-based Next Chapter Project, a partnership of the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture and the Jewish Family and Children's Services of the San Francisco Bay Area (JFCS). The trip is the culmination of a seven-month program, organized by JFCS Executive Director Dr. Anita Friedman and youth coordinator Taylor Epstein, in which the students were assigned Holocaust survivors to interview. The students recorded the survivors' experiences as oral histories or represented them as artwork. They also compiled a booklet of each survivor's story that included information on current Jewish life in Poland. "The education of the next generation is most important," said Glass in a June 17 article on the project issued by Rabinowitz-Dorf Communications. Aside from education, Glass added that another goal of the trip is "to look to the future [and see how] the Polish people have changed." The trip consists of visits to Jewish historical sites, such as the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps, the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial and the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. Glass and the students will also attend several events, including a concert at Tempel Synagogue, the only Reform synagogue that existed in Krakow before the war, and a group discussion led by the American and Israeli ambassadors to Poland. The trip will also focus on learning about contemporary Jewish life in Poland and discovering what became of the war-ravaged towns after Hitler's defeat. "The Poland left behind by these survivors is very different from the Poland that the young people and the survivors will return to," said Tad Taube, chairman of the Taube Foundation, in the June 17 article. "Our goal is to connect aging survivors with their homeland in a positive way and to connect them with the younger generation against the backdrop of Poland's Jewish renaissance." According to Rabbi Michael Schudrich, chief rabbi of Poland, who works closely with the Taube Foundation, organizations like the Next Chapter Project are necessary because Jews are just starting to rediscover their Polish roots. "In 1939, there were 3.5 million Jews in Poland," he said. "In 1944, there were only 315,000 left. Most of these remaining Jews opted out of Poland because if you wanted to feel comfortable being Jewish, you needed to leave. The ones that stayed gave up their identity and often didn't even tell their children that they were Jewish." In 1989, the Iron Curtain was lifted and Communism fell in Poland. At this time, Schudrich explained, "thousands of Poles were able to discover their Jewish roots" and "the rest of the population discovered that there were educated Jews in Poland." The Next Chapter Project was inspired by a series of cultural and academic events hosted by the Taube Foundation in 2006, whose objective was to demonstrate that Poles are beginning to rejuvenate Jewish culture. During this series, Jewish and Christian speakers met with local Holocaust survivors at a public gathering at the Jewish Family and Children's Services in San Francisco. As the survivors told their stories of the war and their involvement in the renewal of Jewish culture, audience participants asked how they could create connections with Poland today. The Next Chapter Project was born out of their desire to learn about the experiences of Jews who remained in Poland, as well as what happened to the birthplaces of those survivors who immigrated to San Francisco.