Children of survivors take on a growing role in vital Holocaust education

The sharp increase in antisemitism worldwide necessitates an imperative to ensure “never again” means never again.

HALL OF Names, Yad Vashem. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
HALL OF Names, Yad Vashem.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
December 17 marked 78 years since the Allied nations issued a declaration stating explicitly that the German authorities were committing mass murder of European Jews. Nearly five years after that 1942 declaration, in the aftermath of World War II, the United Nations voted for the partition of Palestine, enabling the rebirth of the State of Israel.
The Jewish people had suffered the loss of six million souls, murdered in the most barbaric manner by Germans. Germany, the home of composers Bach, Beethoven Brahms and Mendelsohn and poet, novelist and playwright Goethe was a cultured country. How could they have been responsible for the virtual annihilation of European Jewry? Yet they were the ones who created the concentration/death camps and carried out mass murder.
But there were other countries whose actions enabled the Germans to do what they did; countries operating quota systems preventing Jews from finding refuge from Hitler because their gates were firmly closed. Many of these same countries voted for the UN Partition Plan in part as a means of alleviating the justifiable sense of guilt relating to their prewar quota systems.
For much of today’s younger generation, the Holocaust is ancient history – but for too many it is virtually unknown. A recent survey found that 60% of those in the US under 40 had never heard of the Holocaust; others speculated that it was somehow connected to World War I.
The sharp increase in antisemitism worldwide necessitates an imperative to ensure “never again” means never again. The opportunity for Holocaust survivors to share their story has proven to be an effective tool in helping the younger generation learn about the Holocaust, but what will happen when survivors are no longer here to share their traumatic testimony?
TO EXPLORE this, the Magazine spoke with Sharman Berwald, who, some 18 years ago, initiated Holocaust Learning UK. Originally centered in two synagogues in the Northwood suburb of London, the project brought together children from state and private schools to hear first-hand from Holocaust survivors. The project expanded to eight additional synagogues in North London.
Berwald said, “At that time the survivors were full of stamina and deeply committed to delivering their story; sadly, two decades later, many have passed away. Those still with us are just as committed, but as age creeps up on them, they find it more difficult and emotionally demanding. I understood that to continue our work we must ask the next generation to recount the testimony of their parents and grandparents.”
These thoughts were the catalyst for Berwald and her colleagues to initiate Generation2Generation about four years ago – a registered charity encouraging and preparing the children and grandchildren of survivors to share their parents’ and grandparents’ stories.
While the UK’s state secondary schools are obliged to include Holocaust education as part of the history of World War II – usually to 14 year olds – it is far more effective if these youngsters hear the child of a survivor relate the suffering of a parent’s Holocaust experience, often accompanied by the parent’s video testimony. Frequently the survivor’s ordeal began at a similar age to the pupils being addressed.
ANITA PELEG, a university lecturer and chair of the G2G Board of Trustees, speaks to groups about her own mother, Zissi – one of 10 children from a loving family whose life dramatically changed when she was 14 years old. Zissi grew up in Mukachevo, in the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia. The Munich Conference of September 1938 allowed Germany to annex the region, but in November 1938, wishing to cement its relationship with Hungary, Germany returned the area to that country.
Zissi went to the local school where her closest friends were Trudy and Kurt, both non-Jews. As life for the Jews became more restrictive, her best friends no longer wished to associate with her because she was Jewish. During the following six years the situation worsened. Jews were obliged to wear a yellow star on their clothing and in March 1944 the Germans occupied Hungary. The following month Zissi and six family members were transported to Auschwitz. By the end of the war, in 1945, out of a total of 27 direct family members only eight had survived, including Zissi and her four siblings.
Ultimately Zissi became Naomi Blake, a well-known sculptor in the UK who died in 2018. Her work, in spite of her horrific Auschwitz experience, expresses her faith in humanity with its prime aim to promote understanding between varied denominations. Many of her pieces grace churches and cathedrals as well as synagogues.
TIM LOCKE is one who feels it vital to share his story with as many as possible. Although not Jewish, his ancestry was. Hitler did not define Jews according to Halacha (Jewish law) does, namely the child of a Jewish mother. Hitler treated even practicing Christians as Jews if they had a Jewish grandparent (maternal or paternal), qualifying to be sent to the extermination camps. Tim’s mother and her brother were brought up as Protestants but had three Jewish grandparents. When they became aware of their Jewish origin in the 1930s they recognized their imminent danger and managed to escape to England on a Kindertransport in May 1939.
Tim’s grandfather, Hans Neumeyer, a blind Jewish composer and music teacher, perished in Theresienstadt, as did a sister. Tim’s grandmother (Hans’s wife), brought up as a Christian by her Christian mother, perished in either the Warsaw Ghetto or Auschwitz.
The Magazine also spoke with G2G volunteer John Wood, whose father, the late Lt. Col. Leonard Berney R.A. T.D., entered the Belsen concentration camp on April 15, 1945, its first day of liberation. Berney describes the scene in a BBC archival document.
 “I remember being completely shattered. The dead bodies lying beside the road, the starving emancipated prisoners still mostly behind barbed wire, the open mass graves containing hundreds of corpses, the stench, the sheer horror of the place, were indescribable. None of us who entered the camp had any warning of what we were about to see or had ever experienced anything remotely like it before.”
Wood, who describes himself as a non-observant Christian, has spent much of his life helping his father to document and share what he had witnessed. He explains his involvement in G2G.
“My father and I hoped that Holocaust education would help prevent future atrocities. Without such education I fear the Holocaust is in danger of disappearing into history. I also believe that Holocaust education helps prevent racism, discrimination and prejudice at school, in the workplace and in society generally. By keeping my father’s Belsen story alive, I am doing my bit for Holocaust education.”
Poet and Holocaust survivor Aba Kovner’s words ring loud and clear: “Remember the past, live the present and trust the future.”
• Remember the past: Organizations such as G2G ensure the younger generation will remember the past.
• Live the present: We are privileged to live at a time when a Jewish state exists. We can but surmise how many of the six million might have survived had there been an Israel in the 1930s.
• Trust the future: Comprehending the past contributes toward trust in the future. 
The writer is public relations chairwoman of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society. The views expressed are hers alone.