By Regina Brett, The Plain Dealer
February 01, 2014
CLEVELAND, Ohio — It happens every time. The room filled with teenagers grows silent as soon as a survivor speaks.
Holocaust survivor Jacob Hennenberg used to tell students how he found hope in the camps in the tattoo the Nazis engraved on his arm. The numbers 64242 added up to 18, which in Hebrew stands for “life.” Jacob decided that meant he would live.
Jacob used to tell his story to middle school and high school students who come face to face with survivors at Congregation Shaarey Tikvah in Beachwood. Shaarey Tikvah means “Gates of hope” in Hebrew. Hope is the message the students hear.
Max Edelman ended up in a camp at age 17. He shared how he was left blind after a beating in the camps. He had to overcome his terror of dogs to get a guide dog. He had every reason to be afraid. One of the camp guards turned his German shepherd on prisoners. Max saw a man mauled to death.
When he was able to get a guide dog, Max told the trainer his story. The trainer told him that no dog is born vicious, it’s trained to be vicious just as no human is born evil, they’re educated to become evil.
The survivors’ stories carry such power: If Max could overcome his fear of dogs to trust a dog with his life, what can’t be overcome?
Jacob is 89 and is no longer well enough to tell his story. Max died in November at 91. The survivors are dying fast. Most are in their late 80s.
The Face to Face Holocaust Education Program at Congregation Shaarey Tikvah has never been more important. For the last 20 years, the program has welcomed middle and high school groups from all over Greater Cleveland to learn about Judaism and the Holocaust and to meet with a Holocaust survivor.
About 25 to 30 survivors participate in the program. Some were hidden during the Holocaust, some were smuggled to other countries, others lived in the camps.
The concentration camps were liberated 69 years ago on Jan. 27. The proof of the horror remains behind. I visited Auschwitz and Birkenau in November. The material evidence sits behind glass: piles of shoes, a tangle of eyeglasses, an avalanche of pots and pans, mountains of human hair.
I didn’t learn much about the Holocaust growing up. It was a blip in a history book that we barely covered. It’s so vital we all understand what happened and how so it is never repeated.
Louise Freilich is the director of the Face to Face Holocaust Education Program. She’s also membership co-chair for the Ohio Council on Holocaust and Genocide Education. In the past 20 years, Face to Face has educated more than 37,000 students from all over Northeast Ohio, including Chesterland, Chardon, Fairlawn, Canton, Avon Lake, Bay Village and Medina. Most of the students aren’t Jewish. It’s their first time in a synagogue.
The program, which costs $9 per student, offers an introduction to Judaism and synagogue life. “We want them to know that Hitler didn’t succeed in wiping out the Jewish people,” Louise said.
Students see a slide presentation of the Holocaust and learn about anti-Semitism, anti-Jewish laws, the ghettos and the camps. After that, they meet a survivor face to face.
After one survivor spoke, a girl took her aside. The girl shared that she had thought about suicide but after hearing the survivor, the girl knew she would not think about it anymore.
Face to Face has videotaped 25 survivors speaking to teens so the stories won’t be lost when the survivors are. Louise hopes the sons and daughters of survivors will volunteer to share their stories. She knows the program can’t reach everyone, but trusts that it leaves a mark on everyone it reaches.
“It’s a spark,” Louise said.
A spark that will keep burning long after the last survivor is gone.
To sign up students to attend or to donate to Face to Face, contact Louise at 216-765-8300, ext. 140 or email: email@example.com
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