Many synagogues have a “yahrzeit wall” where families can dedicate plaques in memory of loved ones. A South Jersey synagogue extended the concept to memorialize Holocaust victims. And that inspired the New Jersey Holocaust Education Commission to develop a virtual statewide Wall of Remembrance.
“The commission members thought the synagogue’s wall was a wonderful idea for survivors, and we started to talk about building such walls around New Jersey,” said Paul B. Winkler, executive director of the NJHEC. “But we realized that was impossible. So we decided to do it on the Internet.”
The online format allows this virtual wall to list not only names, photographs, and personal details of Jews who perished during the Holocaust but also those who survived, those who were forced to flee before the war, and those who liberated the concentration camps as part of their military service.
“People may connect and say, ‘That was my town.’ The idea was to honor victims and give survivors the opportunity to share information about their families,” said Winkler.
Because NJHEC’s mandate is education, however, a major goal is to facilitate meetings between New Jersey’s survivors and public school students. Winkler said many teachers request survivor speakers for their classrooms as a complement to the state’s Holocaust and genocide education curriculum.
“Classes will be able to go to the site and choose a survivor they’d like to meet, and we will make the contact for them,” said Winkler. “We have a list of about 2,000 survivors, but we think there may be as many as 3,000 in New Jersey.”
The NJHEC provides support for college centers of Holocaust and genocide studies and it offers community programming and teacher training in addition to curricula.
One popular “extra” program is Adopt a Survivor, where students pledge that in 2045 – 100 years after the end of World War II – they will tell their families, friends, and colleagues about the survivor they met as schoolchildren.
“We’re emphasizing this because now we have the last group of kindergartners who will ever have a chance to meet a Holocaust survivor [when they are older],” said Winkler.
One class in New Millburn was particularly moved by a survivor’s account of missing her high school’s annual dance because Jews had been expelled earlier that year. In donated space at Livingston’s Crystal Plaza, the students held a black-tie prom for the survivor and 300 guests.
Winkler said the state’s Holocaust study centers and Second Generation groups are getting word out about the project, as is the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, based in Union.
Executive Director Jacob Toporek said the association recognizes “the need to recall those who were the victims of the Shoah, [and] to support the great work done by the Commission.”
A contribution of $18 per entry, or $200 for 15 or more names, is suggested. Submission forms are available online at http://www.state.nj.us/education/holocaust/wall/. The NJHEC can be reached at (609) 292-9274.