I am the daughter of Holocaust survivors. No matter what paths my life has taken — marriage, motherhood, friendships, or professional accomplishments — those four words, “daughter of Holocaust survivors,” will forever define who I am.
Only other 2Gs — second-generation contemporaries — can possibly understand what that really means, and even some of them may not. As I’ve come to realize, not all of us experienced it in the same way. For many, it was just a dark cloud hanging over their home, cloaked in silence. But unlike many other 2G households, in my home they talked about it.
Both of my parents, Edith and Kurt Klinger, z’l, were born and raised in Czernowitz, in the Bukiviener section of Romania.
My mother shared her experiences of growing up as a young Jewish child in Europe before, during, and after the Holocaust. My brother Robert and I were raised on her memories of antisemitism, yellow stars, deportations, ghettos, roundups, life in hiding, being hungry, and mass executions. All children have nightmares. Mine were of cattle cars, barking dogs, and Nazis screaming out orders in German.
Although my parents showered me with love and affection, I was the vessel through which their lost childhoods, missed opportunities, and shattered dreams could be realized. My brother and I were living proof that against all odds, they, and others like them, survived to live and prosper as Jews in a land of freedom and opportunity. Devotion to family, a deep commitment to Yiddishkeit, education, hard work, and determination were the values that they instilled within us.
My mother always wanted to write about her experiences before and during the Holocaust, not just to keep a testimony for our family, but in her own words, “out of a deep sense of duty to Jews everywhere living in this world long after she would be gone.” She always was fearful that it could somehow happen again, even in her beloved America.
When she became gravely ill and could no longer speak or write about her memories, I vowed that in my capacity as chairperson of the history department at the Torah Academy of Bergen County, I would somehow try to pass the torch. I set out to create a Holocaust studies curriculum for the hundreds of students enrolled in my class throughout the years; students who didn’t grow up with an eyewitness parent, grandparent, or even great-grandparent.
The goal was to put a face on the Holocaust for every student. To personalize it for them. I realized that the way to accomplish this would be by having them meet and interact with survivors. It’s been said that if you hear from a witness to the Shoah, you become a witness yourself. Our young people today need to learn about the world that was lost — the centuries of Jewish life and culture in Europe before Hitler set out to destroy it. It was a world steeped in Yiddishkeit and culture that we will never see again. The students need to feel a sense of obligation never to forget what happened to our people from 1933 to 1945, in order to ensure that it can never happen again.
As educators, we are always searching for different ways to engage our students and have an impact on their lives. It was through these efforts that the Bare Witness project was born. This unique program bridges the gap between a history class and a living theater production. In addition to learning about racism, genocide, and World War II, students meet with Holocaust survivors, listen to their testimonies, socialize with them in Cafe Europa gatherings, and have countless opportunities to ask questions. Throughout the course, students use journaling, playwriting, role-playing, and visual art to process their feelings, thoughts, and insights. Then they collaborate to create original vignettes that incorporate the survivors’ stories in order to bring them to life on the stage. Students own their learning, and it becomes a part of who they are. This life-changing intergenerational storytelling aims to create new witnesses to the Holocaust.
Our project is essential at this time, since students today are the final generation who will meet and interact with the Holocaust generation. Our students have the responsibility to bear witness for future generations, hence the creation of this initiative. The title “Bare Witness” was chosen because the clock is ticking and we are running out of time. Our cupboards are almost bare. We don’t have many eyewitnesses who are able to share their experiences with another generation.
The Torah Academy of Bergen County invites the community to watch as students bring to life the experiences of four survivors. (See box.) As Shimon Peres once said, “Six million of our people live on in our hearts. We are their eyes that remember. We are their voice that cries out. The dreadful scenes flow from their dead eyes to our open ones. And those scenes will be remembered exactly as they happened.”
Cary Reichardt of Fair Lawn holds degrees in English, history, and special education and has been teaching in TABC for 27 years, chairs the history department there, and created its Holocaust studies program more than 15 years ago. She and her husband have four children, all graduates of Jewish day schools, and seven grandchildren so far.
Who: Students at the Torah Academy of Bergen County’s Holocaust studies class
What: Offer the Bare Witness production of “Four Stories of Survival,” written and performed by TABC students, and produced, director, and edited by Cary Reichardt and Rebecca Lopkin.
When: On Thursday, April 20, at 7:30 p.m.
Where: At TABC in Teaneck
For more information: Email Ms. Reichardt at email@example.com