|Caroline Brauner talks about the world memory project as her brother, Jonathan, stands by.|
Sometimes, it’s hard for students to truly understand the enormity that is the death of six million people, Dr. Kalman Stein said. But they can understand the suffering of one person – especially when they hold a document telling that person’s story in their hands.
“That really connects them to it,” said Dr. Stein, who is the principal of the Frisch School in Paramus.
Seventy-five Frisch students – about half the senior class – are participating in the World Memory Project, a joint venture between the United States Holocaust Museum and Ancestry.com.
According to the latter’s website, the project has been created to “allow anyone, anywhere to help build the largest free online resource for information about victims and survivors of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution during World War II.”
The initiative uses software and processes developed by the Ancestry World Archives Project. Working with digital images of historical documents created by the Holocaust Museum, volunteers help make the documents searchable online by entering information from the digital images into a database.
“I think that the students will feel that they are contributing to a body of information that will make Holocaust revisionism that much more difficult,” Dr. Stein said, adding that working with information relating to one person at a time “has real emotional impact.”
He pointed out that millions of documents containing details about victims of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution during World War II still exist today, but for some reason they remain inaccessible. “Through the World Memory Project, students will work to make the victims’ records searchable online, thereby restoring the identity of people whom the Nazis tried to erase from history,” he said. “The goal is to restore the identities of victims and survivors and to enable families to discover the fate of family members lost during the Holocaust and its aftermath.”
Participating students will be trained by the twins Caroline and Jonathan Brauner, Frisch seniors who already are working independently on the project, together with their father.
“They’ve been working on it for many months and have entered a lot of names,” Dr. Stein said. “It’s a family passion.”
He said that Allan Brauner, the twins’ father and the son of a survivor, learned about the project while doing research at the Washington museum.
“He told us that nearly two million of the six million are either unknown or that they are known but that information about them is not digitized in any way and [therefore] inaccessible,” Dr. Stein said.
Allan, Caroline, and Jonathan Brauner started entering information into a database. In the process, Allan Brauner found a document from Auschwitz bearing his own mother’s signature.
“It was something she was required by the Nazis to sign to keep up the charade that she was getting paid the going rate and was not a slave,” Dr. Stein said.
The principal said that with guidance from Caroline and Jonathan Brauner, the new Frisch volunteers will learn how to work on documents from the Lodz ghetto.
“When a student signs on for a document, he’ll get something such as a work permit,” Dr. Stein said. “From that, he can extract information such as name, address, birth date, and other information, which can then be entered into the Ancestry.com database.”
Dr. Stein said he hopes that by Yom HaShoah, all Frisch students will be involved in the project.
“Hopefully, we’ll get other schools, synagogues, and organizations involved as well,” he said, noting that Frisch is one of only two high schools participating in the initiative. “It’s a massive undertaking. I want the kids to feel like they’re part of the process.”
Dr. Stein said he will schedule special sessions to provide students with help in some key areas. For example, some of the documents have been handwritten, and students will need help reading European handwriting. In addition, since many of the items are written in German, the students will have to learn some key German words.