HERC – Connecting The Unbroken Chain
by Rita Miller Blank, HERC Vice President
I remember telling my children that one day it would be up to us to tell my parents’ stories of their Holocaust experience. For me that time came too quickly.
Growing up in Columbia, South Carolina, I realized that our family was small, I had no grandparents, and my father’s forearm had been disfi gured with what I thought were unusual numbers. Eventually I was told that my father had been part of the anti-Nazi Warsaw Ghetto Resistance and one of the last twenty-five Jews to leave the Ghetto before he was imprisoned at Auschwitz. My mother, Cela Tishgarten, and her sister, Bluma, were the only survivors of a family with six children in Pinczow, Poland. They were both imprisoned at Bergen-Belsen, Burgau and Kaufering. Because my parents tried hard to put the war behind them and keep the horror from my brother, Henry, and me, I didn’t know about their past until many years later, when I read their story in a newspaper interview.
Eventually, I moved to Tallahassee, Florida, a community with few survivors. I have been honored to speak to several classes with Barbara Goldstein, also the daughter of survivors: Ruth and Marcel Spiegler of Boca Raton, Florida. Barbara’s mother fled from Germany to Shanghai, China in 1939 with her parents, brother and grandmother. Her father, from Romania, only recently shared his story of the brutality he endured.
During our classroom visits Barbara and I realized that, although schools are required to teach about the Holocaust, teachers lacked materials and a uniform curriculum. We became co-chairs of the Tallahassee Holocaust Education Program, established by the local chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women. With their support, we have created two very successful teacher education programs. Our teachers now attend Holocaust education workshops conducted by specialists and are provided a wealth of materials to use in their classrooms. Also, we have established a partnership with the Florida Commission on Human Relations and received two generous grants.
In 2007, we launched the first countywide Holocaust essay contest to encourage education and discussion among teachers, students and parents. In their essays, students will discuss the results of hatred and prejudice during the Holocaust and share what they have learned about tolerance and respect for others to ensure that the Holocaust won’t happen again.
As children of survivors, Barbara and I feel a responsibility to tell our parents’ history to the next generation. We soon discovered that, just as survivors ‘connect’ with other survivors, so do their children. We are honored that others have joined our efforts and offer their support. Our biggest reward comes every time we visit a classroom and see teachers implementing the curriculum guidelines and using the books and fi lms distributed at the workshops. The children’s eyes show that we have “connected” and that our efforts are making a difference. Our parents’ strength and determination have allowed us to develop this Holocaust education program for our community. It is this strength and determination that we honor.