More than 10 years ago, leaders of 3G (Third Generation) discussed the possibility of a national organization that would empower and extend the reach of the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors.
“At that time, survivors were still regularly speaking in classrooms,” said Stacy Seltzer, the president of 3GPhilly. “Now, we don’t have many survivors who are speaking in classrooms. During COVID, there was a new interest in building a national organization and we said, ‘Let’s try this again.’”
Living Links will be a national group to empower and engage the grandchildren of survivors. It will support existing 3G chapters and help create new ones with plans to fully roll out over the next few years. A crucial component will be the training of grandchildren of survivors to speak compellingly at schools, synagogues and events.
Seltzer explained that 3GPhilly has a mailing list of 500 and will still run autonomously but will have the capacity to work in concert for things such as a targeted social media campaign.
Jennifer Leow Mendelson, whose father William Leow was a Holocaust survivor, spearheaded the new organization and will be a co-leader with David Wachs, the immediate past president of 3GNY. They are both volunteers.
Mendelson estimates that there are 1 million 3G’s and descendants of survivors in America. As a founding member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., she said the testimony of survivors has been remarkable. There is a need to be prepared, she said, for Holocaust education in the wake of rising antisemitism and fewer survivors to tell their stories.
“We needed to make it happen,” Mendelson said. “I believe that the 3Gs are our future in keeping the Holocaust relevant. I’ve seen the passion of how their grandparents’ stories have shaped their lives. They can bridge the gap and energize a new generation to show the universality of the Holocaust and build empathy. They will be the stakeholders of our history.”
Philadelphia resident Jayne Perilstein, the executive director of development for the USC Shoah Foundation, said its new director, Robert J. Williams, has made it a priority to inspire the next generation.
“Thirty years ago, Steven Spielberg began collecting stories of survivors on camera,” she said. “We made a promise to share their stories and we will keep it. What we are doing is making sure their stories live on in different ways.”
She said there is a “Last Chance Testimony” for survivors who have not yet told their stories on camera.
Wachs explained that 3GNY developed WEDU, which stands for “We Educate.” It’s an initiative to train the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors to speak in front of large groups; the process will now be streamlined.
“We are excited for this, and it was a long time coming,” said Wachs, whose grandmother, Rose Wachs, survived the Holocaust. “We’ve trained more than 500 people and we had to do a lot of the heavy lifting, but with Living Links, it can transition to train more people in a centralized fashion. We will be able to reach more 3Gs. We know, unfortunately, there are students who haven’t heard a survivor or the grandchild of a survivor speak, and we want to change that as best we can because we know that a personal touch makes a big difference. When you hear a story from a person, as opposed to reading about it, it makes a far greater impact. Hearing the stories can make a large impression in fighting the battle against hate.”
Living Links will hire a managing director, head of education and program specialist and plans to hire additional staff.
3GPhilly often works with 3GNY and 3GNJ. Other chapters include 3GDC, 3GAZ, 3GMiami, 3G Chicago, Boston 3G (founded by Seltzer and her husband Matthew) and 3G Baltimore.
Seltzer’s grandmother, Esther Bratt, was in the Vilna Ghetto in Poland and later worked at the HakPeh Labor Camp. She came to America in 1946 and married Sidney Bratt, who escaped to England via the Kindertransport. The synagogue in his hometown of Guttstadt, Germany, was destroyed on Kristallnacht in 1938.
Seltzer said that it is alarming to see open antisemitism, from the shooter who murdered 11 Jews at The Tree of Life Or L’Simcha Synagogue in Pittsburgh, to Kanye West, now called Ye, posting a threatening tweet, then saying he likes Hitler and loves the Nazis. She said that while there is no magic cure to end antisemitism, educating youth is an integral component in helping new generations of students learn and care about history.
“It’s so sad to see people openly espousing hate,” Seltzer said. “It’s why so many of us continue to do the work we’re doing. It’s about combating hate and sharing what can happen when you allow this kind of rhetoric to take place. It’s not only remembering families that were lost and our own families but showing that hatred of people cannot be allowed to go unanswered.”
She said that grandchildren are honored to tell the stories of their grandparents.
“The work we are doing is important but it’s not going to replace survivors,” Seltzer said. “Nothing can. But it is important to be able to tell their stories in an effective way that will properly educate the next generation.”
Alan Zeitlin is a freelance writer.