Thanks to the Youth Symposium on the Holocaust of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Jewish Community Relations Council, more than 1,500 high school students from 34 local public and parochial schools spent time with 20 Holocaust survivors to hear firsthand about their experiences.
This March, more than 1,500 high school students from 34 local public and parochial schools spent time with 20 Holocaust survivors to hear first-hand about their experiences. This unique learning opportunity was made possible by the Youth Symposium on the Holocaust of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC).
“JCRC has been involved in teaching lessons of the Holocaust for four decades,” said Beth Razin, the Jewish Federation’s Manager of Holocaust and Israel Programs. “We bring this to the broader community so that students can personally meet courageous, resourceful role models who can inspire them to do what’s right in life.”
Four separate symposium programs, each of which featured an introductory film, small-group dialogues with Holocaust survivors and a dynamic keynote presentation, were held at St. Joseph’s University, West Chester University, Gratz College and Bucks County Community College. For the first time ever, JCRC will also hold a mini-symposium this year at Marple Newtown High School to enable 270 10th-grade students there to spend time with two Holocaust survivors.
Another first this year was having the same keynote speaker at all four programs: Fernande Keufgens Davis, age 92. At the age of 16 Davis, who is Catholic, jumped off a train to escape having to work for the Nazis. She instead joined the Belgian resistance to aid in efforts to defy the Nazis, which included providing help to Jews and Allied soldiers. For more than 30 years, she has lived in the Greater Philadelphia area, and she was a teacher at Germantown Academy.
“I truly enjoyed sharing my experiences with the students,” said Davis. “It helps them understand what it was like for a young girl at that time. I always end with a reminder that one person can make a difference.”
According to Razin, anecdotal and survey feedback showed that the programs were overwhelmingly “meaningful and worthwhile experiences for the students.” According to an Archbishop Wood senior, “The most interesting part was listening to the survivor, because we are the last generation who will be able to meet them in person.”
Approximately 80 teachers accompanied students, and also had the opportunity to participate in professional development offered by Anti-Defamation League staff. Maureen Toman-Logan, a teacher from Roman Catholic High School, said, “Our students read about the Holocaust in books, but having this opportunity to make a real-life connection was absolutely invaluable for them.”
The JCRC is hosting two additional events to teach community members lessons from the Holocaust: the Annual Memorial Ceremony of the Six Million Jewish Martyrs on Sunday, April 17, at 1 p.m., at 16th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway; and the Mordechai Anielewicz Creative Arts Competition and Exhibition for students in grades 7 through 12, for which awards will be presented at a ceremony at Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia on Monday, June 6. For more information, contact Beth Razin at 215.832.0536 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit jewishphilly.org/holocaust.