Next Generation Prioritizes Telling Survivors’ Stories

Stacy Seltzer, a white woman wearing a black swimsuit and sunglasses, is kneeling in the middle of her grandparents sitting on pool chairs, smiling at the camera.
3G Philly founder Stacy Seltzer (center) with grandparents Sidney and Esther Bratt, both of whom are survivors | Courtesy of Stacy Seltzer

During this year’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27, the mission to honor Shoah victims and provide educational opportunities to learn about the horrors of the Holocaust is the same, but the methodology is a little different.

And efforts to share survivors’ stories are in full swing. 

Though events continue to feature survivors whenever possible, there’s a collective understanding, even among survivors, that survivors have already met the last generation that will hear their stories directly from them. 

“They are aware that they’re not going to live forever,” said Mariya Keselman-Mekler, counseling and program manager at KleinLife, which provides wellness programming for survivors. “They are very conscious of the losses in the community.”

Organizations that work with survivors emphasize the importance of hearing survivors’ stories as a vital way for audiences to internalize the impact of the Holocaust. 

“Just using numbers and dates and having this kind of distilled history or scientifically historic understanding of the Holocaust — it just doesn’t give the appropriate weight to what happened and to the magnitude of a loss and of the horror that it was,” said Sophie Don, senior manager of programs and operations at the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation.

Daniel Goldsmith, a Hatboro-based survivor, didn’t start talking about his family’s escape from the Holocaust until he stopped working and was approached by the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education to record the story of his family’s survival.

Born in Antwerp, Belgium, and separated from his parents and younger sister at the height of the war, Goldsmith, 90, took refuge in a series of Catholic homes until he was reunited with his mother and sister and later immigrated to the United States as a teenager.

Though now eager to share his story with others, Goldsmith said his mother never shared his desire to talk about the Holocaust, not even with her children.

“Many, many Holocaust survivors cannot talk about the Holocaust. My mother was one of those people,” Goldsmith said. “It took me a very, very long time to find a little piece here and a little piece there to put together what happened to her.”

Goldsmith felt he had an obligation to a younger generation.

“Once I stopped working, I started speaking, and I made myself a promise: I will speak as long as I live because it’s so important to tell the story,” Goldsmith said.

These days, Goldsmith, similarly to other Holocaust organizations, is directing his attention to a younger audience. Partnering with the Elkins Park-based Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center and Fegelson Young Feinberg Jewish War Veterans Post 697 in Levittown, Goldsmith mostly speaks to schoolchildren. 

“I cannot tell you how many times the teachers came over to me and told me they did not recognize the children because they were never so quiet and never so attentive,” Goldsmith said. 

Goldsmith remains “cautiously optimistic” about the next generation’s ability to remember the Holocaust and combat everyday hatred, which he believes was its catalyst.

A grandchild of Holocaust survivors, Don believes that the infrastructure to do this within Holocaust organizations is already being prioritized.

A black and white photo shows a crowd of people gathered around a large statue in the dedication of the monument at the Horwitz-Wasserman Holocaust Memorial Plaza
The 1964 dedication of Nathan Rapoport’s “Monument to Six Million Jewish Martyrs” | Courtesy of the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation

“We’ve had so much good development of partnerships with peer organizations and with the Philadelphia School District and with other districts in the area that are interested in doing professional developments with us and having people join us for programs, whether in-person or virtually, who are really there to learn,” Don said.

To address the fewer opportunities young people may have to hear from survivors, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is replacing its Youth Symposium on the Holocaust with a pilot live theater program that will tell the story of 10 survivors and will be viewed by students from six area middle and high schools.

“By adding a live drama component (in place of a film), we will enhance the emotional and educational impact of the program,” said Beth Razin, Jewish Federation’s senior manager of community engagement. “We feel this is an important change to make in regard to having a smaller number of Holocaust survivors able to participate in the Youth Symposium on the Holocaust programs.”

Though COVID is often a limitation when planning impactful programming, increased use of Zoom has proven an asset for some survivors.

“We’ve seen it as a barrier, but  also an opportunity to connect with other organizations and to be invited by other organizations nationally and internationally, to unite Holocaust survivors from all over the world, especially all over the United States,” Keselman-Mekler said.

Goldsmith has been able to conduct more talks to schools, including one in Florida earlier this month. He’s been impressed by the way technology has made it easier to preserve stories of the Holocaust. During a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., he saw holograms of survivors speaking at length about their experiences.

“It was just as if that person was there alive,” he said.

Though some organizations, such as the Holocaust Memorial Museum, have addressed the dwindling opportunities to hear from survivors first-hand, organizations such as 3G, a collective of grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, are finding new ways of passing down their grandparents’ stories.

Through the organization’s We Educate program, 3G has conducted training sessions to teach third-generation members to tell their grandparents’ stories in new and respectful ways, as well as partnered with schools to create opportunities for others to hear the stories of survivors through the words of their grandchildren.

“Essentially, it is a way to get into schools and teach students who may never even have heard of the Holocaust or who may never have met a Jewish person about what took place,” 3G Philly founder Stacy Seltzer said.

Seltzer understands that though she will never be able to tell her grandparents’ stories in the same way they would, the deep obligation to share their stories remains: 

“That’s a conversation I’ve had to have, to say, ‘I’m so fortunate that you’re here. Are you comfortable with me sharing this story?’ And my grandmother has said to me, ‘I can’t do it anymore. I’m so grateful you are.’”

[email protected]; 215-832-0741


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here