INTRODUCTION by Mary Ann Answini, Director, Holocaust Education and Resource Center
In the early spring, it was our hope that the 33rd Annual Teen Symposium on the Holocaust could be a hybrid event with some in-person presentations, as well as several Holocaust testimony webinars. However, with the unsurmountable challenges surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic, it became clear that the Annual Teen Symposium on the Holocaust, scheduled for May 11th and May 12thh at the Hilton Scranton and Conference Center, needed to be canceled. Our primary concern was to protect the health and safety of our survivors and valued guests.
At the same time, our mission grew more urgent. Hateful, brazen, and dangerous rhetoric appeared, and antisemitic threats continued to escalate, fueled by the pandemic. How do we combat these disturbing trends? We must use the transformative power of education. We must continue to teach the lessons of Holocaust history that this world and our youth so desperately need. Education is the first step toward understanding the complexity that is human diversity and creating social change.
During these unprecedented times, the Holocaust Education Resource Center remained committed to teaching and supporting educators as they present the lessons of the Holocaust. We needed to move to a vastly different approach, that of a completely virtual environment. We recognized that it created added immense challenges to teaching about this complex topic effectively. However, recognizing the importance of the subject matter, we felt the urgency to proceed.
With the assistance of Joanna Arruda, Manager of the Speakers Bureau at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, we were able to procure opportunities for students and teachers to experience several presentations of Holocaust Survivors. In addition, The Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center from Philadelphia, along with their President, Chuck Feldman, Education Program Director, Geoff Quinn, and Dr. Ruth Almy played pivotal roles in creating a completely virtual Teen Symposium on the Holocaust for the participants from Northeastern Pennsylvania. We are profoundly grateful for their help in making the event come to fruition.
The Northeast Intermediate Unit (NEIU 19) and several school districts were extremely excited to have the opportunity to expose their students to the virtual presentations of the survivors because all field trips were canceled due to the pandemic. Students and teachers were directed to register with the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center. Registration was free but limited to 500 devices per session. After individuals completed the registration process, they were emailed an invitation to attend the Webinar presentation. Teachers were provided complete biographies of each presenter and wove the digital sessions with the Holocaust survivors into lesson plans for their students.
Registrations with HAMEC provided us with some initial data on attendance at each session. Because teachers logged in under one email for the simulcast on their Smart Boards, a follow-up email was sent at the conclusion of each webinar in order to glean the actual numbers of students viewing the virtual symposium. Each of the Monday through Friday morning presentations had between 240 to 472 viewers, while the afternoon sessions averaged 60 viewers.
Teachers, who were unable to attend due to scheduling challenges, were directed to still register for the sessions. A post-webinar email was then sent to them acknowledging their absence but providing them with the links to watch the survivor testimonies at a time conducive to their schedule.
Several survivors, who would have been in Scranton for the symposium, agreed to participate in the virtual educational opportunity. Survivor presentations were at 9 AM and 1 PM daily throughout the week of May 10th through May 14th. Each guest speaker shared his/her unique testimony, which encompassed memories of close family and friends. Some remained sole survivors; others were lucky to survive and reunite with one or more surviving family members. Survivors provided a journey into the fears, emotions, and experiences that cannot be found in history books.
At the conclusion of each presentation, a question-and-answer period yielded many interesting questions and further discussions. The Q and A portion of the program provided all participants with the increasingly rare ability to experience “living history” rendering a moving and emotional impact.
Underneath history’s facts and figures are the individual stories of the six million Jews and millions of other innocent victims whose voices, hopes, and dreams were silenced in the Holocaust. We remember and honor the lives of those who were murdered and the survivors, who despite great trauma and private pain, tried to impress on their young listeners the need to shy away from prejudice, bullying, labeling, and negative behavior towards their peers and other individuals. These survivors built new lives after living through unimaginable hardship. They demonstrated courage and resilience of the human spirit, as they became contributing members of society, who continue to share messages of hope and light.
Our honorable guest presenters were:
ECTV Survivor Presentations
In addition to the ten webinar presentations, ECTV and Mark Migliore graciously provided us with links on their YouTube page to view various testimonies from our HERC film archives. These taped testimonies capture the spirit of the survivors and their devotion to sharing their lives with our students. Presentations featured: Sol Lurie, Paulette Wegh, and Sonia Goldstein, and Anneliese Nossbaum.
There are many thanks due to many people:
Executive Director of the Federation: Mark Silverberg
Federation staff: Mary Ann Mistysyn, Secretary, and Dolores Gruber, Office Manager
Board of Trustee President: Esther Adelman
Board of Trustees
Planning Committee / Panelists: Esther Adelman, Kim Bochicchio, Kathy Byron, Katheryn Bekanich, Bill Burke, Carol Burke, Jim Connors, Susie Connors, Mark Davis, David Fallk, Christina Finn, Natalie Gelb, Seth Gross, Sheryl Gross, Michele Janowicz, Auntie Kane, David Malinov, Phyllis Malinov, Basya Marcus, JoAnn Martarano, Marie Merkel Gail Neldon, Reece Oslinker, Ann Marie Piccini, Marion Poveromo, Arlene Rudin, Roberta Sandler, Barbara Sirotkin, John Stagen, Kelly Stagen, Michael Washo, Pam Weiss and Ann Marie Zenie.
Guest Presenters: Ronnie Breslow, Lois Flamholz, Daniel Goldsmith, Ruth Hartz, Gabriella Major, Mark Schonwetter, Maritza Shelley, Peter Stern, and Ruth Zimbler all survivors of the Holocaust as well as WWII veteran and Liberator Alan Moskin.
The Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center along with their President, Chuck Feldman, Education Program Director, Geoff Quinn, and Dr. Ruth Almy.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage with Joanna Arruda, Manager of the Speakers Bureau.
As always, we would like to extend a very special thank you to all school superintendents, principals, and teachers, who remain committed to this program.
We sincerely hope that we have given thanks to the many people who made this event possible. If a name was inadvertently left out, please accept our most sincere apologies and our gratitude.
Finally, as we close the page of the 2021 Virtual Teen Symposium, the Holocaust Education Resource Center and the Federation remain forever committed to the teaching and learning of the lessons of the Holocaust, to promote the right of all people to be treated with dignity and respect, and to encourage students to speak up and act against all forms of bigotry and prejudice.
The Holocaust is a reminder of the way hate can infect society and the dangers of indifference. History teaches us that lives can be saved if people care enough to act.
“Indifference is the greatest sin in the world. There will always be evil people, but they will count on the indifference of others. The challenge that the Holocaust is to all of us is never to be indifferent. Never to be a bystander.” E. Weisel
Memory is what shapes us…Memory is what teaches us. We must never forget.
It is our hope that the Jewish Federation of NEPA and the Holocaust Education Resource Center will be able to host the 34th Annual Teen Symposium in 2022 scheduled for Tuesday, May 10th and Wednesday, May 11th at the Hilton Scranton and Conference Center.
Student Reflections on the 33rd Annual Teen Symposium on the Holocaust
“The story of how Alan Moskin liberated a concentration camp in Germany really helped me to develop a deeper understanding of the terrible conditions of Nazi concentration camps, and of the horrible crimes committed by the Nazis.”
“This was really intense and kind of makes me angry that this could even happen. That was extremely graphic too, which certainly helped me understand how bad the Holocaust was.”