Wherever you are, our Survivors and Liberators can address your school, congregation or civic group.

Daniel Libeskind created “The Wheel of Conscience” for the Halifax, Nova Scotia monument to the passengers of the M.S. Saint Louis, who were denied entrance to Canada in 1939. Photo_Wheel-of-Conscience-full-size

Through Skype in the Classroom, in cooperation with Microsoft, or in person, we can bring the latest in Holocaust education to you.  Contact us at info@hamec.org or 215-464-4701.

Hate never takes a vacation, and neither do we.

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“Terrible times are coming.” The Holocaust diary that lay unread for 70 years.

Jewish teenager Renia Spiegel was executed in Poland days after her 18th birthday.  Decades after her diary resurfaced in America, it is finally set to be read by the world.

By Alison Flood, The Guardian, November 8, 2018.  Click for full report.

Renia Spiegel in 1939, in Skole, Ukraine (then Poland).
Renia Spiegel in 1939, in Skole, Ukraine (then Poland). Photograph: Bellak Family Archives
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Seventy years after writing her final entry, the diary of Polish teenager Renia Spiegel, who has drawn comparisons to Anne Frank for her moving account of life as a Jew during the Nazi occupation of Poland and who was shot on the streets days after her 18th birthday, appeared in English this week for the first time.

Running to almost 700 pages, Spiegel’s diary begins in January 1939, when she was 15, and ends on the last day of her life, 30 July 1942, when she was executed by German soldiers. The last lines in the journal are written by her boyfriend, Zygmunt Schwarzer, who ended it with his account of her death and that of his parents: “Three shots! Three lives lost! All I can hear are shots, shots.”

Spiegel’s mother, Róża, and her younger sister, Ariana, survived the war and moved to America. In the 1950s, Schwarzer, who had survived several concentration camps, located them and gave them Renia’s diary. Neither Róża nor Ariana could bring themselves to read it and so the diary lay “dormant”, said Ariana’s daughter Alexandra Bellak, until she decided to send it for translation.

“I realised how important it was, not just for me to learn more about my past but also for the world to see how meaningful this diary was,” said Bellak. “It was very moving.It is heart-breaking and heart-wrenching because you know how the story ends, but also her writing is so beautiful. She’s so mature and thoughtful and introspective. You get a sense of a young woman who’s going through puberty, falling in love with her first boyfriend, having little spats with her sister. You see how intelligent she is – she references philosophers and classical musicians and composers, it’s pretty amazing. With the rise of anti-Semitism and nationalism, here and abroad, it’s more timely than ever.”

Alexandra and her mother showed the diary to the film-maker Tomasz Magierski, who was so moved he decided to make a film about Renia. Magierski was also instrumental in having the book self-published in Polish. This summer, Ariana also struck a deal with St Martin’s Press to have her sister’s diary published in English, alongside her own story of survival. This week, an extract from the diary was published for the first time in English in the Smithsonian magazine.

“Readers will naturally contrast Renia’s diary with Anne Frank’s,” writes journalist Robin Shulman inthe magazine. “Renia was a little older and more sophisticated, writing frequently in poetry as well as in prose. She was also living out in the world instead of in seclusion. Reading such different firsthand accounts reminds us that each of the Holocaust’s millions of victims had a unique and dramatic experience. At a time when the Holocausthas receded so far into the past that even the youngest survivors are elderly, it’s especially powerful to discover a youthful voice like Renia’s, describing the events in real time.”

Ariana as a child, with Renia sitting behind her.
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Ariana Spiegel as a child, with Renia sitting behind her. Photograph: Bellak Family Archives
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“Why did I decide to start a diary today? Has something important happened?” Spiegel writes in the Smithsonian’s translation, by Anna Blasiak and Marta Dziurosz. “No! I just want a friend. Somebody I can talk to about my everyday worries and joys. Somebody who will feel what I feel, believe what I say and never reveal my secrets.”

The diary shows a girl with typical teenage obsessions, whether it is her schoolmates (“the next girl in our row is Belka — fat and stocky like 300 devils”), teachers or first kisses. Filled with poetry, it also reveals a girl desperately missing her mother: at the time, Renia and Ariana were living in in Przemyśl with their grandparents. As war breaks out, Renia describes the creation of the ghetto to which they are confined, and the deportation of members of her community. On 26 June 1941, she writes of “horrible days in the basement”; a few days later, she tells her diary of how she will have to start wearing a white armband. “To you I will always remain the same Renia, but to others I’ll become someone inferior: a girl wearing a white armband with a blue star. I will be a Jude.”

“Remember this day; remember it well,” she wrote on 15 July 1942. “You will tell generations to come. Since 8 o’clock today we have been shut away in the ghetto. I live here now. The world is separated from me and I’m separated from the world.” Leaving the ghetto without a pass, she writes, is “punishable by death”.

A page from Renia Spiegel’s diary.
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A page from Renia Spiegel’s diary. Photograph: Bellak Family Archives
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“Inside, there are only our people, close ones, dear ones. Outside, there are strangers. My soul is so very sad. My heart is seized with terror,” she writes, later appealing for help: “Israel, save us, help us. You’ve kept me safe from bullets and bombs, from grenades. Help me survive! And you, my dear mamma, pray for us today, pray hard. Think about us and may your thoughts be blessed. Mamma! My dearest, one and only, such terrible times are coming. I love you with all my heart. I love you; we will be together again.”

Her sister, now 87, said that she never saw Renia writing in her diary when they were growing up. “She must have been hiding it,” said Ariana. “She was very kind to me because my mum wasn’t there and my grandma was old, so my sister was kind of my super mum. She was a brilliant girl, the president of her literary club at school. We used to live at my dad’s estate in the country and she loved the birds and the singing, she loved the trees and the wind blowing … I think she had a soul for seeing things very deeply.”

Ariana and Alexandra Bellak, pictured in Poland in 2017.
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Ariana and Alexandra Bellak, pictured in Poland in 2017. Photograph: Bellak Family Archives
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Ariana only learned about the diary when Schwarzer arrived with it in America. “He couldn’t have kept it, because his son told us he went to many camps. But he must have given it to someone. He found my mum. He walked in and said, ‘This is Renia’s diary’ and gave it to mum,” she said. “My sister was the love of his life.”

Her mother hid it in a safe and, when she died, Ariana didn’t know what to do with it. She left it alone until Alexandra told her “it was worthwhile for the world to know”.

She has now read the part of the diary published in the Smithsonian. “I never could read it before,” she said. “I started getting sick. It’s just a terrible story.”

“Tomasz [Magierski], he got so interested when he saw the diary he couldn’t stop reading it through the night,” Ariana said. “It’s a tremendous story for [Renia], and for everybody else. She had like a premonition that she might not make it, she mentions it [in the diary]. And she dies, she’s young, 18 years. That’s it.”

The Diary of Renia Spiegel will be published in 2019 by St Martin’s Press.

Schindler’s List–25th Anniversary

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On December 7, 2018, Schindler’s List is returning to select theaters in Philadelphia and we want to help you extend the film’s lessons into your classroom by scheduling one of our free Holocaust education programs.

WITNESS TO HISTORY–SURVIVOR PRESENTATION

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One of our more than 20 Holocaust Survivors, Liberators, and Resisters meet with students to share their experiences and lessons.  An accompanying Holocaust educator introduces the speaker and facilitates a Q&A session at the end of the testimony.  This program is available through Skype.

WITNESS TO HISTORY–STUDENT PRESENTATION

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Students learn the personal history of a Holocaust Survivor, Liberator, or Resister and then presenting the testimony.  This is an excellent opportunity for independent or senior projects for students, and allows us to honor the speaker, ensuring that their history is not forgotten.

ANNE FRANK THEATER PROJECT

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Two Broadway quality educational theater productions are available to be performed at your school.  Both are based on historical facts.  Lida Stein and the Righteous Gentile depicts how the implementation of the Nuremberg Laws affected ordinary teenagers in a rapidly changing society in Germany.  The Diary of Anne Frank, adapted from the Broadway original, shows how an ordinary family endured the unfolding Final Solution while hiding in the Netherlands.  A post performance talk back discussion with the case and a Holocaust educator provides the interactive learning experience that is the hallmark of all or our programs.  Contact us to see if your school qualifies for financial assistance.

REQUEST A PROGRAM

Canadian government apologizes for turning back the M.S. St. Louis

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau receives a hug from MP Linda Lapointe after delivering a formal apology over the fate of the MS St. Louis and its passengers in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa today.(Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

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The Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler tested the limits of Canada’s humanity in the lead up to the Second World War and Canada’s government failed that test “miserably,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today.

The prime minister made the remarks as part of the apology delivered in the House of Commons for the 1939 decision by the Canadian government to turn away a boatload of German Jews seeking refuge from the Nazis.

“In the years leading up to the war, Hitler tested the world’s resolve. He noted carefully as country after country proved itself indifferent to the plight of Jewish refugees,” Trudeau said.

Your country failed you. And for that, we are sorry.– Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

“He watched on as we refused their visas, ignored their letters and denied them entry. With every decree, he challenged the political courage of our leaders and the empathy of those who elected them.

“With every pogrom, he tested the bounds of our humanity and the limits of our solidarity … Adolf Hitler’s test was one the Canadian government failed miserably.”

In 1939, the MS St. Louis left Germany carrying 907 Jewish passengers fleeing persecution by the Nazi regime. The ship was turned away from Cuba and the United States before a group of Canadians tried to convince Prime Minister King’s government to let it dock in Halifax.

The Canadian government heeded the anti-Semitic sentiment abroad at the time by severely restricting Jewish immigration. From 1933 to 1945, only about 5,000 Jewish refugees were accepted because of Canada’s discriminatory ‘none is too many’ immigration policy.

When Ottawa refused to let the MS St. Louis passengers disembark, the ship returned to Europe.

About half the passengers were taken in by the U.K., the Netherlands, France and Belgium. About 500 of them ended up back in Germany, where 254 were killed in concentration and internment camps.

‘Their cries for help were left unanswered’

“The story of the St. Louis and its passengers is no isolated incident,” Trudeau added.

“The Government of Canada was indifferent to the suffering of Jews long before the St. Louis ever set sail for Halifax, and sadly, long after it had returned to Europe.”

The prime minister went on to say the passengers of the MS St. Louis would have made Canada stronger but “their cries for help were left unanswered, for Canada deemed them unworthy of a home, and undeserving of our help.”

Trudeau said that Hitler, alone, did not seal the fate of the passengers of the MS St. Louis or the Jewish populations of Europe because for Canada “To harbour such hatred and indifference towards the refugees was to share in the moral responsibility for their deaths.”

The prime minister said that while decades have passed since the decision to turn away the MS St. Louis, the guilt or shame of rejecting the asylum seekers on that ship remains.

‘Aliens in their own land’

“Today, I rise in this House of Commons to issue a long overdue apology to the Jewish refugees Canada turned away,” Trudeau said.

“We apologize to the 907 German Jews aboard the MS. St-Louis, as well as their families. We also apologize to others who paid the price of our inaction, whom we doomed to the ultimate horror of the death camps.

“We used our laws to mask our anti-Semitism, our antipathy, our resentment. We are sorry for the callousness of Canada’s response. And we are sorry for not apologizing sooner.”

Trudeau also apologized for letting anti-Semitism take root in Canada and for the way Canadians Jews were “meant to feel like strangers in their own homes, aliens in their own land.

“Your country failed you. And for that, we are sorry.”

A persistent problem

Trudeau went on to note that anti-Semitism continues to be a problem today in Canada. He said 17 per cent of all hate crimes target Canadian Jews — meaning the Jewish community experiences a far higher per-capita rate of hate crimes than any other group in Canada.

“Discrimination and violence against Jewish people in Canada and around the world continues at an alarming rate,” he said.

“Less than two weeks ago, not too far from here, a gunman opened fire on worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing eleven people and wounding six others.”

Jewish passengers of the MS St. Louis, a refugee ship turned away from Canada in 1939, returned to Europe to face Nazi persecution and the Holocaust. (cbc)

The prime minister said that anti-Semitism and other forms of xenophobia have no place in Canada or the world, and that education is the the “most powerful tool against the ignorance and cruelty that fuelled the Holocaust.”

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Trudeau said that in the wake of the Pittsburgh attack, Canadian Jews are understandably feeling vulnerable. He pledged to do more to protect Jewish places of worship.

While the apology will not ease the pain for those who lost family members on the MS St. Louis, Trudeau said he hopes it will bring them some sense of peace.

“More than 70 years ago, Canada turned its back on you,” he said. “But today, Canadians pledge, now and forever — never again.”

CBC News
Andrew Scheer’s apology for the MS St. Louis

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Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer taking part in the Canadian government’s official apology for the 1939 decision to turn away the MS St. Louis and its 907 German Jewish passengers fleeing the Nazi Regime. 10:43.

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“It is a sign of a healthy society to be able to look at history clearly and see both the light and the dark, to celebrate our achievements but to also mourn our failings,” Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said.

“There is no shame as a country in acknowledging shameful acts in our past. The real shame would be in forgetting them.”

Occasions like these help Canada strike a path for the future, the Conservative leader said, adding that Canadians should continue to stand up to acts of dehumanization that lead to atrocities.

“Canada should have offered sanctuary of the passengers of the MS St. Louis. For our failure to do so then we stand with the government today in its apology,” Scheer said. “Never again, must ‘none be too many.'”

CBC News
Guy Caron’s apology for MS St. Louis

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The NDP’s Guy Caron taking part in the Canadian government’s official apology for the 1939 decision to turn away the MS St. Louis and its 907 German Jewish passengers fleeing the Nazi Regime. 9:36

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“Two hundred and fifty four people who had boarded the MS St. Louis in the hopes of fleeing death … could have been saved had Canada said, `Yes,” `said NDP leader in the House of Commons Guy Caron. “Canada abandoned people who then became victims to Hitler and his hate.

“The passengers of the MS St. Louis were fleeing anti-Semitism, unaware that anti-Semitism had crossed the ocean before them.

“Intolerance has no place here, yesterday, today and tomorrow.”

The Bloc Quebecois’ Mario Beaulieu also stood in the House to deliver comments in French before Green Party Leader Elizabeth May closed out the apology with her own statement.

May said all Canadians bear the “stain of this crime.” She noted that we would not understand it as well as we do without the work of historians Irving Abella and Harold Troper, who wrote the book None is Too Many about Canada’s anti-Semitic policies during the Second World War and the plight of the MS St. Louis.

CBC News
Elizabeth May apology for MS St. Louis

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Green Party Leader Elizabeth May taking part in the Canadian government’s official apology for the 1939 decision to turn away the MS St. Louis and its 907 German Jewish passengers fleeing the Nazi Regime. 7:19

Wherever you are, our Survivors and Liberators can address your school, congregation or civic group.

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Through Skype in the Classroom, in cooperation with Microsoft, or in person, we can bring the latest in Holocaust education to you.  Contact us at info@hamec.org or 215-464-4701.

Hate never takes a vacation, and neither do we.

Kristallnacht: The night Nazis killed Jews and destroyed synagogues 80 years before Pittsburgh

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By MICHAEL RUANE, Washington Post, October 30, 2018.  Click for full report.

At 1:20 a.m. on Nov. 10, 1938, Reinhard Heydrich, the brutal Nazi security boss, sent an urgent telegram to German police nationwide.

The subject was: “Measures against Jews tonight.”

“Places of business and apartments belonging to Jews may be destroyed but not looted,” he wrote. “Non-Jewish businesses are [to be] completely protected against damage … the demonstrations are not to be prevented by the Police.”

“As many Jews in all districts — especially the rich — as can be accommodated in existing prisons are to be arrested,” Heydrich added.

“For the time being only healthy male Jews, who are not too old, are to be detained,” he instructed. “After the detentions have been carried out the appropriate concentration camps are to be contacted immediately for the prompt accommodation of the Jews in the camps.”

These were the official Nazi orders for the wave of savage anti-Semitic attacks that became known as Kristallnacht — Crystal Night, the night of the shattered glass. It was so called because broken glass littered the streets of many German and Austrian cities. The attacks are widely seen as a violent turning point in what would become the Holocaust.

It was a massive upheaval across Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia that killed scores of Jews and destroyed thousands of Jewish businesses. In total, 267 synagogues were destroyed. Torahs were burned. Jewish cemeteries were desecrated.

Houses were ransacked, often by neighbors and acquaintances of the victims.

The interior of Berlin’s beautiful, domed Fasanenstrasse Synagogue, which had opened in 1912 but was closed by the Nazis in 1936, was gutted.

The official number of dead was around 90, but some historians believe it to be much higher.


Firefighters at Berlin’s biggest house of Jewish worship, the Fasanenstrasse synagogue, after Nazis set fire to it during the Kristallnacht upheavals. (AP) (Anonymous/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
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In Hamburg, Johanna Gerechter Neumann watched as the calamity unfolded.

“What I saw was hordes of people standing in front of our beautiful synagogue and throwing stones through these magnificent colored windows,” she recalled in a 1990 oral history interview preserved at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. “It was total chaos, total destruction.”

The attacks, according to the Nazis, were sparked by the assassination of a German official in France by a Jewish teenager, Herschel Grynszpan. On Nov. 7, 1938, apparently angry at the Nazi’s expulsion of his parents and other Polish Jews living in Germany, Grynszpan went to the German Embassy in Paris and shot a junior diplomat named Ernst vom Rath. The Nazi response was to blame “world Jewry” for the assassination and whip up a public frenzy. Jews had to be arrested for their own “protection.”

The attacks stunned much of the world and were a terrifying warning of worse things to come.

“Kristallnacht was a turning point in the history of the Third Reich, marking the shift from antisemitic rhetoric and legislation to the violent, aggressive anti-Jewish measures that would culminate with the Holocaust,” according to the Holocaust Museum.

“I myself could scarcely believe that such things could occur in a 20th-century civilization,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt said after the attacks. He ordered the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Hugh R. Wilson, home for consultations.

The 80th anniversary of the massacre comes as the U.S. copes with the slaughter of 11 people at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue Saturday. The Pittsburgh shooting was the deadliest attack on Jews in the country’s history. The suspect is a virulent anti-Semite, Robert Bowers, a 46-year-old truck driver who lived just outside Pittsburgh.

Some observers find it as hard to believe in the 21st century as others had in the 20th.

Ernest Newbrun was a child in Vienna that November. He recalled in a 2006 oral history that his father was arrested during Kristallnacht while “waiting for a streetcar,” because he had Jewish identity papers.

“They arrested so many males that the prison couldn’t accommodate them,” Newbrun recalled in a videotaped interview that the Holocaust Museum has. “So he was held in a school. My father had long, beautiful, wavy hair. They shaved his head.”

The elder Newbrun barely escaped being sent to a concentration camp, apparently because he was a wounded combat veteran of World War I and later was a military police officer in Vienna.


A man prepares to clear up the broken window glass in front of a Jewish shop in Berlin the day after the Kristallnacht rampage. (AP) (n/a/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
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“He was told if he left the country they would release him,” Newbrun said. His father agreed and was released several weeks later. “I … recall when he came home to our house, the shock I had of seeing him with his head shaven, and the smell. Children remember smells. For two weeks he’d not been able to wash.

“The day after Kristallnacht, there were Hitler [Youth] who had robbed a synagogue in the neighborhood who were driving around on a flatbed truck with things they had stolen from the synagogue,” he said. “They were blowing a shofar,” a horn used in Jewish religious ceremonies.

Leo Liffman was planning to leave Germany for the United States in December and was living and working near Weimar. He was at work the afternoon of Nov. 9 or 10, he recalled in a 1985 interview, now preserved at the Holocaust Museum.

“Police knocked on the door,” he remembered. “I was taken prisoner in the name of the German Reich.”

He was taken to the Buchenwald concentration camp, about 15 minutes away. “I didn’t even know it was there,” he said.

He watched as other “transports” arrived. “Jews, Jews, Jews,” he said. “All standing in the courtyard.”

Conditions were dreadful. Liffman said an old man fell in a camp latrine and drowned. Another man was strung up by his hands.

“This was just the beginning of that whole thing,” he said. “It was before they talked about the Final Solution and all that. “

Liffman was at Buchenwald for about three weeks. A few days after his arrival, the prisoners were summoned by the authorities to fill out paperwork. One question was: Can you leave Germany? Liffman responded, yes, within three weeks.

A short time later, his named was called over the camp loudspeaker. He reported to camp officials. His head was shaved. He was allowed to wash his hands. He was released, he believes, because he had his papers to leave for the United States.

Many, like Liffman, were released by the Nazis, on the condition they get out of the country.

He had one final meeting with his father and mother before he left Germany.

After reaching the United States, he corresponded with his parents until World War II broke out. After that, his letters were returned, stamped “Deceased.”

Survivor Ruth K. Hartz vows to continue symposium after Pittsburgh shootings

By Stacy Lang, WNEP-TV Channel 16,  October 31, 2018.  Click for video and full report.

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SCRANTON, Pa. — The attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue over the weekend allegedly carried out by a man who spread hate-filled anti-Semitic remarks online has been hard to handle for the organizers of an annual event in Scranton.

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The event is one of the largest gatherings of Holocaust survivors on the east coast.

Ruth Hartz was a hidden child of the Holocaust. For the past several years, she’s brought her story to Scranton for the Jewish Federation’s annual Holocaust symposium.

The symposium has been held each May for 30 years in Scranton and features at least a dozen Holocaust survivors who speak to hundreds of high school students.

“You often wonder, does it do any good? But I think it does,” Hartz said.

Hartz admits she’s feeling weary in her goal of dispelling hatred after the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue over the weekend during which 11 people worshipping in a Sabbath service were killed.

After a lifetime of combating anti-Semitism, Hartz has noticed a rise in recent years.

“That’s one of the reasons I devote my life to it now, and I hope it does some good. On the other hand, I’m not surprised that events like that happen. It will never go away, and anti-Semitism has been with us for 2,000 years. It’s all over Europe now. It’s all over the rest of the world.”

Organizers of the annual Holocaust symposium say they’re even more resolved to bring survivors’ stories to Scranton this year. They plan to talk to teachers about how to extend Holocaust education into the classroom.

“The rise of anti-Semitism in this country is alarming. I also just read a statistic that 45 percent of Americans can’t even name a single concentration camp. That’s just 70, a little bit more than 70 years ago,” said Susie Blum Connors.

The Holocaust symposium is scheduled for May 2019.