The Yeshiva of Central Queens gratefully acknowledges the Names, Not Numbers© program that has taught our students about the Holocaust through the accounts of eyewitnesses, provided them with interviewing, filming, and editing skills, and, most importantly, enabled meaningful relationships to be forged between the survivors and our students.

Students in the eighth grade are chosen each year to participate in the Names, Not Numbers© project. They are placed into groups, and each group is matched with a Holocaust survivor. Throughout the year, the students meet several times with their survivors, learning about their lives before the war, their struggles to survive during the war, how their lives changes after liberation, and about who they are today. Though the Holocaust happened over 80 years ago, the horrors faced continue to haunt the survivors; and as each year passes, our opportunities to learn from eyewitnesses to the world’s most horrific tragedy lessens.

This year, students, faculty, administration, parents, and community members joined with the survivors for a Zoom program, where a representative from each group spoke about the survivor they interviewed, the experience of what they learned, and the importance of passing on this knowledge to others. Following the program, guests were invited to view the oral history documentary presentation.

As the world learned about the atrocity of the Holocaust, they wondered how the survivors could move on, yet that is just what most did. They rebuilt families, obtained educations, gained employment, and many clung to their faith. Their healing began with retelling their tragedies through stories passed on to their children, written literature, and, with the new age of technology, filmed documented histories.

Each day that passes, the vital importance of documenting these histories becomes more and more imperative. The students at YCQ worked with professionals, learning and discussing interviewing techniques, Holocaust education, journalism and filmmaking skills, as well as the personal histories of the survivors they interviewed. The skills are something that will be used throughout their lives, and more importantly, the memories and connectedness to the survivors is something they can tell one day to their children and something they will never forget.

Debra Orenbuch, grandparent of several YCQ students, was interviewed by her grandson Siggy Orenbuch and his group. She told of her parents leaving her with a Polish woman because the people hiding her parents would not take children and she was not even two years old. The women who took her in eventually left her on the steps of a nunnery. They began to raise her as a Christian and kept her safe throughout the war. Her parents survived, as well; and when they came to get her, the nuns at first would not give her back, but in the end they let her choose. She chose her parents.

Survivor Jehudah Lindenblatt, from Budapest, Hungary, grew up in an Orthodox home. When the Nazis came, he was given a yellow star to wear. His mom always defended her faith. She sold her wedding ring to buy a ham to feed her children, but she would not eat it. Though they had papers that said “Christian,” that did not always keep them safe. After the war, Jehudah went to Israel and then came to the US.

Bella Rubin was 13 and from a large, close-knit family, with cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents all living nearby. Everything changed when the Germans came. They started rounding up Jews, cutting off their beards, hanging them, and shooting them. Her family ran to a small town; she said they thought they would be safer in a small town than in a big city. On their way to return home, their wagon driver saved their lives by warning them that Poles were pushing Jews into rivers, drowning them and taking their belongings. They put on disguises and hid the younger children. In 1943, she was sent to the Neustadt labor camp and then Grunberg concentration camp, and in 1944 she was liberated by the Russians. She and her parents and three siblings survived. She eventually ended up in Bergen-Belsen DP camp where she met and married her husband, going first to Israel and then to the US.

Malka Schick was interviewed by her grandson Ezra Schick and his group. She was born in Italy and was a baby during the Holocaust. Her family went over the Alps, and while women and children were hidden by Italian families. The men joined the partisans with documents from Italy saying they were Italian, not Jews. Her father was killed in a Fascist patrol while coming over the mountain. Of a group of 1,000, 350 were deported to Auschwitz and only nine survived. There is a monument thanking the Italians, and each year a group crosses the mountain in memory of the Jews who did not survive.

Rachel Epstein, born in San Quentin, France, had a large extended family before the war and lived with her brother and parents who had a children’s clothing store. Her parents were arrested because they were Russian Jews. She and her brother were French citizens, so they did not arrest them. Christian neighbors, Suzanne and Henri Ribouleau, took them in and hid them at great risk to themselves and their sons throughout the war. Rachel and her brother Leon were the only two Jews from Compiegne who survived. She lost 30 family members in Auschwitz. They were sent to live with a surviving aunt and uncle. They did not know them, but the courts made them go with them. An aunt in America took Rachel but could not take her brother. It took 13 years before she could bring her brother and his family to America.

Each survivor has a story so different in physical detail, yet so much the same. The fear they faced at every moment, the struggle with faith and trust, the physical suffering and humiliation, the loss of loved ones, and the strength it took to step out of the ashes of a broken past and rebuild, needs to be shared over and over so the world never forgets, and so that the strength and courage it took to survive will never be forgotten.

Mrs. Tova Rosenberg, creator of the Names, Not Numbers© project, has made it her passion to document these stories. In its 16th year, with over 2,500 survivors being interviewed and over 6,000 students participating, the message that she continues to get across is “how important it is that we learn, remember, and use these tools to combat anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred and intolerance.” Through her work with this project, she is creating personal connections between students and survivors, while keeping “the heart and spirit of individual eyewitnesses” alive. Through her program, Names, Not Numbers©, a lesson is being taught and will continue to be taught, that it is our turn now, “to live, to remember, and to tell the world.”