“There are no words!” A member of the audience shared her reaction to the Names, Not Numbers film documentary created by Yeshiva Tiferes Moshe seventh grade students, which was shown on Tuesday evening, June 11, at the Young Israel of Queens Valley. The evening was the culmination of a year of hard work during which the seventh-grade students researched the Holocaust, interviewed Holocaust survivors, filmed and edited these interviews, and created a film documentary about the survivors they interviewed.
The mission of Names, Not Numbers is to transform traditional Holocaust study to an experiential program involving survivors, and to bequeath the memories, stories, and lessons of the Holocaust to inspire future generations to combat anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred and intolerance.
Mrs. Tova Fish-Rosenberg, creator of the project, shared that 6,000 students have participated together with 2,000 survivors in the US, Canada, and Israel. The project began 15 years ago, and about 300 projects have been completed over that time. The films are archived at the National Library of Israel, Yad Vashem, and Yeshiva University’s Mendel Gottesman Library. She noted, “The project is unique because it’s educational and the students do everything.” They are trained by professionals. They were trained by a journalist on interviewing techniques. They were trained by a professional on filmmaking techniques and how to use professional broadcast quality equipment. They did the research and film editing. They’re producing a major oral history documentary project.”
Watching the expressions on the faces of the students as they conducted their interviews, you see the powerful impact this project had on them. Mrs. Rosenberg stated, “Today, more than ever, these kids will carry the torch. They are telling it to their family and the world and they created a film for posterity.”
The evening began with Rabbi Yaakov May, Menahel of Yeshiva Tiferes Moshe, welcoming the large crowd, which included the five survivors whom the students interviewed: Mr. Gavriel Blau, Mr. Betzalel Fixler, Mrs. Nelly Grussgott, Mrs. Eva Kunstler, and Mrs. Tova Magids.
Next, Tova-Fish Rosenberg spoke about the goals of Names, Not Numbers and the importance of this incredible project. She shared a stirring quote from Gideon Hausner, the main prosecutor at the Eichmann Trial, who stated that there are six million accusers who can’t rise to their feet. “Their blood cries out, but their voice is not heard. I will be their voice.” She stated, “Now, in 2019, it is the students and survivors in the Names, Not Numbers projects who will continue to unfold the indictment by telling the survivors’ stories.”
Next, the audience viewed the film documentary “Names, Not Numbers: A Movie in the Making,” which included clips from the Yeshiva Tiferes Moshe students’ documentary.
You could see how the interviewers were able to connect with the people they were interviewing, as they brought out such incredible, moving stories. Mr. Blau, one of the survivors, shared how, during a selection, if the Nazi pointed for you to go to the right, then that meant life, and if he pointed to the left it meant death. His brother was already headed to the left, and Mr. Blau cried out to Hashem, “Please, like You changed the words of Bilaam from a curse to a blessing, please change this Nazi’s words for my brother.” He said it was a miracle: Hashem changed the Nazi’s words and he pointed his brother to the right. Mr. Fixler, another survivor, emphasized that you have to have emunah and you will come through. The only thing you need is emunah.
Following this stirring film, Rabbi Yosef Deutscher, YTM Principal, told the students, “You’re listening to history and documenting it. This is for everybody for posterity. You have proof that it happened. It’s a big responsibility.” He then made a presentation to the survivors of a gift bag with the DVD of the film, their individual interview, and a group photo. It was particularly moving to note that one of the seventh-grade students interviewed his own great-grandmother, and he said he learned stories he never knew about her.
In the beginning of the project, in the fall, this writer had the honor of teaching the students some interviewing techniques and strategies. We spoke about the importance of listening and noticing what the person is passionate about and then following that line of the story. I taught that we want to bring out a narrative when we interview someone. Then students practiced interviewing each other.
It was especially moving to hear the lessons the students shared that they learned from doing this project. Below are some quotes from the students who participated in this project:
“Even when people try to bring you down, we’re still here and able to survive any challenge we have.”
“They all had emunah that Hashem can do anything.”
“It strengthened my emunah.”
“Stand up for what you believe in.”
“Never forget. Remember.”
“I realize freedom is not to be taken for granted.”
“You should be kind and compassionate.”
“Never give up.”
“Always have emunah.”
“Always be proud to be a Jew,”
“I learned the real story.”
“So important to do this so the world knows it happened.”
“I’m going to show what I learned to the world.”
“I realize these are people, not numbers.”
One boy summed it up: “I’ll keep these lessons in my heart.” We all will!
By Susie Garber