Living Room Memories of The Holocaust With Survivors

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While 18-year-old Ally Train listened to Golda Kalib speak, she was mesmerized by the Holocaust survivor’s story.

After years as an Auschwitz prisoner, Kalib and her mother were selected for the gas chamber. For 24 hours, they stood with dozens of other females, anticipating death at any moment. Fortunately, it never came. Instead, the Nazis had the women join a death march to Bergen-Belsen, where Kalib and her remaining family members eventually were liberated. They were among the 100,000 survivors allowed to emigrate to the U.S.

“I laughed, I cried, and I left feeling like anything is possible,” Train said of her experience listening to Kalib share such memories. “Golda told us that while it is important to remember the bad experiences in life, it is even more important to not get stuck on them; that dwelling is the enemy of progress. That incredibly adorable and furiously strong woman left all of us with words to live by, and with the duty to never forget.”

Making sure the younger generations never forget the atrocities of the Holocaust -- and to provide an easy, comfortable way for young people to hear and learn from survivors -- is the idea behind Zikaron BaSalon, or “Memories in the Living Room.”

The program was created in 2010 by a group of Israelis who were seeking a new way to keep the horrors of the Holocaust from fading into history. USY has made Zikaron BaSalon part of its own programming, adapting it by having Jewish teens invite their peers to hear from Holocaust survivors on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day).

Intimate Conversations

Throughout North America, USY teens are encouraged to host survivors in their homes and invite family, friends and whoever else they choose to listen to the survivor’s story, engage in discussion, and express reactions and perspectives in an intimate, informal setting. In this way, Zikaron BaSalon removes many of the barriers and formality of Holocaust remembrance, making it more accessible to young people. The experience gives teens the chance to identify with the reality of what happened and envision what their remembrance and that of future generations will be like after the survivors are gone.

“We want to educate our USYers about what happened and keep that discussion going,” said Guy Shahar, the USY Shaliach (Israel educator). “We know that when they go back to school, they are still talking about it with their friends, including non-Jewish friends.”

In fact, non-Jews are very much welcome at Zikaron BaSalon, which holds sessions all over the world. USY has participated every year since 2014.

“It is not just an event for Jews,” he said. “As a society, we all need to know that something like that can never happen again.”

USY encourages teens to host a Zikaron BaSalon event at their home, offering supplies and support, including introductions to Holocaust survivors. Hosts also are allowed the flexibility to use their own creativity, making the event their own.

Teen-Driven Engagement

At the conclusion of Jenna Bienstock’s event in 2018, she gave attendees a piece of paper and asked them to write a letter to their future selves about what they would do in the next 10 years to promote Holocaust remembrance. She also led her group in singing the Israeli national anthem and a discussion.

Bienstock, a senior at a Jewish day school in Ontario, decided to host 15 of her peers upon realizing there weren’t many Holocaust Remembrance Day options for teens in her area.

“Once you get to a certain age in school,” Bienstock said, “they kind of just stop teaching you about the Holocaust unless you take a specific class.”

Ryvka Laiman, the survivor who visited Bienstock’s event, had not been in any camps. Instead, she talked about her life running from the Nazis. “It was different from other stories I had heard,” said Bienstock.

Many organizations participate in the vitally important work of keeping the Holocaust from becoming a distant memory. For example, the Shoah Foundation, founded by Steven Spielberg in 1994 to videotape and preserve interviews with Holocaust survivors, currently houses about 55,000 testimonies conducted in 64 countries and in 42 languages.

Non-Traditional Setting

Sitting in a room with someone who’s lived through these experiences, however, is a unique, particularly impactful, experience for participants. And by holding Zikaron BaSalon in individuals’ homes, the sharing of stories, thoughts and reactions becomes that much more comfortable.

“I felt like I could ask much deeper questions in that setting, and I felt a relationship develop,” said 16-year-old Noa Kligfeld, who attended two Zikaron BaSalon events near her home in Los Angeles. “I got to know the survivors in a way I wouldn’t have been able to if they were speaking to a huge group of people.”

Zikaron BaSalon exemplifies USY’s mission to create experiences for teens that teach the history, culture and values of Judaism and the Jewish people, often in non-traditional settings.

“You don’t need to be in a synagogue to create that community,” said Bienstock.

Unfortunately, Zikaron BaSalon has a limited shelf life. The youngest living Holocaust survivors are now around 73 years old. While statistics vary greatly as to how many remain (or even how one is defined), the reality is that within one more generation most will have passed on. It’s therefore incumbent on the youngest among us who are old enough to understand and retain the stories of Holocaust survivors -- our teens -- to do so, say the organizers and participants. That is how the memories, painful but important, will last as long as possible, and there’s no better way to ensure these stories hit home than through in-person contact with survivors.

“My generation will probably be the last to hear directly from survivors,” Kligfeld said. “This is our last chance. Literally, if not now, then when? If we don’t take the opportunity to host these events, the opportunity is going away soon and fast.”

Learn more about USY, USCJ's youth movement


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