Holocaust Memorial Day 2021: ORT students feel ‘moral duty’ to share survivors’ stories


ORT students have taken part in moving sessions with Holocaust survivors to learn more about their experiences and the effects of genocide.

Participants from 20 schools in a dozen countries across the ORT network joined the global collaboration in the lead up to Holocaust Memorial Day – culminating today with a livestreamed ceremony.

World ORT joined the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center (Hamec) of Philadelphia, United States, and the We Are Here! Foundation, based in Perth, Australia, for the project.

Meetings with survivors are a vital educational tool to help younger generations learn about the effects of what happened during the Shoah and ensure it is not forgotten.

Fifteen students from ORT Herzl Technology Lyceum in Kishinev, Moldova, met Auschwitz survivor Michael Herskovitz (above, right) and his sister Tonya in an online session held in advance of today’s service.

The students were moved not only by Michael’s story of survival amid the horror of the Holocaust, but by his determination to overcome hardship and build a future for himself.

During the discussion the students asked Michael what he had done to survive, whether he had considered making aliyah to Israel in the aftermath of the Shoah, and heard about his service in the IDF during Israel’s War of Independence.

The ORT students in Kishinev listen to Michael Herskovitz’s testimony

The educational impact of the experience was clear as the students delved deeper into psychological questions – pondering with Michael whether the Holocaust could have happened without Hitler, the role of individuals in genocide, and his personal thoughts on those who held him captive in the concentration camp.

Daria, a 10th grade student, reflected: “I really appreciate the advice he gave us: to remember everything that happened because anything can happen again. Michael is someone we should all be proud of because he found the strength to hope and to survive the terrible things that happened.”

Nicolai, an 11th grade student, said: “After realizing that Nazism and Auschwitz weren’t so long ago, and that people who were alive then are still living now, the word ‘Holocaust’ and its history and horrors have become much more real and scary.

“We are the last generation who can hear these stories first-hand; our moral duty is to pass on those feelings of disgust towards oppression.”

The partnership with Hamec and We Are Here! aimed to give students an international element as part of their wider experience of learning about the Shoah. The museum strives to personalize the Holocaust in order to teach the consequences of racism, ethnic cleansing and intolerance.

Daniel Tysman, Head of World ORT’s Education Department, said: “We’re delighted to have this opportunity to work together with Hamec who have made it possible for our students to spend time online talking to and learning from Shoah survivors.

“ORT students can learn from these difficult chapters in history and from the life stories of the survivors and be truly inspired to make a commitment to challenge intolerance and prejudice.”

During today’s livestreamed event, a global audience heard the testimony of Ruth Hartz, who described how she was hidden as a child in Nazi-occupied France, and the reflections of Kseniya Brodt and Anna Vishnevskaya – students at World ORT’s Kfar Silver Youth Village in Israel – following their conversation with a survivor.

The girls described how they were “overwhelmed with emotions” by the conversation and pledged to “shed light on these terrible crimes in order not to let them happen again. If we forget our past, we won’t have a future.”

ORT students were also recorded singing The Partisans’ Song (Zog nit keynmol) – perhaps the best-known of the Yiddish songs created during the Shoah.

Students in Madrid perform the Partisans’ Song

Inspired by the news of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, the song was adopted as the official anthem of the Vilna partisans shortly after it was composed in 1943 and spread rapidly to other ghettos and camps.

The We Are Here! Foundation promotes human rights and social justice and focuses on language, music and other cultural forms. It works to teach the importance and legacy of the song – which it has seen translated into more than 30 languages.

Daniel Tysman added: “We continue to benefit from our partnership with the We Are Here! Foundation to learn about the Partisans’ Song and the importance of standing up for what is right.”