Bear Witness: Survivors and Life After the Holocaust

After reading Maus: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman and participating in our class discussion on survivors, I was struck by how little I know about survivors’ lives after the Holocaust. Despite studying the Holocaust for two years at my previous master’s program, I learned very little about what happened to survivors once they were liberated from concentration camps or displaced persons camps. I have listened to many survivor testimonies and have heard dozens of survivors speak, but their testimony almost always ends shortly after World War II ended or they immigrated to another country.

While on spring break with five of my classmates, we visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington D.C. USHMM has an area where guests may interact and talk with Holocaust survivors about their own story. Visitors have the opportunity to engage with survivors before and after their visits and it presents a great opportunity for guests to supplement their visit with survivor testimony. These testimonies are important for visitors to hear, but how do they impact the survivors themselves? Also, what other, if any, services for survivors exist to help them navigate life after the Holocaust?

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A Holocaust survivor speaks to museum visitors. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

 

USHMM acknowledges that survivors have had their voices silenced repeatedly, by the Nazis. So, in response, they have developed The Memory Project. The Memory Project provides a safe outlet for survivors to record their stories for their families and for future generations to learn firsthand what survivors saw.  According to USHMM, “a sense of duty and obligation to share experiences and memories is real and present for many Holocaust survivors.” [1] By providing this safe outlet, survivors know that their voices are being heard, that their lives will not be forgotten, and that their testimony bears witness to the horrors of genocide.

 

the-blue-card-logoIn addition to The Memory Project, USHMM has compiled an extensive list of other Holocaust museums that are also documenting survivor testimonies, as well as resources for financial assistance, restitution, and registries to find other survivors. The Blue Card, an organization created by the Jewish community in Germany in 1934, helps elderly Holocaust survivors pay for food, medical bills, and provide vacations and holiday grants. [2] The organization works diligently to assist Holocaust survivors and give them back the dignity they had stripped away during the Holocaust. One of the organization’s programs is the Mazel Tov Birthday Program. This program provides survivors with a $100 check and a birthday card on their birthday. While I have come to expect birthday cards on my birthday, this small gesture could mean the world to a survivor who lost their entire family during the Holocaust. While the number of Holocaust survivors declines everyday, the need for financial assistance grows, and the organization is continuously working to raise funds for all their programs.

Holocaust museums are important to educating visitors about the horrors of the Holocaust and other genocides, but they are also platforms for survivors to bear witness and help ensure that “Never Again” becomes a reality.

[1] United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “The Memory Project,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, accessed March 15, 2016. https://www.ushmm.org/remember/office-of-survivor-affairs/memory-project

[2] The Blue Card, “Who We Help,” The Blue Card, accessed March 15, 2016. http://www.bluecardfund.org/

Image Credits:

Featured: Holocaust Survivors from Auschwitz-Birkenau: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Holocaust_survivors#/media/File:Byli_wi%C4%99%C5%BAniowie_KL_Auschwitz-Birkenau_(12675893725).jpg

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: https://www.ushmm.org/information/career-volunteer-opportunities/volunteering

Blue Card Logo: http://www.bluecardfund.org/

 

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