With the number of Holocaust survivors diminishing each year, there is urgency in getting their firsthand accounts out to as many people as possible.
Such is the philosophy behind the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh’s Virtual Seminar last week in which local Holocaust survivor Sam Gottesman live- streamed his story to students from regional schools. Aiding Gottesman in the task was Andrea Joseph of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
The seminar’s purpose was to “connect students directly with a Holocaust survivor and to equip students to understand how what they have heard is relevant to their lives,” said Lauren Bairnsfather, executive director of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.
Livestreaming a survivor was a decision reached on the heels of a prior endeavor.
Years ago, the Earl R. Surloff Memorial Endowment Fund at the Holocaust Center “supported a large gathering for students in Oakland, the Arts and Writing Seminar. With dropping attendance and the rising cost of buses, the Arts and Writing Seminar was halted five or so years ago,” said Bairnsfather.
Following that program’s conclusion, the Holocaust Center worked with Ellen Surloff, daughter of Earl Surloff and a past chair of the Holocaust Center Advisory Board, to “support another program that could reach 1,000 or more students in a day … by connecting virtually, using increasingly available live-streaming technology.”
Last week, the Holocaust Center was still tabulating the final number of participants, but “we know there were more than 1,000,” said Bairnsfather.
And “we got a lot of really positive feedback from the students afterward in the chat,” added Christina Sahovey, operations and outreach coordinator at the Holocaust Center.
Throughout the day, sessions were held for middle school and high school students, said the executive director. Both offered two one-hour presentations tailored to the needs of each audience.
The first part of each session featured Gottesman; the second portion yielded to Joseph for contextualization.
Apart from talking about “current events, [while] taking into consideration Sam’s experiences in the Holocaust,” Joseph examined “how bias and bigotry often have a tendency to escalate if intervention does not occur,” said Bairnsfather.
The Virtual Seminar was the Holocaust Center’s first foray into such an approach, noted Sahovey. The goal was to “make Holocaust education accessible to schools that cannot come here.”
And because of contemporary issues, the seminar could not have come at a better time, noted Bairnsfather. “With rising anti-Semitism in area schools, this program is timely and essential.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.