I, Rachael, was raised Jewish and grew up learning about the Holocaust both in Hebrew school and from my grandparents and great-grandparents. And I, Kathryn, was raised in Munich, Germany, where rich and candid dialogues surrounding the topics of World War II and the Holocaust are plentiful both in and out of the classroom. Though we were both introduced to the story of the Holocaust at young ages and had a proper Holocaust education, our knowledge on the topic varied in many ways, which is why we decided to work together on this very important undertaking with Stories That Live. We believed that by bringing together our respective understandings, we could inject into our project a very unique and important perspective. Our working together has sparked between us a very fruitful dialogue, one that has lead us to reconcile our differing but equally important understandings of the Holocaust and to fill the gaps in each other's’ knowledge.
Before our first meeting with Holocaust survivor Michael Herskovitz, we were diffident, not knowing what to expect or how to approach this very sensitive topic. Questions buzzed around in our minds like whether we should ask him about his late family members or the number tattooed on his arm. When we arrived at his apartment, however, he and his brilliant wife, Tonya, welcomed us, ebullient and ready to get to work. This was apparent, as before we even had a chance to sit down, Michael, in his thick Czech accent, started telling us his story of devastation and survival in the Jewish ghettos and Nazi concentration camps. He was just 15 when taken from his home.
Michael and his story touched us in ways we could not have predicted. But what struck us most was his attitude of perseverance and utter positivity– his ability to smile so widely and laugh so deeply, despite all he had been through. Each time we met with Michael, he would tell us new details about his story that left us both dazed and deeply moved. Our relationship with him and his wife developed into a genuine connection, and all of us became deeply invested in our Stories That Live project. We all felt and continue to feel a burning desire to carry on Michael’s important story and legacy and to share his message with children who may never have the opportunity to get to know a Holocaust survivor.