Preserving the Past

YU High Schools Film Project Keeps Memories of the Holocaust Alive

For one week in December and February, classrooms in the Yeshiva University High School for Boys / Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy (YUHSB) and the Samuel H. Wang Yeshiva University High School for Girls (YUHSG) were transformed into a professional recording studio. Two cameras and an advanced lighting system focused in on a small table with two chairs. Every day of the week, YU High School seniors invited Holocaust survivors to share memories of their lives before, during and after the tragedies of the Shoah as part of the Names, Not Numbers project.


Created in 2003 by Tova Rosenberg, director of Hebrew language and the Israel exchange programs at both high schools, Names, Not Numbers teaches students the skills needed to interview and film an oral history of Holocaust survivors. To date more than 250 testimonials of survivors and World War II veterans have been recorded by more than 750 students.

The demanding project is offered as an elective or senior project to seniors and involves thorough participation of the students at every level of the process.

“Students are taught the skills needed to produce their own Holocaust oral history documentary,” said Rosenberg. “Professionals train them on everything from researching and interviewing to filming and editing.”

YUHSB's Akiva Blumenthal interviews his grandmother, Edith Blumenthal. To date, Names, Not Numbers has recorded more than 250 testimonials of survivors and World War II veterans.

The project culminates in a documentary film and DVD titled Names, Not Numbers and a behind-the-scenes film, Names, Not Numbers: A Movie in the Making. The documentaries are archived at the National Library of Israel, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and Yeshiva University’s Mendel Gottesman Library.

This year, a first occurred during the project. Mina Tiefenbrunn, a YUHSB parent, told the story of her parents’ survival while being interviewed by three different students, one of whom was her son Aryeh.

“I felt very strongly that there is not enough second-generation advocacy,” said Tiefenbrunn. “For children of survivors, it is important to get the message across—the message being: have faith, help your fellow man, share and be kind.”

Aryeh shared these sentiments and said, “It is so important for these stories to be perpetuated to the next generation.”

Rosenberg was particularly satisfied because three of the interviewees had never shared their story of survival before.

“I started this program as an intergenerational project,” said Rosenberg, “but over time I realized that it has become something else. The project touches the souls of the students. This is not just about Holocaust studies; it is about hesed [good deeds].”

Rosenberg described how students contacted the survivors whom they interviewed to wish them a Shabbat Shalom and forge a stronger relationship—a gesture that greatly touched one survivor, Chaim Weiser.

Yolly Dratch of YUHSG, interviews Joseph Guttmann, a Holocaust survivor.

“It was very heart-warming to have received the special warm wishes for a Good Shabbos,” Weiser wrote in an e-mail to Rosenberg. “The last few days following the interview a certain calmness, a feeling of relief has descended upon me. It feels as if a heavy stone has been lifted from my heart. You have provided me a platform where I was able to unburden myself, somewhat, of the great pain that is forever lurking within.”

As the student participants of Names, Not Numbers finish their studies at YU High Schools, the effects of the program become more and more apparent. One YUHSG alumna, Mindy Sojcher, described how her involvement influenced her studies in college. A current Legacy Heritage student at YU’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration, Sojcher intends on pursuing a career in Holocaust education.

“What’s amazing about Names, Not Numbers is that my generation has grandparents and great grandparents who are survivors. We all know about the Holocaust, but we rarely really think about it,” said Sojcher, who serves at the associate director of YU’s Student Holocaust Education Movement. “The program helped me understand what the Holocaust was and why it is so important that we learn about it.”

Names, Not Numbers will be screened at YUHSB on May 1 and YUHSG on May 7.

Yeshiva University and the Student Holocaust Education Movement (SHEM) will present a Yom Hashoa Ceremony on April 17 at 8:30 p.m. in Lamport Auditorium on the Wilf Campus.

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