Editor’s note: This summer, several New York City public high school students are working at the Museum as part of our High School Apprenticeship Program. Some of their experiences and observations will be shared on this blog throughout the summer. Our first entry from one of this summer’s High School Apprentices is below.
By Zeynep Bromberg
As High School Apprentices at the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, my peers and I have the privilege of listening to a variety of Holocaust survivor testimony throughout our time here.
During one of our first Apprenticeship sessions, we sat down with Toby Levy. Toby and her family hid in a barn in Poland for nearly two years, after the Nazi invasion of Poland. As she sat with us in a classroom here at the Museum, Toby told us her story in a slow, thoughtful voice. She ended her testimony with a Q&A session. A fellow Apprentice asked Toby, “Don’t you feel any anger? Don’t you want revenge?” Toby simply smiled and said, “This is my revenge. I’m enjoying life, and that means Hitler lost.” The fact that she was able to tell us her story was revenge enough.
We were also introduced to Bronia Brandman, a survivor of Auschwitz. Bronia showed us photographs of her life before her town of Jaworzno, Poland was invaded by the Nazis. As we met each of her family members from the pictures she presented and the stories she told, hearing about their fates in Auschwitz was that much harder to process.
Getting to witness live testimony has been the most impactful part of my time here at the Museum.
Because of my background, I’ve been exposed to the Holocaust throughout my life, through Hebrew School and in various history classes. However, being able to hear from survivors with my fellow Apprentices at the Museum was an incomparable experience.
Whenever we hear testimony, the emotion in the room is always palpable. Although Bronia and Toby have told their stories countless times, each retelling of testimony requires them to relive the most unimaginable horrors. Each time we listened to these survivors tell their stories, I was left in awe of the sheer strength they displayed.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust has in its collection over 4,000 recorded and written testimonies. Many come from Holocaust survivors themselves. Many of the Museum’s exhibitions are dedicated to preserving and displaying these stories. New Dimensions in Testimony℠, an interactive installation that allows visitors to have “virtual conversations” with pre-recorded projections of Holocaust survivors, is a perfect example. Testimony is central to the Museum’s mission as it allows a particularly personal way of communicating the history of the Holocaust to the public.
Testimony is an incredible resource. But more importantly, testimony represents the culmination of real human experiences and the efforts of institutions around the world to preserve these experiences. Ordinary people’s stories are vital to comprehending history beyond the surface level. Never again will I read about the Holocaust in a textbook or discuss it in school without hearing Toby’s or Bronia’s words in my head. Having such vast access to Holocaust testimony allows us not just to remember the numbers and dates, but to remember the voices and faces of real people.