April 17, 2014
BY SIMONE ELLIN | PHOTOS BY DAVID STUCK

The challenge to remember

Alice Herz-Sommer was 110 years old when she passed away in February. Born in Prague, but living in London at the time of her death, she was believed to have been the oldest living survivor of the Holocaust. Sommer’s passing, as well as the recent deaths of several prominent survivors in Baltimore’s Jewish community, are grim reminders that these individuals won’t be around forever. When they pass on, they take their stories with them.

But it needn’t be that way, say those who work with survivors and the Jewish community at large. Against a backdrop of unprecedented rates of intermarriage and assimilation — and a Pew Research Center finding that 73 percent of Jews define their Jewish identities in terms of the Holocaust — they grapple with how the loss of survivors will ultimately impact the Jewish people’s future.

“Of course it is true that we are in a period of transition,” said Menachem Rosensaft, general counsel for the World Jewish Congress and founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. “Survivors are dwindling.

“We are at a point where the torch and the obligation of transmitting our parents’ and grandparents’ memories is falling on the shoulders of the children and grandchildren of the survivors,” continued Rosensaft, who also serves as the senior vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants. “We have to provide reassurance to the survivors that their legacy and the memories they have conveyed to the world over the past 70 years will be preserved, guarded and transmitted into the future.”
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