A History of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants
The American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants is the umbrella organization of survivor groups and landsmanshaften of North America. Soon after the World Gathering in Israel in June 1981, the visionaries of that event established a nonprofit corporation with a mission of remembrance, education and commemoration.
The first of these commemorations was held in Washington, D.C., in April 1983. A phenomenal success, the event in the American capitol attracted over 20,000 survivors and their families. For three days attendees commemorated the Holocaust, attended cultural events and informational seminars and met with politicians, including the President and Vice President of the United States.
Among our major activities:
The Benjamin and Vladka Meed Registry of Jewish Holocaust Survivors was established to document the lives of survivors who came to North America after World War II. Today, the registry contains information on more than 185,000 survivors and their families from all over the world. The American Gathering continues to acquire names of Holocaust survivors, facilitate contacts, collects and display basic information and assists survivors in seeking for lost relatives via its quarterly newspaper, Together, and its website www.amgathering.org.
To further facilitate survivor use, the Registry is now also maintained by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where user-friendly computers allow visitors access to database names.
The Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teachers Program
Another important program is The Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teachers Program. The program brings teachers—Jewish and non-Jewish alike—to Poland and Washington, D.C. to partake in Holocaust related educational experiences. Participating scholars come from Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem, the Study Center at Kibbutz Lohamei HaGheta’ot, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
The program’s goals are to advance education in U.S. secondary schools about the Holocaust and Jewish resistance; to deepen knowledge and ability to implement Holocaust studies in the classroom; to teach each new generation about the Holocaust and Jewish resistance so that they will know, understand and never forget; and to further educational activities that use the lessons of the past as warnings for the present and the future.
In addition, a biannual Alumni Conference of the program’s participants further reinforces its goals and achievements.
Conference on Material Claims Against Germany
In 1988, the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors became one of only two Holocaust survivor organizations to join the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany. The organization is also a member of the World Jewish Congress, the World Jewish Restitution Organization and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. In that capacity, its mission is to be the moral authority on survivors’ rights and restitution.
Founded in 1985, Together is the official publication of the American Gathering. With a circulation of approximately 90,000, it reflects the collective voice of survivors, the second and third generations, and includes news, opinions, information on education, commemorations, events, book reviews, announcements, searches, and articles on history and personal remembrance. Besides survivors and their descendants, contributors include professional writers, poets, thinkers, historians and Holocaust scholars.
Lectures and Memoirs
The efforts of the American Gathering on the survivors and on America has had a lasting impact. Survivors now contribute actively to educational programs around the country by speaking in classrooms, colleges and religious institutions, writing their memoirs and pressing their case as eyewitnesses to the greatest crime of the 20th century.
Holocaust education is now mandatory in many states of the Union. Hate Crimes laws have been enacted around the country because survivors pressed for legislation to outlaw racist and discriminatory acts. In addition, Holocaust commemoration and remembrance is practiced in almost every State House. And because of the survivors and the American Gathering, the Holocaust has even had an influence on American domestic and foreign policy, particularly in Europe and the Middle East.
Sources: Interviews with Sam Bloch and Roman Kent in Feb. 2005
From Holocaust to New Life: A Documentary Volume Depicting the proceedings and events of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, Washington DC, April 1983-Nissan 5743; The American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, NY, 1985.