History comes alive each year for hundreds of students across Arizona as Holocaust survivors bring to life the horrors most textbooks barely touch upon.
Through the Phoenix Holocaust Survivors' Association Speakers' Bureau, an average of one school each week is visited by a survivor, estimates David Kader, the son of Holocaust survivors who is starting his eighth term as association president.
Survivors travel throughout Arizona - mainly in the Valley, although some have gone as far as Flagstaff, Sierra Vista and Yuma. "Every week, somewhere, someplace, a survivor is talking to the kids," Kader says. Speakers share their personal experiences with children in sixth grade through college, sometimes filling entire auditoriums. They also speak to a number of community organizations, churches and synagogues.
Most of the survivors are in their early- to mid-80s, Kader says. To ensure future generations learn about survivors' experiences, several schools have started videotaping the presentations.
"Whatever you try to do in the class (to teach children about the Holocaust) is good, but it doesn't even touch what happens when a survivor comes into your room," says Pete Fredlake, a teacher at Mingus Union High School in Cottonwood. "All of a sudden (the students) see ... a real person who was 14 once - just like they are now - and went through all this."
The association honored 18 longtime speakers Oct. 24 at its 20th anniversary annual meeting at Beth El Congregation in Phoenix.
The Phoenix Holocaust Survivors' Association was founded 20 years ago by Harry Adler, Philip Jalowiec and Kader; the Speakers' Bureau started two years later. The initial goal was to provide a quality, communitywide commemoration for Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). When Kader first came to Arizona in 1979, existing commemorations included no Holocaust survivors, although a few sat in the audience.
"They were on the outside looking in," he says. Since its establishment, the association has held annual community Yom Hashoah commemorations, which involve the survivors.
The group also holds monthly dinners - called Cafe Europa - that include entertainment, socializing and educational programs. In recent years, it also provides assistance to survivors, such as offering resources for health and transportation needs.
Today, membership numbers about 250 individuals, which includes second and third generations and friends.
More than 130 survivors, spouses, family members and friends attended the Oct. 24 event. High school students presented each of the approximately 80 survivors with a specially designed commemorative pin celebrating their membership in the association.
After that, teachers and community and religious leaders presented bureau members with engraved medals with blue and white ribbons.
The event was a way to say "thank you" to all the survivors, Kader says.
Although not all survivors are comfortable with public speaking, "all of them in their own way are witnesses," he says. They talk to their family, spouses or friends - "each in their own way have given voice to their experience."
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