South Jersey middle schoolers interview Holocaust survivor, create documentary

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(L - R) Becky Lerman, Jaseem Giles, Izanee Bryant, Daniel Bryerman, Skyler Sholder  pose with 
 Goldie Finkelstein. (Courtesy Kellman Brown Academy)

(L - R) Becky Lerman, Jaseem Giles, Izanee Bryant, Daniel Bryerman, Skyler Sholder pose with Goldie Finkelstein. (Courtesy Kellman Brown Academy)

Holocaust survivor Goldie Finkelstein was 90 years old when she passed away on December 28th, 2019. For most of her life, Finkelstein remained private about her experiences in forced labor and concentration camps, but in her later years, she began to speak about her experiences in the hopes that she might spread awareness about the dire ramifications of bigotry and hatred.

“I was the sole survivor of my entire family,” she wrote in “I Choose Life: Two Linked Stories of Holocaust Survival and Rebirth” which she and co-wrote with her husband Sol before he died. “Some survivors were angry and bitter after the war. They hated the Germans. I don’t know how I had the wisdom as a young person, but I decided that I would not spend my life hating the Germans — because if I did, it would mean that the Germans won.”

Goldie Finkelstein (Courtesy of Finkelstein family)

Last year, 28 seventh- and eighth-grade students from South Jersey joined together to interview Finkelstein and five other Holocaust survivors. These interviews were part of an international initiative to personalize the horrors of the Holocaust by focusing on individual experiences as opposed to statistics.

So far, 6,000 students and 2,000 survivors have participated in the “Names, Not Numbers Intergenerational Holocaust Oral History Film Documentary Project.”

The 17 students fromKellman Brown Academy (KBA) in Voorhees and 11 from the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) in Camden worked with teachers, journalists, filmmakers and videographers to create a professionally produced documentary that will be screened in Cherry Hill on Thursday March 19.

Becky Lerman of Kellman Brown Academy and Izaneé Bryant from the KIPP school were assigned to interview Finkelstein, a task they say profoundly affected them.

“I thought it was a pretty empowering thing to be able to interview a Holocaust survivor,” Lerman said. “She participated in a death march and was sent to a camp when she was 14 years old, so about our age. There were times when she started to cry and I wanted to cry for her.”

“During the time when Becky was asking the question I was [behind] the camera,” said Bryant. “I just wanted to get off the camera and give her a hug because she was crying.”

The film made by the KIPP and Kellman Brown middle schoolers was unique in that it was created as part of a collaboration between students of different backgrounds and with differing levels of exposure to Holocaust history.

“They brought another perspective to the table,” Max Scholl, a KBA student, said of the KIPP students who worked on the project with him. “That helped us come up with more questions than we would have if it was just us.”

He added that he felt that having the opportunity to participate in memorializing the experiences of those who lived through the Holocaust was sacred and significant. Scholl himself has both relatives who died during the Holocaust and relatives who lived through it. His advice to the current generation is to “savor the moment with the Holocaust survivor, because in 10 or 20 years there won’t be any more left.”

“We might be the last generation that ever sees, talks to, or remembers any [Holocaust] survivor,” said Dion Lewis, a KIPP student who collaborated with Scholl.

The general public is invited to view the documentary with KIPP and Kellman Brown students and five of the six survivors on Thursday, March 19th at 7:00 p.m. The screening will take place at the Katz Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill.

Goldie Finkelstein (Courtesy of Finkelstein family)

Because Finkelstein passed away just a few months prior to the completion of the film, she never got to see herself or her story on the screen. According to her family, she was grateful for the opportunity to speak about her experiences prior to her passing.

Goldie Finkelstein will be remembered by her three children, their spouses, seven grandchildren, two great grandchildren, and by those who hear her story.

Her son, Joseph, is dedicated to sharing his mother’s experiences to combat bigotry and anti-Semitism. “The way hate succeeds is not because of not enough love in the world,” he said. “It’s because of indifference.”

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