On a sunny Sunday afternoon in May, the event space at JF&CS Headquarters was almost empty. My mother and I drifted from table to table to table trying to save a full table for our group as other high schoolers, their families, and older adults trickled in. Finally, we caught sight of my interviewing partner, Jordyn, and her family. Jordyn had a box in her arms — a box full of copies of the project we had been working on while conducting our interviews.
Soon, Jordyn spotted Fred Manasse, the man we had been speaking to about his experience surviving the Holocaust, and his wife, Annette, walking through the door. As we brought the two to our table, we caught up with them about bar and bat mitzvahs in our families and the Manasses’ recent trip to Europe. We had just finished showing Fred and Annette our final project for the first time when Elyse, Schechter Holocaust Services Manager of Outreach and Education, came up to the podium. The Legacies: High School Visits graduation had begun.
Legacies: High School Visits in the only program of its kind in New England, bringing together a cohort of 9th-12th graders to learn about the Holocaust by meeting with a survivor three times over the course of the year and creating a meaningful project together. Jordyn, Fred, and I were the first group to speak about our meetings and project. Like the rest of the groups in the program, the interviewee and one of the high schoolers spoke about the interviewing experience while the other high schooler talked about the final project. I started out by speaking briefly about how much it meant to Jordyn and me to interview Fred and get to know him and Annette. I also shared a bit about his journey through Europe to evade the Holocaust as a child. Jordyn described our final project: a cookbook with personal recipes from each of us and stories about our lives that went along with each recipe. She also explained how we had bonded over cooking while interviewing Fred and decided to build our project around that. Finally, Fred wrapped up our presentation, talking about how he thought Jordyn and I really understood him after only six hours of interviewing and how unique our project was.
As the rest of the program participants gave their presentations, I noticed a few common themes in each of the speeches: how important it was to pass on the memory of the Holocaust to the next generation, how inspiring the survivors were to the teenage interviewers, and how well the interviewers and interviewees got to know each other, forming bonds of friendship beyond just reporter and subject. But the most wonderful part of the program was how different the projects were from one another.
Two boys made a beautiful quilt for the survivor they visited after she told them about a blanket she had been given during the Holocaust. Another pair made a slideshow about their interviewee’s many inventions. One group made a time capsule; another made a video. One pair even made a Facebook page where people who followed it could “pledge to their heritage” in order to propagate the survivor’s story. Not a single project was a repeat in format and certainly not in content. It was clear that each group of three had been dedicated to the Legacies: High School Visits program, their project, and each other.
Before my mom and I left the graduation, we said goodbye to the Manasses and told them we hoped to keep in touch. I was so happy we had gotten to meet them and hear their unique story. Legacies: High School Visits is more than just a chance to learn history from a primary source; it builds friendships. I hope that in the future, other survivors and teens get a chance to take part in this too.
Originally posted on the JF&CS blog.