Former chair and longtime Holocaust Commission member joins Melton in Tidewater faculty

by | Sep 8, 2022 | What’s Happening

10-week online course begins Wednesday, October 12

Wendy Juren Auerbach has served on the Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater for nearly 30 years, touching almost every program through volunteering and co-chairing various committees and events. “Ensuring that the stories of the Holocaust get out there truthfully is very important to me,” says Auerbach. “Original stories are one of the best sources through which to teach history, and more importantly, to remember. As Elie Wiesel famously said ‘When you listen to a witness, you become a witness.’”

After the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, state-mandated Holocaust education was frequently brought up in the national media, and Auerbach found herself thinking about the Holocaust education mandate in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In 2009, at the direction of Rena Berlin, the Virginia Holocaust Museum education director, and with the assistance of Ronnie Jacobs Cohen, then Commission director, and Elena Barr Baum, then chair (now director), then-Governor Tim Kaine signed a Holocaust education mandate for Virginia. Unfortunately, it was an unfunded mandate, so the promised Teachers’ Manual was never created, and thus it had no real teeth. After Charlottesville, Auerbach enlisted her friend and colleague, Gail Flax, and working with Elena Barr Baum, they embarked on three years of research and collaboration with the State Department of Education, the Commonwealth’s Social Studies coordinator, and Jewish Community Relations Councils across Virginia to help develop an amendment to the legislation, which passed in 2020.

As a result of the work that Auerbach, Flax, and Baum, with the support of the Holocaust Commission, put into making Holocaust education a state priority with the new amendment, the UJFT’s Holocaust Commission recently became an officially recognized resource for Holocaust education in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Auerbach has devoted the past two years to the To Life Project, which encompasses written stories, lesson plans for educators, and produced podcasts. The original collection of 67 stories in To Life: Stories of Courage and Survival, was published 20 years ago under the oversight of Reba Karp, editor of the Southeastern Virginia Jewish News at the time. Karp had been one of the first people in the community to document local survivors’ stories, which she originally published in small volumes around Yom Hashoah commemorations. For the new edition of To Life: Stories of Sacrifice and Survival, Past is Still Present, more than a dozen stories have been added and 18 of the stories have been selected for production as narrated podcasts, with hopes for more. Working on this project immersed Auerbach in the genre of “how we tell stories, and how we build memories.” Along with Flax, Elka Mednick, and many other volunteers and helpers, Auerbach set out on a journey to find friends and family of the original subjects and storytellers, and to add details and anecdotes so that every individual whose story is featured in the To Life project is presented as fully as possible.

This fall, Auerbach will teach a Melton course, The Holocaust as Reflected in Diaries and Memoirs. When Auerbach began to look over the curriculum, she discovered an incredible resource filled with excerpts of stories, some she had encountered before and many she had not. The course felt like a natural continuation of her work with To Life.

“Nothing is more powerful than looking at original source material,” says Auerbach. “When you begin to discuss that material with your peers, you start to think about your own story and consider how it relates.” Auerbach can point to the evolution of how she has felt about the Holocaust stories she has studied depending on her age and life stage—in her 20s, after she had children, and now approaching it differently still as she grows older.

During this 10-week course, students will have the chance to examine first-person narratives that lend remarkable insight into this devastating period of modern Jewish history.

This course is offered by the Konikoff Center for Learning at the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, in partnership with UJFT’s Holocaust Commission and the Virginia Holocaust Museum.

Early registration costs $235 before September 30 using code TH60 at checkout. After October 1, the standard registration fee is $295. For those who would like to get a taste of what this course has to offer before committing to it, a free class will be offered online on September 20.

To register or learn more, visit or contact Sierra Lautman, senior director of Jewish Innovation, at or 757-965-6107.

Sierra Lautman