Since being launched in schools last fall, the Holocaust Commission’s What We Carry program has been presented 38 times in the community by trained Commission volunteers—27 times in school settings and 11 times for military audiences. More than half of the presentations came after the successful premiere of the documentary films on which the program is based, at Tidewater Community College’s Roper Theater in March.
In early summer, Simon Family JCC member Cliff Holmquist contacted me after seeing the trailer for the program on the screen in the Cardo over the Holocaust Talmud. He thought it might be a good program to show at his church, Calvary Assembly of God in Kempsville. Though members of our Speakers’ Bureau had addressed faith communities, we had not presented What We Carry in a church before. It seemed like a great idea to reach a different constituency.
Since the summer is a slow period for Holocaust Commission volunteers, we waited until September and scheduled a presentation just before Rosh Hashanah. The timing and the reception seemed to be “Beshert.”
Cliff and his Pastor, Dr. Dan Goff, created excitement about the presentation by having it in conjunction with not only their men’s fellowship group, as originally planned, but also their women’s group. They “sweetened the deal,” by providing a free brunch to everyone who would attend, including the Commission members, who were all invited. The church created flyers that were placed around their own community, and in the JCC lobby near the film trailer, so anyone could attend.
A group of six Commission members beautifully presented the story of the late Hanns Loewenbach to the 70 attendees.
After a lovely brunch in their social hall, Pastor Goff welcomed his congregants into the sanctuary, and then turned the floor over to the Commission, with a request that we begin by sharing a little information about the upcoming High Holiday season. After a brief description about the Days of Awe, the documentary in which Hanns narrates his own survival story ran on a large raised screen, as I added biographical information connecting segments of the film. Past Holocaust Commission chair Deb Segaloff shared with the group all of the artifacts (replicas) contained in the suitcase that accompanies the film, further painting a picture of Hanns’ life before and during the Holocaust. Afterwards there was a lively discussion in which all of the Commission members present, including Hanns’ dear friend Anne Fleder, answered the audience members’ questions about Hanns’ life during and after the Holocaust.
As has happened many times in schools and military groups, by the time the presentation was over, the attendees felt they knew Hanns. There were tears shed when Hanns told of his family members who perished, and heads shaking in amazement when he told how he tried to escape Germany by swimming two hours across frigid Baltic waters to Denmark, and upon being caught by the Danish police, then swam back to Germany to avoid being handed over to the German gendarmerie.
Pastor Goff wrapped up the event by thanking the Commission volunteers and praising the program. He then surprised us by asking that those assembled “make an offering” to the Holocaust Commission, as a gesture of gratitude for the vital work it does by educating people about this tragic period in human history, one story at a time. The generous donation at the start of 5773 made by the congregants of Calvary Assembly of God will go a long way towards educating others through What We Carry, the Elie Wiesel Writing and Visual Arts Competitions, and other programs.
The Holocaust Commission is delighted to share this program with other community groups. For more information, see the What We Carry web page at http://jewishva.org/ holocaust-what-we-carry or contact Elena Baum at email@example.com.
by Elena Barr Baum, director, Holocaust Commission of United Jewish Federation of Tidewater