It is the age of Google+, the iPad 2 and the iPhone 5, to name just a few of the latest and fastest rising global tools to help shape the future. Yet, one of the most powerful web based tools more understatedly introduced recently is a tool just as critically important to the world because it helps shape the past. It is called the World Memory Project, a combined effort on the part of the Holocaust Memorial Museum and Ancestry.com.
It allows the public to both contribute to and access millions of historical documents related to survivors and victims of the Nazis during World War II. These records are now free online and offer the promise of changing the lives of many whom up until this point have had to use more cumbersome means of seeking information about what happened to their loved ones.
Rockland County is home to the largest Jewish population per capita in the country and many of them who call Nanuet or New City home were thrilled to learn of this resource.
“I think this is a valuable opportunity not only for those of us of Jewish descent and our families and future generations but for people of all faiths to have easy access to this information so that we all always remember the magnitude of what happened,” said Susan Heller, Director of Physical Therapy for Friedwald Rehabilitation and Nursing in New City and a New City resident as well. Working professionally with a fairly senior population on a regular basis—many of them of Jewish faith—is a reminder to Friedwald of the mortality of many Jewish men and women who lived through the Holocaust.
“When I was in Jerusalem I heard a Holocaust survivor who had first been reluctant to speak about his experiences explain how he opened up after hearing Elie Wiesel,” she said. “When he asked Elie how he had the strength or ability to speak about such painful memories he reminded him that if not them, whom, and if not now, when? I think of how much older all the remaining survivors are getting and it is important to preserve the identity of victims and details of the time.”
Nanuet Resident Meryl Barkin agrees. The daughter-in-law of a Jewish family, she fled from Poland and found refuge in Cuba for a period of time.
“I am comforted to know that as older survivors pass on, this information will still be available and with easy access for my children and my children’s children,” said Barkin.
Naomi Adler, also a resident of Nanuet and a mother of three young boys, couldn’t agree more and is truly appreciative of the intense amount of time and resources that have gone into this initiative. Naomi’s family are also Holocaust survivors and she has a cousin who went to Europe and spent a lot of time and money going through archives and researching original sources to find out more about the specifics and timeline of events, an initiative that might have been much easier now that the World Memory Project is available.
As President and CEO of United Way of Westchester and Rockland counties and an active member of Temple Beth Torah in Upper Nyack where her husband, Brain Beal is Rabbi, Adler is active in the Rockland community as a whole and easily sees the value this offers for all.
“Online access to survivors accounts is essential—now and for future generations,” said Adler. “As most people today get their information from online sources, I believe that those who are deniers or are interested in their family’s histories will have greater access to quality information.”
Perhaps it is the life and the story of one particular resident of New City for 46 years. 89-year-old Hilda Donath makes the incredible value of the World Memory Project the most clear. A beautiful, spry, brilliant woman with sparkling blue eyes, her story is testament to the resiliency of the human mind and the human body.
She was taken with her family from their home in Hungary by the Nazis, endured seven days of horror on a cattle train, was separated from most of her siblings and parents never to see them again and made to work on a farm in Slovakia with little to no clothing to wear in extreme temperatures.
After surviving ordeal after ordeal in various countries throughout Europe, a high level American military representative recognized her potential and brilliance. She was ultimately offered a scholarship to study at Ohio State University. Donath’s story and documents inhabit multiple portfolios and files within her New City home.
While there is no substitute for the ripeness of her life in all capacities, the promise that all of the details contained in her multiple files of frayed and yellowed papers might be stored online is extremely encouraging.
“They couldn’t take our minds and hearts,” said Donath. The World Memory Project is an opportunity to preserve the minds, hearts and identities of all who survived and perished in the Holocaust. For more information about the World Memory Project, go to www.worldmemoryproject.org.