In about three decades from now, in 2045, the world will mark the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War II. And Mr. Irving Roth of Long Island, once an inmate of the Nazis’ notorious Auschwitz concentration camp, has been wondering, what that commemoration will look like. How will the horrors of the Holocaust be commemorated a century later? Will it be just a celebration of the Allies’ victory over Nazism? Will the systematic genocide of six million Jews be relegated to a periphery mention in news reports? Worse, will those who deny the Holocaust have won the day and succeed in obliterating its memory altogether?

Adopt a Survivor

Unable to live with these unsettling thoughts, Mr. Roth conceived of a novel and effective way to preserve the firsthand accounts of the Holocaust for future generations. He designed a unique program called “Adopt a Survivor,” whereby schoolchildren would learn about, interview, and – for the rest of their lives, including at the 100thanniversary – speak on behalf of the survivor they “adopt.” In essence, Mr. Roth’s idea was to create “surrogate survivors” by inviting today’s youngsters to get to know survivors up close and learn about their experiences before, during and after the Holocaust.

Last year, Mrs. Debbie Hamburg, Curriculum Coordinator at Yeshivat Shaare Torah Boys Elementary School, together with YST’s Principal of Secular Studies, Rabbi Shmuel Schwebel, introduced this exciting “Adopt a Survivor” program into the eighth grade curriculum. Shaare students were matched with survivors, who were dazzled by the students’ fervor and curiosity in peppering them with questions about their childhood before the war, their experiences as concentration camp inmates, and their lives as survivors. The project was so successful, and the parents and YST board members were so moved by the concluding assembly and presentation, that Mr. Roth was invited once again this year to prepare yet another group of boys to adopt a survivor.

Accepting a Lifelong Mission

Mr. Roth met with this year’s “adopters” on December 5, 2012 to prepare them for the historical journey on which they are embarking, and the vital historical mission they will be taking upon themselves. He described to the boys a tour he led to Auschwitz, explaining what they will learn during this year and what will be expected of them. He emphasized that their survivors, who will be introduced at a later date, had a normal lives like everyone else – school, friends, fights with siblings, and so on – until their lives, and the world, were turned upside down by the Holocaust.

After the formal program, the boys crowded around Mr. Roth to ask questions. In responding to one of the queries, Mr. Roth showed the boys the numbers branded on his arm. Mr. Roth was then warmly greeted by Rabbi Hillel Haber, Rosh HaYeshiva, who was born in the U.S. at the beginning of World War II.

YST’s groundbreaking Adopt a Survivor program guarantees that the memory of the Holocaust will be preserved in the minds, hearts and consciousness of future generations, by creating a direct, vibrant link between our children and those who endured the horrors of the Holocaust. The experiences of the survivors that now reside in their memories will live on in the memories of their “surrogates,” who will, for the rest of their lives, execute their sacred mission to perpetuate these memories and tell these stories to a world that is all too eager to forget them.

A Surrogate Liberator’s Perspective

When I went to meet with Mr. Roth and the enthusiastic faculty and students of Shaare Torah, it was shortly after the conclusion of the shiva observance for my dear father, Yaakov ben Tsipora a.h. – Harry J. Simon. A Lieutenant Colonel in the US 11th Armored Division, my father led the liberation of the infamous MauthausenNazi concentration camp in Austria. He documented what he saw with his camera, but the pictures went missing for 30 years, until finally, last summer, my sister came across them.

The first time I saw the pictures, I asked my father why he had decided to photograph the sights of the Nazi death machine.

“Because,” he answered, “one day people will say that this never happened. I want to be able to show them that it did.”

Just like Mr. Roth and all the other survivors, the Jewish liberators live always with these unforgettable images indelibly imprinted upon their memories. My father, and others like him, desperately sought to ensure that the world would never be allowed to forget this horrific chapter in human history.