September 1945, 77 years ago, World War II officially ended. For millions of Europeans–particularly Jews–what ended in a day had a lifetime of impact. But as Pittsburgh’s population of Holocaust survivors quickly declines, we must continue to find ways to preserve their legacies and retell their stories.
JFCS’s history of working with Holocaust survivors dates back to helping survivors who first arrived in Pittsburgh following the war. In 1997, JFCS received a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) to continue our work supporting those survivors as they began to age and needed help maintaining their independence in the community.
Supporting their livelihoods
The work JFCS is doing to support survivors goes beyond just day-to-day living. Together with the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh and other Jewish agencies, we work to preserve their stories and carry their legacies into the future. “Our work with Holocaust survivors has been some of the most important work we have done at JFCS,” said Stefanie Small, JFCS Director of Clinical Services.
Sandy Budd, JFCS Psychotherapist and Geriatric Social Worker, has worked with the Claims Conference program since its beginning. “For me, it has been such an honor to work with Holocaust survivors over the past 24 years. Each person I worked with was so unique, and each of their stories is so powerful. These survivors really taught me a lot about compassion and forgiveness,” she said. “We’ve been very fortunate to receive funding from the Claims Conference to provide services to help survivors remain in their homes for as long as possible.”
Preserving their stories
With Pittsburgh’s Holocaust survivors aging, there is concern about what losing their voices will mean for the future of Holocaust remembrance and the survival of their stories. “Losing the survivors at the rate we are, means losing our connection to the living past,” explained Stefanie. “We cannot forget the horrors they experienced because they are Jews. With antisemitism on the rise again, the lessons must be reiterated again and again so we do not forget. Their stories are our legacies, and we must hold fast to the knowledge we have so Never Again is not just a saying.”
Over the years, the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh has worked to preserve the stories of Pittsburgh’s survivors through video, books, and other media. Their goal is to educate and empower people to help create a better future and end antisemitism, racism, and prejudice in our society.
Lauren Bairnsfather, Executive Director of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, talks about why their work of preserving and telling survivors’ stories is so important: “Survivors have taught us so much about perseverance, resistance, and resilience. As witnesses to the destruction of nearly two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population during the Holocaust, survivors preserved a way of life that no longer exists. Many survivors were rescued by strangers–here, too, we learn about the responsibility each of us has for each other.”
Survivors’ stories are not just a way for us to learn about the past but also to learn and do better for the future. By understanding the real experiences of Pittsburghers who lived through the Holocaust, we can work to carry on their legacies by making Pittsburgh a more just and compassionate city for all.
To learn more about the Holocaust survivors’ stories and the Claims Conference in Pittsburgh, take a look at these resources below: