Remembering our Past, Ensuring our Future

The work of the Federation’s Holocaust Memorial Education Fund

“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” – Elie Wiesel, z"l

Andrew Scott is the son of a Holocaust survivor. “My mother was a Berlin Jew,” he said. “And we lost 29 members of my family at Auschwitz, so this work is very personal for me.”

The work to which he is referring is his role as the co-director of the Helen and Joe Farkas Center for the Study of the Holocaust, located in Mercy High School, a Catholic high school in San Francisco. If the school’s religious affiliation caused you to raise a curious eyebrow, you’re not alone. In fact, Mr. Scott had a similar reaction when he started.

“When I first heard that a Catholic school was doing this, I couldn’t believe it. I was astonished. But it’s true. And the commitment they’ve shown to our program is just incredible.”

Indeed, the organization’s full title is the Helen and Joe Farkas Center for the Study of the Holocaust in Catholic Schools, and its ongoing mission is to preserve the history of the Holocaust for future generations of all faiths.

It is a mission that is shared by the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund through its Holocaust Memorial Education Fund (HMEF), which was established in 1988 and provides grants to the Center and other programs of excellence. The purpose of the HMEF is to promote Holocaust education in the broad community (both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences), to recommend research and education projects beyond what is routinely being done, and to support effective and innovative methods of addressing Holocaust education, such as those being incorporated at Mercy High School.

Students from Arroyo High School in conversation with Mona Golabek at the JFCS Holocaust Center’s BIG READ. BIG READ welcomed 7,000 students and teachers for an interactive Holocaust education program on the importance of standing up to bigotry and hate.

“One of the things we’ve been doing for many years is our event called Courage and Spirit, in which we bring in an honored survivor to speak to a full auditorium of students,” said Scott. “This last year, Lenci Farkas, the sister of our cofounder, Helen Farkas, came in and was extraordinary. She brought four generations of her family with her and we got to hear about the Holocaust and its aftermath – both from the perspective of a survivor and from her children and grandchildren. And what I saw was how our young people really related to the younger generations in her family – in some ways, even more than to Lenci herself. And what I took away from that was that you have to connect with young people in a way that makes sense for them. It’s important to have these generations involved because you can’t just rely on the survivors who are remaining. The hard fact is that there are very few survivors left.” 

“All men are our brothers.” – Father Maximilian Kolbe, Catholic priest murdered at Auschwitz, July 1941

Another HMEF grantee is Jewish Family and Children’s Services’ (JFCS) Holocaust Center in San Francisco. The Holocaust Center educates the community, documents oral history, and exposes students of various ages to survivors and their stories. One of the most impactful parts of the JFCS program is its Tauber Holocaust Library and Archive. “The archive is a real, vivid glimpse into the past,” said Morgan Blum Schneider, director of education at the Holocaust Center. “We have photographs, correspondence between families that were separated during the war, actual Nazi propaganda materials, children’s books, newspapers, flags, pins, and regalia. We even have a helmet and a Hitler youth jacket, which are such interesting and powerful tools because it’s one thing to tell kids about the Hitler youth, but when you bring out that jacket and walk it around the classroom and ask our students what they think it meant to those young people when they put on that jacket, I think it leaves an impression on the students that lasts maybe for a lifetime.”

Ms. Blum Schneider is particularly proud of the JCFS University Fellowship, in which they select two university students each academic year and “teach them about Holocaust education while enhancing their passion and interest in Holocaust studies.” The Fellows develop a curriculum, become teaching assistants and mentor high school students. Today, four years into this program, many of the Fellows have become full-time classroom teachers with Ph.D.s and Master’s degrees in Holocaust Studies. “It’s an exciting program that’s unique and doesn’t exist anywhere else in the country,” Blum Schneider added.

She is also quick to acknowledge the Federation’s steadfast support. “I’ve been at the Holocaust Center for 11 years and the HMEF has granted us funding every year that I’ve been with the Center. And what I appreciate is that it’s evolved with us. In most recent years, the HMEF helped fund our general operating budget and, to be honest, it’s hard to find funders that say ‘we want to support you where you need the help most.’ So for that, I’m truly grateful. The Holocaust Center is where it is today because of the support of the HMEF and the Federation.”

“School makes you smarter; listening to a survivor makes you stronger.” – Bay Area high school student visiting the JFCS Holocaust Center

A third grantee is The Curriculum Initiative (TCI), a program designed to increase understanding of Judaism and Jewish culture among Jewish teens, their non-Jewish peers, and their educators by providing training, resources, and support. “The Federation and its HMEF have helped fund us from the beginning,” noted Adrian Schrek, director of TCI, before adding another interesting fact about the genesis of her program. “My idea for the TCI actually came out of a Federation study. I read the Federation’s Best Practices in Holocaust Education in October of 2006, which basically said that to really have effective professional development you need to identify and support the most committed teachers and invest in them thoroughly. And that really inspired me to try something new.”      

Seth and Linda Eislund and Gloria Lyon at the annual Yom HaShoah Program. Seth and Gloria were matched in the JFCS Holocaust Center’s Next Chapter program. Next Chapter enables high school youth to develop deep connections with Holocaust survivors.

That “something new” was a change in the methodology is training future Holocaust educators from a “top down” approach in which occasional teacher workshops are given to “selecting a small group of educators and providing them year-long education and support,” Ms. Schrek explained. In other words, TCI is choosing depth over breadth in preparing the next generation of Holocaust educators. “And it’s been a very effective program that’s provided a much stronger foundation for our future. In fact, it’s going so well that we’re in our fifth year and we’re expanding and hopeful to take the program national.”

“This was the most valuable professional work I’ve ever done.” – 2015-2016 TCI Tauber Holocaust Educator Fellow

Obviously, the Holocaust can be a distressing subject to teach and study. There are few easy answers, and its stories are imbedded with pain. And, yet, a common trait shared by every one of these motivated educators and Federation grantees is a genuine hopefulness as they continue to teach and inspire future generations.

“We come to our values sometimes through strife and adversity,” offered Henry Velasco, grants manager at the Federation who has worked on HMEF grants for a number of years. “And I think our values are highlighted by remembering times when humanity wasn’t at its best.”

May those timeless values continue from generation to generation.

Categories: Grantees, Community


January 25, 2017


Jon Moskin