Push to save memories of Holocaust survivors for future generations

For International Holocaust Remembrance Day, people across the country and in Minnesota are honoring the survivors and those lost during a tragic period in history.

Laura Zelle, the Holocaust education director for the Jewish Community Relations Council, works to keep the memories of those impacted by the Holocaust alive. Her mother and aunt survived, hiding after the Nazis invaded Greece.

“So these are people who rebuilt their life, settled in Minnesota,” said Zelle. 

Her aunt and mother are among more than 40 faces in a traveling exhibit of Minnesota survivors, called Transfer of Memory, which Zelle helped put together in 2011. Since then, about half of the survivors featured in the exhibit have passed away.

“There has been an urgency to program or educate and collect survivors’ stories because we know we’re up against a clock,” said Zelle. “We know as survivors are aging, their first person eyewitness account is no longer going to be accessible to us and it teaches so much.”

As the Holocaust grows into more distant history, a new survey from The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, suggested basic knowledge of mass killing is eroding.

Results showed 11 percent of Americans, 22 percent of Millennials, had not heard of the Holocaust. Thirty-one percent of Americans, 41 percent of Millennials believe less than two million Jews were killed. The real number is six million. Forty-one percent of Americans and 61 percent of Millennials cannot name a concentration camp.

“We try and think about how do we make this history relevant to people today,” said Zelle.

She says it underlines the mission to remember and the modern-day lessons it brings.

“That’s the core of what I try and teach teachers to teach about, the making of a stereotype that becomes so dangerous, that a group of people are seen as the enemy of the state,” said Zelle.