Beware of the Beginning

Juniors enrolled in Beth Krasemann’s European Studies class gathered online for a virtual talk hosted by Alan Berkowitz on May 7. Alan is a second-generation Holocaust survivor whose father lived for many years in the forests of Belarus. Alan now holds a master’s degree in Holocaust and Genocide Studies from Gratz. Both Beth and Alan represent an education committee for Voices of Hope.

To prepare students for talks on the Holocaust, Beth is deliberate and empathetic on its weight. “I try not to do any harm when teaching such brutal history like the Holocaust,” she says. “There is so much dark but we must teach the light. We need to leave our students with a sense of hope honoring the resistance of dehumanization and genocide. I offer my students that it was not six million Jews who were murdered but only one Jew who was murdered six million times.”

Speaking on behalf of his grandfather and father Alan talked about living beyond genocide. “My family was one of those typical families who didn’t talk much about the Holocaust,” he explained. “A number of our family friends were also survivors and spoke to each other but rarely did they ever share the stories with their children because these are extremely difficult stories to communicate. My parents were lucky to have fled into the forest and survived but that wasn’t an option for many. In the forest there were armed Russians and Germans and Jew hunters. If you didn’t have a weapon or a specific set of useful skills such as carpentry, sewing, or even electrical knowledge, you were under the immediate threat of being killed. These were the villages built in the Belarusian forest and my dad was only 15 years old at the time.”

When asked why he went to visit Germany as an adult, Alan stated simply, “Because I really wanted to see what the next generation was thinking. What happened was so horrific and I wondered what a country looked like post genocide. Were there memorials and monuments? Did people feel responsible for their parents’ actions? The only advice I’d give any of you today is that it starts from the beginning; it starts with words. You don’t need to love or even like everybody but you must not ever dehumanize them. You can choose to be a bystander or an ally. Be an ally instead.”