From Kristallnacht to Charlottesville: Teens Fundraise for the Gratz Holocaust Oral History Archive

As director of the Gratz Jewish Community High School (JCHS), Dina Maiben is always thinking about innovative ways to engage teens as they explore the relevance of Judaism in their own lives and embrace their responsibility as Jews to make the world a better place. Currently, her students are coordinating a powerful service project inspired by what they learned about Kristallnacht, its relevance to anti-Semitism in America today and the incredible work being done at Gratz to prevent history from repeating itself. 

On the night of November 9-10, 1938, the Nazis pillaged synagogues and Jewish homes and businesses throughout Germany on what came to be known as Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. In anticipation of the 79th anniversary of this event, Maiben wondered what would be the most powerful way to convey the terror and significance of Kristallnacht to her students. The answer was right here at Gratz College: students could listen to firsthand accounts of the event from the Gratz Holocaust Oral History Archive, the largest collection of recorded survivor testimony in the country and one of the first to be created.

Maiben created a multi-faceted JCHS program, where students not only learned the history of Kristallnacht, but also discussed its frightening parallels to today in the context of Charlottesville and the re-emergence of the alt-right in America. When Josey Fisher, director of the Oral History Archive, played a recording of a Holocaust survivor who had witnessed Kristallnacht, the students experienced the power of a firsthand eyewitness account. 

Impressed to learn that Gratz houses such a treasured resource as the Archive, the students were all onboard when Maiben announced a new JCHS community service project to support the Archive’s work. The students are organizing a shoe drive and donating the money raised to help cover the Archive’s production costs.

In fact, they are performing a double mitzvah because the shoes will ultimately end up in the hands of micro-entrepreneurs in developing nations who will sell them as a source of income.

JCHS students are proud to be benefiting the work of the Archive, especially as they witness its relevance in the world today.

To support the JCHS fundraiser, please bring new and gently used shoes to Gratz College. There will be a large collection box in the lobby. For more information about the fundraiser or about JCHS in general, contact Dina Maiben at 215-635-7300, x162.