By Cindy Mindell
FARMINGTON – A statewide non-profit organization dedicated to Holocaust education has branched out on its own.
Voices of Hope (VOH) was founded in 2008 by Alan Lazowski, a West Hartford resident and son of Holocaust survivors Rabbi Philip and Ruth Lazowski, as a way for second- and third-generation descendants to preserve and pass down the survivors’ legacy. Under the auspices of the Hartford-based Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut (JFACT) Fund, VOH has created a statewide network of Holocaust survivors and children and grandchildren of survivors to collect, categorize, and share the experiences of Holocaust survivors for the benefit of future generations. Over nearly a decade, VOH has worked to foster a culture of courage and social action against hate, bigotry, intolerance, and indifference through commemorative, educational, and celebratory programs.
Now, from its new offices in Farmington, the organization will continue to implement its mission, led by an 18-member board of directors and funded by private and foundation donations. The organization boasts some 120 active members – Holocaust survivors and their descendants, referred to as “second generation” and “third generation.”
“We are thankful to JFACT for their commitment to our mission all these years while we were a program under the auspices of the JFACT Fund, and we look forward to partnering on future programs together,” says Kathy Fishman, VOH director of operations.
“As an independent corporation, our short-term goal is to expand throughout the state and be identified as an educational nonprofit, with hopes to obtain further grants for genocide and Holocaust education,” says Anna Huttner, VOH director of education and communications.
According to Huttner, VOH will continue to bring Holocaust survivors and their descendants into schools to teach the lessons of the Holocaust through personal testimonies. “Our goal is to raise social consciousness by connecting people to the humanity of Holocaust and genocide victims,” she says.
Thanks to a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford, VOH has been working closely with the State of Connecticut Department of Education on a Holocaust-related curriculum and teaching tools that align with state standards. The resources will be made available on the Department of Education website this spring.
In partnership with the University of Hartford and the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford, VOH launched the Holocaust Survivor Interview Project to collect and video-record the stories of local survivors, many of whom had participated in the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive and/or the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University.
In December, VOH provided a panelist for the Third International Human Rights Day at Hall High School in West Hartford.
This year, VOH plans to continue expanding its flagship programming, and to engage more second and third generations throughout the state through outreach to the seven Connecticut Jewish federations and at a first-ever Connecticut Conference for Survivors and their Children and Grandchildren.
For several years, VOH has sponsored field trips for Connecticut school groups to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan. Students spend the day touring the museum with a docent, hear firsthand from a Holocaust survivor, and learn about other genocides. VOH recruits a survivor or child of a survivor to travel with each school group in order to answer questions and talk about the museum experience. This year, the organization plans to provide the trip for more than 150 Hartford-area high-school students.
In addition, VOH is coordinating tours for multiple Greater Hartford school groups to the Museum of Jewish Civilization at the University of Hartford’s Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies. VOH and the University of Hartford are partnering to train second-generation and University of Hartford students to serve as museum docents. The organization is also working with museum director Prof. Avinoam Patt to develop curriculum materials for educators based on the new permanent exhibit, “Hartford Remembers the Holocaust.”
As an independent organization, VOH will be able to augment its mission to educate not only about Holocaust and genocides, but about the dangers of bullying and prejudice.
“Looking at newspapers from the 1930s versus those of today, we see similarities,” says Huttner. “If people don’t stand up and become upstanding citizens, things like the Holocaust and genocide can actually happen. We believe that the stories from the Shoah are so relevant for today and for teaching, so that we never forget what happened and we don’t repeat the past.”
While the Greater Hartford community still has access to the first-hand testimonies of Holocaust survivors, VOH has designed its programming to pass on those stories.
“Today, survivors of the Shoah speak for themselves but tomorrow the next generation will need to continue to bear witness to real-life examples of the evils of prejudice and intolerance,” Huttner says. “Everything we do is designed to preserve survivors’ stories so that they will live on beyond the survivors’ lives.”
CAP: At the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in November 2016: (l to r) VOH Director of Education and Communications Anna Huttner and Director of Operations Kathy Fishman with VOH member Lisa Fishman.