Names, Not Numbers Honors Holocaust Survivors

Posted on Tuesday, June 11th, 2024

2024 marks the third year that Blue Cluster students at Stephen Gaynor School have participated in the Names, Not Numbers documentary program. Names, Not Numbers is an organization that works with schools all over the country to facilitate interviews and film the oral histories of Holocaust survivors for posterity. The year-long elective project culminates in a premiere of the final film in the Yvette Siegel-Herzog Performing Arts Center. This year, the entire Gaynor community was invited to the premiere, and the PA Jewish Affinity Group invited the audience to a reception in the EC Garden following the screening.

During the elective, students learn how to operate professional film equipment including cameras and microphones, as well as how to frame and capture moments on film, and how to track a film for editing. They also spend time learning interview skills and techniques to use when speaking with the survivors, and how to help the interviewee remain comfortable when speaking about an emotional topic such as this one. This year, the students interviewed three survivors for their film, Anne Himmelstein, Asher J. Matathias, and Ralph Perlberger. The students did an incredible job treating the survivors’ stories with respect, and the film was a wonderful success.

We would also like to acknowledge the hard work of Blue Cluster Head Teacher Erika Bentsen, who organizes and coordinates the program at Gaynor. She is instrumental in arranging interviews for the students, and acts as facilitator between Gaynor and the Names, Not Numbers organization. Speech and Language Pathologist Debra Adams, faculty advisor for the Jewish Student Affinity Group, also lends her support to the students and the survivors. Thank you Ms. Bentsen and Ms. Adams for your passion for this project and helping our students!

Student participants and the Holocaust survivors they interviewed at the Names, Not Numbers premiere in June 2024
Student participants and the Holocaust survivors they interviewed at the Names, Not Numbers premiere.

The final video for this year’s project can be viewed below:

“Names, Not Numbers ®,” a Holocaust Oral History Film Documentary program, transforms the traditional study of the events of the Holocaust in Europe into an experiential project involving the actual eyewitnesses to those events – the survivors and World War II veterans. This moves beyond the traditional classroom walls and creates an interactive and empowering educational lesson. Through this unique program, students learn first-hand about the Holocaust by making their own professional documentary. They themselves conduct oral history interviews. They themselves film and edit personal testimonies. They themselves form intergenerational connections and become the “witnesses to the witnesses.” To date, over 8,000 students in several countries from Grade 8 through college have successfully interviewed, filmed, and edited the testimonies of over 5,000 survivors and World War II veterans. The more than 750 documentary films produced by the project have been viewed by over 150,000 people and are archived in major museums and academic institutions.