Using Horrors of Past to Teach the Future

This year marked 72 years since the liberation of the concentration camps at the end of World War II, and as the years tick by, we get closer to the time when we won’t have any first-person accounts of the atrocities of the Holocaust. A year-old group in the Twin Cities is working to help the third and fourth generations of survivors — and others — to learn the lessons of the Holocaust before it’s too late.

Generations After MN is a program of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas and Tolerance Minnesota. The group is co-chaired by Judi Shink and Meira Besikoff, grandchildren of survivors – and was started as a way to engage younger descendants.

The organization is holding a family picnic on June 13 at Brookview Park starting at 5:30 p.m. Bring your family and a picnic dinner, and Generations After MN will provide games, treats, and photographer.

“What hits my kids is that it affected our family directly,” Besikoff said, citing many of the questions her two oldest daughters, Madelyn, 13, and Ivy, 12 asked. “They realized if Nana didn’t survive, we wouldn’t be here. If her siblings survived they’d have more cousins. So many of my grandparents’ siblings were killed. I think that’s why Judi and I wanted to start it. Our grandparents had passed away and there are so few left to tell the stories that we thought it was important to keep the personal stories out there and not become another thing you learn in a textbook.”

Shink said her youngest daughter, Dena, would come home from school and say what she did learn in school wasn’t enough.

“Dena would come home from school and she’d say what she learned is two sentences in a book,” Shink said. “And she’s right, there’s very little information for them [in school]. I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for her.”

Dena and Madelyn read the Generations After pledge at the community Yom Hashoah event in April.

“The idea of Generations After plays on the theme of transfer of memory,” said Laura Zelle, the project manager of Tolerance Minnesota. “The survivors are passing away, so to see these young girls understand the meaning of the history is amazing.

“When I was at Yom Hashoah, the one thing that brought tears to my eyes was seeing their kids speak. It’s exactly what we’re looking for. [Meira and Judi] are leading by example for their kids.”

Shink is a Milwaukee native and all four of her grandparents were Holocaust survivors, but it took a long time before they would open up.

“One day, my grandpa looked at a red-haired boy and he teared up,” Shink said of an incident that happened when she was 16. ” The boy looked like his brother. I said ‘if you don’t tell me I’ll never know.’ He finally told me. I’m so grateful that I got the information from him. I never got to talk to them about it a lot when they were alive.

“I want my kids to have the feeling that I had.”

Shink said that Milwaukee Generations After is large, in part, because of the cohesiveness of the group. She does think that in the long run, this group can be successful in pulling together the community of descendants of survivors.

“It’ll have to be intentional for a third generation or fourth generation to get involved,” she said. “The kids asked amazing questions. I had the grandparents and heard stories. Our kids are the first who may not know a survivor.”

To RSVP to the event or for more information about the group, email [email protected].