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A Dying Generation

Sadly, the world's best kept records of the Nazi atrocities committed during World War II are withering away. Holocaust survivors, once an abundance around the world, are dying in their old age, leaving us with less people to offer first-hand accounts of what they experienced.

Today, we featured an obituary for Leon Jolson, a Polish Jew who escaped a concentration camp and came to New York to start a successful sewing-machine business. Last month, Dina Babbitt, an artist at Auschwitz, kept alive because of her talent, died at 86. Flora Singer, a Potomac woman who survived the Holocaust being hid by Benedictine monks, and who later devised a curriculum for Montgomery County Public Schools, died in February.

But these three individuals represent a much larger picture. People who were teenagers when the war began, are now in their 80s. Washington Post writer Michael Birnbaum wrote an article about how educators, aware that the days of survivors telling their tales to young students are coming to close, are finding new ways to teach the Holocaust. He mentions how groups such as the Shoah Foundation have already been filming survivors' testimony for posterity.

I was lucky enough to take a course while studying abroad in Israel, taught by a survivor. I experienced the benefit of hearing his tale in an intimate, personal setting. While the effort of the Shoah Foundation is commendable, I can't help but feel like we are losing a link to the past that cannot be replicated with videos, photos and memoirs.

But I suppose that is the course of all history. And we do what we can. I am sure we will see more obituaries for people like Jolson, Babbitt and Singer and in their own way, those posthumous stories will help keep the tales alive.

Please let us know what you think.

By Lauren Wiseman  |  August 13, 2009; 10:53 AM ET
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I took two film classes from Arnost Lustig while he taught at the American University. He proved a real cipher in many ways, reminding us that being talented, bright, worldly, and funny does not mean being kind or compassionate. But he turned out to be an effective teacher on many levels - I remember a lot of the principles he taught; I still go back and watch some of the movies he had us watch (with the notable exclusion of Visconti's "Death in Venice"); and I cite things he told us about movies and real life, nearly twenty years later.

I was not always a fan of how he dealt with people, but I am going to be pretty upset when his time comes, because he bears witness to something formidable and awful -- that which he survived - as well as something amazing and laudable - his ferocious will to survive and tell the truth in creative and powerful fiction.

Posted by: phburris | August 13, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

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