The 1939 Society (formerly known as The “1939” Club) was started by 14 Holocaust survivors in 1952. Over the years, it has grown to over 1,000 strong. At first the Society’s emphasis was on social matters- barbecues in member’s back yards, group Passover Seders- because Survivors had few nuclear family members. But over the years, the Society turned more to charitable and educational endeavors.
Holocaust Survivors are unique. They not only survived but flourished and succeeded. They came to this country at the same age as college students. They came with no money, no education, no parents, most with no siblings. They came from devastation that no human being had ever encountered. Today, there is a lot of talk about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Young, once healthy soldiers come back from war seriously traumatized. But imagine the traumatization of a starved, unarmed 16 year old, suffering from hunger, tortured and beaten, watching their friends and families murdered. I think of Survivors as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder on steroids. They came to, what was to them, a strange land; they did not know the language; they did not know the culture. Yet, they persevered and succeeded. They raised families and made sure their children received the best education possible. They succeeded in their careers. They succeeded in overcoming the unthinkable tragedies and became significant members of society. They have become the most loyal of Americans. They have become an inspiration to everyone.
No one would have blamed them if they sought to forget the horrors they endured. No one would have blamed them if they just sought a quiet life. No one would have blamed them if they did not want to speak about it. But they did not go quietly into the night. They remembered, they spoke to groups, they wrote books, they educated young people. They joined The “1939” Society to give a group voice to their concerns.
The 1939 Society has been at the forefront of Holocaust education, remembrance and witness. We were one of the first to form a Holocaust Survivor organization in the country. We were the first to establish a speaker’s bureau. Our members were instrumental in establishing the first Holocaust museum in the country-the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. We were the first to establish a chair on Holocaust studies. Our chair is at UCLA where Professor Saul Friedlander is the holder. He has won a MacArthur Award and a Pulitzer Prize for his scholarship. One of our past presidents, Leopold Page, was instrumental in helping create the book and movie Schindler’s List.
In the 1980’s, we were one of the first to videotape a collection of Holocaust Survivors’ interviews. We were the first to post Survivor testimonies on the Internet 24/7, available to all. We have the largest Holocaust Art and Writing Contest in the country co-sponsored with Chapman University, where over 5,000 Middle and High School students participate in writing an essay, creating a poem or work of art on the Holocaust. We were the first to establish a community-wide commemoration of Kristallnacht at a university- Loyola Marymount University. We were the first to establish a course at a university (California State University, Northridge) to teach teachers how to most effectively teach the Holocaust to their students. We sponsor lecture series, symposia, conferences and films on the Holocaust. We sponsor social events where university students meet, dine and dance with Survivors. We honor righteous persons who helped victims during the Holocaust. We honor teachers, educators and writers, who provide our community with a greater understanding of the Holocaust and human rights.
We are now in a transition phase where the Second and Third generations must continue the legacy of their parents. The lessons of the Holocaust are just as relevant today. We must continue to innovate and chalk up many more “firsts.” We must continue to provide additional programs with our existing university partners and create relationships with new ones. We can’t limit our successful Holocaust Art and Writing Contest to primarily Orange County. We need to expand it, first to Los Angeles and then across the country. Imagine if we could expand participation to 100,000 students. Each of them become witnesses and share with their circle of families and friends. Soon we have hundreds of thousands touched by the Holocaust.
We need to enlist strategic partners to our cause; not only universities but corporations, government, museums and commercial organizations. We need to expand our reach to the entire country. We need to become more institutionalized – in a good way.
We need to reignite our Speaker’ Bureau where Survivors speak as long as they are able and then have their children and grandchildren tell their stories. We need to focus on getting the younger generation interested and joining us in our cause.
We need to continue and expand our drive to help needy survivors. More and more will need help as they age.
We need to increase donations and our donor base, since our programs and events depend on them. We need to create an endowment so our mission is assured for the foreseeable future. We need to use all the modern tech tools- our web site, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to help accomplish our goals.
If you think these goals are unrealistic, just reflect on what Survivors have accomplished with so much less money, resources and education.
Our future is bright; please join us in making it happen.
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