On Thursday, April 28, the Whitehall Community Library will present the Holocaust Rescuers/Survivors Fair. The 7 PM event has been entirely organized by the teens participating in the Holocaust Project, under Project Democracy, through Humanities Montana. The day of the fair, April 28, is the internationally recognized date for Holocaust Remembrance Day and corresponds to the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar, marking the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
The Holocaust Project began as a Holocaust discussion group. Library Director Jeannie Ferriss attended a Project Democracy workshop and learned grants were available.
"I talked to the teens in the book discussion group and asked them if they would like to apply for the grant. They said absolutely," she said. "They received a $5,000 grant in summer 2021 and determined their goals: to educate people, especially teenagers, about the Holocaust and what happened."
The Fair is the culmination of almost one year of study. In preparation, each of the ten teens, middle school and high school, has chosen a survivor or rescuer, a real person who lived through the Holocaust, to represent. They've learned about that person and their role in the Holocaust.
"At the Fair, they will be dressed in period clothing and represent that person, telling their story, their background; how they survived if they're a survivor, how they rescued people if they're a rescuer," Ferriss said.
The evening of the Fair will begin at a registration table manned by Cindy Busarow, the daughter of two Holocaust survivors. Attendees will be given a passport with the names of each survivor or rescuer; they'll travel around the library visiting each of the teens at their tables.
"As attendees stop at each table to meet the survivor/rescuer they'll get a sticker for their passport, showing they visited," Ferriss said. "They'll learn about the person the teen is representing by asking questions. Inside the passport there will be suggested questions to help attendees get ideas of what to ask the teens, for example, what was your experience in the Holocaust, where are you from, what is a rescuer?"
Katie Frankman, 17, a high school senior, will represent a young lady named Zivia Lubetkin, who was born in Poland and was in her mid-twenties when the Holocaust began.
"I chose Zivia Lubetkin because I really admire her bravery and selflessness; she was an amazing woman, both a survivor and a rescuer," Frankman said. "Instead of remaining in the safe Soviet-controlled areas, Zivia risked her life to come back to Warsaw to help her fellow Jews there and be part of the resistance inside the ghetto."
Tenth grader Bo Cheuvront, 16, will represent Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, a Jew from Hungary. Cheuvront chose Dr. Nyiszli because of his story. From a book in the Holocaust library at the Whitehall Library, Cheuvront learned about Nyiszli's situation as a doctor being forced to do autopsies. The book mentioned a lot of information about the "scientific research" in Auschwitz and Cheuvront wanted to know more about this topic.
"He was taken to Auschwitz with his wife and daughter, he was 43 at the time. He had lived 12 months in Auschwitz when he was freed. He was forced to perform autopsies under Josef Mengele," Cheuvront said. "After the war, he was reunited with his wife and daughter; they had been separated in Auschwitz."
Fairgoers can also view the Holocaust exhibit, a timeline of Holocaust events created by the teenagers.
"That's a great exhibit, they did a really wonderful job," Ferriss said.
Along with becoming more knowledgeable about the Holocaust, Ferriss believes attending is a way to support all the hard work the group has done, the level of scholarship they've demonstrated, and their leadership skills.
"They plan and carry out everything they're doing. Some have Jewish family members and this has opened up discussions in their own lives about how this could have happened," she said. "They've really enjoyed the people and rabbis they've gotten to meet through the project. It's opened up a much broader world in the sense of how history affects those around them."
Everyone involved in the Holocaust Project is in agreement as to the importance of being informed about what occurred.
"In every book I read about Jews in the Holocaust, their one wish is that they survive so their stories can be told. They wanted us to know what happened to them. Now it is our job to tell their stories, to remember the horrific events, and to prevent history from repeating itself," Frankman said.
"I'm trying to share a story that isn't like any other person's story. The Holocaust isn't just one story. Miklos' story is one of the millions of stories of the Holocaust," Cheuvront said. "There's going to be a lot of information, but it's all important. We've all worked really hard at this project, and we're excited to share what we've accomplished with you all!"
The group voted that they want to keep the Holocaust book discussion group going next year and invite anyone, adults, and teens, to join. They've also been invited to speak at the Montana Library Association Conference this August in Missoula where some members of the group will be presenting their projects.