Bearing Witness is a Holocaust living history program created for college students. The goal of Bearing Witness is to empower students with personal stories of Holocaust survivors so that the memories and lessons of Hitler’s war against the Jews may be passed down to every generation.

Bearing Witness was started in 2007 by Adena Schutzman in partnership with Hillel at UCLA, Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, and with generous funding from the Donald A. Strauss Foundation and DOROT. In 2008, co-directors Sandra Hanian and Anna Konstorum were awarded a Brookdale/DOROT College Intergenerational Initiatives Program Grant that made the expansion and continuation of Bearing Witness possible.

The program currently receives generous funding from the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies.  The chairs for 2011-2012 are Sarah Hadburg and Abby Sassoon, who also led the program in 2010.  Todd Presner, professor of Germanic Languages and Comparative Literature, has taught classes in conjunction with Bearing Witness since 2009.

In Winter quarter of 2009, 28 students in the honors section of Prof. Presner’s German 59 “Holocaust in Film and Literature” course participated in the program. In 2010, Prof. Presner created a 1 credit Fiat Lux course, German 19, “Bearing Witness: Interviewing Holocaust Survivors in the Digital Age”, in which students used “Hypercities,” a digital mapping platform to pinpoint the locations of specific events in the lives of survivors they interviewed along with archival photographs and text. Now in 2011, Prof. Presner is offering the expanded 4-unit German 118SL course “Between History and Memory: Interviewing Holocaust Survivors in the Digital Age,” in which students will have the opportunity to curate audio tours of the survivors’ stories for the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (www.lamoth.org).

Bearing Witness consists of four monthly lunch sessions at Hillel at UCLA in which each student participant (or small group of student participants) is paired up with a Holocaust survivor.  Over the course of the four meetings, the survivors discuss their life stories with their student partners, describing their experiences during WWII as well as before and after the Holocaust in the belief that the power and strength of survival manifests in both living through and beyond the tragedy of the Holocaust.

Bearing Witness offers a personal and intimate setting for survivors to share their stories and for students to listen, ask questions, and take notes of the things they hear throughout the sessions.  To ensure the preservation of the survivor’s life stories, the students submit brief reports that detail their impressions. These accounts are then published online for public viewing with permission from both the survivors and students.

It is now more important than ever to expose today’s youth to the stories of survivors.  As the number of living survivors decline and as Holocaust denial becomes increasingly accepted within popular and academic movements, we are obligated to expose tomorrow’s leaders to the atrocities of the past so that they indeed will never happen again.