Each year at the JFCS Holocaust Center, students from colleges and universities throughout the Bay Area apply for the Pell and Manovill University Fellowships. University Fellows mentor and teach high school students, conduct research, develop curriculum, work with primary source materials in the Tauber Holocaust Library and Archives, and gain first-hand experience learning from Holocaust survivors. The University Fellowship is a paid position, and Fellows often receive course credit.
This past year, four students joined the JFCS Holocaust Center staff as Pell and Manovill University Fellows. Micaela Stafford assisted with the Next Chapter program, an extracurricular introduction to the Holocaust for high school students. Anthony Abuan conducted research for the JFCS Holocaust Center’s Next Generation Speakers Bureau, using the oral histories in the JFCS Holocaust Center collection and the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive (VHA). Both Micaela and Anthony brought a wealth of knowledge and experience that enhanced the work of the Holocaust Center over the course of their fellowship.
Reflection by Micaela Stafford, Pell University Fellow
University of San Francisco, Education and Sociology
I have learned so much from my time as a University Fellow this year. From working with the Next Chapter students to survivors to the incredible staff at the Holocaust Center, I have grown as a teacher, leader, and community advocate. I have had the opportunity to have difficult, but incredibly important conversations with amazing students and have gotten to learn about the Holocaust, and how inhumane humanity can be, from hearing survivors’ testimonies. I have acquired many skills that will help me in my future […].
Before starting the fellowship, I had never worked in a conventional office setting. I had no idea how to use Outlook, put people on hold/ take people off hold, or make copies on a fancy copy machine. I can now say that I can adequately and confidently do all of these things and more. I have also gotten to use the skills I learned in my teaching program, as I was learning it. This allowed me to see what worked and what didn’t in real life, rather than just looking at statistics.
I am so grateful that I got the opportunity to work with so many amazing people and learn many valuable lessons and skills. I will never forget this amazing experience.
Reflection by Anthony Abuan, Pell University Fellow
San Francisco State University, English Literature and Jewish Studies
The last several months here have been immensely transformative. I have engaged in a form of bearing witness that few have the opportunity to: watching survivor testimony. The experience has been a true paradigm shift for myself in terms of how I approach several aspects of my academic career.
My experience is tremendously difficult to encapsulate into words. Receiving testimony from survivors pulls any discussion of the Holocaust out of the abstract. Concepts and events lose their historic stagnancy and are made dynamic by engaging with these survivor stories. These are individual accounts of the Holocaust; they are personal, raw, emotional, and powerful. At times, their accounts delve into the incomprehensible. At times, their narratives are fragmentary. At times, their recollections will give listeners pause. Although it can be extremely emotionally taxing, the process of bearing witness through watching and receiving survivor testimony is necessary.
As time pushes us further into the 21st Century, the Holocaust will soon be a crime without a witness. One of the most meaningful ways we can bear witness is to engage in the process of receiving testimony. The task becomes all the more important to fulfill as the years progress. Academia is only beginning to unravel and understand the profound impact the Holocaust has had across numerous fields of study which is yet another reason why these testimonies, these stories cannot be lost.
I have been deeply moved by and had my horizons broadened by all of the testimonies I have received during my time at the Holocaust Center. Bits and fragments of the survivors’ stories echo within me and resonate with me profoundly. I think of them often and reflect on how their stories have informed me; I carry their stories with me now. I am challenged by the thought that Karl, a survivor I studied, could not conceptualize a nightmare; his life had been worse than any torment and suffering imaginable. I think of Frieda, another survivor, who only wrote poetry when the moon was full or when she was in love. I think of Lilly telling her captors that she will outlive them all. The list goes on. Each fragment of their stories I hold dear and honor.
There is a particular type of bond that is forged in the process of receiving testimony. It eludes easy definition and is quite difficult to place. As you watch each tape, you become closer with the survivor; you bear witness not only to the atrocities which they endured, but the milestones of their lives. The survivor gives an exhaustive account of their life before, during, and after the Holocaust; it makes sense that one would become emotionally invested in their story. Usually, towards the end of their testimony, you will feel like you’ve known them your entire life; a real, tenable bond has been forged in the process of receiving their story. There, too, is an emptiness at the close of the process. So many questions left unanswered mixed in with the numerous unanswerable questions, conclusions you could only guess at. The most meaningful gesture we can make in remembrance and preservation of their stories is to continue to share them and learn from them.
A few days ago I was in conversation with two survivors. Both had remarkable, markedly different stories of their survival during the Holocaust. Yet what I found the most interesting about the conversation is how they viewed miracles. They attributed their survival to a series of miracles. In retrospect, they saw how easily their fates might have been rerouted towards their demise, and this seemed to embolden their own belief in miracles. Their stories reveal the horrors of what humanity is capable of – yet they also illuminate the immense capacity for human kindness and generosity. It is significant to remember that their stories involve unbelievable acts of kindness, bravery, and generosity.
For more information about the University Fellowship, please contact Yedida Kanfer, Director of Community Education, at YedidaK@jfcs.org or 415-449-3748.