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Project “Remember Us” visits ITS

Gesher Calmenson, founder of the program “Remember Us: The Holocaust Bnai Mitzvah Project” visited the International Tracing Service (ITS) at the beginning of July accompanied by his wife Cynthia and Anna Cremaldi. The three Californians wanted to personally view documents held by the ITS as well as introduce their project. “We are deeply moved by the important work being done here,” said Cynthia Calmenson. “It cannot be an easy task to engage that level of human suffering day after day.”

The project “Remember Us” invites every child who is preparing for their Bar/Bat Mitzvah to remember a child who was lost in the Holocaust. Over one million children were victims of the Holocaust. Each one of them had a history, a home and a future, which was brutally extinguished. “We asked ourselves how we could inspire the younger generation to keep the memory alive when the survivors will be gone,” said Gesher Calmenson, who was once a teacher. “If this part of history is just a chapter in a book, it might become remote to the young people.”

The program “Remember Us” builds on this by providing 12 to 13-year-old students with the name of a lost child, biographical information about the victim, and suggestions for simple acts of remembrance. The teenagers then do research on the lost child in order to establish an emotional tie and give a point of reference for grappling with the Holocaust. “It is my hope that every lost child means something to someone and that their names are not forgotten,” said Calmenson.

Acts of remembrance are personal. Some teenagers choose to introduce their Torah portion by reading the lost child´s biography in the synagogue. Some create websites for their celebration and include a page about the child they are remembering. Others light candles of remembrance, plant trees or do charity work in their community in the name of the lost child. “One boy was so moved that he decided to name one of his future children after a lost child,” reported Calmenson. One visit to Yad Vashem was all it took to inspire Calmenson to start the program. “I felt obliged to do something to commemorate the awful tragedy among teens.”

His success has proved him right. Over 13,000 teenagers in more than 500 communities in the USA, Canada, Mexico and Australia have participated in the project. “We started small in California,” explained the 74-year-old. “But we were soon overwhelmed by support.” The Californians would like to expand the program to include Israel. “We have had extraordinary experiences,” said Calmenson. “Children instinctively feel an aversion towards injustice, which is why they willingly accept responsibility. Remembrance adds a deeper meaning to their Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration and also to their lives.”

As children do research on the lost children, they often raise questions about their own family history, reports Calmenson. “This promotes dialogue between generations and at the same time the healing process in families which were themselves affected.” The ITS has pledged its future support for the Remember Us project, thereby offering its help to young people researching a lost child´s background and persecution history.