Holocaust agency opens survivor speakers bureau to fight spiking global antisemitism

New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany says new group aimed at connecting survivors in-person or virtually with students around the world

People listen to speeches during a demonstration against antisemitism and to show solidarity with Israel in Berlin, Germany, on October 22, (Markus Schreiber/AP)
People listen to speeches during a demonstration against antisemitism and to show solidarity with Israel in Berlin, Germany, on October 22, (Markus Schreiber/AP)

BERLIN — More than 250 Holocaust survivors have joined an international initiative to share their stories of loss and survival with students around the world during a time of rising antisemitism following the devastating October 7 Hamas attack on Israel that triggered the war in the Gaza Strip.

The Survivor Speakers Bureau was launched Thursday by the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, also referred to as the Claims Conference.

“A Holocaust survivor speakers bureau of this scale and reach is unprecedented,” said Gideon Taylor, the president of the Claims Conference. “At a moment of dramatically rising antisemitism, this program tells the history and educates for the future.”

The speakers bureau connects Holocaust survivors with students both virtually and in person.

In the United States and Germany, educational institutions can invite survivors to personally speak in classrooms and university lecture halls. Educators in other countries can request video conferences to ensure firsthand testimony is accessible.

The Claims Conference hopes to soon add more countries where young people can meet survivors in person.

Holocaust survivor Eva Szepesi speaks to the plenary of the German Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, on January 31, 2024. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

“Holocaust education is crucial, especially given the current events happening around the world,” said Holocaust survivor Eva Szepesi, who lives in Germany.

“My goal in sharing my own story of survival is and has always been to show the human impact, not just of the Holocaust, but of all the racist and hateful actions being taken in the world,” the 91-year-old survivor of the Auschwitz death camp added.

“If hearing my testimony helps one person understand that they, too, have a role in the events happening in their community, and they can stand up for what is right, then I feel it is worth it for me to go remember and share those terrible stories.”

Antisemitism in Germany, many other European countries, the United States and elsewhere has been described as reaching levels not seen in many decades. The Claims Conference hopes that first-person accounts of the cruelties endured during the Holocaust will help counter disinformation, denial and prejudice.

“Firsthand accounts are essential to maintaining Holocaust memory and go much further to ensure people understand the impact of bigotry, antisemitism, and unchecked hatred,” said Greg Schneider, the vice president of the Claims Conference.

Antisemitism around the world has spiked against the background of the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip, fueled by opposition to Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip.

Police officers stand guard at the red carpet area as pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel demonstrators protest near the Dolby Theatre during the 96th Academy Awards in Los Angeles, California, on March 10, 2024. (RINGO CHIU / AFP)

The Claims Conference handles claims on behalf of Jews who suffered under the Nazis and negotiates compensation with Germany’s finance ministry every year. Since 1952, the German government has paid more than $90 billion (83 billion euros) to individuals for suffering and losses resulting from persecution by the Nazis.

The group administers several compensation programs that provide direct payments to survivors globally, provides grants to more than 300 social service agencies worldwide, and ensures survivors receive services such as home care, food, medicine, transportation and socialization.

It has also secured increasing funding for Holocaust education in recent years as the number of survivors becomes smaller. Funding has increased from 30 million euros for 2024 to 41 million euros for 2027.

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