2.28.14 Issue

by Sherrie Saag

The Institute for Holocaust Education presents its fourth annual Week of Understanding, March 3-7. The week of programming emphasizes Holocaust education through survivor testimony and will reach well over 5,000 Nebraska students and adults. This year’s schedule of events will include more than 40 schools and eight survivors.

“The scope and reach of Week of Understanding ensures that as many community members and students as possible will hear personal testimony directly from survivors themselves. With the number of survivors declining each year, it is more important than ever that we hear their stories first-hand. It is an incredibly powerful interaction and memorable for all those in attendance,” said Liz Feldstern, Executive Director of the Institute for Holocaust Education.

The free public event, titled, Improbable Survivor: A young child in the Holocaust takes place Thursday, March 6, 7 p.m. at Countryside Community Church (8787 Pacific Street) and features Chaja Verveer, a child survivor of the Bergen Belsen and Terezin concentration camps.

Born in Maarsbergen, Holland in 1941, she was the youngest child of Emanuel and Henrietta Verveer. She was just a year old when her family went into hiding. Forced to separate, Verveer was sent to live with a Dutch family active in the Resistance. Her protectors presented her as their own child, naming her “Carla van den Berg”. As a toddler, she was “arrested” and sent to an orphanage in Westerbork, a transit camp in northeastern Holland. In September 1944, the children were transported to Bergen Belsen and then to Terezin. Of the 15,000 children imprisoned in Terezín, Verveer is among the one percent who survived.

After her 1945 liberation, she was reunited with some of her family members and eventually immigrated to Israel before settling in the United States 35 years ago. An eloquent and staunch advocate in support of survivor testimony, Verveer has spoken to hundreds of groups across the country.

“I did not speak about the Holocaust for the longest time,” she has said. “But when there were too many people denying that it ever happened, I decided to speak up. And I have been speaking up about what happened to me ever since.”

Her hope is for continuous new ways to keep lessons from the Holocaust fresh and relevant. “Our highest priority is to preserve and maintain testimonies. When it was over, we said ‘never again’. But genocide still happens. I hope it clicks with people how universal the danger is. It is our responsibility to act.”

Verveer serves on the board of Holocaust Museum Houston, is a member of the Executive Committee of the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission and is president of Child Survivors of the Holocaust, Houston.

Week of Understanding is made possible with generous support from the Omaha Public Schools Foundation, Adah and Leon Millard Foundation and the Shirley and Leonard Goldstein Supporting Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Omaha Foundation.

For more information on Week of Understanding or any IHE event, email info@ihene.org.