his past May, the 8th
grade class at Hillel Torah North Suburban Day School were fortunate to present yet another unique and student-made Holocaust documentary to the entire Chicago Jewish community. In its fifth year at the school, the Names, Not Numbers © national Holocaust film project has become both a well-respected and cherished aspect of Hillel Torah’s Judaic and General studies curriculum.
“Names, Not Numbers: A Movie in the Making” (at Hillel Torah) is a film chronicling the 8th
grade class’s journey in conducting interviews with Holocaust survivors. In the beginning of the 90-minute film, creator of the program Tova Fish-Rosenberg mentions how important the project really is: “We’re [in] 2014,” she said, explaining the NNN goal to the 8th
graders last October. “And you are the link, you are continuing the work that was started…because you will be telling the stories. You, as an 8th grade class at Hillel Torah are also making history with what you do.”
Every year, the students are mentored by teachers and professionals to interview, film and edit the survivors’ stories. Laurie Pinchot, coordinator of the project at Hillel Torah, guides the students in research and Holocaust history. A New York based documentary filmmaker visits the school to run sessions on interviewing, filming and editing techniques.
Once the students have been prepared, they conduct hour-long interviews with each survivor. These interviews are edited by the students to shorter 15 minute segments which are used in the final documentary film. The film describes the lives of the survivors before, during and after the War. This year’s film was directed by Sandra Stakic.
Principal Rabbi Menachem Linzer emphasizes the humbling face-to-face opportunity Hillel Torah students have being part of this unique project. “When you hear a story directly from a person and they tell you, ‘this happened to me,’ ‘it was my mother,’ ‘my sister,’ ‘my brother,’ ‘this is what I did,’ ‘this is where I went,’ that becomes so much more real. The films that you create might be for some of them [the survivors] the first time that they’re telling their story, but because of you, the stories are going to be recorded and are going to be a permanent part of history forever.”
The Names, Not Numbers © films are archived in major Jewish museums and research institutions across the world including the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, and the YU Gottesman Library. In the past, they have also been screened in community Holocaust memorial and Kristallnacht programs, schools, shuls and camps.