#BeginsWithMe - Why I Support Teaching with Testimony

Thu, 05/05/2016 - 10:51am

As the son of two survivors of the Shoah and the husband of a daughter of two survivors, identifying as the Next Generation has been the essence of who I am. It is the prism through which I see and evaluate all worldly events. It was particularly my father’s life that affected me the most. He truly was a “survivor." He survived the war running for his life through Russia, Siberian labor camps and other lands in Asia. He survived losing his parents, five of his sisters their husbands and children. He escaped from his hometown in the Russian sector to a displaced person camp in in the American sector. He survived as a refugee in Belgium and then as an immigrant in the United States. He survived the loss of his wife at a young age raising three children as a single parent in a foreign land.

Morris Kotek Z”L with his three children (from left to right): Suzan, Freddie and Peggy Morris Kotek Z”L with his three children (from left to right): Suzan, Freddie and Peggy

As a member of the second generation his stories were my reality. As a result of his many journeys my father spoke several languages. He communicated in a combination of Yiddish, Polish, French and English. Certain words that were always heard were refugees, survivors, “greenas” (Yiddish derivation of greenhorn), ghettos, DP camps, labor camps and concentration camps. These words and terms that he used to describe his experiences were words I thought applied to all Jewish people. To me it was what being Jewish was all about.

As the years went by I noticed that the Shoah itself was beginning to fall victim to Holocaust deniers and revisionist historians. It became clear that society would begin to forget those who perished. Not only had their lives and families been destroyed before their eyes, but they could live in a world where people were no longer fazed by these events or were unaware they had actually occurred. I grew to realize that this part of history could be easily forgotten, relegated to just another chapter in the thousands of years of Jewish persecution.

My father lived until the age of 97 and was able to enjoy the second half of his life. He never took anything for granted and only valued life itself. His requests were simple. Don’t put him in a nursing home and, please he begged, don’t forget the family we never met, those that were murdered by the Nazis. He passed in his sleep, in his own bed, in his own home never spending one night in a nursing home.

I have chosen to become part of USC Shoah Foundation’s important work.

To honor his final request, I have chosen to become part of USC Shoah Foundation’s important work of preserving and sharing the experiences of survivors with the world. I believe in my heart that education is the key to changing the future and there is so much to learn from the over 53,000 survivor testimonies in the  Visual History Archive. I am amazed by the depth and breadth of the Institute’s educational platform IWitness that reach thousands of students and educators around the world. Also, the innovative work being done by researchers and scholars at USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research.

The Institute has allowed me to honor my father, my mother, my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, as well as all the families who didn’t survive. It is my hope that you will join me today in supporting USC Shoah Foundation in its effort to overcome prejudice, intolerance, and hatred – and the suffering they cause – through the educational use of survivor testimony.

Join Me & Support USC Shoah Foundation


Freddie Kotek