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Project History

From Beth S. Dotan, Co-PI

Nebraska has long been a refugee resettlement state. Among the refugees were Holocaust survivors and their families who made their home among Nebraskans prior to and following World War II. Throughout the years, Holocaust survivors and liberators of Nazi camps shared their lived experience of the Holocaust with audiences around the state. With the passing of time, there is a growing urgency and an obligation to share their remarkable experiences via new methods.

As educators and others began to envision a central place to access the stories of our community survivors and veterans who formerly visited schools, churches, synagogues, and public events, we began to consider how digital tools might provide an untapped space. We seek to tell their stories, preserve their memories, and celebrate their lives rebuilt. Close interaction in Omaha and throughout the state with families of the last Holocaust survivors’ and World War II liberators of the Nazi camps has made this site, Nebraska Stories of Humanity, possible. We are indebted to them for sharing these remarkable stories so that future generations can understand the atrocities of the Holocaust.

Centering these specific stories in a state with diverse immigrant resettlement may also provide an opportunity to consider how socio-political environs have affected other minoritized peoples in our state and our responsibilities as citizens in the community.

From Dr. Ari Kohen, Co-PI, Professor of Political Science, Schlesinger Professor of Social Justice & Director of the Norman and Bernice Harris Center for Judaic Studies, UNL

When it comes to teaching about the Holocaust, educators have long understood that in-person survivor testimony is the gold standard. There is no more effective teaching tool and, anecdotally at least, no more effective way to build empathy in students than to sit them across from someone who can share their own story. It makes the remote and historical lesson into something immediate, local, and personal. But with the passing of the generation that experienced the Holocaust, educators have spent years asking how they can continue to make this important connection for students.

This resource, the Nebraska Stories of Humanity web portal, is an answer to that question. Contained in this portal are several stories that will allow students to bring the Holocaust to life, connecting them to people who experienced the concentration camps and, importantly, who built lives afterward.

Akin to bringing these important witnesses into the classroom, this website presented a 360-degree view into the lives of survivors and liberators — before, during, and after the Holocaust. And, importantly for students in Nebraska classrooms, it connects us to these people directly: the people whose stories are told here are our neighbors and they raised their families, did their work, own businesses, and worshipped in the same places where we live today. Although we cannot bring them into our classrooms any longer, through this website we can get to know them as complete individuals and we can continue to learn from their stories of survival.