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Finding the ‘patterns’ among survivors’ children
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Finding the ‘patterns’ among survivors’ children

Documentary explores how Shoa shaped the ‘second generation’

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Peppy Margolis of Clinton always thought being the child of Holocaust survivors made her approach to life different from other people’s. Now she knows it’s true.

A year ago, she completed a documentary about the “second generation,” including interviews with 11 children of Holocaust survivors ranging in age from 30 to 60, from all different backgrounds. All are volunteer members of the advisory committee of the Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Raritan Valley Community College, where Margolis is director of cultural outreach.

“As I started to get to know other second generation survivors, I started seeing patterns in the way we all deal with life and something about the resilience, the way we respond, the way we parent, the way we make contributions to society,” Margolis told NJJN by phone from her office on the Branchburg campus.

Sharing Our Legacy — The Second Generation, which had its premiere Nov. 10, 2010, at the Museum of Tolerance in Manhattan, will be shown as part of a Kristallnacht program on Sunday, Nov. 6, at 9:30 a.m. at White Meadow Temple in Rockaway. The program is sponsored by the temple’s adult education department, sisterhood, and men’s club together with White Meadow Lake Hadassah. Margolis will introduce the film and answer questions afterward.

In addition to conducting the interviews for the documentary, Margolis hired a psychologist, Dr. Elizabeth Wilen-Berg, to analyze the responses. Wilen-Berg, a child of survivors who works with families of survivors, served as a consultant on the film.

One clear message that comes from Sharing our Legacy is the way the second generation takes particular care of their parents, according to Margolis.

“The children are overprotective of their parents to make sure they don’t experience more pain in their lives,” she said. “They have more frequent contact than others in our generation and usually stay in close proximity to their parents.”

Other commonalities among members of the second generation is a strong impulse to give back to society and help where needed, said Margolis.

Beyond curiosity about her peers, Margolis had another goal in making the film: “to have the second generation speak because their parents are too ill and/or passing away. We want to ensure their stories are remembered and told with accuracy.”

In fact, she said, for several of those interviewed, participating in the project led them to start speaking as panelists on Holocaust and genocide issues, something they hadn’t done before. One has also written a book about her mother’s experiences during the Holocaust.

‘An emotional response’

Margolis’s parents were both originally from Poland. Her mother survived Majdanek and Auschwitz; her father survived in a number of labor camps and was eventually liberated from Buchenwald. They came to the United States in 1950; both are still alive.

As RVCC director of cultural outreach, Margolis oversees The Paul Robeson Institute in addition to the Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. She has more than 20 years of experience in those areas as well as cultural diversity and interfaith relations.

She also served as coordinator of the Holocaust Program at United Jewish Federation of MetroWest — the forerunner of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ — and served as cochair of the international conference “51 Years Later: Evaluating Holocaust Education.”

The film was produced by Harry Hillard, adjunct associate professor of film at RVCC. Hillard also brought on several students who volunteered to do camera work. They had already worked together on a previous project interviewing survivors. But as they all found out together working on Sharing our Legacy, interviews with second generation members are more complicated.

“Survivors bring a historical framework to their stories. For the second generation, it’s really a response to their parents’ history, and that is more of an emotional response — it’s about how history influences our lives,” said Margolis.

John Sichel, a composer who teaches music at RVCC, composed the music for the film. Funding was provided by the college and a grant from the Jewish Federation of Hunterdon, Somerset, and Warren Counties.

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