As a Jewish 15-year-old with family members who hid from the Nazis in the forests of Poland, Carly Feldstein has been acutely aware of the Holocaust since her early childhood.
“Because I am Jewish, I learned about the Holocaust at a young age. I had some relatives in Poland on my dad’s side who hid from the Nazis in the woods for several years — but not all of them survived,” she told NJJN.
But her Princeton family’s ties to the genocide alone did not lead her to spend the past two years developing a social media project that aims to connect other teenagers — especially Jewish ones — with this grim and bitter part of their collective history.
It was that goal of connectedness, the fact that “lots of other Jewish people have ties to the Holocaust,” she said, that was “driving me to do this project.”
The Princeton Day School sophomore has been devoting much of her free time to creating a website aimed at connecting people of her generation to the experiences and memories of the Holocaust.
Carly said she intends to model her site on a Facebook page format. But, she told NJJN, she does not want it to appear on Facebook because she is “nervous about receiving hateful comments.” Instead, she is using Facebook as a launching pad for her project.
She has already created a Facebook page called “Accounts of the Holocaust” to begin connecting with potential readers and contributors to her own site. It is meant to be a gateway to the website she hopes to launch in early 2019. It features descriptions of concentration camp horrors, first-person narratives by survivors, and recollections of American troops who liberated the camps, as well as photographs — all shared by contributors.
Feldstein said she has collected testimonies from survivors about the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, the Nuremberg Laws, the banning of American-Jewish athletes from the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and Kristallnacht — the November 1938 “Night of Broken Glass” pogroms generally regarded as the start of the Holocaust.
But telling history is just one aspect of her plan. She said she hopes through her social media outlet to connect the past with the present and keep users aware of potential threats. For instance, a contributor may note anti-Semitic speech or actions in his or her school. Another may have a personal family story to tell about ties to the Shoah.
She began organizing her efforts as an eighth-grader, and although she is the prime mover in the project, her parents — Lori and Michael Feldstein — connected her with a team of adults and teens at the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre in South Africa whom her parents met on an American Jewish Committee trip to Rwanda. The South Africans are gathering and transcribing survivors’ recollections for her project.
Carly interacts with Holocaust survivors who are fellow members of The Jewish Center of Princeton and has included some of their survival stories, along with those of non-Jews who suffered and those who assisted and rescued Jews from Nazi slaughter. She has also included stories of those who ignored or turned away from resisting the atrocities of the Hitler regime.
Carly sees value in her effort in that it is different from what many of her peers are exposed to. “People should know this is a new way to do Holocaust education and this will be more helpful than what schools have been teaching in the past,” she said.
Such classroom lessons, she said, often teach students about the Shoah like it “was just another sad event in history, and the significance did not really show. I could tell that the other kids were not connecting to it and weren’t really relating or understanding the full importance of the Holocaust,” she said.
Her project “is a way to get the younger generation more interested in the Holocaust,” she said, adding that other students often did not seem “as interested in it as I think they should be. It is not just another unit in a textbook to me. Teenagers should know what happened, and it is connected to my Judaism because I am trying to share the Jewish story.”
Tapping into young people’s widespread use of social media would be a more efficient way of encouraging them to learn about this important part of history, she said.
Urging more in-depth learning about the Holocaust, she said, is not limited by religious or ethnic affiliation. “This project is of interest to Jews in particular, but for me it goes beyond just being Jewish,” Carly said. “It is a way of telling all kinds of history, and potentially it could be used for teaching other historical events,” such as the subject of slavery in America.
To further her efforts, Feldstein has launched a Kickstarter campaign called, like her Facebook page, “Accounts of the Holocaust.” The proceeds will enable her to continue funding her researchers in Johannesburg.
She is also encouraging those interested in supporting her efforts to make contributions to the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks at Jewishpmb.org/HolocaustProject.