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February 15, 1991 - Image 25

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-02-15

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Seventh grader Bashar Shaw (center) listens to stories about the Holocaust.

young and old alike. She feels a sense of
obligation to the six million Jews who died.
"Hitler wasn't successful. We're still here.
I feel that Jewish people risked their lives
for their religion. This is just my way of do-
ing something for all those people."
Ethel Goldenberg, 64, is one who surviv-
ed the horrors of the concentration camps.
She has two reasons for being a Holocaust
Center guide. "I feel I have a moral obliga-
tion to those who did not make it. It's one
way that I can carry out the message of my
dear family. And in another few years,
there will be no more survivors. If I have
a chance to tell a generation of children,
then maybe we can avoid another
For Gloria Ruskin, 37, guiding is an emo-
tionally draining experience, one that cuts
very close. Her father, Alex Kuhn, is a sur-
vivor. She frequently works with him while
giving HMC tours. She guides; he speaks
afterward, taking questions from the tour
"It's real special when we can work
together," says Mrs. Ruskin. "The reaction
you get from the kids, it's hard to describe.
When you get them in the building and you
start talking to them, they're chewing gum
and looking in a million different direc-
tions. They're interested in everything but
where they're at. And by a certain place in
the tour, where I talk about my dad's fami-
ly in particular, and how they were taken
in boxcars to the camp, all of a sudden you
can hear a pin drop. And the expressions
on their faces are very serious.
"From that moment on, I have them. It's
a spellbinding thing, but in a very emo-
tional way.
"It's something to watch their faces,
when these kids walk up to my dad after-
ward. They hug him and kiss him with

tears in their eyes and thank him for what
he's gone through and for telling them
about it. It's so moving. When you see that,
you know you've done something right.
"I always feel when we work together it's
so much more emotional than when I go
with another speaker because they see that
there's someone I'm related to and how it
all comes together," Mrs.Ruskin adds.
"How my father's experiences come to af-
fect me, and how in turn it affects my kids
— the chain of events that came to pass
45-50 years from my father's intern-
ment and how it affects future generations.
It's quite an experience."
The experience of guiding, using her dad
as the wrap-up speaker, has not just had an
impact on strangers, but on father and
daughter. Mrs. Ruskin got involved with
the HMC first, and then drew her father
into the picture. She says they have always
been close, but the tandem teaching has
been therapeutic. It gives her greater in-
sight into her father and her life as the
child of a survivor.
"It's hard because there are things that
come out during the course of his talking
that I may not have ever heard before —
particular things that might explain
behaviors or instances as I was growing up
. . . that didn't make sense to me. Hearing
him speak, I am able to put it together. I
think every time I hear him speak I learn
something new?'
For his part, Alex Kuhn says speaking to
tour groups as a survivor has allowed him
to better come to terms with his concentra-
tion camp experiences. It has also eased the
line of communications between himself
and his adult children on a very tender
"I was never able to talk to them about
it when they were growing up," he says. "It

hurts too much and I didn't want to burden
them with it?'
Being connected in some way to the
Holocaust — as a survivor, the child of a
survivor or someone who lost family — is
certainly not a prerequisite for becoming
a docent. The HMC provides training for
tour guides-to-be.
The training program encompasses
background reading, lectures, scripts,
rehearsal and dry runs before a docent is
given a group to guide, says training coor-
dinator Judy Miller. Docents learn how to
interact with a group, field questions and
make sure the key points are presented.
But once the material is down pat, each do-
cent puts a personal stamp on the tour.
Susan Friedman likes to role play, par-
ticularly with students, by trying to put the
events into a relatable context. Ethel
Goldenberg draws on her personal ex-
periences. At some point during the tour,
usually at the end, she reveals that she is
a survivor, though she admits sometimes
her Polish accent gives her away.
As the volume of tour traffic through the
HMC increases each year, and some
docents head south for the winter or drop
out of the program, more recruits are need-
ed. There is a time commitment involved,
says Mrs. Friedrrian, and a burn-out factor,
too. But for many of the docents, the impor-
tance of what they're doing overrides other
"It's not like when you guide at the
Detroit Institute of Arts. It's not a glorified
job," says Mrs. Goldenberg. "You're trying
to train those young people for generations
to come that no other generation should
have to experience those atrocities.
"And you really want them to cry. I love
when they cry. Then I know I have ac-
complished something."



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