Apr 4, 2024 - World

Global Holocaust "Survivor Speakers Bureau" launched for schools

A head shot of Ralph Rehbock is posted next to an image of a ceremony at the former Nazi German Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during the 79th Anniversary Of Auschwitz-Birkenau Liberation and Holocaust Remembrance Day in Brzezinka, Poland on January 27, 2024.

Holocaust survivor Ralph Rehbock is joining the new "Survivor Speakers Bureau." A ceremony at the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during the 79th Anniversary Of Auschwitz-Birkenau Liberation and Holocaust Remembrance Day in Brzezinka, Poland. Photo: Courtesy of The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany/Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A group that helps Jews negotiate compensation and restitution for victims and heirs of Nazi persecution is starting a "Survivor Speakers Bureau" to connect schools with the last generation of Holocaust survivors.

Why it matters: The number of Holocaust survivors globally has dwindled to less than a quarter of a million as antisemitism and Holocaust deniers plague social media, threatening how we remember the genocide of 6 million Jews.

Zoom in: More than 250 Holocaust survivors will join the new speakers bureau, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) announced Thursday.

  • The bureau will connect Holocaust survivors with students virtually and in person to share their stories and those of their families.
  • Because many schools in countries don't have access to survivors, the new speakers bureau will offer access to personal accounts about the Holocaust, the group says.

How it works: To request a survivor speaker, a school or social group must register on the bureau's website.

  • Once registered, schools can fill out an event request noting venue, audience size and average audience age.

The big picture: Child survivors — the last generation of the Holocaust — are aging as advocates race to record their testimonies and as rising antisemitism and misinformation threaten to erase their stories.

  • Only about 245,000 Holocaust survivors are living across more than 90 countries, according to a January report from the Claims Conference.
  • The vast majority (95%) are child survivors born between 1928 and 1946. The median age of survivors is 86, and about 61% are women.

What they're saying: "I feel it's very important that those of us who can do it. We want to share our experiences," Ralph Rehbock, a Holocaust survivor who now lives in Illinois and is part of the speakers bureau, tells Axios.

  • Rehbock said he has no desire to engage with Holocaust deniers but feels it's important to talk to students who may have seen misinformation online and correct the record.
  • "Sadly enough, we have to tell the story because the capacity for people's willingness to commit the most heinous of crimes is still here," Holocaust survivor Anita Frank of Marin County, California, tells Axios.
  • Rehbock and Frank said they would gladly meet with students virtually to share their personal stories.

Between the lines: A majority of U.S. states don't have laws requiring public school students to learn about the horrors of the Holocaust, according to a 2023 Axios analysis of data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Go deeper