Saturday, August 17, 2019 -
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Students’ letters to survivors

Book cover, Words for all TimesA few decades ago, TV personality Art Linkletter made a handsome career by exploring the basic idea that “kids say the darndest things.”

Linkletter’s kids were wildly popular because of the cute, often unintentionally hilarious, comments they would make in response to his seemingly straightforward questions.

Words For All Time gives us an altogether different glimpse at the thinking of children.

Although based on the same innocent honesty, lack of guile and emotional directness of the young, this book is vastly more profound — and infinitely more hopeful.

A project of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education, Words For All Time is a compendium of letters written by New Jersey schoolchildren to the Holocaust survivors who came to speak to their classrooms.

The students’ letters are accompanied by brief messages penned by, and then-and-now photographs of, the survivors to whom the letters are addressed.

In their messages, the survivors almost always stress their hope to prevent the recurrence of that which happened to them, and all of them stress their conviction that one of the best ways by which to accomplish that is through Holocaust education.

Time and again, the reader of the children’s letters is struck by the revelation that Holocaust education most definitely can and does work; that the fondest dream of those who survived the Holocaust is not a pipe dream at all.

Any notion that young schoolchildren might find it difficult to connect with people much older than they are, and on a subject so far removed from their own lives, is shattered by their letters.

There is no problem with emotional connection. Every letter expresses thanks to those who spoke with them, of course, but a surprising number of students also display unexpected empathy and insight, thanking the survivors for testifying in spite of the emotional pain and trauma it must have caused them.

More important, these kids were obviously ready for the message that the survivors brought to their classrooms.

They have no difficulty connecting racism, anti-Semitism, intolerance and fear with the policies that created the Holocaust, and they have no difficulty bringing the same dynamics into focus in their own time and place.

Any number of students described how survivor presentations had caused them to regard minorities in a new light; some had even confronted fellow students who tried to bully minority or “different” students.

The kids make it very clear to the survivors that it was their testimonies that got them thinking this way.

Several of them referred to survivor presentations as life-changing experiences which opened their eyes to things they had not noticed or taken for granted before.

That’s as clear and forceful a vindication of the value of Holocaust education as one is ever likely to hear. After all, when it comes to the front lines in the classroom, who has more street cred than the students themselves?

Not cute or funny like Linkletter’s erstwhile kids, but honest and feeling and amazingly wise, the children whose words appear in Words For All Time are a beacon of hope, an encouraging sign that the ignorance and hatred of the past need not be a permanent fixture on the human landscape.

But be warned: Readers are advised to tackle this book only with a box of Kleenex nearby. Hopeful and encouraging though it may be, this is intense and emotionally supercharged stuff.

Words For All Time can be obtained at

Chris Leppek

IJN Assistant Editor |

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