Magazine Feature / People

Volunteer interviews Holocaust survivors

Toni Binstock jokes that she has secondary post traumatic stress syndrome. It’s a possibility since she hears personal stories of starvation, imprisonment, torture … unthinkable torment and anguish.

Binstock (MSW ’79) has been volunteering to interview Holocaust survivors since 1996. She has no intention of quitting even though she often leaves the interviews limp.

“Every story blows my mind,” Binstock says. “I don’t think I could have taken what these people had to endure.”

After producing Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg established the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation in 1994 to record and save the experiences of Holocaust survivors. But, Spielberg was not going to do the interviews himself; he needed volunteers.

Binstock learned about it through DU’s Center for Judaic Studies Holocaust Awareness Institute newsletter. She responded and was chosen. Toni, her daughter, Terri Auerbach, and five other people from Denver paid their own way to Los Angeles for three days for training.

She can’t help but recount the experiences of the people she’s interviewed.

“He was a boy, just 7, and his father taught him to never walk with anyone else in the family. He was following his mother a half block behind when she was raped and killed. He found his way back through a forest where the family was living at the time,” she shares.

“It’s the reason I’m so committed, even obsessed,” she says.

Obsessed, indeed. Binstock volunteers to go anywhere to interview anyone; she even did an interview while she was on vacation in Hawaii.

“Every story is beyond belief and should never be forgotten,” she says.

The Shoah Foundation conducted more than 52,000 interviews of Holocaust survivors between 1994 and 2001, but some survivors weren’t ready to tell their stories at that time. That’s where the Holocaust Awareness Institute stepped in.

“The push for recording testimonies is that the eye witness testimonies of survivors have been a critical component of Holocaust education and one of the best ways to rebuke Holocaust deniers,” says Amy Caplan Berkowitz, the institute’s associate director.

Through a private donor, the institute is able to continue to record personal experiences as survivors come forward. It then makes DVDs of the interviews available for the national archives as well as for local classroom use.

“We need to continue archiving as many of our survivor experiences as possible because they are getting elderly. We are having a harder time every year meeting the needs of those who request Holocaust survivors to speak to their classes and their organizations,” Berkowitz says. “Unfortunately, there will come a time when the DVDs are all we have to offer them.”

Until then, Binstock will continue to volunteer her time and skills to do the interviews of any survivor who wants to talk.

“Some of them have never spoken about it,” she says. “I went to a man’s house and he shared his story. It was the first time his wife had ever heard it.”

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