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Volunteer Interviews

Volunteer Interviews is a project I was involved with, which was created by a fellow intern. The aim of the project is to improve communication and relationships between the Volunteers and the Interns serving at USHMM. A series of volunteer interviews were conducted by interns in order to create dialogue between the two groups and to learn more from one another.

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*  Volunteer Interview #1 : Rita  *

What is your country of origin?

Romania

What did you do after the war? Did you go back to school, work, etc.?

She was a child during the war. After the war she spent time in a DP camp, where she contracted TB and had to spend 9months away from her mother in a sanitarium. She moved to the US in 1949 with her mother. (She had lost her grandparents, her father who fought for the Soviets against Germany, and had no siblings) She went to school in the US, started here in 7th grade, knew only Yiddish and learned to speak English after 3 months of silence and total immersion. She went to college and received a degree in education. She was a 3rd grade teacher. Later became a principal of a Yiddish/Hebrew school.

Profession(s), jobs that the volunteer has held or has currently?

She went to college and received a degree in education. She was a 3rd grade teacher. Later became a principal of a Yiddish/Hebrew school.

How long have you been a volunteer at the Museum? Is there anywhere else you volunteer?

She stared fairly recently in 2009 after her friend encouraged her to come here. She serves on the 5th floor doing translations from Yiddish. Aside from USHMM, Rita is involved with many organizations, including: her synagogue and burial society, hospice care, and a variety of singing groups including a choir based out of Gaithersburg and a smaller group called “The Happy Dumplings”

What do you enjoy most about volunteering here at the Museum?

The hope for the future. The camaraderie with staff and fellow survivors. Seeing the young people who come and care. She believes in teaching tolerance for all people and religions. She has a deep love for Israel, and a connection to Yad Vashem. She has been to Israel 8 times and has family there.

Why do you think people who volunteer/work here at the Museum form such strong bonds?

Similar experiences, all have losses. Importance stressed on education and for a better future. Talk of experiences.

What do you think about the Intern program?

She thinks it’s great. She loves that young people care.

In the future, what would you like to see regarding volunteer and intern relations? (lunch, outings, gatherings, etc.)

She expressed interest in additional programs. She likes the intern program and thinks any future opportunities for relationship is good.

  • - Lost her husband 15 years ago, was 58 years old
  • - Did not lose her spiritual connection, she counts her blessings
  • - Has 3 daughters and 8 grandchildren- 4 boys (one of which is interning on the hill soon) and 4 girls
  • - She is grateful to US and loves the country, is grateful to be alive
  • - Her husband was a survivor as well, from Poland, served in military after here in US
  • - After war, was hard to get out, had to falsify papers to get to US, it took three months in travel and she remembers this vividly.
  • - Notes that after war and DP camp, life began again, she met friends who were in hiding and only knew Polish, so she learned some Polish

Memorable Moments in life:

  • - Remembers her life in danger twice during the war, once she almost drowned going after a ragdoll/toy and another while being held by a soldier. The soldier assured her mother that he had children and would not harm her, and he did not.
  • - Remembers her grandmother dying during the war, they lighted a candle for her as her grandmother wanted
  • - When Israel declared independence in 1948. Until that point, every door was closed, but now they were open. She remembers staying up all night, singing, crying…

*  Writing Sample for Rita Biography  *

Rita, a survivor volunteer at USHMM, counts her blessings and is truly a blessing to meet. One can find her on the fifth floor working with Yiddish to English translations. She started volunteering at USHMM in 2009 and is also involved in several other organizations such as: her synagogue, Hospice care, and several choral groups including one based out of Gaithersburg and a smaller group called “The Happy Dumplings”.

Born in Romania, Rita was a small child during the war. Rita and her mother were the only survivors of her immediate family. After the war, she spent time in a DP camp where she contracted TB and spent nine months away from her mother in a sanitarium. Despite this, she and her mother were able to come to the United States in 1949 through falsified papers. Having only spoken Yiddish prior to moving to the U.S., Rita quickly learned English through immersion. She started seventh grade in the U.S. and continued her academic career through college. She received a degree in education and taught third grade. Later, she became a principal of a Hebrew/Yiddish school.

Rita married her husband who was also a Holocaust survivor and a man she speaks of fondly. They had three beautiful daughters and now they have eight grandchildren- four boys and four girls!

Israel and Yad Vashem hold a special place in Rita’s heart. One of the memorable moments she recounted was of Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948. She remembers celebrating that night and describes how, for so long, “every door was closed to us…and finally, a door opened.”

Among the many things Rita enjoys about volunteering here at USHMM, she notes that she loves the camaraderie among the staff and fellow survivors. She also is hopeful for the future as she sees young people coming to the museum and expressing interest in remembering the Holocaust.

*  Volunteer Interview #2 : Earl  *

Where are you from originally?

Massachusetts, but has lived in Maryland for 45 years. He considers himself a Marylander

When did you move to the area and why?

45 years ago because of a job in the federal government

Tell me about your family?

Married. Has 4 children- 3 girls and 1 boy. 10 grandchildren to date of various ages and 2 more on the way. Twins due in September!

School information?

Bachelors in Business Admin. From Boston U. Masters from Boston U in Economics. Another Masters from Buffalo in Social Work.

Professions held or currently hold?

Retired. But worked as a social planner/HR, worked in the federal government as an economist. Was a program manager for a national program for the Dept. of Urban development

Any memorial events from life? Meaningful experiences?

Served in the army for 2 years. Was in Germany in 1955 and visited Dachau before it was de-sanitized. It provided a moment of clarity, changed him and made him a better person, had a deep psychological impact.

How long have you volunteered at USHMM?

4 ½ years

Why did you choose to start here at USHMM?

Love for history. Worked in federal government. But most of all served with a person on the Board of Trustees at his synagogue who encouraged Earl to serve at USHMM and get involved in the docent training.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering here?

Telling people about the Holocaust, the story and the history. The gossiping and conversations in the green room. He loves that the museum is about the people. There is a family atmosphere.

Most memorable moment at USHMM?

A group of kids came through from a Charter school and they knew so much that they took on the role of teacher and he was the student. He listened and learned from them. Also, he took a group of WWII vets who were liberators through and they taught him and told him their stories.

Do you believe USHMM has a significant impact on your life?

Yes. He could spend every day here

What does USHMM mean to you on a personal level?

It is commitment to telling the story. The museum is a vehicle for him to tell the story to the general public. Really believes in giving back because you need to do something for other people.

Why do you think volunteers/people who work here form strong bonds?

Might not start out as bonds at first but over time they become close because they are united by working with each other. It pulls people together. They share stories and experiences. The museum is a happening, a living thing, and this is very special to Earl.

What do you think about the intern program?

Love it! Offers potential for future volunteers and employees. His hope is that he would like to see volunteers and interns engaged in conversations where they can share and learn from one another.

In the future, what would you like to see for volunteer/intern relations?

More gatherings to talk. He would like to see the groups getting closer as one. People should sit together and talk in order to continue with education. He would like to see them sit down and participate in activities or work on a project together.

What advice would you pass on to staff who just started at USHMM?

Be patient. Realize that people are different and come from different backgrounds. Don’t put people into cubbyholes because they will surprise you. Don’t hesitate to ask questions.

In spare time Earl likes to:

-babysit

-go on walks or outdoor activities

-volunteer at grandson’s elementary school

-spend time with friends

*  Writing Sample for Earl Biography  *

If you have not had the pleasure to speak with Earl, take some time out of your day to find him. Earl has volunteered at USHMM for over 4 ½ years. One can find him serving as a docent in the Propaganda exhibition or as a tour guide through the Permanent exhibition. Earl’s love for history and his connection to USHMM is evident in any conversation you have with him.

Originally from Massachusetts, Earl has lived in Maryland for 45 years and now considers himself a Marylander. He and his wife have four children, three girls and one boy. That family has grown to include ten grandchildren and two more, a set of twins, are due in September! Earl received two degrees from Boston University; a Bachelors degree in Business Administration and a Masters in Economics. Following that, he received another Masters in Social Work from Buffalo. This academic career prepared him for work in the federal government. Earl is currently retired, but during his career he worked in various positions as an economist, a human resources planner, and a program manager for a national program.

Earl served in the Army for two years and during his service he went to Germany in 1955. There he saw Dachau before it was de-sanitized and he notes that this experience had a psychological impact on him. He remembers that this experience provided clarity and made him a better person. He brings this memorable event in his life, and its impact, to his work with him at USHMM.

Earl began volunteering at USHMM after a fellow member on the Board of Trustees at his synagogue recommended the docent program. For Earl, serving at the museum is a way of giving back and he enjoys telling people about the Holocaust. Not only does he love interacting with the public, but he also enjoys the time he spends in the green room, talking to fellow staff and learning from one another.

In his spare time, Earl enjoys outdoor activities, volunteering at his grandson’s elementary school, and spending time with friends and family.

*  Volunteer Interview #3 : Hal  *

  • Where are you from originally?

Philadelphia. Moved to DC and has lived here for 40-50 years

  • If they are not from DC/VA/MD, why did they move to the area?

He took a residency here in DC

  • Tell about your family? Kids, grandkids, husband, etc.

Has a wife, two children, and three grandchildren

  • Any school information (such as college), and what they studied?

Spent four years at Philadelphia College and received a BS in Pharmacy, then served in the Army and ran a 50 bed army hospital in France for 19 months. When he came back to the US, he attended the University of PA for dental medicine and specialized as an orthodontist.

  • Profession(s), jobs that the volunteer has held or has currently?

DDS- Pharmacist, worked in Alexandria much of the time. Still volunteers with the hospital.

  • Any significant events in their life they want to talk about? Meaningful experience during their lifetime?

His family was very influential. Specifically his sister, who he refers to as his conscious who leads him on the straight and narrow. Also, his mother was very influential in his life and school choice. He was accepted to Dental Medicine school for orthodontics and was encouraged in that. He considers himself close with his family.

  • How long have you been a volunteer at the Museum?

Since it opened- May 1993.

  • Why did you choose to start volunteering at the Museum?

Personal connection, in that his extended family (aunts, uncles, grandparents and so forth perished during the Holocaust in Treblinka and Belzec). Also wants to teach people the evils of humanity.

  • What do you enjoy most about volunteering here at the Museum?

He likes working here because he is on a mission that is of the most importance to the world. To teach the evils of mankind and what happens when bigotry, intolerance, etc prevail.

  • What is your most memorable moment here at the Museum?

When an orthodox Jewish man asked why there was not a draped place to eat during a particular Jewish holiday. The man was upset that there was nothing in the museum indicating the holiday and wondering why when it was a Jewish museum. Hal expressed to him that this is not what the museum is about, it is not just a Jewish institution but opened to all kinds of people.

(This is where Hal shared a quote from an Native American chief—“There are a lot of people in this world, but not nearly enough human beings”)

  • Do you believe the Museum has had a significant impact on your life? Explain.

Yes. It gives him a sense of giving back through teaching. He feels like he is apart of something. There is a purpose, he is not just doing it for him.

  • Why do you think people who volunteer/work here at the Museum form such strong bonds?

They bond because they are here for a common purpose- they are united through that purpose and because all are here for the same reason/mission.

  • What do you think about the intern program?

He thinks it is fantastic. It’s an experience that will last beyond what we even recognize right now.

  • In the future, what would you like to see regarding volunteer and intern relations? (lunch, outings, gatherings, etc.)

He would like more intellectual and social camaraderie.

  • For Established Volunteers: What advice would you pass on to staff who have just become involved with Museum?

Do everything with a purpose. You have to really want to do this. If you encounter someone who is not happy or insecure with themselves, take it with a grain of salt and don’t dignify it with a response. “If you don’t care, it doesn’t matter”

-         Loves to spend his free time with his three grandchildren, golfing, enjoying cultural events like music and theatre, and social interaction. He teaches his grandchildren about the subject and his family history, but in a subtle way.

*  Writing Sample for Hal Biography  *

Hal has served as a dedicated volunteer at USHMM since its opening in 1993. It is a privilege to speak with him, as he blends his humor with powerful words of wisdom. If you have not had the chance to meet him, take some time to hear his stories and personal connections to this museum. Hal, originally from Philadelphia, moved to the area after taking a residency here. He has since lived in the area for the past 40-50 years. Hal and his wife have two children and three grandchildren.

Hal obtain a BS degree in Pharmacy from Philadelphia College, following which, he served in the Army. During his time of service, he ran a 50 bed army hospital in France for nineteen months. Upon returning to the US, Hal attended the University of Pennsylvania for Dental Medicine and specialized in Orthodontics. Hal credits his sister and mother for their support and influence in his life and throughout his education. After completing his educational career, he went on to work as a Pharmacist and an Orthodontist and he loved both professions.

Service at USHMM is a very important part of Hal’s life. He likes working here because he is part of a mission which is of upmost importance to the world—to teach the evils of mankind, intolerance, and bigotry. In addition to this conviction and purpose found at USHMM, Hal has a personal connection to the museum. His extended family from Poland were killed during the Holocaust in Treblinka and Belzec. Additionally, Hal shared a powerful quote he heard from a Native American chief—“There are millions of people in this world, but not enough human beings”. Hal realizes that we are united in a common purpose here at USHMM, and we are apart of something much larger than ourselves.Aside from his volunteer service, Hal enjoys spending his time with his three grandchildren, golfing, and attending cultural and social events.

*  Volunteer Interview #4 : Tom  *

Where are you from originally?

New Jersey

If they are not from DC/VA/MD, why did they move to the area?

Moved to VA when he came to go to school at GW. Came to school in 1975, so he’s been living here for about 35 years or so…

Tell about your family? Kids, grandkids, husband, etc.

Wife and one daughter. His daughter just graduated from college.

Any school information (such as college), and what they studied?

Went to GW and majored in Political Science. Then went to Law school—spent one year doing that at Catholic and the remaining years at Suffic in Boston, where he graduated.

Profession(s), jobs that the volunteer has held or has currently?

Lawyer. Worked with the Justice Department for over 25 years. Office of Special Investigations.

Any significant events in their life they want to talk about? Meaningful experience during their lifetime?

Spent 4 years in the Navy.

How long have you been a volunteer at the Museum?

About 1 ½ years

Why did you choose to start volunteering at the Museum?

Knew a few people who worked here. Anticipated a rewarding experience.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering here at the Museum?

The people he gets to work with (especially on Wednesdays). He enjoys giving the tours for State of Deception which he does on Fridays, about 2-3 times per month.

What is your most memorable moment here at the Museum?

He was here for the shooting last year, but doesn’t want to only cite that of course. Mostly remembers when he started here and all of the interaction with the people he works with. Also memorable moments with the tours—anywhere from 2-35 people at a time.

Do you believe the Museum has had a significant impact on your life? Explain.

It has made him more interested in learning about the content, although he was always interested in history in general. He is more interested in the time period of the Holocaust now though— spends time reading about it. Also the survivor volunteers have a significant impact- they are positive and really special. Therefore he thinks more about the subject than he ever did before.

What does this Museum mean to you on a personal level?

It is very important to have this museum and preserve the history. He gets a sense of reward from volunteering and being able to assist it in its functioning.

((Also spends some time on the 5th floor looking through microfilms for survivors/victims names and family research inquiries))

Why do you think people who volunteer/work here at the Museum form such strong bonds?

Because we all really like being here. Visitor services and the work atmosphere are so positive and enjoyable. There is no distinction made between volunteers and professional/paid staff.

What do you think about the intern program?

It’s fine. He’s sure it is useful for the interns and helpful for their futures. It is an adjustment for volunteers and staff though. He’s sure the intern positions are coveted spots.

In the future, what would you like to see regarding volunteer and intern relations? (lunch, outings, gatherings, etc.)

More activities like that might be useful. He did note that so many of the interns are here for a short time… but that it could be fine.

What advice would you pass on to staff who have just become involved with Museum?

Learn as much as you can while you are here. (About museum, content, etc) Look around you and take it all in.

– Noted that what he likes least is the number of school kids that come to the museum in the spring time without enough preparation. This rowdiness and lack of respect detracts from other people’s experiences and is a pain for V.S.

– Is going to Nuremberg in the fall

– Overall, volunteering at USHMM has been an amazingly enjoyable experience

Likes to travel in his spare time

*  Writing Sample for Tom Biography  *

Tom is originally from New Jersey but moved to the Virginia area when he started attending George Washington University for political science in 1975. He has lived in the area ever since, ultimately allowing him to serve as a volunteer at USHMM present day. He has a wife and one daughter who recently graduated from college.

After obtaining a degree in political science, Tom continued his education at Catholic and Suffolk Universities, where he studied law.  From there, Tom spent over 25 years of his career with the Justice Department and was connected to the Office of Special Investigations. He also notes that his four years of service in the U.S. Navy was a significant part of his life.

Tom has been volunteering at USHMM for about 1 ½ years. He chose this museum in particular because he anticipated its rewarding experience and knew of its importance. On the days he is at USHMM, one can find Tom in Visitor Services and giving tours for the State of Deception exhibit. Also, he works on the fifth floor with the microfilms, searching documents for the names of Holocaust victims. Tom credits the museum for increasing his interest in the time period and making him more aware of the subject. He acknowledges the importance of the museum and feels rewarded for assisting in its functioning.

One of the best things Tom loves about volunteering at USHMM is the positive atmosphere created by fellow volunteers and staff. He notes the value of USHMM’s survivor volunteers who are particularly special and positive. Finally, he recommends that all those who recently became involved with the museum learn as much as they can about the museum and its content.

In his spare time, Tom enjoys traveling. He is currently planning a trip to Nuremberg in the fall.