Survivors & Witnesses in Western North 

Choosing to Remember : From the Shoah to the Mountains

From the Center for Diversity Education,
Pack Square, Asheville, NC

Researchers : Maggie Heller, Debi Miles, Randee Goodstadt


The small Jewish community in Asheville, NC talked for years about documenting the stories of families who witnessed, escaped, and survived the horrors of WWII and the Holocaust. In June, 1999 the Center for Diversity Education, a non-profit working to increase the way diversity is covered in schools, began the necessary research. The goal of the project was to create a traveling exhibit for area middle and high schools that would enhance the grade level objectives in the NC Standard Course of Study. The project would use the model of Facing History and Ourselves, focusing on Eyewitness testimony, Primary Source Documents and individual Student Research along with visual images to learn about history. 

Each person in the Jewish community was notified of the project. Those who were known to have been involved were individually asked to participate. Several second generation family members came forward, as well.

Maggie Heller, Debi Miles and Randee Goodstadt arranged to meet with each person. From June until December, 1999 over twenty-five people were interviewed. Where possible the interview was taped and, along with detailed notes, diligently recorded. Each person who participated was asked to allow  laser copies to be made of  family photographs from the 1930's and 40's along with historical documents such as passports, affidavits, concentration camp release forms. A contemporary picture was also requested. 

Many of the interviewees began their story stating that since they escaped long before the Death Camps were built their story would not help us much. In reality, their stories record the events that led to the 'final' solution' and that were critical building blocks of the terrible end of 6 million Jews and 5 million others; stories of families in the US who helped or those that didn't, a chance meeting of people in Europe or overseas, split second decisions that carried generations of people forward or ended a line forever. Each of these tales provides complexity and illumination to the Shoah.

Once the interviews were complete, a narrative of the session was typed which was then sent back to the person to check for accuracy. By the end of the research phase, one hundred pages of testimony had been taken along with 150 photographs and documents. Three laser copies were made of the pictures and documents which were then returned to the owner. Once all the interviews were complete, a community story began to emerge spanning a wide scope of diverse experiences from rescuers, to those in hiding, from Survivors to American soldiers.

By January, 2000 it was time to determine what parts of the testimony, pictures and documents would have an impact on students ages 11-17. A small piece of each testimony was excised to fit in a chronological tale from 1933 to the present. The first board displayed artifacts from the Procida family of Nazi propaganda that disclose the early intent of a war on Jews in Germany .  The next board talked of families who, early on, looked for ways to leave Europe, for example, the stories of Dick Braun and Ruth Chicurel. Later on, stories of Egon Friedlander during Krystalnacht or Miriam Rudow in Vichy, France, carried the years forward. These are followed by the stories of survivors, Jules Blum, Marcus Reich, and Walter Ziffer. The final boards included the experience of GI's  such as Erich Wellisch, ending with second- generation family members, Elise Israel and Sharon Fahrer, who have searched to learn of how their family died fifty years before. 

Choosing to Remember : From the Shoah to the Mountains, emerged. Following the exhibits debut at the Jewish Community Center in May, 2000, it traveled to middle schools and high schools and universities and will continue to do so for the years to come. With it goes the complete testimony and a variety of other resources for interested teachers and students to assist in teaching a complete unit. Often someone in the school will recognize a person in the exhibit as a neighbor or the parent of grandparent of a classmate. These personal connections make the horrors of what happened seem not so distant in place and time and increase the impact of the powerful lessons the Shoah teaches.

While the central aim of the project has been to provide this information to schools, a secondary purpose was to archive what was gathered. A copy of the photographs and documents along with a complete text of the interviews were placed in the Special Collections at UNCA Ramsey Library. Special Collections director, Helen Wykle, presented the possibility of putting portions of the exhibit on the Web. Where the boards carry only a small piece of the story, the Web could feature the entire testimony. Thus emerged additional access to these remarkable stories and a strong cooperative spirit between a local community and the University of North Carolina at Asheville. 

Archival work assures succeeding generations access to testimony that will outlive those who carry the experience in their memory. National organizations such as the Shoah Foundation have been a leader in this good work. Small communities can make an enormous contribution to this effort by following the Foundation's lead and documenting these stories while there is still witness to tell it. Time is of the essence. 











HELLER, Trude S. 




















The Center for Diversity Education wishes to thank the generous spirit of the families who shared their stories. May their testimony remind each of us to diligently protect the human rights of all people - both in times of great crisis and the every day walk of our living.

Choosing to Remember: From the Shoah to the Mountains, with over 100 pictures and documents,  is available as a traveling exhibit to area schools and institutions. contact the Center for Diversity Education at call 828 232-5024.


Underwritten by the Western North Carolina Jewish Federation and the North Carolina Council on the Holocaust. 

D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections is especially appreciative of the work of intern, Don Chalfant, for assistance in the construction of the Web pages.

Please notify  or of any corrections to these pages.

Return to SHOAH main

Follow links for additional information:

Center for Diversity Education, Asheville

Jewish Life in Western North  Carolina

North Carolina Council on the Holocaust

Center for Jewish Studies at UNCA

Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation


A documentation project of the Center for Diversity Education, underwritten by WNC Jewish Federation and NC Council on the Holocaust.  828 254-9044

This collaborative digitization project is 100% supported with federal LSTA funds made possible through a grant
from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, administered by the State Library
of North Carolina, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources.

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