Anita Karl cut slices of red apple and arranged them on porcelain plates for the University of Miami students who visit her every week. Through the Holocaust Survivors Support Internship Program (HSSIP), she told them how a Catholic priest gave her and her siblings apples to eat after they escaped with their mother from a ghetto in Poland.
That ritual will end this semester. Back in February, Anita received a letter from the Miller Center telling her that HSSIP will come to an end this semester due to the growing age of the survivors. Director of the Miller Center Haim Shaked and Assistant Director of the Miller Center Mindy Hersh sent the letter to the survivor participants, informing them of the end of the program and thanking them for their academic contributions.
“Although we are sad to see this very important educational program come to an end, this does not diminish the pride and gratitude we feel for having been honored to offer this unique and groundbreaking program for the past 12 years,” the letter said. “Your willingness to share your personal history and wisdom has been an invaluable gift to the students who, by their own admission, have been changed forever as a result of getting to know you.”
Karl advised more than 20 UM students through the Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies HSSIP, which started in 2003 as a national pilot project initiated by the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims. HSSIP paired students with local Holocaust survivors for two semesters of weekly visits. About 550 students had the opportunity to sit face-to-face with one of the more than 50 survivors who participated over the course of the 12 years.
Karl was a part of the program for about six semesters and met with students from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. She speaks nine languages, a skill she picked up from moving around the world throughout her life.
“I have lectured to priests, I have lectured to nuns, I have lectured in synagogues,” Karl said. “Everybody has to know what happened. Everybody has to be able to answer when a situation like the Holocaust arises.”
Karl has shared her story with students, talking about how her mother risked her life to sneak Karl and her siblings out in the middle of the night and then returned for their father, and how her father hid in a friend’s home until he was taken the one night he slept next to her when she had a fever. Karl looks forward to continuing to teach younger generations.
Karl said the problem of aging among the survivors is a valid concern, but one that younger mentors for the program could have worked around. Karl was just three years old when her family was put in a Jewish ghetto, so at 77, she is among the younger members of the survivor community.
“They are – it is true – getting on with their ages and, at some point, they are not able to do this anymore, but if and as long as there are people like I who are willing and who want to do it, I don’t think that it should be discontinued,” Karl said.
One of the most important parts of the mentorship was being living proof of the hatred and horror that happened 70 years ago, according to Karl, and keeping the legacy of those who died during the Holocaust alive.
“It’s important that they continue because it is the only means today to verify that this happened and to be able to touch a survivor, speak to a survivor, hug a survivor. Because otherwise, in a few years, we will be only a page in a history book.”