Historic Heroines announced today that it is launching the “Never Forget Esther” program, new Tolerance and Holocaust Educational Program, which aims to put 50 Children’s Letters to a Holocaust Survivor: Dear Esther books into 50 schools. The goal of this program is to share Esther Terner Raab’s powerful story and hopeful message that compassion and acceptance conquers hate and bigotry.
On October 14, 1943, Esther and the other six hundred inmates of Sobibor, a secret Nazi death camp in eastern Poland, revolted. She dodged bullets and ran past exploding mines until she reached the edge of the forest that surrounded Sobibor. For the next year, she was forced to remain in hiding because anti-Semitic Polish partisans roamed the forest and most of the local peasants weren’t sympathetic to the plight of the escapees. By the time the Red Army reached eastern Poland, only forty-eight Sobibor escapees including Esther had survived the war. During her internment in Sobibor, Esther pledged that if she endured the ordeal she would be the voice of the victims who were martyred and couldn’t speak for themselves. She kept the promise and shared her brutal story with frank honesty with school children. It was never easy for her to talk about her war experiences. For Esther, speaking about the past meant she had to re-live and re-endure all those awful moments all over again, but she was propelled forward by the belief intolerance and hatred could be transformed into hope and love by sharing.
School children were so affected by Esther’s story that more than a thousand wrote to her, sharing their own hardships, griefs, concerns and compassion through letters, poems, and drawings. Esther was overwhelmed by the response, and dedicated herself to responding to each and every difficult question posed. In 1997, Richard Rashke wove the letters into a poignant play, Dear Esther, which explores issues of death, belief in God, revenge, hatred, justice, luck, guilt and memory. Dear Esther premiered in 1998 at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and since then, it has been produced in over 200 theatres and schools, and it has touched more than 100,000 children. At the Godwin Holocaust Museum and Education Center (GHMEC) alone, it is estimated that 50,000 students have been reached. But this isn’t enough.
The Historic Heroines “Never Forget Esther” Program will produce a new Classroom Edition of Children’s Letters to a Holocaust Survivor: Dear Esther that will include guided questions and suggested classroom activities and grant educators access to additional lesson plans created by public school educators to spark a conversation in Tolerance and Anti-bulling education programs and Holocaust education programs. Lessons can also be used in History, Reading, and Drama classes, as well. In the pilot year, Historic Heroines will identify, select and work with fifty schools in the New Jersey and Philadelphia suburbs where Esther and her family lived after WWII and developed strong community connections. Each school selected will receive fifty free Classroom Edition copies of Children’s Letters to a Holocaust Survivor: Dear Esther plus additional free classroom resource materials including copies of the CBS made of television movie “Escape From Sobibor.” In year two, we will expand the perimeter of our program outside of the New Jersey area to other school districts where a mandate for Holocaust Education exits. Eventually, we hope that our book is adopted in all school districts across the United States.
Historic Heroines estimates the cost to put fifty books into one school is $800. This includes book printing, royalties, sales tax and shipping fees. In order to put fifty books into fifty schools, Historic Heroines seeks to raise $40,000 a year, and is seeking community donations and grant support to launch the “Never Forget Esther,” which will continue to share Esther’s Terner Raab’s inspirational story that stresses the timeless and ever important message of tolerance and acceptance of difference.