Knowledge of the Holocaust is negligible in American society, with nearly two-thirds of Americans aged 18-23 saying they were “unaware six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.” At a time when a rioter wore a “Camp Auschwitz,” shirt as he stormed the Capitol in support of an American president, Holocaust education must not only be sustained, but expanded, to remind everyone – Jews and non-Jews alike – of why we must band together against hatred, and what can happen if we don’t.
16 year old Lauren Pantzer, a junior at The Trinity School in Manhattan, is working hard to promote this message through her book From One Life: Five Families of the Holocaust, published in December 2020.
“My goal is to remind people that anti-Semitism is real, and my main motto is ‘Never Forget,’” Pantzer told me in an interview. “I just want to educate people on what happened and the power of storytelling.”
The Holocaust and its horrors have always had a direct effect on Pantzer’s life. She grew up hearing stories about her great-grandmother, who was a Holocaust survivor. In an effort to pass on their family’s story, Pantzer’s grandfather helped write a book detailing her great-grandmother’s life and family history, with the help of a writer and genealogist. The book, 6,000 Miles to Home, provided Pantzer with much more information about her great-grandmother’s life during the Holocaust, and inspired Pantzer to continue studying the Holocaust and sharing her family’s history.
The book helped Pantzer realize that her generation will be the last to know Holocaust survivors or hear their stories firsthand. Pantzer said, “It was really important for me to reinforce the message that my generation is the last who will have personally known a Holocaust survivor. It is more valuable than ever for my peers to learn their family stories, be educated on their family history, and to pass this knowledge on to future generations.”
In an effort to promote Holocaust remembrance, Pantzer worked with photographer Lori Grinker to develop her book From One Life. Featuring maps of families’ locations, family trees, historical documents, photographs, and her own photographs and writing, Pantzer was able to amplify five unknown stories of families of Holocaust survivors, including her own. She wrote the book from the perspective of the families of the Holocaust survivors, so as to give readers a glimpse of how it felt to be related to a family who survived the horrors of the Holocaust.
Pantzer made the creative choice to have descendants’ narrate their ancestors’ stories because “I think it was really powerful in the sense of ‘Look, it is amazing how many lives were created from just one life being saved,’ which is why I kind of came up with ‘From One Life.’ I think my book reinforces the idea that to save one life is to save many future generations of lives. It is so valuable to know one’s personal family story and to pass it on so that my generation can help to ensure that such atrocities do not happen again.”
The young author said in the interview that it was supremely interesting to listen to the stories of families that she did not know, especially because it made her realize how much the Holocaust had affected so many different types of Jewish families. She recalled a story of a woman who was saved thanks to the intervention of Oskar Schindler, whose story was told in the Steven Spielberg film “Schindler’s List.”
“I had seen the film and been so moved by it, but to learn from her great-grandchildren about her life working in Schindler’s arms factory, where Schindler was hiding many Jews, was crazy and chilling to me,” Pantzer said. She found it eye-opening to hear the real-life version of something she had seen only on TV.
In addition to Holocaust education advocacy, Pantzer is active in Jewish life and social justice initiatives. She created an organization, the “SC Legacy Foundation,” that works to educate and inform Jews and non-Jews on Jewish news and anti-Semitism. She is also the vice president of her school’s Jewish Affairs Club, where she works to teach fellow students and classmates about the harmful effects of anti-Semitism in the modern world.
At Trinity, through her Jewish Affairs Club, Pantzer helped organize a conversation about the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. She felt that this was one of the best and deepest conversations she had ever had in school. Pantzer said, “Definitely discussing issues and finding a safe place where you feel like you’re able to discuss those issues is the key to getting young people involved in fighting anti-Semitism.”
Pantzer’s overall goal is two-fold. She wants to encourage others to share their own family stories in an effort to further Holocaust education while at the same time helping to fight anti-Semitism. “At the end of the book, I have a page that’s basically, ‘Now, go tell your story,’” she said. “I learned so much about my family history and my great-grandmother’s life from my grandfather, and I feel so lucky to have all of this knowledge. Knowing my great-grandmother’s story has helped me connect with her, even after she is gone. I want to encourage others to ask questions and find out their family history, pass down their own stories and be a pro-active part of our world by never letting the atrocities of the Holocaust happen again.”