As founder and former Vice President of the Holocaust Education Resource Council (HERC), Rita Blank firmly believes in learning, reaffirming and sharing our cultural and personal histories. This mission is the driving force behind HERC, which she began with Barbara Goldstein. Both Goldstein’s and Blank’s parents were Holocaust survi_vors.
Blank’s parents met and married post-World War II after embarking on a new life in the United States. Growing up in South Carolina, they did not talk about the horrors they endured. In fact, it wasn’t until Blank’s own daughter interviewed her parents and won a statewide essay contest that Blank fully became aware of the intimate details her mother’s experience.
“Everybody’s story is a miracle of survival,” says Blank. “The opportunity to meet survivors and hear their stories never leaves you. It’s not easy for them to tell their stories, so it means a lot that we get to hear them.”
Blank will be recognized this year at the annual HERC Remembrance Dinner on Oct. 23 with the 2018 Honorary Founders’ Award. Blank served as Vice President from 2009-2016 and is still involved and serving on many committees for HERC.
The foundation of the organization was laid 15 years ago and it all started with a phone call. Blank was asked by an elementary school teacher to speak to a fifth-grade class about her parents’ stories, so she paired up with Goldstein — who had received similar requests — and took on the responsibility of keeping this vital piece of history alive.
Visiting and speaking to classrooms came naturally to Blank, who graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in elementary education. She remarks that while her own schooling did not cover Holocaust history, she felt believed the impact she and Goldstein were making was invaluable to these young students.
“I always remember connecting with the children’s eyes and them listening to me so intently,” says Blank. “I thought about how they could become more tol- erant and compassionate and learn from the lessons of the Holocaust.”
Adapting her parents’ stories from speeches they gave at conferences later in life, as well as research on other survivors and liberators, Blank compiled information that would later form the base of HERC’s teacher workshop curriculum.
Additionally, She immersed herself in literature about the Holocaust and has been particularly drawn to the storiesof Anne Frank, Jodi Picoult’s “The Storyteller,” Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief,” and Nicholas Winton’s “Lottery of Life.” Even when the books don’t focus on the history, Blank appreciates how they teach lessons on morality and doing what’s right in the face of adversity.
“We see the terrible consequences of hatred and I think it’s important to ensure that these lessons live on to teach future generations,” says Blank. “Studying the Holocaust and becoming educated on it is a human issue because it affects all of us. It’s not just Jewish people, but human beings who should be treated kindly and respectfully and students learn they need to stand up for what’s right.”
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