My heart and my soul hurt for Pittsburgh.

As a Holocaust Survivor, my heart and my soul hurt when I learned about the shooting in Pittsburgh.

I just returned from a community wide vigil at Temple Beth Shalom in Las Vegas Nevada; I believe they had the largest attendance that the temple has ever seen. There was an outpouring of love expressed by both political leaders in our community as well as from many clergy from different faiths.

I heard beautiful speeches; many of us held hands while we sang inspirational songs together. It was a wonderful, heartwarming show of solidarity; together we all mourned the loss of those innocent lives.

For those few hours I believe we were all one faith with one common goal. Everyone wanted to find some healing and hope and all in attendance wanted to mourn the lost lives. Death doesn’t have a religion.

Whether the innocent congregants were worshipping at the Tree of Life Synagogue or they were praying at Emanuel AME in South Carolina where nine innocent people were killed, death is still death. Unnecessary deaths that were provoked by hatred.

On my way home from this beautiful service of solidarity, I was overcome with anger. What happens next? What happens the day after the vigil or the weeks following? Do we go back to our normal lives?

What is normal life when the very place we go to pray for peace is no longer safe? Do we just sit and wait, God forbid, for the next senseless murder of innocent? Do we anticipate the next healing vigil where people hold hands and sing together again?

We must do something now BEFORE the next time happens. It was both a problem, and a shame, that during the Holocaust 80 years ago, while the Jewish people of Europe were being slaughtered, the rest of the world was silent.

Silence is consent. We, the Zachor Holocaust Remembrance Foundation, have provided people a place where they can do something. We are providing a place where you can have a voice and share it with the world.

You will be heard. You can speak UP and you can speak OUT about what you believe and how you feel. I feel, and I hear, the outcry from the souls of our departed ones, all six million of them crying out to the world a single word, “Zachor.”

“Zachor” means remember. But simply remembering is not enough. We must also educate others so that the lessons of the Holocaust will never be forgotten; so that the lessons from the Holocaust teach and inspire future generations so that they can help extinguish the hatred that breeds genocide.

Please join us and take a stand today. Add your name and SHOUT-OUT against INTOLERANCE ; hold up your hand and help us put a stop to HATRED, a stop to ANTI-SEMITISM. Help us take a stand against RACISM, against DISCRIMINATION , against BULLYING. Help us never forget that we must continue working for FREEDOM and EQUALITY; we must try to stop the prejudice that continues to harm so many people.

“ I -SHOUT -OUT” is an interactive anti-hate campaign that will remain on our website for generations to come. If you wish, feel free to send a photograph; so many pictures and memories were lost during the Holocaust.

Imagine what it would be like for your future great grandchildren to be able to enter your name and find your photo and see what you shouted out about. Let the future generations see what you stood for; let them know what you stand for and why you took that stand. Maybe you feel strongly about both Anti-Semitism and bullying.

You can take a stand for more than one of the issues currently plaguing our country. Use your voice and share your position by shouting out so everyone knows how you feel and how you wish the world could improve and heal itself.

One voice CAN be heard but many voices together cannot be ignored; many voices will echo beyond borders and into the corners of the world.

My hope is that when we have a symphony of SHOUT-OUTS, when a million voices hear us we become a voice for the victims who can no longer speak for themselves.

This, my friends and fellow mourners, is the very least we can do to memorialize all the victims in Pittsburgh and South Carolina and all of the other places where hate took so many.


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To learn more about ZACHOR or our youth campaign to stop intolerance please visit:

www.zachorfoundation.org

www.i-shout-out.org

 

“M’shana Mokaum, M’shana Mazel” –Part 3

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“M’shana Mokaum, M’shana Mazel

“Change your place, you change your luck”

 

As quick review from Part 2 –

Ben and Jack found the temple in Boyle Heights: Congregation Talmud Torah of Los Angeles. Jack was so exhilarated to find himself in a Jewish Temple in the middle of an American Jewish Community that he dared to ask he Rabbi if he could lead the Congregation in the holy prayer and songs.

(Continuation from Part 2)

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the beauty and power of Jack’s singing induced the essence of KAVANAH.

When he’d sung his last note, the sanctuary was filled with a totally stunned silence. Then as if on cue, the crown suddenly reached to hug him and lifted him up from the podium. They just couldn’t believe that such power and beauty had come from this 20 year old refugee. They knew they might never again have such an experience. The overjoyed Rabbi asked us to stay for the ONEG SHABBAT the special after services celebration meal. Needless to say, we took grateful advantage of the delicious and plentiful food and then we both sang many joyous songs welcoming the Sabbath.

Later the Temple board members congratulated him again and asked if it would be possible for us to come back in the morning to lead them in the Saturday Services. When they heard about our miserable living arrangements, they were appalled. They immediately went over to a Mrs. Greenberg, who just happened to have a spare room with to two beds and close access to a real bathroom! Then and there arrangements were made for us to stay overnight at the house she shared with her husband. We were delighted to accept this offer. Later that night before we could go to sleep, Jack and I went over some prayers and hymns together for the morning’s service since I would also be participating. Then on very full stomachs in comfortable clean beds and in a warm safe home we had our first good night’s sleep in a very long time.

Maybe our luck was changing after all.

The next morning Mrs. Greenberg served a wonderful breakfast and once again, we ate as if we were bottomless pits!

The lively mealtime conversation included Yiddish, English and smatterings of Polish, Hungarian and German with many sentences containing more than one language! After this body and soul nourishing meal we walked to the temple for services, anticipating another joyous event. As we rounded the corner however we almost choked when we saw a crowd of waving people rushing in our direction. Unlike our recent experiences in Europe where a crowd rushing toward us usually meant we were about to be beaten or worse – this time it was a smiling crowd coming to wrap us in warm hugs. Apparently word had spread throughout the Jewish community that an extraordinary young man would be conducting Saturday Services, so the synagogue was packed. They would not be disappointed once again when Jack began to pray and sing the congregants were mesmerized by his extraordinary talent and charisma again it was indeed KAVANAH.

Later that night after Havdala, the ceremony marking the end of Shabbat is when an unbelievable “miracle” happened, which turned both of us into believers again.

Sorry readers if you wish to know the rest of our story, please order our book.  You will be glad you did.

–Ben


 

Book & DVD

Available in paperback, 8-CD Set, Audiobook Download & E-book.

To learn more about me and my history, please be sure to read my autobiography, “Living A Life That Matters: From Nazi Nightmare To American Dream.” 

 

To learn more about ZACHOR or our youth campaign to stop intolerance please visit:

www.zachorfoundation.org

www.i-shout-out.org

 

“M’shana Mokaum, M’shana Mazel” –Part 2

images-3.jpeg“M’shana Mokaum, M’shana Mazel

“Change your place, you change your luck”

(Continuation from Part 1)

On Friday afternoon when I was feeling particularly melancholy I turned to Jack and said that it would soon be Shabbat, and there we were completely detached from Jewish life. Despite my family’s assurances I had a hard time believing, that there were no Jewish people living in the City and that there were no Synagogues. We were in this desperate financial predicament, Jack felt the same way.

So we both started to inquire about the whereabouts of a Jewish community and that is when we found out the Jewish Community on the East side of Los Angeles known as Boyle Heights, this neighborhood was densely populate with Jews from Eastern Europe. In fact, by 1930’s there were almost 70,000 living there, making it the largest Jewish community in the Western Part of the United States. This is just what we were looking for! So we hopped on a street car that we hoped was going in the right direction. The fare was 20 cents each and we only had .30 cents between us. The kind streetcar conductor allowed us to continue, he only took .20 cents from us realizing our predicament.

We watched all the amazing sights of Los Angeles from our window but felt our optimism fade when we did not see what we were looking for, Some evidence of a Jewish Community.

Just when were about to lose all hope, we saw a bearded man and two small boys walking up the street. He was wearing the traditional black coat and hats of Orthodox Jews. The man even carried a familiar looking velvet pouch that we knew would contain a Tallith “a prayer shawl”.

We rushed to the conductor and demanded in our broken English and vigorous had gestures that he let us out immediately. Fortunately, he somehow understood us and he stopped the streetcar, letting us out on Webash Avenue. We scrambled down the steps excitedly dashed up to the very surprised man on the sidewalk and asked him in Yiddish if he was going to the synagogue, then in our beloved Yiddish, he told us that he was going to Rabbi Tarshes Temple (Congregation Talmud Torah of Los Angeles) down the street. In spite of our ragged appearance he kindly invited us to accompany him. When we saw the Temple, we breathed a sigh of relief.

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How indescribably comforting it was to find ourselves in a familiar environment, as we tried to straighten our hair and clothes so we’ look more presentable before solemnly entering the temple. To our great relief, the rabbi greeted us warmly as if we two shabby strangers were just what the congregation needed! As it turned out that we were. With so many young people leaving the community for more affluent neighborhoods, most of the remaining parishioners were senior citizens, so young and eager faces were rare and very welcome.

Jack was so exhilarated to find himself in a Jewish Temple in the middle of an American Jewish Community that he dared to ask he Rabbi if he could lead the Congregation in the holy prayer and songs. For some reason the Rabbi had been instantly impressed by Jack and without knowing whether he had any talent at all, motioned him enthusiastically to the podium. Then right before our eyes, as he walked to the podium it seemed as if Jack was entering another spiritual dimension. He seemed to change physically, gaining more assurance in his posture. Holding his head higher, looking older and dignified, this was something I had never seen, so I was transfixed as everyone else.

When he reached the podium he paused, breathed deeply and then slowly and deliberately looked around the Sanctuary, seeming to gaze into each pair of expectant eyes, making a personal connection with each of us. It was as if instead of Jack being a newcomer, a greenhorn, he really belonged right there at the podium as if the congregants were all his guests. Then he began to pray and sing.

It was as though the words and music were coming through him from some otherworldly source and the mesmerized congregation went right along with him. In Hebrew the word KAVANAH means that it is not enough to merely read, listen or repeat the sacred prayers and songs by Rote. We must be totally absorbed, by the meaning of the sacred words because they are meant to convey our hearts, souls and spirits into the presence of God.

We try to make ourselves worthy of this honor by entering a state of such profound concentration that all other thoughts are blocked out.

Some people find it helpful to rock back and forth while praying in order to focus more fully. The more effective the cantor is in establishing this mood the more powerfully the congregation is filled with KAVANAH.

Stay tune for the rest of the story in our next column.

 


Book & DVD

Available in paperback, 8-CD Set, Audiobook Download & E-book.

To read more about me, my history and adventures, please be sure to read my autobiography, “Living A Life That Matters: From Nazi Nightmare To American Dream.” 

To learn more about ZACHOR or our youth campaign to stop intolerance please visit:

www.zachorfoundation.org

www.i-shout-out.org

“M’shana Mokaum, M’shana Mazel”–Part 1

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“M’shana Mokaum, M’shana Mazel”

“Change your place, you change your luck”

I will share with you an episode of a time in my life when my good friend Jack and I both shared an apartment in Brooklyn Williamsburg even though both of our backgrounds were Chassidic ultra-orthodox religions. After living through the Holocaust we both felt that this kind of lifestyle was too restrictive for us. My friend Jacks background was even more orthodox than mine. Since he lived in Hungary his Holocaust began in March of 1944. I on the other hand lived in Krakow Poland where our Holocaust began in September of 1939. That is when my education stopped at the age of 10 and a half which means that even though we were about the same ages he had 4 ½ years more of education and at the age of 15 ½ Jack was given “SMICHUT” which means that he was ordained as a Rabbi.

Jacks profession was an upholsterer. I on the other hand had no profession. It was the summer of 1949 when young free and eager for adventure we decided to use our little bit of money and I emphasize “little” we decided to go west to Golden California and start a new chapter in our lives. Even though we didn’t know anyone in – or anything about California we were convinced that moving there would change our luck.

Our friends and family however, had all tried to dissuade us from going to Los Angeles. They told us that there were no Jewish people there and that we would be completely isolated and removed from “Jewish Life”. At that time, although neither one of us wanted to abandon our Jewish Life, we strongly felt that we could no longer stay under the strict yoke of Orthodoxy. The constraints it imposed seemed to have a strangle hold on our lives and spirits. We didn’t want to leave our families but we had to leave their restrictive life style. So we packed our still meager belongings, said tearful goodbyes to our friends and family, purchased our greyhound bus tickets and we were off!

During our four-day trip across the country, we tried to absorb as much as we could of the amazing landscape and practice our primitive English. We were filled with gratitude to be able to live in this beautiful country AMERICA.

Speaking of places where we lived any illusions we might have had about comfortable accommodations in LA quickly evaporated when we arrived at the bus station in Los Angeles.

We got off the bus and walked around the corner to Main Street and sadly realized that we were actually on Skid Row, a very squalid, dangerous section of town inhabited by drunks and derelicts, however it did have a shabby hotel and since we had little money, the one dollar cost per night for a room was the right price, and as bad as it was I’d survived in far worse conditions so I wasn’t worried. We decided to stay there for just a few days until we found employment. To the degree that we could understand the English language, Jack and I immediately started checking out the help-wanted ads in Newspapers. We were willing to take anything that came our way, but even though we changed our locations from East to the West coast, our luck didn’t seem to be changing. We ended up staying I that dingy hotel for a month, each day more hungry and less hopeful than the day before.

Despite all our efforts, neither one of us could find any work, as we ran out of money and we had no choice but to start hocking (trading possessions for money at the pawn shop) our few personal belongings.

We were not surprised to find that pawn shops were the most successful businesses on Main Street. All too soon we had pawned all of our personal possessions including wristwatches and coats. We ran out of money to even pay the one dollar a night for the hotel room however the manager was nice enough to extend us credit, telling us that he had faith that we would eventually repay him.

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We were most appreciative of his kindness especially since by this time we had also run out of money. So Jack and I rotated scavenging for food. One day, he would get to Cliftons, which was a cafeteria and next day I would go. We would take our trays down the serving counter, make sure to fill our pockets with food for each other and then buy only a cup a coffee at the other end. Clearly we had hit rock bottom.

Stay tune for the rest of the story in our next column.

 

 

Uranium Rush

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I am certain that most of you have heard of the California Gold Rush in the mid 1800’s.

But probably not too many of you have heard about the 1950’s Uranium Rush. Or have you?

Screen Shot 2018-05-11 at 11.01.14 AMThe nuclear industry was just beginning to emerge in the 1950’s and everyone thought that nuclear energy would be bigger than electricity. Uranium, a white lustrous, radioactive, metallic element used to fuel nuclear reactors was essential to nuclear power.  The international race to find uranium was on. It was all very exciting. There were fortunes to be made!

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And so there began a mad frenzy all over the Western United States. People seemed to go crazy just like during the California Gold Rush in the mid 1800’s!

Imagine going prospecting in the 1950’s!

Today, no one who hadn’t seen it would believe it. And of all the places that this race was particularly popular was around a little town called Rosemont near Lancaster, California. Only 2 hour drive from Los Angeles.

Well, at that time I had two buddies who loved hunting for just about anything. And they often invited me to go along. I’d always declined because I couldn’t stand violence. But this time, they weren’t hunting with guns, so I accepted their invitation.

This would be a real American adventure!

To read more of my adventure, click here:

https://www.zachorfoundation.org/excerpt-living-life-matters/ 


Book & DVD

Available in paperback, 8-CD Set, Audiobook Download & E-book.

To learn more about me and my history, please be sure to read my autobiography, “Living A Life That Matters: From Nazi Nightmare To American Dream.” 

To learn more about ZACHOR or our youth campaign to stop intolerance please visit:

www.zachorfoundation.org

www.i-shout-out.org

So many places, so many faces. In Germany with open arms.

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arrived-ingermany.jpegIn January, my daughter Gail and I journeyed to Germany for a two-week trip with one goal: to help further the ZACHOR Holocaust Remembrance Foundation’s mission to make sure we never forget the Holocaust and to honor International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

During those two weeks, I shared my story — and more important — my messages, to schools across the country. What were my messages?

That now, more than ever, we need to SHOUT-OUT. As anti-semitism rears its ugly head again, we need to speak UP and OUT and remind people that both love and hate are contagious; it’s important we choose love.

My journey was incredible! The first half of it, we stayed at the Zedakah Guest House Bethel, located in the Maisenbach area of the stunning Black Forest. This House is remarkable — they believe in the survival of Israel and take in elderly and poverty-stricken survivors to assist them. While I was there, I spoke three times at the guesthouse to those visiting on retreat programs.

I can’t imagine how many people my message will touch from those talks alone!

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IMG_0070During this time, I also spoke to hundreds of kids from 14-18 years old at schools throughout Nagold, Neuenburg, and Althengstett. My message was unwavering; to teach love instead of hate and to not be embarrassed of their past. I made it clear that I don’t fault the son for his father’s sins and hold no grudges for choices these children had no control over.

I also addressed the core of the Holocaust — bullying — which is why I started I-SHOUT-OUT. Hitler was a bully. The Nazis were bullies. They silenced more than six million voices through their bullying. Today, no matter where you go, bullying exists and it’s a problem. There needs to be a change, and that time for change is now. I ended each lecture by having the students stand up and hold hands, repeating three times “Never Again, Never Again, Never Again” and then in German “Nie Wede” once.

IMG_0328On my third day, I met with my friend Rainer Höss, the grandson of the Auschwitz commandant Rudolph Höss, and members of his Footsteps team to spend time together and discuss future collaborations. We’ve worked together extensively in the past, and we will continue to work together to help keep our world from developing amnesia.

 

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IMG_0461On Jan. 27, joined Höss once again at Spiegelsaal Hall in Bad Liebenzell to speak to a standing room only crowd of 400 people including local dignitaries and the public who came from miles around.

To have that kind of turnout was surprising and brought an overwhelming sense of positivity. I am speaking in the same halls and schools where Hitler was promoting Nazism, and today a survivor has the attention of grandchildren and great grandchildren of Nazis, and they are interested in what I have to say. Even after I finished so late, these people who had been standing for hours didn’t leave. They lined up to shake my hand and say thank you. Some were older and had seen the Holocaust from their perspective, but didn’t know the history of their own neighborhood, and then all of a sudden, here was the other side right before their eyes. It was a truly moving experience and one I will never forget.

My schedule remained packed — it’s hard to keep someone with a mission down! Over the next two days, I spoke at two more schools and with Rainer at an ancient church. I watched as students listened, their eyes widening as they began to understand the importance of what I saw saying.

We had a heart-warming visit from the honorable Dietmar Fischer, the mayor of Bad Liebenzell, at the Zedakah House.  During that time, we discussed society today and the threats that are rising in Germany, Europe and the United States.  Before he left, he gave me the honor of signing the official GOLD BOOK of Bad Liebenzell. Now my signature and words of remembrance and peace are among the many dignitaries from around the world that have visited this very famous and historic town. I am truly humbled by the privilege.

Then, on Jan. 31, Emmanuel Rothstein, of the History Channel Germany and the director and producer of “The Liberators, Why We Fought” hosted us at the Reichstag Bundestag (Parliament) in Berlin for a ceremony to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 73rd anniversary of liberation from Auschwitz. Survivor, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch delivered a powerful speech, reminding the audience that “hate is toxic and ultimately it consumes the hater.”

After the ceremony, we visited the Anne Frank Centre offices in the heart of Berlin and met with Federal Minister Katarina Barley and German actor Clemens Schick. Schick then moderated a Q&A with tenth grade students who had just watched “The Liberators.” The Centre is home to one of the last remaining hiding places behind a revolving pantry wall — a place where you can feel the ghosts and understand the suffering and fear. So, we went together — class and myself —  and closed the wall to demonstrate the grim reality that I, and so many millions of others, felt during the Holocaust.

Being at the Anne Frank Centre obviously brings back many memories — Anne and I would have been the same age at that time – but what I liked about the exhibit is that they show her perspective on one side of the room each year as she aged and then what was happening in Nazi Germany at that same time on the opposite wall. I was moved by the youngsters who had a lot of questions and was very impressed with Katarina and her knowledge about the Holocaust as she answered a lot of the students’ questions.

So many places, so many faces.

1Ali & Ben WannseeNearing the end of our trip I was honored to tell my story at the very law firm that specialized in the prosecuting Nazi War Crime Trials. Here I met up with an old friend whom I had the privilege to speak with in Los Angeles a few years back, prosecuting attorney, Ali Mohammed.

IMG_1375And finally with friend Ali accompanying me, we visited the House of the Wannsee Conference. You wouldn’t imagine that this beautiful river scenic mansion is where they held the conference to the “Final solution of the Jewish question.” –It was fascinating yet eerie. It was here that I donated my autobiography “Living a life that matters: From Nazi nightmare to American dream” for their historic library campus.

The two weeks were a whirlwind and we will be forever grateful to Zedakah for making this mission possible and for having the ability to encourage so many people to SHOUT-OUT and remind them to never forget, ZACHOR.


Book & DVD

Available in paperback, 8-CD Set, Audiobook Download & E-book.

To learn more about me and my history, please be sure to read my autobiography, “Living A Life That Matters: From Nazi Nightmare To American Dream.” 

To learn more about ZACHOR or our youth campaign to stop intolerance please visit:

www.zachorfoundation.org

www.i-shout-out.org

Who is Shin Dong-hyuk and what do we have in common?

I met Shin for the first time over Skype, a few days before we’d meet in person. From the video screen, I could look into his eyes and know his life and the horror he has witnessed. You always know those who have been through the same.

For those who do not know Shin Dong-hyuk, he is a remarkable man rich with history similar to mine. He is a North Korean-born human activist who is the only man known to escape from “total-control zone” grade internment camp in N. Korea.

While my story of survival in the Nazi concentration camp spans five years, and was horrific, I can’t help but ache for Shin and his time, around four times more than what I bore.

There’s an atrocity taking place in North Korea. Unspeakable acts. Unspeakable horrors. And, the world remains eerily silent about them. With shockingly similar parallels — a dictator and a military who listen — political concentration camps are filled with reports of between 120,000 and 200,000 people. One camp is the size of Manhattan.

Let’s let that sink in for a moment.

The. Size. Of. Manhattan.

More than ⅔ of the population were born into that life. How? Why?

In the late 1940s (the same time as the Holocaust took place) camps first took in prisoners. Today, there are three generations surviving inside walls no human should ever live within. The ultimate punishment for speaking out isn’t death; it’s living a life filled with torture. With witnessing others torture. With witnessing public executions.

As a Holocaust Survivor and founder of ZACHOR, I’ve made it my mission to make sure the world never forgets, that the conversation about why the Holocaust happened and how we can make sure it doesn’t happen again, is always top of conversation.

But, it’s not working.

Sure, we talk here in the US about the Holocaust Survivors. We talk about Survivors of the genocide in Rwanda. In the former Yugoslavia. We swear up and down we won’t let it happen again.

Only, it is.

Right under our nose.

Why has the world remained silent?

Shin mentioned in our meeting that it isn’t just the bullies, the dictators, those who carry out the wish of the evil, who are to blame for what takes place in our world. It’s also the good people, because even though they aren’t making bad decisions, simply being good isn’t enough.

We have to strive to be more than good. We have to strive to be advocates. To speak UP. To speak OUT.

How does this torture continue in a world today where we have so clearly said “enough.”

Because we don’t speak loud enough for people to take notice.

I ask everyone of you today, SHOUT-OUT. And, then keep shouting out. To the media. To your friends. To your public on social media. Talk about what’s going on in places outside of the safe confines of the four walls you live in. Don’t just be good, be an advocate for change.

We cannot sit idly by as yet another Holocaust takes place, can we?

How can you help?

The problem with WWII era was that everyone was silent. It did not concern them, what happened on the other side of the world. Many students who listen to me or read my book say: “I’m just one person, so what can I do to help make this a more peaceful and tolerant world?”

My answer is always the same: you can go viral. Let your voices be heard. You can SHOUT-OUT for tolerance, against racism, against discrimination, to stop the prejudice in many others. This is exactly why the ZACHOR Holocaust Remembrance Foundation started a movement to let your voices be heard.

Speak up for what you believe in.

We’re looking for 6 million SHOUT-OUTS to compensate for 6 million silences voices. We are hoping that when the press gets a hold of our movement and they see our hundreds of thousands of SHOUT-OUTS (which will remain on our website for generations to come) that they will support and promote it to where we will reach our 6 million and beyond.

Your SHOUT-OUTS will echo beyond borders.

This is something everyone can do, so what are you waiting for? Imagine, your great grandchildren will be able to punch in your name on our site and your SHOUT-OUTS will appear. So take a stand today, enter your name with your SHOUT-OUT and it will be documented for eternity.