If Not Me | Facing History & Ourselves

If Not Me

Follow three people who credit their upstander behavior to the impact of one survivor’s story. The experience of Dr. Anna Ornstein, Hungarian survivor of Auschwitz, child psychiatrist, and author, has impacted choices of students since the 1970s.
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At a Glance

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English — US


  • History
  • The Holocaust

If Not Me



SHIRA DEENER: What you just said is a question for people. Why do I have to study about the Holocaust? What does Anna's story have to do with me?

ANNA ORNSTEIN: My father was in the First World War. That was so brutal. I never asked him, what was it like? How many people that you know-- I definitely know quite a few who wish they would have asked.

So when this question comes up, why is it? Because we recognize that, unfortunately, many issues that were relevant to that generation is now relevant to you. And you would say, so why didn't they solve that problem then? If they didn't, then it will be up to you to consider what did you learn now?

CARL: What stayed with me is the desire to look for goodness in nature and in human nature. So that's kind of the spirit of what Anna is conveying in her story. You're teaching kids to actually have respect and empathy for others. This teenage boy that I taught about Anne Frank, he had never heard about the Holocaust or any of that. But he was very affected by that book, very affected, almost the way I was affected by Anna's story.

ANNA ORNSTEIN: I did not know that I was in Auschwitz. I didn't even know that it was an extermination camp. You look back on these things and people are surprised that you didn't know.

Why would I have known it? We didn't know people were gassed and burned. Who would have lived with that knowledge?

SHERLEY MAXIMIN: It's great. The Holocaust was not part of the curriculum. And we were talking about protests in Haiti at the time.

And we were like, oh, people were killed. What's happening? And this is not OK.

And my professor, he said, do you know the name of the person who killed the most people on this planet? And we were like, we don't know. He was like, oh, Hitler was the guy who killed six million Jews.

ANNA ORNSTEIN: Eichmann was so determined to deport all the Hungarian Jews. The crematorium was burning all night because there was too many people.

GREG HURLEY: Learning about this horrific atrocious event that happened and then meeting people who lived through it, it gives them this whole new sense of appreciation, and understanding, and meaning for, number one, that it wasn't that long ago, and number two, that they have a responsibility to make sure that something like that doesn't happen anymore. And I think for a lot of our students, they take that responsibility serious. They walk away from meeting survivors basically feeling as if, I need to do more to make sure that even if it's not a Holocaust or a genocide, but hate in general and things that lead to hate need to be stopped early before they can escalate into something horrific.


ANNA ORNSTEIN: I believe that the long silence after the Shoah by survivors was related to their concern how they will be heard. He thought that he will find people who would want to know what happened. And when he started to tell the story, they didn't believe him.


JEREMY ORNSTEIN: I'm going to start telling a story about my grandparents. They were born in Hungary. And when the Nazis rose to power, they lost almost everyone. Friends and family killed in the Holocaust. But they survived the war and moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to start a new life.

Everybody, I got a feeling that she's going to come out of the office. And she's going to shake our hands and say, now, now is the day. I have hope and I have hope in her because my grandparents, they needed hope to survive.

The question arises about, how about the moral duty? It does take a certain-- you have to have funds to do that. But how about people? How about the moral side of it? How can you carry so much without anyone stopping you based on the normal, and profound, and basic sense of humanity?

ANNA ORNSTEIN: In April of '46 and a year later, we spent the first one year in Munich. And then we got admitted in Heidelberg. And now we're in the home of a Nazi, very friendly. "Oh Frau Ornstein, you should come to the kitchen," but Paul wouldn't go. And I'd spend a lot of time with this man. And I wrote my first paper about the relativity of morality and political systems because I learned a lot from this man what it means to be a bystander.

He wanted me to understand why he joined the Party. And I really have to ask myself, if I lived in Germany at that time and I'm not a victim, where would I have stood? I don't know.

GREG HURLEY: I was going onto websites like CNN and Politico and seeing comments directly attacking Malden High School, directly attacking our students. I was fortunate to have some kids who came to me within a week or two and said, we got to do something.

ANNA ORNSTEIN: When it comes to telling the story outside of your family, you have to know whom you are talking to.

We've done the right thing by gathering conscience around the issue, but I do not think that such shameful act can ever be erased. One thing that I think is very important when you meet Holocaust survivors is you get down to the very basic humanity level you can get. It's not a person, a picture of someone in a book that was in a costume. [INAUDIBLE] human being telling you, here was what I've been through and I'm still here.

GREG HURLEY: I've spent my entire career working with teenagers. They have a bad rap. And the vast majority of teenagers are wonderful human beings who want to change the world. They're still trying to figure out how, but I think-- I'm hoping that's what the survivors got from it that this one incident is not representative of what teenagers as a whole are. The future is not doomed.

CARL: If you don't learn about what happened in the past, and he's talking about any history, but of course, the Holocaust, you don't have empathy. And human empathy is the reason why you need to learn about what happened to others.

SHERLEY MAXIMIN: Most of the time when we read about history in books, it's a fact. It's something that had happened. But when you go down to the level of consciousness, when you think of that person, just look for this connection. They might not be from the same part of the world as me, but they're-- we're human and that's where we start.



If Not Me

Facing History & Ourselves

How to Cite This Video

Facing History & Ourselves, “If Not Me,” video, last updated June 12, 2020.

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