Unfortunately, we are losing about 1,100 World War II veterans everyday along with the many thousands of survivors. So in another 10 years, or even less, there will be probably very few, if any of us left to speak about what happened. It is like a calling with me now. In truth, my generation did not get rid of hate, prejudice and bigotry – they still exist all over the world. So, I tell the young generation that it is their job to get rid of that hate so that people everywhere can hopefully live side by side in peace and harmony, without the fear of there ever being another Holocaust.
What‘s their reaction to meeting with you?
Almost always it has been very positive. The students seem interested and after ask very good questions. Many come up to me afterward and give me a big hug and tell me to keep speaking and also thank me for my service. When I spoke to several hundred students at the German school in White Plains, NY several years ago, many of the students were apologetic and expressed deep remorse for what had happened during the Holocaust. Some even asked for forgiveness. I told them that it was not necessary; I wasn’t there to impose guilt on them for what their forefathers had done years before. I found it to be a very emotional experience.
You presently serve on the Board of Trustees of the Holocaust Museum and Study Center in Rockland County. What does that involve?
After I moved from NJ to Rockland County, I learned about the local Holocaust museum. I decided to join and become an active member. Later on I became a vice president and I also serve on the Board of Trustees. I believe very strongly in the mission of the museum, which is to educate, examine, and explain the history of the Holocaust with authenticity, dignity and compassion. This is accomplished through educational programs, lectures, exhibitions, teacher training, and commemoration ceremonies. Within the concept of the mission, the lessons of cultural diversity, mutual respect and understanding are emphasized. I am proud to be an active participant.
What’s next for you?
To date, I have spoken to over 10,000 middle school, high school, and college students in NY, NJ, CT, FL, PA and North and South Caroline and elsewhere. I have also spoken to many adult groups and participated in programs at the U.S. Military Academy, at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, on Russian television, CBS radio network and in the documentary “The Jewish Americans” at the PBS television network. In addition, I have done video recordings at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in NY, at our local Holocaust museum and at a number of other venues. It is my intention to keep on speaking out as long as G-d gives me the strength to do so.
Any message for our readers?
I always felt that Maya Angelou, the poet, was absolutely correct when she said that people were truly more alike than different. We have to learn to stop prejudging people because of their race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation or pigmentation of their skin. More importantly, we have to get rid of the hate, prejudice and bigotry that still exist in so many places. Hopefully, by speaking out, if I can convince even one person to stop hating his fellow human beings then I will feel I have succeeded in my personal mission.Ita Yankovich
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