WYNNEWOOD To Carol Blum, this was quite literally unimaginable.
"A mother had her child taken from her," she said in an interview Tuesday night, recalling what she saw in a Holocaust survivor's video account. "I have three boys. I can't imagine if I would have one taken from me and I would never see them again.
"To me, that's like taking away your heart. I thought, everybody needs to know about this."
So Blum, a lifetime member of Main Line Reform Temple-Beth Elohim in Wynnewood, introduced IWitness to her congregation. It is an interactive program, operated by the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation, that uses written and videotaped survivor testimonies from the Holocaust and other genocidal events.
The nonprofit Shoah Foundation was created by the filmmaker Steven Spielberg about 20 years ago, after he made Schindler's List. The IWitness program was instituted over the last two years.
Other students have participated, but USC said the Main Line temple became the first religious school to incorporate IWitness into its educational curriculum. Along with learning from eyewitnesses, the congregation's B'nai Mitzvah students used the accounts to create public-service videos.
"We believe that if students engage with testimony, they develop insight, they will learn a lot about themselves and the world," said Kori Street, the Shoah Foundation's director of education.
"They will develop conviction, and with that conviction, they will be motivated to go out and help us combat the evils and prejudices, and the suffering they cause."
At the temple, more than 70 students over the course of three weeks searched through more than 1,300 written and videorecorded testimonies.
They finished the program last month, and at an event Tuesday night, seventh grader Benjamin Newman presented his video public-service announcement: "Standing by or Standing With." He described the video, which he spent 10 hours compiling, as a call to action against prejudice.
"I went through a lot of videos, and I realized I have experienced their experiences before, not on as large of a scale, but at school, I see people calling people names, and sometimes, people call me names," said Newman. "It's still happening."
What makes the accounts most effective, he said, is that they are vivid.
"The way they tell their stories, I can imagine it so clearly in my head, it definitely helped me learn in an unforgettable way," Newman said.
Blum said she hoped the accounts would be eye-openers, teaching larger lessons: That students shouldn't be bullies, but that they should stand up for themselves and one another and be proud of who they are.
The life histories were compiled from 10 genocidal events, including the Rwandan civil war of the 1980s.
Testimonies were not only from survivors, but also from rescuers, aid providers, and liberators, who talked of their experiences of hiding Jewish people and providing aid.
USC estimates that nationwide, 20,000 people have been participating in the program, most of them students, including those at Esperanza Academy Charter High School in Philadelphia.
"It's a great resource to use in the classroom that can change lives," said Jonathan Young, a social studies teacher at Esperanza. He is also a "master" IWitness teacher who instructs others on how to present the program.
In a preprogram survey at Esperanza, most students felt that anti-Semitism was not important or relevant. After exposure to IWitness, most of them acknowledged the issue was an important one.
Said Street: "That's real learning."