We have created this guide with both the hosting organization and the survivor community in mind and hope that our suggestions will help your organization consider the survivors’ comfort and well-being as you plan for your program.
Choosing a Program Format
Please discuss your program format with the survivor in advance to ensure his or her comfort.
This is the most common format, with a survivor speaking about his or her Holocaust experience for 40-45 minutes followed by a 15-20 minute question-and-answer period with the audience.
An interviewer asks a survivor questions. There are experienced interviewers in most communities who could serve as moderators, including local radio and television personalities as well as oral history experts from museums and universities. It is often helpful to provide questions in advance to the survivor.
Panel Discussion or Program Series
Provide an opportunity for multiple voices on the history—for example, from a survivor, a liberator, or a historian. Include an opportunity for informal discussion between the survivor and other speakers and the audience during your program. Please note that a survivor often requires at least 30 minutes to tell his or her experiences, so take this into consideration when planning the number of participants.
Book Reading and Signing
You may also want to consider featuring a book reading and signing in your program if the survivor has published his or her memoirs.
Providing Historical Context
Introduce the history of the Holocaust to program attendees in advance to provide context for the survivor’s personal narrative. Resources to help you do this can be found on the Museum’s website. Please remember that every survivor’s experience is unique and should be taken into consideration when you are providing broader historical context.
Showing Sensitivity in Dealing with a Difficult Topic
Please remember that the survivor is sharing private, traumatic memories in a public setting and may refrain from addressing particular topics. It is recommended to only plan one program per day and to not ask a survivor to present while others are eating. Your sensitivity to this is critical to planning a successful program.
Planning for the Survivor’s Visit
- It may be advisable to arrange for the survivor to stay overnight if the trip involves air travel or a car ride of more than two hours each way.
- In most instances, the survivor will be accompanied by a companion. You may be expected to bear all costs associated with the companion’s travel.
- A host should expect to arrange for all transportation throughout the trip, including travel to and from the airport, to the hotel, to the program, to meals, and for other occasions that may arise.
- Identify a local “point person”—someone affiliated with your organization who will address the needs of the survivor during his or her stay.
- Be sensitive of the survivor’s dietary needs, including allergies, kosher food, and other special requests, as well as the timing of meals—some survivors prefer to eat after their presentations.
- Consider offering to take the survivor on a tour of your area during his or her visit.
Preparing the Venue
- Please have a glass of water accessible to the survivor during his or her presentation.
- Ensure that lighting is not directly in the survivor’s eyes.
- Keep house lights on if the program takes place in a theater or auditorium; survivors often like to make eye contact with the audience.
- Provide a chair for the survivor, even if he or she intends to stand while speaking.
- Use microphones in larger venues; please discuss this with the survivor in advance so he or she is comfortable with the equipment (podium microphone, hand-held, lavalier, etc.).
- Find out if the survivor intends to invite guests and reserve seating for them.
Managing the Audience
- Please ask the audience to turn off all cell phones before the survivor begins.
- Ask the survivor’s permission in advance before videotaping, recording, or photographing his or her presentation.
- Have the audience refrain from eating or drinking during the presentation.
Introducing the Survivor
- Explain why your organization has invited a survivor to speak.
- Many survivors have prepared introductions that they will share with you. Consult with the survivor ahead of time to see how he or she would like to be introduced.
- Keep the introduction short—no more than three minutes. Do not tell the survivor’s history; provide only a general outline.
- Sometimes survivors have a photograph of themselves before the war or images of their family and hometown that they want to show. If the survivor has visual materials relating to his or her story, it may be incorporated into the introduction or used in the presentation. Please determine the survivor’s preference.
- Announce the length of the program and encourage audience members to stay for its completion, both to demonstrate respect for the survivor and to minimize disruptions.
Conducting a Question-and-Answer Session
- Encourage your audience to come prepared to ask questions.
- Always allow for ample time for the audience to ask questions; most survivors enjoy engaging with their audience and the audience is often curious to learn more.
- It is recommended that you appoint a moderator for the question-and-answer session to prevent or curtail inappropriate discussion of political or other topics that may make the survivor uncomfortable.
- After a member of the audience asks a question, your moderator should repeat the question to ensure that both the survivor and the audience have heard it.
Following Up on the Program
- Thank the survivor for coming by sending a formal letter of appreciation.
- Survivors appreciate receiving notes from members of the audience. Do not give out the survivor’s contact information to the audience.
- You may wish to present him or her with a small gift to commemorate the experience.