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New website will share and preserve stories of local Holocaust survivors

Henry Petska
Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids
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New website will highlight and preserve stories of local Holocaust survivors

The site will share information of survivors' families, upbringing and story of deportation, among other events.

A new website hosted by the Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids will showcase stories of local Holocaust survivors.

The idea emerged out of a zoom meeting with Grand Valley State University Professor Dr. Robert Franciosi and students, as they discussed a Holocaust sculpture erected at Frederik Meijer Gardens in partnership with the JFGR and the Petska family last summer.

"As we were talking it was clear there was a sentiment to do more than just erect a statue and say now were done, something that would give the background," he explained, "...The idea is to tell these stories because they’re relevant to people in Grand Rapids, because these were their neighbors."

Linda Petska, a board member at (JFGR) said she's thankful to have an outlet to share the life and legacy of her father, Henry Petska, who after escaping a concentration camp, set down roots in Grand Rapids.

"He did hold a lot of impactful and principle values about how people should treat humans, and I think that was very reflective to his own life," she said.

The website, which will share information about survivors' families, upbringing and story of deportation, among other events is a financial gift from the The Finkelstein family. The project is under the leadership of Franciosi and a committee of Jewish community members. Margaret Tracy-Finkelston is in charge of archives at the Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids, Temple Emanuel, and Congregation Ahavas Israel.

"It is a labor of love...Many of the survivors of the Holocaust who have settled in Grand Rapids, Western Michigan are elderly and it's imperative we capture the history now and share their story," JFGR Executive Director, Nicole Katzman, said.

The website is being constructed by a Grand Valley State University, Computer Science student, Arad Okanin. Arad is an employee at the Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids. The website is set to launch in Spring of 2022.

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