SPARTA, NJ – Sparta High School student Olivia Agius is working to share the story of a local holocaust victim. Inspired by lessons learned in William Brennan’s History of Genocide class, Agius is participating in the Adopt a Survivor Program.
Through the program she was partnered with Joe Ungerleider. She has met with him “to learn of his life and write an essay.”
“It has definitely had an impact on me,” Agius said. “His story is heartbreaking and hope filled.”
She said, without this program she would never have gotten to personally know Ungerleider even though “he only lives about 20 minutes away.”
“Joe was in a ghetto in Budapest doing forced labor,” Agius said. “He lost his mom and brother in the holocaust.”
This is not just a one time project, however. Agius said the students involved in the initiative have committed to giving a presentation about their survivor in 2045 at the 100 Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
“We will speak in a public setting to keep the story of the survivors alive,” Agius said. “To always remember is the most important thing so it won’t happen again.”
The project is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, New Jersey. That organization provided the contact information for Agius to be able to reach Ungerleider.
“The two met ‘about eight times’ after school on her own time,” Brennan said. “There was no extra credit. It was all volunteer community service.”
Over the course of the project a bond has formed between the two. Agius celebrated Hanukkah with Ungerleider and his family.
“It was touching to be invited into their home and their life,” Agius said.
After graduation from Sparta High School, Agius plans to attend Sussex County Community College for two years and she wants “to carry on work with MetroWest.”
Ungerleider is constantly speaking, going to synagogues and classes, Agius said. So far the recordings are only oral histories, “hopefully soon it will be on a website.”
The Adopt a Survivor initiative is a “program to preserve and perpetuate the N’shamah- the soul and spirit of the shoah Survivors.” Irving Roth a Long Island resident conceived the project in 1998. Roth now directs the Holocaust Resource Center of Manhasset, according to MetroWest literature.
The program was brought to MetroWest in 2001.
“Since the time with survivors is coming to an end, we need people to find new ways to make every story known,” Agius said.