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When she was 14 years old, Fanny Starr was rounded up by the Nazis in her native Poland and placed in a ghetto. At first, she made clothes and boots in factories, then she sorted through the garments of murdered Jews for any treasures—like diamonds and gold—they had left behind. Eventually, the Nazis moved Starr to Auschwitz, where her mother and two of her siblings were killed in the concentration camp’s infamous gas chambers and furnaces. Allied forces finally liberated Starr in 1945.
Seven decades later, Rebecca Chapman, herself a 14-year-old, won a grant to help preserve Starr’s story.
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A freshman at Denver’s East High School, Chapman recently debuted Stories Worth Saving, a website where she posts video interviews with local seniors so that their experiences can be shared with younger generations. “Interviewing Fanny, who’s 95, I realized I’m the last generation who will be able to interview a Holocaust survivor,” Chapman says. The idea for the website came from Chapman’s experiences volunteering with her grandmother at Denver senior centers. “It was an education; I really enjoyed hearing their stories,” Chapman says. “And they always love having me come. The divide between seniors and kids my age—I want to bridge that divide.”
The funding for Stories Worth Saving came from the Rose Community Foundation. In September, the Denver nonprofit awarded $250,000 to 10 winners through its Innovate for Good 2016 grant program. RCF asked people to answer the question: “What idea could you bring to life to empower youth to make the community better?” They received a total of 65 responses, and more than 200 volunteer judges selected 10 winners—six youth-adult teams that each received $30,000 and four youth-only entrants that took home $5,000 to put toward their projects (Chapman won in the youth-only category). The winners ranged from Thunderbolts Building Bridges, which seeks to build relationships between the police and students at Manual High School, to Empowering Native Youth in Metro Denver, which plans to organize a leadership conference for young Native Americans.
According to Sarah Indyk, director of special projects for the RCF, Chapman’s idea stood out not only for the promise of cross-generational connections, but also because of the way storytelling can stir the human experience. Stories Worth Saving has already affected its creator: Chapman recently interviewed Michael Cousins, a resident of Kevod Senior Life, a senior-living and assisted-living center in Denver, who had been largely disowned by his family for being gay. “Michael, he didn’t have many people to pass his story on to,” Chapman says. “He said he couldn’t wait to see the video.” Shortly after their interview, Cousins passed away unexpectedly.
So far, Chapman, now 15, has conducted three interviews with residents of Kevod Senior Life. She hopes to expand the project during the summer by recruiting some of her friends as interviewers, and plans to pass on the project to future high schoolers once she departs for college. Colorado Public Radio has reached out to Chapman about the possibility of playing her interviews on the air. “Hopefully,” Chapman says, “because of this, people’s stories will survive.”