On July 13th at the official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust in Israel, Lisa Salko, a member of the Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center (HHREC) GenerationsForward Speakers Bureau, presented the story of the 13 Drivers’ Licenses. Her presentation is based on the individual stories of thirteen Jewish citizens of Lichtenfels, a northern Bavarian village, including five who perished at a Nazi death camp in Poland.
The program was co-sponsored by Yad Vashem, the Sandra Kahn Wasserman Jewish Studies Center at Baruch College, and the Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center. Yad Vashem, located in Jerusalem, is dedicated to preserving the memory of Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust; echoing the stories of the survivors; honoring Jews who fought against their Nazi oppressors and gentiles who selflessly aided Jews in need; and researching the phenomenon of the Holocaust in particular, and genocide in general.
Accompanying Salko was HHREC Director of Education Steve Goldberg, who spoke briefly about the work of the HHREC and their involvement with the project. In the audience were Yad Vashem staff, history teachers from the German state of Brandenburg, and teachers from Jewish day schools in the United States and Canada who were enrolled in a summer institute through the International School at Yad Vashem. The program featured a screening of the documentary 13 Driver’s Licenses directed by Ryoya Terao, Associate Professor of Video Production at City Tech, CUNY. The film has been screened at film festivals around the world, and it has received numerous best documentary awards. The final portion of the program was the donation of two of the licenses – those of Sigmund Marx, Lisa’s grandfather who survived, and his brother-in-law Alfred Oppenheimer, who perished at Sobibor. These artifacts will now be part of the archive at Yad Vashem.
In February 2017, a cache of thirteen drivers’ licenses, confiscated by Nazi authorities from Jewish citizens in 1938, was found in an envelope in a government office. The district administrator gave them to his former history teacher at the high school, thinking it might provide a research opportunity for his students. For nine months, students meticulously investigated the names on the licenses, digging through local archives and on-line resources, conferring with experts, and trying to find and contact any possible descendants. In the process they learned that five of the drivers’ license owners had died in 1942, probably at Sobibor death camp in Poland They were able to locate relatives of many of these individuals in the United States, Israel and Argentina who assisted in filling in the missing details. Among the descendants is Salko, who is related to three of the drivers.
In November 2018, Lisa and members of her family were in Lichtenfels on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht to attend the opening of “13 Drivers’ Licenses: Thirteen Jewish Lives,” an exhibit based on the students’ research project which has helped the town’s inhabitants confront its horrendous and regrettable past and chart a way to move forward.
The HHREC is the only institution in the United States that has the English-language version of the exhibit. Over the past four years, it has been displayed in many venues and presented by Salko. In 2023 it was exhibited at the Scarsdale Tremont and Emanu-El Synagogues, The Sandra Kahn Wasserman Jewish Studies Center at Baruch College (CUNY), Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston, NJ, Cornwall HS, Horace Greeley HS, Temple B’nai Abraham (Livingston NJ), Hommocks School, Pelham Memorial HS, Temple Beth Shalom (Mahopac), Temple Israel of Northern Westchester (Croton), Dover HS, Eastchester MS, Croton-Harmon HS, Robert Bell MS, and Seven Bridges MS.
Groups interested in arranging for the display of the exhibition and/or Lisa Salko’s presentation can register on the HHREC website at https://hhrecny.org/13-drivers-licenses-exhibit-panels-to-loan-2/