Survivors daughter devotes life to descendants of Shoah

LOS ANGELES — Meeting a reporter in the trendy, busy district of Larchmont Village, Darlene Basch secures an enviable parking space directly in front of the designated point of rendezvous — no easy feat during this peak lunchtime period. But this is the sort of force of will that has propelled Basch throughout her life and career.

Now, after more than two decades working among survivors and their families, Basch has formed Descendants of the Shoah, a non-profit organization dedicated to maintaining a global link between survivor offspring. And while Descendants is in its nascent stage, Basch said that "a lot that will happen in the coming year that will blast this organization into the public's eyes."

For instance, Descendants of the Shoah is preparing to mount a major annual conference, the first ever aimed at third and fourth generations.

"Chicago 2002: Living the Legacy," co-sponsored by the Association of Descendants of the Shoah-Illinois, will focus on issues such as how elders can discuss the Holocaust with their offspring.

Intergenerational workshops will engage participants in musical, artistic, and theatrical activities. The goal is to achieve a fully interactive experience that will illuminate as well as entertain, while bestowing what Basch called "a sense of connectedness and community" among Jews whose very existence hinges on the miracle that delivered their ancestors from Nazi-sanctioned doom.

Working with descendants is not a new endeavor for the trained therapist, who has long been active with the issues of her peers. But with Descendants, Basch wanted to take her interest to a new level. She is currently translating her link to the past into computer links at the Descendants' Web site that will keep survivors' kin connected with each other and with information crucial to their past and their future.

Helping shape her vision has been her experience working for Steven Spielberg's Survivors of the Shoah Foundation from 1994 — 1998. Carol Stohlberg, director of Major Gifts at Survivors, and Anya Verkhovskaya, who served as a production manager on Spielberg's Oscar-winning documentary "The Last Days," both credit Basch for crystallizing key policy at Survivors.

"She was instrumental to the methodology of the interview itself — the training process, the reviewing process," said Stohlberg.

Born and raised in Queens, the former Darlene Chakin was taking the F-train by herself into Manhattan by the time she reached bat mitzvah age. Basch said that this self-sufficiency was instilled in her by her mother, and while many survivor parents play out their anxiety by being overprotective, Basch's mother desired that young Darlene be able to rely on herself, "just in case."

The Holocaust had long been a verboten topic in the Basch family. Growing up, Basch's mother never discussed her concentration camp experiences, not even to her husband. It was part of what drove Basch's interest in the Holocaust — along with "Night and Fog," a PBS documentary Darlene saw as a teen that featured death camp footage. It was through this program that Basch connected the number tattooed on her mother's forearm with Auschwitz.

"She'd talk in bits and pieces," said Basch, who only in recent years, while working at Spielberg's foundation, finally convinced her mother to tell her story; a harrowing odyssey that included encampment at Treblinka, Auschwitz, Bergen Belsen, and Terezin.

Basch graduated from Cornell University in 1976 with a bachelor's in Human Development and Family Studies, and attained her masters in social work at U.C. Berkeley. While in her 20s, she became involved with descendants' issues and helped found Generation to Generation, a nonprofit that still exists today.

At one of the organization's meetings, she met Loren Basch, her husband of 20 years.

In early 1987, the Basches came to L.A., where Loren had been installed as the president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles' United Jewish Fund. Basch took time off to raise her young boys, now 16 and 13. Several years later, when Basch caught wind of Spielberg's mission to start Survivors, she wrote a letter to the filmmaker lobbying for a position.

Descendants of the Shoah is very important to Basch, because she has always found intrinsic value in creating cross-generation dialogue about the Holocaust. In fact, several years ago, while Basch was working at Survivors, her oldest son became interested in his grandmother's saga. Without Mom's prompting, he volunteered to work at the foundation's mailroom. Basch was pleased that her own child expressed an interest in what has been her life's mission.

For more information about joining or volunteering with Descendants of the Shoah, write to [email protected] or visit