Its official: Areas two Shoah organizations are one

Cynics often chide the notion of government efficiency with the quip, “Why buy one when you can get two for twice the price?”

Well, Leslie Kane can’t afford two at twice the price, and she figures the local Jewish community can’t either. So her organization just went the opposite route, becoming bigger and more efficient.

This month the Bay Area Holocaust Oral History Project and the Holocaust Center of Northern California announced the completion of their merger. The combined entity is still known as the Holocaust Center, with the Oral History Project as one of the center’s wings. Kane is the combined executive director with former BAHOHP director Anne Grenn Saldinger heading the oral history wing.

“There are two great Holocaust institutions here in the Bay Area. And we both have incredible assets,” Kane said.

The oral history project has been documenting survivors’ experiences since the 1970s. Indeed, Steven Spielberg consulted with them prior to undertaking his vast Shoah Foundation. Likewise, the Holocaust Center, also around since the 1970s, owns one of the largest collections of Yizkor books in the world, as well as an extensive database of survivors who can speak to audiences of all ages.

Since the oral history project had its greatest outreach on the Peninsula, and the S.F.-based Holocaust Center focuses on San Francisco and the East Bay, Kane feels the merger has expanded the center’s scope while cutting down on overlapping fundraising.

Saldinger was out of town this week, but Miriam Zimmerman, BAHOHP’s former president, was similarly bullish about the merger, which has been in the works for more than a year.

The oral history project is still collecting dozens of testimonies a year. Still, Zimmerman notes, the day will come when there are no more survivors, shifting the project’s mission from collecting histories to distributing them. The merger with the Holocaust Center will greatly aid in those efforts, she said.

“There are still stories out there, but the window of opportunity is closing,” she said. “The second part of our mission is to make these tapes available for educational and research purposes. And the Holocaust Center has that as a core component of their mission.”

There is another, more prosaic reason to hail the merger. “Financially, our constituencies are better served” by the union, she notes.

Ultimately, however, the success of both agencies’ work lies in the stories they have spent the past four decades gathering. “The survivors’ first-hand tales are a treasure,” she said. “Now they will be centrally accessible.”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.