USC Shoah Foundation partners with Holocaust survivor grandchild group ‘Living Links’ so stories continue to be told 

New initiative is meant to better equip the third generation, or 3G, to explain their grandparents' experiences

The grandchildren of Holocaust survivors — approximately 1 million of whom live in the United States — are known as “3Gs,” short for third generation. In most cases, they will be the last to have grown up on first-person survivor stories. 

As the number of survivors dwindles, more than 13 3G groups have made it their mission to ensure that their grandparents’ Holocaust testimonies continue to be told. Now the individual groups are collaborating as a community, through a program called Living Links. 

Last month, the USC Shoah Foundation — the organization founded by Steven Spielberg in 1994 to preserve the memory of the Holocaust — announced it was partnering with Living Links, which it said would enable it to increase the number of 3G affiliates nationwide and expand their speaker training program, which has already trained some 500 speakers and reached 60,000 students. 

Together, the organizations are broadening the platform for 3Gs to share family stories in schools and with community groups to counter antisemitism, bigotry and hate. 

Living Links, which launched about a year ago, serves as an umbrella group for 14 3G groups in North America (13 in the U.S. and one in Toronto) that offer grandchildren of Holocaust survivors social, educational and advocacy opportunities among others like themselves. Its co-founders, David Wachs and Jennifer Loew Mendelson, told eJewishPhilanthropy that they expected there to be 18 3G groups in North America by the end of the year. 

Living Links defines “Holocaust survivor” as anyone who was affected through Nazi persecution, including anyone who was displaced, partisans and members of the resistance, people who were in camps or ghettos, or who survived in hiding and other experiences. 

The organization aims to provide a supportive environment where members can explore their shared, complex legacies, the co-founders said. Loew Mendelson and Wachs interviewed the existing 3G groups over the course of a year to understand their needs; their findings spurred them to create starter tool kits for recently founded groups, and deepen the knowledge for more established groups — like those in New York, DC, Miami and Philadelphia — by helping them learn about grants, board development and other processes.

So far, more than $1 million has been raised toward the Living Links program budget of $5 million over the next three years. One primary expense will be the addition of three staff members to work with the program, the co-founders said, and growing the speaker training program to a national scale will also add to the budget needed. 

“We’re hoping for people to donate, to support us, but over a multiyear period, to give us stability,” she said.

Living Links is also developing an affiliate council, an advisory committee comprising representatives from the 14 affiliated 3G organizations that will meet monthly to discuss progress and engage in professional development. The council will also serve as a sounding board to ensure that Living Links is providing the assistance that the 3G community needs.  

“We really want people to dive deeper and learn more and to be better at speaking” [about their family histories], Wachs told eJP.  “We want to give them the education and the practice to do so.”  

“Our whole goal is to get the stories out there to show what happens when society becomes intolerant, or we lose our democracy, or you don’t stand up to antisemitism or hate or bigotry. And all of these stories really are like that. They help shine a light on what we can all do better,” Loew Mendelson said.

Over the past 18 months, the foundation, whose archive contains recorded testimony from more than 55,000 survivors, has been preparing for its 30th anniversary by considering its future and the future of Holocaust testimonies as survivors die off, Jenna Leventhal, its senior director of administration, told eJP. 

“We’re an organization deeply rooted in the past, rooted in story, and we wanted to be very thoughtful about going forward and the type of audiences that we’re cultivating,” Leventhal said. 

The foundation has been aware of the 3G organizations, particularly 3GNY, which was founded in 2005. Leventhal said she felt it was the “perfect time” to support the creation of “a strong, dedicated network of descendants that are working together in concert across the country to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust continue to be shared with new generations… and become the future Jewish leaders in our world.”

The idea of grandchildren carrying on their grandparents’ stories is integral to the USC Shoah Foundation’s operations and is even built into the foundation’s archive of testimonies, Leventhal said. When possible, in the last frames of each survivor’s testimony, often, their children, grandchildren and sometimes great-grandchildren join them on-screen. “That intergenerational interconnectedness has been front and center and everything that we do really since we were founded 30 years ago,” she said. 

The feeling of intergenerational connection is also true of the Living Links founders: Wachs has paternal grandparents who were Holocaust survivors. Loew Mendelson, a founding staff member at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., told eJP she was “on the young side of 2Gs” — her father was a Holocaust survivor — and credited the passion of 3Gs she had met for inspiring her in this work.

“Every single one of them that I met, every single one had been so shaped by this history that it shaped their identity, and in some cases, their career choices. And it just wasn’t recognized by any institution. These are important vital stakeholders in preserving this memory and sharing this history and making the world a better place,” Loew Mendelson said. 

She added that Living Links “couldn’t be launched at a better time, to combat antisemitism and Holocaust distortion,” in light of the rise in global antisemitism after Oct. 7, adding that the organization aims to install a component in which 3G speakers would visit college students for conversation. 

The USC Shoah Foundation is still collecting Holocaust narratives, and after Oct. 7, added a commitment to collecting and documenting stories from the 2023 attacks on the south of Israel. “There’s a power in letting these survivors tell their story and showing how antisemitism continues to be an invasive and troubling, harmful challenge,” Leventhal said.

Building Living Links as a startup supported by the more established Shoah Foundation means that the foundation would incubate or facilitate the growth of the newer organization toward becoming self-sustaining, Leventhal said.

“Pooling our collective energies into making something greater than ourselves is unique in our space,” she continued. “There’s a lot of appetite, need [and] interest in Holocaust issues, as antisemitism continues to rise in a post-1945 world.”

“We don’t have many survivors left and need to keep telling their stories, and use them for good, use them in education, use them to promote tolerance,” Wachs said. “We are the last living link to know the survivors. We’re telling their story from our personal side.”