Darlene Basch has always had a fiery independent streak. Born and raised in Queens, the former Darlene Chakin was taking the F train by herself into Manhattan well before she had her Bat Mitzvah. Basch's mother, a Holocaust survivor, wanted young Darlene to be able to rely on herself, just in case. Time has abated neither Basch's drive nor her connection to the Holocaust. Basch recently created Descendants of the Shoah, a nonprofit organization dedicated to maintaining global links among survivor offspring. And while Descendants is in its nascent stage, Basch said that "a lot will happen in the coming year that will blast this organization into the public's eyes."
For instance, Descendants will mount a major annual conference, the first ever aimed at the 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. Working with descendants is not a new endeavor for the trained therapist, who has been active with the issues of her peers for more than two decades. But with Descendants, Basch wants 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, credits Basch for crystallizing key policy at Survivors.
"She was instrumental to the methodology of the interview itself, the training process, the reviewing process," Stohlberg said.
"Darlene was deeply sensitive to concerns of Survivors Foundation," said Dr. Michael Berenbaum, president of the Berenbaum Group and former CEO of Survivors of the Shoah Foundation. "She was able to communicate a sense of responsibility and respect that allowed us not only to work professionally but with spiritual integrity. She is one of the reasons Survivors of the Shoah has succeeded."
The Holocaust had long been a verboten topic in the Chakin family. Basch's mother never discussed her concentration camp experiences, not even to her husband. It was only while working at Spielberg's foundation that Basch finally convinced her mother to tell her story, a harrowing odyssey that included internment at Treblinka, Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Terezin.
"I got all her friends to talk, and she was angry that she didn't do it first," Basch recalled. She added that the Spielberg connection was "a real motivator" for many survivors to open up, often for the first time. Basch graduated from Cornell University in 1976 and received her master's in social work at UC Berkeley. While in her 20's, she became involved with descendants' issues and helped found the Bay Area's Generation to Generation, a nonprofit that still exists. She was "fueled by feeling that this was my crowd. Our backgrounds were decimated, destroyed. In those days, we were the largest group of non-group-joiners."
It was during one of these meetings that 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 boys, now 16 and 13. When Basch caught wind of Spielberg's mission to start Survivors, she wrote a letter to the filmmaker. "I wrote, you have to have me," recalled Basch, "because this is the culmination of my life."
As Survivors branched out with offices all over the world, Basch globetrotted to make sure that interviewers employed the proper interviewing techniques.
"I can't think of a better way to travel than through the Jewish community of the world," continued Basch.
"I found that our lives may look different on the outside, [but] our internal issues are similar."
Descendants of the Shoah is very important to Basch, because she has always found intrinsic value in creating cross-generational dialogue about the Holocaust. In fact, while Basch worked at Survivors, her oldest son -- without mom's prompting -- volunteered to intern. Basch was pleased that her own child expressed an interest in what has been her life's mission.
"People would always say to me, 'Why are you so involved in this hobby?'" Basch said with a wide smile and a sparkle in her eyes. "My hobby was really my passion."
For more information about Descendants of the Shoah, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.descendants.org . Darlene Basch will conduct "Healing in the Aftermath of the Shoah: A Workshop for Sons and Daughters of Survivors," on Sun., Feb. 4, 1-5 p.m., in Pacific Palisades. To register, call (323) 937-4974.