The Joseph Skakun Project is a 501 (c) (3) federal tax exempt charity, founded by Michael Skakun, an author and son of genocide survivors, to educate future generations about the enormity of the Holocaust, as well to convey the power of the resilient imagination in surmounting extremity. This cultural and memory initiative will convey the message of human solidarity and tolerance via innovative programs in the realms of education, the performing arts and interfaith dialogue.
“On Burning Ground” traces how at the height of World War II, Joseph Skakun, a devout blond-haired European rabbinical student steeped in a legendary form of ethical piety, as well as trained in the analytic rigors of talmudism, adopted multiple religious and ethnic identities, including those of a Christian and a Muslim, to survive. The story culminates with his desperate gambit at life – his entry as a volunteer recruit into Hitler’s Waffen-SS, the most feared and fearsome of Hitler’s fighting divisions.
The Washington Post went on to say: “To assume a fake identity is not so strange; spies and lesser impostors do it all the time. But for a devout yeshiva student to invent a combination of false selves through which he not only escapes the Nazi death camps but actually ends up as a recruit for the Waffen-SS – now there’s a definition of chutzpah (nerve).” After the war, the wheel comes full circle as Joseph Skakun, in a post-traumatic fog of anguish and doubt, manages to return to his ancestral faith first in Paris and then in New York.
Michael Skakun, born in Jaffa, Israel, and raised in New York, has served as a journalist, author, and translator. As a public affairs specialist, he has worked for National UJA and Israel Bonds, and the Congress for Jewish Culture, as well as a host of non-profit organizations and Jewish institutions where he’s cultivated a wide network of contacts and associations. He has served at such publications as the Forward (both English and Yiddish), the Litchfield County Times and the New York Observer as cultural writer and book reviewer.