Resilience in the face of trauma fuels a future-focused gift

Mitchell Raff headshot

Motivation for leaving a philanthropic legacy can come from anywhere. For Mitchell Raff, it came from years of generational trauma, followed by hope and perseverance.  

The son of two Holocaust survivors, an author and a nonprofit director, Raff has established two planned gifts totaling $1.5 million to support Northern Arizona University’s Martin Springer Institute (MSI), which raises awareness of human rights through Holocaust remembrance and education. Raff established a $1 million endowment in memory of Holocaust survivors Sally and Issa Springer, who were relatives of the MSI founders and played a formative role in Raff’s life.  

Sally and Issa Springer dancing
Sally and Issa Springer were relatives of the MSI founders and played a formative role in Mitchell Raff’s life.

As Raff recounts in his recently published memoir, “Little Boy, I Know Your Name,” his childhood was marked by abuse and psychological trauma. However, optimism was present in two loving family members on his father’s side, aunt Sally and uncle Issa Springer. Issa, brother to Doris Martin (née Szpringer of Będzin, Poland, who founded MSI with husband Ralph), played a pivotal role in Raff’s life.  

Raff said the Springers showed him unwavering kindness, compassion and hope, even when, as an adult, the horrors of his past resurfaced. 

“I believe there is always hope and beauty despite our flaws and in the face of our trauma,” Raff said. “Mercifully, I was able to transform my life through that process and give my inherited trauma a name: Holocaust.” 

In February 2005, Issa died after a battle with metastatic colon cancer. Nearly 20 years later, he has chosen to pay the Springers’ love and support forward by establishing the $1 million Mitchell Raff Endowment for the Martin-Springer Institute in Memory of Sally and Issa Springer and an additional $500,000 to support MSI’s Holocaust education efforts. 

Raff’s gift will support MSI programming that will address—in light of the history, memory and legacy of the Holocaust—injustices today, especially acts, policies and ideologies that undermine or seek to destroy our shared humanity. His endowment will support students from diverse backgrounds, providing stipends to deserving students in need while supporting MSI programming and operational expenses. 

“With this future-focused gift, we can continue our mission for decades to come,” said Regents’ professor and director of the Martin-Springer Institute, Björn Krondorfer. “The gift from Mitchell represents the best in people: forward-looking to not repeat the mistakes of the past and ensure positive change in the future. His gift gives us the confidence that our program will continue to grow.” 

Krondorfer’s goal is to expand programming and outreach and eventually have a dedicated MSI space at NAU. 

Support the Martin-Springer Institute and ensure a future of teaching and learning of the Holocaust by visiting the NAU Foundation website. 

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Jill Kimball | NAU Communications
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NAU Communications