• Panel Discussion: Confronting Genocide: How You Can be an Upstander Against Evil

    Panel Discussion:
    Confronting Genocide: 

    How You Can be an Upstander Against Evil

    Sunday, November 1, 2015, at 2 p.m.

    Congregation L’Dor V’Dor, 49-10 Little Neck Parkway, Little Neck, NY 11362

      Germany1938       Germany 1938New York 2015New York 2015

    Join us at Congregation L’Dor V’Dor for a special Kristallnacht program, Confronting Genocide: How You Can be an Upstander Against Evil. The panel discussion will feature Jacqueline Murekatete, a Rwandan Genocide Survivor and Founder/President of Genocide Survivors Foundation; Anita Weisbord, a Kristallnacht Survivor; and Rachid Murad, Chief of Staff for the Commission on Global Security, Justice and Governance at The Hague Institute for Global Justice. Beth Lilach, Senior Director of Education and Community Affairs at HMTC will moderate the discussion.

    Following the program, we will be joining people across the globe as we plant 1.5 million daffodils in memory of the 1.5 million Jewish children murdered during the Holocaust. Each spring, the beauty of these daffodils will commemorate the generations destroyed and remind us to fight for today’s children threatened by violence, war and genocide.

    Admission is free but space is limited so please RSVP in advance to reserve your seat to rebyaffe@gmail.com or call (718) 224-0404.

    Sponsored by: Congregation L’Dor V’Dor, Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County, Oakland Little Neck Jewish Center, Marathon Jewish Center and Temple Torah of Little Neck

  • Holocaust Survivor Werner Reich Honored by Long Island Council of Churches

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    On October 8, 2015, Holocaust Survivor and HMTC speaker Werner Reich was honored by the Long Island Council of Churches. Werner was the Council’s Community Honoree because of his advocacy of interreligious cooperation. His remarks about interfaith dialogue and accepting others, such a central part of HMTC’s mission, follows:

    “Interfaith dialogue, by definition, is the constructive interaction between people of different religions. To many, this is a very deliberate, laborious, activity that requires researched tact, forced sensitivity and the cursory understanding of other people’s beliefs and customs, and without raising eyebrows, accepting those traditions although they, obviously make no sense at all.

    When I was a kid, I lived in a typical European country where religion and government were closely intertwined. This meant that we had, like it or not, once a week compulsory religious education of our choice during our regular school hours.

    Inasmuch as about 80% of the students were Catholic, all the Catholic students of a particular grade were placed into three separate classrooms and the rest of us and a few leftover Catholics, were in one separate classroom. During the hour of religious education, the priests went to the three classrooms and only one classroom had to be broken up and spread throughout the building where teachers of the respective religions were dispensing the basic principles of their faith.

    Consequently, I went to school with Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Askenazic and Sephardic Jews, Greek and Serbian Orthodox students and had friends in all these faiths. We went to each other’s homes, we participated in their home-centered religious activities, such as lighting Christmas trees or Hanukkah candles, celebrating Epiphany or Kurban Bajram. We ate each other’s ethnic and celebratory foods. We never questioned any of these customs, we never called each other derogatory names, we were just good friends. We really didn’t care about each other’s religion because nobody had told us that we should.

    It was only a few years later, when the Nazis arrived and then clearly explained to us who is inferior and who superior, that the general population, particularly the adults, learned who their true enemy was. We kids were too set in our ways to understand the division and we remained friends. When the war was over, most of my friends were dead.

    Today, some 75 years later, I have to explain to teenagers that, yes I am of a different religion to theirs and no, I am not and have never been a danger to them or society.

    Nobody ever asks you to explain why you chose a particular person as your life’s partner or why you chose a particular profession, information that only you can provide, but everybody seems to have some misinformation about your faith when, in fact, the truth can easily be obtained.

    Interfaith dialogue at its best does not come about by sitting around a table and telling each other how wonderful your or their faith is, it really comes about through acceptance of the other person’s belief and practices. Your religious preference does not shape your character, only your understanding and interpretation of it will.

    And while talking might get you a little bit closer, our behavior and actions are the deciding factors. Let me give you a brief example:

    My temple, just like any other house of worship, collects food which is then donated to food pantries. Several times a year I load up my car and drive to the Riverhead pantry. A few years ago, right after Passover, some congregants had some extra boxes of matzo and donated them to the temple. I was not sure if the Riverhead food pantry had any use for matzo, if their clients would eat it.

    To be sure that I am not wasting my time and the pantry’s space, I asked Carolyn, the manager, if she had any use for it. She vigorously nodded her head in approval and said, “They love it. They crumble it up and use it for breading pork chops.” This to me is a perfect example of religious acceptance, something that we all must strive for. I have done more with the matzo than I could have done with a well written sermon.

    To these clients the origin of the matzo was immaterial; its religious or symbolic significance was unknown and unimportant. To them it was simply Jewish food that had been donated, without conditions, by Jews with a big heart, food that will feed them and for which they are grateful. It was accepted without derogatory remarks or negative assumptions.

    And that’s the way all people should accept each other and each other’s actions. All of us, regardless of the faith we follow, try to live by the basic precepts of not hurting each other and be helpful, however this may be phrased. Or simply put: do the right thing. Which is the essence of every faith. If all of us followed this basic rule we would not have hungry or destitute people. We would not have two and a half million people in jails. We would not have hate and wars.

    2,000 years ago Rabbi Tarfon said, “It is not your responsibility to finish the job of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist either. ”

    This may be the reason why many of us in this room are devoting part of our life to others. It is the reason why I spend my time in schools fighting prejudice. That’s the reason why I am so grateful to the Long Island Council of Churches and the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center for opening doors for me in an effort to make this a better world. Even if it is just a little.

    I have obviously not reached my goal and never will, but your award gives me some indication that I am on the right path and maybe some day, somebody else will have the chance to finish the job.

    As, ages ago, a member of my tribe so beautifully state: Miracles sometimes do happen, but they take an awful lot of hard work.

    That may be absolutely true, but in our case, it’s worth it.

    Thank you”

    Congratulations to Werner on this honor!

  • “Comfort Woman” Survivor and Representatives from House of Sharing Visit HMTC

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    HMTC was honored by a visit from a “Comfort Woman” Survivor along with representatives from the House of Sharing, a home for survivors of sexual slavery by the Japanese military during WWII located in South Korea.  Chairman Steven Markowitz welcomed the group and Beth Lilach, Sr. Director of Education and Community Affairs, and Judy Vladimir, Director of Development, led the group on a tour of HMTC’s Holocaust Museum.

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    During the tour, Ms. Il-Chul Kang and Dr. Shin Kwon Ahn, President of the House of Sharing, were repeatedly struck by the similarities between the rape of Jewish women during the Holocaust and the sexualized atrocities suffered by the “Comfort Women.”

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    After the museum, the group visited the Holocaust and “Comfort Women” memorials at Eisenhower Park in Westbury, NY.  In a very emotional moment, Ms. Kang placed a stone on the memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.  Placing a small rock on a gravestone is a Jewish custom to mark a visit to a loved one’s grave; it symbolizes the permanence of memory and legacy.

    The group then visited the site of the memorial to the “Comfort Women” where Ms. Kang became overwhelmed with memories from her three-year captivity by the Japanese military.  She testified to being kidnapped from her home at age 12, and taken to a camp in China.  While imprisoned and forced into sexual slavery, she was kept in total isolation and never knew there were other girls and women also being held nearby.

    It was an extraordinary day, and one that all in attendance will remember Ms. Kang’s strength, dignity, and grace.

  • “The Magician of Auschwitz” – Book of the Month – May

    HMTC is delighted to feature Holocaust Survivor and HMTC speaker, Werner Reich’s book “ The Magician of Auschwitz” as our book of the month.

    Werner was a youThe Magician of Auschwitzng man when he entered Auschwitz death camp. While imprisoned, Werner befriended a famous magician, Herr Levin. While imprisoned, Levin was forced to perform magic for the concentration camp guards. By entertaining them, night after night, he was able to survive. In the midst of this terrible prison, Herr Levin showed Werner great kindness and taught Werner magic tricks. Herr Levin believed that “magic has helped keep me alive . . . perhaps it will help you too.” As Werner recalls upon learning his first magic trick from Levin; “it was nearly impossible to think about a future . . . but in that moment, he felt less afraid and less alone. Someone had cared about him and given him some hope. There was enough real magic in that for Werner to hold on to.”

    This beautiful and emotional children’s book explores the power of hope and friendship even in the most harsh of circumstances. “The Magician of Auschwitz” is a fantastic introduction for children into understanding the great brutality of Nazism and also the strength of human kindness.

    ” The Magician of Auschwitz” is available for purchase at the HMTC gift shop.

     

  • Film Screening: Memory After Belsen

    Film Screening: Memory After Belsen

    Sunday, March 1, 2015 ~ 1:00pm

    100 Crescent Beach Road, Glen Cove, NY 11542

    Discussion with filmmakers following screening.

    To reserve seats, please contact Tracy Garrison-Feinberg at

    (516) 571-8040 x 106 or tracygarrisonfeinberg@hmtcli.org

    Suggested Donation $10 adults, $5 students, seniors

    Light Refreshments

    This documentary film, Memory After Belsen, follows the granddaughter of a Survivor as she discovers the   reality of her grandmother’s experience. Her journey to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp serves as a springboard for exploring issues of memory. Voices of leading   scholars and educators contribute to this unique program on the future of Holocaust memory and how it is portrayed in contemporary culture through film, the arts, human rights initiatives and education.

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  • Reading Memoirs

    As a United States Holocaust Memorial Teaching Fellow and former junior-senior high school English teacher, I love to ask students and teachers what books they read while learning about the Holocaust.  Two titles seem to be recommended frequently: Ruth Minsky Sender’s memoir, The Cage; and Elie Wiesel’s memoir, Night.

    The Cage recounts the story of Riva Minska, born May 3, 1926 in Lodz, Poland. At thirteen years old, Riva lives with her widowed mother and siblings. Until September, 1939, when the Nazis invaded Poland, everything seems to be fine. Riva and her family have nice neighbors and friends. But after the invasion, all this changes as some neighbors betray the family when the Lodz Ghetto is established. Jews lose their homes; Riva’s mother is taken away by the Nazis, and Riva, now sixteen years old must be the ‘mother’ to her brothers since her older siblings have been smuggled to Russia for safety.

    Soon Riva and her brothers are deported to Auschwitz Concentration Camp where they are separated. Riva reveals the horror of the place, the daily struggle to survive one more day, the bravery and humanity of some of the inmates, and the memory of her mother’s voice saying, “As long as there is life, there is hope.”

    Night, originally written in French by Elie Wiesel ten years after he was liberated, is the story of his experience with his father from their home in the small town of Sighet, Transylvania to deportation to Auschwitz and Elie’s later journey in the ‘death march’ to Buchenwald as the war is ending. Elie, fourteen years old when his story begins, is religious and a good son; soon his family is sent to the ghetto, herded by the Hungarian police who are sympathetic to the Nazis. From there, the Jews are placed in cattle cars for the journey to Auschwitz where Elie and his father are separated from his mother and little sister and never sees them again.

    In understated language, Wiesel, a global spokesman for the Holocaust and winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, reveals a story of the “strength of the human spirit” as he, his father, and their fellow Jews try to help each other in order to survive the horrors of the camp, the hard labor, the daily loss of dignity, and the struggle to keep their religion. Elie tries to stay with his father as long as he can, protecting him, sharing with him, loving him.

    Both of these memoirs, of teenagers caught in the Holocaust, are used widely in schools across the country for students in middle school and high school. Students who read The Cage can email Survivor Ruth Minsky Sender at: rsender@optonline.net  and she will answer.

    At our Holocaust Memorial Tolerance Center (HMTC), you can find these books in our Louis Posner Memorial Library and on our book shelves in the main lobby where books are for sale. In addition, both books are on the recommended lists in our Center’s Holocaust education trunks. Both memoirs are excellent primary sources and fulfill the NYS Common Core Anchor Standards for grades 6-12.

    —Honey Kern, educator and HMTC volunteer

  • David and Jacqueline

    You cannot walk through our museum without being stopped by two voices resonating through the galleries from a small screen on the wall. David and Jacqueline. They are each a voicerepresenting what we do here at our Holocaust Center. Together they are the tragic symbol of the wide reach of the evil which permeates our world in the last century. But, at the same time, they are a tribute to the invincibility of the human spirit.

    “She – African, black, Christian, young; I, European, white, Jewish, not-so-young.  Yet we are like sister and brother. No one can understand us better than we understand each other,” David says on screen, before taking Jacqueline’s hand in his, drawing her to him and enfolding her in a fatherly embrace.

    Jacqueline and David’s story is also a segment of our personal biography – David’s and mine – for the past ten years. Jacqueline came into our lives in an ordinary way. A child writing a letter.

    After speaking to a class at VanBuren high school in Queens, David received a manila envelope from a teacher – a package of thank you notes from the students addressed to the speaker and sent to our Holocaust Center. On our way home from a meeting I picked up the letters and while David was driving, read them to him one by one. Among them was a letter that stood out from the stack. It was puzzling. The writer seemed to be a child with the wisdom and introspection of an old woman. In a calm, detached mode it spoke of horrors, drawing philosophical conclusions from personal catastrophes. The writer identified herself as a Rwandan, genocide survivor. She had lost her parents, her loving grandmother, all six of her siblings and her large extended family. She was wondering in what way she could help to prevent other such disasters in the future. She found her identity in the story of a Holocaust survivors and the motto Never Again! Could she too try and help to prevent future genocides? She wanted her life to matter.

    How could one answer this type of a letter?

    We decided to meet her personally and drove up to Queens where she was living with her uncle, who had retrieved her from an orphanage and brought her to the U.S. Waiting for us on top of an outside staircase of a Queens garden apartment stood a long-legged female figure in a black pants-suit. From the seat of our car she appeared to be six feet tall. After we parked our car and approached her we found ourselves looking into a face of a child. Jacqueline Murekatete was sixteen years old.

    She invited us inside, offered us a cup of tea and seating herself on the sofa between us calmly told us her story: A nine year old girl visiting grandma in a neighboring village…  radio blaring propaganda calling the Tutsis  snakes and roaches…. Barricades set up in the street to identify Tutsies. Neighbors, former friends following orders to hack one to death with machetes. Grandmother and child wildly running from hiding place to hiding place: A separation… an orphanage… children missing limbs… crying for their mothers…. Fear, cold, brutal fear!  And then survival. Survival?  The first moment of awareness… alone…  all alone in the world…What now?…Lucky an uncle who had escaped a previous Tutsi genocide eventually found and picked her up. She arrived in Texas. Knowing not a word of English.

    All through her bone-chilling narrative she sat between us poised, stone-faced, and dry-eyed, as if the people in her story were characters in a movie. I wished she would cry. Then at least I could wrap an arm around her, draw her head onto my shoulder and comfort her. But she was stronger than we and put both me and David to shame by handing us tissue for our tears. She ended with: “And no one did anything about it” –  a sentence that resonated in our ears for days and one she was to later repeat on the floor of the United Nations.

    “Take her along on one of your talks David,” I said one morning as we were talking about Jacqueline.

    “What will I do with her?” he responded.

    “Let her carry your briefcase if needed,” I said facetiously, “at least she will feel she is doing something.”

    David and Jacqueline gave their first talk together at Jacqueline’s high school – VanBuren. Neither her teacher nor her class had previously known anything about her other than she was from Africa.

    And so the Rwandan genocide was put on David’s agenda and consequently “on the map” – since there were very few people who had even heard the name of that unfortunate country and the destiny of the Tutsy minority murdered by their neighbors, the Hutus. Jacqueline soon carried her own briefcase. She and David became a team that traveled the route of schools, universities, community centers, churches, synagogues, and other public meeting places all over the US, and at times even oversees. Our shy child, Jacqueline, developed into a fine and confident speaker. The rest is on Google!

    Our personal relationship with Jacqueline defies conventional boundaries.  Newspaper reporters and other media personnel, looking for a newsworthy morsel have frequently tried to goad us into definition: “a daughter? A friend?  A colleague?  A relative?”

    “Yes! Nothing of the kind…  And all of the above…”  I would answer. Out of respect for her uncle, the blood relative who rescued and adopted her legally, we do not call her a daughter, though our special closeness strongly parallels a child/parent relationship. We love, respect, and are deeply concerned about one another. We feel we understand each other the way no one else can. We need very few words to communicate. We share each other’s joys and sorrows. There is between us – with apologies to reason- a type of ESP. David could always claim to sense when she would needed him; Jacqueline and I will shamelessly claim that she and I can identify each other’s telephone call by the tone of its ring. After her marriage, the addition of her husband Jean-Baptiste has further enriched our relationship and has brought us much happiness. We joyfully stood with them at their wedding; they stood with me at David’s death-bed. One day, when a baby comes, I will be outside the delivery room waiting to hold it. Mine and David’s grandchild.

    – Lillian Gewirtzman, Holocaust Survivor and HMTC Volunteer

    View Survivor Soulmates

     

  • My One-of-a-Kind Visit to the HMTC

    On Friday July 26th, 2013 30 teens including myself went to the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County. There we got to learn the history of the Holocaust and listen to testimony from Ethel Bauer Katz, one of the few remaining Holocaust survivors there is today.  If I had to summarize my experience in two words it would be amazing and emotional.

    The tour of the museum was great and taught me a lot, but nothing could compare to the testimony that I was able to hear with my own ears from Ethel Katz. It was my first Holocaust survival story that I had the pleasure of hearing and I will definitely never forget it. I myself am a very emotional person, and when Ethel began to share her story I couldn’t help but let a tear out. Ethel’s story is so powerful and shows her strength as a person. When she was in hiding during the war there were weeks that went by where she barely was able to get bread and water. She shared how she was in constant fear that a German soldier would find her and it would be the end for her. Ethel was strong and kept her emotions in check, and was able to be one of one million survivors that survived in hiding. She explained that just because a person was not in a concentration camp does not mean they are not a survivor. People in concentration camps and in hiding are all survivors of the Holocaust.

    Hearing Ethel’s testimony, I knew that now I have the duty of passing on her story to make sure that future generations know about the Holocaust and will not deny its existence. It is important to educate the youth and future generations on the tragedies of the Holocaust and make sure that it will never happen again. I also want to say that during the Holocaust, the Jews were bullied by Hitler and the Nazis; while everybody saw what was happening, many chose not to do anything and to be bystanders. If more people had decided to stand up to the bully and be Upstanders, the Holocaust may have never happened. Remember to always stand up and speak up if you ever see bullying because if we don’t stand up, then no one will.

    Ariela M. is a student and visited HMTC through the Jewish Child Care Association’s Bukharian Teen Lounge

     

  • My Sister’s Historical Moment

    I am so proud to tell everyone that my sister Flora M. Singer is the first Holocaust Survivor in the U.S.A. to have a public school named in her honor. The ceremony took place on June 10, 2013 in Silver Spring Maryland at the school and Eli Rosenbaum spoke along with other dignitaries.

    My sister Flora was a remarkable woman.  She was born in Antwerp, Belgium and our childhood was filled with family get-togethers, visits with friends and going to school. It all came to a frightening end in May of 1940 when World War II entered into Belgium.  After surviving the Holocaust, she came to the United States in 1946 where she learned English, worked to help support our family and eventually married and had children.

    After her children grew older, she completed her GED and graduated from the Master’s Program at the University of Maryland with honors.  She taught French and German in various Montgomery County Public Schools. Her most notable accomplishment was that she instituted Holocaust studies at the high school level.  During the summer months, she taught teachers Holocaust studies that they received credit for and prepared them to teach about the Holocaust in their respective schools.

    My sister and I are founding members of the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and she became an official spokesperson.  She gave tours to many important people and collected lots of money for the Museum.  Flora spoke at the White House and we spoke together in Congress.  In addition, she traveled to military installations all over the United States to speak to soldiers about the Holocaust.

    In September 2009, the Montgomery County Board of Education made the decision to build a new elementary school in response to overcrowding at the Oakland Terrace Elementary School.  This school is the latest in a budgeted plan to ensure that Montgomery County, Maryland sustains its national leadership position in education, supporting its high-achieving students, professional educators and administration while offering world-class facilities. I am not surprised that they chose to honor my sister by naming this new school for her.

    My sister believed in the importance of education and the importance of human tolerance.  She was so full of enthusiasm, she had an uplifting spirit and an infectious smile.  The school even celebrated their first Flora Singer Day which will be an annual event.

    I am very proud of my sister Flora. The dedication ceremony was wonderful!

    Charlotte Gillman is a Holocaust Survivor and a committed volunteer for the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County

  • August 2013 Volunteer of the Month

    The Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County is pleased to recognize Helga Shepard as our Volunteer of the Month.

    “’You will be going on the train with your brother!’ That is what I was told in 1939, when I was six years old, living in Berlin, Germany with
    my family: my mother, my father and my older brother Martin.” Born to polish parents in Germany, Helga lived a normal life with her family until Kristallnacht in 1938. “Hitler, with Kristallnacht, the night of fearful violence against Jews, made his murderous intentions clear and my parents sent me and my brother to safety in England with the Kindertransport.” The Kindertransport helped to save thousands of Jewish children by sending them from their homes (predominantly in Eastern and Central Europe) to British homes. While most of the Jewish children placed in these households found refuge in England, Helga was confronted with intolerance and cruelty. Helga was placed in a home where the family regarded her as inferior and treated her as a servant.

    While in England, Helga survived the German bombardment of London, known as the London Blitz. During this time, her father was sent to Shanghai while her mother was trapped in a camp in Paris.  After eight years apart, Helga was reunited with her parents in Paris. The family arrived in the United States in 1953.

    While in the United States, Helga pursued her education and a career as a social worker. Helga has a wonderful family with three lovely children and three adorable grandchildren. In 2002, Helga visited the HMTC to see an exhibit on the Kindertransport by Robert Sugar. Here, she signed up to become a speaker for the HMTC and has been doing so for the past 11 years.

    Of her experience at the HMTC, Helga says “When I speak to groups, I speak honestly about life. I tell them not to believe the names people may call them.  I tell them they will find life has its ups and its downs and to never give up hope, and above all to enjoy life.”