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entries tagged with: Yom Hashoah


Program honors little-known hero of Holocaust

The Holocaust Resource Center of Greater Clifton-Passaic will hold its annual Yom HaShoah observance on April 11 at the Jewish Community Center, 199 Scoles Ave., in Clifton. The program will include a special tribute to a former New York University dean responsible for saving the lives of Jewish doctors and scientists.

Physicist Albert Einstein, who left Germany in 1933, had been trying, in cooperation with Jewish organizations, to get Jews out of Germany and Austria and into the United States. He asked leaders of scientific and academic institutions to hire Jewish professionals for teaching positions, which would allow them to get visas quickly, thus getting around the waiting periods imposed by the State Department.

One of the leaders who responded to Einstein’s plea and helped him to persuade others to do likewise was Dr. Currier McEwen, the dean of NYU Medical School. As a result of McEwen’s efforts, NYU made faculty appointments to approximately 20 German and Austrian Jewish physicians and professors. As McEwen told a friend many years later, no one school could afford to keep all the Jewish scientists and physicians on its faculty permanently, but NYU gave them two-year appointments to satisfy the State Department and get them away from the Nazis quickly. This gave them time to establish a private practice here or get themselves onto other faculties.

McEwen’s hobby was horticulture. He hybridized over 160 new types of irises and 43 new types of daylilies. Some of his irises are grown at the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens in Upper Montclair. At the Yom HaShoah observance, the Holocaust Resource Center and the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens will honor McEwen for his humanitarian efforts. Between 6 and 7 p.m., Dr. Robert and Bernice Moskowitz will host a reception for McEwen’s family, members of the Presby Memorial Gardens, and faculty and alumni of NYU Medical School. A video about his life will be shown. Members of the public may also attend this reception, but reservations are required. For information, call (973) 777-7031, ext. 147 and ask for Nancy or (973) 779-2980 and ask for Maria.

The Holocaust Memorial Observance will take place in the JCC auditorium from 7 to 8 p.m. It will be presided over by Stuart Rabner, chairman of the Holocaust Resource Center, and Max Birnbaum, chairman of the Holocaust Memorial Observance Committee. Dr. Anthony Grieco, associate dean of the NYU Medical School, will speak about McEwen and Prof. Fred Einstein, a grand-nephew of Albert Einstein, will read a letter from his great-uncle to McEwen. The Presby Gardens will plant irises developed by McEwen in the raised planters in the circular front driveway of the JCC as a memorial to him, and a presentation will be made to his family.

The keynote speaker will be Ernest Michel, a Holocaust survivor who, until his retirement in 1989, was executive vice president and CEO of UJA-Federation of New York. Michel spent five and a half years in Auschwitz and several other Nazi concentration camps. He later covered the Nuremburg war crimes trials as a correspondent for a German news agency. Michel was also the initiator and chairman of the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Jerusalem in 1981, which was attended by 6,000 survivors and their families from all over the world.

Other participants in the program will be YBH Hillel School of Passaic, survivors and their children, who will light candles in memory of the 6 million, Cantor Richard Starashevsky of Young Israel of Passaic Park, and Rabbi Dovid Hirsch, a rosh yeshiva at the Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Yeshiva of Yeshiva University and religious leader of Kehilas Bais Yosef in Passaic.

A separate program for children from nursery school age to fifth grade will be held from 7 to 8 p.m.


Louder than words


Police still investigating graffiti at Wayne school

The discovery of swastikas spray-painted on an elementary public school in Wayne Saturday night, the eve of Yom HaShoah, drew swift condemnation from the township’s Jewish community but its leaders remained unconcerned about a spike in anti-Semitism.

The graffiti — which included the message “I love Hitler,” swastikas, and several sexual messages — were found on playground equipment and a wall at Randall Carter Elementary School. They were cleaned up by the end of the day Sunday. No other incidents were reported across the state during the weekend, according to Etzion Neuer, director of New Jersey’s office of the Anti-Defamation League.

Police were continuing their investigation on Wednesday. Because the swastikas were accompanied by graffiti of a sexual nature, police believe the perpetrator or perpetrators were juveniles, said Det. Sgt. Charles Ahearn. Police do not suspect a larger trend within Wayne.

“As of right now it’s an isolated incident,” Ahearn said. “We’re treating it as that. We are taking it extremely seriously, however.”

Youths, Neuer said, continue to be the No. 1 perpetrators of bias crimes in New Jersey, but he warned against assuming that the perpetrators are connected with the school.

Police routinely patrol the township’s schools, and that led to the discovery of the graffiti. Holocaust education can be a powerful tool but “is no automatic inoculation against bias incidents,” Neuer said. “Incidents like this point to the need for increased attention to youth. With the distance of the Shoah, we worry about the solemnity of [Yom HaShoah] and the cheapening of the meaningfulness of the Holocaust.”

Ahearn said investigators are taking Yom HaShoah into account but added that there is no indication yet of a link between the commemoration and the graffiti. Though the timing may be a coincidence, it is still troubling, according to Neuer.

“For many people, the Holocaust is a distant event and exists only in crumbling yellow newspapers,” he said. “For survivors, memories are vivid. Imagine the pain when they opened the newspaper on Monday morning and saw ‘Hitler’ spray-painted on a school wall.”

Such incidents elicit strong emotional responses from the community, Jews and non-Jews alike, said Rabbi Stephen Wylen of Temple Beth Tikvah. Of greater concern, however, the rabbi said, is subtler demonization of Jews, such as misrepresentations in school textbooks and in anti-Israel letters to area newspapers.

“It’s the subtler but more consistent forms of demonization against the Jews that does us more damage,” he said. “I’m concerned the Jewish community is less reactive toward those things.”

Rabbi Randall Mark of Cong. Shomrei Torah intends to raise the vandalism issue with the Wayne Clergy Fellowship. Mark, who is president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, does not plan to raise the issue with the board. The incident, he said, can be an opportunity for education. He praised the Wayne schools for past responses to past anti-Semitic incidents after which they brought in the ADL for tolerance curricula.

“Every time something negative happens it’s an opportunity to do something positive with it,” he said.

The Wayne police have asked those who have any information regarding this incident to call them at (973) 633-3549.


Yom HaShoah marked in area

Survivors, their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren stand in silence during Kaddish after lighting candles in Teaneck. From left are Hanka Lew, Jerry Stein, Gaby Erdfarb, Sharon Schild, Adele Rozenes Wertheimer, Ilana Erdfarb, Yakov Schindel, Tzipora Schindel, Norbert Strauss, Talia Aronoff, and Esther Perl. Steve Fox

The community marked Yom HaShoah, the commemoration of the Holocaust, at various sites this week.

UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey held its observance, which also marked the 67th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, at the Frisch School in Paramus on Sunday. Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, was the keynote speaker. (See also page 36.) Foxman, who had been a hidden child, told the audience of some 500 people, “The world knew about the Holocaust, but did nothing about it. Only Bulgaria saved all of its 50,000 Jews, and Albania saved its 20,000 Jews. They did what they could. Today, we stand up and say no to hate, bigotry, and anti-Semitism.”

The Frisch choir led the audience in the Star-Spangled Banner and Hatikvah, as well as accompanying a children’s candlelighting procession.

Rosalind Melzer and Allyn Michaelson chaired the event.

Suvivor Mordechai Nitka, 91, of Fair Lawn, is honored in Paramus as he lights the third candle in memory of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust. Other survivors honored included Richard Klepfisz, 89, Glen Rock; Jeanette Berman, 89, Saddle River; Emmi Apfel, 95, Elmwood Park; Harry Zansberg, 84, Fort Lee; and Doris Kirschberg, 83, Hackensack. KEN HILFMAN

The Teaneck Jewish Community Council held its observance at Teaneck High School on Monday. More than 1,000 people heard testimony by Margrit Wreschner Rustow, who survived three concentration camps before being liberated from Theresienstadt and eventually returning to her native Holland. Rustow later became a psychoanalyst researching and working with child survivors of the Holocaust in Switzerland and Israel.

Meir Fox sang the national anthems and Zalmen Mlotek, artistic director of the National Yiddish Theater-Folksbiene, and his son Avram gave a presentation of Yiddish songs and poetry. All are from Teaneck.

Survivors and their families took part in a candlelighting ceremony while the names of township families who lost relatives during the Holocaust were read by Rabbi John Krug and Arline Duker.

Blanche Hampel Silver, Amy Elfman, and Mashy Oppenheim chaired the event.

Observances were held as well in Englewood and Teaneck.


What happened to my grandfather, Karl Breslau, A”H

I am named after my paternal grandfather, Yekusiel ben Naftali, Alav Hashalom. Because of the inexplicable cruelty of the Nazis, we were never to meet. Now that I have come to experience the unique joys of being a grandfather, I often think about him and about the relationship we might have had.

My father, an only child, lived with my grandparents, Karl and Bertha Breslau, in Frankfurt. My grandfather was a retired chief shochet of the Frankfurt Jewish community and received a pension from it. In November of 1938, my grandparents went on a brief vacation. Unfortunately, they were attacked and beaten on Kristallnacht and returned to Frankfurt. My grandmother then suffered a stroke. She died in June of 1939 and was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Frankfurt.

My grandfather had set up a code with my father, a banker. If the Gestapo ever came to the house looking for my father, my grandfather would call him at his office and say that “Uncle Gustav had come to visit.” One day my father was detained in his office past the time that he usually left for home, and he received the dreaded phone call. With the clothes on his back and the money in his pocket, he took a train to Berlin to get away and “have time to think” about what to do next. Because my father had blond hair and blue eyes, he escaped the Berlin Gestapo railway station detail and was able to get a visa to America rather quickly.

All he brought with him from his office were a couple of pictures of his parents and the infamous Nazi ID picture of Jews that featured a profile from the left side showing the left ear, which the Nazis felt showed Jewish traits.

He had to leave his father behind and, once World War II started, it was impossible to communicate with him. He heard from a friend who had heard that my grandfather had died in a boxcar on his way to Auschwitz in April of 1942. Since his grandfather had died on 23 Nisan, he adopted that as his father’s yahrzeit.

About two years ago, “60 Minutes” aired a program about the opening of all the German concentration camp records. They explained that the International Tracing Service was accepting inquiries about family members who died in the various camps. (The URL is I assumed that, if my grandfather had made it to Auschwitz alive, there would be a record of his arrival and I sent an inquiry to the ITS.

Six months later, I received a letter from Germany. I was told that my grandfather had been deported from Frankfurt on “Transport #3.” The heading on the first page identified the list as Transport #3 from Frankfurt to Riga, Latvia; in the middle of the second page was my grandfather’s name, with his address, birth date, and the address from where he was deported. The letter stated that no further records of what happened at Riga were available but perhaps more information could be obtained from the State Archives at Wiesbaden.

I wrote to the Wiesbaden authorities and received a letter, in German, with the following affidavit filled out by my father, A”H. It stated: “On May 21, 1939, my father lived in 9 Kronenberger Strasse in Frankfurt AmMain, Germany and then went to the Jewish old age home on 8 Wohlerstrasse, in Frankfurt. In 1940, he received as the former chief schochet of the Jewish Congregration, 200 Reichsmarks per month.”

The letter from Wiesbaden simply stated that my grandfather had been deported from Frankfurt — probably some time between 1941 and 1942 and killed thereafter. It also contained a 1999 article by researcher Monica Kingreen, in German, called “The Deportation of November 22, 1941.”

My German wasn’t good enough to translate the entire article, so Sid Haarburger of Teaneck was kind enough to sit with me and translate it.

In order to give a feel for the mood of the deportees of October/November of 1941, approximately 20 percent of the Frankfurt Jewish community, the author included a farewell letter from a 68-year-old woman named Bertha Oppenheimer to her children in the “ausland,” out of the country.

“My dear children,” she wrote, “I hope you are well. I am very agitated having been informed that I will have to leave Frankfurt on Thursday. I can only take bare necessities. I will let you know my new address, if permitted. Perhaps you can send me something there. Unfortunately, my desire to see you once more was not fulfilled. In any case, I am saying goodbye to you with all of the best wishes as a mother can wish her children. I want to hurry and mail this letter to the post office. I am so nervous I can’t write any more. Keep always together in happy and sad times. And pray for your mother. In thought, I am always with you.

“With kisses,


I carry my grandfather’s name and, after 69 years, I can finally observe a proper yahrzeit for him. Because of the information contained in that article (see sidebar), I now know that he was niftar on Nov. 25, 1941, at the age of 73. I pray that tiyeh nafsho tsarur bitsror hachaim. May his soul be bound up in the bond of life. I pray that he knows that his great-grandchildren and their children are keeping his traditions and memory alive.


Area marks Yom HaShoah

Teaneck: ‘We Jews had to take care of each other”

Holocaust victims were remembered and survivors honored Monday night as the Teaneck Jewish Community Council held its 29th Holocaust commemoration.

The auditorium at Teaneck High School was packed as hundreds of survivors, family, and friends listened to a gripping account of living through the Holocaust by Fanya Gottesfeld Heller, who grew up in a small village in Ukraine.

Heller, the keynote speaker, confronted the unanswerable question: “Who were the killers, who killed during the day and ate dinner and listened to Beethhoven at night?”

How did the best minds in Germany — doctors, engineers, architects — apply their brain power to perfecting the Nazi killing machine?

Yet the man who saved her family, at risk to his own and his family’s life, was an illiterate, poor, Polish peasant, motivated by the desire simply to take the moral path with no ulterior motive.

The family hid for two years in the attic, then the barn, then a hole under where the cows were kept. They were plagued by lice and typhus, Heller said. Even their Polish rescuer was stricken, and he did not seek treatment because it was known that hidden Jews suffered from typhus and he would be given away.

“He made his choices” to do the right thing, she said of the Polish man, noting that other neighbors were all too ready to collaborate with the Nazis,

Heller, now living in Manhattan, told of the anti-Semitism that existed in her village even before the Nazis came, and then after the war ended. She pointed to the ignorance of her neighbors.

“They didn’t know about us, and we didn’t know about them,” she said. “We Jews had to take care of each other from cradle to grave. At a young age I had to grow up overnight.”

The horrors of the killing were made vivid in her talk. The village was surrounded by a brook that ran red from the blood of victims, she said. Of 1,500 Jews in her village, only 45 survivors, “skeletons” as she called them, came back after the war.

Heller spoke of the challenges facing women who had to make agonizing choices, for example about whom to feed when food was very scarce.

After the war, anti-Semitism was still virulent, and Heller told of her life as a refugee, getting married, and looking for refuge in European countries. “Nobody wanted us. The irony is we wound up in Germany,” she said, where her daughter was born.

After her ordeal, being attended to by German doctors was too much to bear, and she quickly fled with her newborn daughter, she said.

Heller spoke of her renewal of faith. “I came back to God because God was good to me,” she said, citing her family. She has three children, eight grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren.

“We all must care for each other, Jews, Christians, and Muslims,” she said.

After a long journey, she arrived in the United States in 1960.

Heller brings a unique expertise to the Holocaust issue. Besides her own encounter with good and evil, she holds a master’s degree in psychology.

Her experiences are recounted in her book, “Love in a World of Sorrow: A Teenage Girl’s Holocaust Memoirs.” A documentary based on the book was produced, “Teenage Witness: The Fanya Heller Story,” narrated by Richard Gere. (Read more about Heller on her website,

Among other survivors attending the event, emotion flowed.

Ernest Osimsky tried to stifle a tear as he recalled his childhood in Vienna and his survival of Mathaushen. “I don’t forgive and I don’t forget.”

“All my family is gone, I live in the past,” he said. He said he feels it’s his duty to attend memorials, and he would “feel guilty” if he didn’t. He is 84.

For Irene Frank of River Edge, a native of Berlin, it means a lot to honor the memories of her family, who were killed. Monday was her birthday, and she recalled working on a flax- processing machine in a slave labor camp on the same day, May 2, 1945, when Berlin surrendered.

She brought with her a small doll, made out of flax, given to her by a young girl inmate at that same camp as a birthday gift in 1945.

Frank was accompanied by her granddaughter, Michele Fais. “It’s an honor to be walking up [to light a candle] with my grandmother and to honor what she has been through,” said Michele. “She’s a strong lady.”

Marlo Schachter of Bergenfield, who survived the Kovno ghetto, was there with three generations of offspring: daughter Claire Hirschhorn; granddaughters Cheryl Scher and Erica Yadlovker; and great-granddaughter Sara Shoshana, 18 months.

“It’s something beautiful,” she said, gazing at Sara Shoshana.

Schachter was accompanied by her husband, Julius Stern, who left Germany in 1939.

The evening was opened by welcoming remarks by Bruce Prince, co-president of the Jewish Community Council, and Steven Fox, one of the chairpersons for the event. Fox noted that the remembrance took 12 months of preparation and the efforts of some 40 volunteers.

Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin read a proclamation designating May 1 to May 8 as Days of Remembrance.

As part of the somber evening, some 30 survivors in the darkened auditorium stood for several minutes, each holding a small light. Also, family members of survivors came on stage to light candles.

The names of family members of local residents lost in the Holocaust were read by Rabbi John Krug and Arline Duker.

Meir Fox, a Frisch graduate and Queens College student, led the gathering in singing “Hatikvah,” followed by “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Yiddish songs of the Holocaust were performed by Zalmen Mlotek with his sons Avram and Elisha.

The Holocaust committee is working to establish a permanent memorial to Holocaust victims with a Teaneck connection, Fox said. They are seeking ideas for a location and a design. Information on the committee can be found at

For more Yom HaShoah photographs, go to


Area marks Yom HaShoah

Kaplen JCC: ‘The Holocaust made me who I am’

“When I think back — and I do — there are no words to convey the horror,” Eva Lux Braun told hundreds gathered at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades to mark Yom HaShoah Sunday night.

Braun, a native of Hungary who survived Auschwitz, was the evening’s keynote speaker.

The evening also featured a recorded address from Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; a ceremony in which six candles were lit by survivors and their families; musical performances by the JCC Thurnauer School of Music, the Yeshivat Noam Choir, and harmonicist Abraham Barzelay; and the awarding of the Abe Oster Holocaust Remembrance Award for the best poems by high school students.

Braun said she grew up in a comfortable middle-class Jewish family who were isolated from society and then ordered from their home after Hitler invaded.

“All the months of hardship prior to the deportation, we reassured each other that at least we were together,” she said.

But at the gates of Auschwitz, they were separated by Joseph Mengele.

Braun and her sister Vera were sent in one direction; her mother and her youngest sister were sent in the other. Braun was not yet 17.

“My mother’s last words to me and my sister were ‘stay together.’

“Later I asked a kapo [a prisoner who supervised other prisoners] where were my mother and sister taken. He pointed to the chimneys where the acrid black smoke burned.

“The force that continued to give me strength to survive was the importance of fulfilling my mother’s last words, to never be separated from my sister, and the hope that we would be reunited with my father, who was taken to a different part of the camp.”

Throughout their stay in Auschwitz, and in the forced marches after the camp was evacuated as the Russians approached in December of 1944, Braun and her sister stayed together. After liberation they returned to their home. But they never found their father.

“I counted 64 members of my extended family among the martyrs and heroes,” she said. “Each and every absence influenced my life. We survivors honor them by speaking of their tragic fate.

“The Holocaust made me who I am. It shaped my life. The tattoo on my arm has faded as the skin on my arm has wrinkled, but it is still strikingly visible. As long as we survivors can remember our experiences, listen to us.”

Braun’s story was recently adapted into a picture book for children aged 5 to 8. “The Promise” tells how Braun remained with her sister and of their imprisonment in Auschwitz, but omits the killing of her parents and other details that might be inappropriate for children. It can be read online or purchased at


Area marks Yom HaShoah

UJA: ‘We must make sure every child learns about the Shoah’

Nachum Mester of Wanaque lights a candle as his daughter Zahava Trosten and his son Isaak look on. Charles Zusman

Survivors, family and friends gathered Sunday at The Frisch School for a Holocaust memorial, but while they were physically in Paramus, their attention was focused thousands of miles away, on Auschwitz, where the annual March of the Living was taking place.

Originally the “march of death,” from Auschwitz to the death camp at Birkenau, now it’s the March of the Living, said Wallace Greene, a member of the Holocaust Committee of the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, the gathering’s sponsor. He noted that 10,000 youngsters take part, most (but not all) of them Jewish.

Unfortunately, bad weather in Poland prevented much of a planned live telecast from Auschwitz from getting through, but recorded speeches by Elie Wiesel, and then Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Major Jewish Organizations, were displayed on the large screen.

Some video did make it through, however, and the audience saw live images of youngsters gathered at Auschwitz, and a song performed by Dudu Fischer.

Meanwhile, the ceremony in Paramus was emotional in its own right. Youngsters in the audience carried 68 candles, commemorating the 68th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. The candles were lined up on the stage in front of the screen displaying the images from Auschwitz. Song was provided by the Frisch Concert Choir under Scott Stein.

Survivors honored at the Paramus event were Lilly Veron of Fair Lawn, who was born in Hungary and survived the war in work camps in Vienna; Jack Rosen of Fair Lawn, born in Poland, who survived Auschwitz; and Stella Baum of Fort Lee, born in Poland, who survived the war hiding in the woods.

Also honored were Abe Klein of Fair Lawn, born in Poland, who survived a roundup in Lublin; Rae Nutkiewicz, born in Poland, who was taken by her mother to the Russian zone and survived the war in Siberia: and Nachum Mester of Wanaque, born in Moldova, under a bush, he said, after the train deporting his mother was bombed.

Alan Scharfstein, UJA-NNJ’s president, spoke of the event’s lasting message. “Our purpose is not just to tell the story,” he said, but also to “ensure that the story becomes part of the DNA of the Jewish people, and part of the collective DNA of all humanity.”

There is a long way to go to reach that goal, he said, but the annual remembrance is a step in that direction.

Greene spoke of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and other acts of rebellion. “Jews did fight back,” he said. “Despite overwhelming odds … they fought back in many ways. By retaining their humanity and refusing to be dehumanized by the Nazis, by acts of kindness to one another, even in the camps, by acts of piety, by acts of nobility … even in the darkest holes of evil and horror that they experienced.”

“We are grateful to be living in America. We are grateful to the survivor community; they are our living witnesses,” he continued. “For the dead, and for the living, we too must be witnesses,” Greene said.

“We must guarantee that the next generation will know what happened,” he said, “We must make sure that every child learns about the Shoah” so that their children will know what happened when there are no longer any surviving witnesses.

David Machlis of Englewood, the vice chair of the International March of the Living, conceived the idea of the live telecast, Greene said. Co-chairs for the Paramus event were Rosalind Melzer and Allyn Michaelson.

Greene said the hope is for more youngsters to take part in the March for the Living, saying that the “powerful experience” strengthens their identity as Jews, bringing “a stronger feeling for Jewish continuity,” and he appealed for donations for the program.

Greene said that the non-Jewish participants in the March of the Living “are more likely to take part in social justice activities. They are more likely to take action against discrimination.”

Wiesel opened his pre-recorded address with a question: How can people, the Nazis, reach such depths? “We have learned that racism is stupid and anti-Semitism is a disgrace,” he said.

“Whoever listens to a witness becomes a witness. We must never allow our past to become our children’s future.”

Hoenlein continued that thread. “We remember [in order] to spare future generations of the trials of the past,” he said. “Judaism puts an emphasis on life. We look back in order to look forward.”

He cited the lessons of the 1930s, when Nazism was on the rise, but said there are differences now — there is the State of Israel and there is an Israel Defense Forces. “We must determine our future course” and not let our enemies do so, he said.

However, he said, the “big lie” still works, and “messages of hate” now spread faster than in the ‘30s. He cited the anti-Israel stance of Iran, the tragedy of Darfur, the recent murders of an Israeli family, and the fact that “the world is silent” in the face of these. “We have to speak out against indifference to us and to others,” he said.

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