Tag Archives: Holocaust

The Chorus of Remembrance

Sylvia Ruth Gutmann was seven years old when, in 1946, she boarded a ship to America with her two sisters. Four years earlier, in a French internment camp, they had been torn away from their parents. While they were hidden for a time in France and then smuggled into Switzerland, their parents were each sent by cattle car to the death camp at Auschwitz and gassed upon their arrival. (pictured above: Sylvia (center), with her two sisters, Switzerland, 1945)

The voyage to America was difficult. The ship was filled with desperate refugees and reeked from the rotting vegetables that were their sustenance. Like many passengers, Sylvia became sick, soiling her dress multiple times. When she and her sisters arrived in New York, they were met by their aunt and uncle, who took in the traumatized girls and helped them start a new life.

Newly enrolled in school and struggling to learn a new language, Sylvia chose a special item for “show and tell”; one that that would help her share her story. She brought in the dress she wore on the ship. She told her classmates about her journey on the smelly ship, and about the murder of her parents. Her teacher, Mrs. Lynch, immediately grabbed Sylvia’s arm, hissing, “You little liar! Be quiet and sit down!” Many years would pass before Sylvia would share her experience again.

That cruel incident took place at a time before the world had fully faced and come to understand the horrors of the Holocaust, as we would in the decades to follow. And yet, seventy years later – we find ourselves with new challenges of knowledge and memory.

A 2018 survey of United States residents showed that forty-one percent of millennials believe that only two million Jews or fewer were killed in the Holocaust. Sixty-six percent of them could not identify what Auschwitz was. In Europe, a third of those polled knew "just a little or nothing at all" about the Holocaust. These numbers are obviously deeply concerning, especially as the very youngest of the survivors who can give first hand witness to the Holocaust are advancing into their eighties.

Through programming connected to the New England Holocaust Memorial, JCRC’s Holocaust education work is centered around survivor testimony. We are committed to providing opportunities for survivors to transmit their experiences for as long as they are able. The Memorial was intentionally placed in the heart of the Boston, along the Freedom Trail and across from City Hall, so that this memory would carry beyond the Jewish community and to all people visiting our city.

In this spirit, to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day this past Sunday, we invited Sylvia to share her story (documented in her extraordinary memoir) of unimaginable loss and remarkable resilience with an audience of some fifty people at the Brookline Booksmith. And on Monday, we brought survivor Jack Trompetter to Lynn Classical High School. This was the first and perhaps only time that the 400 students assembled will hear a firsthand account from a Holocaust survivor.

JCRC also worked with our partners these past weeks to promote Holocaust remembrance with a Boston City Council commemoration and as part of the “We Remember” social media campaign organized by the World Jewish Congress. Elected officials from across the Commonwealth took part to lend their voices to the chorus of remembrance.

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The Boston City Council for International Holocaust Remembrance Day

But faced with the alarming figures about the lack of knowledge, we need to double down to ensure that the Shoah is remembered, through meaningful education of the next generation.

Senator Rodrigues

To protect the transmission of history, Holocaust education cannot be relegated to special occasions like the ones this week, but must be fully embedded into the curriculum of all our schools. That is why JCRC has joined with the ADL and others to support legislation mandating Holocaust and genocide education in Social Studies classes across Massachusetts. The bill, filed by Senator Michael Rodrigues and Representative Jeff Roy would ensure a curriculum designed to lift up the very stories and experiences shared by Sylvia, Jack, and the survivor community.

As a community, we understand our sacred obligation to honor the memory of the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis. We remember the warning signs ignored and the indifference of those who knew what was being done at that time; an indifference that provided the necessary cover for this horror. We hear and tell the stories of our survivors – so that we may bear witness to their experiences and carry their memories forward.  Our work of memory is entwined with our hope for the future; it informs and inspires our efforts to build a future where anti-Semitism, all bigotries, and the indifference that enables them, will someday find no quarter.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

CJP/JCRC Statement on August 14 Vandalism of New England Holocaust Memorial

We are appalled and saddened that the New England Holocaust Memorial was vandalized Monday night for the second time in just 6 weeks. The images of Nazis marching in the streets of America over the weekend in Charlottesville and now shattered glass once again at this sacred space in Boston are an affront to our Jewish community and to all those who stand-up against bigotry, hatred and anti-Semitism. We thank the Boston Police and the Public Works Department for their rapid response and for their continuing support during this difficult time. We will remain resilient and will have a timeline for rebuilding the memorial once we have assessed the damage.

For information about the New England Holocaust Memorial or to make a donation, visit www.nehm.org/donate.



 

The Memorial consists of six towers representing the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust; the six years from 1939-1945 during which the “final solution” took place, and; the six main death camps where the majority of Europe’s Jews – men, women, and children – were murdered. The Memorial, which was created by Holocaust survivors who made a new life in the Boston area, is open 24-7.

The New England Holocaust Memorial, located on Congress Street across from City Hall, is managed by CJP in partnership with JCRC.

Shattered but Not Broken

Early Wednesday morning a carefully planned day was disrupted by an event whose urgency would necessitate JCRC’s immediate attention and action: as Holocaust survivors and their children across our community awoke, they would learn about the desecration of a sacred space – the New England Holocaust Memorial (NEHM) – on the morning news.

By now you are no doubt aware that a pane of glass – etched with numbers the Nazis carved into the arms of their victims – had been shattered in an act of vandalism during the night. For JCRC – charged with the responsibility of convening our community together at this site and ensuring its centrality as a conduit for education and the transmission of memory –  several critical questions arose. How best to support our community in the face of this trauma? How to begin the process of healing? How to be assured that justice would be done, enabling us to move forward as a stronger and more united community?

The answer was one that defines community relations: reach out to our network, rely on the strengths of each of our member organizations, look to the relationships we and they have built over years, and speak with one voice as one community in the public square.

By the time most Bostonians woke up, our team was working with many of our members, in particular CJP, ADL, and the American Association of Holocaust Survivors, along with many individual leaders, and particularly those who led in the building of the Memorial over two decades ago. As a collective, we had more information, more resources, and more contacts with public leaders than any of us individually could possibly have. Together, we had a plan.

By the time most Bostonians arrived at work, we knew where the replacement glass panes were stored. We knew how the Boston Police Department and Commissioner Evans were handling the investigation. We knew that Mayor Walsh was personally involved and that District Attorney Conley was preparing to arraign a suspect in custody.

And we knew that in concert with our various organizations and leaders, we needed to demonstrate our strength and resiliency, to stand with our public officials in sharing this information with our community, and most significantly, to assert that while glass had been shattered, we were not broken.

By 9:30 am we released an advisory, contacted and briefed more of our members, and encouraged them and our partners to get the word out. By 11:00 am we were gathered, some 200 of us, together with Mayor Walsh, the DA, many members of the City Council, interfaith partners, and most importantly, leaders from the Holocaust survivor community.

We stood before the shattered glass in front of a bank of cameras – virtually the entire Boston media and many from afar – to support each other and to stand as one. We heard from Izzy Arbeiter, community leader and survivor of multiple concentration camps, who bore numbers on his arm like those on the shattered memorial. Izzy told us of being woken by his sobbing wife, whose inability to speak alarmed him into thinking that perhaps something tragic happened to a family member. We heard a resounding and unwavering message of support from Mayor Walsh and a message on behalf of Governor Baker who was unable to be in Boston this morning. We had a briefing from DA Conley, with his assurance that justice would be done. Thanks to the witnesses who fulfilled their civic responsibility by reaching out to law enforcement, and thanks to CJP’s 24-hour video monitoring, the case was already moving swiftly. And thanks to the foresight of the community leaders who established the NEHM, replacement glass would be on its way, to be installed in a rededication ceremony in the very near future. Speaker after speaker confirmed the most important message of all; that we were stronger than the person who broke the glass, that the sanctity of the Memorial would be restored, and the values of our community reaffirmed.

As the news broke, we were flooded with messages of concern and support from our interfaith partners. As the day went on we heard from concerned citizens, Memorial neighbors, and our own community members, with offers to help with the repairs.

None of this would have been possible without the strength of our network. None of this would have come together so quickly, and smoothly, without the relationships cultivated by our network of member organizations over the years. None of this would have happened if we didn’t have an organized Jewish community, committed to acting together and speaking with one voice on matters of gravest concern to us all.

I invite you to join me in making a gift to support the NEHM’s repairs (click the banner above). I invite you to join me at the rededication effort in the coming weeks (details to follow). And I invite you to draw – as I do – strength and resiliency from the reminder this week that we are stronger together and more powerful than the sum of our parts.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

CJP/JCRC Statement on New England Holocaust Memorial Vandalism

We are deeply saddened to learn this morning of an act of vandalism that damaged the New England Holocaust Memorial in downtown Boston overnight.

Early today one of the Memorial’s 132 glass panels was shattered in an act of vandalism. Each panel is etched with thousands of numbers representing the infamous tattoos inflected on the arms of many of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

Even as we are angered by this act of desecration against a Memorial remembering the darkest chapter in human history, we are grateful for the rapid response of the Boston Police Department.  Based on what we currently know, they have a suspect in custody and that he will be charged with willful malicious destruction of property as well as a civil rights violation. CJP maintains 24-hour video surveillance of the Memorial and is providing the video of this event to Boston Police Department.

We are heartened by the outpouring of concern we have already seen by members of all communities as a result of this sickening crime.

The Memorial consists of six towers representing the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust; the six years from 1939-1945 during which the “final solution” took place, and; the six main death camps where the majority of Europe’s Jews – men, women, and children – were murdered. The Memorial, which was created by Holocaust survivors who made a new life in the Boston area, is open 24-7.

The New England Holocaust Memorial, located on Congress Street across from City Hall, is managed by CJP in partnership with JCRC.

If you'd like to support NEHM, visit nehm.org or click here to donate now. 

Preserving the Legacy: Join us this Sunday for Yom HaShoah

This Sunday, April 23rd, at 10:30am at Faneuil Hall, we will again come together as one community to commemorate the Holocaust. Each year, as part of this Yom HaShoah program, we recognize the winners of the Israel Arbeiter Essay Contest. Mr. Arbeiter, a Holocaust survivor and a leader in our community, is a passionate advocate for Holocaust education. His story of survival in the face of horror has inspired thousands of students across Greater Boston.

Zachary Sclar, an 11th grader from Bromfield, MA does not have a Holocaust education program in his school. He is part of the JF&CS Legacies program that matches high school students with Holocaust survivors. Coming from a family of Holocaust survivors himself, he is passionate about learning all he can.

His eloquent, thoughtful, and heartfelt essay is the first place winner of our 2017 essay contest and I’d like to share several excerpts from it with you ahead of this Sunday’s Boston Community Yom HaShoah program.

Compassion and the Holocaust

By Zachary Sclar

“In the final analysis, I believe in man in spite of men.” Elie Wiesel uttered these words while giving his Holocaust Remembrance speech on April 23, 2009. In that same speech, he stated that even under the worst of circumstances, with cruelty and darkness abounding, many survivors of the concentration camps treated each other with compassion. Whether it was sharing a piece of bread with someone hungrier, or shielding a child from harm, somehow survivors found it within themselves to treat each other kindly despite their plight. Wiesel believed that compassion was not just a human right, but it was part of one’s identity and makeup as a human being. Additionally, he felt that every human rights campaign must begin with compassion if it were to be successful.

…I believe that compassion is more than a human right; it is deep inside each of us, and part of our wiring. Compassion is not an agenda item of the political left, nor is it exclusively the doctrine of religion. Compassion is our instinct and duty as human beings to abide by basic human principles that bind us together as members of the same human family. “When some deny our human capacity for compassion by denying human rights to others, they are not just attacking our universal human rights; they are also denying their identities as human beings” (Inn 2010).

Studying the Holocaust the past four years has had a profound impact on my life and has underscored the critical need for compassion today more than ever. One need only look at the Syrian refugee plight for proof of this. The few countries that have stepped up to help are making a huge difference in people’s lives. Whether suffering is in plain sight or around the world, it is everyone’s concern.

I remind myself daily that compassion starts with the smallest of good deeds. In my own experience, the smallest act of kindness goes a long way and can make a huge difference to someone. I am conscious of my privilege as a white middle class male, and I know that others often do not receive the same treatment that I do. I strive to listen to and respect everyone and believe everyone has a story to tell that is interesting and valuable. My responsibility to all, I believe, is simply to listen and remember. If we don’t honor the lives of those who suffered and learn from past mistakes, as the last remaining survivor population dwindles, their stories will die with them. Remarkably, none of the Holocaust survivors whose testimonies I have heard want revenge, and they don’t exhibit any hate or contempt. The unifying theme of all of their testimonies is a wish for a future that is more kind and humane, and that histories’ lessons don’t go ignored. When we bear witness, we become a witness. The onus is on my generation to create a world that is more compassionate. We are the bridge to a better tomorrow. We all need to be aware and do our part in this world. Kindness and compassion are the tools essential for building a future that is more humane.

I hope you will join us on Sunday, 10:30 am at Faneuil Hall as we recognize Zachary’s work and that of five other student winners. Together we will honor our local survivors, pay tribute to those who perished, transmit memory and ensure an enduring commitment to preserving this critical legacy.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

JCRC’s Statement on the Death of Elie Wiesel

We mourn the loss of renowned Holocaust survivor, accomplished author, and Nobel laureate, Elie Wiesel, z”l. Our community and communities across the globe have lost a champion human rights activist and a moral compass, consistently speaking out against violence, repression, and racism. As news of hate and terror comes all too often, we must remember Wiesel’s words - there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest - and we must act in his stead to make the world a more just and safe place, with a shared sense of humanity and humility. His memory will forever be a blessing.

Telling and Retelling Our Story

Last weekend, we participated in Passover seders in what is the most widely observed Jewish experience of the year. Our seders were infinitely varied, from the 30 minute versions, to ones that lasted until dawn; from the child-friendly kind, to those focused on esoteric intellectual debate. What bound them all together was the nature of the storytelling at the center of the seder – the prescribed order (seder) that we all followed. Transcending the list of specific ritual components, is an overarching trajectory that propels the narrative we tell – the ascent from degradation to praise - from the shame of slavery and the humiliation at the hand of our Egyptian taskmasters, to the deliverance by God into freedom - and the redemption that enabled the human spirit to triumph.
 
The ancient story of Jewish subjugation and suffering that we recall at the seder is one that has been repeated tragically often throughout our history. The modern chapter of the Holocaust in which our annihilation was attempted and six million of our People perished, has become part of the ritual story telling at many seders, as we recall the Warsaw Ghetto uprising on Passover 73 years ago. Telling and retelling our story, ensuring that each generation claims it as its own, is at the core of what it means to preserve not only the Jewish people, but Judaism itself.
 
Sharing the story of the Shoah– not only within the Jewish community but also with the broader audience of Greater Boston– is one of JCRC’s most hallowed duties.
 
Ten years ago, when Mary Beth Donovan, a public school teacher in Methuen, began teaching a unit on the Holocaust, she was appalled to discover Holocaust deniers within both the student and parent community in her school. Seeking advice, she reached out to JCRC’s member organization and partner – the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants of Greater Boston. Israel (Izzy) Arbeiter, survivor, human rights activist and then-President of the Association immediately agreed to speak at the school and share his experiences first hand with the community. His story of struggle and survival changed Mary Beth’s life – as well as those of her students – and an enduring bond was forged. The essay contest established by Mr. Arbeiter that year has become an integral part of the Methuen curriculum and hundreds of students have contributed their own reflections on the legacy and lessons of the Holocaust in the last decade. Ms. Donovan eloquently expresses her appreciation for “the opportunity for (her) students to explore their ideas of a just world. It is all about dropping that stone and watching the ripples reach out.”
 
We are pleased to award Ms. Donovan, now Principal at the Tenney Grammar School in Methuen, with the inaugural Leadership in Holocaust Education Award when we gather for this year’s Yom Hashoah Community Holocaust Commemoration, taking place on Sunday, May 1, at 10:30 AM.
 
We at JCRC are charged with the sacred task of sanctifying, preserving and ensuring the legacy of the Holocaust through our programming at the New England Holocaust Memorial and our annual Yom Hashoah program. Though many local synagogues organize their own meaningful remembrances each year, ours reflects JCRC’s own unique mission. We hold our annual event in a civic space – one with a rich history of public discourse on our country’s cherished values of independence and freedom. We invite and reach out to the broader community to join us in our commemoration and to honor and learn from the legacy of the survivors in our own community.
  
This year’s theme, “From Holocaust to New Life: How Will We Remember” will shine a light on the extraordinary way in which survivors rose from the degradation of the Shoah to build new lives, create families, transmit their legacy and contribute in myriad ways to the new communities they joined. Our program will feature the testimony of Eva Fleischmann Paddock, survivor of the Kindertransport and will honor this year’s Essay Contest winners - young people who shared their personal reflections on the theme of remembrance and redemption.
 
I hope you will join us for this gathering to retell our story, to ensure the endurance of our legacy and to honor the heroic survivors in our midst.