Holocaust survivor Fred Heyman appreciates all the youngsters who have incorporated his story into their bar and bat mitzva preparations, but his 22nd and latest “twin” made a special impression.
When Brian Luster began his bar mitzva speech on Oct. 9 at Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston, Heyman felt he found a kindred spirit.
“This kid was the only one of the twins I’ve had that right away hooked onto the idea of becoming an ‘upstander,’” he told NJ Jewish News in a Dec. 26 telephone interview.
“Upstanders” (the opposite of “bystanders”) is how Heyman refers to those who actively oppose an injustice, like those who saved his life and the lives of his parents in 1943.
The Morris Plains resident was a nine-year-old living in his native Berlin when he was an eyewitness to the devastation of Kristallnacht — the Nov. 9-10, 1938, “Night of Broken Glass” in Germany and Austria — generally regarded as the widespread pogrom that marked the start of the Holocaust.
In February of 1943, Heyman’s father, like other Jewish men who had married Christians, was seized by the Nazis and herded into a Jewish community center called the Rosenstrasse for deportation to concentration camps. Their wives organized demonstrations at the center, forcing the Nazis to release the men they had rounded up. (The incident is the center of the 2003 film Rosenstrasse.)
Brian, the son of Dr. Jill Ritter and Clifford Luster, saluted the Rosenstrasse women’s defiance in his bar mitzva talk.
“These women felt that an injustice was occurring and decided to support their fellow citizens,” said the young Livingston resident.
“Brian clicked into the Rosenstrasse incident and I was really impressed by that,” Heyman said. “He understood that my father was released because of that demonstration of upstanders. He commented on that in his speech and said, ‘I want to do more with that.’”
Brian linked the Rosenstrasse reference to the story of Noah.
“Noah, in my opinion, was an obedient bystander, someone who does not act when an offense occurs. Noah stood by as his generation became corrupt in front of him, and, seemingly, did not try to save them,” said Brian. “Ten generations after Noah, we meet Abraham, who decided not to be an obedient bystander like Noah. He bargained for the lives of the people of the city of Sodom when God wanted to destroy them.”
Noah’s story, Brian said, is “about the courage to do what is right in times of need and hope.”
Although others in Heyman’s extended family perished in concentration camps, righteous rescuers helped him and his parents survive. They managed to immigrate to the United States in 1946, settling in Milwaukee.
In his bar mitzva speech, Brian wondered if the Holocaust could have been prevented had more people shown Abraham’s courage, and made a personal pledge “to not let history be forgotten.”
Three months after the ceremony, Heyman is still beaming over a protege he called “bright, intelligent, and has a wonderful personality.”
For the past six years, Heyman has been “twinned” with young Jews of bar and bat mitzva age as an active member of the Holocaust Council of MetroWest.
Heyman is proud of all of the young people with whom he has shared his story.
“So many of these twins keep doing things that make the world better to live in,” he said.