Close to 400 people gathered in East Brunswick to remember victims of the Holocaust and to honor the strength and determination of the survivors.
The annual Yom Hashoa commemoration was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County and The Holocaust Through our Eyes: the Second and Third Generations Speak.
It was held April 19 at East Brunswick Jewish Center. Participants solemnly marched holding commemorative candles, heard songs by the Anshe Segulah Men’s Chorus of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, and recited Mourner’s Kaddish for the Six Million.
Before the ceremony, people stopped and viewed displays of artwork and survivors’ stories created by students from all over the county.
Speakers included Sandy Rubenstein, the daughter of survivors, and Howard Wachtel, whose grandparents were survivors.
Rubenstein, a teacher at Horace Mann School in New York City, has devoted herself to educating middle and high school students and her fellow teachers about the Holocaust. She recalled finding her father’s memoirs in a black leather notebook at age 10. When she asked about the family history, the answers were “vague and dismissive.”
“They were trying to protect me,” said Rubenstein. “When I read it, I learned the painful truth about how my father lost his entire family.”
Her late father, Joseph Horn, wrote Mark It With a Stone: A Moving Account of a Young Boy’s Struggle to Survive the Nazi Death Camps. In a clip from an interview he gave to Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation, Horn talked about a boyhood marked by internment in Auschwitz, ghettos, and a forced labor camp, where, he said, his “greatest desire was to survive and bear witness for family and for friends.”
Since his death in 1999, Rubenstein has been her father’s voice to “educate about what is moral and right,” adding, “It is my responsibility; it is our responsibility.”
Wachtel, who grew up at EBJC, recalled that his grandmother survived the death camps with the help of a Catholic guard who slipped her extra food. One of eight children, she lost her parents, three sisters, and a twin brother in the Shoa.
Wachtel said he learned valuable life lessons from his “bubbe,” including putting things in perspective. “No matter what happens I can say, ‘It’s not as bad as having your twin killed,’” he said.
Wachtel also learned not to stereotype, which, he said, helps him in his job as adviser in the political section of the U.S. mission to the United Nations.
The event was cosponsored by the Middlesex County College Center for the Study of Prejudice, Genocide and the Holocaust; Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission; Middlesex County Board of Freeholders; and New Jersey Historical Commission.