Although a congressman, state legislator, and former ambassador were among those who helped mark his elevation to Eagle Scout, Alex Roberts of Ocean Township said the true stars in the room were Holocaust survivors and their offspring.
Inspired by these individuals, Alex, 14, created “The Holocaust Survivors Project” to recall their experiences under the Nazi regime.
After conceiving the idea, Alex decided to bring it to life as his Eagle Project; Eagle Scout status is the highest rank in scouting. He approached the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey with the idea of housing the exhibit at federation between its travels to local institutions. Federation recognized its value to Holocaust education in the community, according to federation CEO Keith Krivitzky, and cosponsored the project.
Elements of the project include a website (theholocaustsurvivorsproject.org), a 30-minute video, a 5' x 7' display board, and a 16-page companion book.
“I wanted something that would teach people young and old about the Holocaust and combat any Holocaust denial,” said Alex. “I also wanted something permanent to honor the survivors and their families.”
On Feb. 1, just five days after the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, more than 100 people attended each of two events marking the project and his elevation.
Activities began at the Holmdel offices of the federation, which will be the home base for the traveling exhibit, and concluded at the Holmdel Firehouse.
“My goal is for the memorial to travel to schools, synagogues, religious institutions, libraries, and museums, to hopefully spread the word to never forget,” said Alex.
The project highlights the stories of survivors Claire Boren, Israel Ira Lulinski, Ruth Millman, and Ruth Rosenfeld, as well as those of second-generation family members Anita Raboi, Carl Gross, and Pastor Jackie Burgess.
Lulinski was particularly instrumental in sparking the Holocaust project. “We both belong to the same synagogue, Chabad of the Shore, and I have known him for about five years,” said Alex. “Hearing about his horrific encounter with the Nazis as a young boy in Poland, I became convinced that a Holocaust memorial would be beneficial for our community.”
In the video, Lulinski recounted how, in June 1942, when he was six, the ghetto in his town of Miory was attacked by Nazis, and 1,000 Jewish residents attempted to hide or flee.
“Only 25 survived that day,” he said. “I saw my mother and brothers executed before my eyes. My father and I made a break for the woods. The forest was a very cold place; there was a layer of permafrost even in summer. With no clothing, food, or shelter, survival was very difficult.”
Many did not make it. Lulinski and his father slept in an igloo they constructed. Later, they joined a group of Russian partisans and helped wage guerrilla war against the Nazis.
At the dedication ceremony, Lulinski offered the invocation. Other featured speakers included Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-Dist. 6); former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Philip Murphy; Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini (R-Dist. 11); and Stanley Shapiro, Monmouth and Ocean County Council commander for Jewish War Veterans, Jersey Shore Post #125.
Also attending were Stu Abraham and Joe Hollander, former presidents of what was the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County. Hollander and Chabad of the Shore’s Rabbi Laibel Schapiro also spoke.
“I have known Alex since he was a little kid,” said Pallone, a longtime friend of the Roberts family. “He has always been mature beyond his years. I’m proud of him for creating this wonderful project, and for keeping us aware of the dangers of man’s inhumanity to man.”
“It’s admirable that a person so young has taken on a matter of such gravity,” said Murphy. “We live, sadly, in very troubled times. Alex’s project is important not just as a history lesson but as an ongoing reminder of anti-Semitism and the injustices it leads to.”
As ambassador to Germany from 2009 to 2013, Murphy said “I give the German government high marks for trying to combat anti-Semitism, but I am very concerned about what is going on at street level, not only in Germany but in other European nations as well.”
Carl Gross of Monmouth Beach told of losing his grandmother, aunt, and uncle in the Holocaust. He said Alex has the makings of a future leader.
Angelini said her son was an Eagle Scout who achieved the rank just before he turned 18. “It’s particularly impressive that Alex did it at the age of 14,” she said.
Institutions that would like to arrange for the memorial to travel to their facility for Holocaust education, should contact the federation at 732-866-4300.