Children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors shared their stories at a Kean University commemoration on April 18, in an event that focused on the survivors’ contributions to Jewish life in Union County and beyond.
Six survivors lit candles in memory of the Six Million and shared their own stories at the annual Yom Hashoa Community Holocaust Memorial hosted by the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey and the Holocaust Resource Center at Kean.
With the Central federation expected to merge with United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ this summer, the planning committee chose to make the event a celebration of the Central region’s singular qualities.
“Our communal DNA has been enriched and strengthened by those survivors who made this place their home, and the future of our community and of our children is anchored by the roots, institutions, programs, values, and life lessons all imparted, nurtured, and sustained by our survivors,” said committee chair Marcy Lazar.
University president Dr. Dawood Farahi also paid tribute to the survivors’ contributions and the role they have played in making the university a national leader in Holocaust education. They are people, he said, “who lost a family, and created a family,” benefiting this area, New Jersey, and the United States.
For the second year, the audience — numbering around 700 — was treated to a double choir performance. Children from the Jewish Educational Center Yeshiva and Elmora Public School 12, both in Elizabeth, sang together, led by their respective music teachers, Chana Salomon and Dr. Anna Kroik.
The survivors highlighted in the stories related to the gathering included Anitta Fox. Now in her 80s and recently widowed, she still remembers being comforted by her grandfather as Nazi soldiers stomped through their apartment building in Vienna. Her daughter Judy described how the old man had Anitta reciting the Sh’ma over and over, till the danger passed.
Michael Bornstein was a toddler when his family was taken to Auschwitz, an age that might automatically have doomed him. He was spared, becoming probably the youngest person to survive the death camp.
Edith Poliszuk hid under a camouflaged board in a ditch for 16 months, eating nothing but potatoes. She and her family survived — without even getting sick.
Ernest Wachtel, Sonya Samuels, and Clara Kramer had their stories told too, each a testimony of terrible loss and awful suffering. But for all the tragedy embodied in the stories, and their serving as solemn reminders of all the lives lost to the Nazi savagery, these were narratives that end in triumph.
Fox’s family made it to the United States, and her artist father was able to support not just his own family but five others as well with his portrait painting. Fox herself went on to become an occupational therapist, dedicated to health and healing.
Bornstein had four children and 10 grandchildren. The silver cup his parents buried in their backyard as the soldiers came for them was recovered after the war and has held the Kiddush wine at all the family’s simhas ever since.
Wachtel, after making it to safety in this country, went back to help the Allies conquer the Nazis, as one of the legendary Ritchie Boys.
For Poliszuk, her daughter Ruth Pogany related, the greatest miracle is her six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Samuels’ grandson, Dr. Andrew Korman, recalling the Torah scroll her family retrieved from a neighbor in Poland, mentioned her emphasis on Jewish heritage.
The challenge goes on. Kramer, a founder of the Holocaust Resource Center, with Stacey Schiller representing her, drew a great round of applause from the 700 or so people present when she called on the community to continue to stand up against injustice today.
These elders bear up the community on the wings of their strength, said Rabbi Erin Glazer of Temple Emanu-El in Westfield. “We are made strong by the men and women who came before us and those who are still with us,” she said.
“Without you we could not be the community we are today,” Lazar said. She challenged those present to honor their work by doing all they can to continue it.