Survivors, community members, and former soldiers — many of whom fought against the Nazis during World War II — gathered in Menlo Park to remember the Holocaust and other genocides.
The April 12 Yom Hashoa commemoration at the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home was sponsored by NJ’s Jewish War Veterans department and its JWV Ladies Auxiliary in cooperation with the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education.
JWV state junior vice commander Al Adler of Manchester, who served as master of ceremonies, noted that the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe is also the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
Adler, a member of Congregation Ahavat Olam in Howell, drew parallels between acts of violence and genocide in various eras, “from the killing fields of Cambodia, to the racial killings in Bosnia, to the recent murders in Paris, to the slaughter of innocents at Chabad in India.”
Joseph Brandspiegel, CEO of the veterans’ home and the son of Auschwitz survivors, stressed the importance of recognizing the veterans and making sure “our children and grandchildren never forget.”
“All the members of my parents’ families were wiped out,” said Brandspiegel, who emigrated from Hungary at age 16 and now lives in Colonia.
Commission executive director Dr. Paul Winkler in his keynote address said it is imperative that young people hear a survivor, liberator, or rescuer speak while they still can so they can refute Holocaust deniers years after there are no longer eyewitnesses.
“We are doing everything we can to bring these survivors, soldiers, and liberators into schools because after students hear them they are a changed person,” said Winkler. “We always ask the survivors to tell what their life was like before 1933 so [the students] know they had a life — there were bar mitzvas, birthday parties.”
He noted that virtually every Holocaust survivor implores students to not “be mean, vicious, and evil; they should be a good person,” and, he added, “we are succeeding.”
JWV past national commander Michael Berman noted that many of those present had seen the “horrors of war” and had a hand in liberating Jews and others from their Nazi captors, adding, “You are our heroes.”
Berman, a member of JWV Post 178 in Lakewood, said every man and woman in the room “knew somebody they grew up with, or served with in basic training, or fought with who died so this country could live.”
The vets, some confined to wheelchairs, saluted the flag as members of the junior ROTC from Colts Neck High School brought in and retired the colors.
Sophie Ruderman, past national and state auxiliary president, also affiliated with Post 178, said she did not see the veterans as old and infirm but rather “as marching in uniform strong and straight” through the battlefields of Europe.
One of those liberators was Bernard Rothenberg, 89, of Manalapan, senior vice commander of Lt. Seth Dvorin JWV Post 972 in Marlboro. He proudly showed off a creased photo he still carries in his wallet of himself as a 19-year-old soldier in the Army’s 69th Infantry Davison.
Near war’s end the division marched along the Rhine to Leipzig, witnessing firsthand the ravages of war and Nazi brutality and helping to free its victims.
“I was young and scared, but I survived,” he said. “I will never forget what happened and what we were fighting for. I hope the world never forgets.”