Although 1.5 million Jewish children were murdered in the Holocaust, others survived through rescue efforts or their own ingenuity.
On April 12 a somber crowd gathered at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick to hear stories of rescue and survival and to mourn those lost.
The Yom Hashoa program was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County.
“When I think about the children, the pain becomes almost unbearable,” said program chair Peter Schild. “One and a half million children who never had the chance to live or develop their God-given abilities…never had the chance to ask ‘Why me?’ Those who died were irreplaceable.”
Anshe Emeth’s Rabbi Bennett Miller talked about a baby-naming ceremony he officiated at the day before, where he overheard the child’s grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, tell her daughter, “This beautiful child is the antidote to Hitler and [is] the future of our people.”
Similarly, he said, educating young people and “our coming together this evening has prevented Hitler from having a posthumous victory.”
Prior to the start of the program, attendees explored an exhibit displaying information on the lives and ultimate deaths of 222 cousins and two great-aunts of Nat Reiss, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Central New Jersey.
The Highland Park resident said he began the project to satisfy the curiosity of his mother, who left Germany after Kristallnacht, about the young cousin for whom she babysat. He learned that the cousin had died at age 24 in Stuffhof concentration camp in Latvia.
‘Teach for the future’
Children also lent their voices to the program. Anshe Emeth’s junior choir sang and students from throughout Middlesex County read excerpts from essays honored in a contest sponsored by the JCRC.
“This is such an important part of history to remember,” said Casey Sullivan, an eighth-grader at Joyce Kilmer Middle School in Milltown.
Josh Ross of Highland Park, a student at the Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, said he was concerned about Holocaust deniers. “We should remember the Holocaust and the terrible things that happened,” he said.
Other winners were: Alyssa Bangel and Zahava Picado from Moshe Aaron Yeshiva High School in South River, Gwyn Marotta and Kayla Zimbrana from Joyce Kilmer Middle School, and Daniel Listwa from Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union in West Orange.
Keynote speaker Dr. Judith Vogel, associated faculty in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Richard Stockton State College of New Jersey in Pomona, said the study of child Holocaust victims often triggers a strong emotional reaction that reinforces the need “to pass on” information to the next generation.
She reminded the audience: “We teach for remembrance. We teach for the future.”
Nazis specifically targeted children as part of their insidious plan, she said, by banning education, lack of nutrition and medical care, and confiscation of such items as pets and bicycles. Only 6-10 percent of children survived; many of their stories, Vogel said, were “remarkable.”
Some were rescued by good-hearted gentiles, while others were “architects of their own survival.”