On July 23, survivor Luna Kaufman, 90, of Watchung added one more to her lifelong series of efforts to educate others about the Holocaust and help eradicate anti-Semitism and religious intolerance.
Her latest endeavor was helping to inaugurate ‘The Liberator Tree’ in Columbia Falls, Maine, on behalf of Wreaths Across America. During the ceremony, attended by several hundred people, Kaufman placed replica dog tags commemorating the lives of her father, sister, and her husband’s parents on a branch of the tree to recognize and honor the soldiers who helped free concentration camp survivors at the end of World War II.
Wreaths Across America, which is dedicated to remembering fallen U.S. service members, honoring those who serve, and teaching children the value of freedom, has been responsible for laying wreaths on the tombstones of fallen U.S. soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery and hundreds of other locations nationwide for nearly 25 years.
In December 2015, the organization invited Kaufman to speak as a wreath was laid on Liberation, a bronze Holocaust memorial in Jersey City’s Liberty State Park. She had worked with sculptor Nathan Rapoport to erect the “monument to humanity” in 1985 in recognition of the efforts of the United States and Allied forces who liberated those interned by the Nazis. This July, the organization followed up by inviting Kaufman to help tag and inaugurate its new Liberator Tree, which stands in a forest in Balsam Valley, an area from which Wreaths Across America extracts branches to make its wreaths.
“I was so honored to help dedicate this tree devoted to liberators and survivors,” said Kaufman. A native of Cracow, she was confined in that city’s ghetto with her family before being deported to the Plaszow, Hasag-Skarzysko, and Leipzig concentration camps. Her sister Blanka and father Marek perished in the camps.
Kaufman is former president of Temple Sholom in Plainfield (now in Scotch Plains) and chair emerita of the Sister Rose Thering Fund at Seton Hall University.
During a commemorative concert that followed the dedication ceremony, an Army quartet serenaded Kaufman with the songs “You Are My Sunshine” and “God Bless America.”
For Kaufman, the event represented another important step in the activist’s continuing efforts to “take the Holocaust out of the ghetto, explain what happened, and reach out to others….
“When I survived, I had a mission,” she said. “Just to remember the Holocaust isn’t enough; we have to do something about it by educating people so that we can prevent it from happening again.
“We all live in this world together, and everyone contributes something valuable,” she continued. “We must join hands with others and be tolerant. I often say that we’re a big diamond and each facet faces a different direction, but when you bring them all together, the result is quite brilliant.”
In 2009, Kaufman published Luna’s Life: A Journey of Forgiveness and Triumph. Among the many honors she has received are an honorary doctorate from Seton Hall and the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit, given to her by the president of Poland in 2011 in recognition of her contributions to Polish-Jewish dialogue.
On Aug. 19, Kaufman spoke at a gathering to commemorate a new relationship between Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel, and the Museum of the Bible, set to open in Washington, DC, in 2017. “We can’t improve the world and make peace by living in a vacuum, so it’s very encouraging and rewarding to see Christians and Jews working together to fight anti-Semitism,” Kaufman said of the partnership. “It’s like seeing a life’s dream come true.”