Written by Dr. Cynthia Paulis Wednesday, 04 December 2013 00:00
On Nov. 19, the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County held its Annual Tribute dinner at the Old Westbury Hebrew Congregation. More than 400 people were in attendance from all parts of Long Island along with many local politicians from the North and South shore. Grammy award winning artist Gloria Gaynor, known for her famous song “I Will Survive,” was a special guest.
The co-chairs for the evening Samantha and Keith Gutstein and Robyn and Jordan Linn were honoring John Cooper and Jack Foley for their deep commitment to the holocaust museum and educator Lori Gately. They also featured guest speaker Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger, a German physician, whose father was a highly decorated Nazi officer. Wollschlaeger converted to Judaism, emigrated to Israel and served in the Israel Defense Forces and is now a family practitioner in
Florida. As an author and lecturer he has spoken all over the world about his life’s journey and the lessons of the Holocaust.
Jennifer Carpenter Low, director of development for the HMTC, said, “This is our signature annual event and during this event we talk about the importance of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center in teaching the history of the holocaust and its lessons to contemporary day issues of prejudice, bigotry and discrimination.”
Chairman of the museum Steven Markowitz was pleased with the turnout at the event. “Every year we have an annual dinner to honor people who have done great service to the center. We are so thrilled with the support we have been shown by the community that understands the importance of the work we do in trying to tell the story of what happened in the holocaust and why it is so important today and the lessons that people should learn.”
The Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center, founded more than 20 years ago by elected officials, clergy, Holocaust survivors and volunteers is the preeminent Holocaust resource on Long Island. The center conducts classes with local school to educate against bullying. Their reach is also world wide.
Markowitz explained, “We do video conferencing all over the country and all over the world and we will have a survivor describe his or her experience during the holocaust and it gives an opportunity for kids who never would have had a chance to hear direct testimony with someone who went through this and the impact is just overwhelming.”
One of the Holocaust survivors and frequent speaker at the museum is the delightful and upbeat Annie Bleiberg who is 93 years young and was a slave at Auschwitz and considers herself a very lucky person. Her story of survival is chronicled in a new book coming out December by Gloria Gaynor, We Will Survive. She had the honor of introducing Gaynor at the event and brought the house down with her hilarious introduction. She had just returned from meeting
Gaynor backstage and proudly showed off her autographed copy of Gaynor’s new book.
“I considered it such an honor when I was asked to introduce Gloria. She is such a lovely and wonderful person.”
Standing next to her was Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger, who shared why he converted to Judaism.
“For a long time I questioned my father’s background trying to find answers that were not provided to me. I endeavored into my own journey to find out why Germans would kill Jews. No one would explain that to me. I was 14 years old and it was triggered by the events in 1972 during the Munich Olympics when the Israel athletes were murdered.”
Wollschlaeger shared his views on why the Holocaust Museum is important. “Holocaust museums are not only historic places where we talk about the past and preserve the memories of the past but they remind us what hatred can do to us as people, it is corrosive, it is acid on the soul. If we are not reminded and learn from the dynamics of hate, learning how hate evolves we never will learn to prevent it from happening again. The Holocaust was just one horrific example of what hate can do.”
The evening was filled with inspiring speeches from all of the honorees and guests were treated to an amazing cocktail hour with beautiful and varied food stations followed by a sit down dinner and ending with lavish desserts, some too pretty to eat.
Bleiberg introduced Gloria Gaynor to the audience; Gaynor thanked her with a smile and said, “Annie is amazing in so many ways. She is one of those people I get to meet every once in a while but she stands at the top of the list of all the wonderful survivors I met throughout my career. Every now and then you meet someone who is going through what seems to be insurmountable odds yet they determine that they will make it through because for them neither defeat nor surrender is an option.”
In a profound speech before she sang her famous song, Gaynor discussed meeting Bleiberg for the first time at the museum. “It was not until I met Annie and heard her story up close and personal that I began to really understand the atrocities that were perpetrated….. In l978 when I recorded ‘I Will Survive’ many people took that song as that mantra I will survive but what they were really saying was that I am going to thrive. If you don’t care about other people you can’t expect them to care about you…Evil does not just devour its enemies it destroys its allies as well.”
She discussed apartheid, the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and how it went on far too long, but the people who survived did not do so without the help and care of others.
“Promote being tolerant and be vocal about your adversity to intolerance and hatred. We need to recognize that any of these things can happen any time any where to anyone so we need to be aware and be vocal against hatred. All of us are vulnerable if we do nothing, none of us will survive.”