"Village government is the form of government closest to the community, closest to the people ... we can bring resources into the community ...this is an opportunity and a responsibility," said Great Neck Plaza Deputy Mayor Ted Rosen, as he introduced the Plaza's second annual Holocaust exhibit last Monday evening, March 30. The reception included moving words from survivors as well as presentations from the Harriet and Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives of Queensborough Community College and from The Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County.
The Great Neck Plaza Second Annual Holocaust exhibit (l. to r.): first row, survivor Hanne Liebmann, Queensborough Community College President Eduardo Marti, survivor (and poet) Yala Korwin, and an Erase Racism representative; second row, second generation survivor Alan Mindel, NC Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center Co-Vice Chairman Steven Markowitz, Plaza Mayor Jean Celender, Director of Education for the NC Holocaust Center Beth Lilach, Kupferberg Holocaust Center Director Arthur Flug, a representative from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Plaza Trustee Pam Marksheid, and Plaza Deputy Mayor Ted Rosen.
The Kupferberg Center's exhibit is entitled "Defying the Devil: Christian Clergy Who Saved Jews From the Holocaust." The Nassau County Holocaust Memorial Center's exhibit is entitled "Displaced Persons Camps." Both exhibits will be open to the public at Great Neck Plaza Village Hall, daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., through April 23.
Mr. Rosen, who coordinated the exhibits last year and this year, pointed to the exhibits lining the courtroom walls and said that "this is all about remembering the Holocaust ... and those who died and suffered ... and it's the opportunity to hear survivors' stories, to be sure that the past is not repeated in the future." And Mr. Rosen added that "tonight is also dedicated to the fight against hate crimes."
Along this line of fighting hate crimes and intolerance, the list of the exhibit's co-sponsors were read: Erase Racism, Hispanic Community of Great Neck, The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Persian Cultural Committee of Great Neck, and the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.
Plaza Mayor Jean Celender spoke of the importance of "raising public awareness against hate crimes and bigotry, and she read a letter from New York State Governor David Paterson. The governor, commending the project, wrote that "All New Yorkers recognize that the world must never forget the tragedy of the Holocaust and the six million victims who endured intolerable suffering ... thanks to the efforts of many who know the importance of preserving Jewish heritage, this event respectfully honors the legacy of millions of Holocaust victims and survivors ... we share a responsibility to honor those who perished as well as those who survived the Holocaust and, together, we must continue fighting intolerance, bigotry and racism in all of its forms."
Eduardo J. Marti, president of Queensborough, explained how he came to the college "to give back," to give back" to the new Americans at the college, as he was once a new American and had to face the difficulties of navigating in a new country. His work with the college's exhibit is important in teaching the students, and all who come, not to accept prejudice, "so there may never be another genocide."
Steven Markowitz, a Great Neck resident and co-vice chairman of The Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, spoke of the upcoming "Yom Hashoah," the annual day of remembrance of the Holocaust. "It's all about remembering," he said, adding that "we must use the lessons of the Holocaust to teach the children ... so this never happens again." Mr. Markowitz went on to explain that the county's center now includes training, training those such as police officers and hospital workers.
Arthur Flug, the director of the Kupferberg Holocaust Center at Queensborough, addressed the question of "why?" Why this exhibit? Mr. Flug said the challenge of this center was to make the center "relevant" to all of those within the diverse community college and within the general community. What do you do when you are a victim of a hate crime? Students must interview survivors to answer these probing questions. Mr. Flug said that the answer is that the Kupferberg Center "gives you an approach" through far-reaching programs. These programs are currently in New York City schools, soon to be added to schools throughout the state.
Beth Lilach, director of The Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance of Nassau County, discussed her center's "Displaced Persons Camps" exhibit, explaining that those camps opened in May of 1945 and the last one did not close until January of 1957. Some, she said, had positive experiences, regrouping into a community, while others found these camps about as awful as the wartime concentration camps, with armed guards locking them in and a great deal of still existing anti-Semitism. Many of these displaced persons were not Jews, although, of course, Jewish survivors were there too. Ms. Lilach noted that while many did eventually come to Israel and to America, American immigration laws were tough and many were not admitted.
Hanne Liebmann, a survivor, came forward, to a standing ovation. As a young girl she watched as her mother was deported, while she and some others were fortunate, among the few, to be sent west, not east. She was sent to France, eventually landing in a French Huguenot town, where the local pastor had told his village to "defy the devil" and protect the Jews. When the Nazis came and demanded the Jews, the pastor said "We do not know what a Jew is; we only know a man." Hanne Liebmann survived.
Great Neck resident Alan Mindel, the child of survivors, told his parents' stories. Mr. Mindel also serves on the board of the county's Holocaust Memorial Center, serving because he feels this center "helps make the world a better place ... teaching and inspiring by 'bearing witness.'" He said that at the center survivors are docents, telling the real stories and teaching. He continues to work towards "never again" as do many survivors and second generation survivors do, "telling the stories for those who didn't survive." Mr. Mindel said "Do not stand by ... never let it happen again ... stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves."
At that point, when asked, seven survivors from the audience and about two dozen second generation survivors stood for a standing ovation.
Yala Korwin survived the Holocaust and has now published a book of Poems of the Holocaust. She read her poems, while many listening wiped tears from their eyes. Yala Korwin survived the Holocaust because Christians provided forged ID for her and for her sister. Those Christians indeed "defied the devil."