Judy and Irwin Tantleff (now former OBJC president); Werner Reich, NC Legislator Judy Jacobs, Rabbi Marvin Demant and his wife Judi with Steven Bach, the current temple president, then the vice president.
Werner Reich of the American Jewish Committee, Long Island chapter, has a unique message for people - to be a just person and do the right thing. To do that, he offers the acronym JUST: for Judge the situation; Understand the problem; Solve it; and Take action; the reason is that indifference kills. That is what he has learned in his life experience as a Holocaust survivor. Mr. Reich was the guest speaker at the Oyster Bay Jewish Center earlier this year. He spent that Thursday afternoon talking to school children and was making his second public appearance that day. He said he is dedicated to explaining the Holocaust to as many listeners as he can. Mr. Reich showed PowerPoint photographs to illustrate his story. He showed a picture of Bad Arolsen, a repository for 50 million documents that are the history of the 17.5 million people killed by the Nazis. Mr. Reich said, "The documents were put together by the commanders of the German Concentration Camps, labor camps and prisons to prove to their bosses that they were doing a good job." The papers provide the names of people, where they were arrested and what happened to them. "It is proof to those who doubt the Holocaust," he said.
Mr. Reich said never debate someone who denies the Holocaust happened. "You cannot debate two plus two equals four. Truth doesn't need a defense." He said in the Holocaust, 6 million Jews and 6 million Christians were killed, although, he commented that the Christian faith appears not to talk about their losses, as do the Jews. Mr. Reich said some people say "The Christians killed the Jews but nowhere in the words of Jesus does it say to rape and murder people." He said the truth is that prejudice can hurt anybody and everybody.
He said all that is needed for evil to exist is for good people to do nothing and he gave the example of Kitty Genovese, 29, who was killed at 3 a.m. in Kew Gardens, Queens. He said when the police questioned the residents of the apartment houses in the area, 38 people admitted to hearing her cries but no one did anything. He said she kept calling out for help and the killer kept returning to stab her again and again.
"This is the story of the Holocaust," he said, "And the Kitty Genovese killing happened in the United States. I speak in an area 30 to 40 miles from where she died. The potential is here."
He showed a photo of book-burning in Nazi Germany and quoted Heinrich Heine who said, "Where books are burned, in the end, people will be burned."
He said the good people did nothing "when the Germans arrested 4,000 Catholic priests and Protestant ministers and killed them." He said they killed black people, gypsies, entire villages, and the good people did nothing." The actions of the Nazis he said, were used as a warning against resistance, and he added, "the good people did nothing."
Mr. Reich showed a photograph of the Hadamar Institute where 250,000 Jews were killed. They were all Jews kept in mental institutions, including, any with birth defects, those who were senile and those who were handicapped and couldn't work. "And the good people did nothing," he added.
The result of the actions of the Nazis was, said Mr. Reich, "That people couldn't trust each other. They stopped telling jokes, they stopped writing plays and creating art. There was a major art exhibition of work prohibited by the Nazis that was overrun with customers while a show of work approved by Adolph Hitler was empty."
He brought the message of discrimination home to the United States showing a help wanted ad that said, "No Irish need apply," and in the south there were "black" and "white" water fountains.
Mr. Reich said the Swiss started putting a "J" on the passports of Jews and gave every male the middle name of Israel and every woman, Sarah. The Germans followed suit. The Jews had to wear a yellow star on their clothing. In Yugoslavia, where he came from, they had to wear one in the front and back of their clothing.
The next indignity was that the Jews were blamed for everything that went wrong, he said.
Mr. Reich said, a group of Germans tried to leave/escape and sailed for Cuba aboard the S.S. St. Louis, but the Cubans didn't let them into the country; they sailed to Miami where the United States said they were sorry but they couldn't let them in. They sailed back to Europe and of the 936 passengers, 260 were murdered in the Holocaust, said Mr. Reich.
On Kristallnacht, he said, 6,000 Jewish stores were attacked; as were 1,100 homes and 34,000 people were arrested of whom 1,000 Jews were murdered.
Mr. Reich said in February, in the states, in 1939, the Wagner Rogers Bill was written to allow 20,000 Jewish children to come here. The bill was held up for months, until a woman wrote, "The 20,000 charming children will soon grow up into 20,000 ugly adults," and the bill was dropped. Later a new bill called for 20,000 British children to be brought here and that bill was quickly passed.
He talked of the White Rose movement of 1942, when students at the University of Munich called for opposition to the German Dictator Adolf Hitler and his policies. The movement lasted from June 1942 until February 1943. The students involved were arrested, tried and sent to the guillotine. Their crime had been giving out leaflets urging students to act. After their deaths, the text of their sixth and last leaflet was smuggled out of Germany through Scandinavia to England. In July 1943 millions of copies of the leaflet were dropped over Germany. Today, he said, the founder, Sophie Scholl is rated higher than Schiller on a list of important Germans.
Mr. Reich said the attitude of the German people has changed and they now honor and revere the young students and their philosophy professor who worked with them.
Mr. Reich talked of his father who moved the family from Germany to Zagreb, Yugoslavia where he thought the family would be safe, but that country too, was invaded by the Nazis. Mr. Reich said of his13 Jewish friends, only one is still alive. His mother placed him with a family thinking he would be safer with them, but it turned out they developed films for the Partisans, and he, now 15 years old, helped in the work. He said, "Then at 5 a.m. there was a knock on the door and the German Secret Police were there. They beat the living daylights out of me." His parents had not told him nor his sister about what the Nazis were doing so he was unprepared for what was happening to him.
He was arrested and thrown into the drunk-tank, which he said, had "millions of fleas." Afterward he was brought to police headquarters and he said, "I gave them fleas. I got my only revenge."
From there, he spent three weeks in a cell with three young prisoners, one murdered his mother, another was a burglar. There he said, he saw his mother for the last time, through a window, as she swept a courtyard. Next, he was shipped to Vienna and locked in a synagogue and from there he was sent to Chekoslavakia to Theresienstadt, a 1780 fortress where 2,600 civilians had lived. They were removed and 6,000 Jews were put there to live. Diseases spread and many people died, he said.
Mr. Reich said, "The Red Cross was suspicious and thought, 'Things are not kosher.' They said the Nazis were mistreating the Jews." The Nazis denied it and created a model community with art, music and self-government and then invited the Red Cross to come back - and then the Red Cross believed them.
But, said Mr. Reich, 144,000 people were shipped into Theresienstadt and 127,000 died.
Mr. Reich was kept busy by the Nazis, he laid railroad tracks, made potato baskets and exterminated vermin. He said they would tape up the windows of the building, and wearing gas masks they sprayed cyanide pellets into it. Afterward they went inside and swept out the dead mice and rats. He said it was the same gas, Zyklon-B, the Germans later used in Auschwitz.
From there he was sent to Poland and to Auschwitz which he said, was an extension of the German prison system. Some of the actual prisoners supervised the civilian prisoners.
He said it was not only Jews the Nazis killed but political prisoners, homosexuals, the disabled, Jehovah's Witnesses, gypsys, and the mentally ill.
Mr. Reich survived an incident involving the infamous Dr. Joseph Mengele. Over a three-day period Dr. Mengele and two other Nazis, Rudolph Hess and Richard Baer (or Bahr) made men run, do pushups and jumps in the pouring rain as they thinned the group to 300 men and on the final day to the 90 who would live. One of them saw his father and joined him and there were 89 left, said Mr. Reich. Of
that 89, he said 40 are still alive.
The war was coming to an end and the Nazis sent the whole camp on a death march deeper inside Germany. Mr. Reich slept in a stable and ate the food the horses were fed. For six days they walked from Poland to Austria with no food or water and as a result, 25 percent of the people died. They arrived at Mauthausen. His toes had frozen and were starting to rot. A doctor seeing what was happening, cut off his frozen toes and bandaged his feet with paper and saved his life, he said.
"I slept next to a dead man for three days to get his share of bread," he said.
Outside the camp on one side were the Americans and British; and on the other side the Russians. The Americans finally liberated them. "I weighed 64 lbs when I was liberated." He was 17 years old and his wrist measured 1 1/2" in diameter, he said.
The Army gave them military rations and over the next 20 days, people died from eating too many calories. It was food meant for healthy American soldiers and these were people who had been starving for years.
From the camp he went to Budapest, Hungary and had his first hot meal, Hungarian Goulash. For two years he lived under communism and then wrote to an uncle living in England. He went to England to live, at age 19 - with no education during his teen years, and therefore had to find work as a laborer.
Then he said, his life was picking up, he married, came to the United States and went to college at night for 10 years and became an industrial engineer.
Mr. Reich said the swastika is a sign against humanity. He added, everyone is a political victim. He said Hitler committed suicide and Dr. Mengele died in an accidental drowning.
People did act to help the Jews, he said. There was Chiyni Sukihara, a Japanese official in Europe who saved 6,000 Jews by giving them passports to leave the country. Sir Nicholas George Winton, a stockbroker, vacationed in Chechoslovakia and said he had to do something for the young children there. He formed the British Committee for Children in Prague and brought 669 to Great Britain in what was called the Czech Kindertransport.
But he said it is the bystanders, the good people who do nothing that are the problem. He said what is needed is people who judge a situation, understand the problem, solve the problem and take action. He related it to the murder of Kitty Genovese who was murdered within hearing distance of about 38 people who did nothing.
He said, "Do not wait for others. I want you to be the first to act. Indifference kills," he said.
He gave out cards with the basic rules of JUST, that he brings from school to school to give out to the students. "I hope I will make some impression. I hope people will change and that I will make my little contribution to that change." Together the audience sang America the Beautiful.