Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Holocaust Survivors Recount and Reflect by Stephen Geffon - Queens Chronicle

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The members of the Rockwood Park Jewish Center in Howard Beach held their annual Yom Hashoah Holocaust Memorial Service on Sunday morning to honor the survivors and the memories of the millions killed during the Holocaust of World War II.

Holocaust survivors Nathan Berkowitz, Martin Braun, Rita Guttsman, Senta Seligman, Henry Rothman and Julius Rafalowicz were escorted into the room by the New York City Police Department Honor Guard and Auxiliary Lieutenants Shlomo Rizel and Robert Danor. The guests of honor lit six candles in memory of the six million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust.

Rockwood Park Jewish Center Rabbi Tzvi Berkowitz also gave a special tribute to Max Ripinsky, a Holocaust survivor, who passed away last week. “Max, we will never forget you,” Berkowitz said.

The program’s guest speaker was Edward Weinstein, a survivor of the Treblinka death camp in Poland, and the author of an autobiography about his ordeal entitled, “17 Days in Treblinka: Daring to Resist and Refusing to Die.”

Weinstein, 86 — who is believed to be the last Treblinka survivor still alive — recounted some of the horrors he had experienced, beginning with his dispossession from his home in Losice, Poland, 90 miles east of Warsaw, and deportation to Treblinka in August 1942.

Weinstein described the two-day train trip to the camp, one in which temperatures climbed above 100 degrees — but people were given no water. Cattle cars arrived in towns and people were packed inside of them. Many died of suffocation and those who jumped off the cars to escape were shot. The train stopped in Treblinka, 62 miles away from Warsaw. Weinstein said that within two hours of arriving in Treblinka, the people who filled 20 cattle cars had died.

Throughout his time in the German concentration camps and work details, Weinstein escaped six times. He recounted how he lost many friends and relatives, and how he himself miraculously survived a gunshot wound to the chest by a German SS concentration camp guard.

Weinstein eventually did escape, hiding out for months in pigsties, forests and fish ponds until he was liberated by the Soviet Army in July 1944. He later joined the Polish army and fought on the frontlines for four months to help win back Warsaw.

Although the exact death toll is unknown, it is reported that fewer than 100 people survived Treblinka. There were 8,000 Jews in Weinstein’s hometown before the war. Only 16 made it back.

Weinstein emigrated to the United States in July 1949 with his wife and father. He is now a retired grandfather of seven who travels to high schools, libraries, colleges, synagogues and churches to give talks about his Holocaust experience.

Bernard Fisch, president of the Rockwood Park Jewish Center, introduced the dignitaries in attendance, including state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park), Susan Tanenbaum, representing Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, Deputy Inspector Joseph Courtesis, commanding officer of the 106th Precinct, and Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Queens and Brooklyn).

“We have to continue to have these commemorations so one generation to the next remembers the lesson,” Weiner said. “We demonstrate each and every year [so] that the stories like Mr. Weinstein’s are never to be forgotten.”

Pheffer presented Berkowitz with a resolution that she and Addabbo sponsored which proclaims April 11 as Holocaust Remembrance Day in New York State.

The resolution states in part: “The people of the State of New York should always remember the atrocities committed by the Nazis so that such horrors are never repeated,” and continues, “The Holocaust represents the darkest period in the civilization of mankind and must always be remembered in order to prevent its reoccurrence anywhere else in the world.”

Addabbo expressed how the proclamation and Yom Hashoah remembrances continue to be significant.

“It’s important that we have these ceremonies to remember because hate crimes on any level are wrong, whether it’s murder that occurred decades ago or whether it’s a hate crime that occurs right here on our soil,” Addabbo said. “Hate crime is wrong and cannot be tolerated.”

Tanenbaum echoed his sentiment. “We must be vigilant against anti-Semitism wherever it occurs in the world,” she said. “The next generation has the responsibility to tell these stories so that they are not forgotten.”

Courtesis said he felt honored to be at the ceremony with the Holocaust survivors. “The stories are incredible and moving — please keep telling the stories,” he said.