Keeping the memory alive - As Holocaust survivors dwindle, another generation steps to forefront (THE BOSTON GLOBE) By Erica Noonan NEWTON, Mass. 01/27/05)
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NEWTON -- There was a recent passing of the torch of sorts in Ann and
Israel Arbeiter´s dining room.
Members of three generations were gathered to plan a commemoration of
the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II and the liberation of
Jewish prisoners from the Nazis -- an event held every decade to
honor local survivors and their American liberators. Everyone in the
room knew why this year is special, but Arbeiter, 80, was the first
to say it.
"This is the last one for the survivors. Ten years from now, there
will be no survivors to make a dinner of this kind," he
said. "There´s not going to be another."
Arbeiter heads the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors
of Greater Boston. The group is focusing on plans for the June 5
commemoration ceremony, rather than memorializing today´s 60th
anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, where 1 million Jews were
"For us, liberation day is the end of the war, when all the survivors
were liberated," Arbeiter said. "Freedom is complicated, and one date
on the calendar isn´t enough."
Arbeiter and his wife, Anna, were both imprisoned at Auschwitz and
other camps as teenagers.
Arbeiter was liberated in April 1945, at the age of 20. Anna was
freed from Bergen-Belsen at the age of 19.
Over the decades, Arbeiter has seen the survivors´ association
dwindle from several hundred members to a few dozen.
This places the duty of carrying on the memory of the 6 million Jews
who died in the Holocaust squarely on the shoulders of younger
generations of Jews.
"There will be a 70th-anniversary commemoration, and as long as we
are faithful to our responsibilities and the lessons of the
Holocaust, there will be an 80th and a 90th. Unfortunately, we won´t
have the survivors with us," said Alan Ronkin, 38, deputy director of
the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston.
"We will have a much larger burden, and we are aware of that," Ronkin
said. "We´ve built the memorials and we´ve built the museums, so
their memories will live on and the world can think critically about
this incredible human tragedy."
As ideas for the commemoration, to be held at Congregation Mishkan
Tefila, were tossed around, the survivors listened carefully to the
suggestions of the younger generation.
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz might be a good choice for a
speaker, suggested Matt Lebovic, 26, community relations associate
for the Jewish council and the grandson of a Holocaust survivor.
Levobic said the Cambridge lawyer and author would resonate with
survivors´ children, who are in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. Arbeiter and
fellow Holocaust survivor Stephan Ross, 74, nodded in agreement.
After last week´s planning meeting broke up, Arbeiter and Ross stayed
to talk about the Holocaust survivor support group Arbeiter founded
Boston-area Holocaust survivors first banded together in 1949 by
forming the all-Jewish Hakoah soccer team. Jewish refugees in their
early 20s living in Mattapan played against teams comprising young
Italians from the North End, Poles from Chicopee, and Irish from
The young men gathered every weekend at the G&G deli on Blue Hill
Avenue. Later, when women sought to be included, the New Americans
Society was formed to help Holocaust survivors with housing, jobs,
and application for citizenship. It also served as a center of social
life for refugees. Over time, the group became the American
Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors of Greater Boston, with
Arbeiter at the helm.
The association now assists survivors in a different way -- providing
the elderly men and women with companionship and healthcare advice.
But the most important focus is still Holocaust awareness. Arbeiter
has made it his business to speak about his experiences to most
anyone who asks. Over and over again, he tells his horrifying story
of torture and loss and rolls up his left sleeve to show the tattoo,
A-18651, that the Nazis inflicted upon him at Auschwitz.
The horrible memories hurt, but he will never stop sharing them.
"This is my duty and obligation. This is our life´s work."
He and Ross say they are distressed about how little young people
seem to know about the war. A chat a few years ago with a class of
students at Bentley College in Waltham showed that fewer than half of
them could identify Josef Mengele, the infamous Nazi doctor who
conducted horrific medical experiments on concentration camp inmates,
And there are public displays of ignorance and indifference, typi-
fied by Britain´s Prince Harry, who recently appeared at a costume
party in a German uniform with a swastika armband.
"This is so sad, a boy of this age from the queen´s family, putting
on a uniform to aggravate people who suffered so much," said Ross,
who is a founder of the New England Holocaust Memorial. "Why would a
boy of that caliber do that? He hurts us who have survived with our
lives by the skins of our teeth."
Rick Mann, 51, president of the Friends of the New England Holocaust
Memorial, said that museums, memorials, and educational programs
established by the survivors´ generation "bode well for the future of
Mann is the son of the late Theodore Mann, longtime mayor of Newton.
The direct descendants of Holocaust survivors -- their grandchildren
and great-grandchildren -- may turn out to be the most motivated
"I think they feel a tremendous obligation. As the children of
survivors, their lives were profoundly affected by the Holocaust. It
is part of their everyday lives, too," said Mann.
Younger people will have so many storytelling tools and technologies
at their disposal -- the Internet has already revolutionized how
people learn about the past. But it can also be a dangerous tool,
manipulated by anti- Semites and Holocaust deniers.
"You can have one site put together by historians and, right next to
it, another put together by crackpots," said Ronkin.
Today´s headlines daily provide a strong argument for keeping
memories of the Holocaust alive.
"Unfortunately, we have enough modern examples of cruelty, hatred,
and bigotry," he said. "We can point to them and draw parallels with
the past." Erica Noonan can be reached at email@example.com.
(Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company 01/27/05)
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston can be
reached at www.jcrcboston.org.
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