Borough Park, NY – The former chief rabbi of Israel was one of the many Holocaust survivors who gathered in Borough Park today to commemorate the Holocaust, pay tribute to its survivors and honor several World War II heroes who saved thousands of Jews from certain death under the Nazi regime.
Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau, who flew in from Israel this morning, was the keynote speaker at the two hour event at Temple Beth El titled “Remembering the Past and Living for the Future” co-hosted by Assemblyman Dov Hikind and Nachas Health and Family Network of Brooklyn, an Organization that serves hundreds of Holocaust survivors annually.
Among the other speakers who addressed the audience were Rabbi Moshe Snow of Temple Beth-El, Hikind, who also emceed the event, Shanghai ghetto survivors Benny Fishoff and Moishe Hellman and Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Claims Conference.
Watch below video of the entire event, the footage is more then 1 1/2 hours long.
(Video Credit Dov LenchevskyVINnews.com) mobile users click here
In addition to honoring Holocaust survivors and their descendants, the tribute paid homage to the memory of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who saved thousands of Jews during the war, Jan Zwartendijk, a Dutch councilman in Lithuania who together with Sugihara issued transit visas allowing Jews to escape to Shanghai and Oscar Schindler, who saved the lives of over 1,000 Jews by employing them in his factory.
Awards were presented to Ambassador Sumio Kusaka, the Consulate General of Japan, and Rob de Vos, Council General of the Netherlands, who accepted their awards on behalf of Sugihara and Zwartendijk, respectively.
Rabbi Lau, who was smuggled into Buchenwald as a young child, avoiding certain death, spoke at length about his own experiences during the war and related a story about meeting former New York City mayor Ed Koch who remarked that he considered himself to be a survivor.
Rabbi Lau noted that he was puzzled by the Bronx born Koch’s use of the term survivor, but the former mayor explained that he once had the opportunity to attend a meeting in Hitler’s office during a visit to Germany.
A large map on the wall had a number assigned to each country and Koch was told that Hitler wrote down the number of Jews in each country, hoping to be able to annihilate them all. Noting that one particular city in Albania was marked with the number one, Koch observed that even a single living Jew was too much for Hitler to tolerate and he realized that had Hitler’s murderous rampage not been stopped, even Jews in America would have been marked for death and, therefore, he too considered himself to be a survivor.
The audience was filled with survivors, their children and their grandchildren. Several local high schools, including Shulamith School for Girls, Bais Yaakov of 18th Avenue, Machon Bais Yaakov and Yeshiva of Flatbush, sent students to the event where speaker after speaker echoed the twin themes of “always remember” and “never forget.”
“People told me there was no reason to invite schools to come because they have classes on the Holocaust, but I explained that this was live history,” said Mrs. Rizy Horowitz, senior coordinator for Nachas’ Holocaust program told VIN News. “Here they will see people who went through the war and will have an appreciation for what the survivors went through.”
Many of the survivors in attendance came from varying religious backgrounds, a fact that was particularly notable to Mrs. Horowitz.
“I promise you that when Hitler put people in the gas chamber, he didn’t ask you if you were a Litvak, a Chosid or Modern Orthodox. He had one word. You were a Jew. Nothing else mattered.”
According to Esther Mittleman, a home care coordinator at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Coney Island which runs Nachas Health’s home care program for Holocaust survivors, the survivors treated today’s tribute with the dignity of a holiday.
“They came with their aides, they came with their walkers and they came with their wheelchairs,” said Mrs. Mittelman. “They came all dressed up and they were proud to be there. At times they cheered the speakers on. Other times were more emotional and they cried. We cried, too.”
The most poignant moment of the day came when Chazan Ushi Blumenberg made the Kel Maley Rachamim.
“It was the most powerful rendition I have ever heard,” said Hikind. “I thought the ceiling was going to cave in.”
Hikind hopes that those who attended today’s tribute will take the lessons that they absorbed with them and will never forget the lessons of the Holocaust.
“It is so important to recognize those who had the courage to go against their own government and to issue these permits that saved lives,” said Hikind. “The best part about today was seeing the young people listening to Rabbi Lau, hearing what he had to say and really feeling it. He spoke for maybe 45 minutes and nobody moved. You could have heard a pin drop. Today was a powerful day and it is all about remembering.”
Other local officials who attended the event where Council-members Dr. Mathieu Eugene, Chaim Deutch, and State Senator Simcha Felder.