On Wednesday, May 1, the lower Westchester community gathered at the Hebrew Institute of White Plains (HIWP) for the annual Yom HaShoah commemoration. The presentation was entitled Dor L’Dor- Generation to Generation. Tami Stalbow of the HIWP welcomed the audience of over 200 Westchester residents, followed by Tehillim led by Rabbi Yaakov Bienenfeld of the Young Israel of Harrison.
HIWP Rabbi Chaim Marder began his remarks by explaining why he recently watched the 1955 French movie, “Night and Fog.” “The reason why I chose to watch last night,” Marder recounted, “was because I have vivid memories of that film, in part, because it was my first encounter with the Shoah...I was in fifth grade. It is very raw and visually explicit.” Marder added, “Our approach this evening is the transmission to the next generation...Some of that footage was indelibly imprinted on my mind and I remember certain pictures 45 years later.” Marder continued, “The Torah lays out for us the commandment, Zachor et asher asa lecha Amalek. The commandment is to remember and not to forget.”
He further explained why we do remember: “First and foremost so people who died al kiddush Hashem must never be forgotten, If we can hold six million stories within us, we would need to do so. If we can know the lives they led, the honor they carried, we must know it. Secondly we do so to give support, caring and honor to survivors. Thirdly we do so, so we dare not forget.”
Following Rabbi Marder’s remarks, six survivors accompanied by members of their families lit memorial candles. The survivors included Ezra Berkowitz, Jose Coltof, Gitta Silberstein, Marilyn Kneliner-Rimsky, Liana and Oriyan Weinberger and Hannah Reich.
The keynote address was given by Barbara Lewis Kaplan, first vice chair of the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center, which serves Westchester. She retold the story of her father, Leon Lewis, a survivor from Krakow, Poland. He was one of five children; his older sister emigrated to Palestine in 1935. When the war broke out in 1939, the family was sent to the ghetto. As the ghetto was liquidated, they boarded a train headed for a concentration camp. She relayed how he and his brother Victor sawed off the bars on a small window with a pocket knife and pleaded with their family to jump with them. His parents and sister remained on the train. After saying goodbye to their family, Kaplan described the brothers taking “a giant leap of faith into the darkness” by jumping from the train. The brothers were captured and sent to the Plaszow concentration camp, the camp portrayed in the movie “Schindler’s List.” Leon and Victor became slave laborers and helped build the camp. Kaplan detailed her father’s interview with the Shoah Foundation. “Amon Göth, mounted on his horse, was slowly passing by each prisoner. Suddenly he stopped and dismounted right in front of my father because he noticed the ID number on my father’s uniform was sewn on crookedly. He screamed at my father about the shoddy sewing job and started to brutally whip him on his neck, for several minutes. My father stood at attention during the beating, knowing that if he moved at all, he would be shot on the spot. He heard Göth say to another officer, in German, ‘what a brave young man’ and then continued with the inspection.” After Plaszow, Victor was selected to work in Oskar Schindler’s factory, while her father was deported to a slave labor camp in Dresden, Germany. He later went on a 50 mile death march to Theresienstadt and was liberated in May 1945. “He was 6 feet tall, weighed 70 pounds, suffering from typhus and tuberculosis.” Victor found his brother at Theresienstadt and took his brother to recover in an American Zone Hospital in Austria. They later learned their younger brother Jacob survived the war, only to die of food poisoning in a displaced persons camp. In 1948 at the age of 26 he began his new life in America.
Kaplan is a member of ‘Generations Forward,’ a group of second and third generation individuals sponsored by the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center of White Plains. She is currently working with the Polish government to place a stolpersteine, German for stumbling block, in front of her father’s former home in Krakow. The stolpersteine program places simple brass plaques in front of Holocaust victims’ homes throughout Europe.
The audience then viewed the HBO film “The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm.” It is the story of 10 year old Elliott Saiontz and his 90 year old great-grandfather Jack Feldman, a Holocaust survivor. The movie features an inquisitive child asking his own great-grandfather to retell his story, what life was like before the war, what he endured during the war, his time at Auschwitz and how he survived.
The event continued with a ‘talkback’ with now teen-aged Saiontz and Kaplan, moderated by Audrey Unger Reich. Reich’s questions focused on how their presentations have been received. The event concluded with the Kel Maleh Rachamim prayer by New Rochelle’s Robert Freidman.
By Judy Berger