Electeds Mark 14th Holocaust Rememberance Day With Multigenerational Salute


Elected officials, community leaders, World War II veterans and Holocaust survivors came together yesterday at the Holocaust Memorial Park of Sheepshead Bay, for the Association of Eastern European Jewry’s 14th annual Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The group honored survivors and veterans, memorialized those who died in the Holocaust and in World War II, and celebrated the participation of their young descendants.

“I see the faces of people who witnessed young children perish during the holocaust,” said City Council Member Chaim Deutsch (D-Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach), who honored his late father, a Holocaust survivor, during the ceremony. “ I also see the faces of children, who we will rely on to pass on the atrocities to future generations.”

The event was held only a few days before the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah to remember that German Nazis committed some of the worst atrocities against Jews on the eve of the holidays.

City Councilmember Mark Treyger talks about the World War II survivors and refugees from the war still living in Brooklyn. Photo by Phoebe Taylor Vuolo

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the genocide carried out by Nazis and their collaborators killed six million Jews, as well as some 200,000 Roma (Gypsies) and others, through the use of forced labor, concentration camps, and mass execution. Between two and three million Soviet prisoners of war died from starvation, disease or murder, as the Germans swept across Europe.

“What’s especially important this years is that we honor the children of the Holocaust,” said Jonathan Shabshaikhes, Outreach Coordinator of the Association of East American Jewry. “One out of four Holocaust victims were children. The survival rate of Eastern European Jewry amongst children was 6 to 11 percent, so you know how extensive the hatred and the genocide was.”

The ceremony remembered Jewish children who died in the Holocaust and honored the survivors, many of whom had been children themselves at the time.  They also focused on local children who participated in the event.

Each year, the association holds a contest, in which children submit pieces expressing their understanding of the Holocaust. This year, in addition to awarding prizes to the young participants, the group presented “The Holocaust through the Eyes of Children,” a compilation of submissions from the past six years.

Assembly Member William Colton

“When you remain silent, when you do not speak up, when you do not step up in the face of evil, you are harming all of the world,” said Assemblymember Bill Colton (D-Bath Beach, Bensonhurst, Gravesend). “These young people are the world’s heroes of tomorrow. And by achieving what they did, giving us their thoughts about that terrible, terrible time, they give us faith that the message will be carried on.”

The group said that it was especially important for children to be active in remembering the Holocaust, considering the aging of Holocaust survivors.

“Every day, as our community of survivors gets smaller, it becomes more important than ever for all of us to take on the responsibility of talking about the holocaust,” said Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach).

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz

Elected officials also expressed concerns that elderly Holocaust survivors and WWII veterans were not receiving the support they needed from the city.

“It pains me that I hear about holocaust survivors who are living on fixed income, still looking for affordable housing, still worried if they can pay their bills each month,” said City Council Member Mark Treyger (D-Coney Island, Bay Ridge, Gravesend). “When we say ‘never forget,’ when we say we have to care for our survivors, we have to care for them even today, not just with words but with actions and with deeds.”

According to a 2013 report by Selfhelp Community Services, an estimated 73,000 Holocaust survivors were living in the New York City Metropolitan area in 2011—more than half of the survivors living in the United States. Today, roughly 55,000 Holocaust survivors live in NYC, half of them living in poverty, according to the New York City Council.

Council Member Rafael Espinal (D-Bushwick, East New York) also attended the ceremony. He referenced the Elie Wiesel Holocaust Survivors Initiative, a $2.5 million program created by the New York City Council to support and service aging survivors.

City Council Member Rafael Espinal speakes about the importance of remembering man’s inhumanity to man. Photo by Phoebe Taylor Vuolo

“As a young man growing up in this city, a very diverse city where we all live together as one people, all the stories I’ve heard growing up in school, listening to the history, really touched my heart profoundly,” said Espinal. “When I learned that 30,000 of [Holocaust survivors] are living in poverty or below poverty, I thought it was important for the city to use its resources to help those people.”

Officials argued that anti-Semitism was increasing, referencing Neo-Nazi movements in the United States and hate crimes in New York City, and warned against complacency.

“We say ‘never forget,’ and you almost can’t turn on your TV without being reminded of how much hate there still is in the world. When you see people in our country with Nazi flags, talking about Hitler, ranting anti-Semitic rants in public,” said Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein (D-Flatlands, Sheepshead Bay). “So even though we talk about the Holocaust many years ago, we still have tremendous anti-Semitism that exists in our country.”

Above all, the group expressed that moving forward from the past while preventing the repetition of painful history meant involving the next generation as much as possible. Young participants sang songs for the audience, received awards for their writing, and lit candles alongside community leaders.

“Today, the truth has become an endangered species. Today, there are actual leaders in the world who are trying to deny what happened to our people, to you. You fight back by making sure that our children, our grandchildren, are given the knowledge, the history, the culture, the experiences,” said Treyger.