FAIR LAWN Edith Mayer was knocked down by Eichmann’s cane as she approached the gates of Auschwitz. Charles Goldberg survived by working in Oskar Schindler’s factory. Helga Newmark, whose family turned away from Jewish observance because of the Holocaust, became a Reform rabbi at the age of 67. These and other gripping stories of survival and renewal were narrated by Jewish teenagers at this year’s Yom HaShoah Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration at Temple Beth Sholom in Fair Lawn on Sunday. More than 500 people filled the sanctuary to attend the nation’s oldest Holocaust commemoration, which is coordinated by the Holocaust Memorial Committee of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.
Morris Secemsky, a survivor, lights a memorial candle while Pauline Schneider looks on.
With rain and winds pounding the magen David arching across the sanctuary’s ceiling, the Rev. Dr. Kathleen Rusnak told the crowd, "With anti-Semitism so volatile today, the Christian world has to remember the past to make sure attacks against Jews won’t happen again." Rusnak spoke about her part in creating a Christian Museum of the Holocaust in Nahariya (northern New Jersey’s Partnership ‘000 community in Israel). "When you enter the museum," she said, "you immediately go into the Hall of Confession, which includes all the confessions of guilt from churches throughout Europe that did not stand up enough to help Jews during the Holocaust . As a Lutheran religious leader, I can say on behalf of my community that this will never happen again."
Keynote speaker Malcolm I. Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told the crowd that in many ways the countries of Europe have not learned the lessons of the Holocaust. "Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe," he said. "This year alone, there have been 100 assaults against Jews in Great Britain, and between 600 and 700 assaults in France. Half of the people surveyed in Great Britain couldn’t identify Auschwitz, and many school districts in Great Britain are refusing to teach the Holocaust so as not to offend Muslim students. In addition, Jews in Great Britain are four times more likely to be the victim of hate crime than Muslims in that country. There is a tsunami of anti-Semitism taking place."
Hoenlein said, "Europe continues the same policies of appeasing evil countries that it did 70 years ago." To support this claim, he cited Europe’s increased trade with Iran and the refusal of European countries to impose sanctions on that country. "Iran’s leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, means what he says and says what he means when he threatens to destroy Israel. His threats must be taken seriously."
Hoenlein warned that the West and most of its media are going down the same path as it did during Hitler’s early years. "I looked back at the newspapers headlines during Hitler’s first three years of power, and over and over again there were headlines saying Hitler would give up being a dictator and moderate his ways. We must not misread Ahmadinejad’s intentions in the same way."
Equally unsettling to Hoenlein is what he sees as the growing trend among "America’s elites" to tag Israel as an apartheid state that has far too much influence on American foreign policy. He cited the essay "The Israel Lobby," by Profs. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, as a prime example of influential political scientists blaming the Jews and Israel for virtually everything that is wrong in the Middle East.
"Eighty-two pages of Mearsheimer’s publication was taken straight from hate Websites," Hoenlein said. "Among his incredible claims is that the only reason American Jews support Israel’s policies is because of Israel’s lobbying efforts." Hoenlein added that even though former President Carter has now said that he used the word "apartheid" in the title of his recent book to cause debate, this isn’t a good enough answer. "The trouble is that Carter doesn’t engage in debate. In his book, he can’t define or justify why Israel is [what he calls] an apartheid state. He is clearly wrong, but meanwhile his anti-Israel thoughts were on the best-seller list for 13 weeks."
In Hoenlein’s view, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff and Gen. Wesley Clark have joined the anti-Israel chorus. He added that the thinking of high-level politicians, educators, and journalists first influence the elite of American society and then trickle down. "It happened in Europe, and it is happening here. It’s poising American society against Israel. What wasn’t acceptable to say a few years ago is now acceptable. It is part of an overall effort to demonize and delegitimize Israel, and hold it up to an impossible standard," he said.
Referring to the black community’s insistence that talk-show host Don Imus be fired because of inappropriate racial remarks, Hoenlein said, "The Jewish community has raised the bar too high regarding our tolerance of anti-Semitic remarks. It’s a mistake. We just saw that hateful remarks by a broadcaster can be restrained when a community takes action together. We should do the same thing when people of influence make anti-Semitic remarks."
For the first time, Hoenlein publicly revealed a conversation he had with President Ronald Reagan, who told him that he took a concentration camp film out of one of the studios he worked at. "President Reagan told me he knew it was wrong, but he knew one day the Holocaust-deniers would say it never happened. He wanted this film of the concentration camps to make sure this footage didn’t disappear."
Rosalind Melzer and Allyn Michaelson co-chaired this event. Additional highlights included welcoming remarks by both Rabbi Gary S. Listokin of Temple Beth Sholom and Howard E. Charish, executive vice president of UJA NNJ; a children’s candlelighting procession in memory of the 64th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising; a powerful rendition of the "Hymn of the Partisans" led by Josef Bryn; a Yiddish reading by Irwin Nijacki; and additional stories of survival by Irene Frank, Morris Secemski and Morris Glin. Holocaust remembrance proclamations were presented by Fair Lawn mayor Steven Weinstein and Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney’s office.