A tribute to Michael Herskovitz, HAMEC speaker and board member

By JESSE BERNSTEIN, Jewish Exponent, June 11, 2021. Click for full report.

Michael and Tonya Herskovitz on Michael’s 88th birthday | Courtesy of
Tonya Herskovitz

By JESSE BERNSTEIN, Jewish Exponent, June 11, 2021. Click for full report.

Michael Herskovitz, a Holocaust survivor who spent the latter portion of his life speaking to audiences around the world about his experiences, died on May 30 at the age of 92.

The Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center in Elkins Park released a statement mourning Herskovitz, who was a part of the institution for years and served on its board.

“We at HAMEC are so grateful that he devoted his time to educate so many students over the years about what happened to him and his family because of unbridled hatred he faced as a young man,” the statement read.

Herskovitz spoke about his experiences at the White House, before Congress, the Navy and countless students.

Herskovitz was born in Botfalva, Czechoslovakia, to Pearl and Joseph Herskovitz, owners of the only grocery store in a small village with no radio. (Today, Botfalva is located in Ukraine). He was one of five children.

During the years of the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, laws publicly marking Jews and restricting their freedoms piled on. Herskovitz’s father, who wore a yarmulke and a beard, was beaten so severely outside of his grocery store by German soldiers that he was forced to close it soon after. As many as 277,000 Jews are estimated to have been murdered during the occupation and, in 1943, the entire Herskovitz family was sent to Auschwitz.

Over the next few years, Herskovitz was shuttled between camps, sometimes forced into labor, as at Mauthausen, and sometimes simply fenced in, as at Gunskirchen. When he was liberated in 1945, Herskovitz, sick with typhus, weighed under 100 pounds. Reunited with an uncle, Herskovitz learned that his brother, Ernest and his two sisters, Helen and Malvina, had survived, but that his mother, father and little brother, Belala, were killed.

Herskovitz spent a few years in Canada with friends of his parents before he left for Israel. In 1948, he joined the army of the newly formed Jewish state, using his skills as an auto mechanic that he’d learned in Canada to fight for the establishment of Israel, and for its occupation of the Sinai in 1956.

In 1959, he moved to Philadelphia, where his sister Helen was living. He and his first wife, Frida, settled in their own home in West Philadelphia with their children, Pearl and Eddie. Herskovitz worked as an auto mechanic’s assistant while his wife, a survivor who died in 2006, worked in a sewing factory.

Eventually, Herskovitz entered into a partnership that brought him part ownership of a gas station at City Avenue and Conshohocken Avenue. After 16 years, Herskovitz’s partner retired, and Herskovitz took over the entire business. He eventually expanded his business to include Main Line Auto Center, shoe stores in Philadelphia, Ardmore and Miami, and the Main Line Taxi Co.

It was at one of his filling stations that Herskovitz met the woman who would eventually become his second wife, Tonya (Nowlin) Herskovitz. When she pulled into the station, in from out of town for work, she heard the same heavily accented voice that she’d hear until the day Herskovitz died, and saw the same twinkly smile.

“Michael was a man of many, many wonders,” she said.

He “held no hatred for people,” Tonya said. “When people asked him how he could drive a [German-built] Mercedes, he would say, ‘These people that made this car didn’t hurt me. They had nothing to do with it.’”

Herskovitz was predeceased by his first wife, Frida. He is survived by his wife Tonya Herskovitz; his children, Pearl (Jacky) Kouzi, Edward (Jean) Herskovitz and Mercedes Griffin; four grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

jbernstein@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0740

Wherever you are, our Survivors and Liberators are ready to address your school, congregation or civic group.

A moving Yom HaShoah candlelighting ceremony was held on May 5, 2016 at the Holocaust Monument at the Alberta Legislature Grounds to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day. Photos by Edmonton Jewish News

More and more school districts and States are requiring Holocaust education. HAMEC can provide virtual programs for your school, congregation and civic group. Wherever you are – be it the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Israel, India, Brazil, Australia, or Nigeria –  we can serve you world-wide.

Through Google Meet, Skype and Zoom, we can bring the latest in Holocaust education to your school.  Request a program today.

Hate never takes a vacation and neither do we.

This is the first ever Holocaust exhibition to open in the Arab world

By ZEENA SAIFI and CELINE ALKHALDI, CNN, June 8, 2021. Click for full report.

(CNN) — A Holocaust memorial exhibition billed as the first of its kind has opened in the United Arab Emirates.”It reminds us that the unprecedented character of the Holocaust will always hold universal meaning.” Kathrin Meyer, secretary general of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, told CNN.” As we witness the generation of Holocaust survivors sadly pass, memorials and museums become all the more important in ensuring that this horrific event is never forgotten.”

The “We Remember” exhibition at the Crossroads of Civilizations Museum in Dubai showcases first-hand testimonies of Holocaust survivors and opened to the public last month.Rabbi Elie Abadie, senior rabbi at the Jewish Council of the Emirates, says this new permanent exhibition is hugely significant as nothing similar has ever been staged in the region.”Although most people in the Middle East know the Holocaust took place, they do not speak or learn about it as much. Now, the region is opening up, and this exhibition gives tribute to what has happened and demonstrates the public recognition of history.”

He says the Holocaust also took place at a smaller scale in Middle Eastern countries in the 1940s, where Arab Jews in Libya, Tunisia and Iraq were persecuted because of Nazi-inspired teachings.He says Hitler’s ideologies reached beyond Europe, and that it was important for those who live or travel to this region to be aware of that.

‘Journey through history’

The museum showcases art produced by different civilizations and cultures over several centuries. It’s only fitting, then, that it should host this new display, the curators say.The mission is to educate and raise awareness about the Holocaust among Dubai’s over 200 different nationalities.The one-room exhibition, which sits alongside the museum’s six other galleries, takes you through the events leading up to, during, and after the Holocaust, through the eyes of people who lived it.

The Nazis killed more than six million Jews during the Holocaust, along with millions of others including disabled and LGBT people, political dissidents, and religious and ethnic minorities.Ahmed Obaid Almansoori, an Emirati who founded the private museum, says the timing to open a Holocaust exhibition in the region felt right.”The Holocaust was a crime against humanity. And when you have an event like that, you must separate it from other events. A museum is not a political place, it’s a journey through history.”

Yael Grafy, one of the exhibition’s curators, says she was thrilled to be able to educate people from all over the world about these events.”This is like a dictionary of the Holocaust. You learn things you wanted to know about the Holocaust, but you never dared to ask, such as ‘What is a death camp?,’ ‘Did the Nazis plan to murder Jews from the beginning of the regime?,’ and ‘What does Final Solution mean?’

“In a speech at the official opening of the exhibition last week, Peter Fischer, Germany’s Ambassador to the UAE, said the Holocaust is “an eternal mark of shame on my country,” and that is why he is so pleased to see the exhibition.”I congratulate the UAE for its policy of tolerance. The way of intolerance is not the right way. It will lead to great suffering, even to catastrophe. Take it from a German.”

‘Every kid had a story’

Anna Boros, pictured here as a young woman, was saved by an Egyptian doctor who later adopted her. Her daughter supplied this photo.

Anna Boros, pictured here as a young woman, was saved by an Egyptian doctor who later adopted her. Her daughter supplied this photo.Courtesy of Carla Grinshpan/Crossroads to Civilizations Museum

The official opening of the exhibition was meant to happen on April 8, marking the 80th Holocaust Remembrance Day, but Covid-19 restrictions meant the ambassador and other attendees couldn’t travel to attend the event, and so it was postponed.At the center of the exhibition is a life-sized image of a young boy from one of the best-known photographs of the Holocaust, “Warsaw Ghetto boy.” His image is surrounded by real World War II-era weapons from the museum’s collection, aimed at generating discomfort to draw attention to the magnitude of the catastrophic event, the curators say. “1.5 million kids died in the Holocaust during World War II,” says Grafy.

“We are trying to show that every kid had a story.”Also featured are extracts from Anne Frank’s diary — which became one of the most famous testimonies of the Holocaust.A section of the exhibition is devoted to Arabs and Muslims who helped save Jews during the Holocaust. It highlights the rich history of and coexistence between Arabs, Muslims, Christians and Jews in the 20th century.”When people talk about the Holocaust and the Arab world, there are a lot of different interpretations,” Almansoori says.

“We have so many good stories about Arabs and Muslims helping Jews over time, and that’s the positive side people don’t know about that we want to educate them on.”Hundreds of Jews sought refuge in Albania in 1943 and were welcomed by the majority-Muslim population. The exhibition pays homage to one of Albania’s most sacred cultural traditions, referred to as “Besa” (“word of honor.” ) It places emphasis on protecting people in times of need, irrespective of where they come from.” Albania is the only country (where) the number of Jewish people was actually going up after the Holocaust.” Grafy says.

‘My duty to mankind’

Mohamed Helmy, who saved the lives of several Jews, is pictured with his wife Emmy.

Mohamed Helmy, who saved the lives of several Jews, is pictured with his wife Emmy. Courtesy of Carla Grinshpan/Crossroads to Civilizations Museum

Another story highlights the valor during World War II of Selahattin Ulkumen, Consul General of Turkey on the German-conquered Greek island of Rhodes.In 1944, there was a small community of about 1,700 Jews living on the island, some of them Turkish, who were at risk of being killed. According to the exhibition, Ulkumen managed to save more than 42 Jews but paid a heavy price as a result. The Germans bombed his house, resulting in the death of his pregnant wife.When asked why he did what he did, he replied, “all I did was fulfill my duty to mankind.

“The most special story, however, according to Grafy, is that of Mohamed Helmy, an Egyptian doctor who was studying in Berlin, and saved several Jews from persecution. One of them was a young girl named Anna Boros, who he eventually adopted.He was the first Arab to be recognized as “Righteous Among The Nations” by Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial.

At the end of the exhibition’s section, there is a verse from the Quran written in Arabic and translated in English: “Whoever saves one life, saves the whole entire world.”Grafy says that saying exists in Jewish culture and is said in Hebrew.”It means if every person did something good, they can bring light and hope to the world,” she says.

As Auschwitz exhibit opens in Kansas City, memories haunt this Holocaust survivor

BY ERIC ADLER, Kansas City Star, June 13, 2021. Click for full report including video.

She is one of the last survivors of Auschwitz in the Kansas City area.

On Sunday, Elizabeth Nussbaum, soon to turn 94, was set to enter Union Station for a special viewing of some 700 artifacts from the Nazi concentration camp that in May 1944 killed her mother, her father and her six brothers and sisters only moments after they were disgorged from a suffocating railroad box car from Hungary.

A striped uniform like the one she wore as a prisoner and slave laborer, her head shaved to bristle, at age 16.

The desk of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss, one of the most nefarious mass murderers in history.

But no matter how powerful or informative “Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away.” may be (the exhibit opens Monday and runs through January), Nussbaum said she is already certain it could never impart the day-to-day horror of a Nazi concentration camp. Or the lifelong toll.

“They cannot bring in what was,” Nussbaum, of Overland Park, said recently, seated next to a walker in her living room, her soft Hungarian accent still prominent. A thick book about the exhibit showing its displays and 400 photographs sat at her side. “They cannot show the real thing.

“Can you show that a soldier took a child and threw it against a wall?… We saw the chimneys burning. I’ve seen people being hanged because they tore a piece of their blanket, to show, ‘You do something wrong, that is what is going to happen.’”

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Elizabeth Nussbaum, 93, in her Overland Park home on Friday. At 16, Nussbaum and her family were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, and she was the only one to survive. “Animals kill for food, and some people kill for fun” she says. Rebecca Slezak RSLEZAK@KCSTAR.COM

An exhibit cannot recreate the terror and inhumanity she felt standing outside naked, her body checked for bruises and health, to determine, on a whim, if she would be selected to live as slave labor or die.

“Anytime I think about something, not only do I feel it, I see it,” she said. Even in recent years, her caretaker said, memories of the Holocaust have disturbed her in her sleep. “It’s there in front of me. It’s in your system. It’s built in and will never leave.”

Born Elizabeth Weiss in August 1927, she was raised in the Hungarian town of Szerencz, about 130 miles from Budapest. Her mother, “a hausfrau,” she said, raised the children and kept the home. Her father worked as a Jewish official checking dairy to make sure it was kosher.

Nussbaum said that to this day, the rumble of trains reminds her of how how she, her family and all the Jews of her town were rounded up, expelled from Szernecz and forced for six weeks into the Jewish ghetto of Sátoraljaújhely, which she called Ujhely. They were then pressed into a railroad boxcar and shipped as human cargo to Auschwitz-Birkenau in German-occupied Poland.

More people would be murdered at Auschwitz than at any other of the camps designed to carry out Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution,” the extermination of the Jews.

The train traveled for three days.

“Children were crying, especially babies, because they had no milk,” Nussbaum said. “There was no toilets. There was nothing. … Even today, it hurts to see a baby crying.”

People died as the train rolled on, the living pressed against the dead. The train crawled to a stop inside Auschwitz. The Nazis separated the men from women, the young from old.

Nussbaum was sent one way; her family another.

“They told us that we were going to see the parents and the siblings on Tuesday,” Nussbaum said. “We arrived, I think, on a Sunday. But Tuesday never came, because a half an hour later, they weren’t alive.”

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An authentic German-made railway freight car stands in front of Kansas City’s Union Station. Before World War II, it was used to transport food, goods and livestock. During the war, cars like this carried Jews and others to ghettos and Nazi concentration camps across Europe, including Auschwitz. Rich Sugg RSUGG@KCSTAR.COM

THE AUSCHWITZ EXHIBIT

The exhibit’s opening on June 14 coincides with the day in 1940 that the first Polish prisoners entered Auschwitz, considered the camp’s inception. It’s scheduled to close shortly after Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the day the camp was liberated.

Luis Ferreiro, the CEO of Musealia, the Spanish company that conceived of the exhibit in collaboration with Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland, acknowledged that the point of the exhibition, although it often evokes strong emotions, is not to play on those emotions.

“I always feel very stupid, because what can I explain to somebody who has been in Auschwitz?” he said last week, as workers from the Auschwitz museum and elsewhere placed their final touches on assembling the exhibit. “This is only shadows of Auschwitz. Nothing in this exhibition is meant to replicate or try to make people feel what those people felt, because that is impossible and, intellectually, it would be dishonest to do it.”

Nussbuam was to be among a select group of local Holocaust survivors being given a private preview tour of the exhibition through a collaboration with the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education in Overland Park.

“When I work with survivors,” Ferriero said, “most of them are satisfied that we are trying to spread the word of what happened and explain what happened in a way that is respectful to the memory of the victims, and it’s also focused very much in understanding the underlying principles of the story.

“It’s not just about coming to see artifacts. It’s about how a place like Auschwitz could come to exist in the first place, how it was possible, and what does it mean to us today.”

Nussbuam survived three months in Auschwitz. She labored daily under the threat of death, working where she was commanded, in the kitchen, for an officer, carrying railroad ties to support the train that transported Jews and others to their death. Nussbaum was then shipped some 500 miles away to Dachau, the Nazis’ original concentration and slave labor camp in southern Germany.

The exhibit at Union Station shows The New York Times from the January day the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau and notes how, although the name Auschwitz (German for the Polish city of Oswiecim) would soon become infamous worldwide, news of its liberation did not make the front page. Instead, it was initially noted in a single paragraph on an inside page:

“Fifteen miles southeast of Katowice in industrial Silesia, Marshal Koneff’s troops captured Oswiecim, site of the most notorious German death camp in all Europe. An estimated 1,500,000 persons are said to have been murdered in the torture chambers of Oswiecim.”

Dachau was liberated by U.S. troops on April 29, 1945, only a little more than one week before May 8, when victory in Europe, V-E Day, was declared.

Nussbaum recalled seeing U.S. planes overhead. Nazi guards, she said, had begun fleeing the camp. Days before U.S. soldiers arrived, 25,000 prisoners were forced to march south away from Dachau or to waiting freight cars.

“During these so-called death marches,” the United States Holocaust Museum notes, “the Germans shot anyone who could no longer continue; many also died of starvation, hypothermia, or exhaustion.”

As U.S. forces neared, “they found more than 30 railroad cars filled with bodies brought to Dachau, all in an advanced state of decomposition.”

Elizabeth Nussbaum was 18 years old.

SamNussbaum1992.JPG
Like Elizabeth Nussbaum of Overland Park, her late husband, Sam, was also a survivor of Auschwitz and other camps. The Star wrote about him in 1992 after he testified in Germany to bring a Nazi war criminal, Joseph Schwammberger, to justice. Sam Nussbaum died in 2002 at age 82. STAR ARCHIVES

EYEWITNESS TO A MONSTER

Her daughter, Bonnie Mannis, an attorney now living outside of New York City, still chokes with emotion to talk about what her parents endured. Her father, too, Polish and Jewish, was also a Holocaust survivor and the only one of his immediate family to live.

“Everyone perished. Everyone was murdered,” Mannis said.

Sam Nussbaum, seven years older than Elizabeth, was born March 23, 1920. The two met after the war in Italy in a displaced persons camp. They would stay there three years, marry, have their first child, Larry Nussbaum, who became a Kansas City area physician.

In January 1992, The Washington Post profiled Sam Nussbaum, then 72 years old and a retired Kansas City plumber , when he traveled to Stuttgart, Germany, as an eyewitness in the trial against Nazi war criminal Josef Schwammberger. Mannis keeps a copy of the newspaper story.

The Midwest Center also maintains an archive containing the audio and video testimonials of dozens of Kansas City area Holocaust survivors, many of whom have died since the recordings were made. Among them are testimonials by Sam Nussbaum, who died in 2002 at age 82.

He talks of Schwammberger, who had been the commandant of Ghetto A of the Polish city of Przemysl. When Schwammberger arrived in 1943, the ghetto housed 28,000 Jews. No more than 100 remained by war’s end.

“He was a murderer, was killing. I seen him shooting about 30 people,” he recounts in the recording. “Just told ’em to get undressed, he shot every one of them. I looked on it. “

In 1945, French soldiers arrested Schwammberger after they found him carrying eight sacks stuffed with diamonds and gold tooth filling. But he soon escaped a military transport taking him to trial in Austria. He found a safe haven living in Argentina under his own name and protected by Argentinian authorities.

Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and the West German government won his extradition in 1990.

In his 20s when he was in the ghetto, Sam Nussbaum was always mechanically inclined. He said that Schwammberger allowed him to live because he was useful. The SS officer used him as as a kind of personal engineer, doing odd jobs, such as building a fence, a laundry, a distillery to make vodka for Nazi officers.

At trial, Sam Nussbaum was one of more 100 witnesses, some of whom traveled from as far off as the U.S., Israel, Canada and Australia, to testify that Schwammberger was directly involved in more than 1,200 murders.

“It’s very painful to go back 45 years and wake up all your wounds,” Elizabeth Nussbuam told The Star in its own 1992 profile upon their return. Nussbaum said that when she saw Schwammberger, then 79, at the trial, she was surprised how ordinary he looked, like any old man.

“That’s the troubling part,” she said.

Schwammberger was sentenced to life in prison in Germany and died there in 2004 at age 92.

Sam Nussbuam was transported to Auschwitz from the ghetto.

“From there, he went to work camps, to coal mines,” his daughter said. “He tells a story of how he was going up and down the stairs of this coal mine. There were people with no strength. They were all under-nourished and sickly. He tells how he tried to pick up a couple of people who were fallen, and try to save them, because they would have been shot otherwise.”

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The exhibition includes a giant photograph taken at a Nazi rally in Nuremberg, Germany, during World War II. Rich Sugg RSUGG@KCSTAR.COM

DON’T ASK WHY

A 1971 quote from survivor Charlotte Delbo, the late French writer who wrote a memoir about her imprisonment in Auschwitz, ends the Union Station exhibit. It is printed on a wall near the exit:

“You who are passing by

I beg you

Do something

Learn a dance step

Something to justify your existence

Something that gives you the right

To be dressed in your skin in your body hair

Learn to walk and to laugh

Because it would be too senseless

After all

For so many to have died

While you live

Doing nothing with your life.”

Elizabeth and Sam Nussbaum went on to have a good life. They arrived in Kansas City in 1948 and would have four children: Larry, the physician, Mel, who followed his father into plumbing and started his own business; David, a rabbi; Bonnie, the attorney. They would have grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Some survivors of the Holocaust lost their faith along the way, wondering where God was as millions were exterminated.

Elizabeth Nussbaum prays every day now as she prayed every day then. She doesn’t know why she lived while countless others were killed. She didn’t expect to live.

“No,” she said flatly.

She credits God and chooses to believe that perhaps, having lost her entire family, she was meant to survive to have another. But asking the why, she said, is a useless exercise.

“That is a question you shouldn’t ask,” she said, “because there is no answer to that.”

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Elizabeth Nussbaum returned to Auschwitz-Birkenau 18 years ago and brought back a stone from the train tracks there. She hired an artist to paint a rendering of the camp on it, along with the slogan above an entrance: “Arbeit Macht Frie,” loosely translated as “Work sets you free.” Rebecca Slezak RSLEZAK@KCSTAR.COM

Nussbaum has an artifact of her own. Eighteen years ago, she returned to Poland and to Auschwitz-Birkenau. She took a stone from the tracks that brought her and her family on the train.

She hired an artist to paint a rendering of the camp on the stone, along with the slogan that appeared above an entrance to the camp: “Arbeit Macht Frie,” loosely translated as “Work sets you free.”

“What a lie,” Nussbuam said, cradling the stone. “If this stone could talk, the stories it could tell.”

Ginnie Graham: Taking teenager to Tulsa’s Holocaust Center prompts deeper discussions

By GINNIE GRAHAM, Tulsa World, June 13, 2021. Click for full report, video and photographs.

My teenage daughter was stunned to see the Ku Klux Klan robe, Nazi uniform and mannequin of khaki trousers and white golf shirt holding a tiki torch.

It’s the first exhibit inside the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art‘s Sanditen/Kaiser Holocaust Center. The center expanded into a multistory renovated space in November.

Hate links the three outfits from different eras. The last shows how bigotry doesn’t need a uniform: Darkness can lurk inside anyone. Looks can be deceiving.

My daughter got that quickly, without explanation, and stood staring.

Before the pandemic, middle school students in Tulsa Public Schools and other schools took field trips to the museum, with a focus on its Holocaust Center. It became unsafe to conduct these visits until a vaccine began curbing the virus.

It was among many things kids missed out on during the public health emergency.

Things are different now. The museum is open with some restrictions, and summer is a good time for grownups to take youths for a visit.

Recently, my daughter and I were given a tour by Director of Holocaust Education Nancy A. Pettus, joined by community volunteers Charlotte Schumann and Yolanda Charney.

Education remains central in the renovated space, with architecture and design subtly evoking emotion.

A recreation of a concentration camp fence looms over curator Mickel Yantz as he tours the Holocaust exhibit at the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art. Displayed on the wall beyond the fence are items typical Jewish homes would have had in them before the Holocaust. Photo: Tulsa World.

Nazi flags and other emblems of power from the Third Reich are displayed in cases on the floor, not worth elevating to eye level.

Uniforms from the Ku Klux Klan (far right), Nazi SS and the Unite the Right movement are displayed at a Holocaust display at the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art. Photo: Tulsa World.

We had the perfect guides to explain tikkun olam, meaning to “repair the world,” practices of atonement and the ritual of handwriting the Torah.

Everyday items that would have been in a typical Jewish home before the Holocaust hang on a two-story wall upon entry. They include dolls, a chess set, shoes and a teddy bear. Some things, like a prayer shawl and menorah, led my daughter to ask questions about religious traditions.

“What we want people to know is that they had lives before the Holocaust, had lives like everyone else,” Pettus said. “These are items of a free Jewish population.”

By the second floor, we were peering out from behind bars onto that wall; those everyday items out of reach.

“Whoa!” was all my daughter could manage.

Information is presented in text, graphics and videos featuring Tulsa Holocaust survivors recorded through the years. Only two are still living.

It can be a lot. My normally loquacious daughter was quiet, soaking it in.

Occasionally, Pettus would ask questions to gauge what my daughter already knew. Most students read “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and there are culture touchpoints in movies and videos.

Nowadays, kids hear Holocaust references thrown out as part of political disagreements, blurring the horrific history with modern political partisanship. Sorting that out comes from Holocaust education.

The first floor is dedicated to the rise of the Nazi political party with propaganda as the weapon of choice. Loyalists were gained by leaning on misinformation, centuries-old myths and hateful cartoons.

It wasn’t just the posters and leaflets of Jewish people with exaggerated physical features. The insidious narrative lived in children’s books, adult literature and education textbooks.

“I didn’t know that it was a build-up,” my daughter said. “It didn’t go from zero to 100. It wasn’t like concentration camps just happened.”

A wall features one of the 1930s German student-led book burnings, rooted in nationalism to cleanse the country of Jewish authors and literature on political movements.

A photograph of students in the straight-armed salute lies under the 1822 Heinrich Heine quote, “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.”

That was the first photo my daughter took. She’s a prolific reader.

The second photo she took was of the poignant art installation depicting Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, located along the stairwell. Artists Tracey and Rick Bewley of Oklahoma City hung shards of colored glass above a tattered synagogue scene.

“It feels weird to say it’s beautiful, but it is beautiful and sad,” my daughter said.

It faced a bench labeled for Jews only, and around the corner hung a photo of Jesse Owens winning the gold medal at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Germany.

That took our conversation into the parallels with the American Black civil rights movement.

The upstairs focuses on how the Nazi party used its power for genocide, oppression and totalitarianism. Among the items: badges different prisoners wore in the camps, an SS officer’s diamond ring, a Zyklon B cannister and a bookcase hiding a photo of the Anne Frank secret staircase.

Toward the end, photos show some of the resistance fighters and helpers.

Pettus pointed to Irena Sendler, a Polish social worker and nurse who smuggled children out of the Warsaw ghetto. She was caught by the Gestapo and sentenced to death but escaped after an underground network bribed officers for her release.

“We have to leave kids knowing about the rescuers,” Pettus said.

Schumann added, “Many survivors were helped by righteous Gentiles.”

That segued into the breathtaking gallery of the “Kinderstone” project. For years, youths visiting the museum were given a stone with the name and age of a child who died in the camps. Docents often made sure the visitor was the same age as the child on the stone.

The many decorated stones have been turned into art displays of statues. Seeing the names of 13-year-olds who died so cruelly made a lasting impression on my 13-year-old.

Going through the museum with her opened up discussions we otherwise would not have had. Nothing was too graphic or too heavy to handle.

Our wonderful guides added personal stories about Tulsa’s Holocaust survivors and local soldiers who were liberators. The museum has since opened the Oklahoma World War II Veterans Memorial.

Schumann and Charney linked this past to the hurt they feel when hearing people conflate public health mask wearing or social media fact-checking to that genocide.

Bigotry and hate continue to exist. But using distorted references to the Holocaust in describing people with whom you disagree doesn’t address those.

Everyone should call out hate, but don’t confuse a person’s being wrong with being a Nazi.

This tour was one of the most interesting, introspective and informative experiences I’ve shared with my daughter, and it’s one other parents ought to have this summer.


ginnie.graham@tulsaworld.com

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David Dushman, Auschwitz liberator who drove through its fence, dies at 98.

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, June 6, 2021

David Dushman at a memorial service in Berlin in 2015. (Markus Heine/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

David Dushman at a memorial service in Berlin in 2015. (Markus Heine/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

(JTA) — David Dushman, a Jewish soldier who liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp, died at 98.

Dushman died on Saturday, according to the International Olympic Committee.

Dushman drove a tank for the Soviet Army when his division arrived at Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp in Poland where more than a million Jews were murdered, on Jan. 27, 1945. Dushman mowed down the camp’s fence with his tank, helping liberate the inmates inside, according to Agence France-Presse.

“We hardly knew anything about Auschwitz,” he said in a 2015 interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung, a German publication, according to AFP. “They staggered out of the barracks, sat and lay among the dead. Terrible. We threw them all our canned food and immediately went on to hunt down the fascists.”

Dushman was seriously injured in the war but went on to become a renowned fencing coach. He coached the Soviet women’s Olympic fencing team from 1952 to 1988, and several of his fencers won medals.

At the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, when 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were murdered by Palestinian terrorists, Dushman was sleeping in lodgings across from the Israeli delegation.

He moved to Austria and later to Munich, where he fenced recreationally until four years ago.

To liberate Auschwitz, David Dushman drove Soviet tank through barbed wire. He was believed to be the last surviving liberator of the Nazi death camp.

By GILLIAN BROCKELL, Washington Post, June 7, 2021. Click for full report.

David Dushman had no idea of the horrors he was about to discover. He was a 21-year-old major in the Red Army in January 1945, when his tank rolled past Krakow, Poland, heading west, pushing the Nazis. At 3 p.m. on Jan. 27, they approached a fence to a camp. It was Auschwitz.

Dushman didn’t enter the death camp through the notorious gate emblazoned with the words “Arbeit macht frei” (Work sets you free). His tank plowed right through the electrified, barbed-wire fence — a fence many prisoners had intentionally jumped into to end their torture.

Dushman, who was Jewish, died Saturday in Munich at 98; he was the last surviving liberator of Auschwitz, the last eyewitness who could speak of its inhumanity, according to Charlotte Knobloch, the president of the Jewish Community of Munich.

His stay at Auschwitz was brief; he only drove his tank over the fence to make a pathway for ground troops in the 322nd Rifle Division and then continued on to “hunt down the fascists,” he told Sueddeutsche newspaper in 2015. But still, what he saw would haunt him for the rest of his life.

“Skeletons everywhere. From the barracks they staggered, between the dead they sat and lay,” he remembered. “Terrible.”

The first transport of Jews to Auschwitz was 997 teenage girls. Few survived.

By the time the Soviets arrived, Auschwitz and its satellite camps were nearly empty. The Germans had cleared it out earlier in the month as the Red Army approached, forcing 60,000 prisoners on a “death march” to other concentration camps, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Nazis had meant to kill the prisoners who were too weak or ill to walk, but they ran out of time and left behind about 7,000. These were the “skeletons” Dushman found.

Ivan Martynushkin was among the Soviet ground troops who marched into the camp. In 2015, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation, he spoke to several news outlets about what he saw.

“We saw emaciated, tortured, impoverished people,” he told CNN. “It was hard to watch them. I remember their faces, especially their eyes which betrayed their ordeal,” he told Agence France-Presse.

The Polish hero who volunteered to go to Auschwitz — and warned the world about the Nazi death machine

They were mostly middle-aged or children; many of the children were twins and had been experimented on by “Angel of Death” Josef Mengele. At first, the prisoners and soldiers were wary of each other, Martynushkin told Radio Free Europe, “[b]ut then they apparently figured out who we were and began to welcome us, to signal that they knew who we were and that we shouldn’t be afraid of them — that there were no guards or Germans behind the barbed wire. Only prisoners.”

The look in their eyes began to change, he said. “We could tell from their eyes that they were happy to be saved from this hell. Happy that now they weren’t threatened by death in a crematorium. Happy to be freed. And we had the feeling of doing a good deed — liberating these people from this hell,” he said.

Some of the prisoners realized more suddenly that they had been liberated. In Dan Stone’s book “The Liberation of the Camps: The End of the Holocaust and Its Aftermath,” officer Vasily Gromadsky described calling out “You are free!”

“They began rushing toward us, in a big crowd. They were weeping, embracing us and kissing us,” he said.

But other prisoners were slower to convince of their liberation. In 1980, Soviet colonel Georgii Elisavetskii recounted entering a barrack filled with “living skeletons.”

“I sense that they do not understand [us] and begin speaking to them in Russian, Polish, German … Then I use Yiddish. Their reaction is unpredictable. They think that I am provoking them. They begin to hide,” Elisavetskii said.

He told them he was a colonel in the Soviet Army and a Jew, and finally they realized they were free. They fell at his and his comrades’ feet, kissing their overcoats and holding their arms around the men’s legs. “And we could not move, stood motionless while unexpected tears ran down our cheeks,” he said.

Even three days after liberation, some women were still too afraid, too weak or both to leave their bunks, one Soviet doctor said.

Soviet medics began offering the sickest among them medical help, and soon they had constructed two field hospitals outside the camp. The Polish Red Cross built another. Bedridden patients were carried from barracks caked with excrement to clean wards, according to the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum.

At least 4,500 survivors needed serious medical care, and 1,500 died before they could recover.

The patients had to be gradually reintroduced to food, because immediately giving a person suffering from long-term starvation normal portions can be deadly. At first, it was just one tablespoon of potato soup three times a day. Later, when the meals got bigger, nurses reported finding bread hidden underneath the patients’ mattresses — so accustomed they had become to hoarding every scrap they could.

As soon as the former prisoners were well enough to leave, most of them did, either by themselves on foot or in organized transports to their homelands, according to the Auschwitz museum. For many, this took three or four months of medical care. By June, only 300 remained, according a Jewish Relief Unit quoted in Stone’s book, but “the Russians are caring for them well, providing white bread, wurst and sugar.”

Before the Nazis evacuated, they had also tried to destroy evidence of their war crimes — namely, the murder of 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, in gas chambers. But again, they ran out of time. The Red Army reported finding the sickening evidence of the Nazis’ “Final Solution”: 370,000 men’s suits, 837,000 women’s garments and 7.7 tons of human hair, all collected in massive piles.

Six hundred bodies — the last people shot by the Nazis — lay unburied on the ground.

Aleksander Vorontsov was in a Soviet film crew that captured these horrors. “My memories from there have stayed with me all my life. All of that was the most moving and horrific thing that I filmed during the war,” he said.

Most of these soldiers were later awarded medals for the liberation of Auschwitz and were invited to commemorations and ceremonies over the years. But not Dushman; he was never awarded a medal, presumably because his contribution was so brief.

He said that was okay with him; he didn’t want to be invited back. He had visited Auschwitz once more in the 1970s and, he said, “I couldn’t stop crying.”

Now is NOT the time to remain silent

We at the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center (HAMEC) both applaud and support the recent open letter to all American Leaders and Citizens from 50 Holocaust Survivors who volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. A link has been provided for those of you who have not had an opportunity to read their communication.

We share their concerns about both the rise in anti-Semitism and other forms of hate here in the United States. We condemn the inaccurate comparison references made to the Holocaust by thoughtless and ignorant individuals across the political spectrum.  

Unfortunately hate never takes a vacation.  Neither can we in our mission to educate as many people, especially young people about the horrible consequences of unbridled prejudice targeting the Jewish community and other minority groups whether coming from individuals, organizations or, in the worst case, from governments .

Over the last dozen years, HAMEC’S heroic Survivors have reached over 300,000 young people with their personal stories and their wisdom. We commit to continuing and intensifying our efforts to reach hundreds of thousands more throughout the world.

As the Open Letter states, now is not the time to remain silent.  Now is the time to follow the advice of our Survivors and to be upstanders –not bystanders.

Please join this growing needed chorus by speaking out and helping us with our collective mission to combat this rise in anti-Semitism, intolerance and hate wherever we find it.

Chuck Feldman, President, HAMEC

Wherever you are, our Survivors and Liberators are ready to address your school, congregation or civic group.

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Holocaust Memorial, Klooga, Estonia, September 21, 2020. Source: Jewish Community of Estonia, Social Media Page. Click for report from ERR.

More and more school districts and States are requiring Holocaust education. HAMEC can provide virtual programs for your school, congregation and civic group. Wherever you are – be it the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Israel, India, Brazil, Australia, or Nigeria –  we can serve you world-wide.

Through Google Meet, Skype and Zoom, we can bring the latest in Holocaust education to your school.  Request a program today.

Hate never takes a vacation and neither do we.

Interfaith rally protests damage to Florida Holocaust Museum

Holocaust survivor Toni Rinde shares her story during a Unite Against Hate vigil outside the Florida Holocaust Museum Thursday in St. Petersburg.
Holocaust survivor Toni Rinde shares her story during a Unite Against Hate vigil outside the Florida Holocaust Museum Thursday in St. Petersburg. [ MENGSHIN LIN | Times ]

By NATALIE WEBER, Tampa Bay Times, June 4, 2021. Click for full report. 

When Toni Rinde first heard about the antisemitic vandalism at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg last week, she wanted to cry.

But the Holocaust survivor said she didn’t want the vandals to win, or give in to the fear they provoked. On Thursday, she addressed more than 100 people gathered outside the museum who had come to express solidarity after the incident last week.

“We teach the lessons of the Holocaust in order to prevent future genocide,” she said. “Our work is not done.”

The St. Petersburg Police Department is searching for suspects and investigating the vandalism as a hate crime. Officers spotted “Jews are guilty” and a swastika spray painted in black on the side of the museum about 4 a.m. last Thursday. The city painted over the graffiti on the museum at 55 Fifth St. S by about 9:15 a.m. the same day.

According to The Anti-Defamation League, which tracks antisemitimic incidents, the United States saw more than 2,024 acts of vandalism, attacks and harassment in 2020, the third-highest number of incidents since the organization began tracking events in 1979.

City officials, politicians and religious leaders led community members in a night of reflection and song outside the museum, as they talked about how to address antisemitism. Organizers asked attendees to bring books with them to the event, symbolizing the importance of education in combatting antisemitism.

When Rabbi Philip Weintraub, who serves as president of Pinellas County Board of Rabbis, heard about the vandalism, he didn’t know what to tell his daughter.

Demonstrators raise books during the Unite Against Hate vigil outside the Florida Holocaust Museum Thursday in St. Petersburg. The group gathered Thursday in response to the recent vandalism.
Demonstrators raise books during the Unite Against Hate vigil outside the Florida Holocaust Museum Thursday in St. Petersburg. The group gathered Thursday in response to the recent vandalism. [ MENGSHIN LIN | Times ]

“It seems over and over, that Jews tend to be the canaries in the coal mine, showing when there is hate in the world,” he said.

Imam Askia Muhammad Aquil, chair of the Interfaith Collective Empowerment Group of the Tampa Bay Area, Inc. gave an opening prayer. Several interfaith leaders also addressed the crowd.

“A community this beautiful, this blessed, this gifted and this talented cannot allow the seeds of hatred or cowardice and division to take root,” said Pastor J.C. Pritchett, president of the interdenominational ministerial alliance.

Elizabeth Gelman, the Florida Holocaust Museum’s executive director, asked the crowd to take three actions after Thursday’s vigil: Promote the museum to help it reach its goal of 300,000 visitors next year, advocate for accurate education around the Holocaust in local school districts and support the museum financially.

Rabbi Joel Simon, president of the Tampa Rabbinical Association, said acts of hate can either drive communities apart or bring them together. He reflected on another incident of antisemitic vandalism on a synagogue in Kentucky, and how the community worked to educate two teens who were caught in the act.

“My prayer tonight is that this swastika, that these acts of hatred, fear and ignorance that are plaguing our country and our world today inspire us to wash them away,” he said. “May they inspire us to reach out to those we don’t know.”

Anyone with information about the incident can call the St. Petersburg Police Department at 727-893-7780 or by texting SPPD plus your tip to TIP411.

HAMEC leader Michael Herskovitz has died.

Michael Herskovitz

Dear Friends,

We at the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center mourn the passing of our Holocaust Survivor speaker, HAMEC Board member, and dear friend Michael Herskovitz on May 30, 2021. 

Michael was born in Czechoslovakia in 1929. At 15 years old in 1944, Michael and his family were taken in cattle cars to Auschwitz-Birkenau where he was separated from his parents and four siblings. He unfortunately would not be reunited with his parents, as they were killed at Auschwitz. Michael spent six months in Auschwitz and the remainder of World War II in the concentration camps Mauthausen and Gunskirchen until liberation in May of 1945.

After the war Michael moved to Israel and fought in both the 1948 War for Independence and the 1956 Sinai War. In 1959 Michael immigrated to the United States and settled in the Philadelphia area.

Arriving in the United States with a limited education and speaking no English, he worked long hours acquiring a trade as an automobile mechanic and teaching himself English. Soon a representative from Gulf Oil approached Michael to purchase and run a franchise. Three gas stations, two parts stores, four shoe stores in Philadelphia and Miami, later Michael established himself as a self-made successful businessman – a shining example of the American Dream.

Michael dedicated the last 30+ years to educating students about the Holocaust. Michael was an instrumental part of our remarkable growth in the number of school programs served over the last 12 years. Michael reached tens of thousands of eager young people with his amazing story of survival and his positive attitude about life. He has told his story across the country and all over the world to students with the advent of Skype and Zoom. We at HAMEC are so grateful that he devoted his time to educate so many students over the years about what happened to him and his family because of unbridled hatred he faced as a young man. Michael inspired so many to become upstanders against prejudice and hatred. 

We send our condolences to his wonderful wife and teammate on his mission, Tonya. We will miss him, and we will honor his life and memory by continuing to tell his story. Give a Gift in Memory of  Michael Herskovitz Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center, Suite 203/205, 8339 Old York Road Elkins Park, PA 19027 info@hamec.org

Give a Gift in Memory of  Michael Herskovitz

Obituary from Philadelphia Inquirer, June 1, 2021.

HERSKOVITZ MICHAEL on May 30, 2021. Michael was born in a small village in Botfalva, Czechoslovakia in 1929. As a teenager he survived two years in the worst Nazi concentration camps, Auschwitz, Mauthausen, and Gunskirchen. Prior to immigrating to the United States in 1959 he lived for ten years in Israel. Michael fought in the 1948 war of Independence and the 1956 Sinai War. Over the past 30+ years Michael has been an educator on the Holocaust to students throughout the US and internationally. Beloved husband of Tonya (nee Nowlin) and the late Frida (nee Weig); Loving father of Pearl (Jacky) Kouzi, Edward (Jean) Herskovitz and Mercedes Griffin; Devoted grandfather of Jennifer, Avi, Michelle and Steven; Adoring great-grandfather of Noah, Talia, Evan, Ariela, Gabrielle and Michael. Relatives and friends are invited to Graveside Services, Wednesday, 10 AM precisely at Haym Salomon Mem. Park (Sec. BD), Frazer, PA. Contributions in his memory may be made to Adath Israel Youth Fund, 250 N. Highland Ave., Merion Station, PA 19066 or Holocaust Awareness Museum, 8339 Old York Road, Suites 203/205, Elkins Park, PA 19027. www.goldsteinsfuneral.com