Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Office of Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman
(L-R) Army veteran Jack Holzman, member of the Jewish War Veterans Post 625, Merrick; Avi Posnick, northeast regional director, StandWithUs, West Hempstead; County Legislator Arnold Drucker (D – Plainview), attorney; Andrea Bolender, Roslyn, chairman of the board at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County; Unknown (in background); County Executive Bruce Blakeman (seated), County Legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip (R – Great Neck), Rabbi Arthur Schwartz, spiritual leader, Kehillath Shalom Synagogue, Reconstructionist, Cold Spring Harbor; Rabbi Nochem Tenenboim, director, Chabad House of Hewlett; Unknown (far right).

The state and some county officials recognized International Holocaust Remembrance Day last week in different ways. Some lit up government buildings and structures such as bridges, others used pertinent quotes to commemorate the event and some used the occasion as a fundraiser.

January 27 was officially recognized as International Holocaust Remembrance Day by the United Nations because on that date in 1945 Russian soldiers liberated several thousand Jews imprisoned at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps, the largest of all the camps run by the Nazis. It is estimated that more than one million Jews perished at those death camps.

Advertisement



The state Assembly memorialized the event by passing a one-house resolution. Due to Covid, restrictions were placed on how many legislators were present speak on the issue.

Over the past year, “The only change I’ve seen is the locations . . . added to the list of those who have experienced antisemitic attacks,” said Assemblymember Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows, Queens), prime sponsor of the resolution. “First there was Charlottesville (Virginia in 2017), then Pittsburgh (2018 at the Tree of Life synagogue), Poway (California, 2019 at the Chabad Center), Monsey (New York, 2021), Jersey City (New Jersey, 2019 at a kosher grocery store) and less than two weeks ago, Colleyville, Texas (2022) joined the unfortunate list that no state, city or town wants to be on.

“Antisemitism has existed before the Holocaust, and it didn’t end with the liberation of the death camp. It didn’t disappear. It has a new form, and it is thriving in 2022. Here I am compelled to once again to please include the Jewish community in your activism, teach future generations about this stain in history and stand side by side in actions and legislation so we can truly look up to our promise of never again,” Rozic added as she concluded her remarks on the Assembly floor.

For another assemblyman, the Holocaust is personal as his grandparents are Holocaust survivors.

“Just 77 years later we are surrounded by millennials and Generation Z who lack basic knowledge of the Holocaust,” said Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein (D-Borough Park, Brooklyn) from the Assembly floor. According to a 50-state survey last year, more than one in 10 adults under the age of 10 never recall hearing the word Holocaust. Sixty-three percent of those surveyed did not know that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

“It is impossible for us to comprehend the details of what the Russian soldiers reported. The mountains of hair, teeth, shoes, suitcases and bodies. The overwhelming smell of burning flesh. It is simply impossible for us to begin to imagine. So, when we stand here today, on the floor of the people’s house commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day, we’re not just simply commemorating the past. We are creating lessons in the present to understand the real dangers of not addressing antisemitism, not addressing hate, all hate, and allowing hate to rear its ugly head. May we always remember and never forget.”

Another Assemblyman drove home the point that education about the Holocaust is important.

“The Holocaust did not happen overnight. It started with words that fell on deaf ears. Then it became actions that people chose not to see. It grew from the silence of voices that simply did not speak out,” said Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal (D-Kew Gardens Hills, Queens). “In 2021, antisemitic hate crimes in New York City were up over 50 percent from the already record number we saw in 2020. In Brooklyn, a woman went up to young Jewish children and said Hitler should have killed you all and spat in their faces. Again, earlier this week a Jewish man was once again randomly assaulted on the streets of New York City. We are reminded all too often that antisemitism is real and closer to us than we like to realize. To turn a blind eye to these stories is spitting on the memories of those we lost in the Holocaust. It allows for hate to once again become the new normal. There is an unimaginable reality that the Jewish community is facing. We must all remain vigilant to make sure that never again means – never again.”

Not everyone who spoke was Jewish. Among those who were not Jewish was a freshman legislator who is the daughter of immigrants from India.

“I would like to posit that it is the responsibility of everyone across the political spectrum to combat all suggestions of antisemitism,” said Jenifer Rajkumar (D-Woodhaven, Queens), who practices Hinduism and is the first woman of Indian decent elected to the state Assembly. “We need to do a better job. We cannot be indifferent. As Elie Weisel once said, the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. The opposite of life is not death, it is indifference. When one group is scapegoating and targeting, any group could be next. Hate crimes against Muslim-Americans are up 350 percent in New York City. Hate crimes against Asian-Americans have grown more than any other group last year. If we allow antisemitism to continue, any one of us could be next.”

Not everyone who spoke on the resolution was from New York City. One was from the far reaches of the state where the capital of Ohio is closer to his home than Albany is.

“The Holocaust was a horrific, horrific blight on human history. No words can adequately express the repulsion that all of us feel toward that atrocity,” said Andy Goodell (R-Jamestown, Chautauqua County). “After the war when so many Americans were hurting and were in shock and disbelief over the atrocities of the Nazi regime, America took the lead in an incredible statement about justice when it afforded the leadership of the Nazi regime a trial. Rather than follow their example of a firing squad or a gas chamber America sent a message to the world that we believe in due process. Back then, that was not an easy statement to make, even in America, because so many Americans had lost their sons or their fathers or their brothers or other relatives in the war effort. Justice (Robert) Jackson, who was a Supreme Court judge [and Jamestown-area native] with a lifetime appointment, resigned from the U.S. Supreme Court to head up the prosecution in Nuremberg.

“The Holocaust did not start at the death camps, it started years before with indifference. It is important for us to recommit men to the best aspects of human nature standing up for our colleagues. Standing up for those who are different from us. Standing up for the rights of minorities. Insisting on justice. Insisting on due process. Resisting all the horrific base human characteristics that led to this absolutely despicable and horrific Holocaust. I hope that all of us recommit ourselves to being part of standing up for what is just and right,” Goodell added.

The official legislative resolution notes that 5.8 million Jews perished at the hands of the Nazis during the 12 years of the Holocaust, not six million. The final paragraph states “Knowing the events and root causes of the Holocaust must not be forgotten and that, particularly as survivors diminish in number, links must be forged to educate future generations.”

While the Democrat-led state Senate did not offer a similar resolution, at least one Senator issued a statement seeking support for a Holocaust education bill she is sponsoring.

“As our community and our nation confronts an explosion of antisemitism and antisemitic violence, it’s more important than ever that we remember the history of the Holocaust, and vow to never forget the millions who were murdered in the name of antisemitism and hatred,” said Senator Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck, Nassau County), an Iranian-born Jew. “We must also vow to do more to keep the history alive and remain ever-vigilant against the rising threat that this vile hatred poses to our community.”

Kaplan did not attend a bill signing and ceremony led by newly-minted Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman (R-Atlantic Beach), an Orthodox Jew. Blakeman signed into law a measure establishing the Antisemitism Task Force and lit the rotunda’s dome on the county government building in commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“I think about all the families that were destroyed. I think first of all of the innocent children that were murdered, the adults that were murdered,” Blakeman told The Jewish Press after signing the measure into law. “It makes me angry. It makes me sad. It was tragic. It was senseless. It was pure evil. Not only do we have to memorialize the souls that died in the Holocaust but we have to basically every single day say to ourselves that we have to stand up to antisemitism and fight back, not take it lying down, not to be weak and not to be reticent to call it when you see it and to fight against it. We also have to educate young people, many of which have no idea what the Holocaust is all about. We have to do a better job educating our young people as to what happened in the Holocaust, the evil that came from the Holocaust and make sure that it never, ever, ever happens again. Lighting the dome is not only symbolic but it probes people to investigate what the Holocaust is about. To Google it, to ask questions, to read books, to watch movies and television programs about the Holocaust so yes, it is part of the educational component.

“One antisemite is one antisemite too many. We have a very inclusive and accepting diverse community where 99 percent of the people get along in harmony, [but] there is always that evil element that they could be antisemites, they could be racists, they could be bigots, and we have to make sure that we don’t accept that or tolerate it and that we fight it in Nassau County. There should be zero tolerance for someone who is an antisemite, a racist or a bigot,” Blakeman added.

Eleven government landmarks across the state were lit as the governor released a brief statement about commemorating the solemn anniversary.

County Executive Bruce Blakeman and others at the rotunda’s dome on the county government building in commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day..

“I am proud to be governor of New York State, home to the world’s largest Jewish population outside of Israel,” said Governor Kathy Hochul (D-Buffalo, Erie County). “New Yorkers stand in solidarity with the Jewish community on this solemn day to remember the millions of lives lost in the atrocities of the Holocaust. We honor their memory and vow to never allow antisemitism or any form of hate in our great state.”

The state education department leadership released a statement about educating today’s youth to never forget.

“Our schools will continue to teach the history – not only of man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man but also of the brave and righteous individuals who risked everything to save the lives of others,” said Lester Young, chancellor of the state board of regents and state education commissioner Betty Rosa. “The Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel, said, “Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.” So, let us vow to never forget the millions of innocent souls who perished in the Holocaust, and let us work, every day, to spread peace, love, and tolerance throughout the world.”

The Washington DC-based Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) took the occasion to politicize the somber day by attempting to increase their financial coffers by blaming Republicans and Donald Trump for tolerating Jew-hating extremists.

“The ADL identifies more than 100 candidates with extremist ties running for political office. They are all Republicans,” said Halie Soifer, CEO of the JDCA. “In the frequent instances when it occurs in the Republican Party, it is condoned. Antisemitism on the left is marginalized in the Democratic Party. Antisemitism on the right has found a home in the Republican Party.”

The Capital District Jewish Holocaust Memorial (CDJHM), which is attempting to raise $5 million for a memorial in the Schenectady suburb of Niskayuna, also took the opportunity on the solemn day to raise money for its proposed structure that sits on a two-acre plot.

“Today we invite you to take a moment to commemorate the lives of the countless victims who perished and suffered during Adolf Hitler’s reign of terror,” the CDJHM leadership wrote in an email. “Together, we will end the scourge of Holocaust denial and injustice through acts of remembrance. Commemoration starts with education. A great way to commemorate the day is by reading a memoir from a Holocaust victim or survivor. Nothing is more powerful than reading about the experiences of individuals who experienced the brutality of the Nazis first-hand. Consider making a memorial donation to the Capital District Jewish Holocaust Memorial. Your donation will help fund the building of our Holocaust memorial … and various other Holocaust education projects that will ensure the memory of those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis do not go unrecognized in our community.”

Yom HaShoah 5782, 27 Nisan, begins this year at sundown on Wednesday, April 27. This is Israel’s day of commemoration for the approximately six million Jews and five million others who perished in the Holocaust as a result of the actions carried out by the Nazis in Germany and for the Jewish resistance in that period. In Israel, it is a national memorial day and public holiday. It was inaugurated in 1953, anchored by a law signed by Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.

Advertisement

SHARE
Previous articleWhich Body Parts Correspond with the Areas of the Beit HaMikdash?
Next articleThe Hardest Column I’ve Ever Written
Marc Gronich is news director of Statewide News Service. He also operates the website JBizTechValley.com. He has been covering government and politics since 1981. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press.