1,000 expected at Hofstra-HMTC Shoah event


More than 1,000 attendees from along the east coast are expected to attend an all-encompassing full day conference on the Shoah at Hofstra University.

The June 8 event, entitled “Generations,” will feature speakers, films, workshops, panel discussions and reunion rooms. It is being staged by the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County (HMTC).

More than 100 organizations are involved, according to Beth Lilach, senior director of education and community affairs at HMTC. It is being held now “because it is getting to the point in time when eyewitnesses to the Holocaust and World War II are passing on,” Lilach said. “We are bringing together Holocaust survivors and WWII veterans who were liberators and second and third generation children and grandchildren.”

Conference goals are to honor “the eyewitnesses and their legacies … the liberators with their military service [and to] educate about the Holocaust” — including aspects usually not discussed, such as the Romani (gypsies) and liberator trauma.

Noted speakers include Major General Sidney Shachnow (ret.), Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger, Albania’s Ambassador to the UN Ferit Hoxha, and NYU professor Petra Gelbart.

Shachnow was born in Kauna, Lithuania, imprisoned for three years in a Nazi concentration camp and escaped at age 10 to hide in the forest. He made his way to the United States, worked his way through school and enlisted in the U.S. Army. He is the only Holocaust survivor to attain the rank of General.

Wollschlaeger, a physician, is the son of a Nazi officer, converted to Judaism and served in the IDF. Hoxha is a Holocaust historian, and has a unique perspective as an Albanian since Albania rescued all of its Jews and more than 2,000 Jews from surrounding areas. Gelbart is the granddaughter of Romani Auschwitz survivors.

Lilach noted that there would be a “big military presence” with veterans and liberators, with two of the workshops led by liberators to “see through the eyes of the soldiers.” She explained that the workshop would deal with a rarely addressed topic, the “trauma that liberators passed on to their families, the trauma of young soldiers (then, who are) still suffering nightmares till today. It’s different from survivors but still extremely damaging.”

Another workshop, noted Lilach, will deal with “sex abuse during the Holocaust; it’s not spoken of. Children in hiding were (at times) abused by their rescuers, the abuse in the camps and ghettos, and the forced rape the Jewish and other women experienced in so-called ‘brothels’ and the myth that they were spared rape because of laws that prohibited relations with Jews.”

Other speakers include Miriam Brysk from the Lida Ghetto who hid in the forest and joined Russian partisans and disguised herself as a boy to escape rape. Claire Haymann, another speaker, now of Queens, was a prisoner in Auschwitz-Birkenau and shared a bunk with one of four women leaders of a resistance movement in the women’s camp there. She witnessed the execution of these four women.

A German graduate student, will cover the Allied program of “denazification, the idea that the Allies could remove Nazism from Nazis immediately after the war ended,” explained Lilach. “It is ridiculous that they thought that they could even attempt this.”

“The main focus of the Allies was to economically rehabilitate Germany as quickly as possible, so they removed the official Nazi stigma but they still remained judges, physicians and police. Under Operation Paper Clip, [Nazi] scientists, physicists, doctors and their families, hundreds, were given full citizenship, money and homes while Jews were still forced to wear the concentration camp uniforms, and did not have decent food or conditions.”

Lilach pointed out the ongoing work at HMTC and four recent acquisitions. An Israeli Auschwitz survivor found a child’s shoe years ago while leading a tour of the camp and held onto it hoping to donate it to a small Holocaust museum where it would be considered a significant artifact. He came in from Israel to donate it to HMTC.

The museum will be receiving a full camp uniform that was worn in Auschwitz by a survivor who did not want it warehoused but displayed in a museum. Another artifact is an intricately carved light bulb, the only remnant rescued from the ruins of a synagogue that had been destroyed by the Nazis in Drama, Greece.

Another new item to be displayed is an early 1900s beer stein from Bavaria. Pub patrons would leave their personal mugs at their pub; they were usually decorated with colorful scenes. This one is covered with anti-Semitic pictures including a representation of Germans kicking Jews out of Germany. Said Lilach, “Someone drank his beer from this hate-filled mug.”

The conference and transportation there is free for survivors and liberators, and Hofstra staff and students. For others the cost is $36 for adults and $10 for under age 18. Buses to the conference will be available at the Five Towns JCC and the Boro Park Y.

More info: Judy Vladimir at 516 571-8040 x119 or judyvladimir@holocaust-nassau.org