Survivors, dwindling

Tomorrow evening begins Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Last night I was watching some of “The Pianist,” that searing Adrien Brody film from 2002 about what happened to the Jews of Warsaw. And I thought about working on a story back in 2000 about the aging of Holocaust survivors.

I spent several weeks following five survivors as they traveled school to school, community to community, telling their stories. The idea was that in New York, Holocaust survivors were practically taken for granted. Any teacher could pick up a phone and, in a few days, have a survivor in their classroom, talking about what it was like to be there.

But old age, as I wrote at the time, would be a tougher foe than the Nazis.

Back then, there were an estimated 150,000 survivors in the U.S. Their average age was about 80, with 10 percent dying each year.

tjndc5-5b3z11eyqxy12miz36m5_layout.jpgAs one of the survivors, Stefan Weinberg of Greenburgh (that’s him), told me then:

“We’ll all be gone in a few years. Nobody wants to die. But I never would have believed in ’45, ’46, ’47, that I would be here in the year 2000, so I can die with a smile on my face.”

Now it’s eight years later and there are far fewer survivors. And in another couple of decades, they’ll all be gone.

Every now and then, I get a call or email from someone asking why we write so often about the Holocaust. Sometimes the questions are mean-spirited, sometimes not. It’s true that, like most newspapers, we’ve done a lot of features about survivors over the years.

It’s a question that I have a hard time answering. “Well, sir, the Holocaust was a major event in human history…”

Anyway, on Sunday (May 4) at 1:30 p.m., the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center and the Westchester Jewish Conference will hold a Yom HaShoah commemoration at the outdoor Garden of Remembrance, 148 Martine Ave. in White Plains (in front of the county office building). The rain location is the Hebrew Institute of White Plains, 20 Greenridge Ave.

The keynote speaker will be Rabbi Rick Jacobs of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale.

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.