Seventy years after the liberation of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Young Israel of Kendall honored 11 South Florida Holocaust survivors on June 7 for building families and communities, and helping to perpetuate the Jewish people.
The honorees — Fanny Ackerman, Anna Faiwlowicz, Amalia Gottenger, David and Rivka Mermelstein, Rose Milder, Magda Reichbind, David Schaecter, Herbert and Vera Karliner, and Sylvia Weinkranz — surely never imagined during the horrors of the Holocaust or in the years immediately following liberation of the death camps, that they would be recognized for their triumphs. Survivors, numbed into silence for many years, were perceived by others, as well as by themselves, as mere refugees.
Young Israel of Kendall Rabbi Hershel Becker, himself the son of Holocaust survivors, noted that it was not until recently that the world, as well as the survivors themselves, have come to face and process the survivors’ experiences.
“I didn’t grow up as a child of ‘survivors.’ I was a child of ‘refugees.’ Only years later did people see a different perspective. Tonight we look at the survivors and see a group with Herculean strength, who were able to not simply survive but succeed in their lives.”
Rabbi Becker cited the title of a book about the Holocaust, Pirsumei Nisa, which means “publicize the miracle.” He told the attendees that the survivors’ “survival and life journeys are miracles that should be celebrated.” As with the miracle of Hanukkah, “it is not sufficient to just recall; we must publicize the miracle. That is why we are here tonight.”
The evening was one of celebration, filled with words of inspiration and expressions of appreciation for these 11 people, whose strength, faith, and perseverance shaped new generations of Jews. They and other survivors have contributed to the building of thousands of Jewish institutions.
As awards were presented to the survivors, musicians played the very same Jewish music that was played in the Eastern European shtetls (small Jewish towns or villages, formerly found in Eastern Europe) from which the survivors originated. After the awards were given, the audience and honorees broke out into song, with Shlomo Carlbach’s Am Yisrael Chai – “Life to the Jewish People.”
Survivor David Mermelstein, who has made South Florida his home since 1950, was specially honored with the Holocaust Remembrance Award. Mermelstein has shared his survivor’s story for many years with students and other audiences, and he has worked tirelessly and diligently for numerous Jewish institutions, including the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center. He is currently the vice president of the National Survivors Organization of the United States.
Rabbi Becker and his wife, Sima, also have been involved in various Holocaust remembrance projects, including developing programs at YIK and around the South Florida community. They head the American segment of the international program, “70 Days for 70 Years,” timed to coincide with this year’s 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, which features a book composed of 70 thought-provoking articles. Rabbi Becker is the author of one of the articles. Each program participant receives the name of a murdered victim of the Holocaust, in whose honor one article is read daily for 70 days. The program is designed with the idea that remembering the past is the way to build a Jewish future.