Concert honors Holocaust survivors

When The Margaret Tietz Nursing and Rehabilitation Center first opened in 1971, 85 percent of its residents were Holocaust survivors. Nearly four decades later, with that percentage having dwindled to less than 10, the center, whose mission has always been to care for survivors of the Holocaust, recognizes that time is not on its side.

Four years ago, Margaret Tietz’s leadership, including Director of Public Affairs Linda Spiegel, met with Arthur Flug, the Director of the Harriet and Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives at Queensborough Community College (QCC).

“We both realized the population [of Holocaust survivors] is diminishing,” recalled Spiegel, who, along with Flug, set the wheels in motion to pay tribute to the survivors under her watch at the center.

Flug had, for years, taught QCC students the craft of interviewing Holocaust survivors – notably those from Margaret Tietz – in an effort to preserve their stories, but he yearned to do more.

“We always thought there was something else we could bring to the survivors,” he said. “We wanted to show some way of appreciating them.”

Music, it turned out, was the perfect way to honor those whose lives had been uprooted, those who lived through concentration camps and death camps – and those who perished in them – while commemorating the cultures and traditions left behind in Europe.

This past Sunday, March 15, marked the Fourth Annual Holocaust Memorial Concert held at Margaret Tietz – bigger, Flug said, than last year’s. There was pomp – Councilmembers James Gennaro and David Weprin and Assemblymember Mark Weprin showed up – and the reflective music of the JEM Children’s Choir evoked the circumstance of the event.

But, while more than 100 people showed up in the center’s recreation room and cafeteria – the event is open to the public – only six of those in attendance this year were survivors.

The few were certainly proud, though. Twelve-year resident and Holocaust survivor, Mania Kitchell, was presented with a citation and, Flug said, “you could just see her face glowing.”

“You can see the residents there – some in wheelchairs – tapping and nodding away, and clapping,” said Flug, who, despite the reflective nature of the concert, called it a “haimische” occasion – “a really friendly, happy, family-type event.”

The two-hour affair featured 18 members – ages six to 12 – of JEM (Jewish Educational Music), who, led by Cantor Sol Zim of the Hollis Hills Jewish Center, and accompanied by piano and guitar, performed around 10 songs.

“I believe our children have to learn that it’s important to do for others,” said Zim, who has led youth choirs for over 30 years. “I try to elevate the emotional impact of what song can do for others – and it does, it gives them [the children] a tremendous feeling of spirituality.”

With songs titled “I Will Survive” and “Remember,” the choir’s music played on the emotions of all in attendance, but so did a non-musical component of the event, when Ethel Katz relayed her tale of struggle and survival during the Holocaust.

If “you heard Ethel Katz speak, and you heard about how she lost her family and her struggle to stay alive, you wouldn’t question” why we choose to put on the concert every year, said Margaret Tietz Executive Director Gerald Hart.

Indeed, Flug and QCC’s Holocaust Center are also on board for a fifth annual concert.

“We’re going to do one next year,” Flug said, without pause. “You just keep doing it so people remember.”