By Juan Soto
Arthur Flug retired at the turn of the century after 40 years of work, first at the city’s Board of Education and then with a Queens lawmaker because “I wanted time for myself.”
But before he could enjoy his retirement, he decided to pack his suitcase and volunteer for a few months with the Israeli Army. He was 61.
As a volunteer with the army, he drove military trucks, worked at military warehouses and army bases. “I rolled up my sleeves and got my hands dirty,” said Flug, the middle child of a Polish immigrant Jewish couple who came to the United States in 1920.
It was his third visit to the Middle Eastern country.
“I felt I needed to do more than just be a tourist,” Flug, who is now executive director of the Holocaust Resource Center and Archives at Queensborough Community College, said.
But before he went back to work and ended up at the helm of the Harriet and Kenneth Kupferberg campus center, Flug was the director of the Manhattan’s American Jewish Congress delegation and worked for U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), then City Councilman David Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens).
One day, Eduardo Martí, then president of the Bayside college, met Flug when he was Weprin’s chief of staff. The head of QCC was requesting city funding for the academic institution.
Soon after, Flug said, it was time to retire once again. He was 68.
Then his phone rang. Martí was on the other side of the line.
The QCC president told Flug, who was an assistant principal at JHS 109 in Queens Village from 1968 to 1979, about the Holocaust Center located in the college library’s basement.
“He asked me to do community outreach one day a week, and I said why not,” he recalled. “The day a week became more, and when the director of the Holocaust Center (William Schulman) left, I became the director.”
Schulman started the center. “I just picked up where he left,” said Flug, who between 1990 and 1999 was district administrator for Ackerman.
“We then looked to expand the center, and after heavy duty fund-rasing we put up the new building,” he said, referring to the current house for the Harriet and Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives.
Flug couldn’t have had a better 70th birthday.
On Oct. 18, 2009, the Holocaust center officially opened. Since then the research center has expanded. “I woke up that morning with a big smile,” he said. “Not because it was my birthday, but because I said I know now what I want to do when I grow up.”
The mission of the center is to educate the public using the lessons learn in the Holocaust about racism, prejudice and stereotyping. It goes beyond the Nazis. At the Bayside campus, Flug said, a majority of the 17,000 students “haven’t heard of the Holocaust because they come from over 150 countries where the Holocaust is not really on the curriculum.”
At the center, three internship programs stand out. In one of them, students are trained to interview a Holocaust survivor. “It is a way to study about the Holocaust from someone that was there,” Flug said. As the survivor population is aging, Flug pointed out, “we made a commitment to see that they are not forgotten. The students retell their stories.”
Flug estimated there are about 4,000 Holocaust survivors living in Queens.
In the Asian Social Justice Program, students learned about the 200,000 teenage girls, known as comfort women, rounded up by the Japanese Army in Korea and other parts of Asian and send to military brothels.
And the third program is the Hate Crimes internship, in which students study the New York State Hate Crimes Law.
Flug grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, in a five-story walk-up tenement at the intersection of Delancy and Orchard streets.
At the age of 12, the family left the island behind and moved to South Jamaica. “Moving to Queens from the Lower East Side was considered a step up back then,” he said.
In southeast Queens, his father opened up Sam’s Candy Store at 157th street and Rockaway Boulevard in 1951. The family-owned operation lasted 15 years until 1966.
Flug remembers his father opening the store at 5 a.m., and closing the shop at 10 p.m.
“My brothers and I helped before going to school with getting the newspapers and other stuff ready,” Flug said. “After coming home from school and having dinner, we went to the store to work and do our homework on the store’s counter.”
He went to PS 45 in Jamaica, JHS 109, and then graduated from the now-closed Jamaica High School. He was a history major at Queens College.
Come Dec. 31, he plans to retire, again. He hopes the third time is a charm. His wife, a Supreme Court judge, will retire a year after him.
“I am 75. I am in the home stretch,” he said. “There are a lot of things I want to do I don’t even know about.”