A human rights organization hosted a commemoration event at the Hillcrest Jewish Center in Flushing on Sunday Jan. 28 to honor nine Holocaust survivors for the 79th anniversary of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The anniversary, which fell on Jan. 27, marked the day of liberation from the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. The event, which was attended by the nine survivors, was organized by Arts4All Foundation and co-sponsored by Assemblymembers David I. Weprin and Sam T. Berger, Council Member James F. Gennaro and the Queens Jewish Community Council.
Dozens of people including local religious leaders, assembly members, state senators and community members gathered in the ballroom of the Hillcrest Jewish Center to participate in the event. The nine survivors sat as a panel at the front of the room and took time to share their individual stories. The survivors honored during the commemoration event were Inge Auerbacher, Sami Steigmann, Lena Goren, Rosalie Simon, Blanche Fixler, Sally Frishberg, Susan Charney, Leon Sherman and Jack Betteil.
Dr. Sumita SenGupta, who founded Arts4All Foundation—a New Delhi-based human rights and social justice organization— said that it is important to honor the survivors and hear their stories.
“I see it as Arts4All foundation as bringing all communities in Queens, New York, and greater New York and the tri-state to really hear the personal experiences of Holocaust survivors, what they have gone through during the Holocaust, and what they had gone through thereafter in building their lives and what challenges they had to face,” she said.
The ceremony opened with remarks from Rabbi Manes Kogan and the President of the Hillcrest Jewish Center, Simeon Saturn.
Saturn touched upon how people were attempting to “rewrite history” about the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, and how it mirrored the ongoing importance of historical testimony by the Holocaust survivors.
“There are people today that are saying that what happened on Oct. 7…actually didn’t happen. They are rewriting the history of something that we all have news about. It goes without saying that people are trying to rewrite history about what happened 80 years ago. That is why it is so important you are here to give testimony just to share with everyone here that not only did it happen to you but to your loved ones,” he said.
Following Saturn’s speech, remarks were made by assembly members Edward Braunstein and Berger, as well as other elected officials. After their remarks, the commemoration ceremony began, and the survivors were given a plaque with their name on it, as well as a citation certificate and a scarf to wear during winter.
Susan Charney, born in Hungary in 1938, spoke of how her mother’s appearance and clever thinking spared her family from some of the horrors others faced during the Holocaust. “My fortunate survival is partly luck and action, my mother appeared to be blond, blue eyed and Christian. She also secured papers certifying we were not Jewish,” she said.
Charney spoke even more of her mother’s ingenuity, who claimed that they had mumps so they could keep their faces covered. “It’s these little things I remember because as a child you don’t quite get what’s going on. All these little pieces I was able to piece together only a few years ago when I wrote a memoir,” she said.
Author of “I am A Star,” and a chemist by trade, 89-year-old Inge Auerbacher was sent to a concentration camp at the age of three and was one of the few children to survive. “We had 15,000 children there amongst 140,000 people. My best friend didn’t make it,” she said.
Throughout her life, Auerbacher has written multiple books, worked with Meta to create an AI exhibit about her survival story, and still recounts her experience to educate others in the present day. Auerbacher wants to impart a message of peace unto others.
“When you see the world, we are all similar to each other, we’re red blood, it’s not blue. Get to know each other so we do not hate each other,” she said.