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November 07, 2003 - Image 18

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-11-07

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This Week

Reunion In Washington

For aging survivors of the Holocaust, the future means remembering the past.


Jewish Telegraphic Agency


elen Potash stood in front
of a cattle car at the U.S.
Holocaust Memorial
Museum's permanent
exhibition, but she would not ven-
ture forward. "I went through it
once," the Holocaust survivor said.
"I am not going again." She went
around it instead.
Potash was one of more than
2,200 Holocaust survivors who came
to Washington this weekend for a
reunion, part of a yearlong marking
of the museum's 10th anniversary.
There have been Holocaust sur-
vivor reunions before, but this gath-
ering focused more on the future
than the past. The survivors here
spoke candidly about their advanc-
ing age and said they looked to their
heirs to tell their stories.
More than 4,000 children, grand-
children and great-grandchildren
joined the survivors on the unusual-
ly warm November afternoon, learn-
ing about their family members'
experiences and pledging to keep the
memory alive.
"It's an incredible lineage we all
share," said Helen Burstin of
Washington, who came with her
parents, both survivors. "It's a
remarkable thing to walk into this
tent and see 6,000 people connected
to survivors."
"It was very emotional, very grati-
fying and absolutely awesome," said
Eva Weiss, 74, of West Bloomfield,
who lost 75 members of her family
in the Holocaust.
Weiss was reunited with Margit
Feldman of Bridgewater, N.J. The
two came from the same area in
Hungary, survived Auschwitz,
Plaszow and Bergen-Belsen together,
and arrived in the United States on
the same ship.
They lost track of each other until
this August, when Weiss read

Margit: A Teenagers Journey through
the Holocaust and Beyond," a book
written by Feldman.
Weiss was among 40 survivors and
family members from the Detroit
area to make the trip to Washington
Her reunion with Feldman was
filmed by the museum as part of a

11/ 7



Elie Wiesel joins children in burying a time capsule marking the U.S.
Holocaust Memorial Museum's 10th anniversary. From left are Fred
Zeidman, chair of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council; Benjamin Meed,
president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors; Ruth Mandel,
the commission's vice chair; Brad Blakeman, deputy assistant to President
Bush; and Sara Bloomfield, the museum's director.

"It was really emotional and terrif-
ic and everything we thought it was
going to be," said Carol Walters,
Weiss' daughter, who joined her
mother with three other family
members from Detroit. "I was afraid
it was going to be very depressing
and, of course, there were depressing
moments, but the end was so uplift-
At times, the event resembled a
wedding, with survivors and their
families dancing the hora to Israeli
folk music in an enormous tent
nicknamed "Survivor's Village."
Later, there was a sing-along in
"It's totally overwhelming," said
Rabbi Jay Miller of San Mateo,
Calif., watching the dancing from
the sidelines. He was on vacation in
Washington and happened to find
himself amid the festivities. He was
one of the few in the tent whose
family had not been directly affected
by the Holocaust.
"The smiles on people's faces are
an expression of vitality and com-
mitment to life," said Rabbi Miller.
"I wish there was a way I could

translate this to people when I go

Drawn To Museum

In one room, survivors offered their
artifacts to the museum; others
related oral histories into tape
recorders and to transcribers. Images
from the museum's database flittered
across a bank of computer monitors.
Survivors researching the fate of
their families used the computers;
alongside each terminal stood a box
of tissues.
Joan Weiss of Marlboro, N.J.,
brought her 18-year-old daughter to
the reunion, even though her father,
who survived the Holocaust, did not
make the trip to Washington.
"This is something I have waited
for all my life," she said in the
archive room. "I've been waiting for
something special, to find someone
who knew my parents or a relative
we didn't know about."
There were to be no new revela-
tions for Weiss, just an educational
experience for her daughter, Natalie.
"We shouldn't forget it ever," said
Natalie, a high school senior. "We

need to keep talking to our chil-
Many of the survivors were view-
ing the museum for the first time.
Some said they had always longed
to come here, and found the
reunion a great opportunity. Other
said they avoided the museum, but
felt a yearning to see it at least once.
"I felt this time I had to go," said
Eddie Weinstein. "Because I am get-
ting old."
Weinstein wandered the tent,
slowly, with a cardboard placard
resting on his chest, attached to a
string around his neck. It read: "I
am looking for people who escaped
from Treblinka."
"I didn't find one person," said
Weinstein, whose story of escape
from the German extermination
camp has been documented in a
book, Quenched Steel.
Nessie Godin, a survivor from
Lithuania, volunteers at the muse-
um once a week. She says it is her
responsibility to those she survived
in the camps.
"I wasn't any smarter and I wasn't
any stronger," said Godin. "The
wonderful Jewish women who held
my hand, gave me hope and maybe
a bite of bread, they told me that
they should never be forgotten and
to tell the world of this hatred."
She said the reunion and the
museum shows the world that
Hitler did not win.
Burstin says that children of
Holocaust survivors have obligations
to their parents and their experi-
"We want to make it clear to our
kids and our kids' kids and everyone
who knows us that this is part of
our heritage," she said.
Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel told
the audience that amid the joy of
the occasion is a void of sadness for
the faces that were left behind.
"Your presence — our presence —
here today is our answer to this
silent question," he said. "We have
kept our promise. We have not for-
gotten you."

Jewish. News Staff Writer Harry
KirsbaUM contributed to this report.

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