“The whole world is really interested in Jewish suffering. I wanted the whole wide world to be interested in Jewish strength,” said B.A. Van Sise of his book, Invited to Life: Finding Hope after the Holocaust.
“They rebuilt, they found strength. They built new lives here in America and created families. Everybody, to a person, had found some strength in them to overcome the horror of their experience.”
Besides survivors’ guilt, they also had a survivor obligation: “to live a richer and fuller life.” “The worse the experience these folks had had, the more joy they found in the everyday life,” Van Sise said in an interview.
Van Sise asked 142 Holocaust survivors to talk with him for his book. All but two said yes. Three survivors featured in the book were Forest Hills residents: Leon Sherman, Leon Gleicher, and Vernon Mosheim.
Van Sise interviewed and conversed with Mosheim as part of the Yom HaShoah remembrance at the Young Israel of Forest Hills on Monday, April 17.
Vernon Mosheim felt “a Jewish home was a suitcase.” Mosheim was nine years old when he came to America from Germany on April 23, 1942.
Mosheim “refused to have anything to do with Germany.” He wouldn’t speak German or even eat German cookies. But Mosheim’s work in International Travel Advertising took him to Hamburg, Germany, in the early 1990s. He also visited the German town he was born in. “I found that it was a new generation.” “I couldn’t feel hatred or dislike of them.” “These were young people with new ideas and more liberal ideas than I expected to find.”
Mosheim is “a born optimist.” America “was our salvation at the time.” Now, “I never expected to find so much right-wing anti-Semitism in this country.” “I hope that I am wrong, but I see the United States probably heading down the same path as Germany did in the 1930s.”
Mosheim’s advice for young Jewish people is “to take each day as it comes.” “Be aware of what is going on around us” and “Do whatever they can to subdue this growing anti-Semitism, which I never expected to find in this country.”
Holocaust survivor Alexander (Zishe) Wirtheimer of Rego Park was in attendance with his daughter, Leah Schlager.
Wirtheimer survived the Płaszów labor camp under Commandant Amon Goeth, featured in Schindler’s List. Twice, SS guards missed Wirtheimer while shooting Jewish prisoners. Another time, Wirtheimer ducked into an alley during a shooting, his daughter Leah explained in an interview.
Originally from Cracow, Poland, Wirtheimer’s eight siblings and parents were shot dead in the Bochnia Ghetto in Poland in September 1943.
In 1946, Wirtheimer was smuggled illegally into British Mandated Palestine from a Detention Camp in Italy. Wirtheimer didn’t pray or believe in G-d after the Holocaust until meeting a Jewish soldier in uniform with an Uzi.
Wirtheimer came to the United States in 1958 and has two daughters and grandchildren. His daughter Leah asked her father why she felt different from her American friends. “I felt that I knew something they didn’t know.” “Evil,” her father answered.
Rabbi Elisha Friedman of the Young Israel of Forest Hills said the shul used to be packed with Holocaust survivors. On this night, there were just two.
There are an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Holocaust survivors living in New York City, according to the Met Council on Jewish Poverty’s CEO, David Greenfield, in a CBS News article from December.
“We have to make sure that we’re prepared for the next few decades to be able to continue to tell their stories.” Rabbi Friedman thanked the many young people among the more than 60 attendees.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman Mergui, of the Tifferet Shalom minyan at the Young Israel of Forest Hills, spoke of family members, yeshivos, and chasidic dynasties lost in Europe during the Holocaust.
“For the future, the best way of memorializing the six million Jews who perished is to save more Jews from being assimilated and disconnected from our nation.” “We must fight darkness with light.”
Rabbi Judah Kerbel of the Queens Jewish Center recited T’hilim 130. Rabbi Yossi Mendelson of Congregation Machane Chodosh chanted the Kell Malei Rachamim that was composed specifically for Holocaust victims and read kinos to the tune of the Israeli song, “Jerusalem of Gold.” Rabbi Friedman led the singing of “Ani Maamin.”
By David Schneier