To honor the memory of those killed in the Holocaust as well as those who survived, the Brooklyn-based Nachas Health Family Network is hosting its annual “Day of Remembrance” ceremony.
The May 29 ceremony will be held at the Young Israel-Beth El synagogue (4802 15th Avenue) in Borough Park.
Event organizers expect 1,000 Holocaust survivors to attend, making this year’s ceremony the Nachas’ largest ever.
“Survivors are getting older, and the survivor community isn’t going to be around much longer,” said Joe Lazar, the event’s emcee, who was born in a displaced persons camp to Holocaust survivors.
“There’s usually between 500 to 700 survivors, but Nachas wanted to do a big blast to get everyone together.”
New York City has the biggest concentration of survivors in the country; over 90 percent of American survivors live in New York, many of whom are concentrated in Brooklyn neighborhoods like Borough Park and Williamsburg.
The event’s keynote speaker will by City Comptroller and Mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, whom Lazar described as “a good friend to the Jewish community.”
The guest speaker is Rebbitzin Esther Jungreis, a survivor and respected scholar and academic who has made the Holocaust and the plight of survivors “her lifetime vigil,” according to Lazar.
The ceremony will also honor diplomats from countries whose people assisted Jews during the Holocaust: Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Japan and Spain.
It might seem odd for Holocaust survivors to honor a country like Japan, whose leaders aligned with Hitler during World War II, or Spain, where the fascist Franco presided.
But Lazar said there were many government officials in these countries who risked their livelihoods and sometimes lives to help those fleeing persecution and death.
“Some ‘middle management’ people in these governments issued thousands of illegal visas. They saved tens and thousands of lives, so we have to show some gratitude,” he said.
Sometimes it wasn’t middle management, but those occupying high rungs of power. In 1938, Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo issued 5,000 visas, though only 645 Jews made their way to the Dominican Republic.
(Many have speculated Trujillo’s anomalous act of decency was a ploy to gain favor with the United States after massacring 25,00 Hatians in 1937, as well as a means to “whiten” his people through intermarriage.)
Denmark’s national police refused to cooperate when the Germans ordered the deportation of Danish Jews in 1943. Many prominent government and church officials coordinated a Jewish rescue operation, leading to the smuggling of 7,200 Jews to safety in Sweden.
Lazar said he hopes the gathering will help ensure that the memory of the Holocaust does not fade away.
“My biggest concern here is that people don’t forget,” he said.
“There’s a lot of reconstructive history and Holocaust denying – we need to remember what happened by keeping it alive and passing the memories onto the next generation.”
Citing the current genocide in the Darfur region of the Sudan, Lazar said many lessons still need to be learned about the consequences of ignoring human rights abuses.
“There are things going on all over the world where, if you let it go, you can have another Holocaust. There are many things many people have not yet awakened to,” he said.
Nachas Family Health Network, headquartered at 1310 48th Street, does extensive work with its 5,000-member database of Holocaust survivors.
Three years ago, the organization secured a Federal grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to provide mental health care to survivors and their children.
The Nachas Family Health Network Day of Remembrance will take place at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, May 29th at Beth El-Young Israel Synagogue (4802 15th Avenue).
To contact Nachas Family Health Services, visit its office at 1310 48th Street or call 718-436-7373.