At a time when hateful acts of anti-Semitism and bigotry are on the rise in the United States, two men at a recent Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration — Manny Lindenbaum, a survivor, and Bernard Rothenberg, a U.S. Army veteran who helped liberate a concentration camp — said they’ve observed a trend among the students they meet with that has given them hope.
Rothenberg of Manalapan, who speaks regularly to students in public and parochial schools and yeshivas about his wartime experiences as a soldier, told NJJN that when he strives to convey the force of hatred, the youngsters “are now more concerned than ever before.”
Lindenbaum, who survived the war as a child, said he also has noticed a shift in attitude among the students he addresses. “I’ve received a different reaction in the last few years,” said Lindenbaum, a resident of Jackson. “They seem more concerned about what’s going on in the world. I get these amazing letters from kids; they really seem to have learned never to be bystanders.”
Both men spoke to NJJN at the Yom HaShoah commemoration held April 14 at the New Jersey Menlo Park Veterans Memorial Home in Edison. Lindenbaum was keynote speaker at the event, which was sponsored by Jewish War Veterans (JWV) Department of New Jersey and its Ladies Auxiliary, in cooperation with the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education.
Rothenberg, 93, fought as an American soldier in France and Germany in World War II and helped liberate the last of the prisoners of the Leipzig-Thekla concentration camp, a subcamp of Buchenwald, in Germany. Among the medals he earned as part of the 69th Infantry Division (“the fighting 69th”) was the Bronze Star.
A member of the Lt. Seth Dvorin Jewish War Veterans Post 972 in Marlboro, Rothenberg has been addressing young people about what he witnessed during the war for a number of years. But now, he said, he finds they are more attuned to his message about the devastating effects of hatred.
Master of ceremonies Al Adler of Manchester, a past state JWV department commander, told the gathering that the spike in racism and anti-Semitism and the rise of neo-Nazism are particularly dismaying to veterans who fought against fascism in World War II. The JWV, he said, is committed to being at the forefront of the fight against intolerance “in all its pernicious forms.”
Many residents of the veterans’ home attended the commemoration, a number of them in wheelchairs; they saluted the flag as four members of the junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at Colts Neck High School presented the colors. The program also featured a memorial candle-lighting ceremony.
During the war, Lindenbaum, 87, escaped the fate of many of the family members who perished by being taken to England with other Jewish children on the Kindertransport.
His grandfather, a native of Galicia, had immigrated to Germany, settled in the town of Umma, and opened a clothing store. “Life was really good” for the family, Lindenbaum said, and they had many Christian friends. “Then the Depression came, and people were out of work. They were angry and looking for someone to blame.”
The Nazis stepped into that void, he explained, promising “to make Germany great again” by convincing them they were better than everyone else, targeting communists, the disabled, Gypsies, and especially the Jews.
Lindenbaum’s older brother was beaten by classmates at school, and customers and friends began deserting the family. He said at first many Germans opposed the Nazis, but most chose to remain bystanders to the atrocities.
On Oct. 28, 1938, two weeks before Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass” — two days of pogroms across Germany and Austria — his family was deported to the Polish town of Zbyzm. To this day, Lindenbaum said, he remembers the German officer who came into the store, clicking his heels, and ordered his parents to go to the train station.
An event last fall resonated particularly with him: On Oct. 27, almost 80 years to the day after his family’s deportation, Lindenbaum said, “there was a shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue for reasons we all know full well.” The attack during Shabbat services in the Tree of Life Synagogue left 11 people dead and seven injured.
Even more disturbing to Lindenbaum was that the alleged white supremacist killer invoked the name of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which helped his family in Poland and brought him to the United States as a refugee in 1946.
Also etched in his memory is that the Jews being deported arrived at the train station on a Thursday, but the Nazis made them wait there until Friday evening, forcing them to travel on the Sabbath.
“As we got on the train, my beautiful zayde began chanting ‘L’Cha Dodi’ and the Friday night service,” said Lindenbaum. “That still reverberates in my mind.”
In Zbyzm, he said, while the townspeople did not greet them with open arms, they were not hostile. They let the Jews sleep in their barns until rustic accommodations were found, and generally did not harass them.
Ten months later, with the Germans closing in, HIAS — which had been providing necessities to the displaced Jews — informed them there were a handful of openings on the Kindertransport, which brought 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Europe to England.
Lindenbaum went with his brother, sister, and a cousin. However, that sister, Rutchen, was turned away; at 14, she was considered “too old.” She, their parents and grandfather, and other relatives were later murdered.
Lindenbaum’s most vivid memory is of his best friend, Herbert, who began crying for his parents as the children were about to leave for England. His distraught mother ran and took him back.
“I learned they were later murdered in Auschwitz,” Lindenbaum said. “I was angry at my own parents, thinking they had abandoned me. Years later I came to understand the heroic sacrifice they had made.”
In 2015, Lindenbaum celebrated the bar mitzvah he was denied at age 13 alongside his youngest grandson; at the service, he said, he felt the presence of his murdered family members, particularly Rutchen.
“My sister is always with me,” he said. “On the day of the bar mitzvah, I could feel Rutchen smiling.”
If you go
Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, falls this year on May 2; observances are often held on different dates throughout the community.
What: New Jersey State Holocaust Remembrance Commemoration, “Women’s Experiences in the Holocaust”
Who: Dr. Agnes Grunwald-Spier, survivor and author of “Women in the Holocaust: In Their Own Words”
When: Friday, May 3, 9:30-11:30 a.m.
Where: Student Life Center, Brookdale Community College, Lincroft
Sponsors: The college’s Center for Holocaust, Human Rights & Genocide Education; NJ Commission on Holocaust Education; Jewish Federation in the Heart of NJ; and Jewish War Veterans, Jersey Shore Post 125
Information: Call 732-224-2616 or visit chhange.org
The program will also include a candle-lighting ceremony featuring local survivors escorted by sailors from Naval Weapons Station Earle in Colts Neck as well as a musical performance by a local high school choir.