Seton Hall University was the recipient of a unique and moving historical record when Holocaust survivor Luna Kaufman presented her personal collection of memorabilia to the school’s Walsh Library.
Kaufman’s collection includes European, Israeli, and American artifacts, documents, photographs, and artwork as well as clippings used in the writing of her 2009 memoir, Luna’s Life — A Journey of Forgiveness and Triumph.
Kaufman, a Polish-born Jew who became a community activist and educator after surviving labor and death camps, was awarded an honorary doctorate by the university in 2009.
The presentation, arranged through the Sister Rose Thering Fund for Education in Jewish-Christian Studies, was made at a ceremony Dec. 2 attended by over 200 of her friends, relatives, colleagues, and supporters.
David Bossman, executive director of the Sister Rose Fund and professor of Jewish-Christian studies, took the occasion to announce the naming of an endowed scholarship in Kaufman’s name.
“We honor today a person who has transcended bitter experiences to create a legacy of beauty and humanity,” said Bossman.
John Buschman, dean of Walsh Library, added: “We’re very proud that Ms. Kaufman’s legacy has found a home in our library, and we’re very grateful for her gift.”
Born in Poland in 1926, Kaufman (nee Luna Fuss) and her family were interned in the Cracow Ghetto before being deported first to the Plaszow and then the Hasag-Skarzysko and Leipzig concentration camps; her sister and father would ultimately perish at Stutthof and Auschwitz, respectively.
Following the war and the completion of her studies in Cracow, Kaufman immigrated to Israel and in the 1950s moved to the United States, where she married and had three children. She has spoken extensively at schools and universities about the Jews’ wartime experiences in Poland, and is chair emerita of the Sister Rose Fund. In more recent years, Kaufman served as president of the New Jersey State Opera as well as president of Temple Sholom in Plainfield (now in Scotch Plains). She lives in Watchung.
Among the many honors Kaufman has received is the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit, given to her by the president of Poland in 2011 in recognition of her contributions to Polish-Jewish dialogue.
Speakers at the ceremony included Even Neiden, one of Kaufman’s six grandchildren; Ewa Junczth-Ziomecka, New York City-based consul general of the Republic of Poland; and former New Jersey Gov. Brendan Byrne.
Byrne, who briefly attended Seton Hall in the 1940s before serving in World War II, was a longtime friend and supporter of the late Sister Rose, an instrumental figure in improving relations between the Catholic church and the Jewish community.
“I love talking to Luna — she’s a great educator and inspiration,” Byrne told NJJN.
“Following the war, I never believed anyone wanted to hear about the Holocaust or that I even had anything to say,” Kaufman said as she received red and white flowers in commemoration of the colors of the Polish flag. “But in the process of teaching thousands of children throughout my life, I learned that I did need to speak up.
“This,” she said, “is my legacy and vengeance.”
Kaufman recalled her 30-plus-year friendship with Sister Rose and the lessons she learned from the Catholic nun who fought to increase awareness of the Holocaust and eradicate anti-Semitism. “She taught me how much power we have and that, just as people can be taught to hate, they can also be taught to love,” she said. While Hitler’s actions “left our tree with fewer branches,” Kaufman continued, “our roots are very strong and kids can grow up today without prejudice because we can teach them not to hate.”
The evening ended with the performance of “To Remember It All,” a cantata written for Kaufman by Cracow native Eddie Halpern in 1981.
Asked by NJJN what words of advice she would give young Jews, Kaufman replied, “Open your eyes and be accepting of the world around you.”