We Are a People of Memory

After completing “Schindler’s List” in 1994, Steven Spielberg was inspired to found the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation with the goal of capturing video testimonies from Holocaust survivors before their stories would be lost forever. Spielberg’s celebrity and visibility helped bring to light numerous stories that had never been told; in turn, these stories helped to embolden and inspire many in both the Jewish and general communities to become more involved in the history and exploration of the Holocaust.

Back in 1984, the seeds of an organization that had already been planted in the Valley blossomed into the Phoenix Holocaust Survivors Association, an organization through which survivors and their families could meet, discuss, laugh and cry on common ground. The PHSA celebrated its 30th Anniversary in October at Beth El Congregation in Phoenix with more than 120 people in attendance, who gathered for food and music and enjoyed the fact that they had spent another great year as a group with a very special bond. About 30 survivors attended and each received a gift.

“Our survivors are getting older, of course,” says Monique Mendel, the daughter of survivors and president of the organization. Most local survivors were born between 1921 and 31, placing them solidly in their 80s, though some have passed the centenarian mark. “Those of us in the second and third generations feel a responsibility to keep the stories alive in keeping with our mantra of ‘Never Again,’ ” Monique explains. She originally became involved by doing interviews for the Shoah oral history project when it began in 1994. “I then became vice president in charge of tolerance programs and now I’m president.” She quickly adds, “But I couldn’t do it without the other wonderful members of the group. Everyone is so dedicated to the cause.”

PHSA offers assistance to survivors for tasks such as transportation to and from doctors and dentists, and help with taxes, as well as providing a comfortable, relaxed social setting for people to meet and stay in touch. The monthly Cafe Europa program offers a kosher meal at either Beth El or the JCC along with a speaker or entertainment. Programs are always free to survivors, with a minimal fee to family and guests. The next Cafe Europa gathering will be May 17 at 4:30 pm at the Valley of the Sun JCC in Scottsdale. Cantor Baruch Koritan and Ruth Dubinbaum-Koritan will provide musical entertainment.

Monique is proud of their outreach to the general public. “Perhaps the most important service we have for the public is our Speakers Bureau. We have about 15-20 speakers who provide age-appropriate programs to everyone from junior high school students to civic organizations.” PHSA also assists at the Holocaust Education daylong program for educators held each spring, sponsored by the Bureau of Jewish Education, and partners with many organizations throughout the Valley.

On Thursday, April 16, the actual date of Yom HaShoah, PHSA hosts the annual Reading of Remembrance, when names of those murdered in the Holocaust will be read. Volunteers will read the names from 8 am until 3 pm at the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus. To participate, call Joan Sitver at 602-971-0012.

In honor of Yom HaShoah, the international day of remembrance for those who perished in the Holocaust, PHSA will hold its annual Yom HaShoah commemoration event, “We Are a People of Memory,” on April 19 at 3 pm at Congregation Beth Israel, 10460 N 56 St. in Scottsdale. Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane will give the keynote address.

More than 50 Holocaust survivors will participate in the processional. Each will carry a candle as they enter the sanctuary. Cantor Jamie Shpall of CBI is coordinating the music, including an adult choir and a children’s choir. The Jewish War Veterans Honor Guard will present the colors, and Professor John Liffiton of Scottsdale Community College will receive the Shofar Zakhor Award for outstanding contributions to the teaching of the Holocaust and Genocide Awareness. In addition, Holocaust survivors George Kalman and Helen Handler will speak. A Hebrew High student (to be announced) who receives The Bronkesh Award for the most outstanding 2015 Holocaust paper will read his or her essay. Dr. Anna Scherzer, the daughter of partisans, will sing the Partisan song, “Zog Nit Keymol.”

PHSA invites the community to gather to watch this inspiring tribute to those 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust and to those Jewish survivors who lived through it.

The program is funded by the Bureau of Jewish Education, the Greater Phoenix Jewish Community Foundation and Generations After, a program founded in 2013 for the descendents of survivors. There is no charge to attend. For further information, call 602-788-7003 or e‑mail phoenixsurvivors@gmail.com

PHSA members also will participate in Genocide Awareness Week at Scottsdale Community College, April 13-18. Among the participants are PHSA members Helen Handler, Oskar Knoblauch, Harold Minuskin, Janice Friebaum and Kim Klett (See story page 51).

All events are open to the public and free (see schedule at scottsdalecc.edu/genocide). In addition to the programs during the week, the exhibit, Hélène Berr, A Stolen Life, will be on display in the Student Center Lobby through May 15. SCC is located at 9000 E Chaparral Road in Scottsdale.

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