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Crimes Against Humanity: 65 Years After Nuremberg

Menachem Z. Rosensaft
Menachem Z. Rosensaft
Rosensaft speaking at Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp in April
Mr. Rosensaft speaking at Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp in April
Sonia Beker
Sonia Beker

Menachem Z. Rosensaft, born in the displaced persons camp of Bergen-Belsen, has been a leader in Holocaust remembrance activities. General counsel of the World Jewish Congress and the son of survivors of the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen death camps, he will speak at New York City College of Technology (City Tech) on Thursday, November 10, 12:45 p.m., in the Atrium Amphitheater, 300 Jay Street, Downtown Brooklyn. The public is invited to this free event, sponsored by the City Tech Jewish Faculty & Staff Association (JFSA). For more information, contact Albert Sherman 718.260.5837 or asherman@citytech.cuny.edu.

Professor Rosensaft, who serves as adjunct professor of law at Cornell University, lecturer in law at Columbia Law School and distinguished visiting lecturer at Syracuse University College of Law, will receive JFSA’s Distinguished Humanitarian Award. He will be introduced by the renowned author and journalist Pete Hamill.

Also to be honored is Brooklyn Heights resident Sonia Beker, author of Symphony on Fire: A Story of Music and Spiritual Resistance During the Holocaust, a stirring account of her parents, violinist Max Beker and pianist Fania Durmashkin-Beker, members of well-known Vilnius musician families killed in the Holocaust. British composer Ronald Senator (“Holocaust Requiem”) will present the Distinguished Achievement Award to her.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft is the founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, chairman of the editorial board of the Holocaust Survivors' Memoirs Project (a joint publishing endeavor with Yad Vashem in Jerusalem), and vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.

In an article titled “Ashes Adrift in a Gentle Wind,” which appeared in The Forward newspaper on September 28, 2001, Professor Rosensaft wrote how 9/11 echoed the Holocaust: “Thousands of men and women slaughtered, many of them incinerated, their bodies never to be found. Ashes, the remains of loved ones, friends and neighbors, drifting in a gentle wind for miles. Auschwitz, 1944, or New York City, September 2001? The stench of death making it impossible for anyone in the vicinity ever to claim that he or she was unaware of the carnage. Bergen-Belsen, 1945, or New York City, September 2001? No, there is no comparison. But there are echoes.”      

His activities have included serving as national president of the Labor Zionist Alliance and participating in the early stages of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. As psychologist Eva Fogelman wrote: “Menachem Rosensaft's moral voice has gone beyond the responsibility he felt as a child of survivors to remember and educate. He felt the need to promote peace and a tolerant State of Israel as well. He wanted to bring to justice Nazi war criminals, to fight racism and bigotry, and to work toward the continuity of the Jewish people.”

Also in the 2001 Forward article, Professor Rosensaft explained how the Holocaust left an indelible mark on his family: “On August 4, 1943, on arrival at Auschwitz, my mother was separated from her parents, husband and five-and-a-half year old son. My brother's last words to her were, ‘Mommy, are we going to live or die?’ My mother had no answer,” he wrote. “She was haunted by this memory until her own death four years ago. Like millions of others gassed and burned in the death camps, my grandparents and my brother have no graves. My mother must have wondered, as she walked through the camp, whether the air she was forced to breathe contained her parents', her child's or her husband's ashes.”

Former Acting Dean of Continuing Education James Goldman has been the curator for the City Tech JFSA Distinguished Speakers Series since 1988. Dr. Goldman notes: "If Elie Wiesel deservedly is considered the preeminent voice of Holocaust survivors, then Menachem Rosensaft is surely among the foremost eloquent voices of the children of Holocaust survivors, that is, the Second Generation." 

Mr. Hamill, who will be introducing Professor Rosensaft, acknowledged him in the 1997 best-selling novel, Snow in August. He thanks “my friend [professor Rosensaft] … for checking and correcting my idiosyncratic version of Yiddish and advice about Orthodox traditions.”

Sonia Beker book Symphony on Fire depicts how her parents turned to music for their passport to survival and transcendence when the Holocaust destroyed their nurturing, loving families and came close to destroying them as well. Her parents shared their life-affirming music with the inmates of the Vilna ghetto, concentration, labor and Nazi POW camps, and the St. Ottilien DP Camp.

Born in Brooklyn, a mecca for Holocaust survivor Jewish immigrants, Ms. Beker began studying piano at the age of six, first taught by her mother and then by teachers in Manhattan. She performed in several student recitals before the age of ten. She received her bachelor’s degree from SUNY Buffalo. As a graduate student, she attended the University of Kent at Canterbury and The School for International Training at the Experiment in International Living in Vermont.
This City Tech event commemorates the 73rd anniversary of Kristallnacht. According to JFSA’s President Albert Sherman, “We are pleased to honor these two children of Holocaust survivors for their achievements, which have inspired people the world over.”

Event co-sponsors include the Jewish Relations Council of New York, Facing History and Ourselves, Interfaith Committee of Remembrance, CUNY Macaulay Honors College and Education Update.

The largest public college of technology in New York State, City Tech/CUNY enrolls more than 16,000 students in 62 baccalaureate, associate and specialized certificate programs. Located at 300 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, City Tech is at the MetroTech Center academic and commercial complex, convenient to public transportation.



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