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January 2009

A new year, a new administration, and new hope for our country, and I believe, for the world.

Here at Eyes from the Ashes Educational Foundation, there has been much progress, much travel and many new audiences – Massachusetts, Texas, Maine, New York, Israel, DC, and even, my first time back in thirty years, the Catskills!

The people, the experiences have been so deeply meaningful and unforgettable.

I’d like to “bring” you with me, and highlight a few – with apologies to those not specifically mentioned because of space limitations.

Massachusetts – Boston/Cambridge and Marblehead

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, I spoke to university students at Simmons College and Wentworth Institute, thanks to Dean Diane Raymond and Professor Joanne Tuck. Great experience with students, faculty and community members – despite grave technological problems at Simmons and challenging questions at Wentworth. The question: “Why does this matter?” [My answer another time].

But it was in Marblehead, Massachusetts that I met someone I will never forget, Avram Rogozinski, a survivor from Poland, who displayed unimaginable courage a moment before his friend was to be killed. Avram’s courage teaches what it means to remain human in the face of inhumanity. When he was honored at Cohen Hillel Academy, I was lucky enough to give the keynote at their annual fundraiser to benefit the library.

To learn his remarkable story, please click here to connect to the LEARNING section or click below.

THE COURAGE AND HUMANITY OF AVRAM ROGOZINSKI
(as shared with Ann Weiss by Dr. Maura Copeland and Flori Schwartz)

Abraham/Avram Rogozinski is an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor who has always found it very difficult to talk about his many vivid, painful experiences in multiple concentration camps during the Holocaust. I heard about one of his experiences several years ago and have been haunted by the story ever since. It is a simple story that unfolds like a fable with a powerful message about friendship, courage and faith…Abraham Rogozinski was at first hesitant but has since found the courage to meet with the 8th grade students at Cohen Hillel Academy, allowing them to interview him, write his story and illustrate it to preserve it for future generations.

This particular part of his story is only a page long but leaves an imprint that lasts much longer. I have reprinted it below for you.

ABRAM’S STORY AS TOLD TO REBECCA ROSEN of TEMPLE SINAI: This is an account of an experience I (Rebecca) had last Shabbas at Temple Sinai. After the davening, the congregation went into Founder’s Hall for Kiddush. It was the Shabbos of VaYELEK – where we read that G-d said “Vi Ani Hstar Astir Panay – I will hide my face.”

Abram was very agitated and motioned me to him – he had a story that he wanted to tell me, and he wanted me to hear it – so he took me over to a side of the rooms saying “You are the only one who will understand – I wanted to tell this story to the others, but it’s difficult for me to do so.”

His story basically is as follows:

It happened during the time that he was a teenager in the concentration camp in a place called “the King’s Forest.” It seems that the “work” that the Jews did in this labor camp was to cut wood from the trees and carry it to the other side of the forest. The wood was then transported and used to aid the Germans in the war. It was a hard job – everyone worked from dawn to dusk doing it. The Germans tormented them and called them all kinds of degrading names, including “foiler” which meant lazy.

One dreary day, the guards shot a sick Jew because he wasn’t producing for them and threw him into a big pit. Every Jew knew what had happened, but what could they do? – They went on with their work.

There was a Jew named Noocham who was very tall – (at this point, Abram grabbed a young tall man from the Kiddush line and placed him beside himself and said “See how much taller he is from me”). Well, this young man “Noocham” was Abram’s friend. When they stacked the piles of wood on their shoulders, they measured the piles according to his height so they were all uniform as they marched through the forest to transport the wood to its destination. Because Noocham was so tall, he obviously seemed to be holding less wood than the others.

The SS soldier in charge of the detail noticed this – but that day he took great notice of it – he became very angry and said – “You- Noocham! You are a “Foiler”! – Go into the pit with the dead Jew and put your knees to the ground!” Everyone stopped and was scared. Noocham did what he was told. At that point, Abram dropped his load of wood and jumped into the pit with Noocham saying “he is my friend – we need him – we measure the wood by his height!!”

Upon seeing Abram do this – the Jewish cook from the camp also jumped into the pit and said “Abram is my friend, I need him – he helps me in the kitchen.”

The SS guard got “very distracted” – “G-d turned his head around – and made the SS guard confused – and he didn’t kill any of us - exclaimed Abram.

When the war was over and they were liberated – all of the inmates of the camp went to different DP camps and Abram lost touch with his friend Noocham.

Years later in America, Abram and his wife had gone to the Concord Hotel in upstate New York for a Holocaust survivors reunion. He was strolling with his wife, admiring the lovely flowers around the pool, when he overheard a voice nearby. “That voice sounds familiar” he said to his wife. Lo and behold, that voice was Noocham’s. They hugged and kissed. Noocham also had gone to America, had married and had a family.

After the story was told, Abram was much relieved. I said to him – “Abram – G-d didn’t hide his face. G-d shined his face upon you – he saved you – and you saved Noocham and the cook.!!”

Abram blessed me and my family and went home to his wife. After he left, I told the story around the Kiddush table. We are truly blessed to have in our temple such a man as Abram Rogozinski – who has lived and survived such stories.

This account was read to the Temple Sinai Congregation by Rebecca Rosen during the High Holidays Sept 2006 with the permission of Holocaust survivor Avram Rogozinski

Two places/two events like no other I have experienced:

LIBERTY BELL in Philadelphia and Corpus Christi, TEXAS.

BEIJING, CHINA
Those two words connote many things. In 2008, of course, they mean the Olympics. For everyone who remembers Tiannamen Square, we think of tanks and many students – but one student in particular – and the Chinese government’s crushing response to the voices for democracy.

As the Olympic torch was being relayed around the world (and because of vast protests in Paris and London and San Francisco, among other cities), there was a relay of another kind going on: GLOBAL HUMAN RIGHTS TORCH RELAY taking place at the Liberty Bell.

I was asked to represent the Jewish voice, both because of my Holocaust perspective and because of my efforts against human rights abuses. Especially because so much of my innocent family was brutalized, beaten, starved and so many murdered – precisely because of that legacy, I cannot take the human rights lightly. And so I spoke about my background, my beliefs, and I shared my thoughts with the audience. It was a great honor at the symbol of our nation’s liberty, Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell, to share the stage with representatives of the Dalai Lama, and other religious and secular activists.

CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS

Kim Vogel and John Watson, co-directors of Peoples Street Gallery, heard about Eyes from the Ashes from Texas author Frank McMillan, who wrote “Cezanne is Missing.” Together, these three pooled contacts and resources to bring The Last Album Photo Exhibition to Corpus Christi. The irony of photos of murdered Jews exhibited in the city named for the body of Christ, was not lost. Most remarkable about this venue was the overwhelming outpouring of the audience. As Director-Owner John Vogel said, “We have never had this many people at any event, ever! Hundreds were here – and this despite the wrong date printed in the newspaper.” Chimed in his Co-Director/Co-Owner Kim Vogel, “And we still had another hundred on the street waiting to come in!” She added,”Ann, I’ve had so many people so amazed and so moved by your exhibition, and they all want to know -”How did we ever get an exhibition like this?” It’s been an incredible experience, and bringing your photos to Corpus Christi – where we’ve never had anything like this – is the most important thing I’ve ever done in my career!”

I am humbled by her words, and grateful for the community’s outpouring.

As I close, I want to wish you, not only a good beginning to the year, but also a new beginning to parts of your lives that you wish could be changed. These photos and this project, over these past twenty years, have taught me many things—but one seems apt to mention now: As long as you have life, you have hope. And, taking strength from the power of these photos, and from the lives un-lived, make your life count.

All good wishes,
Ann Weiss

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