Morristown, NJ (November 11, 2014) – November 9 and 10, 1938, signaled the beginning of the end for Jews in German-occupied Europe. Vowing never to forget, survivors of those years of systemic extermination chronicle their lives as an open book to educate generations about the horrors of genocide in hopes of preventing it from ever happening again.
The 24th annual week of Holocaust remembrance at the College began on Monday night, November 10, 2014, in the Dolan Performance Hall with testimonies of two Holocaust survivors. Norbert and Gerda Bikales spoke of their lives before and after Kristallnacht as they were both children living in Germany during the event.
Helen J. Streubert, president of CSE, offered a brief history of Kristallnacht and the College's commitment to Holocaust education through educating public and private school teachers and children about the Holocaust and genocide. "An educational event in October brought teachers from all over the state to the campus to learn how to teach responses to conflict," Dr. Streubert said.
Additional history was offered by Barbara Wind, director of the Holocaust Council of Greater MetroWest. Kristallnacht is also known as the November Pogrom. She spoke about the United Nations proposition 3379 that proclaimed Zionism racist. "By doing so," she explained, "the U.N. made anti-Semitism an international law which lasted for 26 years until it was repealed in 1991."
The performance hall was almost filled to capacity when Dr. Norbert Bikales took the podium and began to recount his very vivid memories of being a child during the Holocaust. He spoke of living in Berlin when his father and brother were deported to Poland. He recalls being thrown out of school simply because he was Jewish and his family was required to leave Germany even though no country would take them (eventually they went to Poland). He was placed in a program that protected Jewish children and sent to France where he became one of the children of Charbannes, a small village in unoccupied France that saved thousands of Jewish children from the death camps. This bliss did not last though and he and a friend climbed over the Alps into Switzerland. In 1945, he found that his brother was alive, although his parents had perished and in 1946, he arrived at the age of 17 to America. "I supported myself as a messenger, learned another new language, finished high school, and enrolled in City College of New York, which was free," Dr. Bikales recounts. "I had not had much schooling up to the point I came to New York, but I continued because I knew this was my path to freedom."
Gerda Bikales also spoke of her childhood during the Holocaust and her inability to make sense of what was happening to her family, her friends, her synagogue, and her community. While her father was able to get a temporary visa to the United States, where he journeyed in hopes of bringing Gerda and her mother over, Gerda recalls her young life as a mother and child on the run. They were constantly trying to stay one step ahead of those that would deport them and traveled with false papers to Belgium, France, and Italy. "I was called into a German officer's room to see him pointing a gun at my mother. He turned to me and asked, 'what should I do?' I was begging him for my mother's life," she remembers. "He had another appointment, so he spared my mother." Although he did not shoot her, the moment was seared into Gerda's memory.
Upon completion of the speeches, Michael Zeiger, survivor and advisory board member of the CSE Holocaust Education Resource Center, led the audience in the traditional Jewish mourners' Kaddish. Marjorie Feinstein, chair of the same advisory board, wrapped up the evening by saying that education is so important to prevent history from repeating itself. "We need to become upstanders, not bystanders," she concluded.
Yolanda '68 and Raymond Kunz sponsored a dessert reception in honor of the evening and the attending survivors.