Sophia Veffer hid in Amsterdam before being captured by the Nazis. Renate Neeman hid “in plain sight,” with three other escaped Jews in the Netherlands, where she worked as a mother’s helper. Allan Peita remembers eating nothing but potatoes every single day once he and his mother fled Germany to a potato farm in Siberia.
For three decades, the Holocaust Resource Center of Buffalo has helped them tell their stories.
They and about 250 others spent Sunday evening at Temple Beth Tzedek in Amherst in observance of the center’s legacy and success.
In the last 30 years, the center has helped local Holocaust survivors, rescuers and liberators share their firsthand recollections of experiences with more than 400,000 students, teachers and civic groups across Western New York.
“If we can reach even 1 percent of them so that they will not be bystanders in the face of evil, but ‘upstanders,’ then we will consider it to be a successful organization,” said Gabriel J. Ferber, an Amherst lawyer and past president of the center.
When the nonsectarian center opened in 1983, history textbooks carried just a few paragraphs about Hitler’s genocide of 11 million people, 6 million of whom were Jewish. A group of educators created the center as a resource for teachers so the horror would never be forgotten – or repeated.
“The subject was underserved in our curriculum,” said Reed Taylor, a Presbyterian English teacher and founding member of the center. “We were looking for a way to support teachers’ efforts.”
The group began by collecting important, age-appropriate books about the Holocaust – including “The Diary of Anne Frank” and Elie Weisel’s “Night” – and amassing enough copies of each that an entire classroom could read one title together at the same time.
The center formed a speakers’ bureau of 20 Western New York survivors of the Holocaust – there are now 12 – who would share their stories with audiences, and it has since collected a video library of more than 100 oral testimonies.
“The one-on-one interviews are what helped me grasp the human element of the Holocaust,” said Rich Newberg, a senior correspondent for WIVB-TV who emceed the event. “How do you process 6 million Jews murdered?”
The center’s mission of connecting each coming generation with the atrocities of the past is part of its mission to prevent them from happening again – not just to the Jews, but to anyone affected by stereotyping, racism or genocide.
“It’s a human nature problem,” Taylor said. “The purpose of remembering is not to dust off old history, it’s to remember the lessons of the Holocaust, to watch our leaders for characteristics like Hitler’s and avoid such things happening again, whether it’s in Rwanda, Sudan or any other place.”
For Ferber, Sunday was a day to say “Yasher koach” to all of those who have supported the center through the years.
“It’s Hebrew,” Ferber said. “It’s like saying, ‘Good job, and may you have the strength to keep doing a good job.’ ”