How Two Chappaqua Residents Committed to Holocaust Remembrance & Education Made It Happen
“When you listen to a witness, you become a witness.” –Elie Wiesel, founder of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
In 2012, Alexandra Rosenberg (Ali) was lucky enough to spend a night listening to Elie Wiesel speak at Barnard College, Columbia University. She remembered him saying two things that forever stuck with her. The first was, “As long as survivors are here, listen to them…”. And the second was, “Indifference is never an option.” She spent the next six years hearing survivors speak as often as she could and felt if survivors had the courage to share their stories it was her duty to be their audience.
Ali began to focus her efforts on making an impact on the community and the schools. She wanted to find a way to increase Holocaust education for the next generation so that they could feel empowered to prevent this from ever happening again.
All of this led to the creation of a committee for the town and an organization for the students: the town renews its awareness and the students can learn. Together, the New Castle Holocaust & Human Rights Committee and the Horace Greeley High School student organization E.N.O.U.G.H.–Educate Now On Understanding Genocide and Hate will provide annual Holocaust and Human Rights programming to our community and our children.
In addition, Ali recommended the creation of a New Castle Holocaust Memorial which would stand in a visible area of our town where residents of all ages can reflect, remember and learn about the important lessons of the Holocaust.
Gaining a Town’s Support
Rosenberg approached Town Supervisor Robert Greenstein in April who threw his support behind her ideas. Aware of her friend Stacey Saiontz’s commitment to Holocaust education and remembrance, Ali approached Stacey to help her realize her vision for the community. Saiontz holds leadership roles at the Auschwitz Jewish Center, the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center. In October, Saiontz was honored with a National Leadership Award by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, www.ushmm.org, where she is a founding member of the Museum’s “Next Generation” board.
After introducing their combined experience and ideas, Rosenberg and Saiontz met with the Town Board and the Recreation and Parks Commission, and the idea for the New Castle Holocaust Memorial was approved.
Greenstein said, “This is one of the most meaningful projects that I’ve worked on over the last six years. It’s crucial that we remember the lessons of history and provide future generations with the tools to combat hate and bigotry.” Subsequently, Greenstein and the Town Board established the New Castle Holocaust & Human Rights Committee appointing Rosenberg and Saiontz as Co-Chairs and calling for applicants to apply for the eight Committee member positions and two student liaison positions for E.N.O.U.G.H..
The Daffodil Project
At Community Day on September 14th the students set up a table and introduced the club to the community. The students explained that the mission of E.N.O.U.G.H. is to empower students to stand up to hate and to develop a community of tolerance through education and the understanding of people’s differences.
The students also sold daffodil bulbs which were planted at the Memorial in October. The sale of the daffodil bulbs was part of a larger initiative–The Worldwide Daffodil Project (daffodilproject.net). The Worldwide Daffodil project’s purpose is to commemorate the lives of the children lost during the Holocaust. The goal is to plant 1.5 million daffodils across the world–one daffodil for every child killed during the Holocaust.
A few weeks before the dedication and opening ceremony, E.N.O.U.G.H student members coordinated a Community Planting Event. Students and residents, together with Saiontz and Rosenberg, planted 750 daffodil bulbs which will blossom in the spring when the community holds an annual event commemorating Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The Dedication and Opening Ceremony
Rosenberg explained that, “The Dedication and Opening Ceremony was purposely planned to coincide with Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass”, which symbolized the final shattering of the Jewish existence in Europe. And so, on November 6 , in cool temps on the lit green field outside our pretty Gazebo, a full array of dignitaries gathered, each to speak out against antisemitism and hate. They included President Bill Clinton, State Assemblyman David Buchwald, State Senator Peter Harckham, County Executive George Latimer and Town Supervisor Elect Ivy Pool. Former Westchester Legislature chairman Mike Kaplowitz, New Castle town board members Lisa Katz and newly elected board members Jeremy Saland and Jason Lichtenthal also attended.
Greenstein, Rosenberg and Saointz each spoke. I was graciously invited to speak as well on behalf of my father, Jacob Breitstein, who was a Survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau. As part of the ceremony a bench was dedicated in my Father’s loving memory. Rosenberg and Saiontz said: “It was a way to honor your father who so many have come to know through your affectionate writing about ‘Poppy’ and for all you do for New Castle and Holocaust awareness.”
Holocaust survivor Peter Somogyi offered the keynote address which conveyed the pain and horror he endured as a victim of Dr. Mengele’s cruel experiments. A candle lighting ceremony was led by survivors and also by students of E.N.O.U.G.H.
At the ceremony the Co-Presidents of E.N.O.U.G.H., Sam Rosenberg and Charlie Gordon, unveiled the memorial plaque. The inscription on the plaque says, “In memory of the six million Jews and millions of other victims who were persecuted and murdered simply because of who they were and what they believed. In honor of those who survived the Holocaust, and those who risked and gave their lives to save them. NEVER AGAIN.”
Matty Wasserman, a Junior at Horace Greeley High School and the winner of the Horace Greeley High School Quote Submission Contest, read the original quote that he wrote, now listed below the words NEVER AGAIN on the Memorial plaque. Wasserman’s quote reads: “Although no one can change the hate that occurred, to not acknowledge it and understand it would be forcing it upon our future.”
As part of the ceremony Rabbis, Cantors and Reverend from local synagogues and churches joined together in prayer and song. The materials for the memorial and bench as well as the landscaping were generously donated by Manzer’s Landscape Design & Development based in Peekskill. The memorial plaque was funded by an anonymous Chappaqua family.
“Our Residents are our Town’s Best Assets”
Right here in our town, these two extraordinary women, each with their own respective and immensely impressive histories of philanthropy, advocacy and Holocaust education, have ‘listened’ to and embodied the very spirit of the witnesses of whom Wiesel speaks. Together these women partnered with a mutual mission to honor survivors, and to ultimately fight antisemitism and all hate by keeping the lessons of the Holocaust alive for present and future generations.
In 2017, HBO created an 18-minute documentary, featuring a conversation between Saiontz’s grandfather and sons, specifically to educate students. Saiontz commented that the creation of the Memorial, the Committee and E.N.O.U.G.H. will now serve as a platform to educate the community and future generations about the lessons of the Holocaust and the importance of taking action. “The Holocaust did not start with the gas chambers and killing. It started with indifference to hate. We need to teach people to stand up to hate wherever it may fester.”
All of Rosenberg’s and Saiontz’s initiatives have been aimed at combatting the significant rise in hate that is permeating our world. Rosenberg said, ”The Holocaust is not only a Jewish story it is a HUMAN story and one that began with HATE. Over these last several years hate has crept back into our world’s, our children’s world’s and specifically our children’s schools. Hate crimes in schools have increased by 25% for the 2nd year in a row. Collectively, it is time that we all say E.N.O.U.G.H. of the reactionary response to hate. It is time to be proactive.”