Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II and the liberation of Europe’s concentration camps, Queens’ World War II veterans were honored at Borough Hall last Friday.
Several politicians, as well as religious and community leaders spoke at the event and thanked the American troops on behalf of the survivors.
“This event is extremely important because the American troops who liberated the camps 60 years ago, and all of those who fought and sacrificed during World War II are due a tremendous amount of appreciation,” said Jan Fenster, the president of the Queens Jewish Community Council.
In recognition of the veterans’ sacrifices, Borough President Helen Marshall presented the Jewish War Veterans with a citation of honor. Hannah Deutch accepted the commendation on behalf of the organization. Deutch escaped Nazi Germany for England with other Jewish children and later served as a nurse in the British Army.
“We would like to thank you very much for this big honor,” she said. “I’m glad that we are still around, some of us, to receive it.” According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1,100 World War II veterans die every day.
Also at the event was World War II veteran Stanley Kalfus, who served with the American Army in Holland and Northern Germany from 1943 to the end of the war. “There always was and still is a constant need to fight evil,” he said. “These festivities are here to help remind us that we must fight evil.”
Echoing that idea, Cantor Moti Fuchs of the Hillcrest Jewish Center thanked the veterans for their sacrifices. “There is nobody who dislikes war more than someone who fought for freedom,” he said.
He then led the politicians and other community leaders in singing the “Psalm of David” and “America the Beautiful” in the lobby of Borough Hall.
The celebration was the first of a number of tributes in the borough that will recognize Yom Hashoah, an international day of remembrance in May for the six million Jews who were killed in World War II.
On May 2nd there will be a borough-wide tribute to veterans and Holocaust survivors at Queensborough Community College in Bayside. That event is being planned in cooperation with the borough president, the Queens Jewish Community Council, the Samuel Field Y and the Jewish Community Relations Council.
Commemorating 60 years of liberation, the college also plans to move its Holocaust Resource Center and Archives, which has been in existence for 26 years, from the basement to a more prominent place on campus.
On May 3rd, 100 Queens residents, including Holocaust survivors, will join 18,000 people from around the world who are travelling to concentration camp sites in Poland.
In Jackson Heights, Deutch is planning a Day of Remembrance event on May 5th at the Renaissance School. “To me as a survivor and as a veteran it means a lot,” she said.
At Borough Hall last Friday, religious leaders told the crowd that remembering the Holocaust was different than not forgetting, since it is a more active. “We are acting positively when we remember our enemies and those who gave of themselves in the United States Army,” said Michael Miller, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council.
Rabbi Manfred Gans of the Machane Chodesh congregation in Forest Hills also spoke about the importance of recalling the past. “The Holocaust was a singular event in human history. It must always be remembered,” he said. “It is a warning to all mankind that never again, God forbid, should such a calamity befall mankind.”