“With Courage Shall We Fight.”
That line is from a poem written by Holocaust survivor and Nazi resistance fighter Frances Berger, whose two sons Ralph Berger and Albert Berger were the guest speakers at the Rockwood Park Jewish Center’s annual Holocaust memorial service on Sunday.
Dozens of people, including Nazi genocide survivors, legislators, clergy, civic leaders, NYPD officials and area residents, attended the service at the Howard Beach synagogue.
Among the survivors at the service were Julius Rafalowicz, Jack Gruer and Judy Berkowitz, mother of the Rockwood Park Jewish Center’s rabbi, Tzvi Berkowitz.
Holocaust Remembrance Day, also known as Yom Hashoah, commemorates the six million Jews who were murdered during the Nazi genocide.
Ralph and Albert Berger edited “With Courage Shall We Fight: The Memoirs and Poetry of Holocaust Resistance Fighters,” which presents the experience their parents, Murray and Frances, during the Holocaust as part of the Bielski partisans resistance group.
Murray Berger was born in the town of Wseilub, in what is now Belarus. Frances Gulkowich Berger was raised in Korelitz, Poland.
Escaping from the Nazis, Murray and Frances Berger joined the Bielski brigade, a resistance group composed of Jewish fighters. They fought the Nazis, engaging in sabotage, blowing up bridges and rail lines, destroying telephone lines, bombing Nazi police headquarters and, at times, engaging in open combat. The brigade also rescued other Jews.
The Bielski detachment grew into a forest community of more than 1,200 Jews.
“My parents were passionate about Holocaust education and about educating people to the fact that Jews did not go like sheep to the slaughter,” said Ralph Berger, adding, “they wanted the world to know that when they could Jews fought back physically and spiritually.
“The real problem, in my opinion, was that not too many wanted to hear about the Holocaust,” he said.
In writing their book, the Bergers seek not only to honor their parents, but to continue their mission of educating people about their experiences, as well as the experiences of others, during the Holocaust.
After surviving the Holocaust Murray and Frances Berger endured the hardship of displaced persons and established themselves in the United States, where they had arrived nearly broke and barely speaking the language.
They lived here for half a century. Frances Berger died on July 12, 1995; Murray Berger died on March 23, 1999.
Hearing the firsthand accounts of the Holocaust survivors on Remembrance Day is worthwhile, state Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said, because “it is so important that we understand where we have been so we never go back there again. It’s important for us today, it’s important for our children as we go on.”
Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) discussed his trip to Israel with other City Council members and their visit to the country’s Holocaust Museum.
“What really touched us the most was the room of empty shoes, and they were the shoes of children,” Ulrich recalled. “It is important for us to learn from our history so that we do not repeat it. Anytime that we experience human atrocity, massacres of innocent people, acts of terrorism, we have an obligation to speak out against those injustices when we see them so that we can prevent them from happening again in the future.”