If They Come for Me in the Morning; Holocaust Survivors Speak at Harlem Forum

If They Come for Me in the Morning is a series of five free public forums that have gathered an array of scholars, survivors, artists, and activists to examine what state-sponsored xenophobia has meant for targeted groups throughout history, and what it means for us today. During the 4th public forum tonight beginning at 6:30PM, highlighted speakers and members of unification organizations will meet to discuss the topic of xenophobia, and its lasting effect from a historical perspective, recounting first-hand anecdotes from their experiences.

In recent years, the last generation of witnesses to two very different events – Japanese American incarceration camp survivors, and Holocaust survivors – have voiced concerns that have much in common. Political rhetoric that vilifies people on the basis of ethnicity or religion, they say, and government policies to detain, deport, or ban such people as a group, have conjured past episodes of state-sponsored xenophobia.

Some find the analogies hyperbolic, cautioning that America’s constitutional protections and ethnic diversity make it a vastly different place at a very different time. But others express unease and frustration that with the march of torch-burning Neo-Nazis, the detention of immigrant children in camps, and the wave of mass deportations, the history they experienced is being swept aside. What can those survivors tell us about America today? What will be different for them – and us – if the lessons of history are lost? The series is curated by Brian Tate, and produced by The Tate Group.

The Speakers

Dr. Aliza Erber was a hidden child, and today, she serves her community as a Rabbinic Pastor, College Professor, Hebrew teacher, Playwright, Actor, former Podiatric physician, and advocate for the reunification of separated families.

“In many ways, I am not only a ‘Hidden Child’ but also a child of Holocaust survivors. I am now 74 years old and find that it has become my responsibility as one of the last survivors to share my story and that of my family.” 

Stephen B. Jacobs, now 79, was brought to Buchenwald from Auschwitz at 5 years old (in 1945) and was liberated from the camp that April. He came to New York after his liberation and at 27 years old to start his own architecture firm, which has become an industry-leading firm in North America. This year 2018 marked the 14th anniversary for the dedication of a new memorial at the concentration camp, which was designed by Mr. Jacobs, who was asked to return and give back to this site 50 years after the war as a special tribute to the thousands of lives lost.

 

“In my case, you didn’t eat in Buchenwald unless you worked. So I was given an identity card that said I was 16 years old,” said Mr. Jacobs for Newsweek. “I was five.”

Stephen B. Jacobs and his wife and business partner Andi Pepper have become one of the most sought-after design teams in the hospitality industry today.

Sonja Maier Geismar, a native of Baden in Southwest Germany, was just four years old when discrimination laws were implemented in Germany.

She remembers Kristallnacht, a slaughter of over 90 Jewish citizens carried out by the Sturmabteilung Army in Nazi Germany across two days in November 1938.

Geismar recalled that her family “awoke early to glimpse the Statue of Liberty as we entered New York harbor” and deemed it “a sight I will never forget.”

Ilse Melamid was one of 10,000 mostly Jewish children who were saved on a “Kindertransport” or children’s transport. She was 11 years old when she saw her family for the last time, as she fled the Nazis in Vienna to England in 1939.

“It was like a fog descending,” the 89-year-old New Yorker told the Forward, “I have a memory of how I felt when I was first rejected from my school and I was walking down my home street, and I realized that I was surrounded by hostility. The feeling of being turned against without cause.”

Remarks will also be given at the forum by Desiree Nazarian, LMSW and the evening’s forum will be moderated by Audrey Sasson, Executive Director at Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ).

Project Partners include: American Indian Community House + The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine + Gavin Brown’s enterprise + Greenlight Bookstore + The Japanese American Citizens League-NY + The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture + Selfhelp Community Services, Inc.

About the Author
Formerly from Israel, now in Delaware, I have owned, run and worked with food, technology and politics, beginning with the MFA and several Knesset members.
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