Remarks on the Joint Resolution Commemorating the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine’s Legislative Awareness Day and Yom Hashoah, the Day of Remembrance presented by Representative Craig V. Hickman of Winthrop – April 8, 2014
Today, we remember the Holocaust because we must never forget.
African Americans and American Jews have interacted throughout much of the history of this nation. This relationship has included widely publicized cooperation and sometimes conflict, and—since the 1970s—has been an area of significant academic research. The most significant aspect of the relationship was the cooperation during the civil rights movement, culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Anti-Semitism, racism, bigotry and tyranny have no place in a free society.
Today, we recognize and honor Holocaust survivors who are citizens of Maine.
Ed Benedikt: Ed Benedikt left Austria, with his sister, on a ‘Kindertransport’ rescue operation, in December 1938. Kindertransports rescued nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from possible capture, by transporting them via train to the UK. There, they were placed into British foster homes, hostels schools or farms. In 1943, Ed and his sister left England and were able to be reunited with their parents in the US.
Dr. Julius Ciembroniewicz: Dr. Julius Ciembroniewicz was a young teenager when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. Forced into a life on the run, his family was separated and he spent the war hiding in a monastery outside of Krakow. Upon liberation, Dr. Ciembroniewicz was reunited with only two of his family members and restarted his education. After becoming a physician and neurosurgeon, he defected to England and eventually came to the United State. Dr. Ciembroniewicz continues to be active as a neurosurgeon in Augusta and Lewiston.
Klaus Heimann: Klaus Heimann grew up in Berlin and was able to leave with his immediate family just days before WWII broke out. They came to NYC. He had relatives, however, who were not able to get out, and perished in the camps. Klaus became an engineer and then ended up in Maine, and, in his retirement, took to repairing sewing machines.
Cantor Kurt Messerschmidt: Born in Germany in 1915, Kurt was a coach and teacher at a Jewish school in Berlin until 1943 when he was deported with his fiancée, Sonja, to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia. Within the ghetto, despite long days of forced labor, Kurt sought to be a source of comfort and leadership. Kurt and Sonja married in Theresienstadt but soon were separated when Kurt and his brother, Henry, were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and assigned to work detail at Golleschau. Kurt survived Golleschau and a death march and was liberated in 1945. In the early post-war days, Kurt worked as a teacher and translator in Germany while searching for news of his family. After Kurt’s reunion with Sonja, they lived in Munich until 1950 when they emigrated to the US where Kurt continued his profession as a teacher and musician.
**Evelyn Panish: Born in Germany in 1930, Evelyn lived in Berlin until fleeing with her family to China. In 1940, Evelyn and her family escaped Nazi persecution by emigrating to Shaghai via Russia, Siberia and Manchuria. They emigrated to the US in 1947.
**Charles Rotmil (hidden child Holocaust survivor): Born in Alsace Lorraine in 1932, Charles moved with his family to Vienna in 1938. Two years later, they escaped to Belgium and then to France, in their attempts to flee the war against the Jews. By 1943, his mother and sister had died in a train crash and his father had been gassed in Auschwitz. Father Bruno Reynders, a Benedictine monk, took Charles and his brother under his wing, along with 400 other children. They lived in hiding, under false names, until the liberation in 1945. In 1946, he arrived in the United States. He spent many years as a schoolteacher and now is a filmmaker living in Maine.
**Max Slabotsky (Holocaust survivor): Born in Belgium in 1931, Max learned the art of tailoring from his father. When he was twelve years old, Max was arrested with his parents and sent to Auschwitz where he was put to work for the Germans. In addition to working on a farm that fed Germans, Max cleaned pipes and sorted the clothes from incoming prisoners. After being liberated by the Russians, he became a paratrooper and lived on a kibbutz in Israel before coming to America in 1955, where he would find success as a well-respected tailor.
Just as I did last year, I will close with a quote from James Baldwin, my favorite American author and one of the literary leaders of the Civil Rights Movement:
“One must say YES to life and embrace it wherever it is found, and it is found in terrible places… For nothing is fixed; forever and forever, it is not fixed. The earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fades, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us, and the light goes out.”
Always treat one another with kindness.
Take care of your blessings.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker
(**Present in the House Chamber when the Joint Resolution was presented on April, 8, 2014.)