Memorial to honor Holocaust victims

Father Wallace stands with Michel Jeifa, Holocaust survivor.

The Anti-Defamation League has reported that anti-Semitic incidents in its 2017 audit has uncovered the highest single-year increase since the organization began releasing its first audit in 1979.

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO and National Director of the ADL, explained, “A confluence of events in 2017 led to a surge in attacks on our community, from bomb threats, cemetery desecrations, white supremacists marching in Charlottesville and children harassing children at school. These incidents came at a time when we saw a rising climate of incivility, the emboldening of hate groups and widening divisions in society.”

Locally, Jews, Christians and Muslim leaders in Atlantic County have been meeting and planning to bring to fruition the long hoped for Holocaust Memorial at a site in Atlantic City. Father Jon P. Thomas, pastor of the Parish of Saint Monica in Atlantic City, is a member of the planning committee working toward the establishment of the memorial. Originally the site they were looking at was near New York Avenue in A.C. but with the plans of building the Stockton University satellite campus the Atlantic City Boardwalk, Holocaust Memorial executive leadership proposed to change the memorial’s location to Roosevelt Place on the Boardwalk.

As they stated, “Since this new place is adjacent to Stockton’s A.C. buildings, the City (Atlantic City) has requested that Stockton authorize, in writing, its approval for the Holocaust memorial to be built at his alternative site.”

In response, Harvey Kesselman, president of Stockton University wrote, “After our conversation and upon further review and consideration, I am pleased to inform you that Stockton endorses the idea to install a Holocaust Memorial at the location of Roosevelt Avenue and the Boardwalk. We look forward to having members of the Stockton community collaborate closely with you and the ACBHM to determine the design. We hope it becomes a world-class memorial, dedicated to honoring the victims of the Holocaust and to educating the public who visit the memorial on the lessons learned from the atrocities of the Holocaust.”

He added, “This initiative is in keeping with the mission of the university, our Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center and our academic programs in genocide and Holocaust studies. We are confident the ACBHM will be successful in raising the funding for the design, production, installation, maintenance and support for the memorial. The memorial will serve as a beacon of hope and place of reflection for all who visit it.”

The Atlantic City Boardwalk Holocaust Memorial organization is seeking donors for this project. Anyone wishing to contribute to this laudable memorial should contact: Rabbi Gordon Geller at Shirat Hayam: Beth Judah & Emeth Shalom, 700 North Swarthmore Ave., Ventnor NJ 08406, 609-822-7116.

As the number of Holocaust survivors dwindle due to old age, the need to ensure that the suffering they endured is never forgotten or repeated, memorials such as the proposed one in A.C. become all the more necessary. I had the opportunity to attend a program co-sponsored by the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education and the Msgr. John M. Oesterreicher Endowment, in conjunction with Seton Hall University Graduate Program in Jewish-Christian Studies on the “Jews and Resistance in France during World War II.” As part of the program, Mr. Michel Jeifa, a Holocaust survivor from Parish, France, who lost his parents during the Holocaust, spoke of his harrowing experience and how he survived with the help of a Christian family and how he eventually came to the United States.

These living reminders of the human cost of allowing hate and prejudice to fester and grow stand as a reminder of the need to teach the coming generations of the danger of tolerating hate that can lead to genocide. Mr. Jeifa, now 91 years old, travels the country telling his story as an antidote to those who minimize or deny the Holocaust. He and the other survivors stand as living reminders of an era in Europe that tolerated the seeds of anti-Semitism, prejudice and hate crimes that led to wholesale genocide of many people by the Nazi regime.

The various memorials and institutes confronting genocide stand as a reminder of the recent past and as a warning for the future. Our support for them is a vital pledge of our generation to never forget and never allow the seeds of discord to take root in our time.

Father Joseph D. Wallace is director, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.