Survivors celebrate victory, try to make a better world
By Deborah Moon, Jewish Review
article created on: 2011-10-01T00:00:00
As slides of Holocaust survivors and their families flashed across the screen, 302 attendees enjoyed a lavish dinner and paid tribute to 54 survivors in attendance before hearing how future generations will carry survivors’ message of tolerance forward.
“Did you hear these young men? They are our legacy,” survivor Miriam Greenstein said as she came to the podium after hearing the son and grandson of survivors speak about the lessons they have learned and hope to carry forward. “Hitler and his henchmen did not win. We are alive and we are here.”
“You are here to celebrate our victory,” said Greenstein at the Circle of Life dinner of the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center and its Friends of the Memorial Committee on Sept. 25 at the Multnomah Athletic Club. “We have survived and our children are carrying on, our grandchildren are carrying on and we are trying to make a better world.”
Raphael Kryszek, grandson of Jake and the late Sala Kryszek, asked, “Is it possible to transmit the same values and resources from my grandfather?” Saying he didn’t know how the second and third generation would match the impact of hearing the stories from “the man who lived it,” Kryszek said “Our lives were impacted by their tragedies. We must strive to share their stories…in years to come.”
“We as children and grandchildren (of survivors) must safeguard their legacy…values such as relentless pursuit of dreams, honor, courage,” he said.
Rob Aigner, son of Les and Eva Aigner, spoke not only of how his parents shaped his life, but also read a poem he wrote in 1998 when he accompanied a group of seven survivors who returned to the camps to collect ash and soil to bury at Oregon’s Holocaust Memorial, which opened in 2004 at Washington Park. His poem, “Seven Shades of Courage,” also was printed in the program. It concluded: “We will live, live, live each day/with the tenacity with which you survived/because you are each seven shades of living courage./Your vibrant colors have come full circle. We thank you for letting us witness your walk.”
Aigner praised his parents for giving him a normal childhood “despite all they witnessed and endured.” He said it would have been easy for them to hate, “but they have always been tolerant…and hopeful.”
“They are touching and changing people every time they speak,” he said of his parents and other survivors participation in the OHRC Speakers Bureau, which sends survivors into schools and other settings to share their stories.
Greenstein noted that each time she speaks she is exhausted by recalling those tragic experiences, but she and other survivors share their experiences “because it is just as relevant today…We talk about it (the past), so there might be a better future.”
She urged attendees to read the excerpts of letters from schoolchildren and others that were on placards at each table. Those letters provide insight to the impact the speakers have. They included comments such as:
• “I will never forget your words: Hate hatred and shun violence.”
• “When I was younger I was told the Holocaust had never happened by my father. …Thank you.”
• “I learned a lot about accepting others for who they are, even if they are not who I think they should be. It also opened my eyes to myself and the way I treat others. I will definitely change that.”
• “I am definitely going to tell my children and grandchildren about your experiences and what you have done since. I will help to prevent it.”
• “You really opened my eyes to what happened. And you made me so aware of what can happen if the wrong people get control, and that voting is very important. Because everyone counts.”
The approximately $15,000 raised at the dinner will be split evenly split between the education programming of the center and the endowment to perpetually care for the Oregon Holocaust Memorial—another tool for transmitting the survivors’ message to future generations.
Wendy Westerwelle served as mistress of ceremonies and sang a medley of songs from her show “Soph” during dinner. Elaine Coughlin chaired the event with honorary chair Wendy Liebreich, who noted, “The legacy of their lives will live on thanks to all of you.”
Rabbi Daniel Isaak thanked everyone for their patience during three invocations—from himself, the Rev. Ross Miller and Mary Jo Tully, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Portland.
OHRC Executive Director Sonia Marie Leikam and Friends of Memorial Chair Debbi Montrose thanked everyone for coming to help ensure the continuation of the survivors’ legacy.