Over 1,000 people gathered at the pond at Cypress College last year in honor of the six million Jews who were killed by the Nazis. Those in attendance heard moving speeches by faculty as well as Holocaust survivor, Dr. Jacob Eisenbach.
On April 26, Cypress College will once again pay respect to Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust Day of Remembrance. This year’s ceremony will once again promote acceptance, inclusion, diversity, and justice, regardless of one’s race, religion, color, or creed.
The tribute will feature moving words by this year’s keynote speaker, Holocaust survivor Zenon Neumark. Accompanying Mr. Neumark are the unforgettably touching images Photography Professor Clifford Lester captured of Holocaust survivors, as well as dance and musical performances, and the lighting of memorial candles. In honor of this day of remembrance, the candles will be lit by Holocaust survivors Neumark, Gerda Seifer, Piri Katz, Harry Lester, Sarah Schweitz, and Rick van Beynan.
Also speaking at the Yom HaShoah event are Seifer, Cypress College professors David Halahmy and Lester, Dr. Holli Levitski of Loyola Marymount University, and Cypress College President Dr. Bob Simpson. A prayer will be led by Rabbi Heidi Cohen of Temple Beth Sholom.
Biographies of Participating Holocaust Survivors and Offspring
Zenon Neumark, Holocaust Survivor
Holocaust survivor Zenon Neumark avoided the horrors of the death camps by escaping from a Nazi Labor Camp and then living and working in Warsaw and Vienna as a fugitive under a false identity as a Catholic Pole. To share his unique story, he authored a book, Hiding in the Open. “Such a life was not easy. Each day as a fugitive presented the risk of being discovered and killed,” Neumark says.
He credits his survival to some daring and some luck, but mostly, to the help he received from many righteous people: Poles, Jews, and even some Germans. “In occupied Europe, especially in Poland, anyone caught helping a Jew with lodging, food, or work could be killed on the spot,” says Neumark. Thus, he is forever grateful to those who risked their own lives to save him as well as thousands of others. He refers to them as the true heroes of the Holocaust.
Zenon is a quiet and gracious man who is very thankful for the many successes he has had in his life. In particular, he feels gratified not only for his own survival, but also for the opportunities he has had to help others survive.
Gerda Seifer, Holocaust Survivor
Gerda Krebs-Seifer was born in Przemysl, southeastern Poland. She was the only child of Henryk and Edyta Krebs. In 1940 her family moved to Lwow, to avoid being sent to Siberia. They lived under both German and Russian occupation. She spent several months in the Lwow Ghetto — six weeks hidden in a cellar — during a violent Akcjonen roundup in the summer of 1942. Seifer lost her mother during that roundup, while Gerda was hidden in the cellar. Seifer then moved in with a Catholic family, acting as their illegitimate daughter, by taking the birth certificate of that child, who died in infancy.
Out of about 40 relatives, there were only two survivors: a cousin four or five years older than herself, and Seifer.
After the war Seifer was lucky to go to England as a war orphan and join her relatives, who escaped in the nick of time from Munich. She later learned enough English to train and become a State Registered Nurse in 1950. She arrived in America in 1951, where she met her husband.
Harry Lester, Holocaust Survivor
Harry Lester entered the German governmental school system in 1933. In January the Nazi party had become the majority in the Reichstag Parliament and Hitler had been appointed chancellor by the president. To state that no anti-Semitism existed in Lester’s classroom would be false. The woman teacher, who proudly wore a Nazi party membership pin, took another Jewish boy and Lester and seated them apart from their classmates. During recesses and on their way to and from school, they were harassed, beaten, and sometimes cut.
Lester’s mother worked feverishly to obtain a transfer for him to a Jewish school, but it took about six months for that to be accomplished. “I’m sure no kid felt as relieved as I did, on the first day at a new school,” Lester says.
Lester’s next upcoming “moment in the sun” was going to be his Bar Mitzvah. He had started studying, learning the many chants and prayers. All difficult stuff for a pre-teen to grasp. However, he wanted to do it well. Relatives from all over Germany arrived the day prior. There were a total of fourteen. Jews were forbidden by then to stay in hotels so somehow his parents had to squeeze all visitors into their small apartment. Whoever was able to grab a blanket or bed sheet, and an unoccupied few inches on the floor, was considered fortunate.
Unfortunately, the synagogue where the ceremony was to be held was occupied by an SS cavalry unit. Unable to enter, a teary-eyed Lester went back to his parents’ home.
His real Bar Mitzvah occurred several months later. The rabbi, who was supposed to preside at the original event, also served as spiritual advisor to a Berlin Jewish Hospital, arranged for the ceremony to take place at the hospital’s chapel. Lester recited the prayers, even though he was unable to read that week’s Torah portion. Thus, with no relatives present other than his parents, and in front of a few people sporting various illnesses, he became an adult Jew.
Sarah B. Schweitz, Holocaust Survivor
Sarah B. Schweitz was born in Trikala, Greece in 1940 to Abraham and Alice Barouh. When the Italians invaded Greece, her father was drafted into the Army and sent to the Albanian Front. After a year the German Air Force came to Trikala and destroyed almost every building except the Temple and some very nice homes that they intended for their use. Schweitz’s childhood home was located next to the Temple, and it was spared. It was also occupied by the Germans.
Schweitz’s father was captured and was sent to a concentration camp in another town in Greece with his co-workers from the Agrarian Bank of Greece. Schweitz’s father was Vice President of the bank in Trikala.
On March 23, 1944, Abraham Barouh was released from the concentration camp and joined his family in Trikala. It was a happy reunion. Early the next morning, the Germans went to the Jewish Quarter in Trikala and captured everyone except those few who escaped. Schweitz’s family was part of those few, thanks to the kindness of a righteous gentile, George Kalogerometrou. Because of his courage and generosity, Schweitz’s family remained in hiding in the high mountains of Greece until the end of the war in 1945.
Schweitz later moved the U.S. and graduated from Ohio State with a degree in pharmacy. She is married and has three daughters. She has committed herself to working so that the memory and legacy of the precious human lives lost in the Holocaust will not be forgotten. She lectures to students as well as different organizations to help overcome intolerance and indifference through learning and remembrance.
Piri Katz, Holocaust Survivor
Piri Gross Katz was born November 18, 1927 in Tibiva, Czechoslovakia, a small town in the Carpathian Mountains. She was the seventh of 11 children, the daughter of Volf Hersh and Chaya Blima Gross. In 1943, at age 15, she was taken to the Munkatch ghetto, during Pesach, and later was in the camps of Auschwitz, Geislingen, and sent to Dachau, where she was liberated by the Americans in May 1945.
After the war she was in a Russian prison for having more than one passport in her possession, and later was in displaced persons camps in Germany for two years before coming to the United States to her sister Roselyn and brother Sydney in Detroit, Michigan in November 1949. She went to night school in Detroit to learn English, worked as a seamstress making drapes, and later met the love of her life, her husband, Dr. Milton Katz.
Following Milton’s death in 1968, Katz worked at getting more of her family to the U.S. She took classes here at Cypress College and ran a small retirement home with her sister in Los Angeles, all in an effort to put her children through college and graduate school.
Katz will be 90 years old this November, and she continues to speak to young people about the Holocaust, and hopes that children will appreciate freedom, and be tolerant of others regardless of their race or religious beliefs. She continues to go to synagogue, is a staunch supporter of the State of Israel, and is thankful and proud to be an American.
Clifford Lester, Photography Professor, Holocaust Survivor Photographer
Cypress College professor Clifford Lester, son of late Holocaust survivor Ursula Lowenbach Foster, began photographing Holocaust survivors over a decade ago. After the death of his mother – who lived in Amsterdam and is mentioned in Anne Frank’s diary – in 2004, Lester decided to show the survivors in a different light, letting their faces, as they are, tell their stories. The first survivor he ever photographed was Nathan Langer, founder of the Langer Juice Company.
He has since photographed many others, the resulting images not only connecting him to his mother, but also being the driving force behind the Yom HaShoah events at Cypress College.
Lester said of his photographs of Holocaust survivors, “These images take a look at the human spirit and the determination for survival. As we take a glimpse into their eyes, it is my wish that they emerge ‘victorious’ over the evil that befell their loved ones. We will ensure that their spirit will forever live on, if we maintain respect for our fellow man.”