PROVIDENCE – On June 23, a socially-distanced and vaccinated crowd of about 70 people gathered at the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center for its 2021 Annual Meeting, SBHEC’s first in-person event since the start of the pandemic.
After being welcomed by board member Maybeth Lichaa, Ed Newman gave his final speech as president of SBHEC’s Board of Directors. As the child of Holocaust survivors, Judge Newman spoke of how important SBHEC’s mission is in today’s climate of rising anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. He also touched on what a privilege it has been for him to honor his parents by serving the organization, and exhorted those present to continue working to ensure “that it can’t happen here.”
SBHEC’s Executive Director May-Ronny Zeidman presented Newman with an award to commemorate his service. Newman thanked Zeidman for her support and leadership of the organization.
Board Vice President Robin Kaufman was presented with the Volunteer of the Year Award in recognition of her tireless work on behalf of SBHEC.
Christina Sergi, who teaches at Duxbury High School, in Duxbury, Massachusetts, was honored with the Teacher of the Year Award. Sergi has developed an innovative curriculum around Elie Wiesel’s book “Night.”
The keynote event of the evening was Elizabeth Sandy’s moving story of surviving the Holocaust. Bob Sandy, Elizabeth’s son and SBHEC’s new treasurer, introduced his mother to the audience – who later learned that he was born in Bergen-Belsen when it served as a displaced persons camp after World War II.
Elizabeth Sandy was part of a large extended family in Budapest, Hungary. Before the war, they belonged to the Dohany Street Synagogue, the largest in Europe.
At the time of the Nazi invasion of Hungary, on March 19, 1944, Elizabeth was 21. All young Jewish women were ordered to report for forced labor to dig anti-tank ditches outside of Budapest. The penalty for not showing up was death.
Seeking shelter, Sandy said she went to the “Glass House,” the most famous of the Swiss Consulate annexes set up by Swiss attaché Carl Lutz. It was crammed with 3,000 desperate Jews and there was a long line of more Jews trying to get in.
There she saw a Jewish man, Gabor, whom she had met in the basement during an American air raid. Gabor, whom she married after the liberation of Budapest, worked as a baker and a door guard at the Glass House. He remembered Sandy, and let her and her cousin Edith inside.
After the war, they went to her family’s house. It had been stripped of all valuables and furniture. Boxes of family photos were dumped out on the steps, some of which they collected. Sandy shared some of those pictures with the audience as part of her presentation.
They then left Hungary for the displaced persons camp at the former Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, in Germany. From there, they made their way to the United States, arriving in 1949.
Out of her family of four, Elizabeth was the only survivor. She doesn’t know when or how her mother, father and brother were murdered. Among her 10 aunts and uncles, two were murdered, and among her 13 first cousins, four were murdered.
“Survival was mostly a matter of luck, plus a little daring,” Sandy said.
The evening wrapped up with the elevation of new board members. Stephen Gamm, who hosted this part of the event, had the pleasure of nominating his son, Dan Gamm, to be SBHEC’s next president.
Dan Gamm, a private wealth adviser at Ameriprise Financial, has long been actively involved in Rhode Island’s Jewish community. Among his many leadership roles, he has served as president of the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island Board of Trustees and, along with his wife, Marisa Garber, co-chaired the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island’s 2019 Annual Campaign Event.
Gamm outlined his vision for the future of SBHEC, which includes building on what his predecessors have accomplished to increase Holocaust education in Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts.
LEV POPLOW is a communications consultant writing on behalf of the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.