With very few survivors of the Holocaust still alive today, education is now more important now more than ever to teach what took place in Germany, Russia and Poland during WWII. To highlight National Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27, the Bronx Times spoke with Rabbi Saadia Pewzner of the Bronx Jewish Center in Morris Park.
In 2005, the U.N. General Assembly established Jan. 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorating the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp. During the war more than six million Jews were killed in a genocide perpetrated by the Nazis.
Recent events like the hostage situation at a synagogue in Texas on Jan. 15 — all the hostages were freed and the suspect was killed — remind people of the hatred still exists toward the Jewish people, the rabbi said. Sadly, that incident didn’t come as a surprise, he added.
“The reason why Holocaust remembrance is important because as years go on, people always try to say to themselves it can never happen again,” the rabbi said. “Unfortunately, we’re constantly reminded why it could happen again.”
One survivor Pewzner will never forget is Sam Solasz, founder of Master Purveyors in the Hunts Point Meat Market, who lost all 13 members of his family in the Holocaust. Since Solasz’s passing in 2019, Pewzner often goes to the market and does kaddish in his honor, a service to remember the dead. Now, because of Solasz’s determination to survive thousands can eat every day.
Pewzner believes that Solasz’s story and millions of others about the Holocaust should be taught in public schools citywide. People need to know what took place in Nazi Germany and the concentration camps, he said.
On Jan. 27, a City Council resolution was introduced that would require the state education commissioner to conduct a study of New York state’s more than 700 school districts and submit a report assessing the effectiveness of Holocaust teachings.
Bill A472A was introduced by state Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, a Queens Democrat who thanked City Councilman Eric Dinowitz, a Riverdale Progressive, and Councilwoman Marjorie Velázquez, a Throggs Neck Democrat, for highlighting the issue at the city level.
According to Pewzner, there will always be people who hate different races, ethnicities and religions. The rabbi said hate is not something one acquires, but instead it is engrained in them by their family or environment.
Throughout time, people have often blamed Jews for their problems, he said.
“Every time people suffer and are having a difficult time, they look for a scapegoat,” he said, adding that oftentimes this scapegoats are the Jews.
With rampant instances of anti-Semitism all over social media, the hostage situation at the temple in Texas, the vandalizing of synagogues in Riverdale last year and the deadly Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018 that killed 11 people, many Jews do not feel safe, Pewzner said.
The day of the Texas hostage situation, the rabbi was in the middle of Shabbat services when he saw police cars outside his Morris Park synagogue. But since he can’t use electronics on the Sabbath, he had no idea why they were there. He soon found out and was shaken.
“It’s very hard to tell someone they’re absolutely safe (at synagogue),” he said. “I’m never going to accept that this is the normal way of life.”
Pewzner said even with all the hatred and crime, it’s important to rise above it.
“Our challenge is, we have to make more good than evil,” he said.
Reach Jason Cohen at email@example.com or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.