Special events hosted by the Brigantine Beach Cultural Arts Commission tend to broach a lot of different topics, from the history of art and culture in other countries — as was the case in November — to a look at the evolution of theater, as it will be on March 22.
Occasionally the commission confronts issues that represent the ugliest aspects of world history, as it did on Jan. 26.
Gail Hirsch Rosenthal was the guest speaker at the commission's latest Lunch & Learn Series event on Sunday at the Cove restaurant. Rosenthal is the director of the Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center of Stockton University — one of the most comprehensive resource centers of its kind in the country, and a facility she helped supervise the creation of back in 1990.
Rosenthal's presentation touched on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi concentration camp — the largest of the German Nazi death camps of World War II, where more than 1.1 million men, women and children were murdered. The death camp's liberation by Russian troops in 1945 was celebrated Jan. 27 by world leaders at the remnants of the infamous site in Poland, and simulcast throughout the world at locations such as Margate's Katz Jewish Community Center and the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York City.
Rosenthal also related, to the roughly 25 people in attendance Sunday, local stories of Holocaust survival, and how many of these survivors wound up immigrating to South Jersey after the war. She noted that many survivors had no family members remaining when they arrived at East Coast ports such as Boston, New York, Newark, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Hundreds wound up settling in farming communities, such as those in Cumberland County, through the Baron de Hirsch Fund, a charitable endeavor created by French philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch to assist displaced persons by teaching them the farming trade.
“When they settled in their new places — and not just in the United State but worldwide — they would have a trade that would help reacclimate them back into normal society,” said Rosenthal, who has been a member of Stockton's staff since 1984. “That's how they moved here, often living in housing with many families all together until they were able to branch out on their own.”
Among the local survivors Rosenthal spoke of is Rosalie Lebovic Simon, who was born in Czechoslovakia and escaped a Nazi work camp at Dachau, Germany, as a child. She and her four sisters escaped the camp when it was liberated by American troops in 1945.
After immigrating to America and meeting and marrying her husband, Sidney, in Baltimore, the couple moved to Margate, where they lived for most of their lives. Now 88, Rosalie Simon is writing a memoir of her Nazi persecution and survival.
Another Holocaust survivor who transplanted to the area is Jack Louis. Born in the Netherlands in 1910, Louis lived much of his life in Brigantine before his death in 2003. Louis was an accomplished musician, which likely helped save his life, according to Rosenthal, as many Jewish musicians were pressed into service entertaining the Nazi troops during the war.
Louis was interned in five different Nazi concentration camps over several years — the final of which was Bergen-Belsen in northern Germany — before Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and his British troops liberated that camp in 1945. Through guidance he received from an American soldier while still in Europe, Louis would become the band leader for the famed Waldorf Astoria hotel in Manhattan, New York City, before he and his family relocated to Brigantine.
Rosenthal mentioned, during her talk, that Stockton's Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center is associated with an undergraduate curriculum that offers 22 courses in Holocaust and genocide studies. Stockton also offers a master of arts degree in Holocaust and genocide studies as well as several educational opportunities that work in conjunction with about 30 New Jersey high schools.
“I believe we have one of the strongest Holocaust centers in the United States,” Rosenthal said. “People travel from all over the country to do research there, and about 1,000 students per year enroll in our Holocaust-genocide studies programs.
“(The undergraduate program) is part of Stockton's core curriculum, so some students take it to fulfill part of a writing requirement,” Rosenthal said. “But we hope that, in the end, many learn that the lessons we teach about the Holocaust and other genocides will make for a better tomorrow.
“We want our students to think critically about the powers that they have to make a difference.”
The Sara & Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center of Stockton University is on the second floor of the Stockton University Library. The center's facilities are free and open to the public, and guided tours and school visits are available by appointment.
For more on the center, see Stockton.edu and find Holocaust-Genocide studies off the Academics drop-down menu.