AMERICAN GATHERING OF JEWISH HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS


AMERICAN GATHERING OF JEWISH HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS. Immediately after the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Israel in June 1981, a new organization was established to prepare for another event, the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Washington, DC, in April 1983. The officers of this "event-geared" organization were Benjamin Meed, Sam Bloch, Ernest Michel, Roman Kent, Norbert Wollheim, Hirsch Altusky, Fred Diament, James Rapp, and Solomon Zynstein.

The event in the American capital attracted 20,000 survivors and their families, where for three days attendees commemorated the Holocaust, attended cultural events, met with politicians, including the president and vice president of the United States, attended seminars, listened to many speeches from survivors and their children, and lobbied for Israel. At the Capital Center, they were addressed by President Ronald Reagan and learned that an umbrella organization for American Jewish Holocaust survivors had been created in the name of the Gathering. The announcement was made by Benjamin Meed, a Warsaw Ghetto survivor, the driving force behind the gatherings, which started as a dream of Ernest Michel, a German survivor, when he was in Auschwitz. The mission of the organization is remembrance, education, and commemoration.

Indeed further gatherings were held in Philadelphia, New York, and Miami and together with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington to mark the tenth anniversary of the museum's opening.

The New York City-based American Gathering has a number of ongoing projects tied to its mission statement.

The Benjamin and Vladka Meed Registry of Jewish Holocaust Survivors

The Registry was established by the American Gathering in 1981 to document the lives of survivors who came to the United States after World War II. It was originally created to help survivors search for relatives and friends, and now contains the names of survivors and their families from all over the world. In 1993, the Registry was moved to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where user-friendly computers allow visitors to access the database. There is also a page for the Registry on the Museum's website (www.ushmm.org) and the Gathering continues to seek new registrants via its quarterly newspaper, Together (circ. 180,000), and its website, www.americangathering.org.

The Registry now includes over 185,000 records related to survivors and their families and seeks to include the names of all Holocaust survivors, facilitate contacts, collect and display basic information about them, and assist survivors seeking lost relatives (registry@ushmm.org or max@americangathering.org or amgathtogether@aol.com).

Summer Seminar Program

Another important program administered jointly by the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, the Jewish Labor Committee, and the U.S. Holocaust Museum is the Summer Seminar Program on Holocaust and Jewish Resistance, initiated in 1984 by Vladka Meed, who purchased arms for the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising while posing as a Christian Pole during the Holocaust. The program brings teachers to Poland, the Czech Republic, and Washington, DC. Participating scholars come from Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the Study Center at Kibbutz Loḥamei ha-Getta'ot, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.

The Teachers Program goals are to advance education in U.S. secondary schools about the Holocaust and Jewish resistance; to deepen knowledge and ability to implement Holocaust studies in the classroom; to teach each new generation about the Holocaust and Jewish resistance, so that they will know, understand, and never forget; to further educational activities which use the lessons of the past as warnings for the present and the future.

The Holocaust & Jewish Resistance Teachers Program is sponsored by the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors; American Federation of Teachers; Educators Chapter, Jewish Labor Committee; the Atran Foundation, Inc.; Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany; Caroline and Joseph S. Gruss Funds, Inc.; and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

In 1988, the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors became one of only two Holocaust survivor organizations to join the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany. The organization is also a member of the World Jewish Congress, the World Jewish Restitution Organization, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. In that capacity, its mission is to lobby for survivors' rights and restitution.

The effect of the American Gathering on the survivors and on America has had a lasting impact. Survivors now contribute actively to educational programs around the country by speaking in classrooms and religious institutions, writing their memoirs, and pressing their case as eyewitnesses before the sands of time run out on them.

Holocaust education is now mandatory in many states of the union because of the need to teach tolerance. Hate Crimes laws have been enacted around the country because survivors pressed for legislation to outlaw racist acts. Holocaust commemoration and remembrance is carried on in almost every state house in the Union. And because of the survivors and the American Gathering, the Holocaust has even had an influence on American domestic policy and even on foreign policy, particularly in Europe and the Middle East.

The American Gathering held its inaugural "organization" meeting in Philadelphia, Penn., in 1985, where its theme was to speak truth to power and to request that the president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, not place a wreath at the *Bitburg Cemetery in Germany, where the Waffen SS were buried.

In February 2005 the officers of the organization were Benjamin Meed, Roman Kent, Sam Bloch, and Max Liebmann.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

From Holocaust to New Life: A Documentary Volume Depicting the Proceedings and Events of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, Washington DC, April 1983–Nissan 5743 (1985).

[Jeanette Friedman (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.