DISPATCHES: Saying goodbye to a witness to history

DISPATCHES by Hank Kalet: With the death of Suse Rosenstock, there are fewer eyewitnesses to the Holocaust to tell the story.

Soil of annihilation, soil of hate,

No word will purify it ever.

No such poet will be born.

For even if one had been called, he

   walked

Beside us to the last gate, for only

A child of the ghetto could utter the

   words.

— Czeslaw Milosz

"Treatise on Poetry"
   Suse Rosenstock saw it as her duty to be a voice of history.
   The Monmouth Junction resident, who died last week at the age of 70, was tireless in her efforts to keep the memory of the Holocaust before the public, a story she knew firsthand. She grew up in Germany in the 1930s, but was forced to flee to England in 1939, the only member of her family to escape the Nazi death camps. Her father was killed. Her sister and mother spent six years in the camps; they reunited in 1947 in New York.
   I met Ms. Rosenstock in 1991 when I was a reporter. I was told by someone in town that there was a local Holocaust survivor, someone who managed to escape Germany just before the official outbreak of World War II on something called the Kindertransport, which provided transportation and found homes in Great Britain for unaccompanied Jewish children. The program began in 1938 and lasted until Sept. 3, 1939,when war officially broke out between Germany and Great Britain. I decided it would make a great story.
   She invited me to her house where we talked over coffee. She told her story in measured tones, simply and directly. She didn’t attempt to embellish it. She let the events stand for themselves, the horror that she lived through, that Jews and others in Europe were forced to live through, that far too many did not live through, to stand on its own, its power naked and unadorned.
   I spent the better part of the afternoon talking with her, looking at some old photos, remnants of camp life — a shirt, a comb, some other items — that she had saved. I taped our conversation, something I rarely do, and planned to save the tape. Unfortunately, however, I have no idea where it is or if it still exists.
   Over the last decade, I talked with Ms. Rosenstock dozens of times, for stories on Jewish farmers, for the Anne Frank In the World Exhibit, for a column on some anti-Semitic graffiti found at the Kendall Park Cinemas. She was always very helpful and very gracious.
   One of the things that struck me about her — aside from the obvious power of her personal narrative — was her determination to keep her history, the history of the Holocaust alive. She regularly visited schools, church, synagogue and other community groups around the state and region, telling her story, making it real for her audiences.
   "A lot of people can’t talk about it, but I think it needs to be talked about," she told me. "I think I must be the last generation of those who were eyewitnesses."
   It is a generation that is aging and, unfortunately, passing on.
   It is 57 years since World War II ended, since Adolph Hitler took his life, since Nazi Germany was vanquished by Allied troops. As time moves on, there will be fewer people who lived through the Holocaust, through the war, few who can speak from personal experience about its horrors.
   And when this occurs, I fear, our connection with these horrid events may pass, as well, allowing them to become just another story in a history book.
   That’s what makes events like Sunday’s Yom Hashoah commemoration program in Monroe, sponsored by the Henry Ricklis Holocaust Memorial Committee, so important. The event is designed to keep the memory of the Holocaust fresh in the hope that it will prevent future genocides.
   And there is the play, "And Then They Came For Me," created and produced by The George Street Playhouse and Young Audiences of New Jersey. The production, which premiered in South Brunswick during the "Anne Frank In The World" exhibit in 1996, is a multimedia exploration of how the Holocaust affected Jewish teens. It tells the story of two friends of Anne Frank — both of whom are mentioned in her diary — who survived the war. The play, which tours schools and recently was presented in Cranbury, is designed to present the Holocaust in a way to which teens can relate.
   Anything that can be done to allow these stories a life beyond our history books should be encouraged.
   That was the mission Ms. Rosenstock set out for herself. I feel privileged to have been able to help Ms. Rosenstock tell her story.
   I, like all who knew her, will miss her.
Hank Kalet is managing editor of The South Brunswick Post. He can be reached via e-mail at hkalet@pacpub.com