Keeping the Memory of Lodz Alive


By Masha Leon

Published October 03, 2003, issue of October 03, 2003.
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At a small, impromptu gathering held September 18 at the Polish Consulate in New York, Lodz’s mayor, Jerzy Kropiwnicki, told those gathered about plans for the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the August 29, 1944, liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto. Among those gathered were Rabbi Michael Shudrich, the de facto chief rabbi of Poland, and Michael Berkowicz, vice president of the Friends of the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow.

(In “Lodz Ghetto,” a Viking compilation of Lodz memoirs, Alan Adelson and Robert Lapides note: “In 1940, the Nazis forced the 200,000 Jews of Lodz… the second-largest Jewish population in Europe, into a sealed ghetto…. Sixty thousand died in the ghetto… 130,000 were deported to die either in the exhaust vans at Chelmno or the gas chambers of Auschwitz.”)

When Kropiwnicki became mayor in 2002, his friend Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, a founding member of Zegota, a Polish underground organization that helped rescue 4,000 Jews from Polish ghettos, urged him to address the forgotten memory of the Jews of Lodz. Commemoration plans now include plaques, maps and tours since Lodz’s ghetto, unlike that of Warsaw, was not destroyed. He did not ask for money, just for support and the involvement of American Jews, particularly those from Lodz.

Stephen Solender, who met with the mayor after the presentation, later told me he felt it was “clearly part of an effort of the new Poland to address Jewish issues and re-establish a new relationship.” Solender, chairman of the North American Council of the Warsaw-based Museum of the History of Polish Jews and president emeritus of the United Jewish Communities, stressed that “the Jewish community needs to respond by supporting this gesture… and [by its] presence at the commemoration.”

* * *

Memory and history were the subtext at the September 14 bat mitzvah celebration of Shana Jessica Megilah, daughter of Ziona and Semone Grossman, a Holocaust survivor and the owner of the GGMC garage chain.

“In lieu of gifts,” the invitation stated, “to remember those children… murdered during the Holocaust… who did not live to see their Bat Mitzvah day… [we request] donations be sent to the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust.”

Ruth Gruber lit the first of 13 candles. “This bat mitzvah is a miracle,” she said. It “reminds us of 1 million songs that were never finished.” In 1944, Gruber, a journalist, safely shepherded 1,000 refugees from war-torn Europe to Oswego, N.Y., detailed in her book “Haven.”

Still feisty at 92, Gruber later joined guests on the Copacabana floor in a lively “walking” hora. At evening’s end, a group that included Patti Kenner left for the museum’s Board of Trustees dinner heralding the opening of its Robert M. Morgenthau Wing, named for Manhattan District Attorney Morgenthau, the museum’s chairman who helped make the museum a reality.

* * *

Stewart Lane, producer of current hits “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Gypsy,” with his wife Bonnie Comley, showcased their personal September 13 “hit”: Harlyn Helena Lane’s joyful bat mitzvah. In her d’var Torah reading at Temple Shaaray Tefila, the young Lane spoke of “family relationships” as “the sweetest ties in life — the sweetest honey.”

At that evening’s black-tie theater-theme celebration at the Harmonie Club, Lane and Comley — who were honored last year by the Jewish National Fund with the Tree of Life Award — joined guests in high-decibel simcha-ing. I shared a table with Argentinean-born Gato Barbieri (Grammy Award-winning jazz legend famed for his Oscar-winning score for “The Last Tango in Paris”) and with 1010 WINS announcer Lee Harris (who designed the WEVD Web page on which the weekly “Forward Hour” can now be accessed). Harris told me he attended Hebrew school and had his bar mitzvah in a “breakaway synagogue above a noisy autoparts store and raucous judo studio in Oceanside, Long Island,” which, he posited, may explain his unique sonorous voice.

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