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Westchester Is Awash In Holocaust Stories, On Remembrance Day, We Remember

Bettina Graf of New Rochelle.
Bettina Graf of New Rochelle. Photo Credit: Submitted
Moshe Avital of New Rochelle with one of his Holocaust books.
Moshe Avital of New Rochelle with one of his Holocaust books. Photo Credit: Jeanne Muchnick
Holocaust Survivor Susan Lowenberg lives in Somers.
Holocaust Survivor Susan Lowenberg lives in Somers. Photo Credit: Submitted
Hastings resident Ed Lessing, who survived the Holocaust by posing as a Christian stable boy.
Hastings resident Ed Lessing, who survived the Holocaust by posing as a Christian stable boy. Photo Credit: Submitted
Sheri Gordon Handwerger with her mother, Marysia Wegier Gordon.
Sheri Gordon Handwerger with her mother, Marysia Wegier Gordon. Photo Credit: Submitted

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- They each have a story. And it's often too long and dramatic to read in one sitting or hear in one speech.

"They" are the New Rochelle, Somers and Hastings-On-Hudson Holocaust Survivors who are speaking at various venues throughout the county today and this weekend in tribute to Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is Thursday.

Bettina Graf of New Rochelle, for example, will be telling her story of growing up in Vienna, Austria, to Solomon Schechter School students in White Plains. "We are the last generation they will ever see," she said. "After that, it is strictly from the textbook."

Graf and her family survived the war first living under Nazi occupation, and then living in London where she remembers "smelly gas masks" and lots of bombings. Go here for her story.

Czechoslovakia-born Moshe Avital, also of New Rochelle, has written 15 books, many dealing with the Holocaust, and, at age 86, is still speaking to various groups both in the U.S. and Israel. Go here for his story.

For Susan Lowenberg, who was born in Bavaria, Germany in 1933, the year Hitler came to power, talking about what happened during the war is still difficult. "The memories are very painful," she said. "I've been spending all my life trying to forget it."

She will be speaking as part of a special Yom Ha'Shoah program at Temple Beth Shalom in Mahopac on April 19 starting at 4 p.m. Go here for her story and more details.

Hastings resident Ed Lessing, who survived the Holocaust by posing as a Christian stable boy, first on isolated Dutch farms and later, in the woods as part of an armed resistance group, will also be speaking for Holocaust Remembrance Day telling his story to an audience at Temple Beth Am in Yorktown Heights.

At 88-years-young, Lessing is still very active and said, when he speaks to school children, he often makes comparisons to Nazism and the beheadings and abuctions taking place in  Africa and the Middle East.  "Every morning when I get up and look at the New York Times and see these headlines, I feel like I'm right back in the time of Hitler," he said. Go here for his story.

Yorktown is also where Sheri Gordon Handwerger lives, a "third-generation survivor" as both her mother and maternal grandmother survived the war. She said she grew up feeling "robbed" of the uncles and cousins she never knew. "I could have had a much larger family," she said. Her 92-year-old mother still lives in the Riverdale house she grew up, just one street over from the Yonkers border. Click here for her story.

Other Holocaust-related stories, of a French-born Mount Vernon woman who wrote poems in tribute to her missing Jewish friend and a Yonkers television producer and author who worked tirelessly for years to get recognition for a small Greek island that helped save a Jewish family during the war, can be found here and here .

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