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On Holocaust Remembrance Day, South Florida Volunteers Help U.S. Museum Make Sure People Don't Forget

Aimee Rubensteen
Holocaust Survivor Peter Tarjan donated about 45 letters and postcards to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. They are his family's last correspondences to each other, before many of them were killed. Tarjan was eight years old when the war came to Budapest, Hungary. He lost both of his parents to death marches to concentration camps. The letters are the only connection he has left to his family.

Jan. 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Volunteers are helping the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum host a February 'What You Do Matters' event to connect survivors to people in a virtual way during the pandemic.

Wednesday marks the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau: now recognized as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Boca Raton attorney Robert Slatoff has worked with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. for years. His current project is, "to rescue the remaining evidence of the Holocaust."

"There's so much evidence of the Holocaust that still exists in people's attics and people's basements, in people's living rooms," Slatoff said.

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His passion for Holocaust education is personal: he donated artifacts from his grandmother's first cousin to the museum. Her name was Ruth Mueller.

(You can read the Ruth Mueller Papers in the museum's archive, here.)

"She kept a journal of what happened in Germany through Kristallnacht. And and she had original photographs ... she even had tickets going to the 1936 Olympics," Slatoff said.

Many Holocaust survivors have died from COVID-19 — as many as 900 have died because of the virus in Israel alone. And groups like the Anti Defamation League are tracking a rise in Anti-Semitic incidents.

The museum has a Survivor Affairs Department that regularly checks on Holocaust survivors, and helps them connect to speak with people during the pandemic online, according to Robert Tanen, the museum’s southeast regional director

Volunteers in South Florida, including Slatoff and his wife Tracy, are also helping co-chair the museum's event in February, What You Do Matters.

"Community members to get together with survivors and really pledge to never forget," Tanen said, describing the event. "Obviously, the pandemic, did not allow us to meet in person. So we actually expanded this year's event to include not only South Florida, but other communities all around the Deep South: New Orleans, Atlanta, Birmingham. We want to include as many people as possible in this annual event."

"The Nazis needed regular citizens to stand by and do nothing. And the power of the museum's mantra, 'what you do matters,' speaks to that truth," Tanen said. "We have to remember that the Holocaust did not start with killing. It didn't start with camp gas chambers. It started with words; it started with ostracization of individuals based on who they are and then that slope started going up slowly but surely to bigotry, to hatred, to a feeling of we can demonize the other and feel OK about it."

Slatoff said preserving the memory of the Holocaust is hard work. But it's important.

"When we stop talking about the story of what took place in the Holocaust, we're giving haters the opportunity to move forward and to and to have an opportunity to repeat the evils of hate," Slatoff said. "There's just no place in society to allow this type of behavior."

Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, leads the WLRN Newsroom as Director of Daily News & Original Live Programming. Previously she reported on news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News.
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