Saying prayers for ‘forgotten’ Jewish heroes

The recent Kever Avot — the visiting of our loved ones’ graves before Yom Kippur, made me think of so many we have lost who are not our nearest-and-dearest themselves, but should be recognized by us for who they were and what they did, even though we were not privileged to know them personally.
When Shimon Peres passed away, we all mourned publicly.  But how many of us mourned at all for Max Mannheimer, who survived Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and Dachau, then chose to spend the rest of his life — which ended in September — in Munich? His work: telling young Germans that although they had no personal responsibility for the Holocaust, they would indeed be responsible for making sure that nothing like it would ever happen again …
Among many others, we should have marked the recent death of Greta Friedman, known to the world not by her name, but by her picture: She was the girl kissing the sailor in Times Square as the end of World War II was proclaimed — the joyous iconic image photographed by the great Alfred Eisenstaedt.
How about Shirley Bleiberg, who also died last month? She and husband Melvin moved, post-retirement, to Sanibel Island, Florida.  But there was no synagogue there, so Shirley arranged with a local church to host a Shabbat dinner and service, and put an ad in the local paper: “Maybe we can find a few other Jews,” she thought.  More than 150 showed up, almost all thinking they were the only ones in the area! Congregation Bat Yam celebrated its 25th anniversary earlier this year; it is fondly known as “Shirley’s Temple.”
Let’s look back to December of last year, when Tibor Rubin died — but, thankfully, not before he received something too long overdue, when President George W. Bush presented him with our nation’s highest military tribute, the Medal of Honor. Rubin was a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor who, on coming to America, joined the U.S. Army in thanks to the country he could now call home.  His battlefield heroism as an infantryman in Korea was recognized by both his fellow soldiers and commanding officers, but the paperwork for the honor, submitted three times, was “lost” — apparently by someone in the chain of command who didn’t want that medal to go to a Jew. It was 55 years delayed, but Rubin lived on for 10 years after attending his White House ceremony.
And then there was Martin Dannenberg of Baltimore, who died in 2010 at age 94. Another Jew who joined the U.S. Army after surviving a Nazi concentration camp, he was a sergeant serving in counterintelligence when he found a brown envelope, sealed with red wax, in a small bank in Eichstatt, Germany.  Inside: a copy of the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws, written and signed by Adolf Hitler!  Dannenberg’s first thought was what a great souvenir that would make to take back home, but instead he gave it to 3rd Army headquarters; there it ended up in the possession of General George Patton, who gave it to a library. It was 54 years before the document was loaned to the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles for its dedication, with Dannenberg as guest speaker, and was then moved permanently to the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Before Yom Kippur next year, I’ll honor these “forgotten” Jews — and any others I come upon in the interim — with my own prayers at Kever Avot.  But for now, I’m offering the closing lines of a simple, four-stanza hymn, written by an avowed atheist, Jan Strother, first published in 1931, and since then often sung at the beginning of Christian funerals. Today, it seems a good goodbye wish for all of them:
Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm,
Whose voice is contentment, whose presence is balm,
Be there at our sleeping, and give us, we pray,
Your peace in our hearts, at the end of our day.  Amen.

Leave a Reply