New CT Hate Crimes Bill Passed

My Real Birthright by Carly Shapiro

May 8, 2017


As I spent the weekend trying to gather and process all my feelings and thoughts, I figured a blog post would be the best way to publicize my impactful weekend traveling throughout the country of Poland. I didn’t know what to expect. I have been learning about the Holocaust and World War II since I was 13 years old. I had never envisioned myself, at 20 years old, flying from the amazing city of Tel Aviv, Israel to Warsaw, Poland. I knew that to some extent I had Polish roots. But, due to many factors, I was unable to trace these roots directly. So I accepted in my mind that I would be an impartial viewer of each camp, ghetto, memorial, and grave site. I am going to do my best to summarize and dissect the most impactful moments of the weekend.

I understand that my opinions and views may not agree with yours, so please be kind in reading.


After a tiring flight from Tel Aviv at 6:00 AM, we started our touring immediately. Just an hour after landing, I found myself standing in the Warsaw Ghetto, with my hand on the partial ghetto wall that remains. My first thought was, “who’s window is that…?”

The Warsaw ghetto wall remains sandwiched between two large apartment complexes. The windows look out onto the courtyard where Jews once sat starving and dying of disease. And the complex entrance walls are scattered with hundreds of bullets from the war. It baffled me that people could possibly live on the same grounds, let alone in the same buildings as the Warsaw Jewish ghetto. These apartments were refurbished, beautiful, and modern. What type of person could bare to live within these still standing ghetto walls? If these walls could talk…



Later that day, we boarded our bus to head to our first concentration camp… My first concentration camp: Treblinka. I pictured everything I had seen in photos and movies: the wooden barracks, barbed wire fences, dirt paths. I was so shocked as I walked into this lush green forrest, watching the tall trees dance, and smelling a familiar woodsy scent that was hauntingly similar to my old Jewish summer camp.

What I didn’t know was how much deception went on from the German Nazis. Everything they did was to deceive Jews. There was a ‘building’ in Treblinka with a Red Cross sign, where they took the injured, disabled, elder, and children. They would enter the doorway and wait their turn for help. When they entered the building doorway, there was a mass grave and they would receive a bullet in the head. Sickening.

The entire camp ground, which I had learned, was completely destroyed. Everything that stands there is made of stone and is there to be of tribute to all the Jews that had perished in that wooded area.

There was a feeling at that camp that I cannot put into words, but it fills your spine with chill and puts a knot in your stomach.

Each stone standing is meant to represent an entire community that died at Treblinka. It must have been two football fields of statues. One small stone statue to represent an entire community. It’s sickening.

The idea of stones in Judaism is a very powerful meaning that I thought was so touching. It is customary to leave stones at a gravesite because stones do not perish. They stand with time, as opposed to flowers, which die within a matter of days. Stones withstand time and weather and are so powerful in representing those who perished. In a way, it’s beautiful what they have done with the space where Treblinka once stood. It’s poetic in withstanding time for those innocent Jews who barely had any time on this Earth.

We all walked off the camp feeling distraught from our first exposure to the painful truth of what happened to our ancestors.

The brutality and the dehumanization was so off-putting that it was hard to eat after leaving the camp. But while our bus pulled away from Treblinka, our trip rabbi explained something that I think says a lot about the Jewish people and Judaism itself. He explained how after visualizing all this death and feeling so stunted by it, we were able to physically walk off this camp, unlike our distant relatives who previously entered the camp. For that reason, we celebrate and we drink a l’chaim. He poured shots of whisky for whoever wanted.


“There are no birds here, only crows. Birds don’t sing in Majdanek.”

As we drove through a residential town in Poland and passed a McDonalds, I was hit by a brick wall. The forced labor camp we had just driven to came out of nowhere, and we were now in a place that felt like hell on Earth. The bus went silent.

The first thing I noticed were the houses directly outside of the camp. This is a child’s view outside their window… sickening. I saw a man exit his house and hop on his bike to go down the path directly next to the gas chamber and crematorium.

One of the first things we did upon entering the camp, was walk through the gas chamber. As I stood there, I felt numbed by the pain that was once experienced in that relatively small building. Our tour guide read a story about a young girl named Helena Birnbaum who survived Majdanek and the Holocaust. But she was separated from her mother immediately after being shaved and showered prior to the gas chamber. As Helena stepped out to be put into the labor camp, she noticed her mother no longer behind her. My heart strings tore at the thought of being ripped from my mother knowing my last hug with her had already passed.

As I walked out of the gas chamber and onto the bright green grass, I had this overwhelming thought that was so emotional and beyond words at that point. We, a group of 20-21 year old Jewish adults who came here from Israel, are walking out of this camp. With our lives, our dignities, our ambition, and most importantly, our sense of Judaism. As so many of our ancestors weren’t able to, we have the privilege to leave this place and pass on the story and our Jewish tradition.

We also were able to walk through the crematorium, which is in its original form. I have chills up and down my spine thinking about that room. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen. I was so horrified and disgusted, I was beyond the point of sadness. My stomach hurt in the worst way to think about everything that took place where I was standing. As I left that horrible space as fast as I could, I could only pray that the twisted, barbaric, messed up people who operated that system were rotting in hell.

Auschwitz – Birkenau I and II

This place I was dreading. I knew it to be the mother of all labor and extermination camps, but I didn’t know how I would react. So far, I had seen a lot of the same terrible things that went on under Adolf Hitler’s power, but I didn’t know what made these two camps so monumental and – dare I say – famous.

Auschwitz I is an absolute tragedy. It was a twisted and manipulative fate for Jews that had been deported there. The grounds are massive, we weren’t able to do all of it in a whole day. The large brick buildings all housed different purposes: a brothel of Jewish prisoners, a Nazi doctor who experimented on women and children, a canteen for German’s to relax and look out and admire their prisoners, the list goes on.

The most sickening part about Auschwitz I was that it almost felt like a college campus. There was structure to it: big buildings, stone paths, gates. I almost felt like there should be a map on the corner showing which building was which. But instead of a place filled with opportunity and learning, it was a twisted living community for Jewish prisoners awaiting their fate and living miserably in the mean time. But compared to Auschwitz-Birkenau II, Auschwitz I looked like a fantasy land…

Auschwitz-Birkenau II was horrific. The living conditions alone showed how worthless the Germans saw Jews to be. They treated them worse than animals and it’s something that I never want to envision anyone

having to go through the unimaginable torture they endured. People risked their lives by hiding in the toilets, covered in feces, with the hope of escaping the forced labor camp. And when they didn’t die of disease or starvation, they were sent to the gas chambers.


Auschwitz-Birkenau II went on forever. The rubble of barracks (prisoners living quarters) went on for what seemed like miles. Each barrack was filled with 100+ prisoners and was around the same size of a typical bunk at my summer camp – which typically fit 15. I didn’t understand how someone could possibly survive this place, let alone live to want to tell the story about it.


On Shabbat, our rabbi, Ezra, told us a story. Abridged: A man living in Krakow, Poland has a dream that there is a hidden treasure under the Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech. He has this dream many times and decides that it must be true, so he travels to Prague. Once he gets to the bridge, it’s blocked off and he cannot go under to see if there is treasure. He asks a policeman what’s going on. He tells the policeman that he has to go down under the bridge because he had this dream. The policeman laughs and says if he listened to his dreams then he would meet a man from Krakow who had treasure under his stove in Poland. So the Jewish man goes home to Poland and looks under his stove and finds the treasure.

Sometimes you have to go a long way to find what you’re looking for very close to you. And here I am living in the most amazing city and country in the world for five months, but I had to travel all the way to Poland to find what was in my heart all along. After this amazing trip, I’ve finally realized my purpose as a young Jewish woman: to live my life as a proud Jew for those 6 million who unfortunately could not. I never thought that it was important to raise my children Jewish, or to marry a Jewish man. But now I can’t picture myself doing anything else. I lost 6 million of my own kind due to ignorance, selfishness, and pure hatred. It would be purely selfish if I did not do everything in my power to grow the Jewish race. I not only feel rare and special, but I feel like I have a purpose.

The trip was something I never envisioned myself doing, but I am so incredibly proud that I was able to and that I have taken away so many important realizations from it.

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”        -George Santayana

We Rise: Yom Hashoah

Holocaust Remembrance Day Commemorated in Communities Across Connecticut

Hartford Courant April 25, 2017

Eric Zachs, of West Hartford, board chair of the Greater Hartford Jewish Federation, and other volunteers read the names of Holocaust victims in the Chase Family Gallery at the Mandell Jewish Community Center in West Hartford on Monday morning. Zachs is just one of dozens of people who read the names of Jewish children who perished during the Holocaust. Standing at a lectern in a low-lit gallery at the Mandell Jewish Community Center Monday morning, Meredith Smith and her twin daughters, Emelia and Samantha, read aloud names of those who died in the Holocaust as part of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“It worries me that it’s going to be lost at some point and not remembered the way it should be,” Smith said. “How do they know that there was such a tragedy? If we don’t know about it, it’ll happen again. It is happening, it does happen all over the world.”

Smith was one of nearly 100 people who, throughout the day, read some of the Holocaust victims’ names and ages at a remembrance with local nonprofit Voices of Hope. Similar events were scheduled around the state.

On the steps of Simsbury’s Eno Memorial Hall Monday morning, speakers read the names and ages of Holocaust victims over the sounds of bustling traffic on Hopmeadow Street. Volunteers started reading names aloud on Sunday evening in the 24 hour around-the-clock event.

Rabbi Bekah Goldman, of Farmington Valley Jewish Congregation, said the event holds extra weight in light of a string of recent religious hate crimes, including anti-Semitic threats to Jewish organizations 
“When it becomes OK to shoot up a mosque, or set a church on fire, or to graffiti a synagogue in broad daylight … when there are no repercussions, when our government doesn’t … say, ‘We condemn this behavior,’ that’s when hatred starts to take hold,” Goldman said. “That’s when … we all sort of stand by and allow this to happen.”

“I think today, more than any year in the past, it’s important for us to remember and to pass these lessons onto our children,” she said.
Caren Pauling of Avon volunteered for the first time this year after learning of the event via social media.

A member of Valley Community Baptist Church and mother of two, Pauling said it is important for people of all faiths, not just Jews, to take pause and remember those who perished, many of whom were children.

“We take so much for granted and it’s important to know and realize what these people sacrificed and went through, what they experienced because of their faith,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes.

“I could read all day, knowing what they went through,” Pauling said. “It’s an honor.”

In the Chase Family Gallery at the Mandell JCC Monday, lights were dimmed, posters displayed art projects by second- and third-generation Holocaust survivors, and as each person completed their 10-minute speaking slot, they lit a candle in front of the podium. The poster art is based on a poem written by a man killed at Auschwitz.

The list of names was provided by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and is part of the Yom Hashoah Holocaust Remembrance Day Honoring the Martyred Six Million, according to Voices of Hope Director Anna Huttner.
Voices of Hope organizers hope the nearly 100 speakers Monday will read 100,000 names total before the end of the remembrance ceremony at 8 p.m. Teachers, police officers, students, business leaders and town officials are some of the volunteers scheduled to read names during the day. Others include two visiting priests from Tanzania. Organizers expect students from Watkinson School, Hebrew High School and the BBYO teen leadership youth group to attend Monday’s ceremony.

This is the fourth remembrance ceremony the group has hosted at the Mandell JCC, Huttner said.

“It’s not a Jewish issue, it’s a human issue,” Huttner said.

On Friday, state leaders, Holocaust survivors and members of the community are asked to attend 39th annual Holocaust remembrance ceremony. The ceremony begins at 11:30 a.m. on the third floor of the Capitol in Hartford. The theme of this year’s event is: “Early Warning Signs: Lessons from Vienna 1938.”

Keynote speaker Leah Linton, born in Vienna, was 12 when Adolf Hitler came to power. Her father was killed in Auschwitz,and her brother spent six months in Dachau. Linton moved to the U.S. when she was 13 and lives in Southbury.

The event is sponsored by the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut, the Jewish Federation of Western Connecticut, Voices of Hope, the Anti-Defamation League and the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, among others.

A kosher lunch will follow for Holocaust survivors, program participants and elected officials. Those interested in attending the lunch are asked to RSVP to Ayelet Weber at the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut, 860-727-5771 or email

Tutti Fishman, Holocaust survivor, keynote speaker at University of New Haven annual Holocaust Remembrance Event

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Never forget. Never again.

Wednesday is Holocaust Remembrance Day. At the University of New Haven, Holocaust survivor Ruth Fishman of West Hartford provided the audience some powerful perspective.

“Six million Jews is twice the population of Connecticut. That gives you an image. I am one of the lucky ones. I survived,” Fishman said.

From the New Haven Register 3/28/2017
Ruth Fishman

WEST HAVEN >> Holocaust survivor Ruth Fishman of West Hartford will be the keynote speaker at the University of New Haven’s 14th annual Holocaust Remembrance Event at 3 p.m. April 19 in the Bucknall Theater in Dodd’s Hall on the UNH campus.

The ceremony, free and open to the public, will feature the reading of names of persons who perished in the Holocaust and who have a relationship to a member of the university.

The ceremony will include a rendition of the poem, “The Butterfly,” by Pavel Friedman, delivered by students in the theater department. Friedman was a prisoner at Theresienstadt, a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia near Prague, where Fishman also was held.

“The event has found resonance because it affords a unique opportunity for our students to get clear lessons on the roots of genocide and the importance of tolerance and understanding as bedrocks for a peaceful society,” said Ira Kleinfeld, professor emeritus of engineering and retired associate provost.

“Its primary purpose is to honor and memorialize the millions of Jews and others who were targeted and murdered during the Holocaust,” Kleinfeld said. “In today’s climate, such lessons are increasingly important.”

Ruth Lichtenstern Fishman was born in Cologne, Germany, on July 17, 1936, but moved with her family to Amsterdam. She was with her family at Theresienstadt when it was liberated by Soviet troops on May 9, 1945. She moved to the United States when she was 18.

West Hartford News March 30, 2017

WEST HAVEN >> Holocaust survivor Ruth Fishman of West Hartford will be the keynote speaker at the University of New Haven’s 14th annual Holocaust Remembrance Event at 3 p.m. April 19 in the Bucknall Theater in Dodd’s Hall on the UNH campus.

The ceremony, free and open to the public, will feature the reading of names of persons who perished in the Holocaust and who have a relationship to a member of the university.

The ceremony will include a rendition of the poem, “The Butterfly,” by Pavel Friedman, delivered by students in the theater department. Friedman was a prisoner at Theresienstadt, a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia near Prague, where Fishman also was held.

“The event has found resonance because it affords a unique opportunity for our students to get clear lessons on the roots of genocide and the importance of tolerance and understanding as bedrocks for a peaceful society,” said Ira Kleinfeld, professor emeritus of engineering and retired associate provost.

“Now it is Personal” by Howard Sovronsky, JFGH CEO

April 21, 2017

This winter, the Holocaust became personal. Not that I didn’t know what happened to millions of Jews and others considered undesirable by the Nazis – but my understanding came mostly from old newsreels and photos, stories in books, and the oral accounts of relative strangers. While powerful, my connection to the Holocaust lacked a certain intimacy until I visited a cousin in Israel this past January.

Madeline was my mother’s most favorite relative. She was hidden by a Polish physician for many years during the war and later discovered in a displaced persons camp. She arrived in Brooklyn at the age of 11. She grew to adulthood, married and had several children in the U.S., then followed them to Israel more than 40 years ago.

Our reunion was amazing. I had not seen Madeline in over 40 years, and during our time together I met cousins I never knew I had and learned secrets that had been hidden for over 70 years. I learned about Madeline’s father, my great Uncle Siegfried (shown above). He last resided in Krakow, Poland, and lost his life along with many other members of my family. To keep their memory alive, my cousins registered each family member at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial. The photo and the registration document above are the only mementos I have of Uncle Siegfried. 

Monday is Yom HaShoah, the internationally recognized Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a day of deep sadness and one that begs us to ask many questions. Could we have done more to save those who perished? Probably; but we cannot go back and change the outcome. We can, however, look forward.

 Last night I sat with members of our community to discuss how to distribute funds raised through Federation’s Annual Campaign to help those who are most vulnerable in Israel and throughout the world. There we sat, 75 years after the Holocaust – when so many people were helpless and so few Jewish and non-Jewish organizations stepped up to offer assistance. We gathered last night as free American Jews, doing the holy work of helping others. Through Federation’s work, we will bring life and hope to struggling elderly Holocaust survivors the Former Soviet Union, to Ethiopian Jewish families and their children who are still trying to integrate into Israeli society, and to hundreds of children with special needs who require more intensive care than the government can provide. In 75 years, we have come a long way – and I, for one, am eternally grateful to be a part of this incredible effort.

 Many of us light special candles in memory of those who perished in the Holocaust. Let us remember everyone who died at the hands of the Nazis, and all those who have been murdered by ruthless parties who labeled them as “other.” Unfortunately, genocide is not limited to WWII. 

This Shabbat, I ask that you take to heart the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks:

 We remember what happens when hate takes hold of the human heart and turns it to stone; what happens when victims cry for help and there is no one listening; what happens when humanity fails to recognize that those who are not in our image are nonetheless in G-d’s image. 

We remember and pay tribute to the survivors, who bore witness to what happened, and to the victims, so that, robbed of their lives, they would not be robbed also of their deaths. 

We remember and give thanks for the righteous of the nations who saved lives, often at risk of their own, teaching us how in the darkest night we can light a candle of hope.

Today, on Yom HaShoah, we call on You, Almighty G-d, to help us hear Your voice that says in every generation:

Do not murder.

Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.

Do not oppress the stranger.

 We know that whilst we do not have the ability to change the past, we can change the future.

We know that whilst we cannot bring the dead back to life, we can ensure their memories live on and that their deaths were not in vain.

 And so, on this Yom HaShoah, we commit ourselves to one simple act: Yizkor, Remember.

 May the souls of the victims be bound in the bond of everlasting life. Amen.

Shabbat Shalom.

Howard Sovronsky

President and CEO

Holocaust Escape Tunnel

For centuries, the Lithuanian city of Vilna was one of the most important Jewish centers in the world, earning the title “Jerusalem of the North” until World War II, when the Nazis murdered about 95% of its Jewish population and reduced its synagogues and cultural institutions to ruins. The Soviets finished the job, paving over the remnants of Vilna’s famous Great Synagogue so thoroughly that few today know it ever existed. Now, an international team of archaeologists is trying to rediscover this forgotten world, excavating the remains of its Great Synagogue and searching for proof of one of Vilna’s greatest secrets: a lost escape tunnel dug by Jewish prisoners inside a horrific Nazi execution site.


‘Evening of Hope’ in West Hartford will Feature Holocaust History Scholar

Our Partnership with University of Hartford Museum of Jewish Civilization’s Exhibit “Hartford Remembers the Holocaust”

Students from Southington High School listen to testimony from Tutti Fishman as part of their museum tour on the University of Hartford campus.

Avon, Connecticut’s Dana Bock-Decoteau Speaks Out About Being a Second-Generation Holocaust Survivor

AVON, Conn. (MARCH 2017) – With great enthusiasm, Voices of Hope partnered with Speak Up Connecticut which offers their unique brand of engaging storytelling to its members and guests. Hence, Voices of Hope, which encourages Holocaust survivors and descendants to tell their stories in classrooms and at community commemorations, was a natural fit for this workshop.

Held in February, this Speak Up Connecticut event, featured stories from 7 children of Holocaust survivors, known as second generation survivors. One of the speakers, a member of our Oldcastle Precast family, was Dana Bock-Decoteau, Plant Accountant at Oldcastle Precast Avon, Connecticut.

Considering being a second-generation Holocaust survivor, a summary of Dana Bock-Decoteau’s story:

My Dad, born in Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia) in 1934, is a Holocaust Survivor, who lost his father, aunts, uncles, and cousins in concentration camps. At the age of 8, he was sent to a labor camp and spent 2 years and 2 months there. He remembers during that time his tonsils became infected and consequently were removed without any anesthesia or medication by a Jewish doctor who was also an inmate.

However, in 1944, when he was 10, the camp was opened, but the war wasn’t over yet, so he went into underground hiding (literally) for 8 months. There were 10 people in a bunker, not enough room to stand, nowhere to bathe, and one loaf of bread, a week, to share.

He was then moved to Ireland to get Jewish children out of the country, and was part of a group of 120 children who no longer had adults in their lives. Later he went to Israel and then came to the U.S in 1959.

It’s hard for me to describe in a short paragraph how it affected me – but it has. In consideration, all the family I have left on my Dad’s side is him, his sister, and 3 cousins, and their immediate families.

Even though my Dad went through this awful experience, he nevertheless considers himself fortunate that while what he experienced was horrible, it could have been worse, as it was for other Holocaust victims.

Dana remarked, “Speaking at Speak Up CT, as a second-generation Holocaust survivor, was an amazing experience for me. I was surprised at how many people attended this event to hear our stories. Now that I’ve spoken at this one – I am trained to be a 2nd Generation Speaker at schools and other venues, which I plan on doing – I already got a request from a high school yesterday!”

Speak Up Connecticut commented, “Many, many thanks to all of the Speak Up fans who joined us for our Voices of Hope showcase. It was a spectacular show. Our storytellers all performed at an A+ level, and there was not a dry eye in the house. Congratulations to David Gerber, Dana Bock Decoteau, Barbara and Jerry Sperber, Adele Jacobs, Jane Coppa, and Allison Ghamo for your remarkable work. You were all shining stars.”

Voices of Hope are glad the Second Generation is talking and they are hoping that their audiences say, ‘I knew about the Holocaust but I didn’t really KNOW about it. That’s what Voices of Hope is fostering: we want people to understand because once all the survivors are gone, people are going to say, ‘It never happened.’

Voices of Hope is a non-profit organization created by descendants of Holocaust survivors from across Connecticut. Voices of Hope’s mission is to foster a culture of courage and social action against hate, bigotry, intolerance and indifference. We work closely with educators, students, community and civic groups to promote a greater understanding of genocide. Through the voices of survivors, students and others connect to individual experiences during the Holocaust and are inspired to stand against oppression and hatred today. Voices of Hope honors the legacy of the survivors and memory of the martyred and works to pass these lessons on to future generations. We cannot change the past; we can only hope these stories and life lessons will positively affect the future. Never Forget.

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