Thursday, May 2 marked this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, and as part of SUNY New Paltz’s Resnick Institute 30th Annual Holocaust Remembrance Program, they brought in guest presenter Alan Weinschel to discuss his work “Jewish Heroes of Normandy: Remembering the Fallen.” “Remembering the Fallen” is a photographic essay detailing the 149 Jewish servicemen who died during World War II and were buried at the Normandy American Omaha Beach Cemetery and Memorial at Colleville-sur-Mer, France. The presentation was held in Lecture Center 104.
The Resnick Institute has been at New Paltz for the past 30 years. It is named after Louis and Mildred Resnick, philanthropists who sponsored scholarships at SUNY New Paltz, SUNY Ulster and SUNY Delhi. The aim of the Institute is to educate the students, faculty and community members of New Paltz on Jewish history, culture and tradition. The current director of the program is Emeritus Professor Gerald Sorin, who had taught American and Jewish history at New Paltz and introduced Weinschel to the audience at the Lecture Center.
Weinschel, a former attorney, doesn’t have a background in history, but he wanted to undertake this project after visiting the Normandy Cemetery a second time. He found that many of the Jewish stars these men were buried under had no stones or coins placed upon them. This indicated that not only had no one come to visit them, but no one had come to say Kaddish, the Jewish prayer recited in memory of the dead, either.
“When we got home, I met with my rabbi, and I met with the president of our temple. I wanted to find a way to make sure that Kaddish was said to these soldiers,” Weinschel said during the presentation.
At the time, he wasn’t even sure of how many Jewish soldiers died during World War II, and was worried that their sacrifices could be lost to history.
For the presentation, Weinschel went through “Remembering the Fallen,” first detailing how the project was created. He found out about these Jewish servicemen during the organization of this Kaddish. He got into contact with numerous Jewish groups for more information regarding those buried, and Weinschel eventually obtained a comprehensive list of those buried at the cemetery from the American Battlefield Monuments Commission. From there, Weinschel attempted to contact the descend
For the next part of his presentation, he detailed the lives of these men before the war. His project paints a picture of Jewish men from all kinds of backgrounds enlisting to defeat the Nazi menace that was ravaging Europe and targeting the Jewish people. Whether they were rich or poor, college-educated or not, American citizens or immigrants, these men made the ultimate sacrifice to end the Nazis and the Holocaust.
Weinschel urges people to “remember the sacrifices that were made, and properly commemorate them under Jewish traditions.” He also mentions that his work “is a community effort to remember, similar to remembering the Holocaust — but here remembering those who died, so the Nazi era could be ended.”
The Resnick Institute will be featuring the Louis and Mildred Resnick Distinguished Lectureship Series in the fall semester. More information about these lectures can be found at www.newpaltz.edu/resnickinstitute/events.html.