Survivors join Gov. Walz to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day
MINNEAPOLIS -- Manny Gabler was born in Milan in 1938 but neither he nor his family is Italian.
"I was made in Germany but born in Milan," Gabler, 84, quipped to WCCO. "My father had a friend in the Gestapo, which sounds like an oxymoron but it's true. He told my father the Nazis were coming for him so he should leave."
The Gablers were among a very select and fortunate group of European Jews to find refuge in Shanghai, China, while most other countries - including the United States - closed their doors to Jewish refugees.
"I don't have ugly memories of living in China," Gabler explained. "We were starving, I wore the same clothes every day, but that wasn't really important when you're just trying to survive. It was so symbolic that we survived the Holocaust, and the people of Shanghai saved our lives."
On Friday, Gabler was among those in attendance at Plymouth Congregational Church for a special program to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The event, co-hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, also welcomed Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan.
"You know in history you don't know where you're going until you know where you've been," Gabler said. "The young people of today are storytellers of the future, so when I speak at university or Rotary Club or whatever, these are people that will spread the story."
Rise in antisemitism, decline in Holocaust literacy
The story may be needed now more than ever, too, as the survivors who defeated Hitler cannot defeat time.
Recent surveys, moreover, show an increasing number of younger Americans who are either uninformed or indifferent to the facts of history. A 2020 poll of 11,000 U.S. Millennials and Generation Z'ers found 63% of respondents were unaware that six million Jews were killed by the Nazis and collaborators. The survey also showed 48% of national respondents couldn't name a single ghetto or concentration camp, including Warsaw or Auschwitz.
Another survey from the American Jewish Committee also signaled declining Holocaust literacy in adults.
"Lacking knowledge can open pathways to trivialization and denial of the Holocaust that also contribute to rising antisemitism," said AJC CEO Ted Deutch, whose father fought the Nazis at the Battle of the Bulge. "As we mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 78 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, it is imperative that Americans continue to learn about the most documented, planned genocide in modern history – the Nazi extermination of one-third of the Jewish people."
As Gabler continues to share his story in person, the University of Minnesota's Center of Holocaust and Genocide Studies has a collection of first-person accounts of survivors who lived in the Twin Cities, including Herbert Fantle, Victor Vital, and Dora Zaidenweber, among others. Fantle and Vital both died in recent years; Zaidenweber is 98.
Lucy Smith, another Minnesota survivor, died last summer and was memorialized by her son, Daniel, in a segment that aired on CBS News Minnesota.
Reported attacks against Jews in America have also reached record levels recent years, according to the Anti-Defamation League. In Minnesota, specifically, an ADL analysis counted 78 reports of antisemitic harassment, assault, and vandalism, including threats to synagogues and desecrating graves at a Jewish cemetery.
Gov. Tim Walz: "In the case of antisemitism, both sides do things."
Speaking at Friday's commemoration, Gov. Tim Walz signaled he wants the Legislature to get involved in the fight against antisemitism.
"This fight against antisemitism, this fight about protecting not just memories but the future, is going to have to be very aggressive," he said to applause. "I don't always buy into this both sides do things, but in the case of antisemitism, both sides do things, and you get it across the political spectrum in a way that we need to intersect education with where the laws are."
Across the United States, nearly two dozen states mandate Holocaust education, including Wisconsin but not Minnesota.
Manny Gabler added he's all in on the fight as well, and he's not about to let age slow him down.
"I'm going to live forever - and so far so good. I'll keep doing it as long as I can."
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