From an idyllic life in rural Seredne, Czechoslovakia with a close family including six girls and two boys, Rose Schwartz enjoyed an observant orthodox upbringing. Although her father was a tailor with a local business in town, they lived on a farm and everyone helped, perpetuating a happy yet simple life. Sleeping three to a bed actually offered them comfort.
Most Jewish men in their village owned businesses, politically and socially involved as they brought products to the town. Many non-Jews were farmers.
One day, Rose’s family and other Jews in the village were transported to a concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, unaware she was never to see her mother and several siblings again. Her father told her, “Whatever you do, stay alive so you can tell the world what they did to us.”
We met with Rose in her East County home one morning, inspired by her story of courage and a mantra to never give up hope.
Rose shared how the family hid their jewelry so they could retrieve it after the war. To this day, she wears the chain from her father’s pocket watch — it is all that remains of her father.
Through all the horrors at Auschwitz, Rose and her two older sisters, Judy and Helen survived. Rose’s husband, Max, also survived the war, and in 1950, following Liberation, the two married, moved to England, and later emigrated to the United States, where they raised four children.
Over the years, both Max and Rose have been interviewed extensively by the news media, earning many awards, speaking to over 200,000 students and members of various military branches, fraternal and religious organizations. Since 2006, they have been involved in the Butterfly Project, founded in San Diego in 2006. This program educates students regarding the Holocaust, honoring survivors, memorializing 1.5 million children murdered with one ceramic butterfly painted for each child.
Their book, Two Who Survived-Keeping Hope Alive While Surviving the Holocaust, was written by M. Lee Connolly and published in 2019.
On December 8, our local Anti Defamation League chapter, led by San Diego Regional Director Fabienne Perlov hosted a town hall on Antisemitism. The panel included Mayor Todd Gloria, Executive Director of Hillel San Diego Karen Perry, Jewish community leader and activist Sheri Sachs and San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan.
“We are all reeling from the recent uptick in antisemitism and bigotry of all kinds here and across the nation,” Perlov said after the program. “Events like these are incredibly important because they foster important discussions that affect the entire community,”
We left the Town Hall with a renewed optimism in our shared fight against hate. It is everyone’s responsibility to call out and push back against bigotry wherever it rears its ugly head. We gained new inspiration for ways to collaborate together as leaders of this community. Be they elected officials, interfaith leaders, community figures or law enforcement. We look forward to continuing to shape our collaboration and work together to make San Diego an even safer and more inclusive place.
“Fighting hate crimes is a priority for my office as hate crimes don’t just harm the direct victim but leave a ripple of fear in the community,” San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said. “Unfortunately, the highest category of hate crimes based in religious bias remains antisemitic hate crimes targeting our Jewish community. We will never forget the Poway synagogue shooting where a cowardly man murdered an innocent woman. We convicted the killer and obtained a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for this especially cruel and hateful murder. My office has nearly tripled our hate crimes prosecutions sending a clear and unwavering message that hate crimes will not be tolerated and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We are also invested in prevention by coming together to educate our community through effective forums like [this].
The D.A. encouraged the community to report hate incidents and hate crimes; to hold the perpetrators accountable and prevent violence. Reporting is easy, via the D.A.’s Office Hate Crimes Hotline at (619) 515-8805, or using the online form at www.sdcda.org/helping/hate-crimes.
In 2021 the ADL, (Anti-Defamation League) counted a total of 2,717 antisemitic incidents across the U.S., representing a 34 percent increase from the 2,026 incidents recorded in 2020, the highest number since ADL began tracking incidents in 1979. These audited incidents include three categories: assault, Harassment and Vandalism.
The highest number of incidents included New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, Michigan and Texas. Combined, these states accounted for 58 percent of total incidents.
Attacks against Jewish community centers, (JCCs) and synagogues were up 61 percent, incidents at K-12 schools increased 106 percent and incidents on college campuses rose 21 percent.
“I can talk about the incidents on campus; that a Hillel display was vandalized every day it was up, or that a piece of Jewish student art was defaced, or that a swastika was found in the library, or all the vitriol that our young people experience online — but I also want to say that we’ve seen a renaissance of Jewish life on campus,” Executive Director of Hillel of San Diego Karen Parry said. “Hillel has seen growth in engagement like we’ve never seen before. One of the best ways to fight antisemitism is through Jewish joy and at Hillel we empower the next generation to (as Hen Mazzig says) love being Jewish ten times more than anyone could hate them for it.”
International Holocaust Remembrance Day is January 27, 2023. Designated by the United Nations General Assembly on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, this solemn ceremony hosts Holocaust survivors reflecting on and honoring the lives of Europe’s Jews, targeted for annihilation, other victims of Nazi persecution, and individuals who choose to help.
May we never forget sharing the story of the Holocaust for generations to come. As Jews it is our responsibility to fight antisemitism through education, unity, community and standing together for our beliefs.