Shining Light on Dark Places
Copyright 2005 By Linda Brodlieb
Once the children were in school a full day, I suddenly found myself with more free time on my hands than I knew what to do with. So I started looking into areas in which I could volunteer my services, figuring it was about time I gave something back to the community. One evening, my husband came home and gave me a letter he had received at work that day. And that was how I had the good fortune to meet Boris Chartan, a man who knows a thing or two about giving something back.
Mr. Chartan started Holocaust programs in the 1980's at The Nassau Community College and at local temples. But his dream was to have an educational center in the community where lessons of the Holocaust could be taught. In 1993, that dream became a reality when the 204 sprawling acres of the Welwyn Preserve, in Glen Cove, New York, became the permanent home of The Holocaust Memorial and Educational Center of Nassau County.
Boris Chartan was born in Podkamien, Poland in 1926. He lived among the small minority of Jewish families. Though only a young boy of twelve years, Mr. Chartan vividly recalls a game the children played during recess at school. "The game was that we stood around in a circle and a kid would take off his belt. We held our hands behind our back, and the one kid who kept the belt would have to run around and hit us. The Jewish kids would get really beaten up because of the intolerance. We couldn't rebel; we were a minority. We just took our lickings and went back to class." But, he says, "The real anti-Semitism came in 1939 . . . when the Nazis came storming in."
The first incident he recalls was when the elders in town were rounded up and laid out in a ravine. One of them was his father. "They put machine guns over their heads. They did not kill them that day, but they held them like that for a good twelve hours. In the meantime, Germans burned down our synagogues, our houses of worship. They did a lot of damage. . . . As a young boy, I was quite aware; I was already fifteen."
When Boris and his father were taken to a work camp, a Polish couple who were friends of his father, took Boris's mother to their farm and hid her in the cramped area of their hayloft. The husband would travel fifty or sixty miles by horse and wagon to the work camp to bring Boris and his father food which he had hidden for them. During the day, Boris and his dad were taken up to the hills to mine rocks. On one of those days, they ran away and joined Boris's mother in the hayloft. He says that this Polish couple "were really the people who were responsible for our survival."
One Sunday, the Polish woman was walking home from church services and the Ukrainians shot and killed her, simply because she was Polish. Boris says, ". . . as a young boy, I just couldn't understand what was happening . . . it was all done so arbitrarily." This was only a week before the Russians came and started driving out the Germans.
Soon after the Russians came, Boris and his family were liberated and taken to Germany where they were put up in displaced persons camps run by the United Jewish Appeal and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. With the help of his uncles, in 1946 Boris came to The United States and made New York his home.
Mr. Chartan's survival was motivated by desire. He says, ". . . instead of getting weaker, most people got stronger. The desire to live got stronger. It was like a challenge to see how far you could go, to run away, to keep going and not give up." His desire to live was his commitment to life. The Holocaust Center is his commitment to the future through education. He says, ". . . we are here to tell our story to make the young people aware of what hate and intolerance can do to us."
Boris Chartan founded The Holocaust Memorial and Educational Center of Nassau County for the purpose of teaching our children the lessons of understanding and tolerance. Their educational programs include: docent-led tours, annual juried Art and Literary competitions in partnership with Long Island schools, "The Story of a Survivor" album project and a presentation of Holocaust victims as they looked before and after the Holocaust. The Center also includes Exhibits and a Memorial Library with more than 4,000 books. Mr. Chartan believes it is only through education that we can keep the memory of this horrific tragedy alive and hope to combat racism and religious bigotry in the future.
"More than six million people died, and I survived. I can't think of a more compelling reason to devote a large part of my life to honoring them honor them not mourn. The best tribute we can pay is to find ways to make certain there will be no future genocide. This is the concept behind the Center, which I am proud to lead. Its theme is education; teaching the young to understand prejudice and to purge bias from their lives. If we can accomplish this together we will have paid the ultimate tribute to those whose lives were sacrificed to the scourge of hatred. This has become my mission in life."
On November 14th, 2005 at The Woodbury Jewish Center, Long Island, New York, Boris Chartan, president and founder of The Holocaust Memorial and Educational Center of Nassau County, will be honored for his lifetime achievement at The Center's annual fundraising dinner. The Center is the realization of his dream, his way of saying no to ignorance. Hope for the future is what Mr. Chartan has given back to his community.
from the October 2005 Edition of the Jewish Magazine