SOURCE: UJA-Federation of New York

UJA-Federation of New York

November 09, 2010 14:17 ET

On the Anniversary of Kristallnacht, UJA-Federation of New York and the Mayor of Mannheim, Germany, Committed to Forging a Strong Relationship Between Germany and the Jewish Community

NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwire - November 9, 2010) - Holocaust survivor Ernest Michel, president emeritus of UJA-Federation of New York, and Dr. Peter Kurz, mayor of Mannheim, Germany, united on the anniversary of Kristallnacht to declare their commitment to forging a strong relationship between Germany and the Jewish community worldwide.

In 2007, Michel was invited to his hometown of Mannheim to speak on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the city. "Mayor Kurz asked me to talk about what happened to me, my family, and the Jews of Mannheim," recalled Michel. "There was only silence as I talked about my parents' deportation to Auschwitz and my arrival in the same place one year later."

A relationship continued to develop between the two when Kurz invited Michel to view Mannheim's Holocaust memorial, which memorializes more than 2,300 citizens who perished during World War II, including Michel's parents and grandmother. Before leaving, Michel gave Kurz a copy of his book, Promises to Keep.

After reading Promises to Keep, Kurz realized there was a deeper connection between their families. Kurz's great-uncle was Stefan Heyman, a longtime inmate at Auschwitz and chief registrar who had singled out Michel for his penmanship to perform the job of falsifying death certificates for fellow inmates -- the job that ultimately saved Michel's life.

Today, the city that expelled Michel is cultivating a vivid relationship with the Jewish community led by Mayor Kurz, a relative of the man who saved Michel's life in Auschwitz.

"To me, it seems like the completion of a circle," said Kurz. "The Germany of today is a strong democracy. This, we owe to the acts of many. We owe it to the American and allied soldiers who defeated Germany, to the politicians who gave the Germans the chance to return to the international community, to the surviving Germans who rebuilt Germany, and to the survivors of the Holocaust, who told their stories and with it sent a clear message: that they wanted to shape a better future, and that Germany is a part of that future."

"I swore to myself that if I survived, I would devote myself to making up for what was lost during this most tragic era in all of Jewish history," said Michel.

In 2004, UJA-Federation made a substantial investment to launch the Community Initiative for Nazi-Victims Services. Michel took this initiative to heart and with his critical involvement, UJA-Federation was able to raise $10.5 million to allocate grants to 26 programs at 15 beneficiary agencies, helping more than 10,000 survivors live independently -- and with dignity -- and to provide for the most urgent needs.

Julia Zeuner, chair of UJA-Federation's Caring Commission's Task Force for the Aging, which focuses on Holocaust survivor initiatives, concluded the press conference and touched on current initiatives undertaken by UJA-Federation.

"As the youngest survivors are beginning to reach frailty, the need in the United States and in Israel is escalating," said Zeuner. "Statistics show that services will be needed until 2025 or beyond. The safety net these services depend on is fraying, as budget cuts are being experienced on the federal, state, and city levels, in combination with the overall economic downturn."

In response, UJA-Federation has embarked on a Phase II campaign for Holocaust survivors to raise another $10 million for those here in New York and an additional $10 million for those in Israel to help ensure that every last survivor in our communities can live his or her final years in comfort and with dignity.

About UJA-Federation of New York
UJA-Federation of New York, the world's largest local philanthropy raises funds that sustain the activities of more than 100 health, human-service, educational, and community-building agencies. Every day, these community-based organizations provide a multitude of services that combat poverty, help the elderly age with dignity, promote Jewish identity and renewal, strengthen children and families, and open doors to those with disabilities and special needs. With a reach that spans New York, Israel, and 60 countries around the globe, we touch the lives of 4.5 million people every year, fulfilling a mission to care for those in need, rescue those in harm's way, and renew Jewish life. For more information, visit www.ujafedny.org.

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