When Andrea Bolender, of Glen Head, took over as chair of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County in September, she said that one of her missions would be to promote the idea of being an “upstander,” someone who doesn’t sit by while injustice happens around them.
That idea, Bolender said, is in keeping with the center’s newest artifact, a clock, donated by Vice Chair Ron Fishman’s family, that was hidden by his grandparents’ neighbors in Paris after his grandparents were taken to Auschwitz by the Nazis in 1940.
The Art Deco clock, Fishman said, hung on the dining room wall in the home of Shama and Dora Priever, Jewish immigrants from Poland. His mother, Rosette Priever Gerbosi, has childhood memories of pushing her doll carriage around the dining room and hearing the clock chime — a scene from a normal childhood before the horrors that befell her family.
Shortly before Rosette’s parents were arrested, they sent her out of Paris with their Christian neighbors, with her posing as their daughter. Her older brother, Bernard, also avoided arrest, joining Parisian resistance forces. Their parents gave the clock to their neighbors, asking them to hold on to it.
The rest of their belongings were confiscated by the Nazis, and Shama and Dora ultimately died in Auschwitz’s gas chambers.
After Allied forces defeated the Nazis in 1945, Bernard retrieved the clock, the only remaining furnishing from his family’s home. It was one of the only things he took with him when he immigrated to the U.S. the following year. Rosette followed shortly afterward, living first in Brooklyn before starting a family in Woodbury.
Bernard died two years ago, and Fishman took ownership of the clock. He said that he and his mother decided to donate it to the HMTC because it tells a personal story of how much was lost during the Holocaust.
“I think, in the spirit of giving, the Holocaust Center is predominantly focused on providing education and information, and that’s the intention and the reason why,” Fishman said. “That’s what gives me satisfaction — knowing that this story will be heard by other people.”
Bolender said that every artifact at the center holds significance for the families of those who were victims of the Holocaust. Her father, Benek, was a Holocaust survivor, and everything he had as a child was taken from him, much like millions of other European Jews. This clock, she said, represents something her father never had — a physical reminder of a happy life before the Holocaust.
“When we see things that make up our past, imagine one day not having any of that,” Bolender said. “So when you have one piece, I think it’s like a building block, something you could build a new life around without losing the old life.”
The lives of European Jews before the Holocaust are often a forgotten part of history, HMTC director Thorin Tritter said, overshadowed by the atrocities they faced. The clock, he said, offers a window into that period. “The clock draws our attention to the Nazi invasion of France in 1940 and the horrors of the Holocaust in France,” Tritter said. “It also highlights the resilience of this one family and the support they got from trusted neighbors.”
The clock also provides the center with a perfect opportunity to teach visitors about the importance of being an upstander, Bolender said, because the Prievers’ neighbors risked their lives to save Rosette and the clock. These were ordinary people doing extraordinary things, she said, something that many people may not have been capable of in such dire circumstances.
Bolender and Fishman said they hoped visitors would recognize that the clock helps tell a story of resilience and love for one’s neighbors, while still serving as a sober reminder of the impact the Holocaust had, and continues to have, on millions of people.
“It’s important that we, as an organization, continue to provide information to those that need to be more informed about the horrors of the past, and also to help prevent those happening now,” Fishman said. “… It serves as a reminder of where we’ve been, and hopefully we’ll never go back there again.”