Speakers Bureau

The Speakers Bureau is a group of Holocaust survivors and descendants of survivors who present their Holocaust history to groups – from schools and places of worship to nursing homes and community organizations. To request a speaker, please contact Jeri Butlien, Associate Director of The HERO Center at jeri@ctvoicesofhope.org.

Meet Our Holocaust Survivors Presenters

Dr. Leon Chameides was born on June 24, 1935 in Katowice, Poland, where his father, Kalman Chameides, served as chief rabbi. With the German invasion of Poland, Leon’s family fled eastward, joining the migration of 250,000 Jews. With the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland, the family first settled in Szczerzec, with Kalman’s parents, near Soviet-occupied Lwów, Poland (present-day L’viv, Ukraine).

In late 1942, Leon (age 7) and his brother, Herbert (age 9), were transferred from Szczerzec to two separate monasteries run by the Uniate Church in Western Ukraine where they were given new identities, taught to speak Ukrainian and instructed in prayers and rituals so they could pass as Christian children. Leon ended up spending two years in hiding, living in an orphanage in Briukhovychi, Ukraine, before moving to Univ, where he was sheltered with two other Jewish boys and protected by Brother Danil Temchyna (later recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem).

Leon’s father died of typhus on December 25, 1942; his mother perished in 1943, following the liquidation of the Lwow ghetto in April 1943. Leon and his brother were liberated by Soviet forces in the summer of 1944; Leon tried to return to Lwów only to have the Russian soldiers send him back to Univ. He finally returned to Lwów, where he reunited with his brother; there they discovered that their parents and grandparents perished during the war.

Leon and Herbert immigrated to England in 1946 to live with his maternal grandparents (the Konigshofers). He immigrated to the United States in 1949, entering medical school in the first class at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. In 1967, he moved to Hartford, and served as the founding Chair of Pediatric Cardiology at Hartford Hospital and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center for 30 years, as Chair of Pediatrics at Hartford Hospital for 10 years, and as Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.

He and his wife, Jean, have three children and seven grandchildren. He is known as the father of “pediatric resuscitation,” a technique he developed in the field, and has also become a dedicated Holocaust educator, authoring the book Strangers in Many Lands: The Story of a Jewish Family in Turbulent Times and most recently, On the Edge of the Abyss: A Polish Rabbi Speaks to His Community on the Eve of the Shoah, a translation of his father’s sermons and essays as Rabbi of Katowice.

Ruth (Lichtenstern) Fishman was born in Cologne, Germany, on July 17, 1936. As a nine-month old baby she traveled to Amsterdam with her parents (Heinz and Edith Lichtenstern) along with both sets of grandparents. Her brother Robbie was born in 1938. 

Under the German occupation, her family was concentrated into the “Amsterdam East” ghetto. Originally her family was able to escape the roundups to deport Jews to concentration camps because of her father’s work in the metal industry, but eventually in 1943 they responded to a summons and were moved to a theatre in Amsterdam filled with many other Jews. They were all transported to the Westerbork Concentration Camp, a transit camp for Jews to eventually be deported to their deaths in occupied Poland. In the final days of their stay at Westerbork, Ruth’s father gave her a doll with a hollow head with money hidden within, with instructions to safeguard the doll, which could be used for bribes or food.

In September 1944, Ruth and her family were transported via cattle car to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia near Prague. The cattle cars had “one little window for air, straw on the floor, a lot of people, and in the middle of the wagon was a beer barrel for the bathroom leaving no room for privacy.” For eight months, Ruth and her family were subject to the worsening conditions of Theresienstadt. In late October 1944, her maternal grandparents, Flora and Louis Spier, were deported from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz, where they were murdered.

The camp was liberated by Soviet troops on May 9, 1945. After six weeks of traveling from the Czech Republic to Amsterdam, Ruth’s family discovered upon arrival that they were homeless. Her father’s friend, who was supposed to watch their property, thought the family would not survive the war and left them with nothing. However, they worked to slowly rebuild their lives.

During the Korean War, Heinz Lichtenstern decided to move the family and his metal business to Brazil, fearing the outbreak of another world war. Ruth attended an American school in Brazil and was able to move to the United States when she was eighteen. Ruth now lives in West Hartford, Connecticut, and has three children and seven grandchildren.

Ernest “Bumi” Gelb was born in May 1927 in the small village of Selce, in eastern Czechoslovakia. He grew up in a traditional Jewish environment, receiving a religious education at the local cheder and yeshivas in the surrounding region. The son of Miriam and Menachem Mendel Gelb, he had three younger sisters, Libu, Zlata, and Blima. Relations with their Ruthenian neighbors in Selce were quite peaceful.

In 1939, the Hungarian army invaded and occupied the area of Sub-Carpathian Rus, where Selce was located. Jews were soon restricted from owning businesses and drafted Jews for forced labor, including digging trenches. In 1941, Bumi’s father, Emil (Menachem Mendel) Gelb was taken to a Hungarian slave labor camp along with 30 men from their rural village. In 1944, during Passover, just as Bumi prepared to lead the seder for his family – his mother and 3 younger sisters – Hungarian police swarmed the village.

Soon Bumi and his family were taken to the ghetto in Orsheve and then to a large ghetto in Munkacs, where they were housed in a huge brick factory with thousands of other deported Jews from dozens of villages. They were forced to endure beatings and torture from both Hungarian militias and SS troops, along with horrible living conditions. In May 1944, the Jews in the Munkacs ghetto were deported to Auschwitz by train in cattle cars, suffering in horrific conditions for 3 days. Upon arrival at Auschwitz, German guards separated the families, determining who would live and who would die.

Bumi’s younger sisters Zlatku and Blimchu were gassed and burned in the crematoria upon arrival. Bumi soon volunteered to get out of Auschwitz, fearful that remaining there meant certain death. He was soon transported to Buchenwald, given the number 55562. “No more name, now simply a number.” After a short time in Buchenwald, he was sent to Dora, a satellite camp of Buchenwald, where he performed back breaking work building brick walls in the tunnels. Even in the midst of such unspeakable suffering and horror, Bumi continued to maintain his religious observance. “I remember how some mornings on our march from the blocks (barracks) one of the men started davening [praying] and we very quietly joined in. The risk was great, as any communication while marching was strictly forbidden. And, it was in Dora, that many of us prisoners chose to fast on Yom Kippur.”

After 4 months in Dora, at the end of November 1944, Bumi was transferred to Ellrich, also a satellite camp of Buchenwald, where many prisoners died of starvation.

Three months after his arrival in Ellrich, extremely malnourished, Bumi developed a severely gangrenous left leg. Deathly ill, he was soon transferred to the infirmary and then the typhus ward, which meant almost certain death. However, as the allied armies were now closing in on the Reich, prisoners from the typhus ward were put in open train cars, perhaps 80 in a car, in freezing rain. They were given some bread and a can of meat which lasted Bumi 5 days. After 9 whole days, 4 of them without food or water, “the train arrived in Oranienburg with only 8 of us alive. We were carried out by prisoners in this camp and placed in nearby barracks. The camp was very close to Berlin which was then under heavy siege by the Russian army. Bullets were flying left and right around my head, but I couldn’t move.” On April 16, 1945, the Germans left and Russian soldiers liberated the camp. In the military hospital, Russian doctors performed surgery on Bumi’s leg and he fell into a coma for the next two months. Once he was healthy enough to travel, Bumi made his was back home in the summer of 1945. “I made my way back to my home which was now occupied by neighbors. I found my father and my sister Libu. My dear mother and two younger sisters and more than 100 relatives had perished.”

On April 19, 1948, Bumi, together with his father and sister arrived in New York. He completed high school and some college courses there before becoming a soldier during the Korean War, where he served in Austria in an Intelligence Unit. He married Sally and together they raised three children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. They have lived in West Hartford, CT for over 40 years where Bumi remains very involved in the Jewish community.

My Name is Nina Jacobs.  I was born in the Vilna Ghetto in Poland.  My parents were herded into the ghetto with my mother’s brother Moishe, aunt Freida, grandma Rifka, and Moishe’s 6 year old daughter Dora. Each family had to find a small space that would be their new home. My uncle was a leather tanner. The Nazis valued and needed his skills as they wore leather coats, boots etc. Because he was considered valuable by them, they gave him a pass that allowed him access in and out of the ghetto.  This pass was crucial to our survival. Prior to entering the ghetto my uncle approached 3 Polish families and asked them if they would help him even though none knew what that help entailed and they agreed. The ghetto was rife with rumors. People were constantly kept off guard as the Nazis would storm the ghetto day and night and arrest anyone they found.  Those people were never seen again.

My parents were newlywed when they entered the ghetto. The conditions in the ghetto were horrific. Food was scarce and all kinds of diseases were spreading. Every morning there were dead bodies removed from the ghetto.

One a hot summer night my parents left their small space to get a breath of fresh air. The Nazis stormed the ghetto and arrested both of them. They separated the men and women. The following morning they let the women go and they took 6 thousand men to an empty pit and spent the day shooting them into the pit. My mother never saw my father again. About a month later my mother realized that she was pregnant. The Nazis had decreed that any Jewish woman found to be pregnant would automatically be killed. My mother pleaded with her mother Rifka to allow her to have an abortion but my grandmother would not allow it. She said “if the child survives, there would be an indication in the world that once there was a young father.” My mother concealed her pregnancy and rarely left her small space even after I was born. I stayed hidden with my mother for the first 17 months of my life until my uncle heard a rumor that the Nazis were coming to take the remaining children out of the ghetto. He met up with an old Polish woman in the forest and asked her if she would take a child and she agreed. The following day he gave me a little wine to drink so that I would go to sleep. He put on a large overcoat, wrapped me in a sheet went back into the forest and passed me off to the Polish woman. She brought me to the farm where her son Yanek, his 7 year old son Jan, and the old father lived. When I awoke I asked for my mother in Yiddish. Knowing a few Yiddish words endangered all our lives.  In the event Nazis came to the farm and heard Yiddish spoken, we would all be killed. Yanek dug a hole under the root cellar (it was a grave) and placed me on a cot there for 10 days until I stopped screaming and crying. I became part of their family and remained with them until after the war. Even though my mother was liberated I had no memory of her. She visited me each day until we had to leave Poland for Germany and I was torn from Yanek. This was the reverse of when I was first given away except that it was more difficult because I was now 4 years old. I cried, I begged to go home to Yanek. Yanek begged to keep me till I was 18 and he would then send me to my mother in America but it was not to be.

Rabbi Philip Lazowski was born in the small town of Bielica (present-day Belarus) in 1930, the son of Chaya Gitel and Josef Lazowski, and older brother of Rachmil, Abraham, Aaron, and Rachel. His father was a fisherman, and his mother owned a fabric store. At the beginning of WWII, their part of Poland was occupied by the Soviet Union, and they lived under communist Russian rule until 1941.

With the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, German forces marched into Bielica on June 28, 1941 and began to slaughter the Jewish population in a mass killing operation. On November 10, 1941, the remaining Jews of Bielica, including Philip and his family, were banished to the Zhetel ghetto. On April 29, 1942, the Germans carried out a round-up in the Zhetel ghetto, driving Jews from their homes to the central marketplace. Philip’s family managed to hide in a cave under their home, but Philip was caught by a German soldier before he could hide and forced to the marketplace where a selection was underway. He was saved from the selection thanks to the intervention of a kind-hearted woman, named Miriam Rabinowitz, who pretended Philip was her son to protect him from the round-up.

After the war, Philip, his father Josef, and younger brother Rachmil (Robert) made their way to a displaced persons camp in Austria. In 1947, they traveled by train from Bad Gastein through Germany to Bremen where they boarded a ship for their trip to the United States. He continued his education in New York City graduating from Yeshiva University. At a wedding in New York, he met a young woman who told him about a family in Hartford who had once saved a “boy from Bielica” in the Zhetel ghetto. Knowing that he was that boy, Philip called the Rabinowitz family, eventually traveling to Hartford where he was reunited with Miriam who saved his life in the first selection in the Zhetel ghetto.

He began dating her oldest daughter, Ruth, and they were married in 1955. He was ordained in 1962 and earned his doctorate in Jewish Studies eight years later. Brought to Hartford as Education Director for Beth Sholom Synagogue, Rabbi Lazowski became its rabbi several years later. When Beth Sholom later merged with Beth Hillel in 1969, he remained as rabbi for the following 40 years. Rabbi Lazowski is the author of several books including, Faith and Destiny, an autobiographical account of his Holocaust experience.

Endre (Andy) Sarkany was born in Budapest, Hungary on October 31, 1936.  The building he lived in was located inside the Budapest ghetto which is where he remained during the Holocaust.  The building housed a nursery/kindergarten on the ground floor.  The school was affiliated with the Jewish Agency of Hungary and was led by Mr. Eugene Polnay.  The building also housed on the top floor a dance, acrobat and ballet studio.  These facts were significant in Endre’s survival and that of at least 150 orphaned children. Endre’s father was taken to Mauthausen concentration camp in the spring of 1944, fortunately he survived.

After WWII, Hungary became a communist nation.  Although Endre graduated high school in 1955, he was not accepted to university because he was deemed an undesirable element of society.  This label was given to anyone who owned a business before the communists took over the country.

Endre was fortunate to escape Hungary after the October 1956 uprising and was able to immigrate to the United States.  He received his bachelor’s degree from Tusculum College in Tennessee and his Master of Science degree in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.  Endre worked for both the McDonald Douglas Corporation and the IBM Corporation.

Over the past 10 years, Endre has been speaking to students about his personal experiences during the Holocaust, living under the brutality of the Soviet regime in Hungary and finding a home in the United States.

Mr. Sarkany is married, has a daughter and son, and five grandchildren.

Ruth Weiner was born in 1931 in Vienna, Austria, the only child in a large, close family of grandparents, aunts and uncles, who surrounded her with love and were often her companions for fun.  She led a life rich in the kinds of things available in a beautiful, cultured city.  All this changed dramatically when the Nazis entered, dominated all aspects of life and made being Jewish not only unbearable but very dangerous.

Expelled from public school, she attended a distant Jewish school and experienced the various horrors such as Kristallnacht that marked the beginning of the Holocaust.  As the situation deteriorated, it became clear that to survive she would have to escape Austria, and she was fortunate to be able to find refuge in England with the Kindertransport just before World War II broke out. Even more fortunate, after experiencing the beginning of the war with air raids in England, she was reunited with her parents and came as a refugee to America.

Today she is a grateful 90-plus-year-old wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother who lives in Bloomfield.  She enjoyed a rewarding professional life of many years as a teacher, principal and consultant.  She has always made it her task to teach students of all ages the lessons of the Holocaust, trying to explain the inexplicable.

Meet Our Descendant Speakers

Alan Berkowitz is a former business owner who embarked on a second career as an educator.  He holds an MA in Curriculum & Instruction from UConn and an MA in Holocaust & Genocide Studies from Gratz College.  His undergraduate BA degree in Political Studies was earned at Roger Williams University.  For over twenty-five years Alan has been involved with promoting Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Education.  He has presented to Middle School, High School and University students on these topics.  He has worked with educators across a broad spectrum and collaborates with the Connecticut Department of Education and the University of Connecticut.  Alan is an Impact Fellow of the Dodd Research Center for Human Rights.  His book “Spain and the Jews during the Holocaust” has released in Spain in 2019.  Currently serves as a board member for the CT Holocaust & Genocide Education Advisory Committee, The CT Consortium for Yazidi Relief, Connecticut Claims Conference Committee for Holocaust Survivors, Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford, Connecticut Human Rights Partnership, and the Jewish Hartford European Roots Project.

Lois Berkowitz, Psy.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist who resides in West Hartford, CT with her husband who is also a child of a survivor.  Lois and her husband have two adult children.

Dr. Berkowitz’s father is the only survivor of a large extended family from the town of Pruzana, which was in Poland, but is now part of Belarus. Herschel Shreibman was 14 years old in 1939 when the Nazis and Soviets agreed to allow his town to come under Soviet rule. Little did they know that this was the easy part compared to what was to come later. In 1941, the Nazis invaded Pruzana and the Jews were immediately stripped of their rights and slowly lost most of their property. The Jews of the town were forced to live in a ghetto with little food and people dying of starvation daily. In late January of 1943, the Jews of Pruzana were herded into cattle cars and sent to Auschwitz where most were murdered including all members of Herschel’s family. Herschel spent the remainder of the war in Auschwitz followed by death marches to several smaller camps in Germany before liberation. In late 1947, he immigrated to the United States with no resources and knowing no one. With the help of relatives he had never met, he slowly built a life, a family and a thriving business in the Philadelphia area. He came to be known as Harvey Shreibman and lived to be 82 years old when he passed away in 2007.

Dr. Berkowitz has spent most of her adult life continuing her father’s mission to make sure that people never forget about what happened to her family as a way to prevent something like that from happening ever again. Dr. Berkowitz explains, “in order to prevent the past from repeating itself, we must learn from it and act when we see it happening in our world today.”

Jeanette Brod is the daughter of two Holocaust survivors. Her mother and father were both born in 1922. Her mother’s family was from Breslau, Germany, and her father’s family were from Lezajsk, Poland. Both her parents had large extended families who lived nearby. The events of the Holocaust happened to them and to their families. There are many stories she can tell about their experiences and many family photos and documents to be shared to reflect their histories.

She grew up in Queens, New York, in a community of Holocaust survivors. She has served as a Director of Lifelong Learning at a Connecticut synagogue and as vice president of the Children’s Book Council in New York. She has two grown children and currently lives in New Mildford, Connecticut.

Jeanette is available to speak about the following:

1935-1942: Life before the war in an extended family in Breslau; early responses to discrimination and persecution

1938-1939: Kristallnacht and her mother’s cousin’s experiences; responses that led to immigration to the United States

1939-1946: Her mother’s leaving home to become a nurse in the Jewish Hospital in Berlin

1939: Her mother’s cousin leaving Germany on the St. Louis with her parents, brother and husband and the family disembarking in Belgium

1939: Nazis invading her father’s hometown of Lezajsk and his family moving to the ghetto while some relatives leave Lezajsk

1942-1944: Her mother’s parents’ deportation to Theresienstadt

1942-1944: Theliquidation of the Lezajsk Ghetto in a pogrom and her father’s escape to the woods to become a partisan resistance fighter

1944-1948: Her father’s return home after the war; her mother’s postwar experiences in Berlin; her father becoming a patient in the Jewish Hospital; her parents marriage in Berlin in 1948.

David Gerber is the son of the late H. (Heinz) Joseph Gerber, who escaped with his mother from Vienna, Austria in April 1940 and settled in Hartford. While living in Vienna for two years under Nazi rule, from age 14 through 15, Heinz was sent to a labor camp temporarily, escaped to Switzerland only to be jailed and turned back over to the Gestapo, jumped from a train headed toward Dachau, Germany, and finally obtained a visa to immigrate to America. His father was sent to Nisko supposedly to build a “Jewish homeland” on the Nazi prototype for mass expulsion. His grandfather was sent to Theresienstadt. Neither of them survived. An inventive boy, who would receive America’s National Medal of Technology in 1994 for his technical leadership in the transformation of numerous manufacturing industries, he employed his prodigious technical talents toward protecting and saving himself and his family members from Nazi threat. David authored his father’s biography, The Inventor’s Dilemma, published in 2016 by Yale University Press, and is currently completing a book about the Holocaust for young adult readers, based on his father’s experience in Europe and immigrant experience in the United States.

Jean Hoffmann Lewanda is the daughter of Paul Hoffmann, who escaped Vienna, Austria to Shanghai, China in October 1938. Paul was able to bring other family members to Shanghai where they all survived the war, living in the Hongkew Ghetto from 1943 to 1945. While living in Shanghai, Paul received a university education, worked for an American law firm and witnessed the takeover of China by the communists. Paul remained in Shanghai until February 1952 and arrived in New York City with his young wife and one year old son in April 1953. Jean was born a year after their arrival. Paul went on to raise a family and have a successful law career in the United States. Jean is the editor of her father’s memoir, Witness to History: A Memoir of Escape, Survival and Resilience.

Jeff Israel’s parents were survivors of the Holocaust, and he is active in telling his family’s story. Jeff is a docent at the Museum of Jewish Civilization at the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Hartford where he has spoken to over three thousand students and educators about the Holocaust and its implication in today’s society. Both of his parents were from Germany, and he presents on Kristallnacht and concentration camps. Jeff and his wife, Pat, have two sons, two granddaughters and a grandson. Jeff is a member of Temple Sinai in Newington, CT where he was a past president. He is also a member of Voices of Hope and serves on its board of directors as Director of Visual Productions.

Barbara Sperber was born in Feldafing, Germany, a year after the end of World War II. Both of her parents were Holocaust survivors. Each of them, except for one sibling, was the sole survivor of their large extended family in Poland. Barbara discusses the following two stories regarding their experiences.

One involves her parents’ lives before the war. Barbara’s mother was a 16-year-old girl living in a large city, while her father lived in a small agricultural town, both in Poland. They met during the war.  Barbara’s second story involves her parents’ experiences after the war. References to occurrences during the Holocaust are part of each story.

Barbara and her parents came to the United States when she was five years old.  After college, she first worked as a city planner and went to law school in the evenings.  She was an assistant for the attorney general until her retirement.  She is married with two sons and truly amazing grandchildren.

Susan Unrad was born and raised in New York City. Both of her parents were Holocaust survivors. After attending college for a year, she decided to immigrate to Israel. There, she completed her education, and became an English teacher. Susan lived in Israel for five years before returning to the United States. 

Susan taught Jewish education in Bridgeport for fifteen years. Upon graduating with a master’s degree in Counseling, Susan became a School Counselor. She worked in the Stratford public schools for twenty years. Realizing the importance of Holocaust education early on, she invited Holocaust survivors to speak to the students at annual assemblies she organized for Yom Hashoah. Additionally, Susan joined a local 2G (second generation), group. 

Since her retirement, she has been presenting her story and that of her parents to area high school students. Susan is married, has two children, three grandchildren and one step-grandchild.

Ted Zablotsky, a Connecticut native, has been living in the Hartford community for over 30 years. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford. He is a past President of the Hebrew High School of New England and served as Co-Chair of the Merger Committee that created the New England Jewish Academy. He sits on the Board for the West Hartford Chabad. Ted has served as a docent at the Museum of Jewish Civilization at the University of Hartford.

All four of his children attended community Day School and now his two grandchildren are students at Solomon Schechter.

Ted believes that Jewish education, in all venues, is the core of any strong and vibrant Jewish community and is dedicated to advancing those efforts in our Community.