Simon Wiesenthal Center Honors NYS
Mario Cuomo, Kenneth Jacobs,
Czeslawa Zak and William Perl
By Henry Levy
The concept of "Never Forget" in reference to the Holocaust, is incomplete without ways in which people are given the opportunity become educated and remember. The Simon Wiesenthal Center is one of the highest profile organizations that teaches people to remember, at their facilities in New York and California. Soon a new center will be opening in Jerusalem. Since 1993 over 5 ½ million people visited their centers. At the recent 2013 Humanitarian Award Dinner, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance New York raised over $1.6 million, a new record.
Nelson Peltz, Co-Chairman of the Board of the SWC, introduced the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award, Governor Mario Cuomo. He hailed the Governor as a man who took a dysfunctional government and turned it around by lowering taxes, establishing a statewide teacher evaluation system and tasking a Commission to look into corruption in Albany.
Governor Cuomo touched on three of the cornerstones of the SWC: Tolerance, Justice, and Never Again., but he said that mission is not yet complete. "The truth is hate lives, discrimination lives and terrorism lives," said Cuomo. He pointed to the real threats in our world including the chemical attacks on civilians in Syria to the two attacks on the World Trade Center in 1993 and again on 9/11. And then he said, "We need a strong Israel and a strong America working hand in glove. They are the bulwark of strong democracies on this globe." He contrasted the inability of the political parties in Washington to work together with a different tone in New York State where we are tolerant of our differences, and diversity is a source of strength
Larry Mizel, Chairman of the Board of SWC, conveyed how the organization produced an impressive number of films, with world famous actors, which resulted in two Academy Awards. They were the 1981 film, Genocide, a documentary on the Holocaust and the 1997 film, The Long Way Home. Among the roster of actors are Elizabeth Taylor, Morgan Freeman, Anne Bancroft, Nicole Kidman, Michael Douglas, Leonard Nimoy, Christopher Walken and Sandra Bullock. The SWC reached hundreds of millions of viewers with its messages yet anti-Semitism around the world has never been stronger or more dangerous. Reports indicate that there are ten million Europeans that harbor anti-Semitic sentiments and that includes 20% of the German people. The work of organizations such as the SWC are needed today more than ever.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, Founder and Dean of SWC presented the Medal of Valor to two people he called our real heroes, Czeslawa Zak and Dr. William Perl (posthumously). Ms. Zak, who lived in Warsaw, Poland told how her parents hid and sheltered six Jews, which soon grew to fifteen, taking them in, taking no money, with their own lives at constant risk, while the Nazis forced Jews into the Warsaw Ghetto and in record numbers sent them to their death in Treblinka. She, along with her family was recognized at Yad Vashem in 1993 for their actions. Ms. Zak said, "Today I am an old woman. I would do the same. We helped Jewish people during the war. I thought it was human. I'm not a hero, I'm just a human."
Dr. Solomon Perl, son of William, said his father knew that Hitler was the greatest threat and no Jews would be safe, so he organized three shiploads bringing Jewish refugees to Palestine. As we know, when Eichmann entered Vienna, no Jew was safe.
Vernon Jordan introduced the recipient of the Humanitarian Award, Kenneth Jacobs, Chairman & CEO of Lazard. He called him a "rare breed of successful businessman with humility and a social conscience." He further said that Ken Jacobs personifies the phrase that there is no end to good that can be done in the world if the person doing the good does not care who gets the credit.
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Simon Wiesenthal said, "Freedom is not a gift from God. You must fight for it every day." The Center named after him does not take those words lightly. For more information about the SWC visit their website at www.wiesenthal.com.