GLENS FALLS — More than 70 years after the Holocaust, there are still things people can do to help the Jews who were murdered.
People can help care for the abandoned cemeteries that hold the victims’ ancestors, said Dr. Michael Lozman, an orthodontist from Latham.
That was the message at Sunday’s Holocaust Remembrance Day event at Congregation Shaaray Tefila. Lozman described his one-man effort to restore Eastern European Jewish cemeteries that had been abandoned ever since the Jewish communities there were destroyed during the Holocaust.
“What can you do for those Jews who were murdered? Restore their family cemeteries. It’s our obligation, our responsibility,” he said.
Lozman traveled to Belarus to see his father’s grave and found the cemetery overgrown and forgotten.
“It was appalling,” he said.
He went to the mayor of the village to ask that the cemetery be repaired, and the mayor told him he was welcome to do anything he wanted.
“He thought I was just a tourist. I got a weedwacker from Home Depot and some metal stars and came back a week later,” Lozman said.
It was the beginning of a journey that has led Lozman to spearhead repairs of 15 cemeteries — 10 in Belarus and five in Lithuanuia. He brings college students to each village at the end of a course on the Holocaust, and the students live in the village while chopping down trees, lifting up fallen cemetery stones and installing fences to mark the cemetery boundaries.
“They feel they’ve made a difference,” Lozman said. “They’ve invested their time in something that’s meaningful.”
For those who think a cemetery is meaningless when the community buried there has been wiped out, Lozman turned to letters written by Holocaust victims. In one, victim David Berger wrote, “If something happens, I would want there to be somebody who would remember that someone named D. Berger had once lived. This will make things easier for me in the difficult moments.”
He was killed in Lithuania in 1941, shortly after he wrote that letter to his girlfriend, who had escaped to Palestine.
Restoring the cemeteries of those victims’ ancestors was everyone’s duty, since the victims cannot do it themselves, Lozman said.
They should also be restored to keep the “tangible evidence that the Jews were there,” he said.
The cemeteries have been abandoned for so long that they are “dissolving into the surrounding fields,” he said, and erasing all trace of the vibrant Jewish communities that were once in all of those villages.
And the work creates some opportunities to remember the victims themselves.
On a visit to Grosovo, Belarus, he met a man who had kept a handwritten list of every Jew taken by Nazis from the village. The man wouldn’t let him copy the list, fearing that he would be punished for having it. But Lozman was able to persuade him to allow a photograph. Lozman later erected a memorial at the cemetery there, listing all of the murdered Jews from that village.
He’s pleased by the improvements at all 15 cemeteries that have been restored so far.
“It’s becoming places of respect, which is what they deserve,” he said.
Student Rabbi Stephen Slater, who led the event, called Lozman a “self-made ambassador.”
“I hope it will inspire people to take up their own projects,” he said. “It’s really nice to hear a hopeful story of what we can do.”
The event was also sponsored by Temple Beth El.