The delightful and upbeat Annie Bleiberg, who is 93 years young, considers herself a very lucky person.
Bleiberg, a Woodbury resident, was a slave at Auschwitz during the Holocaust and her story of survival is chronicled in We Will Survive, a new book by Grammy award-winning artist Gloria Gaynor, known for her famous song “I Will Survive.”
On Nov. 19, The Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County held its Annual Tribute dinner at the Old Westbury Hebrew Congregation, with more than 400 people in attendance including Bleiberg and Gaynor.
Bleiberg, who talked about being invited by Gaynor to the Town of Oyster Bay Concert this past summer, brought the house down with her hilarious introduction.
“There were thousands of people there and the applause was horrendous!” she said as the audience roared with laughter. “Gloria also surprised me and sang “Happy Birthday” to me over the telephone. How lucky can you get?”
Gaynor thanked Bleiberg and smiling said, “Annie is amazing in so many ways. She is one of those people I get to meet every once in a while but she stands at the top of the list of all the wonderful survivors I met throughout my career.
“Every now and then you meet someone who is going through what seems to be insurmountable odds yet they determine that they will make it through because for them neither defeat nor surrender is an option.”
In a profound speech before she sang her famous song, Gaynor discussed meeting Annie for the first time at the museum.
“It was not until I met Annie and heard her story up close and personal that I began to really understand the atrocities that were perpetrated,” said Gaynor. “In l978 when I recorded, ‘I Will Survive,’ many people took that song as that mantra, but what they were really saying was that ‘I am going to thrive.’
“If you don’t care about other people you can’t expect them to care about you. Evil does not just devour its enemies it destroys its allies as well.”
Gaynor discussed apartheid, the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and how it went on far too long, but the people who survived did not do so without the help and care of others.
[Dr. Susan Bleiberg-Seperson, Annie Bleiberg’s daughter (left), who teaches a course at Dowling College on the sociology of the Holocaust, Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger and Annie Bleiberg]
Dr. Susan Bleiberg-Seperson, Annie Bleiberg’s daughter (left), who teaches a course at Dowling College on the sociology of the Holocaust, Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger and Annie Bleiberg
“Promote being tolerant and be vocal about your adversity to intolerance and hatred,” she continued. “We need to recognize that any of these things can happen anytime, anywhere, to anyone, so we need to be aware and be vocal against hatred. All of us are vulnerable—if we do nothing, none of us will survive.”
Guest speaker Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger, a German physician whose father was a highly decorated Nazi officer, also spoke at the event.
“For a long time I questioned my father’s background trying to find answers that were not provided to me,” he said. “I endeavored into my own journey to find out why Germans would kill Jews. No one would explain that to me.”
Wollschlaeger converted to Judaism, emigrated to Israel and served in the Israel Defense Forces. As an author and lecturer he has spoken all over the world about his life’s journey and the lessons of the holocaust.
“Holocaust museums are not only historic places where we talk about the past and preserve the memories of the past but they remind us what hatred can do to us as people—it is corrosive, it is acid on the soul,” he continued. “If we are not reminded and learn from the dynamics of hate, learning how hate evolves we never will learn to prevent it from happening again. The Holocaust was just one horrific example of what hate can do.”