In December 2007, Walter Adler was on the Q train in New York City with two of his Jewish friends when the three were assaulted by a group of anti-Semitic attackers.
Hassan Askari, a Muslim who was born in Bangladesh, stepped in during the taunts and punches to stop the incident. While Askari was stopping the fight, Adler pulled the emergency brake to call police to the train.
“I did what I thought was right at the time,” Askari said.
Adler, who is currently a New York City Emergency Medical Technician, recalled on Tuesday that this attack was an experience he would never forget.
“Hate crimes threaten the fabric that a city is run on,” Adler said. “As an EMT, I feel it is necessary to try to carry the torch that the Holocaust survivors had during their difficult time. This may not be as bad a time as the Holocaust, but it has the potential to be.”
The Village of Great Neck Plaza honored Adler and Askari and two other “upstanders” – people who took positive action to stop or prevent past and present hate crimes from happening – at a ceremony kicking off a a month-long exhibit that is being hosted by the village called “Upstanders Then and Now: Courage Knows No Era” throughout the month of December in the village courtroom, located at 2 Gussack Plaza remembering the events of the Holocaust.
The exhibit will feature panels of photos from the Holocaust, including photos of Pastor Andre Trocme who is credited with saving thousands of Jewish children during World War II.
The Harriet and Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center of Queensborough Community College and the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County are working in collaboration with the village to host this exhibit.
The village gave proclamations to Holocaust survivors Renee Wiener and Herman Horowitz as well as Askari and Adler.
“This is an important and significant program that I am pleased to be able to bring to this community,” said Ted Rosen, deputy mayor of the Village of Great Neck Plaza. “We are the closest level of government to the community and thought it was necessary that the people should know the history and lessons of the Holocaust.”
Wiener was from Vienna and fled to France during the Holocaust to live a “normal life,” which consisted of always looking over her shoulder to be on guard for Nazi soldiers.
Wiener, who currently lives in Great Neck Plaza, was a member of the French Resistance during World War II and was awarded the medal of Commander in the French Legion of Honor this year for her courageous acts of rescuing and finding homes for numerous Jewish children who escaped to safety in Switzerland.
Horowitz was a 20-year-old when he became a soldier in the Seventh Armored Division where he took part in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. Horowitz landed in Normandy on June 15, 1944, only nine days after D-Day, and said his mission during the war was to kill Germans, destroy their equipment and liberate people in the Hitler regime. Horowitz’s unit liberated the Bergen-Belsen and Ohrdruf concentration camps in Germany.
“It was difficult for people to understand who we were because any uniform meant trouble,” Horowitz said. “It took days for them to realize I was a Jewish-American there to help them be liberated. A new generation of people should never forget what happened during World War II.”
Arthur Flug, executive director at the Harriet and Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center of Queensborough Community College, said the story of the four honorees was important for people to hear.
“The people being honored today are not famous and nobody knows their faces, but their level of bravery to rescue Jews is important,” Flug said. “They all did the right thing by standing up and saying something with their voice. This exhibit furthers our center’s mission to educate current and future generations about the ramifications of prejudice, racism and stereotyping.”
Beth Lilach, senior director of education at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, said the exhibit can teach people that being an upstander can prevent future incidences from taking place.
“Tragedies that we are talking about now could have been prevented if there was an upstander who stepped up before an incident happened,” Lilach said. “The only person to not choose a role during a hate crime is a victim. By remaining silent, a bystander is helping the perpetrator. The simple remedy is for any ordinary person to be an upstander and perform an extraordinary act of bravery and kindness.”
The “Upstanders Then and Now: Courage Knows No Era” exhibit is free for all guests to see during the entire month of December. Village Hall is open on Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.. Anybody interested in seeing the exhibit after hours can call the Mayor’s Office at (516) 482-4500 to set up an appointment.