It began with a visit to a single grave.
About a decade ago, Rabbi Manfred Gans, spiritual leader of Congregation Machane Chodosh in Forest Hills, accompanied a congregant, a recent widower, to the man’s late wife’s grave in Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, L.I. The congregant, Jack Kremski, and his wife, Anna, were Holocaust survivors, natives of Czestachowa, in Poland.
Another marker at the cemetery caught the rabbi’s eyes — a memorial to Jews from Czestachowa who died in the Holocaust. It’s granite. “At least seven, eight feet high,” the rabbi said.
Since then, Rabbi Gans, sometimes alone, sometimes with Jack Kremski, has made a pilgrimage a few times a year to the cemetery, where he visits the grave of Anna Kremski and the Czestachowa marker. He recites some Psalms and leaves a small stone at each site.
And he closes his eyes and thinks of himself in another place. “I envision myself as being in Auschwitz,” he says. A native of Germany, he came to the United States with his family in 1938, a few months before Kristallnacht. “I always imagine what would have happened to me if we had not been successful in getting out of Germany.”
It’s a sobering thought. Nearly everyone from his hometown perished in the Shoah. He lost “uncles and other relatives.”
Rabbi Gans is in his 57th year at his congregation, which was founded by German survivors of the Holocaust. Every year his synagogue commemorates Kristallnacht and Yom HaShoah.
And every year Rabbi Gans conducts his own commemoration at a cemetery in Elmont.