In 1939 when she was just 13 years old, Claire Friedlander hid and watched while the Nazis assembled all the Jews of Sgryj — including her younger brother and grandparents — in the center of this Polish village. They were never seen again.
Friedlander, however, managed to escape to a factory where her parents worked. A Polish family took them in, hiding her parents on his farm and pretending that Claire was one of their own children. The Friedlanders lived with the family until the Russians liberated them in 1943. They later immigrated to the United States.
Friedlander, who never married and worked in her family’s real estate business in the city, died last year at the age of 80 and left her $20 million estate to a charitable trust.
“She decided to create a foundation to live on beyond her to make sure her story was kept alive, and my job is to find worthy organizations to help continue the message,” said Peter Klein, an investment counselor from Huntington who is the foundation’s president.
“I worked with her many years,” he said. “About 12 years ago, she said she wanted to do philanthropic giving. Her favorite charity was Yad Vashem, where she dedicated a room to her family. She gave to a number of other organizations in her lifetime, including to the Holocaust museum in Glen Cove, where she funded a garden project for children who perished in the Holocaust.”
Klein said Friedlander believed that the greatest strength of the Glen Cove museum, formally known as the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, was in its ability to teach tolerance training.
“Israel, the Holocaust and tolerance were her primary interests,” he said.
As a result, Klein said, $1.2 million of her foundation is to be donated over the next three years to the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center.
Howard Maier, chairman of the center, said the money would be used to create an “educational institute that would be the vehicle for all of our educational programming.”
The institute is to be housed in a wing of the center, which is situated in a mansion on the 247-acre Welwyn Preserve that was a gift to the center by Nassau County. The wing overlooks the Children’s Memorial Garden. The center’s offices that are now located in that wing will be relocated to the east wing.
The work will take place while the center itself is undergoing a major renovation that began in June and has closed the facility. It is expected to reopen in late fall when the work is completed. The $3 million renovation, the first since the center was created nearly 20 years ago, will establish a permanent, modern Holocaust exhibit.
“We have the largest Holocaust collection on Long Island,” Maier said. “The permanent exhibit will have DVDs and electronic displays. …Young children don’t relate today to pictures, so we need a state-of-the-art audio visual presentation.”
He said that although the first floor of the center is expected to be completed later this year, the institute itself would take another year to complete.
Although the center was created to deal exclusively with the Holocaust, Maier said that it, “like most Holocaust institutions, has repositioned itself in the last five to 10 years” to teach the lessons of the Holocaust through tolerance training.
“We have been running tolerance workshops for students that provide a historical orientation about the Holocaust,” he explained. “In our all-day programs, we devote 90-minutes to the Holocaust and the rest of the day we deal with prejudice and intolerance and the bullying that students observe on a daily basis. Our programs differ from the Anti-Defamation League’s and others in that we use the Holocaust to say that this is what happened when prejudice went unchecked.
“We recognize that the Holocaust did not start in 1939 but rather in the early ‘30s with racial prejudices and with the Nuremberg Laws that took rights away from the Jews and others.”