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The Most Poignant of Newspaper Beats
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Jewish Week Turns a Page

The Most Poignant of Newspaper Beats

A Jewish Week reporter reflects on covering Holocaust survivors from here to Ukraine.

Holocaust survivor and artist Fred Terna, photographed in his Brooklyn studio. (Daniel Terna)
Holocaust survivor and artist Fred Terna, photographed in his Brooklyn studio. (Daniel Terna)

For the last 33 years, the New York Jewish Week has given me a front-row seat — both literally and figuratively — to major events in the Jewish world both here and around the world.

It has allowed me to interview several Israeli prime ministers, including Benjamin Netanyahu, Shimon Peres, Yitzchak Rabin and Yitzchak Shamir. Over the years, I have traveled to Israel numerous times, including with such political leaders as then-New York City Mayor David Dinkins and then-Gov. George Pataki. I have also seen the amazing work of Jewish organizations in Israel, including UJA-Federation of New York, and reported on cutting-edge medical and scientific discoveries.

Closer to home, my position has permitted me to cover virtually every Democratic and Republican National Convention since 1984, leading to memorable interviews with countless political leaders, including Ohio Sen. John Glenn, Hillary Clinton and Geraldine Ferraro.

For many years I covered the activities of UJA-Federation of New York and showcased its humanitarian work in many areas, such as: aid relief for natural disasters throughout the world and in the United States. Among them articles about Superstorm Sandy and the devastating impact it had on synagogues, JCCs and individual families on the South Shore of Long Island. In each of these tragedies UJA-Federation of New York was always there providing assistance.

Stewart Ain interviewing former New York Sen. Al D’Amato during the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (Meryl Ain)

But perhaps the most poignant stories I have written have been about the plight of Holocaust survivors — their hardscrabble living conditions, reparations and hard-fought attempts to recover property lost in Europe, including bank accounts and insurance claims. In addition, I have reported on the work of the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany and its efforts to convince the German government of survivors’ increasing needs for financial help as they age.

After the Swiss banks agreed in 2000 that survivors and their heirs would receive the bulk of a $1.25 billion settlement as global compensation for secretly hoarding unpaid bank accounts of Jews killed in the Holocaust, I flew to Switzerland to report on reaction there. Then I flew to the Ukraine and Israel to speak with survivors living in poverty and ask them how they planned to use the money they would receive from the settlement.

I still vividly remember an elderly woman who lived alone in a wooden shack without running water. When I asked her what she did for water, she picked up two buckets, walked down the road to a water pump, filled them and then carried them back to her hut. My picture of her carrying the buckets of water landed on the front page of The Jewish Week.

I have interviewed hundreds of survivors over the years, most recently Fred Terna, who, at 96, is one of the oldest survivors of Auschwitz. And I have reported on the many Holocaust museums in this country and how they are using modern technology to retell the unspeakable that was perpetrated by the Nazis as they murdered 6 million Jews.

I toured the Terezin Nazi concentration camp in Czechoslovakia (with a group from UJA-Federation) and found it void of feeling. Terna, who was interred there for two years, told me he returned shortly after the war.

“It was a make-believe place by then,” said Terna, who is a painter. “The reality was gone, the people were gone and very fortunately, the prisoners who survived left carrying their memories.”

I have spent a career documenting those memories, and in that way exposing them to light and not letting them fade from history. It was a newspaper beat both bitter and sweet.

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