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Hadassah chapter to host online Henny Simon Remembrance program Sunday

The Eastern Connecticut Chapter of Hadassah will explore a little-known connection between European Jews and Shanghai, China, during Sunday's fourth annual Henny Simon Remembrance program.

After last year's program was canceled by the onslaught of the pandemic, Sunday's 2 p.m. program, “Seeking Refuge: Shanghai & Beyond. Journeys from Peril to Freedom,” will be held online on Zoom.

One of the few open ports for refugees prior to World War II was Shanghai, China, said Sheila Horvitz, chairwoman of the Hadassah chapter’s Henny Simon Remembrance Committee. Simon’s father, Ludwig Rosenbaum, escaped Nazi Germany in 1938 to Shanghai, Horvitz said.

Simon died at age 91 in 2017. She was a life member of Hadassah and a devoted Holocaust educator. The Henny Simon Remembrance seeks to educate on history, culture, and diversity to continue her legacy of advocacy for peace, tolerance and justice, the Hadassah news release on Sunday’s program stated.

The Rose & Sigmund Strochlitz Holocaust Resource Center of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut is a supporter and sponsor of the program.

Guest speakers will be Laurence Tribe, retired constitutional law professor at Harvard University, and Helen Elperina, physics teacher at Branford High School.

Anyone interested in joining the Zoom program must contact Hadassah President Karen Bloustine by email at Bloustinek@gmail.com.

Tribe was born Oct. 10, 1941 in Shanghai to parents whose families had fled oppression in Belarus in the 1880s and 1890s. His mother was born in Manchuria. Tribe lived in Shanghai until age 6.

Horvitz said life changed dramatically for everyone in Shanghai after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. More than 20,000 Jews had fled to Shanghai from 1938 to 1940, she said, and by 1943 were moved into the Shanghai ghetto.

According to a biography provided by Hadassah, Tribe became a prominent constitutional scholar, lawyer and law professor. He has advised Democratic presidential candidates on elections and Supreme Court candidates. He has argued high-profile cases before the Supreme Court, including representing Muslims affected by the former travel ban and so-called “Dreamers,” children of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Elperina’s biography said her father was 9 and living in Minsk when the Nazis invaded, destroyed the city and killed thousands of Jews. Her father survived and remained in the Soviet Union, where Elperina was born in 1955. In 1989, when then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev opened emigration, Elperina, her husband and their children came to the United States.

A physics teacher in Minsk, Elperina and her family arrived in New London in 1990 with the help of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut and the Refugee Resettlement Program. She learned English and obtained her teaching certificate. Since 1994, she has been a physics teacher at Branford High School, where she was named Teacher of the Year in 2007-08.

Horvitz said Hadassah chose this theme to highlight Simon’s connection to Shanghai. Simon’s father, Rosenbaum, had been arrested by the Nazis shortly before Kristallnacht — the “Night of Broken Glass,” Nov. 9-10, 1938, when Nazis attacked Jews, smashed windows and destroyed property.

“Thousands of Jewish men were arrested,” Horvitz said, “and Jews realized life in Germany wouldn’t be the same. That was the impetus for people leaving, and Hitler was allowing people to leave.”

Most nations were closed to immigration, she said, but Shanghai was open. Rosenbaum fled to China alone. His wife and young Henny tried to join him, but it was too late. They were sent to ghettos and to concentration camps. Henny’s mother was killed, but Henny survived and married a survivor of Auschwitz.

“Miraculously,” Horvitz said, Henny was reunited with her father in 1949 through the dogged work of international agencies working to reunite survivors, or at least inform them that family members had died.

Simon’s family settled in Colchester.

“The jumping off point (for Sunday’s remembrance program) was Henny’s father seeking refuge in Shanghai, China where he lived from 1940 to 1950,” Horvitz said. “We want to explore that: What happened to refugees in Shanghai?”

c.bessette@theday.com

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