Sabine Breier doesn’t recall Kristallnacht, the start of Nazi Germany’s pogroms against Jews in November 1938, but the then-8-month-old native of Berlin was there when the killing started.
In fact, many of the 81-year-old Westbury resident’s memories of one of the darkest periods in modern history are, like those of other survivors of the Holocaust, sometimes vivid but often faint and fading.
That is why Breier and up to 10 other survivors took part in the UJA-Federation of New York's Witness Project event Monday night, which partnered Holocaust survivors with Long Island teenagers who are the next generation of narrators to tell their stories.
“I met with all the students who are here to learn about the Holocaust through witnesses — firsthand information,” Breier said as she attended the event at the Tilles Center in Brookville, an event that drew more than 1,500 people to the work of three dozen students who portrayed the 11 survivors in a play or through visual art.
The students’ art hung on the walls of the venue, where onlookers mingled amid festive music and admired the works devoted to the survivors. Many of them were collages with colorful pictures of the smiling men and women set against the background of dreary black-and-white newspaper clippings depicting the horrors of each day of the conflict.
Lucy Haworth, 16, a junior at Roslyn High School, said she was honored to play Breier in the production.
“It’s very meaningful to me because I get to share her story and, hopefully, it will live on because it deserves to be told so many people never forget,” she said. "It gives me the opportunity to be put in her shoes. Even though I never experienced it firsthand, it’s like close enough for me to understand what she went through.”
Breier was shipped out of Germany in 1939 to England, where she was raised by a British family who took in Jews fleeing the genocide. But she learned much later that two of her sisters were killed by Nazis in Auschwitz, her father dying in a slave labor camp in Buchenwald.
Survivors included 99-year-old Eddie Rosenblum of West Hempstead, who was born in Vienna but came to the United States and returned to Europe as a soldier in the U.S. Army to fight the Nazis, taking part in the D-Day invasion on Omaha Beach in Normandy.
He said he recalls seeing Adolf Hitler himself in person on the streets of Vienna, where locals marveled at the new leader of Germany.
And there was also Werner Reich, 91, of Smithtown, who was beaten to a pulp by Nazis when they found him hiding with a couple in Zagreb, in the former Yugoslavia.
“They beat the living daylights out of me,” he said, adding that he was also sent to Graz, Austria, where he served six weeks in prison before ultimately being transferred to Auschwitz and then the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. When he was liberated from there, he weighed 64 pounds at 17 years old, he said.
Casey Fine, 17, of Brookville, a Jericho High School senior, juxtaposed Eddie Rosenblum’s smiling face against the newspaper clippings to demonstrate his strength amid adversity.
“Even after all he’s been through, he can still put a smile on his face,” she said.