Holocaust survivor Lena Goren, 96, writes in "The Survivor Torah" on...

Holocaust survivor Lena Goren, 96, writes in "The Survivor Torah" on Thursday with Jonny Daniels at the Mid-Island Y JCC in Plainview. Credit: Rick Kopstein

The Nazis told the Jewish prisoners in the Auschwitz concentration camp that the line on the left was for bread. The prisoners had no way of knowing it was a lie — they were headed for the gas chamber, recalled survivor Rosalie Simon.

She was 12 years old and standing in the line with her mother. Rosalie wanted the entire family together, so she ran off to get her sisters, who were in another line. It ended up saving her life — but not her mother’s.

Simon, now 92, was among 100 Holocaust survivors who gathered Thursday in Plainview to recall the horrors they experienced but to also give hope for the future. At the Mid-Island Y JCC, they helped in the restoration of a 250-year-old Torah that, like them, survived the Holocaust.

“We are very blessed that we are having a luncheon today for Holocaust survivors,” said Rick Lewis, chief executive of the Mid-Island Y JCC. “We just want to make sure they live with dignity and live happily and today is just one way that we do that.”

The survivors who attended are among an estimated 13,000 Holocaust survivors who live in New York State, Lewis said, though their numbers are dwindling as many die.

Some are living in poverty or close to it, he said. His organization helps make sure they have enough food, money to pay the rent, and other basics. The Mid-Island Y JCC operates a food pantry, among other services.

The luncheon was the fifth annual celebration of the event, and it has grown steadily from its inception when 25 survivors attended, Lewis said.

Simon, who lives in Floral Park, said it gave her a chance to share her story with other survivors and to form more bonds.

“I think it’s beautiful. It’s a very worthwhile thing for the survivors to get together, and some of them are very lonely,” she said. “It’s good for the survivors to get out.”

On Thursday, many of the survivors helped in the restoration of the Torah. Jonny Daniels, a London-born Israeli activist for Holocaust commemoration, slowly retraced faded letters in the Torah as the elderly survivors placed their hand on his forearm — in effect, making the letters “together.”

Organizers call it "The Survivor Torah."

Jonny Daniels speaks Tuesday in Plainview. The Holocaust survivors who attended...

Jonny Daniels speaks Tuesday in Plainview. The Holocaust survivors who attended are among an estimated 13,000 who live in New York State.

  Credit: Rick Kopstein

Simon said the trauma of the Holocaust is burned into her memory and her soul.

The day with the lines was their first in Auschwitz. They believed the Nazis when they told them the line on the left was for bread, she said.

After she ran off to find her sisters, they could not get back to the line where their mother was.

Simon never saw her again.

“So my mother was walking straight to the gas chamber and I found out later my brother was also selected to go to the gas chamber,” she said. “They both died in the gas chamber.”

She was later sent to another location, in Germany, to work in a munitions factory, she said, and then to yet another, where food was scarce.

“We would have starved. We couldn’t last very much longer,” she said.

But the Americans were on the way, and by 1945 they were rescued.

Simon has spoken at schools about her experience, and has educated and enlightened students about one of the worst moments in history, according to Lisa Pollack, a volunteer at the event who also works with the nonprofit “Names Not Numbers.” That group helps students make documentary films about Holocaust survivors.

Simon “is the model of elegance, and grace and resilience and fortitude, and most importantly gratitude,” Pollack said. “That’s how she lives her life.”

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