The Sid Jacobson JCC in East Hills is exhibiting 18 portraits of Holocaust survivors through June. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Ronia “Ronnie” Beecher was 6 years old when a simple ballgame changed her life.

Beecher, a Jewish refugee escaping persecution, didn’t know then that she was living in a safe house the French resistance was running during the height of Nazi Germany’s rule.

Beecher and a teenage girl who lived in the home often would play ball together at the house on the border of France and Switzerland.

Beecher also didn’t realize at first that it wasn’t just a game, but a ploy that would enable her to escape.

When that day finally came, the teenager gave the signal by launching the ball past Beecher, prompting her to run as fast as she could.

“I was not to look back,” Beecher said recently, recalling the day she crossed the French border into Switzerland. “I was not to catch the ball. I was supposed to run like the dickens.”

A man in a uniform grabbed her on the other side, and as Beecher began to panic, he told her she was safe.

The man was a member of the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants, a Jewish aid society that rescued nearly 1,200 children during the Holocaust. 

Nearly 80 years later, a 30-by-40-inch portrait of Beecher is among 18 photos of Holocaust survivors that hang on the walls of the Sid Jacobson JCC in East Hills. The images are a way to preserve history and keep the stories of survival and triumph alive, according to photographer Daniel Weiss, the exhibit’s creator.

“In an era when survivors are dying and there are too many people denying that there ever was a Holocaust, I feel so strongly that the images stand as proof,” said Weiss, 50, of Port Washington.

He said the portraits “also let a younger generation be exposed to this very important moment in our history.”

People like Beecher, now 86 and a longtime Great Neck resident, who can share their stories of survival first-hand are becoming scarcer, Weiss noted.

There are an estimated 230,000 survivors globally, including about 40,000 in the United States, according to The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, a nonprofit that helps gets restitution for Jewish victims of Nazi persecution and their heirs.

Weiss said more than half the survivors featured in the portraits have died since he photographed them five years ago. He started the project shortly after hearing a speech from one of the portrait subjects, the late Irving Roth.

At the time, Roth was director of The Holocaust Resource Center at Temple Judea of Manhasset, which since has been renamed for him.

Weiss’ son, Elijah, was preparing for his bar mitzvah when the pair accepted an invitation to listen to Holocaust survivor testimony.

The photographer said the thought of having his 12-year-old son hear the horrific and dark stories he had heard growing up in Brooklyn unsettled him.

But Weiss said Roth’s testimony about survival and perseverance changed his perspective.

“His lifeforce, his energy was so inspiring that I felt compelled to just create a portrait of just him,” the photographer said.

The project began with Roth, but with assistance from Dinah Kramer, a Manhasset resident and retired teacher who is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, it developed to include 18 survivors — 18 because the number stands for life in Hebrew.

Kramer, who worked with Roth on Holocaust education before he died, said all the portrait subjects are from Long Island and Queens and recognized the importance of sharing their stories.

Some of the subjects also were part of a local Adopt-A-Survivor program, which pairs survivors with teenagers who commit to learning and retelling their stories to the next generation.

“These people went through these atrocities … but continued to live. They survived and they thrived,” said Kramer, 65, whose mother, Sara Gole, is featured in the exhibit. 

The project took about three years to produce and first went on display at the Port Washington Public Library in 2020 — a showcase cut short by the pandemic’s start.

The portrait subjects came from across Europe and survived concentration camps that included Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Treblinka.

The survivors fled to different countries that included England, the United States and even China. Christian families saved some, while Allied forces liberated others.

While each of the 18 stories is different, the message of perseverance is the same, according to Weiss.

“What I learned was there are a lot of different ways to cope, to manage, to survive,” the photographer said. “What impressed me most was that they didn’t allow this horrific moment in their life to completely define their life.”

Dina Shuster, the JCC’s deputy executive director, said the exhibit was an extension of the involvement the organization already has with survivors by working with them to help educate others and by feeding some who are struggling with food insecurity.

Last month, organizers held an opening reception to debut the exhibit in a hallway of the community center, where it will be on display until June 30. 

Beecher was born in 1936, three years after Adolf Hitler came into power and two years after the Nazi regime enacted the Nuremberg Race Laws, anti-Jewish statutes that marked a significant step in removing Jewish influences from Aryan society, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Beecher’s mother, Alice Reutlinger, was a dressmaker, and her father, Adolf “Paul” Reutlinger, was a cantor and teacher in Lörrach, Germany.

Beecher tells a lot of her family’s story through the eyes of her father, who died in 1986 but recorded his experiences on cassette tapes, she said.

German SS officers imprisoned her father before Kristallnacht or The Night of Broken Glass, when Nazi troops in November 1939 looted Jewish business and raided homes, sending thousands to concentration camps. But he was freed months later.

The family moved to another town to escape persecution, until one day there was a knock at their door.

Two Gestapo officers gave the family one hour to pack a suitcase with their most essential belongings and only allowed them to bring 100 German Reichsmark — about $40.

Hitler’s regime transported the family on a three-day train ride to Gurs internment camp in the unoccupied portion of France, which was filled with political refugees and other Nazi targets, Beecher said.

It was cold and rainy and soldiers separated the men and women, with young children staying with their mothers. The barracks were empty upon their arrival, but soon overflowed with people. There was no privacy and no toilet facilities, but prisoners could use a small stove.

At first, prisoners slept on straw, and later potato sacks, which made it a little more bearable, Beecher said of her father’s recollection. 

Beecher said several of her loved ones died in the camp from infections. After four months, German forces took Beecher’s family to a different internment camp in France known as Rivesaltes, where there was less rain but strong winds.

Her mother helped care for the children at the camp, while her father tried to maintain his role as a teacher, but with no books available.

“It was really hard to learn anything when you didn’t have any equipment there,” she said. “Life was really hard."

They were there for more than a year.

In that time, Beecher’s parents had to make a heartbreaking choice as they watched her health deteriorate. They gave her to a local organization that smuggled children to safer locations with better conditions.

“This woman had to pull me away from my mother,” Beecher said of the day her parents gave her up to save her life.

She was 5 years old at the time, and her memory of that trauma persists decades later.

The volunteers took Beecher to a place near France's Mediterranean coast where other children also resided before moving her to a château for sick children and orphans that the local Red Cross ran.

After six months at the château, Beecher discovered her parents had escaped Rivesaltes internment camp and crossed the border into Switzerland.

They searched for her for several months before the ballgame that changed her life also led to their reunion.

Beecher taught first through third grade for more than two decades at Lakeville Elementary School in Great Neck.

She left Switzerland and arrived in New York with her family before her 10th birthday. She grew up in Flushing, moved to Bayside after getting married and later relocated to Great Neck.

At age 80, Beecher began taking trips to Europe to visit places from her youth with her daughter, Judi Beecher.

The actor and filmmaker is making a documentary about her family’s Holocaust story. 

“She’s on a journey right now,” Judi Beecher said of her mother. “She’s right in the middle of it, of growth, healing and understanding.”

The Manhattan resident, who declined to give her age, said it only was recently that her mother became comfortable telling her story. Before that, she would talk about her experiences in the third person or not at all.

The three hours of cassette recordings Adolf “Paul” Reutlinger made before his death will be the basis of her film project.

“We go back to all the places that he speaks about, and we found the escape routes that they followed,” Judi Beecher said.

This summer the pair plans to travel to France to visit the internment camps and find the place where Beecher made her daring escape.

Ronia “Ronnie” Beecher was 6 years old when a simple ballgame changed her life.

Beecher, a Jewish refugee escaping persecution, didn’t know then that she was living in a safe house the French resistance was running during the height of Nazi Germany’s rule.

Beecher and a teenage girl who lived in the home often would play ball together at the house on the border of France and Switzerland.

Beecher also didn’t realize at first that it wasn’t just a game, but a ploy that would enable her to escape.

When that day finally came, the teenager gave the signal by launching the ball past Beecher, prompting her to run as fast as she could.

“I was not to look back,” Beecher said recently, recalling the day she crossed the French border into Switzerland. “I was not to catch the ball. I was supposed to run like the dickens.”

A man in a uniform grabbed her on the other side, and as Beecher began to panic, he told her she was safe.

The man was a member of the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants, a Jewish aid society that rescued nearly 1,200 children during the Holocaust. 

Nearly 80 years later, a 30-by-40-inch portrait of Beecher is among 18 photos of Holocaust survivors that hang on the walls of the Sid Jacobson JCC in East Hills. The images are a way to preserve history and keep the stories of survival and triumph alive, according to photographer Daniel Weiss, the exhibit’s creator.

“In an era when survivors are dying and there are too many people denying that there ever was a Holocaust, I feel so strongly that the images stand as proof,” said Weiss, 50, of Port Washington.

He said the portraits “also let a younger generation be exposed to this very important moment in our history.”

People like Beecher, now 86 and a longtime Great Neck resident, who can share their stories of survival first-hand are becoming scarcer, Weiss noted.

230,000 survivors globally

There are an estimated 230,000 survivors globally, including about 40,000 in the United States, according to The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, a nonprofit that helps gets restitution for Jewish victims of Nazi persecution and their heirs.

Weiss said more than half the survivors featured in the portraits have died since he photographed them five years ago. He started the project shortly after hearing a speech from one of the portrait subjects, the late Irving Roth.

At the time, Roth was director of The Holocaust Resource Center at Temple Judea of Manhasset, which since has been renamed for him.

Weiss’ son, Elijah, was preparing for his bar mitzvah when the pair accepted an invitation to listen to Holocaust survivor testimony.

The photographer said the thought of having his 12-year-old son hear the horrific and dark stories he had heard growing up in Brooklyn unsettled him.

But Weiss said Roth’s testimony about survival and perseverance changed his perspective.

“His lifeforce, his energy was so inspiring that I felt compelled to just create a portrait of just him,” the photographer said.

The project began with Roth, but with assistance from Dinah Kramer, a Manhasset resident and retired teacher who is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, it developed to include 18 survivors — 18 because the number stands for life in Hebrew.

Kramer, who worked with Roth on Holocaust education before he died, said all the portrait subjects are from Long Island and Queens and recognized the importance of sharing their stories.

Some of the subjects also were part of a local Adopt-A-Survivor program, which pairs survivors with teenagers who commit to learning and retelling their stories to the next generation.

“These people went through these atrocities … but continued to live. They survived and they thrived,” said Kramer, 65, whose mother, Sara Gole, is featured in the exhibit. 

The project took about three years to produce and first went on display at the Port Washington Public Library in 2020 — a showcase cut short by the pandemic’s start.

The portrait subjects came from across Europe and survived concentration camps that included Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Treblinka.

The survivors fled to different countries that included England, the United States and even China. Christian families saved some, while Allied forces liberated others.

While each of the 18 stories is different, the message of perseverance is the same, according to Weiss.

“What I learned was there are a lot of different ways to cope, to manage, to survive,” the photographer said. “What impressed me most was that they didn’t allow this horrific moment in their life to completely define their life.”

Dina Shuster, the JCC’s deputy executive director, said the exhibit was an extension of the involvement the organization already has with survivors by working with them to help educate others and by feeding some who are struggling with food insecurity.

Last month, organizers held an opening reception to debut the exhibit in a hallway of the community center, where it will be on display until June 30. 

Escaping persecution

Beecher was born in 1936, three years after Adolf Hitler came into power and two years after the Nazi regime enacted the Nuremberg Race Laws, anti-Jewish statutes that marked a significant step in removing Jewish influences from Aryan society, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Beecher’s mother, Alice Reutlinger, was a dressmaker, and her father, Adolf “Paul” Reutlinger, was a cantor and teacher in Lörrach, Germany.

Beecher tells a lot of her family’s story through the eyes of her father, who died in 1986 but recorded his experiences on cassette tapes, she said.

German SS officers imprisoned her father before Kristallnacht or The Night of Broken Glass, when Nazi troops in November 1939 looted Jewish business and raided homes, sending thousands to concentration camps. But he was freed months later.

The family moved to another town to escape persecution, until one day there was a knock at their door.

Two Gestapo officers gave the family one hour to pack a suitcase with their most essential belongings and only allowed them to bring 100 German Reichsmark — about $40.

Hitler’s regime transported the family on a three-day train ride to Gurs internment camp in the unoccupied portion of France, which was filled with political refugees and other Nazi targets, Beecher said.

It was cold and rainy and soldiers separated the men and women, with young children staying with their mothers. The barracks were empty upon their arrival, but soon overflowed with people. There was no privacy and no toilet facilities, but prisoners could use a small stove.

At first, prisoners slept on straw, and later potato sacks, which made it a little more bearable, Beecher said of her father’s recollection. 

Beecher said several of her loved ones died in the camp from infections. After four months, German forces took Beecher’s family to a different internment camp in France known as Rivesaltes, where there was less rain but strong winds.

Her mother helped care for the children at the camp, while her father tried to maintain his role as a teacher, but with no books available.

“It was really hard to learn anything when you didn’t have any equipment there,” she said. “Life was really hard."

They were there for more than a year.

In that time, Beecher’s parents had to make a heartbreaking choice as they watched her health deteriorate. They gave her to a local organization that smuggled children to safer locations with better conditions.

“This woman had to pull me away from my mother,” Beecher said of the day her parents gave her up to save her life.

She was 5 years old at the time, and her memory of that trauma persists decades later.

The volunteers took Beecher to a place near France's Mediterranean coast where other children also resided before moving her to a château for sick children and orphans that the local Red Cross ran.

After six months at the château, Beecher discovered her parents had escaped Rivesaltes internment camp and crossed the border into Switzerland.

They searched for her for several months before the ballgame that changed her life also led to their reunion.

Documenting history

Beecher taught first through third grade for more than two decades at Lakeville Elementary School in Great Neck.

She left Switzerland and arrived in New York with her family before her 10th birthday. She grew up in Flushing, moved to Bayside after getting married and later relocated to Great Neck.

At age 80, Beecher began taking trips to Europe to visit places from her youth with her daughter, Judi Beecher.

The actor and filmmaker is making a documentary about her family’s Holocaust story. 

“She’s on a journey right now,” Judi Beecher said of her mother. “She’s right in the middle of it, of growth, healing and understanding.”

The Manhattan resident, who declined to give her age, said it only was recently that her mother became comfortable telling her story. Before that, she would talk about her experiences in the third person or not at all.

The three hours of cassette recordings Adolf “Paul” Reutlinger made before his death will be the basis of her film project.

“We go back to all the places that he speaks about, and we found the escape routes that they followed,” Judi Beecher said.

This summer the pair plans to travel to France to visit the internment camps and find the place where Beecher made her daring escape.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Portraits of 18 local Holocaust survivors are on display at the Sid Jacobson JCC in East Hills
  • Photographer Daniel Weiss said "the images stand as proof" of the Holocaust in an era where survivors are dying and there are "too many" deniers
  • One of the featured survivors, Ronnie Beecher, taught school in Great Neck for two decades
  • Beecher, 86, ran across the border from France to Switzerland at age 6 before a Jewish children's aid society rescued her
Trump gag order appeal … Housing prices debrief … Paying the Price Credit: Newsday

Justin Timberlake arrested in Sag Harbor ... Bernagozzi new charges ... Court declines Trump gag order appeal ... Paying the Price

Trump gag order appeal … Housing prices debrief … Paying the Price Credit: Newsday

Justin Timberlake arrested in Sag Harbor ... Bernagozzi new charges ... Court declines Trump gag order appeal ... Paying the Price

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME