The Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center on Saturday night honored two people at its 60th annual anniversary gala dinner and silent auction at the Radisson in Trevose.
The honorees were Rhonda Fink-Whitman and Phil Holtje, who were originally supposed to be feted last year, but the pandemic forced cancellation of the event.
Saturday’s event was shown online for people who could not make it in person.
Chuck Feldman, HAMEC’s president, called for a moment of silence for all the Holocaust survivors and educators who’ve died since the last gala in 2019.
Fink-Whitman, a Somerton native, was recognized for her work as a Holocaust education advocate. Her mom, Tania Fink, a Holocaust survivor, traveled from Delray Beach, Florida to introduce her.
Fink-Whitman wrote 94 Maidens, a book chronicling her mother’s survival that was HAMEC’s first Book of the Month. She also led the successful effort to bring Holocaust and genocide education to Pennsylvania schools. Thirteen other states have followed, thanks in part to Fink-Whitman’s prodding. In all, 19 states teach Holocaust education.
“I’m shooting for all 50 states before I die,” Fink-Whitman said.
Fink-Whitman is planning a graphic novel, Daughters of the Holocaust. More information is available at 94Maidens.com.
Holtje, a newlywed, was HAMEC’s education director from 2010-15. He expanded the number of school education programs from 42 to 540, reaching more than 150,000 young people. He recruited more than 30 Holocaust survivors, liberators and resistors to share their testimonies and led the initiative to videotape testimonies.
Holtje, who was introduced on video by West Chester University professor Jonathan Friedman, recalls the first school program, featuring Ronnie Breslow at Girard College.
“Their stories blew me away,” he said.
Survivors in attendance were Sarah Meller, Ralph Franklin, Tania Fink, Ruth Hartz and Dave Tuck.
Elected officials on hand were state Reps. Ed Neilson and Mark Gillen, Common Pleas Court Judge Charlie Ehrlich and City Councilman Isaiah Thomas.
Musical entertainment was provided by Two of a Kind and Ken Ulansey. Two of a Kind is planning a musical titled Hidden on Hartz, a survivor from southern France (HiddenTheMusical.com).
HAMEC, founded in 1961, moved in August 2020 from KleinLife to Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, in Elkins Park. Opened in 1961, it’s believed to be the first Holocaust museum in the United States.
A major focus in the last decade has been educating young people about the Holocaust. Survivors have helped reach more than 300,000 students in over 30 countries with their message. That program has been virtual for the last year, allowing HAMEC to reach students worldwide. In fact, Tuck recently spoke to students in Poland. ••