The American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants is the umbrella organization of survivor groups and landsmanshaften located in North America that was founded in 1981. The mission of the organization is remembrance, education and commemoration.
Immediately after the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Israel in June, 1981, the organizers of that event established a non-profit corporation to prepare for the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Washington, DC in April, 1983. The officers of this “event-geared” organization were Benjamin Meed, Sam Bloch, Ernest Michel, Roman Kent, Norbert Wollheim, Hirsch Altusky, Fred Diament, James Rapp and Solomon Zynstein.
The event in the American capitol attracted 20,000 survivors and their families, where for three days, attendees commemorated the Holocaust, attended cultural events, met with politicians, including the President and Vice President of the United States, attended seminars. At the Capitol Center, they were addressed by President Ronald Reagan, and learned that an umbrella organization for American Jewish Holocaust survivors had been created in the name of the Gathering.
The announcement was made by Benjamin Meed, a Polish survivor, the driving force behind the gatherings, which started as a dream had by Ernest Michel, a German survivor, when he was in Auschwitz. The mission of the organization is remembrance, education and commemoration. The New-York City based American Gathering has a number of on-going projects tied to its mission statement.
The BENJAMIN AND VLADKA MEED REGISTRY OF JEWISH HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS was established in 1981 to document the lives of survivors who came to the United States after World War II. It was originally created to help survivors search for relatives and friends, and now contains the names of survivors and their families from all over the world. In 1993, the Registry was moved to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where user-friendly computers allow visitors to access the database. There is also a page for the Registry on the Museum’s website, (http://www.ushmm.org/) and the Gathering continues to seek new registrants via its quarterly newspaper Together (circ. 180,000) and its website, http://www.americangathering.com/.
The Registry now includes over 185,000 records related to survivors and their families and seeks to include the names of all Holocaust survivors, facilitate contacts, collect and display basic information about them and assists survivors seeking lost relatives.
The effect of the American Gathering on the survivors and on America has had a lasting impact. Survivors now contribute actively to educational programs around the country by speaking in classrooms and religious institutions, writing their memoirs and pressing their case as eyewitnesses before the sands of time run out on them.
Holocaust education is now mandatory in many States of the Union because of the need to teach tolerance. Hate Crimes laws have been enacted around the country because survivors pressed for legislation to outlaw racist acts. Holocaust commemoration and remembrance is carried on in almost every State House in the Union. And because of the survivors and the American Gathering, the Holocaust has even had an influence on American domestic policy and even on foreign policy, particularly in Europe and the Middle East.
The American Gathering held its inaugural “organization” meeting in Philadelphia, PA in 1985, where its theme was to speak truth to power and to request that the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, not place a wreath at the Bitburg Cemetery in Germany, where the Waffen SS were buried. Since that time, there have been gatherings in Florida, New York, Los Angeles and other major cities around the nation.
In February 2005 the officers of the organization were Benjamin Meed, Roman Kent, Sam Bloch, Max Liebmann and Leon Stabinski.
by Jeanette Friedman
Sources: Interviews with Sam Bloch and Roman Kent in Feb. 2005
From Holocaust to New Life: A Documentary Volume Depicting the proceedings and events of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, Washington DC, April 1983-Nissan 5743; The American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, NY, 1985.