Father Brian McWeeney, director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, took part in a special panel discussion on The Dachau Album: An Interfaith Holocaust Project, which presented an artifact as a Holocaust time capsule.
Father McWeeney, like others on the panel, said that people of good will should be vigilant in making sure that atrocities in today’s world never escalate to anything near the horrors of the Holocaust—indeed, they must end. Panel members urged that everyone must do what they can to encourage world leaders to act for the sake of humanity.
More than 100 people attended the evening program April 23 at the Sheen Center in Lower Manhattan. Organizers said the date was significant because it was the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising and Divine Mercy Sunday. (Dachau was a Nazi concentration camp in Germany.)
The presentation included moving performance pieces by students from LaGuardia High School in Manhattan.
Father McWeeney, speaking of the multimedia presentation and the panel gathering, told CNY, “We are acknowledging as a people that we need to remember the past sadness of the Holocaust—the tragedy, the human cost of hatred. And so it was very, very important for us to be here.”
The priest said he was encouraged to learn that organizers are producing a documentary on The Dachau Album, and that the effort is an interfaith project.
The occasion, a first-in-New York presentation, was for Jewish children of Holocaust survivors Avi Hoffman and Shari Unger to introduce the Dachau Album, which was blessed by Pope Francis in 2015.
Hoffman, who is an actor, said, “Never Again is not just a lesson from the past, but a lesson for today and every day.” He noted that in addition to 6 million Jews, millions of others from various religious and ethnic backgrounds were also enslaved, tortured and killed during the years of German Nazi terror.
Ms. Unger, the second of Arnold Unger’s four children, has assumed the legacy of the Dachau Album to deliver her father’s keepsake to the world on his behalf. Her father committed suicide on Thanksgiving Day 1972 at age 42; her mother died from a brain tumor two years later, and she and her siblings moved from New Jersey to Florida to live with relatives.
“While a reminder of my father’s pain, it (the Dachau Album) has also triggered an appreciation of what he went through, and also the difficulties faced by millions during World War II,” Ms. Unger said, adding that she and her siblings kept the album tucked away for decades, eventually realizing that the story must be shared.
The Dachau Album was a presentation of the Arnold Unger Foundation for Remembrance, in association with the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture and the Jewish Broadcasting Service (JBS). They said the artifact, hidden for seven decades, acts as a Holocaust time capsule intertwining the lives of two Dachau concentration camp survivors: Arnold Unger, a 15-year-old Jewish prisoner, and Michal Porulski, a Polish Catholic prisoner and master artist. Porulski’s 30 original hand-drawn illustrations, coordinators said, make the artifact an important legacy for today.
The album was assembled in the final days of World War II, by Allied soldiers for Unger, who served as their office boy and translator. It weaves the biographies of those who were lost at Dachau and those who survived with patches of uniforms, photographs and Porulski’s drawings.
After his immigration to the United States, where he settled in New Jersey, Arnold Unger later became an aerospace engineer and was a member of the design team for the Apollo Lunar Module.
The four-member discussion panel included Steven A. Ludsin, charter member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and member of the original President’s Commission on the Holocaust; Dr. Yael Danieli, internationally renowned expert victimologist and traumatologist as well as adviser on Victims of Terrorism for the office of the Secretary General of the United Nations; and Dr. Debbie Almontaser, founder and CEO of Bridging Cultures Group, and founding and former principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy.