Unsung hero of Holocaust to be honored in Orange

Rabbi Alvin Wainhaus of the Or Shalom synagogue holds a Holocaust Remembrance candle.

Rabbi Alvin Wainhaus of the Or Shalom synagogue holds a Holocaust Remembrance candle.

Or Shalom synagogue has for 12 years commemorated the heroes of the Holocaust near the anniversary of its tragic beginning, but this year it’s more crucial than ever after the recent killings at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, said Rabbi Alvin Wainhaus, leader of that congregation.

“It’s so important to gather and counteract the poison, the venom that was released that day,” said Wainhaus, referring to the Oct. 27 shooting that killed 11 in peaceful worship. “That was not only an attack against Judaism — it was an attack against America. The very idea of this country, which is the idea of equality. The equal preciousness of every human being.’’

This year Or Shalom’s program, typically attended by 500 people of all faiths, will be held Nov. 18 at 9 a.m. and will honor the late Josiah DuBois, a young treasury attorney under President Franklin D. Roosevelt who read secret classified files on the Holocaust and under threat of going to the press with the story, prompted Roosevelt — who may or may not have known about the files — to form the “The War Refugee Board.”

It was “heartbreakingly late in the war,” Wainhaus said, but through the board at least 100,000, up to 200,000 Hungarian Jews were saved.

DuBois’ son, Robert DuBois, will accept a commendation from U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal at the event. Guest speakers will include Dr. Rebecca Erbelding, author of the new book “Rescue Board” and teacher Christy Marrella with her eighth-grade students. Marrella is the creator of the award-winning video “An American Holocaust Hero.” Holocaust survivors and their families, rescued by the War Refugee Board, are also expected to be at the event.

The program at Or Shalom, 205 Old Grassy Hill Road, is free and open to the public. There was also to be discussion on whether the president could have done more to reach out to the victims of Nazism, but the synagogue shootings will now likely become a part of that discussion, Wainhaus said.

The annual program, a “labor of love” for Wainhaus, is offered in memory of Kristallnacht, which translates to “Night of Broken Glass” — considered the start of the Holocaust. Kristallnacht refers to attacks causing destruction and violence against Jews, synagogues, Jewish-owned businesses and everything Jewish on Nov. 9-10, 1938, in Germany and Austria.

Some 30,000 Jews were arrested during the attack and sent to Nazi concentration camps and more than 1,000 synagogues were burned.

Each year, the synagogue in Orange honors a person whom Wainhaus often describes as a “beacon of light in the darkness.”

Wainhaus has said he would not be here if not for such heroes because his father, Rabbi Anshel Wainhaus, was among the thousands rescued through a transit visa issued by Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara.

The program in honoring the heroes, strives to show, “There is inconceivable goodness and kindness in the human soul, not only evil,” he said.

DuBois’ story of heroism begins in the fall of 1943, as Nazi Germany was carrying out its “horrific” final solution, Wainhaus said.

Attorney DuBois slipped into the State Department files and made a startling discovery about details of the Holocaust. What he learned “confirmed his worst fears” and on Christmas Day, after spending a brief time with family, drove him to write a report to President Franklin D. Roosevelt titled: “The Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of the Jews.” DuBois approached his boss, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, saying, “Tell the president that if he doesn’t act on this I’m going to resign and release it to the press,” Wainhaus said.

DuBois’ urgent report — and possibly the threat to go to the press — prompted Roosevelt to take personal responsibility for reaching out to the living victims of Nazi persecution. He created a special task force, “The War Refugee Board,” whose mission included “taking all measures to rescue the victims of enemy oppression who are in imminent danger of death,” Wainhaus said.

Swedish architecht and businessman Raoul Wallenberg, who was commissioned by the War Refugee Board, managed to rescue thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazi regime by setting up safe houses.

A shelter was also created for those who escaped the Holocaust and wound up on American soil.

Wainhaus said we’ll never know how much Roosevelt knew about the Holocaust before he acted.

DuBois received death threats over exerting pressure — nobody knows where they originated — and risked his job to save lives, Wainhaus said.

“We will declare in our gathering we refuse to be intimidated by hate,” Wainhaus said, bringing the discussion back to current events in the United States.

The “madman” who entered the Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27 had said he wanted to put an end to what “evil” Jews were doing by bringing immigrants into this country, Wainhaus said.

“He attacked the very beating heart of the country,” Wainhaus said — a country people have flocked to as immigrants because of the promise of equality.

The hatred that shattered the Pittsburgh synagogue was the same hatred that shattered the synagogues in Germany and Austria on Kristallnacht, he said.