Efforts at nonviolent resistance to “Jim Crow,” the Southern discrimination against blacks, eventually sent Breines to a Mississippi penitentiary for a month.
Last night, he noted that the Holocaust Center has awarded 17 Upstander Awards to local students, with top honors going to Joanna Ambeliotes of Peabody High and Maise Miller of Marblehead High. In each case, the youngsters had stood up to bullies, usually cyberbullies. And that was appropriate, Breines said.
The Nazis who murdered Jews and others by the millions were bullies, he said. The Southern racists who persecuted blacks were bullies.
On the other hand, he said, the world was different in those days. “Jews were very much on the margins in 1961. ... This event could not have happened in 1961.” For one, the term Holocaust hadn’t come into common usage. It’s amusing but telling that Breines felt enough the outsider that in prison he was snapped awake hearing someone say, “All Jews go down for incarceration.”
The phrase invoked frightening visions of the Holocaust. But, no, a companion told him. He’d heard it wrong. “He said all yous go down for incarceration.”
Last night’s event featured a salute to Weitz from Mayor Ted Bettencourt, who recalled being a 16-year-old student “mesmerized” by her stories of surviving the death camps as a teen. The Gordon College Women’s Choir, led each year by Faith Luethe, provided uplifting music as the dwindling number of survivors, carrying candles, filed in.
“Throughout the world,” said Patricia Meservey, president of Salem State University, “Jew and non-Jew alike will be gathering to honor the victims of the Nazi atrocities. ... By coming together, we are fulfilling the sacred promise that we will never forget.”
Faced with intolerance and hate, she added, “We must summon the courage to speak up.”
“It means a lot to me,” Breines said, “to be reminded again, against the backdrop of the Holocaust ... to feel in 2013 completely safe as a Jew in America.” And it is the participation of non-Jews in places like the Holocaust Center that brings such hope, he indicated.