The importance of the Foxboro Regional Charter School’s Holocaust Stamps Project has always been self-evident. But if you needed any further proof of why the ambitious undertaking continues to mean so much in 2017, try this fact on for size: Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States were up 86 percent in the first three months of the year after rising by more than one-third in 2016, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
The ADL, in its annual audit of such incidents released April 24, said that 541 anti-Semitic incidents have been reported through March. Many of those were connected to the bomb threats called in to Jewish community centers, a wave of hate that has led to an Israeli-American teenager being charged in Israel.
Those recent incidents have made the stories of Holocaust survivors such as Sam Weinreb even more compelling. Weinreb, 92, was the featured speaker at the charter school’s recent open house held to highlight the stamps project.
Charlotte Sheer, the founder of the project, who despite her retirement remains very involved alongside Stamps Project Director Jamie Droste, shared this synopsis of his appearance at the open house.
“In spite of everything, he endured to survive the Holocaust,” Sheer wrote, and because of his survival, he firmly believes that ‘you must always have hope.”
Indeed, it’s a miracle that, given what he went through, Weinreb has managed to maintain that attitude. Sheer wrote:
“His life changed forever the day he returned from a bar mitzvah lesson near his Bratislava, Czechoslovakia home, and found that the Nazis had captured his family. He never saw them again.
“Thirteen-year-old Weinreb made his way to Hungary and lived on the streets, begging for work and food, eventually seeking help from the police. They imprisoned him for the next two years, after which time he was deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. His name was replaced with the number A4659.
“Sam was identified as strong enough to work. This saved him from being grouped with the elderly, mothers with children and others deemed to be too weak, who were led to ‘the showers,’ where thousands were murdered every day in the gas chambers.
Weinreb recalls: “One night, we were all awakened in the middle of the night and told to get ready at once. Outside it was snowy and icy, but we were ordered to march out of the camp, and keep marching.”
Weinreb explained that the guards made it abundantly clear that those who could not stay on their feet would die.
After three days, in the dark of night, he ran away from the line of marchers. “I was no longer afraid to die,” he said. Fortunately, the unconscious teenager was found in the forest and rescued by compassionate Russian soldiers.
After World War II ended, Sam Weinreb came to America. He settled with distant cousins in western Pennsylvania, where they taught him the family business and made it possible to make a new life. He married a young woman named Goldie, whom he had known as a child.
“Sixty-seven years we’re together now,” Weinreb, smiling, told the audience.
He is one of the lucky ones; the 6 million Jews and millions of others who died in the Holocaust weren’t so fortunate, and that’s where the Holocaust Stamps Project’s goal remains more relevant than ever. The project aims to collect 11 million stamps and one week after Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Remembrance Day, when the open house was held, Sheer said the 100,000 stamps donated at the event brought the number of stamps to 9,422,168, which is 85 percent of the goal.
The stamps keep pouring in, with the total soaring to 9,460,815 — 16,000 of those collected by the middle school students last week. If you wish to donate used stamps — which are lovingly transformed into collages by the students — you may do so by dropping them off at the school, 131 Central St., or by emailing Droste at email@example.com.
The determined efforts of Sheer and Droste have earned them a prestigious award from the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. At a ceremony in Boston’s Faneuil Hall, Sheer and Droste were given the Leadership in Holocaust in Education Award.
It was a well-deserved honor for the pair, whose hard work to keep the stamps project going is a tribute to those who survived the Nazi death camps, and especially to the millions who were ruthlessly murdered.