OSWEGO – “Always remember …”
That is the message from one of the two Safe Haven refugees who visited the Port on Friday for the first time in more than seven decades.
Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow welcomed Gloria Fredkove (formerly Yolanda Bass) and her brother, Jack (formerly Joachim) Bass, back to Oswego as they visit the city of Oswego before attending the Dinner and a Movie – Darkest Hour, Friday evening at the Lake Ontario Conference Center.
Gloria and Jack were Jewish refugees at the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter in Oswego during World War II. They traveled to Oswego to escape the Holocaust in Europe.
Mayor Barlow was joined by Third Ward Councilor and Safe Haven Museum Board President Kevin Hill, who arranged the meeting.
“It’s really an honor to host you today and have the both of you back,” the mayor told the visitors. “It brings some attention to the Safe Haven Museum and the Fort Ontario Complex and all the rich history that we have here in the city, that, quite frankly some Oswegonians overlook and take for granted.”
“I feel, individually, that the real reason that I’m here … is to be extremely grateful and thankful to the city of Oswego and its people,” Bass said.
It is important that people hear from “a young man who was here at the age of 12, hear how thankful, from the bottom of my heart, for the people of Oswego. This, to me, is what America is all about,” Bass said. “If you come to Oswego, New York, you’ve come to America.”
It’s “an experience” to be back, he said, adding that it reminds him of what it was; “and what it was is very hard to forget.”
“In the hearts of the people of Oswego it has not changed. The sentiment is the same as it was then. People have just gotten a little older and better.”
“This is the first time that we’ve been here since we were new refugees, 1944,” Fredkove said. “And, coming back almost a lifetime later is very special for us. For me it is bringing the past to the present. We have the opportunity, thanks to Kevin, to tour the museum today. Looking at it was a surreal experience because I was looking at picture of the people I came with and yet I didn’t remember it firsthand because I was only a little over a year old when I arrived.”
Seeing a group that was seeing the film “Safe Haven” and wanting to find out the history of the Fort Ontario Shelter and the people in it and what Oswego did for them was a wonderful experience, she added.
She spoke with the group when the film was over.
They were very impressed with the museum and the whole project that’s been put into place to keep history alive, she said.
“It’s very meaningful to me to see that that has not been forgotten. Because as we age and the Holocaust survivors disappear because of old age and death, the fear is always that people will forget and we don’t want to have that important piece of history forgotten,” Fredkove said. “We want to keep it alive.”
“My belief and my philosophy to this day is still we not forget the genocide that occurred. But at the same token, we must all learn to forgive. You can not point entirely to the country of Germany and its young people and accuse them of what happened 70 years ago,” Bass said. “There’s a time of healing, there’s a time of forgetting and forgiving. That’s the way that I feel about it.”
“I’m not going to be bitter. I’m not going to call names. I’m not going to point fingers. That solves nothing,” he continued. “The whole idea is to bring peace to this planet. And, the more that you think of the aspect and the possibility of peace the better off your mind functions; instead of walking around with all that negativity.”
They had always wanted to return to Oswego, but for one reason or another it wasn’t possible until now, Fredkove said.
Bass said he remembers the people of Oswego fondly. “They smiled and we had conversations. To me they represented much more than Oswego. To me, they represented the great, great character that America had,” he said.
“We must not forget. But we must also forgive,” he added. “The presence of concentration camps, when half of the earth was burning is something mankind must never forget.”
Everyone should find out about their own family’s history, “before it’s too late,” Fredkove said.
It is “pure evil” that some still deny the Holocaust happened, she said, adding that “I don’t believe that any amount of talking is going to convince them or change their minds. It is part of an anti-Semitic movement and belief that is resurgent today in our country. There are people that are running for public office that have openly said ‘we have to rid the country of Jews. When you have that type of activity and you allow it because of freedom of speech; I feel that’s very dangerous, that’s crossing the line. I feel they could learn a lot from Germany which has learned from the war. Everything has a line and a limit. Free speech should not be hate speech.”