Witnessing Germany’s Consul General in New York, Busso von Alvensleben, pin the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany on Holocaust survivor Roman Kent, I thought back to the first time I met businessman philanthropist Kent.
It was at the November 11, 1984 Inaugural Dinner of the Holocaust Survivors Division of UJA-Federation held at the Sheraton Hotel. Kent was event chairman and in addition to a number of survivors present were WWII hero Lt. Gen James M. Gavin, several American soldiers who 40 years earlier actually liberated concentration camps as well as keynote speaker Baron Guy de Rothschild who had been a member of the Free French forces. No one at that event could have imagined this 2014 medal presentation event.
Roman Kent and German Consul General // Photo by Karen Leon
After welcoming Kent family members and friends, survivors and other dignitaries Consul von Alversleben gave an overview of Kent’s life from his birth in Lodz, Poland… to the Lodz ghetto… to concentration camps, and his liberation by American soldiers. Most importantly, he cited Kent’s “calling to fight for the interests of Holocaust survivors” and his mission to “remind the world of the lessons the Holocaust taught.” Facing Kent the consul said: “Not once did you want to give up. Not once did you show bitterness or hatred.” Referring to Kent’s production of the award-winning documentary ‘The Children of the Holocaust’” he cited it as “ not a cry for help but shows the world that we should not forget.”
Keeping his emotions in check, Kent — once Chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Survivors, Treasurer of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and presently President of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, responded: ‘How could I, a Holocaust survivor, have envisioned such an incredible scenario when enslaved in Auschwitz… receiving from the German government the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit award!…. With Doctorate degrees from Auschwitz, Gross-Rosen, Flossenberg and other camps, I wish to speak about the German government of today and a new generation of Germans. Obviously, I do not hold you responsible for the deeds of your forefathers. You, the new generation like we the survivors, have miraculously re-built our past lives.”
Lauding “the acceptance by Germany of their responsibility for their deeds [and] to witness the ongoing friendship with the Jewish people and the State of Israel,” Kent stated: “We survivors and the younger generation of Germans do not want our past to be our children’s’ future.” He lauded the German government for its acknowledged accountability and for “having the courage to face the past…. the decency to assume responsibilities to the victims… and continued assistance (i.e. “homecare to survivors in the twilight of their lives”)…. The distance we have travelled together represents hope for all of humanity.”