BEDFORD HEIGHTS, Ohio — In the heart of Northeast Ohio, there is a memorial dedicated to the memory of the millions of lives lost and to the Holocaust survivors and their families who began new lives here in Northeast Ohio.
The Kol Israel Foundation is behind it, and the Jewish organization is now working to get it national recognition so the stories are never forgotten.
Helene Pincus visits that memorial at the Zion Memorial Park quite often. Her family members' names are etched into the Kol Israel monument in the center of the cemetery, where her parents are buried.
"I come here on birthdays, anniversaries of their death, before Jewish holidays ... before there is something wonderful that happens in the family," Pincus said. "Strangely, most of my parent's friends are around [and buried here]."
Her parents, Anne (Hanka) and Mike Frum, were Holocaust survivors.
"I don't know how they did what they did and were so good," Pincus told us. "They were good people."
Anne and Mike met when they were just 14 years-old — working as slave laborers in a munitions factory, according to Pincus.
"My dad saw her wearing a blue coat and a black collar," Pincus said. "They were very young, and they did fall in love."
They were separated, but out of pure luck, the pair reunited when they were liberated five years later. Anne and Mike got married and eventually settled in Greater Cleveland, where they were motivated to educate the community by helping to found The Kol Israel Foundation.
The foundation was created by Holocaust Survivors who made Cleveland home after World War II, and the organization allowed them to share their stories to educate and to commemorate. The group was born in 1960, and one year later, work started on the Kol Israel Memorial.
"We believe it's the first of its kind in the country," said Kol Israel Vice President Jeremy Joseph stated. "It was really intensive labor for the survivor community to have this built in the first place and something they were very attached to, and you can see that a number of people decided to be buried here to be close to these ashes."
The ashes are at the center of it all. Joseph says they are from three different concentration camps: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, and Bialystok
"It's always nice to come here and to pay respects and to remember everything they sacrificed to get here to raise our families here," Joseph said.
The Kol Israel Foundation is pushing to get its Holocaust memorial the recognition they feel it deserves: Distinguished as a national landmark so people around the country can visit and gain perspective.
"To have people around the country recognize that effort, I think, would be really significant and something they were aiming to do," Joseph explained, "because the message of Kol Israel is to teach people what happened."
Joseph says he grew up learning many lessons from the survivors, including his grandfather, Leo Silberman.
"He was a very young teenager when the war came to Poland," Joseph remembered. "He was sent off to several different concentration camps, and at every one it was a battle for him to survive, and he always found a way. When he came to America, he was delivering groceries and stacking groceries on shelves upside down because he couldn't read the labels.
"For the Kol Israel Foundation, we are the voice of the survivors. … It is important for us to provide first-hand stories. Ideally, it would be the survivors telling them, and they have over the years … and now they aren't able to do so. We are doing so; we are taking that on for them. We are trying to tell people that there are things in the world like bigotry and hate … it is important for us to always combat those."