We are a community of survivors. We are their children, their relatives, and their friends.
Ours is a family forged out of hardship, perseverance, and hope.
We have been caring for this family since 1952 and welcome support from people like you.

We are an incredible collection of timeless stories, each unique and worth telling.
We are the survivor, and the refugee, and the inspiring tale of the American immigrant.
Together, we are a testament to the endurance of the human spirit.

We are the 1939 Society. We transcend tragedy.
By sharing the lessons of the Holocaust, we honor the legacy of those we lost, and preserve the story
Of our triumph as a community.

Mission

The 1939 Society is a welcoming community dedicated to Holocaust remembrance, witness, and education. Survivors are our focus—they’re our neighbors, our family, and our friends. They have stories you should hear. Your support gives survivors a voice, and helps them share their important lessons with us all.

We partner with academic institutions to support educational programming like speaker series, conferences, symposia and lectures. We also sponsor the largest Holocaust Art and Writing contest in the country. These initiatives spread awareness of survivors' stories, teach us the lessons of the Holocaust and create links between survivors and future generations.

We believe in the indestructible human spirit and the celebration of life. Social events provide an opportunity for survivors and guests to dine and dance with family, meet friends new and old, and share their stories with young students.

As Holocaust survivors are aging and becoming ill, we also believe that no survivor should go without adequate food, medicine and shelter. Survivors deserve to live their remaining days in dignity and respect, without fear of what the next day may bring. The Society spearheads a campaign to provide financial assistance to survivors to ensure their basic needs are met. We partner with proven organizations like Jewish Family Service and Child Survivors of The Holocaust, Los Angeles to expand our reach and maximize our impact.

Your financial contribution provides the important care survivors need now and shows them your concern. It spreads awareness of their stories, and preserves their legacy for generations to come.

Leadership

Welcome to The 1939 Society: A Message from President William Elperin

The 1939 Society (formerly known as The “1939” Club) was started by 14 Holocaust survivors in 1952. Over the years, it has grown to over 1,000 strong. At first the Society’s emphasis was on social matters- barbecues in member’s back yards, group Passover Seders- because Survivors had few nuclear family members. But over the years, the Society turned more to charitable and educational endeavors.

Holocaust Survivors are unique. They not only survived but flourished and succeeded. They came to this country at the same age as college students. They came with no money, no education, no parents, most with no siblings. They came from devastation that no human being had ever encountered. Today, there is a lot of talk about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Young, once healthy soldiers come back from war seriously traumatized. But imagine the traumatization of a starved, unarmed 16 year old, suffering from hunger, tortured and beaten, watching their friends and families murdered. I think of Survivors as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder on steroids. They came to, what was to them, a strange land; they did not know the language; they did not know the culture. Yet, they persevered and succeeded. They raised families and made sure their children received the best education possible. They succeeded in their careers. They succeeded in overcoming the unthinkable tragedies and became significant members of society. They have become the most loyal of Americans. They have become an inspiration to everyone.

No one would have blamed them if they sought to forget the horrors they endured. No one would have blamed them if they just sought a quiet life. No one would have blamed them if they did not want to speak about it. But they did not go quietly into the night. They remembered, they spoke to groups, they wrote books, they educated young people. They joined The “1939” Society to give a group voice to their concerns.

The 1939 Society has been at the forefront of Holocaust education, remembrance and witness. We were one of the first to form a Holocaust Survivor organization in the country. We were the first to establish a speaker’s bureau. Our members were instrumental in establishing the first Holocaust museum in the country-the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. We were the first to establish a chair on Holocaust studies. Our chair is at UCLA where Professor Saul Friedlander is the holder. He has won a MacArthur Award and a Pulitzer Prize for his scholarship. One of our past presidents, Leopold Page, was instrumental in helping create the book and movie Schindler’s List.

In the 1980’s, we were one of the first to videotape a collection of Holocaust Survivors’ interviews. We were the first to post Survivor testimonies on the Internet 24/7, available to all. We have the largest Holocaust Art and Writing Contest in the country co-sponsored with Chapman University, where over 5,000 Middle and High School students participate in writing an essay, creating a poem or work of art on the Holocaust. We were the first to establish a community-wide commemoration of Kristallnacht at a university- Loyola Marymount University. We were the first to establish a course at a university (California State University, Northridge) to teach teachers how to most effectively teach the Holocaust to their students. We sponsor lecture series, symposia, conferences and films on the Holocaust. We sponsor social events where university students meet, dine and dance with Survivors. We honor righteous persons who helped victims during the Holocaust. We honor teachers, educators and writers, who provide our community with a greater understanding of the Holocaust and human rights.

We are now in a transition phase where the Second and Third generations must continue the legacy of their parents. The lessons of the Holocaust are just as relevant today. We must continue to innovate and chalk up many more “firsts.” We must continue to provide additional programs with our existing university partners and create relationships with new ones. We can’t limit our successful Holocaust Art and Writing Contest to primarily Orange County. We need to expand it, first to Los Angeles and then across the country. Imagine if we could expand participation to 100,000 students. Each of them become witnesses and share with their circle of families and friends. Soon we have hundreds of thousands touched by the Holocaust.

We need to enlist strategic partners to our cause; not only universities but corporations, government, museums and commercial organizations. We need to expand our reach to the entire country. We need to become more institutionalized – in a good way.

We need to reignite our Speaker’ Bureau where Survivors speak as long as they are able and then have their children and grandchildren tell their stories. We need to focus on getting the younger generation interested and joining us in our cause.

We need to continue and expand our drive to help needy survivors. More and more will need help as they age.

We need to increase donations and our donor base, since our programs and events depend on them. We need to create an endowment so our mission is assured for the foreseeable future. We need to use all the modern tech tools- our web site, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to help accomplish our goals.

If you think these goals are unrealistic, just reflect on what Survivors have accomplished with so much less money, resources and education.

Our future is bright; please join us in making it happen.

To contact Bill directly please email him at president@the1939society.org

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    WILLIAM ELPERIN,

    PRESIDENT

    William Elperin was born in Munich, Germany, after the war to survivors of the Holocaust. When he was a young boy, Bill’s parents moved frequently—including stops in Haifa, Winnipeg and Denver—before settling in Los Angeles.

    Bill went on to graduate from UCLA School of Law where he served on the Law Review. After graduation, he began practicing business litigation, and has since been named one of the Top 50 Lawyers in Los Angeles by the Los Angeles Business Journal.

    In 1997, he was elected president of The 1939 Society. As the Society’s first 2nd-generation president, Bill has helped develop many new and innovative Holocaust education programs, including the Our Families exhibit and the Holocaust Art & Writing Contest. He continues in this role today.

    Bill lives in Los Angeles with his wife Rosemary. They have a son and a daughter and four grandchildren.

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    MICHAEL BAZYLER,

    VICE PRESIDENT

    Michael J. Bazyler is Professor of Law and current holder of The 1939 Society Law Scholar in Holocaust and Human Rights Studies at the Dale E. Fowler School of Law at Chapman University.

    Michael is a leading authority on the use of American and European courts to redress genocide and other historical wrongs. His book Holocaust Justice: The Battle for Restitution in America’s Courts was reviewed in the Harvard Law Review, Michigan Law Review, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Financial Times (London) and The Economist.

    He has held fellowships at Harvard Law School, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and at Yad Vashem (The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority of Israel), where he was concurrently the holder of the Baron Friedrich Carl von Oppenheim Chair for the Study of Racism, Antisemitism and the Holocaust.

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    ROSEMARY ELPERIN,

    RECORDING SECRETARY

    Rosemary Elperin was born in Bamberg, Germany, shortly after World War II. Her parents were Holocaust survivors. Her mother, Toni, was in Bergen-Belsen while her father Jack was liberated from Dachau. Her family left Germany and landed in New Orleans before eventually settling down in Los Angeles.

    A product of local schools, Rosemary went on to receive her Bachelor of Arts in History from California State University, Northridge. She married Bill Elperin upon graduation and helped support him while he attended law school. She later worked as a teacher and accountant while raising two children.

    She was a founding member of the Sons and Daughters Division of The 1939 Society, and has since served in many capacities—including as an officer of the Society and now, as a board member.

    Rosemary and Bill have four grandchildren, and lucky for them, they all live in Los Angeles.

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    MICHAEL ZELON,

    TREASURER

    Michael Zelon was born in Plock, Poland. He is a Holocaust survivor, having escaped horrific slave labor and concentration camps. After liberation, he returned to Plock to complete his high school education. He then went on to, and graduated from, the Technical University in Munich, Germany.

    In 1952, he and his wife immigrated to the United States and started their family. Mr. Zelon joined North American Aviation where he worked on the Apollo and other space shuttle programs.

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    ANN RUBINFELD,

    FINANCIAL SECRETARY

    Ann Rubinfeld was born after World War II. Ann’s mother is a Holocaust survivor who, at 14 years old, was taken into a concentration camp. Her mother remained in concentration camps for five years, including 18 months in Auschwitz.

    Ann’s family came to Los Angeles in 1949, when she was 18 months old. She went to Fairfax High and then to dental assistant school; however, she worked most of her career as a surgery coordinator for a busy ophthalmology practice.

    She retired from working in the medical field, and is now a property manager. She enjoys family and travel. Ann and her husband Sam have four daughters and six grandchildren, all living in Los Angeles.

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    SAM RUBINFELD,

    VICE PRESIDENT

    Sam Rubinfeld was born in Poland in 1941. He and his parents stayed in Poland until 1947, when they immigrated to the United States. They eventually moved to Los Angeles in 1952 and settled in the Fairfax area, as many European Jews did at that time.

    Sam graduated Fairfax High in 1959 and went on to college. After graduation, he joined his father in a showcase business in downtown Los Angeles. Sam’s interests have always been in real estate, and he has purchased many commercial properties throughout the years. He retired from the showcase business but still dabbles in real estate. He and his wife Ann have 4 daughters and 6 wonderful grandchildren, all living in Los Angeles.

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    NURIT KOTICK,

    VICE PRESIDENT

    Nurit Kotick was born in Haifa, Israel, and is one of 3 daughters of Benjamin Midler, a Holocaust survivor from Biaylstok, Poland, and Esther Midler, from Cairo, Egypt. After the war, Ben met Esther in Israel and after having 2 children, migrated to Chicago, Illinois. In 1976, after graduating college, Nurit moved to Los Angeles and over the next 10 years, the rest of her family followed.

    Early in her career, Nurit became a paralegal for Atlantic Richfield. Realizing her passion for social interaction, she transitioned her career to marketing in 1978. In 1993 Nurit launched her own marketing consulting firm in Pasadena, California, Kotick Marketing Group. In 2012, she sold her business to another woman-owned business and is now actively volunteering.

    Nurit lives in Laguna Beach with her husband, Ron. She has 2 sons, Michael and Brian.

Founding Members

Benjamin Gray
Alfons Haberfeld
Felicia Haberfeld
Gustave Haberfeld
Brenda Nadel
Henry Nadel
Leopold Page
Ludmila Page
Rachel Pick-Meier
Joan Pogar-Marks,
Irene Spencer
Sarna Stoger
Hugo Stoger
Beno Zellermeir

Past Presidents

Benjamin Gray, 1952-1953
Richard Richonn, 1954-1955
Seyman Korentajer, 1956
Felicia Haberfeld, 1957-1958
Esther Przeworski Pratt, 1959-1960
Alfons Haberfeld, 1961-1962
Josef Krakowski, 1963-1964, 1971
Samuel Goetz, 1965-1966
Renee Domroy, 1967-1968
Barry Bruk, 1969-1970
Harry Wasser, 1972-1973
Ruth Fenton, 1974-1975
Sigfried Halbreich, 1976-1977
Robert Gerson, 1978-1979
Leopold Page, 1980-1981
Gertrude Goetz, 1982-1984
Fred Diament, 1985-1986
Sally Wasser, 1987-1988
Barbara Gerson, 1989-1990
Samuel Steinberg, 1991-1992
Elly Kamm, 1993-1994
Charlotte Zelon- 1995- 1996
William Elperin 1997-today

History

For over 60 years, we’ve made it our mission to support Holocaust survivors and their legacy. Below are a few highlights from The 1939 Society’s rich history, which has been made possible by your contributions. Your continued participation ensures our future holds even greater success.

1952

The 1939 Society is born as “The ‘1939’ Club” when our fourteen founders, all Holocaust survivors of Polish origin, meet in Los Angeles. Together, they form a new organization dedicated to caring for fellow survivors and their families. The name has since changed; our mission remains the same.

1952-1980
1957

A room is dedicated in The 1939 Society's name in the New Boys Home-Society of Orphanages.

A memorial scholarship honoring The 1939 Society is established at UCLA.

1965
1971

The 1939 Society participates in a city-wide campaign to register names of Jewish Nazi victims for Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Sons and Daughters chapter is formed.

1976
1980

The 1939 Society establishes the Chair on Holocaust Studies at UCLA, the first such Chair in the country, by donating $500,000 and creates a fellowship for students pursuing this unique historical event.

1980-1986
1986

Saul Friedlander is appointed permanent holder of the Chair on Holocaust Studies. Professor Friedlander goes on to win a MacArthur Award and a Pulitzer Prize for his work.

Professor Saul Friedlander organizes the first Holocaust Academic Conference in Los Angeles.

1990
1994

The 1939 Society provides financial support for Holocaust Studies classes at California State University, Northridge.

Antonina Babb, a longtime UCLA Library employee, leaves $600,000 in her will to The 1939 Society Chair on Holocaust Studies at UCLA . As a result, The 1939 Society and UCLA are able to provide significantly more programs and events.

1996
1997

William Elperin becomes the first 2nd-generation president of The “1939” Club. He continues in the role to this day.

The 1939 Society enters the digital age, launching its first website.

1998
1999

The 1939 Society becomes a co-sponsor, along with Chapman University, of the Holocaust Art and Writing Contest. This annual contest lets students explore their creativity while engaging the stories of survivors (see the contest page for more information).

Chapman University inaugurates The “1939” Club’s Leopold Page Memorial Righteous Rescuers Lecture Series, sponsored by Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation.

2001
2006

The Society sponsors the first Kristallnacht Commemoration with Loyola Marymount University.

The Our Families exhibit, sponsored by The 1939 Society and including members’ family photographs and stories, debuts at UCLA and Loyola Marymount University.

2011
2012

The 1939 Society partners with prestigious individuals and organizations to form The Fund for Holocaust Survivors in Urgent Need.

The “1939” Club becomes The 1939 Society and launches its new and enhanced website.

2014

Partnerships

Our partners in the academic community play an integral role in The 1939 Society’s mission. Through lecture series, academic programs, and other special events, our work with these universities and organizations furthers Holocaust education and provides a greater audience for survivors’ stories.

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Overview

For decades after the Holocaust, children who survived were told that they did not really understand what had happened to them. They were told that they were too young to remember with any real accuracy, too young to have truly suffered. Many survived alone, with no support systems – no parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents – no friends who really knew their history. They were sometimes sent off to distant relatives, who often did not truly want them, yet felt compelled to take them in, thus making life painful, difficult, and sometimes abusive in many respects.

Child Survivors remained silent about what they remembered. They were told to “forget the past” and go forward. And they did. They learned new ways of living, went to school, worked, built new lives and established new families, never speaking about their memories.

Child Survivors of The Holocaust, Los Angeles was founded in 1982 after some had been identified and invited to attend a meeting held by Dr. Sarah Moskovitz and Dr. Flo Kinsler, who were seeking subjects for a special project to videotape Child Survivors for the Fortunoff Library at Yale University. It was then that those attending heard the term “Child Survivor” for the first time. Several were moved to explore the topic further, which led to the formation of a small group. The group began to meet on a regular basis and ultimately founded the Los Angeles Group, which grew to over 500 members.

Child Survivors of the Holocaust, Los Angeles serves its members as a safe and nurturing space where participants can share and address issues related to their common past; where they can speak openly about their wounds and their scars; where they are understood and don’t need to explain. They call one another their “Phantom Siblings”, and consider themselves family. The group continues to meet, observing holidays and holding social gatherings throughout the year, including an annual retreat. Several have become educators and speak in local schools, at museums, and at cultural events in the community.

The group’s crowning achievement is the publication of an anthology, How We Survived, which features 52 stories from members. These are stories of endurance, of young people driven by an undying hope for a better future. This book serves as a reminder and a powerful testament to the experiences of Child Survivors, shedding light on the unique perspective of children who survived the Holocaust—a perspective that once received little recognition, but that will now be remembered forever.
 

Een Hollands Jongetje Komt Terug (A Little Dutch Boy Returns) by Robert Krell, MD

From an Address delivered for the Child Survivor Gathering in Amsterdam, August 21, 2005. Copyright Robert Krell, MD, 2005

I arrived in Holland this past Friday, August 19th, a date never forgotten in my family. It was August 19, 1942 that we were to report for “resettlement to the East”. Now we all know what that meant. My family did not obey. Instead I was placed with Christians through a series of miracles, my father hid in an attic, my mother elsewhere on false papers. We were all in The Hague but could not see each other for nearly 3 years. What happened in those terrible times has never left our lives.

And now that we are all 60 years older than we were at “liberation” and I use that word, liberation, with caution, the 5, 10, and 15 year olds of 1945, are aged 65-75, give or take a few years. But we are forever the “child survivors”, no matter our chronological age.Perhaps we should remind ourselves that only 7% of Jewish children in Nazi-occupied countries escaped death. Counting the 2-3% who fled prior to the war, one in ten survived, nine in ten were murdered. So we are regretfully, a rather exclusive group. And our post-war existence has been for many, exceedingly complicated for liberation proved to be not so liberating for us children. We were scattered to the winds. Our fate was in the hands of others who decided whether we would go to orphanages, kibbutzim, or on transports of various kinds to countries that would accept us. Sometimes we were returned to a surviving family member, or perhaps a parent, but even that comparatively good fortune did not always answer our prayers. The initial joy of reunion was frequently lost in the realization that both child and parent were suffering from the prolonged separations, the multiple losses, and the effects of physical and emotional trauma.

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The Holocaust Art & Writing Contest

“Be creative. Be heard. Be inspired.”

The annual Holocaust Art & Writing Contest is an academic event designed for middle school and high school students. Those who participate can create, share, and gain recognition for their works of art, prose, and poetry.

The contest culminates in an awards ceremony on the Chapman University campus, where students compete for great prizes—like $500 and a trip to Washington, D.C.

See the contest page for details. We look forward to seeing you (and your projects) at this year’s contest!

Lecture Series

The 1939 Society is proud to have initiated two lecture series on the Chapman University campus: The 1939 Society Lecture Series, and the Leopold Page Memorial Righteous Rescuers Lecture Series (funded by a grant from Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation). These lectures are free to the community. They bring remarkable speakers from all over the world, each a voice for justice and human rights.

Recent speakers include:

  • Paul Rusesabagina (whose story was recounted in the film Hotel Rwanda)
  • Filmmakers Daniel Anker, Jon Avnet, Jon Kean and Pierra Sauvage
  • Holocaust survivors and witnesses Marion von Binsbergen Pritchard, Thomas Blatt, Gerda Weissmann Klein, Curt Lowens, Leon Leyson, and Samuel Goetz
  • Scholars Dr. Christopher Browning, Dr. Debórah Dwork, Dr. Nechama Tec and Sir Martin Gilbert

For more information please visit the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education page.

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The Chair for Holocaust Studies

The Holocaust Studies program at UCLA is a preeminent center of Holocaust scholarship. In 1980, The 1939 Society made a generous donation to UCLA to establish The Chair for Holocaust Studies, the first such chair in the country, continuing its support for exceptional academic programming at UCLA.

Saul Friedlander, survivor of the Holocaust and distinguished professor of history, is the current holder of the chair. Dr. Friedlander’s books on the Holocaust have earned him a MacArthur Award (called the “genius award”) and a Pulitzer Prize. His work continues to educate millions on the subject of the Holocaust.

For more information, please visit the Center for Jewish Studies.

Lecture Series

The 1939 Society partners with UCLA’s Center for Jewish Studies, a world leader in scholarship on Jewish culture and history, to draw renowned speakers to the UCLA campus. The program brings together global thought leaders on Jewish issues. Speakers discuss a wide variety of topics, from history and religion, to politics and Jewish humor.

For more information and to see the upcoming speakers schedule, please visit the Center for Jewish Studies events page.

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Kristallnacht Commemoration

Kristallnacht: the night of the broken glass. On November 9-10, 1938, pogroms devastated Jewish communities throughout Germany and Austria. Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues were looted and destroyed. The shattered window-glass became a symbol of the community’s tragic loss. Many believe this was the start of the Holocaust.

Today, we remember their loss, and celebrate our ability to rebuild what has been broken. Since 2006, The 1939 Society has sponsored this annual event to commemorate Kristallnacht and its victims. We remember that freedom is fragile, and encourage each other to speak out against injustice and suffering.

For more information, please visit the LMU Jewish Studies Program page.

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Holocaust Studies Course

Educating today’s students about the Holocaust is a crucial part of our mission. In passing on the lessons of the Holocaust, we teach students how tragedy and injustice can be overcome. Through firsthand accounts of selflessness and survival, students learn the power of the human spirit.

So how can we communicate these lessons to students in a way that is accurate, effective, and moving? The answer: great teachers.

In 1994, The 1939 Society established an endowment to create a graduate Holocaust Studies course at CSUN. Today, that course is Teaching the Holocaust and Genocide Studies. The curriculum gives tomorrow’s teachers the tools to inform and inspire today’s students. Together, we’re creating tomorrow’s advocates for peace and justice.

For more information, please visit the College of Humanities page.