Auschwitz survivor Cilia Borenstein is a resident of Gurwin Assisted Living on Long Island. Photo courtesy of Gurwin Healthcare System

Cilia Borenstein is proof that miracles exist. Born into Nazi-occupied Poland before the start of World War II, Borenstein would survive the horrors of Auschwitz during the Holocaust and escape to New York City, leaving the life she once loved behind forever. 

“I talked to God and He listened to me,” Borenstein said. “[Young people] should know that could happen again.”

Today, she lives with 14 other Holocaust survivors at Gurwin Assisted Living on Long Island, NY, where they commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27 with a candlelight vigil. 

“Our survivors were given seats of distinction at the front,” Gurwin Assistant Administrator Ariella Werner said. “They all lit candles, each one of them in memory of their loved ones that they lost, and then another resident lit what is called the yahrzeit candle, which is a Hebrew word for ‘memory candle.’”

The topic of this year’s ceremony was tzadik or “the Righteous.” In the context of the Holocaust, the Righteous were people who helped the Jews escape Nazi persecution. Borenstein’s life today could be described as a testament to the righteous family members who watched over her as a youth. Although they no longer are here, they remain permanently etched in Borenstein’s mind.

“My brother, Jonas, didn’t let me go away from him. He wanted me to go with him,” Borenstein said. “My father took care of me, he gave his life.”

Because of her father and brother’s sacrifice, Borenstein enjoys the company of her family today. Although the events of the Holocaust are in the past, it is still recent history. Prejudice and antisemitism remain a part of society. 

“What I wish we all knew about the righteous is that it starts at the very beginning. It starts against bullying in school,” Werner said. “If we all could find the strength to stand up when we see things that aren’t right, then maybe we can prevent it from happening again. The more righteous we have out there, the better our chances are not having another genocide.”

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