BY JAMES FARRELL
Last Thursday, nearly 20 Flushing Holocaust survivors gathered to chat over cookies, coffee and live music, giving them the opportunity to catch up and socialize.
The event was part of the nonprofit SelfHelp Community Services’ Coffee House program, which aims to reduce social isolation and depression among Holocaust survivors. SelfHelp is an organization that provides seniors with resources, including several centers with activities and access to affordable housing. The organization began in 1936 as an outlet for refugees fleeing from Nazi Germany.
Thursday’s event took place in SelfHelp’s Martin Lande House.
Lina Gelgor, 81, was one of the survivors present. She recalled the harrowing tale of her family’s escape from Kiev, Ukraine, to Russia.
Gelgor was 6 years old when bombs started falling near her home.
“I didn’t understand,” she said. “But I hear, it is ‘Boom. Boom. Boom.’”
Gelgor traveled with her mother and a pregnant relative by train across Russia to the town of Chelyabinsk, just east of the Ural Mountains. She recalls having to hide under the train when German bombs started falling. When they arrived in Chelyabinsk, they were put in a private house by the government.
Her father served in the war, fighting in Germany, and when it was over the family returned to Kiev.
Over time, the family would restore normalcy. Gelgor became a university teacher and taught for 33 years. She moved to America in 1992, and has spent 20 years in SelfHelp’s Martin Lande House. When asked about the event, she brightened.
“I’m very thankful; the administration in SelfHelp is very helpful,” she said. She said that her life in America and in this building has made her feel like a child again.
In addition to running senior centers that run programs for seniors, SelfHelp has seven buildings of affordable housing in Flushing meant for seniors. Two of those buildings, referred to as K1 and the Martin Lande House, were originally built to house Holocaust survivors coming over from the war.
SelfHelp provides a number of services for Holocaust survivors, SelfHelp’s Sandy Myers told the Queens Tribune. This includes holding social events like the Coffee House Program and providing seniors with housekeeping and home care based around their medical needs. But the core part of SelfHelp’s work, Myers says, is case management—helping survivors develop care plans and get enrolled in benefits and entitlements, while ensuring they are being seen by the appropriate professionals. This work ensures that Holocaust survivors have individualized experiences.
“All of our case-management staff that works with this population is trained in working with victims of trauma,” said Myers. “It’s all about being mindful of individuals’ past experiences.”
In the midst of the festivities, Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Flushing), state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing), Councilmember Peter Koo (D-Flushing) and Councilmember Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) gave words of support to the survivors—often drawing from their own familial experiences.
Koo explained that his family had a similar experience during the Chinese Civil War, when the Communist regime displaced his family. Stavisky recounted how her father-in-law left Poland for New York after losing his parents in the Holocaust—to end up living in a SelfHelp building after 10 years of waiting. Rozic recalled how her family escaped the Holocaust early on to move to Argentina, and Grodenchik recounted how his whole family, “with very few exceptions,” was killed in the Holocaust.
“You are our heritage, and you are what matters,” he told the crowd.
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.