Report on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum event in Chicago
as reported in the The Jewish Daily Forward, November 30, 2011.

Betty and Leo Melamed Co-Chair U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Event in Chicago

A November 7 Holocaust Memorial Museum luncheon at Chicago’s Sheraton Hotel and Towers attracted more than 2000 guests, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Deborah Lipstadt, a historian who gave the keynote address. At this annual gala, the Museum honored Chicagoans Hal and Diane Gershowitz, respectively the founder and CEO of New Century Information Services and his wife. Betty and Leo Melamed co-chaired the event.

Bialystok-born Leo Melamed (ne Leybl Melamdovich), chairman emeritus of CME Group, launched his address in Yiddish: “Zog nit keynmol az du geyst dem letstn veg” (“Never say you are on your final journey” — the opening line of the “Partisan Hymn”). He continued: “Each year, the Chicago community fills this room in support of the museum. Your presence is a testament [to the fact that] genocide is a blight and danger to mankind, [and the reason] why the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum was built. It exists for those who perished as ghetto fighters. [It] reminds the world what the consequences of bigotry and hate can bring and to prevent its reoccurrence.”

Melamed added: “For me the museum has special significance. I consider myself incredibly lucky.” He told the story of how in 1941, his parents received life-saving visas to Japan. The man responsible was Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat stationed in Kaunas who granted 2,139 such visas, saving some 6,000 Jews. Sugihara is known to some as “the Japanese Oskar Schindler.”

When he was 7, Melamed had attended my birthday party on March 20, 1940, in Vilna, Lithuania. Aside from me, of the 23 children and half-dozen adults shown sitting around a table in my birthday photo, only Leo and three other youngsters — all Sugihara visa recipients — survived. The teachers, parents and other children in the photo — which was displayed in the Holocaust Museum’s 2001 exhibit “Flight and Rescue”— perished in Vilna’s ghetto or ended in the death pits of Ponary, a forest outside Vilna. Reflecting on this fate, Melamed said, “Except for luck [and] my parents, I could have been one of those children marched into a gas chamber in Auschwitz.”

Melamed recalled that he got involved with the museum when Benjamin Meed, the late founder and president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, came to see him. “I did not know who he was,” Melamed said. “When he mentioned that his wife was Vladka Meed who, at 17, ran guns into the [Warsaw] ghetto for the uprising, I stood up at attention! Meed said to me, ‘So how will you honor your father? You must join and help build the U.S. Memorial Museum.’” Melamed, a member of the museum’s executive committee for 15 years, stressed, “The museum represents a testament to memory.”

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