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NEWS | April 21, 2023

NSWCDD Holocaust Remembrance Day speaker’s family rose ‘from the ashes’

By Taft Coghill Jr., NSWCDD Corporate Communications

Whenever someone asked Pesa or Meyer Tenenbaum how they survived the Holocaust, they often replied it was luck or they do not know.

But their son, Dr. Jacob Tenenbaum, believes it was no accident.

Tenenbaum’s parents are now deceased but they persevered through the genocide of more than six million European Jews during World War II.

Tenenbaum said at the beginning of his “From the Ashes” presentation at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) Holocaust Remembrance Day Observance April 19 that his parents and other survivors are an inspiration because when they woke up every day, “they chose life when death was easier.”

Tenenbaum spoke to NSWCDD employees in recognition of Yom HaShoah, which was April 17-18. In his eyes, the Holocaust should be remembered as much more than an unfortunate part of history.

“It was state-sponsored genocide on an industrial scale never before seen,” Tenenbaum said.

Pesa Tenenbaum lived in Warsaw, Poland but was arrested along with her first husband and two sons in 1939. The following year she was shipped to the German-occupied Auschwitz where the life expectancy was just six months.

She never saw her husband or children again as they were presumably murdered or died in transit or in a concentration camp. When Pesa Tenenbaum was liberated by the Russian Army in 1945, she weighed just 80 pounds.

Meyer Tenenbaum’s entire family – seven siblings, his mother and father – were murdered during the war. The native of Poland was shipped to Radom, a Nazi ghetto that was established during the   occupation of his home country.

Meyer Tenenbaum was imprisoned in various concentration camps from 1939-45 as a slave laborer building weapons for the Nazis.

He was freed from Buchenwald, a concentration camp in Germany, by U.S. troops in 1945 and went on to live at Landsberg Displaced Persons Camp in a U.S. zone of occupation near Munich, where he met his future wife.

Tenenbaum was born at the camp, which grew into the second-largest camp in a U.S. zone and had its own government, schools and newspaper.

The family migrated to the U.S. in 1949 from Bremen, Germany after Meyer Tenenbaum was able to convince the U.S. Consulate that his career as a machinist could support his family. His argument was that if he wasn’t a good machinist for the Nazis, they would’ve killed him.

“It was a pretty good argument,” Tenenbaum said.

Tenenbaum was raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He’s now retired but works as an independent consultant specializing in health programs and strategic planning. He holds a doctorate degree in public administration from Nova Southeastern University.

He volunteers his time giving presentations to put a face on Holocaust victims and survivors so that they’re remembered far more as individuals than statistics.

Before Tenenbaum’s presentation, NSWCDD Deputy Technical Director Darren Barnes recalled a sobering experience visiting Germany and getting an extensive look at original Holocaust gas chambers and cremation ovens. Barnes said that up-close view put the catastrophic events in perspective.

Barnes encouraged those who can’t travel overseas to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

“The way they present the history, it gives it a much more personal feeling,” Barnes said.

Tenenbaum said his goal during speaking engagements is to play a role in ensuring that such an atrocity never occurs again to any group of people.

He answered questions from NSWCDD employees in attendance and online, including an inquiry on what it will take to eradicate anti-Semitism and other forms of racism.

Tenenbaum responded that it’s a complex question without an easy answer, particularly when young children are taught to hate.

“It’s not a Jewish problem,” he said. “It’s a problem for the rest of us.”