Jewish Journal

Marathoners Raise Funds for Shoah Survivors

by Olivia Karlin, Contributing Writer

Posted on Sep. 16, 2009 at 5:00 pm

I’m a mom of three children with hectic schedules; I’m also a deputy attorney general for California. And I’m an avid runner, squeezing in my runs before dawn. Having run several marathons, I’ve had my eyes set on the New York City Marathon for two years. Because that marathon relies on a lottery system, it can be difficult for nonresidents to enter; however, I was accepted this year just a couple of days after a chance meeting in New York with someone with whom I had two things in common: a love of running and a strong Jewish background.

I was in the city in June with my son, James, who was on his way to Israel to compete for the U.S. Track and Field Team in the Maccabiah Games.

After a run in Central Park, I met a resident of the building where I was staying, who noticed I had been running. The man, who wore a New York City Marathon cap, told me he missed his running days — his knees had gone out. I told him I liked his cap, and that I’d been trying to get into the marathon. He then told me about The Blue Card, an organization that raises money for destitute Holocaust survivors. The Blue Card had just been accepted as an official charity for the N.Y.C. Marathon, the only Jewish charity participating. Beyond the lottery system, or qualifying by time, the marathon also accepts a certain number of runners who promise to raise money for various charitable organizations. He forwarded my contact information to the organization, and by the time I got back to my office in Los Angeles, the marketing director, George Wolf, had written me a letter inviting me to run on The Blue Card Team and help raise money for the organization.

I was touched by Wolf’s gripping letter. In it, he described how he came to work in his current position. He had escaped from Czechoslovakia after its occupation by the Nazis on March 15, 1939, having seen Hitler in person at the Prague castle. He fled to France, and at the end of the war he had the great satisfaction of seeing the German leadership in the dock at the Nuremberg War Crimes trials. He arrived in the United States at the end of 1946; most of his immediate family perished in Auschwitz.

My own grandfather left Czechoslovakia at 16 to come to the United States, then went back for a visit a few years later, met my maternal grandmother, married her within two weeks and brought her back with him to the United States. They were penniless, but he built a factory in New Jersey and did very well. Most of my grandfather’s brothers, his sister and his parents were killed by the Nazis. My grandmother’s family was also killed, with the exception of my great aunt, who survived numerous concentration camps and now lives in Florida. She is lucky enough not to be a Blue Card recipient, but I realize that there are so many of us with similar stories who were not so fortunate.

Given all this, I jumped at the opportunity to be part of The Blue Card Team. Although I was well aware of the history of the Holocaust, it had not occurred to me that many Holocaust survivors had been so damaged by their experience that they live today in poverty, largely forgotten.

Today, the Holocaust is to many, particularly the younger generations, just part of history, a terrible event to read, visit museums, see movies, and, unfortunately, mainly forget about. But to those who lived through those terrible years, who are now in their late 70s, 80s, 90s and a few even in their 100s, it is with them every day of their lives. Many suffered so much abuse, starvation, slave labor and medical experiments that they never really recovered and today live in misery and often loneliness.

It is to those survivors that The Blue Card has dedicated its efforts, providing monthly stipends, remembering them on Jewish holidays and their birthdays with small gifts of money, and providing vitamins or other items they might otherwise not spend money on, or, perhaps, providing an emergency alert system that allows them to call for help if they fall or in the case of sudden illness. Its main gift is to let them know they are not alone or forgotten.

I am now well into my marathon training. The chance to be part of this team and all its goals inspires me to get through those 20-milers on hot late-summer days. And, with three children all busy with day-to-day activities of school, sports and friends, I realize the importance of family — and of keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive, even after the last Holocaust survivor dies.

It is interesting to think of what unexpected incidents can happen in life. Through that chance meeting in New York, I was able to combine my everyday hobby with an opportunity to do something good — to reach out to a Jewish population in need. That I am able to run with an honorable purpose now makes having my desire come true even more meaningful. In the Maccabiah Games, my son was able to bring home a silver medal in one race and earn fifth place in another. On Nov. 1, the day of the New York City Marathon, I won’t need a medal; I only hope to be able to say that I did just as well in spirit.

If you are interested in learning more about The Blue Card or making a contribution, please visit The Blue Card Web site: http://www.bluecardfund.org. If you’d like to make a donation in the author’s name to support the Blue Card Marathon Team, she would be very grateful; just write her name, Olivia Karlin, in the “comments” section of the donation page.

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