July 20, 2024
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East Brunswick Community Honors Holocaust Survivor With Car Caravan

You might think that Holocaust survivor Joseph Farkas––now in his 90s and living in East Brunswick, who rebuilt his life in the U.S., raised a family and grew a successful business and who has seen more horrors and triumphs than most of us can imagine––would be hard to impress.

Leave it to the Young Israel of East Brunswick, police, fire and first aid groups in town, along with dozens of friends in the community and the survivor’s very persuasive daughter, to provide a brand new surprise that warmed his heart and lifted his spirits.

Farkas grew up in the very small village of Horinchova, a suburb of the larger town of Khust, in what was then Czechoslovakia and is currently in Ukraine. He was the second oldest child of seven, in a religiously observant family. When he was 17 years old he and his family were sent to Auschwitz. He was subsequently transferred to the Dachau concentration camp, from which he was liberated by U.S. troops on April 29, 1945.

After the war was over, he returned for a short while to Horinchova and found that his older brother Avram Moshe had survived the war. Avram Moshe remained in Horinchova/Khust and later emigrated to the U.S. along with his wife, daughter and son, in 1972, to join his two brothers and their families in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Farkas eventually also decided to emigrate to the U.S., received a visa and arrived at Ellis Island on May 28, 1948. He was 21 years old and traveling alone. Shortly before boarding the ship for the U.S., Farkas learned his younger brother Mendel was alive and living in New Jersey. Mendel had been taken to an orphanage in France after the war and had just emigrated to New Jersey the prior year.

After spending a few years working different menial jobs and living near and with family in New Jersey and Ohio, Farkas and Mendel agreed to start their own business. They bought an existing kosher butcher shop on St. Georges Ave in Linden, New Jersey and J. & M. Farkas Butchers launched around 1955. The business thrived and in the 1970s the brothers purchased an additional butcher shop, on Elmora Ave in Elizabeth.

Along the way Farkas met Esther Staub, whose family had come to the U.S. from the same village decades earlier. They married in 1958 and had two daughters, Renée and Toby. The family first lived in Roselle Park and Roselle, New Jersey. They later lived in Elizabeth for more than 13 years and moved to West Orange, where they have lived for 30 years. In their adulthood, both daughters have since moved with their own families to East Brunswick.

The Farkas brothers decided to close their business and retire in 1982. Farkas lived comfortably in retirement but was greatly saddened by Esther’s death in 2005, and Toby’s death in 2011. Sometime after his wife’s passing, he decided to move in with his daughter, Renée Kinel, in East Brunswick, who manages apartment communities for Value Companies in New Jersey. He became a member and daily attendee of YIEB, and he attends Shabbat services at Torah Links.

One thing that’s been a constant in Farkas’s life is that he marks the day of his liberation from Dachau and celebrates it with his family annually. In recent years, Renée has hosted Shabbat kiddush in her yard and parties in her home to commemorate the date.

As the date approached this year, Renée knew they could not celebrate the date as they had in years past. She also noted that this year the date coincided with Yom Ha’atzmaut. In talking with a neighborhood friend, and then with Rabbi Effy Unterman at YIEB, she put her plan into fruition, but not before seeking approval from the East Brunswick Police Department.

“Renée Kinel reached out to me asking permission for a small car parade to drive by her residence,” said Sgt. Thomas Cassidy of the East Brunswick Police Department. “Renée stated that members of YIEB were going to honor her father on that day due to it being Israel’s Independence Day as well as the 75th anniversary of her father being freed from the concentration camp. Immediately, I Googled the concentration camp and quickly read up on the camp as well as other articles linked to the camp. I thought that Mr. Farkas should be honored on a greater scale, as he is clearly a man of bravery, perseverance and honor.”

Cassidy emailed Renée back with his support.

“I reached out to our local fire department, rescue squad, EBTV and mayor, advising them of the event,” he said. “Everyone was more than willing to help to honor Mr. Farkas. Working with Renée, we got the word out, set the staging area at Warnsdorfer School. I was overwhelmed by the volume of people/vehicles that showed up.”

Rabbi Unterman’s email to the YIEB community, inviting them to participate in the car parade, resulted in at least 50 cars joining the proud procession. Many of the cars were festooned with decorations for Yom Ha’atzmaut and or messages for Mr. Farkas, such as “We love you Zaide!” The car parade commenced at 5 p.m. that day and all the vehicles made their way down Farkas and Kinel’s street, with friends and community members rolling down their windows and offering greetings to Farkas on the 75th anniversary of his liberation.

The video of the paradee has been posted on Facebook, East Brunswick TV and Channel 12 News, according to Cassidy. He said the feedback was overwhelmingly supportive.

“This tribute was a tremendously meaningful event, and it was a pleasure to share it with the community and my family,” said Andy Gross, president of YIEB. “Both the initial participation and subsequent broad appeal exemplifies the caring and close-knit nature of our community.”

Rabbi Effy Unterman of YIEB was also happy to support the parade.

“Mr. Farkas is one of the finest men I know,” he said. “He is kind, generous, gentle, humble and pious in every sense of the word. But he also suffered unspeakable torture and trauma at the hands of the Nazis, so he is all the more so a hero for what he survived and for still being the great man he is today. He is truly a polestar for our entire community. The fact that he was able to rebuild a family and keep a smile on his face after so much suffering is nothing short of a miracle.”

Renée felt moved at the turnout and support she received.

“I got emails and calls from friends who heard about it from social media, including a message from a friend in Australia,” she said. “This was a wonderful opportunity for the community to mark this day and its duality this year. We are so grateful to everyone who participated.”

The man of the hour, Farkas, said simply, “I was so touched to see this. Such a warm and wonderful community.”

By Harry Glazer

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