"When I first came to this country," said Benjamin Meed, a Polish Jew who survived World War II, "every week for the first 10 or 20 years I attended a wedding or bar mitzvah. But now all I go to is funerals. We are losing our people."
Meed's people are the survivors of the Holocaust. Their mortality is one of the reasons he and others are planning the first American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, to be held here April 11-14.
The gathering, expected to draw 10,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors and their children, will provide an opportunity for the survivors, most of them 60 or older, to meet and bear witness to what happened in the Holocaust, Meed said.
The highlight of the gathering, which will take place on the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising--when thousands of Polish Jews revolted against Nazi rule and were brutally repressed--will be the dedication of the Holocaust Memorial Museum site on Independence Avenue between 14th and 15th streets SW. Survivors will also join senators and congressmen for a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.
Elie Wiesel, a noted theologian of the Holocaust and chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, will be the keynote speaker at the opening function.
About 8,000 people have already registered, according to Lawrence Y. Goldberg, Washington director of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, the coalition of survivors that is the sponsoring organization. Meed, one of the organizers of the World Gathering of Survivors in Jerusalem in 1981, is president of the group.
One of the major projects of the coalition is to register all the Holocaust survivors in a national computer register for historical purposes. Through the computer listing, survivors who attend the gathering can locate and be reunited with family and friends who came from the same villages and towns in Europe.
So far, there are 40,000 entries of American Jewish survivors in the computer bank.
The computer register, however, disturbs some of the survivors. "One thing we hate is computers," said Meed, "because we are becoming numbers again. When somebody writes to us, he has to say, 'What's my number?' "