"A remarkable life, a remarkable woman: Luna has proved to be a walking university in herself, and all who know her are thankful to God for her life."-Monsignor Robert Sheeran, Seton Hall University
One of the most profound responsibilities of the Wreaths Across America organization is to teach younger generations the value of freedom and the sacrifices it took to achieve and maintain liberty. Wreaths Across America recognizes a birthday which marks the beginning of a remarkable life of historical significance.
November 28, 1926, a little girl was born in Krakow, Poland. Nee Luna Fuss, later Luna Kaufman, was the second daughter born to Mania and Marek Fuss. She grew to be a fun-loving and mischevious prankster as she tagged along with her older sister Niusia.
Luna was only 12-years old when the war broke out and 13 when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. She is a survivor of the Holocaust of World War II. As Jews were being persecuted, isolated, and murdered by the Nazis, she and her family had personal items stolen and were forced from their ancestral home into the Krakow Ghetto. They would be deported to the Plaszow and then the Hasag-Skarzysko and Leipzig concentration camps. Every security and comfort she once knew as a child growing up in a democratic and civil society was quickly transformed into a daily survival of the fittest, and the lucky.
"We had already begun to realize our chances of survival were slim," Luna cites in her book. "But the will to live was strong even if life was a more difficult choice than death. We could not permit our tormentors to win, and the only fight we could wage was for survival."
Luna persevered despite being subjected daily to unthinkable human atrocities. As a result of what she describes as a "strange sort of ESP," Luna saved her Mother's life countless times during their incarceration in the camps. Her sister, Father, and other members of her family died as the result of a dangerous, hateful ideology of anti-semitism, and greed for dominance. Her life story is inextricably woven with those of our World War II military veterans who risked their own lives to save others.
Veterans, like Thurman Cleveland Pace, Jr. who was just 18-years old and fresh out of high school when he signed up for the U.S. Army in 1942, were known as liberators.
"My father served in World War I, and he wanted to enlist in World War II but he was too old, and they wouldn't take him," explains Thurman. "My Dad was patriotic, and I was taught to be patriotic. I wanted to do what my father had done."
To have Luna and Thurman's stories lost to the sands of time would be a missed opportunity to teach.
Luna authored her memoirs in the book called, Luna’s Life: A Journey of Forgiveness and Triumph published in 2009 with proceeds benefiting Seton Hall University.
It was 2015, during the Annual Wreath Escort to Arlington National Cemetery that this remarkable and energetic woman came into our lives. We've shared some of those experiences in Luna's Life of Tolerance, Understanding, and Peace, Part I.
In 2016, we had the privilege and honor to visit with Luna at her home in Manhattan. During that visit David "Mel" Russen Jr., (2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army, 1968-1970) who serves on the Board of Directors for Wreaths Across America, helped facilitate a meeting with Luna and Thurman. They shared incredible memories of World War II from different perspectives, and Luna learned more about the 17th Masonic District of New Jersey.
Thurman served in the U.S. Army assigned to 7th Army, 20th Armored Division and they liberated four camps including Dachau. "I was only 21 at the time, and we didn't know what we had come upon. The conditions were horrible, and there were all those people in striped pajamas. Once we witnessed and understood what had been done to these people you never heard of any guards from Dachau escaping us if you know what I mean."
The speech Thurman shares vividly describe the few hours he spent on the grounds of Dachau that are forever seared into his memory.
"Words cannot express the horrible, gut-wrenching sight that confronted us that day. The indefinable sickening odor of the dead and decaying bodies was beyond comprehension. Crazed prisoners in striped pajamas were everywhere. They didn't give the appearance of being human. A number of them could only crawl around on the ground, and a few were just lying on the ground staring up at us with eyes filled with pain and terror. I thought we had discovered "hell on earth." The scene and odor caused all of us to become nauseated, and many of us wretched."
Like Luna, Thurman has spent generous portions of his life sharing his experiences with others in the hope of avoiding a repeat of that dark history. He expresses in his speeches, "The subject is one that needs to be told, as there are those in the world today who deny it ever happened."
Luna admits that today her memories of World War II and the loss of her family in Nazi concentration camps seem like science fiction, but, she’s also quick to caution it’s a story that must never be forgotten to avoid the brutality and bloodshed of tyranny in the future. Luna says while intense in its scope, the Holocaust of World War II is not the only genocide in history citing Armenia, Darfur, Rwanda, and Bosnia as other examples.
During the meeting at the Mason's Lodge, Luna expressed gratitude for the opportunity to meet with Thurman and hear his recollections of World War II and the concentration camps.
"When you talk about it from the other side of the fence, it enforces that fact that it happened," Luna expressed. "Sometimes people will say the Jewish are self-serving when they talk about it, but this shouldn't be looked at as a Jewish issue, it's a human issue. We have to talk about it because it's the only way humanity will wake up."
Like Thurman, Luna didn't speak much of her experiences during the Holocaust until her children were older.
"My parents were bound and determined not to drop that legacy in our laps until we were old enough to deal with it," shares Luna's son Mark Kaufman. "I actually didn't hear a lot about my Mother's experiences until much later in life when she became involved in the survivor community and started giving lectures and such. My childhood memories of my Mother were of her being the troop leader for my sisters Brownie Troop, and she was in the League of Women Voters. Our life wasn't about her being a Holocaust survivor. It was all today forward kind of stuff."
Luna has demonstrated for her children and countless others that a person can choose animosity, bigotry, and hatred, or the pursuit of tolerance, understanding, and peace.
"Luna is a gem," shares Dr. Susanna Kokkonen, Director of Christian Friends of Yad Vashem. "We don't ask people to understand all of the complicated political and religious ideologies of the Holocaust because it is often too much to comprehend. We know, however, that people can sympathize and understand its implications through the stories of just one person. The most effective and important thing people can do is go and hear the stories of Holocaust survivors. Luna has a very positive outlook on life which is unique and the way she shares her story has done much to advance Jewish-Christian relations. I hope as many people as possible can hear her story. I feel very fortunate to get to know her, and we've become great friends."
While their experiences were different, Luna and Thurman are united by their memories of the Holocaust and their desire to teach younger generations the value of freedom and the sacrifices made to liberate the lives of others.
***This video contains some graphic images***
She shows those who are filled with hate how to make the choice not to be…she had reason and justification for hatred but instead chose to live her life pursuing a role of community outreach and advocacy building understanding and respect between faiths
Dr in Holocaust Studies Susanna Kokkomen: Interview 2/2017 Yad Vashem in 2009 met Luna and spoken together in Christian Communities
Director of Christian Friends of Yad Vashem since 2008
(Yad Vashem created 1953 by Israeli Parliament Iash 56:5 Memorial & Name ICEJ International Christian Embassy Museum of the Bible in Washington DC opening in 2017
Yad Vashem started from 1946 archive from Hungarian survivor. It serves as model and in 2006 decided to start to build relations between Jews and Christians.
Yad Vashem looks at Holocaust: recognize military conflict and so forth but a story of individual is at center of story. Don’t ask people to understand everything like religious conflicts but rather sympathize with one person…one of most famous Anne Frank-one girl but people can remember her world wide