Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Passover dinner gives Holocaust survivors a chance to connect

ST. PETERSBURG — Helen Kahan arrived in Auschwitz on her 20th birthday. Her mother, little brother and sister were sent directly to the gas chamber. Over the next several months, she and one of her sisters were booted from work camp to work camp. They survived only by escaping during a death march in the spring of 1945.

"We could see on the side of the streets the dead corpses," said Kahan, 85.

Sixty-plus years later, Kahan and other Holocaust survivors from throughout Pinellas and Hillsborough get together once or twice a year for events sponsored by Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services. Mostly they chat, show off family pictures and celebrate the holidays. Tuesday, more than 60 of them gathered at Congregation B'nai Israel in St. Petersburg for an early Passover meal.

"It's a happiness that we're alive and we are here," said Kahan, who lives in Seminole and spends much of her time volunteering in the Jewish community. "Even when we get together, very little do we talk about the Holocaust."

Their experience binds them, said Maya Lazarus, a facilitator for Holocaust survivor support groups. Some escaped the Soviet Union as it was invaded by the Nazis. Many were in concentration and work camps like Kahan. Almost all lost family at the hands of the Nazis.

But it also isolates them.

"It helps them to be with their own kind to give them support," Lazarus said.

Passover, which is actually celebrated in three weeks, commemorates the Israelites' deliverance from slavery and exodus from Egypt.

Coming together for Passover is especially comforting for the Holocaust survivors, Lazarus said. Many remember hiding because Hitler often escalated killings on Passover and other holidays, she said.

Though many relish this annual event, Gulf Coast program director Joe Lallanilla said it may be the last year that the nonprofit will be able to sponsor it.

"Donations are way, way, way down," Lallanilla said.

It costs about $2,500 to provide the meal, transportation and goody bags, with grape juice, unleavened bread and macaroons. Gulf Coast resources must go first to core services, he said.

For some, the Passover get-together is an opportunity to see and meet those who went through similar experiences as the numbers of survivors dwindle.

"There aren't many of us left, you know," said Hans Krieger, 86, of Dunedin, a survivor who later joined the U.S. Army and liberated a concentration camp.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at or (727) 445-4155.

Fast Facts

To learn more

Call Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services at (727) 479-1800 or visit

Passover dinner gives Holocaust survivors a chance to connect 03/17/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 11:06pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. FHP seeks semitrailer truck driver that left fiery wreck on I-75


    TAMPA — The Florida Highway Patrol is looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an Interstate 75 crash that left another car burning on Tuesday afternoon.

    Troopers were looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an accident scene on Interstate 75 in Tampa on Tuesday afternoon that caused a car to catch fire. [Courtesy of Florida Highway Patrol]
  2. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the warm response from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute were proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.
  3. Three-hour police standoff ends, thanks to a cigarette


    TAMPA — A man threatening to harm himself was arrested by Tampa police on Tuesday after a three-hour standoff.

  4. Jones: Rays' Kevin Cash doesn't mind following in Joe Maddon's steps

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — On this particular night, he's the other guy. He's like a talk-show guest scooted to the end of the couch. He is Kevin Cash. And the Rays manager is standing in the home dugout at Tropicana Field.

    ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 17: Manager Kevin Cash (L) of the Tampa Bay Rays reacts to action during the game against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field on September 17, 2017 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images) 700012494
  5. 7.1 magnitude quake kills at least 139, collapses buildings in Mexico


    MEXICO CITY — A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 139 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.

    A woman is lifted on a stretcher from of a building that collapsed during an earthquake in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. [Rebecca Blackwell | Associated Press]