Jewish Life

Prof. Laurence Tribe to discuss “Seeking Refuge: Shanghai & Beyond” at 4th Annual Henny Simon Remembrance

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arvard Law School Professor Emeritus Laurence Tribe will discuss “Seeking Refuge: Shanghai and Beyond,” as special guest speaker at the 4th Annual Henny Simon Remembrance, to be presented by Hadassah Easter CT Chapter on Sunday April 11, 2 p.m. on Zoom. The program will also include a talk by noted teacher Helen Elperina. 

This program will explore the desperate search for refuge from persecution and impending death faced by Jews, through the personal stories of Tribe and Ludwig Rosenbaum, Henry Simon’s father, whose stories of survival during the Holocaust converge in Shanghai. Elperina who was born in Minsk, will also discuss her family’s escape and refuge and asylum in the Soviet Union.

Their stories begin in 1940, when it was almost impossible to find a destination open for Jewish immigrants seeking a safe home within which to settle. They certainly couldn’t find safe haven in America, whose doors were mostly swung closed as a result of laws passed in 1924 curtailing immigration from Germany and Eastern Europe. 

As Chaim Weizmann, who would later become Israel’s first president, wrote in 1936: “The world seems to be divided into two parts – those places where the Jews could not live and those where they could not enter.”

Before 1940 and the inception of the “final solution,” Henny’s family tried feverishly escape Hitler’s clutches by securing a visa to any country that would have them. With the help of the Jewish Emigration Service, they received a visa for Shanghai, China. Her father left for Shanghai in April, 1940, becoming one of the over 20,000 Jews to find refuge there. Henny and her mother, however, were unable to secure passage for themselves – and so their fate was sealed. They were sent to concentrate camp where her mother was murderec, and Henny’ miraculously survived.

When Henny’s father arrived in Shanghai, Tribe’s parents were already living in Shanghai, their families having sought refuge from Belarus years earlier. Tribe, who was born in 1941, spent the first six years of his life there. 

That same year, in Belarus, where the Tribes were from, Helen Elperina’s father, Oleg Elperin, who was just nine years old, convinced his mother to flee. Oleg, with his mother and brother, escaped to the far reaches of the Soviet empire in Kazakhstan. Elperina was born in Minsk in 1955. She will discuss her family’s story of asylum and refuge in the Soviet Union.

A renowned constitutional law expert, Laurence Tribe counts among his former students former President Barack Obama, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Senator Ted Cruz, Congressmen Adam Schiff and Jamie Raskin. He has written several treatises on constitutional law and is a sought-after expert, often appearing in the media to discuss the burning constitutional and election issues of our day.

Tribe credits his Jewish roots and values for the causes he champions. “I developed a sense of the enormous great luck in managing to survive, giving me a strong feeling that I had an obligation to pay it forward,” says Tribe. 

Helen Elperina comes from a family of teachers in the former Soviet Union. She arrived in New London in 1990, and has been a physics teacher at Branford High School since 1994. In 2007-2008, she was chosen as Branford’s Teacher of the Year. Elperina received an Immigrant Award for her contributions to her community and profession. She serves as the Eastern Connecticut’s Jewish Federation’s vice president for community programs.

Henny Simon z”l was a life-member of Hadassah, a Holocaust survivor, and a beloved local Holocaust educator. The Eastern Connecticut chapter of Hadassah established the Henny Simon Remembrance four years ago to highlight the values she championed. The program strives to enlighten and educate on issues of history, culture, and diversity, and to continue her legacy of advocacy for peace, tolerance and justice. 

The Rose & Sigmund Strochlitz Holocaust Resource Center of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut is a sponsor of this program.

For more information about the program and how to access it on Zoom, contact Karen Bloustine at bloustinek@gmail.com.

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