Shinn column: Holocaust survivor: ‘It’s not my pleasure, it’s my duty’

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 16, 2009

CHINA GROVE ó It was an amazing honor to meet Holocaust survivor Suly Chenkin on Tuesday.
Brittney Barnhardt, who teaches sixth-grade at China Grove Middle School, contacted Chenkin through the N.C. Council on the Holocaust.
“I was so honored that she said she’d be willing to come and speak,” Barnhardt said.
Barnhardt visited each class to impress upon students the importance of Chenkin’s visit.
“The students behaved exceptionally well,” Barnhardt said. “I was so very proud of every student.”
Members of the speakers’ bureau, said Michael Abramson, the council’s executive director, mainly speak to teachers who are teaching the Holocaust, along with school and civic groups.
“I go any place they ask me to,” Chenkin said after her presentation to some 200 sixth-graders. “It’s not my pleasure, but it’s my duty.”
Chenkin, who lives in Charlotte, makes presentations to school and church groups. On April 14, she’ll be speaking at Queens University as part of its Holocaust Remembrance Day. This program is free and open to the public.
Chenkin always carries a picture of her parents, Reva and Solomon Baicovitz, in her wallet. During presentations, she tucks the small black-and-white photo in her pocket.
She remembers her foster mother, Miriam Shulman, as a terrific woman.
“She saved 30 children,” Chenkin said.
Although her mother did not like to speak about the Holocaust, her father told her what happened. She’s read numerous books and diaries over the years, and visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., several times.
Although she was only a baby when the Holocaust began, she said, as a young child, “I just knew something very bad was happening.”
After settling in Cuba, Chenkin and her parents left in 1961 after Castro took over. They came to Charlotte and started a textile business.
Two years later, Chenkin left for New York City, where she eventually had her own export business.
She and her husband later returned to Charlotte to help her father run the family business.
“We ran the factory for 10 years until the Chinese closed us,” Chenkin said.
Chenkin is 68. She talked about how some of her friends didn’t want to tell their ages.
When she turned 60, she told her husband she wanted him to put it on a banner and fly it from an airplane.
“Every year is really an absolute victory,” she said.
Statewide, there are only 20-30 Holocaust survivors, and only 10 in the speakers’ bureau ó one of whom is Abramson’s mom, Gizella. The rest either can’t speak to groups because of the limitations of their age or choose not to.
The goal of the speakers, Abramson says, is to remember the victims, to remember an awful event in history and to learn not to repeat history.
If you’d like for a member of the speakers’ bureau to talk with your group, contact Michael Abramson at 919-787-9939 or mabramson@