MENANDS — The leader of the effort to create a Holocaust remembrance site in Niskayuna has joined a federal commission charged with helping preserve the heritage of Americans in the foreign lands once home to their ancestors.
The White House last month announced the appointment of Dr. Michael Lozman to the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad.
“It’s absolutely fascinating to be appointed, I’m humbled by it,” said Lozman, a resident of Menands and longtime orthodontist in practice in Latham.
Over the course of nearly 20 years, Lozman has restored 15 Jewish cemeteries that were destroyed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
The commission was created in 1985 to help preserve sites important to populations impacted by Nazism, communism and the Cold War. Its focus has been cemeteries, monuments and historic buildings in eastern and central Europe that are associated with the heritage of Americans who immigrated from these places, or their descendants.
Lozman said preservation can entail reversing deliberate attempts to erase heritage, as by the Nazis and communists, or passive neglect that has the same effect.
“It’s not just cemetery sites, it’s those things that represent that particular people, that culture,” Lozman said. He expects to have a better sense of his role after his first meeting with the commission in October.
Over two decades, Lozman has led groups of college students in the preservation of cemeteries that were destroyed under Nazi occupation during World War II. Often, the local Jewish community that would have restored the cemeteries no longer existed, having perished in the Holocaust or fled their homes, never to return.
Ten of the 15 cemeteries Lozman has led efforts to save were in Belarus, but it may be difficult to save an 11th cemetery there — the nation’s authoritarian leader is particularly antagonistic to the West right now.
But it’s not out of the question, Lozman said.
“It’s not an easy country to visit or be in any longer,” he said. But “I’ve made friends there. This is a people-to-people project. I think it goes beyond politics — it’s basically the right thing to do.”
The other five cemeteries Lozman worked to preserve were in Lithuania, which borders Belarus but is allied with the West.
It would be easier to work there, but Lozman isn’t sure that’s what the commission will want him to do. “I have a lot to learn about the mechanics of how they orient their work,” he said.
At home, Lozman is president and founder of the Capital District Jewish Holocaust Memorial Inc., which has all local approvals and is raising funds to erect a memorial on Route 7 in Niskayuna.
It’s thousands of miles removed from Europe but the effort is not unrelated to the work Lozman has led overseas: Rather than restore physical traces of a people’s heritage, the goal in Niskayuna is to highlight the evil that sought to destroy the people themselves, and to memorialize the millions who died as a result.
“The memorial is an important educational structure against hatred,” Lozman said. “We’re putting something here in our back yard that will speak against these negative elements that our world is faced with.”
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, brought Lozman and his work to the attention of President Biden’s staff. In July, Lozman was appointed to the commission, along with Elizabeth Hirsh Naftali, who runs a Los Angeles real estate company and developed an effort to support educational, developmental and co-existence programs for Jewish and Arab children in Israel; Roselyne Chroman Swig, founder and president of ComCon International, who has devoted decades to philanthropic and community service efforts at the local, national, and global levels; and Lesley Weiss, deputy director of the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry, who works closely with governments and Jewish communities on the restitution and preservation of Jewish communal property, combating anti-Semitism, and Holocaust awareness.