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Holocaust survivor helping nonprofit open new HQ, museum

Jewish Family, Community Services' new facility opens Sunday

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Holocaust survivor is helping Jewish Family and Community Services celebrate its centennial, as it moves into a new building Sunday and opens a special Holocaust Memorial Gallery on the Southside. 

At 89 years of age, Manfred Katz remembers how he survived the Holocaust. In 1943, at the young age of 15, he was torn from his family in Germany and forced onto a train by Nazi soldiers.
"My parents, standing on a curb. My dad holding my young sister in his arms. That was the last time we saw each other," Katz said.

For two years, he worked hard labor at concentration camps like Kaiserwald and Stutthof. He said tens of thousands of other Jews were taken to a nearby forest but never returned.

"Open graves (and) pits had been dug up, and they were just murdered there," Katz said.

Katz, unlike millions of others, survived. After his rescue, he came to the United States, where he finished school and became an engineer in the aerospace industry. He married and had four sons, who now have children of their own. He's one of many survivors featured in the Frisch Family Holocaust Memorial Gallery.

"Hopefully some of the people that come and see this take back the message and change their behavior and their thinking. That's very important," Katz said.

The memorial is housed inside Jewish Family and Community Services' new building on the Southside. After 100 years, executive director Colleen Rodriquez said the nonprofit continues to offer a variety of family support services to people of Northeast Florida, no matter their religious background.

"We do that throughout the counseling department, our food pantry and through our child welfare system and adoption program. We're all about families," Rodriquez said. 

More than 80 percent of Jewish Family and Community Services’ clients are not Jewish. They're all represented in the artifacts that will be sealed in a time capsule for the next 25 years. 

A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held Sunday and is open to the public. Tours of the new building will be offered that will feature the new Frisch Family Holocaust Memorial Gallery. The gallery is the only Holocaust memorial between Miami and Atlanta and will host rotating exhibitions to help educate the community.

“The Alan J. Taffet Building will be able to support the many ways we’ve evolved to help our community over the past 100 years,” Rodriquez said. “No one walks through our doors with just one challenge, and our new headquarters is designed so that we can assist people more comprehensively, offering them the tools they need to help themselves.”

The new building was made possible with the help of an ongoing Centennial Celebration capital campaign. The campaign, which has a goal of $6 million, will aid JFCS in serving First Coast families.

The grand opening will be held at the Alan J. Taffet Building, 8540 Baycenter Road from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.