By David A. Schwartz Florida Jewish Journal

9:19 a.m. EST, January 4, 2012

Merle Saferstein, director of educational outreach at the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center in Hollywood, has touched the lives of survivors, students, staff and people in South Florida's Jewish community during her 26 years with the Center.

Saferstein, 67, retired at the end of December after planning and coordinating another successful Student Awareness Day, when about 900 high school students spent several hours with Holocaust survivors at the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale.

Last week, the North Miami Beach resident looked back on her more than a quarter century of work with the Center.

In the early 1990s, Saferstein said, the Center did "the only conference in the country on the treatment and care of the aging Holocaust survivor. It was an amazing conference."

In 1995, about 5,000 survivors gathered at the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach in "villages" from the countries and major cities that they came from.

Soldiers carried flags from the units that liberated the concentration camps after World War II, she said. "It was very emotional."

About 1,000 survivors coming to the Broward Convention Center for the unveiling of an unrestored German rail car also was a significant event, she said.

"The biggest thing in this decade has been the rail car and its unveiling and the dedication of this building," Saferstein said.

But it was putting Holocaust survivors and students together during Student Awareness Days that was the most fulfilling part of her job, she said. "It's almost magical to see how students change right before their eyes."

Holocaust survivor Lisl Bogart of Delray Beach has participated in student events. She thanked Saferstein for "understanding and helping us, the survivors, bring our stories to the students."

"In every respect, she was just most helpful and accurate in everything she did," Bogart said.

Ralph Kingsley of Aventura, rabbi emeritus at Temple Sinai of North Dade who has known Saferstein for more than 30 years, called her a "delightful human being full of energy and ideas" who is dedicated to young people and to Holocaust survivors.

Kingsley said Saferstein related to children in a very special way. He praised her for her work with children at the synagogue and for her creation of the Holocaust Center's student awareness days. The event, he said, is "life-changing for the students."

Rita Hofrichter of Sunny Isles Beach has been at the Holocaust Center for 31 years and is coordinator of its documentation department. Hofrichter said she worked with Saferstein on documents and memorabilia and as chair of the Center's student awareness days.

"There's no question that she'll be missed," Hofrichter said of Saferstein. "It was her dream to write and pursue other interests. I'm glad for her that she can follow her dream," she said.

Saferstein said retirement will give her more time for morning walks on the beach and for writing.

She said she will write the novel she has been researching for years and a nonfiction book with excerpts from some of the more than 350 journals she has compiled.

She also plans to visit one Holocaust survivor every week.

"I'm really curious about their resilience. How did they pick up the pieces and start a new life?" she said. "I'm also curious about the loss that they suffered. They didn't have time to mourn."

Saferstein also wants to write a book about the old Hollywood Beach Hotel, with chapters from different time periods in the hotel's history.

But she isn't ruling out a project for the Holocaust Center.

"It all depends on where my writing goes," Saferstein said. "But I'm not closing any doors. It's hard to give up something that is touching lives in a significant way."

Merle Saferstein, director of educational outreach at the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center in Hollywood, retired at the end of December after 26 years with the center. (Staff photo/Janeris Marte / December 30, 2011)