Holocaust survivor stories: Ilona Schwartz’s story lives on

This was originally published on SILive.com.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Ilona Schwartz called out for her loved ones, 74 years after they were killed.

Taken from her village in Hungary, her brother, Mendu, and her sister, Rose, were the only people of her nine-person family to survive the Holocaust.

“Anybody could bring back my family?” she asked. “It’s very shameful what they did to us.”

The injustices that happened during the Holocaust -- the persecutions of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, political prisoners and others -- will never be reversed. But we can listen and learn from the stories of the survivors to try to prevent it from happening again.

I first met Ilona on March 20, 2018 in her Willowbrook home. After she saw her friend Shirley Gottesman’s story in the Staten Island Advance, she requested to be a part of the project. I interviewed her a few days later.

She spoke of her happy childhood with her six siblings, who frequently helped her parents, David and Gizella Weisz, with their fruit business in Zemplenagard, Hungary.

The day after Passover in April 1944, they were taken from their home and sent to the Satoraljaujhely ghetto, and later to Auschwitz. As soon as they arrived, the family was separated.

“My mother has a black dress and red and white polka dots in it,” she recalled. “And that’s in front of me how long I live. I see the dress.”

Her mother was looking back at her as they moved into separate lines. They didn’t know it would be the last time they saw each other. Three days later, she discovered that her mother was sent to the crematorium and was killed, along with her father, one of her brothers, two of her sisters and her sister’s children.

“There wasn’t a day that we didn’t cry,” she remembered.

Six months after her arrival in Auschwitz, Schwartz was sent to sort out clothing for the Germans. As she opened up one of the packages, she couldn’t believe her eyes. It was her mother’s polka dotted dress.

You weren’t allowed to cry, she said, but she screamed, not even fearing for her life.

Shortly after, Schwartz was sent to Bergen-Belsen where she worked in the kitchen. She would frequently steal food for the other girls in her barrack.

She was liberated in April 1945, but her liberation memories are not as happy as one would expect.

She had no parents and no home.

Schwartz stayed in Bergen-Belsen, which became a Displaced Persons Camp, for six months after liberation until she learned that two of her brothers were alive. As she was traveling back home to see them, her brother, Yossi, died.

In April 1946, Schwartz married her husband, Peter Schwartz. They had one daughter, Eva, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2013. Schwartz never fully recovered from the loss of her daughter, she said, often reverting back to speaking in Hungarian.

Schwartz sadly passed away in December 2018, at the age of 94, but her story lives on. She is survived by her three grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Holocaust survivor stories: Chaim Ben-Aron’s fight through three concentration camps

This was originally published on SILive.com.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- “We were ordered to evacuate Ostroleka,” said West Brighton resident Chaim Ben-Aron, explaining how the Nazis forced him and other residents to leave their hometown in Poland in 1939.

He crossed into the Russian town of Lomza and later into Derechin, Poland, where he lived with his mother while his four brothers and father moved into the Vilna ghetto in Lithuania.

When the Germans attacked Russia in Operation Barbarossa, Chaim’s brother, Yitzchak, thought that the Vilna ghetto was safer than Derechin, so he bribed a German to help bring Chaim and his mother to the ghetto.

This began Chaim’s story of surviving the terrible conditions in the Vilna ghetto and three concentration camps: Kivioli One, Kivioli Two and Stutthof.

In the Vilna ghetto, he witnessed the Nazis forcing Jews into the woods, where they dug graves. Once they were done, the Nazis shot them and buried them in the holes they dug.

When the ghetto was liquidated, Chaim was sent to Kivioli One and later Kivioli Two, where he had dig trenches to prevent the Russians from advancing on the camps. Eventually, he was able to get a job with Yitzchak, making shoes for the Germans. That saved his life, because he was able to work inside rather than outside in the cold.

In Stutthof, he described wearing paper bags as clothes.

“You did not want to think about it,” Chaim said. “At night, I wake up and it comes in [my] memories.”

I first met Chaim at Café Europa in 2017 where he and his youngest son, Rabbi Mark Ben-Aron, were singing Hebrew songs with other Holocaust survivors and their families. Chaim was shy and soft spoken, but his son’s beautiful voice brought the words to life and encouraged everyone in the room to join in.

In October of that year, when the survivors were celebrating the holiday of Sukkot, I asked Rabbi Ben-Aron if I could interview him and his father.

They both agreed, but Rabbi Ben-Aron mentioned that Chaim’s memory was not what it once was. During the interview, Chaim couldn’t recall some names and dates, but Rabbi Ben-Aron filled in most of the blanks.

“There are so many survivors at this point that are dying off. We have deniers in the world,” Rabbi Ben-Aron said. “Without these stories, people are going to believe the deniers.”

Chaim tells his story so that future generations will understand the impact of hate and will never let this happen again.

We invite you to watch Chaim’s story in the above video.

Holocaust survivor stories: 6-year-old Arnold Aronowitz survived war after father was murdered

This was originally published on SILive.com.

Shira Stoll, a Multimedia Specialist for the Advance/SILive.com, is the filmmaker behind the 
“Where Life Leads You” documentary and the Staten Island Holocaust Survivor series.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – Arnold Aronowitz was six years old when his father was beaten to death by the German army in 1943.

Arnold and his parents, John and Esther Aronowitz, lived in Falticeni, Romania, where John, a highly respected Romanian army veteran, ran a profitable lumber mill business.

In 1941, the Germans passed through Romania to fight the Soviet Union. They took over synagogues where they hosted soldiers and officials, and some officers stayed in John, Esther and Arnold’s home.

Arnold recalls how nice and friendly the soldiers were to him and his family. He has distinct memories of the officers dancing with him and carrying him on their shoulders.

His mother once asked the soldiers why they were nice to them if they were killing Jews in other parts of Europe.

The soldier responded that he liked them, but if he had to kill them one day, he would, because “that’s what a soldier does,” Arnold remembers.

The German officers left to fight, but while they were away, John began organizing a resistance. Upon their return, someone told the officers that John had been organizing this resistance, and the soldiers killed him.

This was something Arnold would never forget.

I first spoke to Arnold at the Sukkot celebration at the JCC in Seaview in October 2017. He looked very young. I was taken by surprise when he told me that he was an 81-year-old Holocaust survivor.

When Arnold and I connected about scheduling an interview, he was already in Deerfield Beach, Fla., where he goes to escape the Staten Island winters. So, I flew there to hear how he and his family moved around and hid for three years to avoid being taken away, and how he and his mother would eventually find their way to New York.

I invite you to watch the above video and hear Arnold’s story.

Holocaust survivor stories: How Auschwitz, Kanada II led Shirley Gottesman to new life on Staten Island

This was originally published on SILive.com.

Shira Stoll, a Multimedia Specialist for the Advance/SILive.com, is the filmmaker behind the 
“Where Life Leads You” documentary and the Staten Island Holocaust Survivor series.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- When I first arrived at Shirley Gottesman’s home to interview her, she greeted me at the door with a question.

“Can you help me figure out what to wear?”

There were various outfits perfectly laid out on top of her bed. She was still in the process of pulling out shirts from her closet, and asked me which I liked better -- those in her hand or those on her bed. I wanted her to feel comfortable, so we settled on one of her favorite multicolored shirts and a black skirt.

Then I set up the cameras.

Growing up in Záluz, Czechoslovakia, Shirley Gottesman lived on a farm with her family, including: parents Laizer Berger and Blima Weinberg Gottesman; four siblings, Moshe Lieb (Martin), Fiaga, Ester and Rifka; grandparents Malka and Zalman Berger; two aunts, Helen and Pepe Burger, and Uncle Leib Berger.

With a constant supply of potatoes, beans, vegetables and fruit, her father was a farmer. Cows, chickens and geese roamed the fields. Shirley’s mother was a seamstress.

But in April 1944, everything changed.

Shirley’s family was forced to pack up and move to the ghetto.

She vividly remembers looking out from the horse and wagon and thinking to herself: “Will I ever see it again, or that’s it?”

At that moment, she never thought that her life would lead her to Auschwitz, where she lost everyone in her family, except for her brother Martin, a few aunts, and an uncle.

Shirley’s riveting book, “A Red Polka-Dotted Dress: A Memoir of Kanada II,” details her experiences in Auschwitz and Kanada II.

Kanada was a warehouse in Auschwitz that collected the belongings of those who were killed, according to ushmm.org. Auschwitz prisoners who worked in Kanada had to sort through the valuables and ship them back to Germany. Because Shirley worked there, she had access to extra clothes, shoes and food.

Each of the barracks in which the prisoners lived had a leader, known as the blockova. Shirley’s aunt was bullied by her blockova and asked Shirley if she would bring her a red polka dotted dress from Kanada so that she could give the blockava something to make her leave her alone.

Shirley wanted to help her aunt, so she agreed.

She found the dress and put it on underneath her grey prison dress. As she started to walk toward her aunt’s barrack, the guards announced they would be doing a random search and all prisoners had to take off their clothes.

Shirley froze. She didn’t know what to do.

“If I throw down the dress, they’re going to ask who brought it. I could tell them I did it and they would kill me, or if I don’t tell, they would punish everybody,” she recalled.

Shirley quickly took off the dresses and wrapped the red one inside the grey one, so that the red color wouldn’t show. She draped the carefully folded dresses over her arm with her shoes on top of them, and walked through without being stopped.

“For some reason, I don’t know, thank God they didn’t see it,” she said.

She was able to give her aunt the dress, but she recalled that it was a very foolish thing to do because, while she wanted to help her aunt, she hadn’t thought about the consequences if she were caught.

“It [would’ve been] very severe. A bullet was the best way, but first you would probably get 25 lashes,” she explained.

The nearly two-hour interview with Shirley ended with a powerful quote. “Life Leads you. You are put places that you have a chance to survive. Is it good or bad? God knows.”


This quote is not only her philosophy on how the Holocaust occurred, but it has become a major theme in every film and the inspiration for the documentary project’s name, “Where Life Leads You: Stories of Staten Island’s Holocaust survivors," because it asks the question, “Where does your life lead you, and why?”

The documentary film and series began in June 2017, when I first met the survivors at Café Europa at the Joan & Alan Bernikow JCC on Staten Island. The 24-minute documentary, featuring 10 Staten Island residents who are Holocaust survivors, premiered on April 11, 2018, in commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

All of these survivors started in Europe and their lives led them to Staten Island. While the journey wasn’t easy, they were able to rebuild a new life with children, grandchildren and great-children -- in a place that welcomed them.

Their life led them right here: To our community.

Holocaust survivor stories: How Arthur Spielman survived the war

This was originally published on SILive.com.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- “Nobody can imagine what we through," Arthur Spielman said during his speech at the Wagner College Holocaust Center’s Rosh Hashanah celebration in 2017.

“Now to see all of these people here – the students, the youngsters – thinking of us and remembering what happened, thank you to you all.”

I remember this speech vividly, not only because I recorded it, but because it’s the first time I met Arthur. I was captivated by how emotional he was to see young people interested in the Holocaust.

I knew I had to ask him to be a part of the Holocaust survivor series.

When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, Arthur was in the fourth grade, and his family moved to the Podgórze Ghetto in Krakow, Poland, where Arthur was Bar Mitzvahed.

Conditions in the ghetto worsened, and his family acquired Roman Catholic papers. They moved to Miskolc, Hungary, where they lived as non-Jews, befriended their neighbors who were Nazis, and survived the American bombings in 1944.

“You cannot imagine what it looked like or felt like. We lived in a war-zone," Arthur said.

Arthur was the first survivor I interviewed.

When we sat down and started talking in September of last year, the memories filled his mind and he told the story as if it happened yesterday. The interview was two hours long and we spent an additional hour walking through his house looking at photos of his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

During my second visit with Arthur, on April 30, he showed me copies of the Roman Catholic papers and photos from the 1930s and 40s.

After hours of talking and looking through pictures, I noticed that the dinner table was set for three. He and his wife, Sydelle Spielman, insisted that I had to stay for dinner because she already cooked extra food for me.

Since the dinner, we’ve grown to be friends who call each other almost every week, just to check in.

Arthur said that Dr. Lori Weintrob, Director of the Wagner College Holocaust center, has been a huge influence on him because she encourages him to speak with students about his story. Before he met her, he said he never spoke at schools.

In the past two years, Arthur spoke at Susan E. Wagner High School, Port Richmond High School, Lavelle Prep Charter School, P.S. 19, Jewish Foundation School of Staten Island, and Ben Porat Yosef in New Jersey. His latest speaking event was at a 3GNY Descendants of Holocaust Survivors brunch on Oct. 14.

Arthur is also an active board member of the New Cracow Friendship Society.

We invite you to watch the above video to hear Arthur’s incredible story of survival.

Holocaust survivor stories: Hannah Steiner tragically loses mother, finds love after war

This was originally published on SILive.com.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – On a cold February afternoon, I walked through the entrance hallway of Holocaust survivor Hannah Steiner’s home -- the hallway led to a colorful, bright kitchen.

Pictures of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren covered the fridge from top to bottom. A photo of Hannah and her husband was on the wall, and a picture of her mother was clearly displayed next to the table.

I took a few steps forward into the living room, where I spotted the “grandchildren spoiled here” pillow sitting on top of the green and pink floral couch. Family photos sat on the tables surrounding the couch.

Hannah’s home is covered in memories, constantly reminding her of the love and pain she endured throughout her life.

“We were happy,” Hannah said, as she recalled helping with her mother with her sewing shop in Romania and learning to play the violin.

She also told stories about her boyfriend and future husband, Abraham, whom she met at a dance. She spoke of how they used to spend time together, but her mother always had to tag along as a chaperone.

On March 19, 1944, the Germans invaded Hungary and everything changed.

Hannah’s boyfriend was taken to a labor camp, her brother escaped to Brazil, her sister was killed, and she and her mother were put on a train to Auschwitz.

Hannah’s experiences still bring tears to her eyes, more than 70 years later.

In the video above, Hannah details surviving Auschwitz, walking in the Death March to Bergen-Belsen and losing her mother after liberation.

Amazingly, these tragic experiences did not stop her from rebuilding a new life.

“Hitler didn’t achieve what he wanted; I made a family, you see. I have three children, seven grandchildren, four great-grandchildren,” Hannah said, as she wiped away her tears.

“So what can I complain?”

Holocaust survivor stories: Egon Salmon's escape from Nazi Germany

(Shira Stoll, a Multimedia Specialist for the Advance/SILive.com, is the filmmaker behind the "Where Life Leads You" documentary and the Staten Island Holocaust Survivor series.)

MAPLEWOOD, N.J. -- It was a cold January afternoon when I first walked into Egon Salmon's home in Maplewood, N.J. I was met with a hefty booklet which detailed his life story.

"Read this and then we can do the interview," he said.

I laughed, thinking he was joking. Egon and I had spoke three times on the phone before I arrived to interview him for the Holocaust survivors project.

But he was not joking. He wanted me to understand how hard the story of the Holocaust is to comprehend. 

"It's almost impossible to describe," Egon explained. And he wanted me to have a firm grasp on the concept that I would be trying to teach to others.

We had met two month prior at the Kristallnacht and the S.S. St. Louis event at Wagner College in November of 2017, where I first heard about his family's journey to freedom.

Egon is also a prominent figure on Staten Island. He started Salmon Real-Estate in 1956, making it the oldest independent real-estate firm on Staten Island. His two sons, Jon and Henry Salmon, continued his legacy, and Jon Salmon is now the President of the firm.

But before he was able to start this successful business, he and his family went through a long journey to escape the Nazis.

"Why don't you start by telling me your birthday and where you were born," I began.

"O.K.," he said. And he took a long pause to gather his thoughts. "I was born in the town of Rhyedt, Germany, which is the western part of Germany, near the French, Belgium, and Dutch border."

The interview continued as such, with such precise details, to make sure that I could understand geographically where everything was, and when exactly everything occurred.

After Hitler took power in Germany in 1933, Jewish life became very restricted.

Nine-year-old Egon was not able to go to restaurants or to the movies, and many people didn't want to associate with his family anymore, solely because they were Jewish.

On the evening of Nov. 9, 1938 through Nov. 10, 1938, the Nazis destroyed Jewish shops, lit synagogues on fire, and killed many Jews. This pogrom, known as Kristallnacht or the Night of the Broken Glass, is recognized as the beginning of the Holocaust.

Egon's father, Paul Salmon, was arrested by the Gestapo during this time, and he was taken to the Dachau concentration camp.

After a few months, Paul Salmon was let go and he planned the journey to get himself and his family out of Germany.

We invite you to watch the above video to hear Egon's chilling story about how he and his family escaped to the United States.

Holocaust survivor stories: Rachel Roth's gut-wrenching loss and strength to rebuild

This was originally published on SILive.com.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- "I went out where the ghetto was closed; people used to come from work. And I was waiting for my mother, my mother didn't come. I saw a lady with the same coat. I ran her way: Mommy Mommy!"

But it wasn't her mother. It was a stranger with the same coat.

And in that moment, Rachel Roth knew that her mother had been killed. 

That was almost 80 years ago, but Rachel still tells the story as if it happened yesterday, with tears streaming down her face.

The image of her crying during the interview and recalling the last memory she had with her mother is something I will never forget.

She sat down, took a sip of water, and continued with her story. "It was very bad, very bad," she said.

Rachel spoke of losing her two sisters and brother, smuggling a gun into the Warsaw ghetto for the uprising and passing Mengele's selections at Auschwitz, to name just a few parts of her terrifying journey.

She also told the story of a woman who tried to escape from Majdanek. When the Nazis caught this woman, they hung her and forced the prisoners to watch her body hanging from the gallows. Rachel recalled the words of the officer, "If anyone tries to escape, this is what will happen to you."

To take the prisoners' minds away from the hanging, she told stories about Shabbat dinner with her family. She described the smell of the warm, tasty chicken soup coming from the kitchen and the delicious challah bread set on her table, with a white table cloth.

One prisoner thanked Rachel for bringing her to the imaginary Shabbat dinner table. She told Rachel that she had to survive, in order to tell the world what they did to them, and Rachel promised that she would.

Although Rachel is hard of hearing, she projects her story loudly, to keep this promise that she made to the woman at Majdanek.

Not only did she write her memoir, "Here There is No Why," she still continues to speak at schools in New York to keep her story alive.

Rachel tells her gut-wrenching story of losing most of her family, but leaves the viewer with a clear message: "We built a new generation!"

We invite you to watch the above video to hear Rachel's riveting story. 

Holocaust survivor stories: George's survival and 58 years of love

This was originally published on SILive.com.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- I first introduced myself to George and Harriet Gelb at the Wagner College Rosh Hashanah lunch in September 2017. I asked if they would be interested in being interviewed for the Holocaust Survivor Series project

"Well, George is a Holocaust survivor, but I survived George," Harriet laughed. "You could interview us both!" 

And that was just a glimpse into their 58-year-long love story.

George and Harriet met when they were teenagers. They could only go on dates with a chaperone because George was attending a Yeshiva, an all-male Orthodox Jewish school, which had strict rules about dating.

"But I guess my husband was smitten with me because he took me to Radio City Music Hall. And he bought me a gardenia corsage," Harriet jokingly bragged. 

They now have seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren -- which George referred to as their "pride and joy."

Yet behind the laughter and love, is a story of a 6-year-old boy from Budapest, Hungary, who survived the Holocaust by hiding in an attic with his mother and sister. 

George still recalls one poignant moment when the Hungarians came into their apartment and yelled: "Jews come out!" All of the Jews had to come out of the building, raise their hands, and walk in the middle of the street. 

His mother thought they were going to be killed, but instead the Hungarians just took all of their jewelry and they left.

After that, George and his family went into hiding. And while George was just a little boy at the time, certain experiences remain vivid in his mind.

We invite you to watch the above video to hear both George's incredible story of survival with his mother and sister and his enduring story of love with Harriet.

Holocaust survivor stories: Goldie's heartbreaking account of loss, love

This was originally published on SILive.com.

Shira Stoll, a Multimedia Specialist for the Advance/SILive.com, is the filmmaker behind the "Where Life Leads You" documentary and the Staten Island Holocaust Survivor series.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- When the door opened, I saw Goldie, one of Staten Island's Holocaust survivors, standing in a pink-and-black suit with an intricately designed black fashion hat. 

She had the biggest smile on her face.

"How was your day today?" I asked. 

"Today was wonderful. I went to the JCC," she replied. "I'm a lifetime member."

As I was setting up in preparation for our interview, Goldie waited patiently, and kept a smile on her face the whole time. 

Then we started. "So where were you from?" 

And for the next hour and a half, she told me her heartbreaking story.

She lost her parents and siblings in Auschwitz. She was transferred to another concentration camp, Stutthof. And then there was her shocking account of her liberation, which she was so brave to tell.

"And that's my life story," she said in conclusion.

I asked to see some photos of her grandchildren. Her face lit up. "All my grandchildren call me every Friday," she said. "Friday I'm very busy." 

She showed me a huge photo of her entire family, with all of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

And that compelling interview, which took place in January of this year, was not the last time I was in Goldie's company.

I presented her video testimony when she was honored in April at Young Israel of Staten Island, a synagogue in Willowbrook. Goldie and I also participated in a Q&A session together with Advance Executive Editor Brian Laline during the 2018 Woman of Achievement luncheon in April. And I met her again in June at the annual Cafe Europa event -- a celebration of Staten Island's Holocaust survivors -- at the Jewish Community Center on Manor Road. 

Perhaps the most enthralling aspect of Goldie is her riveting, vibrant personality. And I will never forget the adorable love story she continues to embrace with her late husband, Heshy.

We invite you to watch Goldie's story in the above video.

Holocaust video series launches on SILive.com

 On April 11, 2018, Holocaust Remembrance Day, we introduced "Where Life Leads You," a 24-minute film about 10 Holocaust survivors' experiences in the concentration camps and how they started a new life on Staten Island.

Today, we announce the beginning of the "Where Life Leads You" video series, which allows each of the survivors to tell the viewer their own story of survival and life. Because so often, the Holocaust becomes just a subject we read about in a textbook, but by having our hearts broken with these survivors, we can better understand the scope of this history.

The first video is about Gabi Held, who survived Bergen-Belsen with his mother and two brothers, and later became a boxer. 

All 15 videos in the series will be shown on SILive, one every two weeks.

The Staten Island woman who legally changed her name to Patti Puglady Pugz

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- In 1993, Patricia Smith's life changed forever.

At the time, she didn't even know what a pug was. A single mother living in Brooklyn, Smith was working a 9-to-5 job at the Jewish National Fund and living what she called a "normal life."

Her best friend, Kim Turchiano, wanted a pug and for her birthday and Smith helped her buy one. When Turchiano brought it home, Smith was stunned.

"That's what you wanted? It's ugly!" she recalled telling her friend.

But Turchiano showed Smith that the pugs come in black and from then on, she was hooked. Smith bought her first black pug named Ebony in 1994.

By the time Smith moved to Staten Island in August of 1995, she already had three black pugs and started breeding dogs in October of that same year.

She now breeds pug puppies full-time in her home in Tottenville.


Over the years, Smith accumulated pug collectable items including plates, magnets, calendars, stuffed animals, mugs, teapots, and much more. She even has a pug coo-coo clock, wine bottles with pug faces on them and a pug comforter on her bed.

All of her cherished items are neatly displayed throughout her home. "Even though I have a lot of stuff, it doesn't look like I'm a hoarder," she said. "Everything has a spot."

People started calling her "Patti the Puglady" and "Patti Pugs." So in 2013, she decided to make it official and legally changed her name. 

Patricia Smith no more. Say hello to Patti Puglady Pugz.

"I was reborn," she joked. 


Pugz takes care of the newborn puppies for eight weeks, making sure they are well-fed, clean, and happy, until they are ready for new homes.

Her 2-year-old pug named Annabella just had 8 puppies on Tuesday, June 26. Pugz will be busy for the next eight weeks. "When I have puppies here my job is 24/7," she said.

Many times the puppies mate naturally, but sometimes, she will artificially inseminate the females.

"One of my friends made a joke one time: you could put that on your resume," Pugz recalled and laughed. "I don't think the vets like me because I do it myself, but it's not rocket science."

Breeding can be heart-breaking at times as well. Pugz said she lost one of her dogs in childbirth.

She remembered one puppy a few years ago who wasn't doing well and she was trying to revive him. "All I did was look at this puppy and it's like -- you have to live because you're going to make somebody happy." 

Thankfully, the puppy lived and "made someone very happy."


Pugz said she remains friends with 99 percent of those who have bought pugs from her. She even attended a first birthday party for one of the puppies.

She is also the Vice President of the Pug Dog Club of Greater New York and the Alice Austen House Pug Day chair and costume judge.

"It all just keeps me occupied and out of trouble I guess," she said. "No drugs, no alcohol, just pug puppies... and lots of people."

Link to the original article on SILive.com

One Year at the Advance

I can't believe it's already been one year since I've been working at the Staten Island Advance/SILive.com. It has been such a great experience.

 Here are 12 of my favorite stories I've worked on over the past year (one for each month):

1. A personal project that I've wanted to pursue for a long time:

2. The most fun I have ever had covering an event:

3. That time I got obsessed with a vacant prison and needed to know more:

4. The closest I've ever been to a bald eagle and the nicest woman I've ever met:

5. That time I was sent to do a profile on a high school football player, and uncovered a different narrative (and then it was nominated for an Emmy):

6. The weirdest story I've ever worked on:

7. When my manager said "so apparently there's this guy that has a lot of hair in his garage...":

8. When I filmed a dirty beach & Erik wrote an awesome story and then Senator Schumer actually did something about it:

9. The silliest story I've ever worked on:

10. One of my favorite team assignments:

11. The first time I made an on-camera appearance... and had to throw hatchets:

12. And ending on my favorite place I've gotten to explore - the bell tower (and this adorable father-son moment):

Thanks for a great year, SILive.com!

Holocaust survivors see own stories come to life in Wagner College musical

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Holocaust survivors watched their lives performed at an original Wagner College performance Sunday afternoon.

Twelve students learned and performed testimonies from six Staten Island survivors, who are originally from Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania in the play, "In Light of One Another: A Meditation on Resistance Drawn from the Testimony of Survivors."

Margot Capell, Romi Cohn, Rachel Roth, and Hannah Steiner attended Sunday's 3 p.m. performance, but Egon J. Salmon and Gabi Held were unable to attend.

Salmon said he would attend at a later date and Held is currently in Florida for the winter.

"These six individuals, who were only teenagers in World War II, are such role models for how to stand up," Professor Lori Weintrob, co-writer of "In Light of One Another" and Director of the Wagner College Holocaust Center, said.

The survivors were moved by the performance and embraced the students after hearing the stories.

"It's very important for the new generation. They have to know...they have to feel what we felt," survivor Rachel Roth said.

Theresa McCarthy, Director of "In Light of One Another," said the college student actors were the best people to work on this project.

"They just really want to honor these survivors," McCarthy said.

Weintrob thanked the Leonard B Kahn Foundation for making the play possible. It awarded a $50,000 grant to the Wagner College Holocaust Center to expand impact on Jewish communities in New Jersey.

The above video captures the survivor reactions to seeing their stories told by the students.

In addition to Sunday's performance at the Stage One Theatre, students performed the play on March 15-17.

Other performances will be at the Congregation B'nai Israel in Basking Ridge, N.J. on April 8 at 10 a.m. and at the Congregation Anshe Emeth in Highland Park, N.J. on April 29 at 1 p.m.

This article was published on SILive.com.


National School Walkout

"Books not bullets! We want change! No justice no peace!" were chants heard around the nation Wednesday as students walked out of their classrooms in participation of the #Enough! National School Walkout.

Thousands of students from Susan E. Wagner High School on Staten Island walked out the door and immediately began protesting. John Papanier, a senior at Susan E. Wagner High School gave a speech about gun violence and initiated a moment of silence during the peaceful protest. 

The protest was set to last 17 minutes, to honor and remember the 17 who were killed during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14: Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, Scott Beigel, 35, Martin Duque, 14, Nicholas Dworet, 17, Aaron Feis, 37, Jamie Guttenberg, 14, Chris Hixon, 49, Luke Hoyer, 15, Cara Loughran, 14, Gina Montalto, 14, Joaquin Oliver, 17, Alaina Petty, 14, Meadow Pollack, 18, Helena Ramsey, 17, Alex Schachter, 14, Carmen Schentrup, 16, Peter Wong, 15.

On Feb. 28, Susan E. Wagner High School was on lockdown for several hours when there was a report of a gun in the school. According to the police, the gun was never found and there was no credible threat, but students were terrified.

"I'm scared to walk into school now. We experienced our own scare." Papanier said to the crowd of students.

In addition to remembering the victims, students also spoke out against gun violence and the National Rifle Association. "It should be about human lives first," said Papanier. "We need to send a message that we are not going to sit in a classroom and wait for the next one; we want change now."

To see SILive.com's full coverage from National Walkout Day, go here.

NY Emmy Nomination

I'm so excited to share that God's Plan has been nominated for a New York Emmy award. 

In the beginning of June 2017, I got an assignment to make a video about Amad Anderson Jr., a college football recruit and star wide receiver at Curtis High School on Staten Island. After receiving his contact information, I called Amad to set up a time for me to come to his home and interview him. 

A sports editor at the Advance mentioned to me that he thought Amad's father played football in the past, but he didn't know much information about it. It was one of my questions to ask during the interview.

While I was interviewing Amad Jr. for the first time, I asked him about his motivation for playing football, and he mentioned in passing that his dad was shot in college, but now he is living his father's dream. 

It caught me off guard. You know when you're going to tell one story, and then suddenly in a split second the story goes in a completely different direction? That's what happened.

One minute, I was doing a profile piece on a great high school football player, and the next, I'm uncovering a story about a father who also lived a football dream that came crumbling down when he was shot his senior year of college. It grew into a story about this bond between the two of them, and how Amad Jr. is on his way to living his father's dream. 

I spent weeks filming Amad Jr. at his football games and practices and hearing Amad Sr.'s story of the 1999 incident when he was shot. One day, I called Amad Sr. and asked if he had any photos of him from when he used to play and he said that he only had a few. I told him I'd come over the following day to see them. 

When I arrived at the Anderson residence, the entire living room was covered with photos. He had boxes of photos of his entire football career, award plaques, and Hofstra yearbooks. His eyes lit up when he was looking at his memories.

Then he pulled out an article from the box. It was the 1999 article from Newsday with the headline "Hofstra's Anderson Counts His Blessings." He still had the article about the bullet which shattered his career. 

Even though he never had the opportunity to become a professional football player, he was able to play in college and in an Arena league. 

Amad Sr. pushes and supports Amad Jr. to be the best player and person he can be, but it's ultimately Amad Jr.'s decision to want to pursue this. He loves the game and is very excited to now be playing college ball at Purdue University. 

It's such an honor to be nominated, but out of all of the projects I've worked on, I'm so glad it's this one. Their story deserve the recognition.

Screenshot from SILive.com's article about the Emmy nomination.

Screenshot from SILive.com's article about the Emmy nomination.

See the full SILive.com article here. 

View all of the NY Emmy Award nominations here.