On July 21, Bernard Burton, one of Temple Sinai’s most cherished members, died at age 91.
A resident of Roslyn Heights since 2007, Burton was remembered for delivering to the temple’s Holocaust & Jewish Resistance class, eloquent and moving testimony of his experiences in Nazi-occupied Germany. On July 23, a large crowd gathered in the temple sanctuary to pay homage to Burton at his funeral services. He was later interned at Cedar Park Cemetery, Paramus.
Burton lived a storied life, one that he captured in a memoir, A Letter To My Grandchildren and Other Correspondence: Reminiscences of a Holocaust Survivor. A native of Germany, Burton escaped Nazi Germany in 1941. With his parents, the young Burton took a daring journey on one of the last “Jewish wagons” heading west. His family traveled from Germany to Spain and then on to Cuba, on an expired visa whose status went unnoticed by custom agents on both continents. During the wartime years, Burton lived in Cuba. After World War II ended, Burton was able to emigrate to the United States, where he was drafted and later served in postwar Berlin.
In the United States, Burton became a Certified Public Accountant and worked for years as a financial officer. Burton settled in Manhasset Hills, where, along with his first wife, Helga, he raised three girls. Helga Burton was also a Holocaust survivor and a professor of German literature. The couple also had five grandchildren, the intended audience of Burton’s memoir. After Helga passed away in 2004, he married Janis Weissman, a Roslyn resident, who also had three children from a previous marriage.
“Through the years, Bernard corresponded with journalists, academics and others about topics relating to the Holocaust and to his life as a Jewish child and teen in Nazi Berlin,” states the memoir’s publisher. “With an adult’s hindsight formed by decades of reflection, he has assembled these letters and crafted narrative around them, and has shared descriptions of related events from later in life. The result is a vivid look at a world witnessed by a Jewish child under Hitler, a European refugee in Cuba, an American soldier occupying his native German soil, and ultimately an adult, grandfather, and survivor.”
After his retirement in 1985, Burton started his own successful accounting practice. He traveled extensively and was a regular attendee at performances of the New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera. Even into the final months of his life, Burton lectured on his life’s experiences. Last Nov. 7, he gave a talk at a Temple Sinai service commemorating Kristallnacht. The next month, he gave a similar talk at Shelter Rock Library. In all instances, Burton told of his incredible life story, one of daring, hope and perseverance and one that will inspire all those who came in contact with it.
“He always told us that he had good times and bad times, but that the good times outnumbered the bad times,” his daughter, Vivian, told The Roslyn News. “That was mind-boggling, when you consider what he went through in his life. His life was pretty impressive.”
Burton is predeceased by his first wife, Helga. He is survived by his second wife, Janis; three children, Vivian, Monica and Mimi; three stepchildren, Rick, Nancy and Carol; five grandchildren and three step grandchildren.