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Bristol businessman hosting silent vigils for Ukraine

Grundy Commons owner Fred Baumgarten urges the community to stand with open black umbrellas

A quiet message: Fred Baumgarten, owner of the Grundy Commons, is hosting silent vigils in New York every Friday afternoon. The goal is to show support for the people of Ukraine. Source: Fred Baumgarten

A little over two months ago, the world watched in shock and terror as Russian leader Vladimir Putin launched an unwarranted invasion on Ukraine.

Ever since, locals in Bucks County have been stepping up to help by donating money, food and much-needed supplies.

But Fred Baumgarten, who has owned the Grundy Commons multi-tenant commercial hub in Bristol Borough since 1981, is doing something different.

He wants to send a message.

On Friday, April 28, Baumgarten hosted a silent vigil in front of the Consulate General of the Russian Federation, located at 9 E. 91st St. in New York City. About a dozen people gathered for this event, which will take place every Friday, from noon to 1 p.m. for the foreseeable future.

“This came from watching the television and feeling that the world had to do something,” he said.

Rather than waving poster board signs of protest, Baumgarten and the rest of the group are holding open, black umbrellas.

This, explained Baumgarten, is a nod toward a fateful day in September 1938, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, along with leaders from Italy and France, signed the Munich Agreement. Adolf Hitler pledged to not launch a European war if the Czechoslovakia border area of Sudetenland was surrendered to Germany.

Chamberlain returned home brandishing a closed black umbrella, proudly boasting that he delivered “peace in our time.” But six months later, Hitler went against the agreement and invaded Prague.

A grave mistake: At the silent vigils, attendees hold open black umbrellas. In 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain waved a closed one after signing the Munich Agreement. He thought he’d brought peace, but Hitler invaded Prague six months later. Source: Wikipedia

An open umbrella symbolizes the opposite, the fact that innocent Ukrainians likely won’t experience peace for some time.

“That turned out to be a cruel hoax,” Baumgarten said of the Munich Agreement. “The open black umbrella is a recognition that we have to prepare now for something other than peace in our time. We’ve got to stand up, not go to sleep and send a message to the people in the Ukraine, the citizen soldiers.”

Through these silent vigils, Baumgarten also wants to send a message to the citizens of Russia who don’t believe in Putin’s regime.

“This is a horror and this is being perpetrated in their name. They should stand up and say, ‘No, no, hell no!’ It would change the course that Putin is on,” he said. “We want to get through Vladmir Putin’s cyber wall through VPNs and other aspects of social media. The goal is to get the message to the Russian expats outside of Russia. We want to stop the invasion of Ukraine now, and have the Russians withdraw from Ukraine promptly.”

Baumgarten’s hope is that his New York silent vigils begin popping up in other public spaces across the U.S. and, eventually, around the world. He urges demonstrators to “block no traffic and hold no signs.”

The idea was actually inspired by the Ice Bucket Challenge, which went viral on social media in 2014. It tasked participants with dumping freezing cold water over their heads and then challenging someone else to do it, all to raise awareness of ALS.

Over $115 million was raised to assist the ALS Association with its research on the neurodegenerative disease, which Baumgarten’s mother was diagnosed with.

“This crazy idea went viral,” he said of the Ice Bucket Challenge. “We want this idea to go viral. I’m urging people to get together. Enough snowflakes can make an avalanche.”

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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