Holocaust Center rededicated at Teaneck High

Holocaust Center rededicated at Teaneck High

Carol Faber checks out the high school’s Holocaust Center. Principal Angela Davis’ back is to the camera. James Roberson

Tuesday night, the 71st anniversary of Kristallnacht, was a “back to school” night of sorts. Teaneck residents, high school faculty members, students, and alumni gathered at Teaneck High School for the rededication of New Jersey’s first Holocaust Center, established in 1975 by history teacher and Holocaust education pioneer Ed Reynolds. Reynolds, who marveled at the fact that he hadn’t walked “these halls” for 17 years, was the keynote speaker on Tuesday. Addressing some 60 people, he described the long educational journey that began with a telephone call, in 1975, from the Anti-Defamation League in New York.

Reynolds was asked if he and teachers Richard Flaim, Ken Turburtini, and Harry Furman in Vineland would be interested in designing a curriculum for a course or unit to teach the Holocaust in New Jersey public schools.

At that time, he said on Tuesday, history textbooks, if they covered the Holocaust at all (and most did not), limited coverage to approximately one paragraph. But there was a need to address the subject in the classroom, at a time when anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial were beginning to seep through the cracks of America’s civilized veneer.

Some parts of the journey weren’t pretty. When they trained other teachers, Reynolds said, the educators were accused by many of their colleagues of bringing a Jewish subject, written by Jews for Jews, into the public schools. At one National Education Association meeting, hearing this accusation for the umpteenth time, Reynolds told the teachers that a Catholic, a Mormon, a Presbyterian deacon, and a Jewish son of Holocaust survivors were writing and implementing this innovative program. Parts of the curriculum were also challenged by Holocaust survivors and their descendants as being inappropriate. It was definitely an uphill battle, but the hearts and minds at Teaneck High had been won from the outset.

As part of that project, Reynolds created a Holocaust Center on the third floor of the school as a resource for students and faculty and brought in Holocaust survivors to tell their stories. As the first of its kind in New Jersey, it predated the creation of the three major Holocaust museums in the United States. Today, there are approximately 400 such centers in New Jersey schools.

At Tuesday’s rededication of the Holocaust Center at Teaneck High School are, from left, Ed Reynolds, Yona McGraw, Linda Kraar, and Michal Krauthamer.

Now, 34 years after it all began, the Teaneck High Holocaust Center has come back to life. A small neglected room off to the side of the Student Center has been refurbished and restocked with resource materials, including copies of the original Teaneck-Vineland curriculum and many posters. It is decorated with a mural by student Michal Krauthamer. Principal Angela Davis, faculty members Goldie Minkowitz – who emceed the program – and Al Kirschman, as well as a long list of others on staff, encouraged students Sharon Leonor, Samara Rosner, and Yael Osman and others who one year ago decided to clean up the room and make the center viable once more. David Bicofsky, spokesman for the school district, summed it up this way: “Our Holocaust Center is much more than a classroom for all our students. It is a living memorial and testament to the triumph of the human condition; of light over darkness; of knowledge over ignorance and of life over death.” The students behind the project, he added, were to be highly commended for their efforts.

Alumnus Carol Faber, a daughter of survivors whose father died six weeks ago, was there. She no longer lives in Teaneck, but said, “I always come to Kristallnacht commemorations here when they have them.” She found the rededication particularly poignant.

Alumnus Hank London was also there. He had been a student determined to create a Jewish Studies course way back, when Reynolds was chairman of the history department. He had butted heads with the board of education and Reynolds, who was originally against the idea, for two years before the course became a reality. Now he was happy to see the school hadn’t forgotten its pioneers.

Teaneck resident Linda Kraar read from “Album of My Life,” the posthumously published memoir of her mother, Ann Szedlecki, a survivor of concentration camps and Siberia. Kraar’s daughter, Yona McGraw, sang an original composition about the importance of remembering the past for the sake of the future. Al Kirschman, a Teaneck H.S. faculty member for more than 35 years whose father served in Patton’s Third Army, liberating Buchenwald, recalled that his father taught him to remember the photographs he had taken in the camps. Kirschman said his parents, safe in America, lost all their relatives in Europe, except for one survivor on each side.

The Teaneck-Vineland curriculum project led to the creation of Gov. Thomas Kean’s Holocaust Education Council, which evolved into today’s Holocaust Commission. The thin book has turned into a massive two-volume resource and curriculum guide for teachers around the state. Working with Matty Feldman, a Teaneck resident who had been president of the state Senate, the teachers and their supporters saw to it that Holocaust education became mandatory in New Jersey, setting an example for the rest of the United States.

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