Congregation B’nai Israel in Emerson recently honored Hanna Wechsler, its longest tenured Hebrew school teacher, for being an inspiration to thousands of children and adults, at a large 85th birthday celebration. Mrs. Wechsler, a Holocaust survivor, has taught at the synagogue since 1972, and she also has been the centerpiece of the Hebrew school’s Holocaust curriculum. She has told her survival story thousands of times — how when she was 5, she, her mother and her father were able to hide for many months and evade capture by the Nazis during World War II, only to be betrayed by a Nazi sympathizer. Hanna and her parents were shipped to Auschwitz, where she came face to face with SS physician Josef Mengele, the notorious “Angel of Death.” She and her parents were imprisoned until the camp was liberated at the end of the war. Hanna has no personal knowledge of any other complete family unit that survived the Nazi concentration camps.
Despite living though the Holocaust, Ms. Wechsler has a positive outlook on life and has always conveyed it in her classes. She has been a speaker at Holocaust Remembrance Day programs at many synagogues, schools, and other venues. She is known by all as a teacher, a mentor, a friend to so many, and, as the synagogue’s president, Gary Schwinder, said, “an incredible human being” and “a living witness to history.”
In addition to celebrating her birthday, the synagogue gave Ms. Wechsler a Lifetime of Inspiration recognition award. Mr. Schwinder described the recognition as “Being akin to a lifetime achievement award; however, this honors Mrs. Wechsler for a lifetime of inspiring thousands of children and adults with her stories of survival.”