Dozens of teachers from New Jersey and New York gathered at Congregation Ahavat Torah in Englewood a week ago Thursday to learn about “Rescue as Resistance.” Presenting was Dr. Eva Fogelman, co-director of Child Development Research (CDR) and a Pulitzer Prize nominee for her book on rescuers, “Conscience and Courage.” Also presenting was Dr. Mordechai Paldiel, former director of the Department of the Righteous at Yad Vashem. Paldiel spoke about Jews who rescued Jews, with special mention of the Orthodox rabbi, Michoel Ber Weissmandl.
The conference, sponsored by CDR, an umbrella organization for a number of projects involving child survivors of organized persecution, was made possible with the cooperation of Dr. Paul B. Winkler, executive director of the State of New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education. Winkler spoke to the teachers about bullying in schools and “the three H’s.”
“Getting children to think with their heads, hearts and hands is really what this is about,” he said. “We want them to think about the world around them – that’s the head part; we want them to care about the people in their communities – that’s the heart part, and we want them to use their hands, which means we want them to do something when they see something wrong – to be upstanders, not bystanders.”
Child survivor Judith Alter Kallman described how she was rescued by Weissmandl’s group in Slovakia and by the non-Jewish peasants who brought her to Budapest, where as a six-year-old orphan, she landed in the Conti Street Prison until rescued by the Jewish community in the city.
“My story is a child’s story, and I think it will touch the students, who are so vital to our future. Only by understanding our stories, by learning what it felt like to a child trapped in war, might we be able to make students care enough to make the future secure and peaceful.”
Jeanette Friedman, whose articles often appear in The Jewish Standard, is a charter member of the Commission from when it was first established in 1982. She coordinated the conference and spoke about the legacy of being a “memorial candle,” which speaks for those who cannot.
Friedman talked about Reszo Kasztner, who rescued her mother – one of the 1,684 Jews sent by train to Bergen-Belsen from Budapest and released in Switzerland in December 1944. She was the fourth speaker to mention Weissmandl, who helped Kasztner and got the train moving out of Budapest by posing as Ferdinand Roth, a rich American Jew, forging a fake guarantee to Eichmann to deliver 40 tractors and 250,000 Swiss Francs. That act ensured the relative safety of 18,000 Jews kept in a camp in Austria instead of being sent to Auschwitz. “My mother is 91 and homebound, it becomes my job to tell her story and also the story of my uncle Yaakov, who escaped from Treblinka and helped organize the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto,” said Friedman.
Friedman also described how Kasztner was shot in the back in Israel by an assassin after an Israeli court ruled that he had been a Nazi collaborator because he negotiated with them instead of shooting them. The decision was subsequently overturned on appeal, but by then Kasztner’s family was destroyed and he was dead.
“No good deed goes unpunished,” Friedman said. She added that Yad Vashem finally recognized him as a Jewish hero two years ago.
Also discussed was the importance of teaching children critical thinking, and how government works – suggesting the use of pop culture to break through to a child’s reluctance to deal with heavy duty subjects.
“The main lesson of the Holocaust is that we have to be aware of the environment created by the media. It’s like they turn on the gas jets, and all it has to take is a single strike of a match at the wrong time and place to start another genocide,” she said.
Colleen Tambuscio, president of the New Jersey Council of Holocaust Educators, described how she became involved in bringing students to Poland to the sites of the Shoah. “The best part about it is the record we keep on our blog,” she said. “It is readily accessible to everyone. Teachers find it particularly helpful.”
Each attendee was given a package of materials, which included a DVD from the Gross Breesen Project, one of CDR’s educational/exhibit programs for schools.