Sunday, July 05, 2020

Teaneck–An inspiring and moving multimedia event observing Kristallnacht, the ‘Night of Broken Glass,’ was held Tuesday at Teaneck High School, with close to 300  students witnessing the testimony of two Holocaust survivors and their unique stories. The presentations by Ruth Goldman Tobias and Lisl Malkin were augmented with two accompanying short documentaries about their wartime experiences, with comments from the local teenage filmmakers who made the films. The survivors also took questions from the students about their experiences.

Four Tenafly High School students, all siblings from the same family, made it their mission to film stories from survivors, said Goldie Minkowitz, a long time Teaneck High School math teacher who volunteer directs the Jewish studies, Holocaust and Israel special programming at the school.

The Danzgers–Ben, Adam, Daniel and Georgia, joined the event, taking time from their school day in Tenafly, to explain how, when the older boys were in middle school, they made a film featuring four survivors that was shown at the Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival. However, they were unhappy with the technical quality of that film, so, in 2013, using Kickstarter for crowdfunding, Adam Danzger said they raised $7,000 to buy better equipment.

“It’s been 75 years since the war started, which means that the Holocaust survivors today are slowly diminishing,” said Danzger. “Our goal was to document the survivors still living today, so their stories will live on.”

All four Danzgers took turns introducing their films and indicated that they are part of their series called Generations of the Shoah. The films shown were of professional quality and were made with a high level of sensitivity and understanding.

Tobias’s began her story with her birth in 1940 in a bomb shelter in Milan. She survived with her mother in an Italian internment camp in Potenza and later, they lived in a barn in a small Italian town with no running water. Her father also escaped or bribed his way out of Italy’s only concentration camp and was reunited with them. Many times the residents of the internment camps were put on trains bound for Auschwitz, but due to the chaos and infamous disorganization of Italian train schedules, they were never sent away. “The trains always broke down. That is why we survived. This chaos was the reason why were were never sent to Auschwitz,” she told the students.

The second film told Malkin’s story. She was born in Vienna in 1925 to an upper middle class household. She described her upbringing as privileged, and watched her life descend into the horrors of the war. She described the days and weeks she spent in Czechoslovakia, trying to get papers from the Gestapo so she could catch the train for a Kindertransport to England that her mother had arranged. She read the students several dramatic scenes about her encounters with the Gestapo from her memoir, An Interrupted Life: A Holocaust Survivor’s Journey to Independence, published earlier this year.

The most important point Malkin made was that hate breeds violence. “Prejudice and tolerance, or intolerance, are learned. We are not born with that. So if you see it happening somewhere, tell people not to be vengeful. Prejudice and intolerance were two things that helped Hitler rise to power. And from that it continues on to hatred, to jealousy, to revenge, to violence and to genocide.”

Malkin charged the students with a task. “We are going to try to build a world without hate. That’s what you can do. Try to be accepting. Try to be tolerant. Love is always right. Hate is always wrong. And you kids, you are going to be grownups, adults very soon, and you will have a powerful voice, very soon. So use it,” she said.

Teaneck resident Pearl Markovitz has been working as a volunteer Holocaust educator with Minkowitz for over four years, and shared that the school now holds more than 600 volumes about the Holocaust in its library. Markovitz added that Teaneck High School Principal Dennis Heck has been supportive of the school's Holocaust programming and was in attendance with Superintendent of Schools Barbara Pinsak and other administrators and teachers.

Markovitz also noted that Teaneck High School is the first public high school in the US that is participating in the World Memory Project of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, compiling information from the Lodz Ghetto. Approximately 20 children are working on the project and are receiving senior class credit.

By Elizabeth Kratz