July 21, 2024
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Teaneck HS Marks Kristallnacht With Rededication of Holocaust Center

As he introduced longtime Teaneck High School (THS) mathematics instructor Goldie Minkowitz to the Board of Education on the evening of the rededication of the Holocaust Center, Principal Pedro Valdez was on target when he attested that the redesigned center was a “labor of love and a testimony to Mrs. Minkowitz’s passion for her culture and religion.”

For 40 years, Minkowitz has not only been a gifted teacher, but she has also spearheaded every Jewish activity within the building, including the Israel Club, Purim Megillah readings and all activities relating to the study of the Holocaust. For the past 20 years, she has also hosted Holocaust survivors at Kristallnacht and Yom HaShoah assemblies. Students have had the opportunity to hear first-hand testimonies from perhaps the last generation of survivors. In addition, Minkowitz has taken busloads of students to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., leaving an indelible impression on young people from all ethnic backgrounds.

It is no surprise that when offered a budget to enhance the Holocaust and Genocide Center, Minkowitz seized the opportunity and worked nonstop over the summer and early fall to update the room. This was done with the guidance of her husband, Rabbi Raphael Minkowitz, and with the constant encouragement of the administration, especially Valdez and Assistant Principal Justin O’Neill, along with the assistance of Holocaust volunteers Aliza Rabinowitz and myself, and with the skillful implementation of the maintenance staff. Her efforts culminated in a special dedication on November 16, attended by Superintendent Barbara Pinsak, members of the BOE and over 40 guests involved in the center through their contributions of memoirs of relatives who survived the Holocaust.

Visitors to the center are met with a powerful, wall-length mural of frightened, emaciated prisoners in a line; the image is covered with a huge yellow star and topped with flickering flames. The artwork was created by former THS student Michal Krauthammer Larson as her senior project in 2005, and serves as a moving focal point. She and her family were present at the rededication and were visibly touched by visitors’ reactions to the mural.

On the wall to the left of the entrance, Minkowitz affixed a screen with a continuous historical background of the Holocaust provided by the Holocaust Museum in Washington, along with testimonies of survivors. The screen is surrounded by iconic posters of the period as well as the sculpture “The Mathematics of Hate,” on loan from Teaneck artist Milton Ohring.

On the right side of the center is a three-sided metal grid, reminiscent of concentration camp wires, divided into five sections. The inner three sections display pictures and descriptions of the Righteous Among the Nations, including Raoul Wallenberg, Oskar Schindler and the many private citizens who endangered themselves and their families by hiding and protecting Jews.

On the outer left-hand panel are pictures and tributes by Teaneck residents to parents and grandparents who survived the Holocaust. Among those represented are the mother of Richard Dukas, a 1981 graduate of THS and longtime Teaneck resident, who attended the opening.

“When my family moved to Teaneck in the 1970s, the majority of my parents’ friends and neighbors were children of survivors,” he said.

Helen Faber Goldberg, attending with her husband, pointed to her essay about her mother, Sarah Franeus Faber, liberated from Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945, and whose words of joy were recorded in her memoir. Other Teaneck residents represented were Danny and Susan Levin, Susan Berger and Evelyn Meyer. Jeannette Friedman, whose donation of books became the core of THS’s Holocaust library, wrote a beautiful testimonial to her uncle who died in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

On the right-hand outer panel are the testimonies by THS staff members whose parents or grandparents survived the the Holocaust. Included among them are the grandparents of math instructor Adina Lefkowitz, Motek and Sophie Topiol, who hid with their infant in an underground hole for six months, only to be captured and sent to Auschwitz, and subsequently forced to march to Bergen-Belsen before being liberated. The picture of the liberation hangs in Yad Vashem and was discovered by Lefkowitz’s father, who attended the event with her mother.

Other staff members who provided memoirs are Marissa London, digital art instructor; Hannah Schrenzel, school psychologist; Yonit Malina, social worker; Beth Fleischer, guidance counselor; Marc Callelo, art teacher; and Doug Book, guidance counselor.

On the rear right wall is a description and picture of the survivors who have addressed the THS students over the past 20 years. Attending the event were Andrew and Leah Silberstein, the son and daughter-in-law of Michael Silberstein, z”l, last year’s speaker, who recently passed away at age 93. Rochelle Goldshmiedt was there to view the picture and description of her parents, the Hilsenraths. Both her father, a highly respected Jewish educator, and her mother had spoken to the Teaneck students. Ruth Follman, a Holocaust survivor from Brooklyn who has addressed the THS students on two occasions, was overcome by the exhibit’s testimonials and artifacts.

A special corner of the center is devoted to the memory of Minkowitz’s beloved mother, Susi Beller Dubin. Minkowitz and her 13-year-old twin sister, Erica, were sent by their parents to live with relatives on the Lower East Side as they and other family members were sent to concentration camps. Displayed are the sisters’ transit documents, passports, school records and other memorabilia. Particularly moving are the letters sent to the girls by their parents urging them to behave properly and “comb their hair regularly.”

A sculpture of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising by Israeli artist Aharon Priven, donated by Yoel and Chana Dina Goldblatt, as well as a bookcase of Holocaust albums, histories and posters complete the collection. From the reactions of the 60-plus visitors to the center, Minkowitz’s project will serve as a powerful venue for conveying the lessons of the Holocaust to the next generation.

On the morning of November 16, more than 300 THS students were privileged to hear from Holocaust survivor Miriam Edelstein of Nanuet, New York. Standing barely over 5 feet, or as she likes to say, “very down-to-earth,” Edelstein shared the story of her family being shipped to Siberia from Cracow, Poland, one year after Kristallnacht. At 5 years old, she was packed in a horse-drawn carriage with the family’s meager possessions as her parents were exiled to Siberia to live through the war in horrendous circumstances. Considered “enemies of the state” by Russia, they were left to fend for themselves on the frozen plains with bread made of sawdust and the few fruits and vegetables her father was able to forage.

When finally freed from Siberia, the family made their way to Uzbekistan. Still a small child, Edelstein had to help the family knit clothing to earn money. She was also tasked with carrying water from the well and grain to the mill. When finally allowed to return to Poland, still not knowing of the concentration and death camps, the family boarded a train with other survivors and slowly made their way to their hometowns. At each stop, the survivors realized that their entire villages had been destroyed and their beloved relatives had perished.

Upon arrival in the U.S. at age 14, Edelstein and her family settled in Brooklyn, where she attended Lincoln High School. She went on to study chemistry at George Washington University while her husband attended medical school. After moving to Nanuet, Edelstein taught chemistry and other sciences in local high schools. She is currently retired but remains very active in the Hadassah Women’s Organization and other organizations working on behalf of Israel.

But this indomitable survivor isn’t letting any grass grow under her feet. Edelstein revealed that she recently performed her own one-woman stand-up comedy act and even took up her granddaughter’s dare to go skydiving.

Edelstein told the students that the purpose of education is not to give them a collection of facts but rather to teach them to think of what is best for themselves and their communities. “Use your own heads, make your own judgements,” she advised. “If you see things that are wrong being done to others, you must say something. Otherwise, you are a collaborator.”

To arrange for individual and group tours of the Teaneck High School Holocaust and Genocide Center, contact Goldie Minkowitz at [email protected].

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