June 13, 2024
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Tenafly Hosts Holocaust Education Program In Response to Controversial ‘Hitler Report’

The borough of Tenafly continues its effort to address the recent incident in which a public school student, dressed in costume, presented a report about Hitler, which was subsequently displayed in the school hallway. Tenafly Mayor Mark Zinna and the municipal leadership have responded to the incident by working with the Simon Wiesenthal Center to initiate a Holocaust education program in Tenafly.

On Monday evening, July 12, the Tenafly borough hall was filled to capacity, with many people standing, for the first installment of this new program. The audience appeared to be a cross- section of residents, some later identified as relatives of Holocaust survivors or members of various religious groups. Also in attendance was a group from the Asian American Youth Council, and Ellen Jeon, their adult leader.

Jeon said, “It is very important for people to hear his story, and we are here to support the program.”

One of the youth council members, who sat in a wheelchair, haltingly made the following comment: “If I had lived during the Holocaust, they would have killed me too. Thank you for sharing your experience and your story.”

Holocaust survivor Mark Schonwetter gave an overview of his family’s flight from the Nazis in Poland. Over several years, they hid in the forest during temperate weather, and had to learn the difference between the sounds of a forest animal moving near the area versus the sound of humans. They were sometimes taken in by righteous rescuer country farmers. Describing one of their hideouts as a literal hole in the ground covered with wood where he, his mother and sister hid over one winter, Schonwetter told of having to remain lying down in this place, because that was all the space there was. The farmer snuck in every night with modest rations that sustained them, and they could leave once a night to take care of their personal needs.

The audience responded with audible gasps, and many just shook their heads, including the father of the student who authored the report, seated in a corner of the auditorium.

Observing the audience reaction, Michael Cohen, eastern director of the Wiesenthal Center, remarked, “We’re really having an impact. The whole narrative has shifted.”

An audience member asked how Schonwetter felt about the Polish government whitewashing the Holocaust. He responded frankly. “Not being honest isn’t helpful. We have to emphasize early education of the kids.”

Someone else asked whether he thinks it’s too late to combat antisemitism. “It’s never too late, and Holocaust education must be introduced in every education system,” Schonwetter answered.

He concluded his presentation by saying. “Hate someone by yourself, but don’t be a teacher of hate,” to which the audience responded with applause and a standing ovation.

Tenafly Councilman Jeff Grossman addressed the audience briefly following the program, referring to Schonwetter as “tougher than any football player,” which spurred another round of applause. Grossman then encouraged the audience to continue to participate in future programs, and reminded everyone that there will be an ongoing Holocaust display by the Simon Wiesenthal Center in the Borough Hall.

The parents of the child who wrote the report reportedly met privately with Schonwetter and his family on Monday evening, together with Tenafly Mayor Zinna and several Tenafly Borough officials.

By Ellie Wolf

 

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