April 12, 2024
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Twins Bernard and Henry Schanzer Address Teaneck High School on Kristallnacht

Dr. Bernard and Henry Schanzer.

This year’s Kristallnacht commemoration marking the Nov. 9-10, 1938 anniversary of the horrendous pogrom initiating the horrors to come during the Holocaust, was marked against the frightening backdrop of the war in Israel. As in the past 20 years, math instructor and director of Teaneck High School’s Holocaust Center Goldie Minkowitz was not deterred and arranged for an assembly program at which more than 400 students would hear the personal testimony of Holocaust survivors.

Dr. Bernard Schanzer of West Orange was joined by his twin brother Henry Schanzer, Esq. of Edison in an address to the students which they have given together over the years to many young and adult audiences. Orthodox Jews well into their 80s, the Schanzers represent child survivors of a period of Jewish history which until now was not matched in its inhumanity and destructiveness.

In his parting words to the audience, Henry Schanzer shared the words of Rabbi Akiva. “Chaviv Adam she’nivra b’tzelem, precious is Man who was created in the image of God.” He continued, “Eighty-five years ago our world was afflicted by a pandemic — that of antisemitism. Today that very same pandemic is raging. Just as 85 years ago there were individuals who were willing to come forward to save their fellow men, we must keep the credo of Rabbi Akiva in mind that we are all creations of God and must protect each other. We must have the moral compass to face evil with knowledge and fortitude.”

The student audience sat raptly listening to the saga of the twins, beginning at the age of 7 during the summer of 1942, when France fell into the clutches of the Vichy government which was complicit with the Nazis.Their father Bruno, then 39, was herded onto a bus and was taken away and eventually murdered in one of the concentration camps. Their mother Bella, also in her 30s, was arrested but not before arranging for her boys to be taken in and protected by a gentile family for a hefty payment.

The gentile family soon returned them to the local police station from where they were taken to a Catholic orphanage. From behind the scenes, their mother, who had escaped and found refuge in the castle of a count who was active in the underground, arranged for their escape and transfer to a farm owned by the mother of her employer in the castle. It was there that the Schanzer boys finally were safe and loved. Memee, whom they regarded as a grandmother, took special care of them and even offered to learn the special prayer that they recited each night so that she could say it with them, the Shema.

Upon liberation, the twins, then age 11, were reunited with their mother, sister Anna and cousin Jack. All five arrived in the U.S. in April 1946. Settling in New York, the twins eventually completed high school and college and went on to professional schools, Bernard to medical school and Henry to law school, after which he served for two years in the U.S. Air Force.

In July of 1980, the family approached Yad Vashem in Jerusalem about honoring the family of Memee as Righteous Gentiles. The grand ceremony was held in the French castle where their mother had been protected and was able to arrange for the protection of her twins.

The final slide accompanying the presentation was a spectacular family portrait of the entire Schanzer clan taken at a recent wedding. The title of the slide was “Revenge,” indicating the victory of their family over evil through the creation of families devoted to each other and working for the betterment of all humanity.

Principal Pablo Valdez and Assistant Principal Justin O’Neill were instrumental in organizing the program. They, along with the students, join those who can now bear witness to one of the greatest crimes against humanity ever committed and those who stood up to oppose it.


Pearl Markovitz is senior staff writer at The Jewish Link.

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