In wake of controversial Hitler essay, Tenafly unveils Holocaust education program – NorthJersey.com

Posted By on July 3, 2021

Tenafly works to include Holocaust history into the schools

Tenafly works to include Holocaust history into the schools following student writing an essay from the perspective of Adolf Hitler.

Tariq Zehawi, NorthJersey.com

Onthe heels of a controversy that left the community reeling, a global human rights organization is partnering with Tenafly to promote Holocaust awareness and turn it into a "teachable moment."

"Rather than arguingover what should and shouldnot have been said, we're using this situation as an opportunityto learn,"said Tenafly Mayor Mark Zinna at a Friday morning newsconference at which the initiative was announced.

Background:NJ student's report on Hitler's 'pretty great' accomplishments prompts outrage

The Holocaust education program is a collaboration between the borough of Tenafly and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The initiative willkickoff on July 12 with a conversation with Holocaust survivor Mark Schonwetter at borough hall. The event is free andopen to the entire community.

By bringing a survivor to tell his story as well asdisplaying an exhibit onHolocaust history in September, "Tenafly is demonstratingthat it is serious about Holocaust education," said Michael Cohen, Eastern director of the Simon WiesenthalCenter. The exhibit "Courage to Remember" will be shown inthe borough, he said.

The educationalinitiativecomes after afifth grader's biography about Adolf Hitler written from the point of view of the notorious Nazi leader provoked outrage in the borough with a growing Jewish population, including many residents wholost family during the Holocaust.

Chao: Cultural nuances contributed to Tenafly Hitler controversy

The handwritten project which seemed to glorify Hitler wasprominently displayed in the elementary school hallway for several weeks before it came to light over Memorial Day weekend, thanks to a parent who saw it and snapped a photo.

An imageof the report with phrases such as "I was very popular," and "I was pretty great, wasn't I?" was widelycirculated online, drawing shock and anger about the essay as well as the teacher who had assigned it without any apparent context or guidelines.

"My greatest accomplishmentwas uniting a great mass of Germanand Austrian people behind me," the essay stated, adding that he murdered 6 million Jews.

The teacher, who is Jewish, had asked students towrite a biography from the perspective of historical figures who "personify good or evil," according to the school district.

News of the essay came amid a recent rise in antisemitism and violent acts against Jewish people around the country.

The Jewish Federationof New Jersey issued a statement in the days following the report asserting that the report was clearly not intended to be antisemitic and the student's familyshould not be blamed. However, the organization did admonish theschoolfor poor judgment.

Tenafly: NJ district announces update of investigation into student's Hitler report. What they found

The incident led to the fifth grade teacher and principal being placed on leave. But it also led to some soul searching about the need for greater sensitivity to groups thatfeel vulnerable, and to convey the lessons of the Holocaustto the next generation.

And now it's brought an eyewitness of the Holocaust to the borough.

Schonwetter, 86, of Livingston, grew up in Poland and survived the Holocaust by hiding in attics, pigpens, and the forest with his younger sister and mother. His father was taken by the Gestapo and murdered in a mass grave.

Flanked by his daughter, Ann Arnold, and local officials, Schonwetter urged everyone to love and not hate. "I feel we should all be one family," he said Friday.

"I went through a lot in my lifeonly because I was a Jew and I hope that nobody has to go through what I went through," he said.

He stressed that the much-discussed essaywas not the child's fault, but was due to a lack of education.

A retired jewelry manufacturer, Schonwetterhas devoted much of his life to Holocaust education and to spreading messages of love and tolerance. He regularlyspeaks at schools and Jewish centers about his family's terrible ordeal and his daughter, Ann Arnold of Norwood, has authored a book about his family's experience called"Together: A Journey For Survival."

School district officials contacted Friday afternoon said they were unaware of the press conference.

Christine Corliss, communications manager for Tenafly public schools, said:"The School Board and District Administration is actively engaged in conversations on how the district can enhance its Holocaust curriculum, and of course welcomes all good ideas and efforts aimed at achieving that goal. We look forward to sharing more about those enhancements as we get closer to the fall."

The teacher who assigned the essay and the school's principal remain on leave, and the district plans to have someone attend the July 12 event, said a district spokesperson.

Zinna said he had notified the district and students and staff were invited to attend.

"This has been organized by the borough. The school is certainly invited."

The Borough Council is a separate entity from the school and cannot address its curriculum, he stressed. "However the school chooses to address [the essay issue]is their business. They know we are doing this. This is a borough event. Everyone from Tenafly is invited."

Deena Yellin covers religion for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to her work covering how the spiritual intersects with our daily lives,please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email:yellin@northjersey.com

Twitter:@deenayellin

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In wake of controversial Hitler essay, Tenafly unveils Holocaust education program - NorthJersey.com

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