A division of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Teaneck, the Teaneck Holocaust Commemoration Committee was formed over 30 years ago to perpetuate the memories of the Holocaust and to assure that the precious memories of the over six million victims who perished will not be forgotten. In keeping with this mission, every year it has hosted a community-wide commemoration in the impressive Teaneck High School auditorium that attracts 1000 attendees from across Bergen County. Many of those in attendance are children and grandchildren and more recently great-grandchildren of survivors whose numbers are sadly dwindling with each passing year.
The committee, which includes over 30 volunteers who work throughout the year to orchestrate this event, is chaired by Steve Fox, Heidi Fuchs and Felicia Grossman, all of Teaneck. The chairs urge survivors and their families to contact them if they wish to serve as candlelighters in future commemorations.
A moving and meaningful segment of the program features survivors, accompanied by children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, whose Holocaust experiences are shared with the audience as they light a memorial candle in memory of the six million. The Yavneh Academy choir, under the direction of Marsha Motzen, will join Jonathan Rimberg and Stephanie Kurtzman for a musical presentation and the national anthem to open the program.
The highlight of the yearly commemoration is the address by a survivor selected by the committee from a list of potential speakers. To date, the featured speakers have included individuals whose indomitable faith, will to live, industriousness and creativity have inspired the audience, young and old. Some have been brought in from other countries, including Israel and Canada. Others have created highly regarded names for themselves in business, education and the arts.
The keynote speaker at this year’s commemoration, marking the 68th anniversary of the start of the Shoah, will be child survivor Mark Schonwetter. Mark was a child of 6 when his father was taken away by the Nazis. Little Mark was forced into manhood to help his family survive.Through the heroism of his courageous mother, Mark and his young sister fled the only home they had ever known. For three long and dangerous years, they escaped under barbed-wire fences and took refuge in woods, fields and farms. Of the 1,500 Jews who had populated their village, only 50 survived.
After the war, the three remaining Schonwetters remained in Poland for 10 years. In 1957 they were able to emigrate to Israel. Unfortunately, Mark was unable to secure proper work in Israel, and so, with five dollars in his pocket, he moved to the US in 1961. Once here, he obtained menial work in a jewelry factory, supervised by a Yiddish-speaking co-worker. Slowly but adamantly, he learned English and rose through the ranks to become the factory manager. Within five years, he purchased another jewelry company called Lieberfarb, which he proceeded to grow into a successful wedding ring and bridal company that he owned and ran for over 40 years.
Schonwetter shared, “I feel blessed to have had a lifetime having survived against all odds.” Inspired by her father’s life story and exemplary determination, daughter Ann Arnold has authored a biography of her father entitled, “Together: A Journey of Survival.” Together, father and daughter have made it their mission to spread the story of courage against impossible odds with schoolchildren and adults wherever possible.
On the morning after speaking at the Community Commemoration, Schonwetter will address over 500 students of Teaneck High School in keeping with the yearly practice of sharing the featured speaker with the school. Also, in conjunction with the yearly commemoration, the committee arranges for an exhibit of Holocaust artwork by students of local private and public schools. This year, a photographic exhibit by noted photographer Debbie Teicholz Guedalia is being hosted at the Teaneck Public Library throughout April and the Bergenfield Public Library throughout May.
The community is urged to participate in the commemoration and to bring the younger generations along so that the memories of the kedoshim will be perpetuated in an honorable program. Teaneck High School is located at 100 Elizabeth Avenue, Teaneck, NJ 07666.
For more information, visit www.teaneckyomhashoa.org/events.htm
By Pearl Markovitz