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Stockton University Holocaust Center Passes Along Survivor Stories to Next Generation

Photo taken at the annual intergenerational brunch for Holocaust survivors and their families. Front: (From left) Holocaust survivors Hanna Ehrlich and Cyla Kowenski, and Jane Stark, director of the Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage. Back: (From left) Gail Rosenthal, director of the Sara & Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center, and Gloria Weitzenhof. | Photo provided

While the parents and grandparents are dwindling to a precious few, the stories passed on to the children of Holocaust survivors and their children live on.

That’s in part because of organizations like the USC Shoah Foundation, which have recorded video and audio testimonies for posterity.

Those accounts have been archived at colleges nationwide, among them Richard Stockton University in Galloway, N.J., an area that has a rich history when it comes to the subject.

When many of those survivors came to the United States after World War II, this was where they called home, working on chicken farms and in factories thanks to grants from the Baron de Hirsch Fund.

And this is also where Stockton offers students an extensive curriculum and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Holocaust and genocide studies. The focal point is the Sam & Sara Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center, which, in addition to being South Jersey’s Holocaust museum, now houses the 54,000-volume Shoah Foundation archives.

But teaching its students about the Holocaust has been going on at Stockton long before the center came into existence.

“We began teaching Holocaust studies in the 1980s,” center Director Gail Rosenthal said. “Rabbi Murray Kohn, who was one of the youngest survivors of Auschwitz, began teaching an introductory course about the Holocaust here.

“So he laid the foundation. We also came up with the idea to begin taking oral histories of local Holocaust survivors. Around 1989 we went to [then-Stockton President] Dr. Vera King Farris and said, ‘We have all these tapes. We need a place to store them.’”

Farris had the perfect suggestion.

“She said, ‘It’s always been my dream to open a center,”’ said Rosenthal, who was volunteering on the project back then. “She had been so shocked when she first read about the Holocaust when she was in high school in Atlantic City.”

An endowed chair was established at Stockton, with an Ida E. King Scholar annually teaching Holocaust studies and doing research there.

And the Stockton Holocaust Center was dedicated in 1990, eventually becoming the Schoffer Center in 2009.

Along the way, there’s been major expansion nearly doubling its size. That has come about through support from the Schoffer family, as well as the family of Sam Azeez, which also is the driving force behind the Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage.

And with Stockton’s recent buy giving it access to the Shoah Foundation archives, there’s an even greater opportunity for Stockton students to learn more about not only what happened in Nazi Germany, Poland and other neighboring countries during the war, but other mass genocides.

“The director of Yad Vashem came to visit us a year ago and said we have more undergraduate courses — we offer a minimum of 15 a semester — than any college in the United States,” said Rosenthal, who estimates that 1,000 of Stockton’s 9,000 students per year take one of those classes.

What’s made the Schoffer Center and the Holocaust programs so effective is its leadership, Rosenthal said.

“Students taking a course in Holocaust studies may not even know what they’re taking initially — and then they get hooked,” she said.

Not only Jewish students and professors are affected.

“I remember seeing pictures of the concentration camps, but it was never taught to me in school,” said Maryann McLoughlin, the center’s assistant supervisor, who has written and edited some 60 Holocaust memoirs. “I guess I got interested reading books like Exodusand Sophie’s Choice.”

“But I’m really proud to be working with someone like Gail. She goes out of her way to help students who need counseling and has a wonderful relationship with the Jewish community.”

For Rosenthal it’s simply passing on what she learned growing up. “L’dor v’dor–from generation to generation,” she said. “We want to make students better citizens one by one.

“The reality is students may not always gonna remember dates, but they will remember stories, lessons, resilience, survival.

“The Holocaust and other genocides are not the total story of story of man’s inhumanity to mankind. But it’s a lesson for today.


(c) 2017 Jewish Exponent

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