Minutes of Monthly Meeting
November 9, 1997
Location: Alumni Hall, University of Dayton
Meeting Topic: The Christian Response in Public Schools to Studying the Holocaust
Speaker: Renate Frydman
Hosts: Eleanor and Harry Koenigsberg
PRESENT: Connie Breen, Co-chair; P. T. Bapu, Bert Buby, Phyllis Duckwall, Charles Frydman, Renate Frydman, Agnes Hannahs, Edith Holsinger, John (Jack) Kelley, Eleanor Koenigsberg, Harry, Koenigsberg, Jerry Kotler, Lorraine Kotler, Barbara Levine, Barbara Lotney, Ken Lotney, John Magee, Bill Rain, Ken Rosenzweig, Harold Rubenstein, Sophie Rubenstein, Lou Ryterband, Robin Smith, Lou Vera, Bill Youngkin.
Connie called the meeting to order at 7:50 PM by greeting everyone with "shalom." She thanked The Koenigsberg's for the beautiful refreshments table. Connie announced that Paul Flacks was operated on both on Thursday and today. Harry delivered the invocation which was from the Book of Psalms (Psalms 1 and 2). "Happy is the man who has not walked in the way of sinners. He shall prosper. Serve the Lord with fear." Edith asked for a correction to the October minutes. Her grandson, not her son, has had surgery, and the prognosis for him is hopeful.
Jack distributed materials from Eugene Fisher of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Catholic-Jewish Relations, National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Jack discussed Fisher's comments on an unprecedented Vatican symposium on the Christian roots of anti-Semitism that is taking place in October and November (see The Roots of Anti-Judaism at the end of these minutes). Jack pointed out that the symposium included 60 theologians who are gathered with Pope John Paul to discuss the history of Christian anti-Semitism. Jack also discussed Fisher's remarks about an important book, The Hidden Encyclical, by George Passelecq and Bernard Suchecky. The book reports on the draft of a Papal encyclical on Nazi racism and anti-Semitism which was written in 1938 but never released. Fisher presented some discussion of the arguments about whether the issuance of the racism and anti-Semitism encyclical at that time would have been beneficial. Jack also thanked Renate Frydman for making it possible for Jack to join a Dayton Jewish Federation tour to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. Gloria Anticoli also went on the tour.
Harold Rubenstein announced the book signing for the newly published book of Dr. Eric Friedland, Were Our Mouths Filled with Song, on October 16 at the Jewish Book Fair being held at Temple Israel. Harold also announced that today is the 59th anniversary of Krystalnacht (night of broken glass). On that night, Jewish synagogues and other Jewish institutions were attacked throughout Germany. Hitler and his henchmen made themselves scarce that night while over 7000 Jewish businesses were burned to the ground. Harold expressed his amazement that many people have forgotten about this horrible event.
Renate Frydman's Presentation
Eleanor then introduced Renate. Renate has been speaking in schools, churches, and synagogues on the Holocaust for over 25 years. She is the founder and Chair of Holocaust Education Committee of the Dayton Jewish Federation. She is also the founder of the Dayton Holocaust Resource Center, a very unique and valuable asset to the Dayton community. Renate is a survivor of Holocaust; her husband is also a survivor who lost his entire family.
Renate said she was very happy to visit the Dialogue. She stated that Kristallnacht is her second birthday, because her family escaped Germany on November 10, 1938, one of the two days of Kristallnacht. Renate noted that it was quite rare for Jews to be able to leave Germany at that time. Renate observed that 95% of her speaking is to non-Jewish groups. She remembers her first talk on the Holocaust at Wayne High School. She was very nervous, and her approach focused on the larger picture concerning the Holocaust. Since most textbooks at that time contained very little material about the Holocaust, most of the students at Wayne High School looked at Renate as if she were from Mars. Most had not even heard of the Holocaust. In later speaking engagements, Renate began to speak about her own family's experience, and it made a tremendous difference in the reception to her talks. The Holocaust experience became real to students when they saw Renate's United States entry documents and the picture of her husband's family who had been killed. This approach brought it down to the singular and made it relevant to the people of today. Last year she spoke at 50 schools to 10,000 children. She has been talking for 30 years on this subject. Renate could very easily have been one of the 1.5 million children who were killed in the Holocaust. She said she faced the decision as a survivor of whether to share her experiences in order to make a recurrence of the Holocaust less likely.
Most of the audiences Renate addresses are comprised of young people. At one time the perpetrators of the Holocaust sat in schoolrooms. If those perpetrators had been taught in school about respect for life, respect for others beliefs, the resilience of the human spirit, and the impact that the choices we make have on the kind of world we live in, the Holocaust might not have happened. It is also important to teach children about hate groups. Renate observed that someone who likes themself would never join a hate group. She works with young people to help them not be alienated. She wants young people to believe there is something they can do to make the world different. Renate shared the fact that the man, Eugene Rich, who signed the papers that allowed her family to leave Germany was not related to her family. Renate related how a kid in a 6th grade class in West Milton, Ohio responded to her talk. After hearing the presentation, the kid said he had pulled out someone who was trapped in a farm tractor. Renate told the kid that he was a hero. In his own way, the kid had related the Holocaust to his own life.
Many church groups ask Renate to speak. Renate noted that numerous church groups have visited the Remembering the Holocaust exhibit at the Dayton Museum of Natural History. Another thing that Renate emphasizes in her talks is that people are much more important than things. She related the story of having empty shipping boxes in her family's New York apartment after the family escaped from Germany. The boxes were empty because the valuables in them had been confiscated by the Nazis. Renate observed that young people are seldom told how lucky they are to live in this great country (the United States). She emphasizes to the students that they should never take it for granted. She emphasizes the importance of the students exercising their right to vote by explaining that the Nazi party was voted into office in Germany. In addition to their responsibility to exercise their rights, the students also have the responsibility of neighbor to neighbor. It is important to honor those who saved Jews, because it was so singular. Many people in Europe who lived in Nazi areas say they did not know what was going on. Renate related that a German student who interviewed her 10 years ago said she does not believe her grandmother's statement that all the Jews in her town went to America.
A parent accompanying a Xenia school group to the Remembering the Holocaust exhibit expressed his great sorrow at what had happened. Renate commented that this was a response that was earnest and sincere. Renate is not looking for guilt but for a change of heart. Renate organized her first teachers conference in 1980. Renate emphasized the importance of teachers committed to teaching the Holocaust. If a teacher teaches the Holocaust in Ohio, it is strictly discretionary. Holocaust teaching is not mandated by the state of Ohio. Renate read a number of letters from students and teachers who had attended her talks and been greatly affected by them.
Renate then made some observations about the Remembering the Holocaust exhibit at the Dayton Museum of Natural History which she was instrumental in designing. Renate did not want the exhibit to be a horror exhibit. A student from the town of Russia, Ohio thought the exhibit would show piles of bodies, but instead it focused on living people before and after the Holocaust. Renate noted that the exhibit has been extended to January 11. Then it is going to the Human Race Theater which will be putting on a Holocaust play at the time. Renate read a number of comments from letters she had received from people about the exhibit. Many suggested that they would be affected for their whole life by their experiences visiting the exhibit.
Renate concluded her presentation by saying that as along as she is able, she will continue to speak and teach. She emphasized the obligation we all have to continue fighting evil. She is optimistic that we have learned something from the knowledge of the Holocaust that will help prevent such atrocities from occurring in the future.
Discussion of Renate's Presentation
Jerry asked what were the most provoking questions Renate had received in response to her presentations. Renate responded that one student asked if Renate had Adolph Hitler tied to a tree, what would she say to him. Renate replied that she would say that "you are the most evil person in all of history, and there is no proper judgment for you here on Earth for the millions you caused to be killed." Recently, Renate spoke to Jewish children from Hillel; one asked where was God when the Holocaust was occurring. Jerry asked whether Renate had been asked why the Germans picked on the Jews. She replied yes. In response to those questions, she discusses the history of anti-Semitism in Europe. Anti-Semitism was often used as a method of uniting diverse people by inflaming their common hatred of Jews. Renate's hope is that we have learned a lot about the danger of anti-Semitism.
Lorraine asked if Renate has had any negative experiences during her talks, such as the attendance of historical revisionists. Renate replied that she personally has never heard anyone say that the Holocaust did not happen. She has been asked to speak at schools where there have been problems with "skinheads." At a Green County school, she was asked if she believed that 6 million were killed. No one has ever insulted her as a Jew. She was asked by a black student whether the suffering of blacks has been worse than that of Jews. She replied that she did not want to compare suffering and she abhorred slavery. A feeling and compassionate person is against all forms of discrimination. Lou Ryterband pointed out that we have to be careful not to compare atrocities like Stalin's with the Holocaust. Renate said she will not compare numbers. Her purpose is to change the attitudes that allow these unfortunate things to happen. Not everyone comes to Renate's talks with the same attitudes. Lou Vera asked whether the place where she ran into "skinheads" was lower class or middle class. Renate replied that it was middle class. Renate said that the attitudes of students in classes vary considerably, even within the same school. PT Bapu observed that Jews were welcomed into India, and they were never discriminated against. Renate said she finds it hard to believe that this calamity of the Holocaust could happen in a country so cultured that it produced Bach and Beethoven. She will never understand it. Given the right circumstances, she believes it could happen again. Therefore, we must teach about it to prevent it from reoccurring. Jerry said that by speaking to people about the Holocaust, Renate is blessing the lives of the Holocaust victims by making good out of evil. Renate observed that prior to her talks, the students are happy and laughing. During the talk, they become very serious. Afterwards, they became like regular kids. However, she hopes the talk will induce them to make the right decision later when they face a critical moral choice.
Bill asked whether Renate speaks at church services. Renate said she does; and she feels comfortable with Christians because of her own schooling as a youth in public school in which the New Testament was read every day. Renate said the most dangerous tendency is when churches do not respect the beliefs of others. Edith said that the south of Dayton area has a great need for Renate's message. Renate said that the Centerville Schools have requested the Remembering the Holocaust exhibit for a 3 week visit. She noted that Kettering recently had a special problem with racism, and their schools are coming to the exhibit. Jack asked whether Kristallnacht occurred in Austria as well as Germany. Vienna was very anti-Semitic. He noted that many of the clergy had welcomed the Anschluss (invasion of Austria by Germany and consequent unification of the two countries). With respect to the origins of anti-Semitism, Lou Vera observed that in the first Century, the character of Satan changed from a member of the heavenly court in the Jewish tradition to an evil force in the early Christian tradition. Lou raises the question with her students at Miami University whether it is possible for a group to establish its identity without identifying enemies. Lou thinks we need to know at lot more about the early separation of Christianity and Judaism.
Eleanor thanked Renate for delivering a powerful and meaningful message. Jack asked Renate what we should be doing to address the problems of anti-Semitism and racism. Renate replied that it is important for us to focus on how we deal with others. We must teach others to be more open-minded.
The meeting was adjourned at about 9:50 PM.