Following his mother Ruth’s death in 1990 at 79, West Orange investment adviser Mark Meyerowitz was going through some papers in her office. He found that his mother, a survivor, had kept anonymous poems written in English, Polish, French, German, and Yiddish by victims of the Shoah. The authors will forever remain unknown.
The poems, which have been translated since Meyerowitz chanced upon the collection almost 30 years ago, became the cornerstone of educational materials published by the non-profit Holocaust Arts Foundation, which he founded in West Orange in September. The foundation’s mission is to further Holocaust education in schools and the community by utilizing poetry, art, and music.
“We want to educate about the six million murdered, what led to it, and assure such education is part of curriculum everywhere to prevent it from ever occurring again,” Meyerowitz told NJJN in a telephone interview. He serves on the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust/Genocide Education and is a member of the Conservative B’nai Shalom in West Orange. “There is a huge need for Holocaust programming in education and I feel these poems are easy to focus on.”
Meyerowitz has compiled the poems in three of a series of four eBooks about Holocaust education, available for free at the foundation’s website, holocaustartsfoundation.org. In exchange for downloading the eBooks, he asks that users subscribe to the foundation’s website.
“We’re trying to spread the word as much as we can,” said Meyerowitz, who has sent the poems to schools and colleges and was told that so far Monmouth University, the University of Alabama, and University of Minnesota will incorporate his material into their curriculums.
Meyerowitz published the collection in “When You Say Your Last Goodbye: Lost Poems from the Holocaust,” one version of which is translated into English, and another in Spanish. A companion book includes scans of the original poems and photographs taken by Meyerowitz and his family when they visited Auschwitz. The fourth book, “Six Million Murders: An Introduction to the Holocaust,” which does not include any of the poems, features a concise but well-presented history of the era with original illustrations by Olga Kurkina.
“What we have found is there are a lot of educators who want to teach the Holocaust, but they are not sure how to get started with it,” Meyerowitz said. “We really feel our materials will help and make it easier for them to put their arms around it with how we have the information presented.”
His grandmother, a native of Radom, Poland, and his mother, who was born in Frankfurt, Germany, survived Auschwitz and Ravensbruck, a women’s concentration camp in Germany. After Ruth’s retirement from the family’s fur business she owned in Fair Lawn with her husband Harry, she became a Holocaust historian and survivor advocate. Her oral history is archived at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
New Jersey is one of just 12 states which has mandated Holocaust education as part of its school curriculum. Meyerowitz believes, especially with the surge of anti-Semitic acts in recent years and given that there are fewer living witnesses as compared to the last generation, this needs to increase.
“We don’t want the history of the Holocaust to be lost,” he said. “That is a concern with this generation. There are places where what transpired in those years is not really talked about in schools. We want to change that. The lessons are important to all.”
In honor of the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht, two of the poems will be read for the first time with violin, viola, and piano accompaniment at “Remembrance Through Music: Commemorating Kristallnacht,” to be held Nov. 17 at 1:30 p.m. at the Millburn Public Library. The program is presented by the Millburn-based Museum of Human Rights, Freedom, and Tolerance and Blue Mountain Chamber Music Players. For information, visit millburnlibrary.org.