Synagogue donates Holocaust books to schools

B’nai Sholom teams up with the Rockville Centre School District to teach about the Holocaust


The “Never Again” committee, a group created by members of Congregation B’nai Sholom-Beth David to encourage Holocaust education in local schools, met with Rockville Centre School District administrators on Monday morning to donate more than 300 copies of books about the Holocaust to help educate students at South Side Middle School about this period in world history.

The books, included several different titles on the subject, including “Daniel’s Story” by Carol Matas, “Maus” by Art Spiegelman, “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” by John Boyne, “Sarah’s Key” by Tatiana de Rosnay, “The Nazi Officer’s Wife” by Edith Hahn Beer, “Boy from Buchenwald,” by Robbie Waisman and Susan McClelland, “The Boy Who Dared” by Susan Campbell Bartoletti and “Children of Terror,” by Bozenna Urbanowicz Gilbride and Inge Auerbacher among others.

Herb Friend, a first-generation Holocaust survivor and a member of the committee, explained why the donation is deeply personal.

His mother was liberated from Theresienstadt, while his father endured a harrowing escape from a death march. He was presumed to be dead, but jumped into a river and managed to escape to Russia. Once he arrived over the border, he was sent to a labor camp in Siberia until he was forced to enlist in the Army.

After a year and a half of training, he became a tank commander. In one notable mission, his tank crashed through the gates of Theresienstadt to rescue 130 women who had just been sentenced to be executed, including Friend's future mother.

"He was a real hero," Friend said. "He rescued all 130 women and prisoners in Theresienstadt. He liberated Majdanek and eight other concentration camps. One of those he saved was the great-grandmother of Jonathan Wiesenberg, the assistant principal of South Side Middle School.”

Friend also explained how these experiences forever shaped his father's life, contributing to his post-traumatic stress disorder and the night terrors that plagued him.

Members of the committee, including Friend, said that this collaborative effort between the synagogue and the school district was made possible thanks to Karen Skolnick, a member of Congregation B’nai Sholom and a Valley Stream school teacher.

“For the last two years we’ve been working together on a lot of positive steps,” Rockville Centre schools Superintendent Matt Gaven said. “I’m a big believer in community organizations supporting each other to support the community. I think that is something that we’ve seen, and we certainly cherish.”

In 2022, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced new legislation that would require all school districts in the state to provide high-quality Holocaust education curriculum.

Since that time, the district has been working closely with the synagogue to take a proactive approach towards combating the trend of antisemitism across Long Island by building bridges through books.

“We’re very excited to deepen the exposure of students to the Jewish experience,” Rabbi David Lerner said.

By reading about the personal experiences of survivors and thorough interactive class discussion, the goal is to ensure students walk away with a better understanding of how and why the Holocaust happened and the role propaganda and misinformation played in disenfranchising millions of people based on their religious beliefs, race, sexuality, ability or cultural differences.

According to a study conducted by the Anti-Defamation League’s Center for Antisemitism Research, exposure to Holocaust education can significantly reduce a student's chances of harboring antisemitic feelings.

Each of the books includes a memorial label bearing the name, age, and background of a child skilled during the Holocaust.

“We want to make these books special," Friend said. "Now students can see there is a real person associated with it."

In December, the Rockville Centre school board, recognizing the value of such education, requested 30 copies of ten different book titles, which the committee graciously provided.

“This project may be a model for synagogues to collaborate with the school systems to include Holocaust education,” Friend said.

Based on the success of the program, he feels it could serve as a model for school districts nationwide, including in the neighboring Lynbrook school district, which will be receiving similar donations in September.