Ann Saltzman, director of the Drew University Center for Holocaust/Genocide Study, has received the Sister Rose Thering Award from the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education.
The honor recognizes individuals contributing to the field of higher education, specifically in teacher training related to bias, prejudice, and discrimination. Saltzman has worked at the Drew center since its inception 20 years ago. She started as associate director, then became codirector, and took over as director five years ago.
“We chose Ann because of her achievements and her commitment to teaching the Shoa and bringing together Christians and Jews to foster understanding of each other’s thoughts and practice,” said Paul Winkler, executive director of the commission. “That was also the key to Sister Rose’s work. It’s what helps make the world a safer place for everyone.”
He mentioned, by way of example, a trip to Israel Saltzman led a few years ago that included stops at concentration camps in Europe. Participants included people from different religious backgrounds. “She has been instrumental in making clear the value for all people to learn about the Holocaust,” Winkler said.
Saltzman, professor emerita of psychology at Drew and a member of Temple Sholom in Fanwood, where she has lived for the past 35 years, was presented with the award on June 20 in Trenton.
“I am honored to have received such a prestigious award,” she said. “It is a testament to the important work that we do at Drew. In addition, I try to infuse the lesson of tolerance into my everyday life and carry on the work started by Sister Rose Thering.”
The award has been presented annually since 2007 by the commission in memory of Thering, the Roman Catholic nun and former professor at Seton Hall University in South Orange. Thering advocated for Holocaust education and battled anti-Semitism within the Catholic church; she was perhaps best known for work that inspired the Second Vatican Council to reform the church’s relations with the Jews.
The award was established the year after she died in 2006.
Saltzman, who is Jewish, grew up in New York City and lost no members of her immediate family in the Holocaust. However, she felt its impact, as she explained to NJJN in an e-mail.
“I know that most likely my mother’s extended family from Pinsk perished, shot by members of the einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units that slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Jews in Eastern Europe, Jews who were never sent to the death camps),” she wrote. “My father was an infant survivor of the pogroms in what is now Ukraine, and the family dynamics in my family-of-origin were very similar to those in families of Holocaust survivors; I think this is something that pulled me toward Holocaust/genocide studies.”
As a professor of psychology, the field fascinated her. “I believe the study of Holocaust and genocide is one of the most existential studies possible — it demonstrates both the most horrible, terrible behaviors humans are capable of but also demonstrates the most altruistic that is possible (rescue of those under assault). As such, it describes the capability of all humans to engage in extreme evil but also to engage in extreme good,” she wrote.
Saltzman met Thering a number of times, when the nun visited the Drew center and when Saltzman attended programs sponsored by Seton Hall’s program in Christian-Jewish relations.
“Sister Rose is a model for all of us; she persisted in pushing the Vatican to look into its own history with regard to anti-Semitism,” Saltzman said. “We all need to push the institutions to which we belong to stand on the side of justice.”
Saltzman is chair of Temple Sholom’s Yom Hashoa committee.
“The Temple Sholom community is honored to have Ann Saltzman in our midst,” congregation president Sandra Nussenfeld said in a statement. “We pride ourselves on tikun olam, repairing the world. Ann’s work to create religious and cultural tolerance is a shining example of what we try to do as a congregation.
“Sister Rose Thering was a pioneer in modern-day interfaith understanding. We know that Ann will carry on in her spirit, as we should all strive to do.”