Dr. Paul Winkler, who served as executive director of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education for 40 years and achieved national renown in the field, has died.
Winkler, who died July 12 at the age of 79, became the first executive director of the commission in 1975, beginning as a volunteer and serving until illness forced him to retire in May. Under his leadership, many collaborations were forged and curriculum guides developed regarding the Holocaust and other genocides, including those focusing on Native Americans, Darfur, Rwanda, and atrocities committed by Soviet leader Josef Stalin.
He was also a consultant to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office of Bias Crimes.
“We not only deal with the Holocaust, but with bullying and prejudice,” Winkler told an interviewer in 2014. “We try to be relevant for today. Our goals are twofold: to remember what happened and to deal with the prejudices occurring today. We spend quite a bit of time explaining that the Holocaust commission is not the ‘Jewish commission.’ During the Holocaust, 11 million people were destroyed by the Nazis. Six million of them were Jewish. Five million were Roma and many others, so it is not a Jewish issue; it’s a human issue.”
The announcement of Winkler’s passing was made by his successor, Lawrence M. Glaser, and commission chair Philip Kirschner, who said that Winkler’s soul “is now at peace and whose legacy remains as a blessing to all of us who knew him and marveled at his extraordinary humanity.”
Glaser told NJJN the commission will hold a tribute for Winkler in early September at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.
Gordon Haas, the new president of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, said the “echo of his good deeds will live on to our collective benefit.”
“Dr. Winkler has been a guiding light for many years here in New Jersey and nationally in furthering Holocaust education curriculum in our schools,” Haas said in a statement. “Many of us who have had the privilege of working with him on Holocaust survivor-related initiatives have been touched by his devotion not only to education, but to making certain that the evils of the Holocaust would be remembered and never again repeated.”
‘Inclusiveness and outreach’
Winkler was working in the state Department of Education on special education projects in the 1970s when he began helping in the development of Holocaust education programs in Teaneck and Vineland. Winkler’s continued coordination of Holocaust and genocide studies in the state resulted in the establishment of a council, and eventually a commission after New Jersey established a Holocaust and genocide mandate in 1994 for all schools.
Barbara Wind, director of the Holocaust Council of Greater MetroWest, called Winkler “a wonderful leader.”
“He was so supportive of all the state’s 24 Holocaust education centers and always did his best to make sure everyone had as much support as the commission could give to students, teachers, and survivors,” she said. “He was an angel. He made New Jersey the top state in Holocaust education because of his inclusiveness and outreach.”
Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg of Edison, the son of Auschwitz survivors serving in his third term as a commission member, remembered Winkler as a “giant” of Holocaust education.
“He was my mentor,” said Rosenberg. “He was a man of great wisdom, sensitivity, talent, and understanding of the human condition.”
Born in Philadelphia, Winkler lived in Lawrenceville. His interest in prejudice reduction began in his youth, nurtured by his parents and grandmother through their community involvement. He was known to protect his friends from bullies as a youth, and throughout his teenage and adult years he was involved in social causes.
Winkler noted in an NJJN article in April 2015 that youngsters learn they can make a difference by taking a stand against bullying of their peers who are targeted because they are weak or different, or by coming to the aid of those being attacked because of their race, religion, or nationality.
By speaking out, using social media, or raising money for organizations that work to reduce prejudice, young people “learn how easy it is to be an upstander and a good person,” said Winkler.
After graduating with a degree in education from Temple University, Winkler began his career as an elementary school teacher and completed a doctorate in educational leadership at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Winkler’s educational activities over 50 years included serving as a teacher, principal, superintendent, regional education director, NJ deputy assistant commissioner of education for exceptional children, and director of a teacher training center.
He wrote many articles dealing with Holocaust and genocide education and in 2008 spearheaded the development of New Jersey’s curriculum on 9/11, one of the first state-sponsored efforts in the nation.
Winkler’s most recent publication was a book, Teaching the Unspeakable: The New Jersey Story of Holocaust & Genocide Education.
Winkler was also involved in teacher training and frequently made direct presentations to students. Under his leadership, many collaborative efforts were launched, including with the Italian, Armenian, Amistad, and Martin Luther King commissions.
At the end of his life, Winkler was working on Holocaust/genocide-related lessons that could meet Common Core Curriculum standards and had started a project developing lessons for students with special needs and those with limited English.
Winkler was the recipient of numerous humanitarian awards and citations, including the Phillip Forman Human Relations Award from the American Jewish Committee and the NJ Education Association Human Rights Award and many recognitions from the NJ state legislature. In honor of his 70th birthday and his more than 50 years in education, his family, friends, and colleagues established the Paul B. Winkler Endowment, awarded to an elementary school teacher each year.
Winkler is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, Cecelia; his daughter, Sharona; his son, Jeffrey, and his wife, Laura; a brother, Henry; five grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.
The funeral was held at Platt Memorial Chapels Inc. in Cherry Hill. Burial was at Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, Pa.