Shoah council director leaves legacy of education, awareness

Shoah council director leaves legacy of education, awareness

Barbara Wind retires to continue mission through writing

Barbara Wind, left, with the late Sister Rose Thering, who urged Wind to take the job at the Holocaust Council. Photo by Elaine Durbach
Barbara Wind, left, with the late Sister Rose Thering, who urged Wind to take the job at the Holocaust Council. Photo by Elaine Durbach

Barbara Wind was drawn to the job by matters personal and professional. Now, after 18 years at the helm of the Holocaust Council of Greater MetroWest NJ, she has left the director’s position, she said, but not the mission.

And, in fact, one key person whose encouragement led to her accepting the post represents one reason for her choosing to step down.

In 2000 Wind was a writer — a poet and a stringer for The New York Times and for this newspaper — and a leading member of South Mountain Poets, a group meeting in Millburn.

One fellow poet, Wind said, began bringing in poems about the Holocaust. She noted inaccuracies, and, given her personal ties to the Shoah — her father and her mother were virtually the only survivors from their families — Wind said, “I thought I should tackle poetry with the Shoah as its theme.”

Seeking to enhance her own understanding of the Holocaust and to ensure the accuracy of her writing, she entered a master’s program at Seton Hall University (SHU).

There, she said, “I had the good fortune to be mentored by Sister Rose.” A Dominican nun, Sister Rose Thering was then a professor at the university (and namesake of its Endowment for Jewish-Christian Studies), and an activist and scholar dedicated to improving interfaith relations, support for Israel, and increasing Holocaust awareness.

When the position of coordinator of Holocaust education and remembrance opened at the federation (then called United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ), Sister Rose, according to Wind, “pushed, pushed, pushed” her to accept what was then a part-time position, saying she was ideally suited to the task and that it would add credibility to her writing and allow her to continue her studies.

So in 2000 she came to the council, at federation headquarters on the Aidekman campus in Whippany, to guide its mission: to remember the Holocaust, its victims and survivors, and convey the history and lessons to be derived from confronting the enormity of its tragic impact.

Within weeks of beginning the job, the second intifada began. “It was clear to me that there would be a tremendous rise in anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial,” said Wind. She decided: “I would have to give the job my all. I hoped against hope that I’d be able to fulfill my family obligations” — she and her husband, Bernard Morcheles, who live in Springfield, have four children (and now seven grandchildren) — “and writing commitments.” But when the vision of what she aimed to accomplish at the council became clear, she said, “the writing took a back seat.”

After two years, she realized that to be done right, the job had to be more than part-time; she assumed the full-time directorship of what then became the Holocaust Council of MetroWest, understanding that it was “the best thing I could do for my children and their descendants and in educating the world.”

Based on phone conversations and an e-mail exchange with Wind, and the record of council activities on her watch, she has fulfilled that promise.

Among the offerings Wind initiated are a host of programs that connect children, teens, and adults with those who experienced the Shoah firsthand, as survivors, rescuers, witnesses, and liberators.

Looking back, Wind said, she is “in awe of so many of the survivors who are truly inspiring and some of whom I’ve been able to mentor to become published writers or speakers,” establishing “the largest speakers’ bureau of survivors … in the state,” by enlisting many of those whose sagas of suffering and survival were so compelling to lend their voices to the council’s aim to disseminate eyewitness accounts.

She has played a central role in the mounting of academic conferences — and made presentations at many throughout the world — and has officiated at myriad memorials — including Newark’s annual Holocaust Remembrance event — and programs honoring the victims.

Barbara Wind lights a yahrtzeit candle for Sister Rose Thering in June 2010 on the Aidekman campus, as Etzion Neuer, then director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New Jersey region, watches. Photo by Robert Wiener

To Wind, “ensuring the future of Holocaust education when survivors are no longer on earth” has been of paramount importance. For that reason, she said, there has been “a rush to capture and preserve as many of the stories and artifacts as possible.” Many of the programs she organized resulted in “hundreds of taped interviews and talks,” creating a repository of firsthand testimonials and preserving a history that, she said, is “under continuing threat from deniers.”

With the same end in mind, Wind has provided training for “witnesses to the witnesses, especially the children and grandchildren of survivors who, increasingly, are taking up the burden and blessing of being a survivor descendant.”

In an effort to engage youth in the council’s work, she appointed students to the council board, and created a Teen Advisory Board. Young people are the responsible partners in Adopt-a-Survivor, another key council program that ensures, she said, “that 100 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, teens who heard directly from those who experienced the horrors will pass the testimony on to future generations.”

Wind has also shepherded to production a number of films — a documentary and student projects — and plays. “Nothing is as authentic as a survivor,” she said, “but a trained speaker or professional actor telling the survivor’s story can be extremely compelling,” she said.

Interfaith outreach, in the form of dialogues and forums and partnerships with religious institutions, has been a focus, and Wind’s efforts have reached far beyond Greater MetroWest. She cofounded Generations of the Shoah International; a founding member of the Council of Holocaust Educators, she is also founder and executive director of the Sister Rose Thering-Yad Vashem Scholarship Fund. Additionally, Wind said, she established “good relationships” with many consulates, including those of China, Portugal, Poland, and Germany, to foster the necessity of Holocaust education around the world.

In addition to curating numerous historical exhibits, Wind oversaw programs highlighting artwork, books, and films whose subject matter, she said, “provides insight into the entire scope of the Nazi genocide and persecution.” She believes that “coming up with creative ways of telling this history, it will continue to engage listeners and viewers — even those who have been brainwashed to deny it.”

The council’s signature exhibit, “From Memory to History: Faces and Voices of the Holocaust” — which opened in 2005 and returns each year to the Aidekman campus — documents the experiences of survivors and liberators in the Greater MetroWest community. New material is added each year to the display of photomontages, historical artifacts, taped interviews, and artwork that make up the exhibit, which draws thousands of viewers each year. Wind said that before her departure on Dec. 7, she managed to complete planning for the new material — on the Soviet Union and the Shoah — for the exhibit, on display now through May 3.

Gratified by the support of the council’s “loyal cadre of amazing docents and volunteers,” Wind said she is also grateful for the opportunity she’s had to meet so many gifted teachers, many of whom she served as mentor, running workshops for educators and securing scholarships enabling them to take part in pedagogic seminars abroad.

Wind said she has drawn inspiration from the legion of “extraordinary authors, historians, community leaders, and top scholars” she has worked with “to further knowledge of the Holocaust and appreciation of the survivors and liberators” — among them Elie Wiesel, Sir Martin Gilbert, Aharon Appelfeld, Cynthia Ozick, Irwin Cotler, Dr. Charles A. Small, Father Lawrence Frizzell of SHU, and Stephen Smith of the Shoah Foundation.

Wind herself said she is “amazed by all we’ve been able to accomplish in my 18 years,” crediting “the help of an extremely supportive board,” headed by cochairs Gina Lanceter and Lois Lautenberg of Montclair, and Gary Survis of Short Hills, who became board chair last year.

Survis, calling Wind the council’s “guiding force,” said her “passion, knowledge, and experience have created one of the leading organizations dedicated to learning from and remembering the Holocaust.” Looking ahead, he acknowledged that with her departure, “there will be changes, but, I believe, much is changing in Holocaust education as well. We will need to evolve, as we will have few survivors left to tell their stories. This is a challenge, but one that we are immensely capable of meeting.”

As a survivor serving — at Wind’s encouragement — as a council speaker, Lanceter said she has reached “5,000 or more students.” She lauded Wind as “a very big asset” to the council and for her “devotion and success bringing its work to the heights in schools and throughout the community and beyond.

At the Yom HaShoah commemoration at Kean University in April 2014 are Barbara Wind, third from right, with the honoree, the late Dr. Paul Winkler, and, from left, survivors Gerda Bikales (with her son behind her), Marsha Kreuzman, and Anitta Fox.

“We are going to miss her,” Lanceter added.

Lautenberg praised Wind, saying she was “creative and brilliant” in building her record of council achievements, adding that when she took her programs and mission to other states, Wind was praised for her initiative and the lasting impact of her projects.

As part of her explanation of why she chose to leave, Wind circles back to the beginnings.

First, she said, she stayed at what is now the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ longer than she intended because of her “passion for the essential mission of Holocaust education and remembrance” and the support of administrators and staff members, citing the assistance, especially, of the Aidekman campus management.

Through it all, Wind said, and despite the demands of her job, she somehow managed to do some writing. A book of her Holocaust poetry, translated into German, was published as “Auf Asche Gehen” (“Walking on Ash”) in Germany in 2004. Her poems are also included in the curriculum of the New Jersey State Commission on Holocaust Education.

But, she said, she has put so many projects on back burners — including a book of Holocaust-themed poems — she knew “the only way to attend to them was to retire.” (Another task involves preparing for publication a book written in 1944 by the first husband of Warsaw Ghetto survivor and rescuer Nessa Ben-Asher of Short Hills — herself an active participant in council programs. Szymon Zakrzewski was a resistance fighter who after the war became an official with the Polish cultural ministry; he died in 1966, and his story, said Wind, is “phenomenal.”)

Another major project awaiting Wind brings her back to the person who was instrumental in her coming to the council 18 years ago. Before Sister Rose died in 2006, she had encouraged Wind to write her biography, and Wind — who herself was the recipient of the Sister Rose Thering Holocaust Education Award in 2016 — is determined, now that she has the time, to fulfill that mission.

Her major post-retirement goal is to finish a nearly completed manuscript she wrote after she and Sister Rose attended, in 1997, “Good and Evil After Auschwitz: Ethical Implications for Today” in Rome. The Vatican-sponsored conference, she said, provided inspiration for the work she’s titled “Scaling the Mountain” and which she terms a “reflective journal cum biography” of Sister Rose — “my teacher, my mentor, my adviser, and my confidante.” 

Driving Force

SAYING BARBARA WIND was “the driving force behind the world-renowned” Holocaust Council of Greater MetroWest NJ, Dov Ben-Shimon, CEO of the GMW federation, announced her retirement, adding, “The impact she has made through her dedication and passion is immeasurable.”

The federation also announced it is “committed to building upon the foundation that Barbara has built,” and that now heading the council
are education director Ilyse Muser Shainbrown and program manager
Jamie Carus.

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