True Seats of Learning
“Empty Chairs Project” links Marlborough students to the Shoah
By Marion Rabinowitz

Among the memorabilia at the former Synagogue in St. Pölten, Austria, is a photo display from a synagogue in Marlborough, Massachusetts. The displays shows eight chairs, each representing a Jewish child who perished in the Holocaust. The story behind the chairs starts with the family of my father, Emil Rabinowitz, who were closely connected to the St. Pölten Jewish Community – one like many others, large and small, that were destroyed by the Shoah. My grandfather Phillip William Rabinowitz served as cantor at the synagogue in St. Pölten from 1900 to 1922. My Rabinowitz grandparents and my father left early enough to escape the horrors yet to come. […]

In 2008, for the 20th anniversary celebration of the Institute for Jewish History in Austria, situated at the former Synagogue of St. Pölten, its director Dr. Keil invited my entire family, promising she "would find beds“. Some 300 people attended to the ceremony, including many dignitaries. My two brothers and I were among perhaps seven Jews there. I was asked to speak for about 10 minutes. After a klezmer-like band conduced the program, I learned that the entire ceremony bad been aired on Lower Austrian television. The experience left my brothers and I in awe — and with the feeling that, some seven decades after my father's flight, we had reconnected with our family's past.

In 2011 I taught a seventh grade class on the Holocaust at Temple Emanuel in Marlborough. I wanted to find a way for my eight students to share my connection with the past. I wrote Dr. Keil, requesting the names and pictures of eight children from the St. Pölten Synagogue community who had died in the Holocaust. Each of my students painted a chair in the memory of one of those children. We called it the “Empty Chairs Project”.
The class presented the chairs to Temple Emanuel at a Shoah service last year, and we sent photos to Dr. Keil. They are now part of the permanent exhibit at the museum in St. Pölten, and the chairs themselves are now a permanent presence in the kindergarten classroom at Temple Emanuel. […]

I hope the “Empty Chairs Project” will, in its own small way, continue to serve that function, not only for my students, but for the many kindergartners in the future who will sit in those chairs of honor.

The Jewish Advocate, April 27th, 2012

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