LIVINGSTON, NJ – On Sunday, Livingston resident Isabella Fiske addressed an audience of 75 attendees when she shared stories at Temple B’nai Abraham (TBA) for Impact of the Holocaust on the “Next” Generation in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day. Fiske is the daughter, granddaughter, and niece of Holocaust survivors.
Fiske began her talk by establishing that “there was the generation that experienced vs. the generation that is learning.” She said that her father Mark Schonwetter was only 7 years old when the Holocaust was occurring, and that he had boldly protected his family at all costs.
She also said that her grandmother, who escaped the ghetto, was a female role model to her. And she described the living conditions under the German control that she heard from her family members as being people living in fenced off areas with barbed wire, with shaved heads and meals consisting of as little of a slice of bread or a bowl of soup.
Fiske’s father said that the most difficult part was “living on the ground—not being able to sit.” When asked how he felt after it was all over he said, “I felt free. I did not have to be scared anymore.”
Fiske said that her grandmother was told that her husband was not going to come back and she had to leave her home or the Germans would find her. She and Schonwetter's father hid in the woods for three years and one day, he asked her, “Why are the birds allowed to fly freely but we are not?” She replied, “One day we will be.” Later on, Fiske said that her grandmother had to throw her son and Fiske’s aunt over a fence to be caught by a friend on the other side who would take care of them.
Meanwhile, she said that her grandfather, who was stuck in the ghetto, had the opportunity to escape from police officers, but refused the offer because he “would not be the excuse for why other Jews would be killed.” He wanted to stand by his fellow Jews.
Fiske told the audience that when she was young, she hated all talk of Hitler/Swatiska, but said that she soon realized “it is important that we do talk about it and tell others so that we never forget what happened or let it happen again.”
Fiske said that these stories have become a part of her soul and that the Holocaust felt especially real to her when her oldest son, Jason, was seven years old--the same age her father was when he was in hiding.
When asked what the hardest part was about being related to a Holocaust survivor, Fiske said, “Dealing with the history of my family and having to accept it. It has changed who I am and changed how I’ve raised my children.” She also said that the best way to educate the current generation of kids on the Holocaust is to “tell these stories and pass them on.”
When asked what part of the story struck him as most powerful, TBA’s Rabbi Clifford Kulwin replied, “The way in which she talked about raising her sons.”
Fiske’s grandmother passed away in 2002, reaching 94 years of age and leaving behind a legacy of eleven great-grandchildren. She didn’t believe in birthdays because being free from the Holocaust taught her that “every day is a day to celebrate.”
Jill Tejeda, Holocaust teacher at Livingston High School, shared “Every year, I have Mark, along with other speakers, come to my classes and share his story with the kids. Each story is a piece of the puzzle. All are equally valuable.”