Jewelry industry veteran Ann Arnold grew up knowing her father was a Holocaust survivor, but she didn’t anticipate that his story would eventually help educate hundreds of children on one of history’s darkest eras—and that she would help lead that effort.
Arnold’s father, Mark Schonwetter, was only six years old when he and his family were forced out of his home in Brzostek, Poland, by the Germans. His father was taken by the Gestapo, and Schonwetter, guided by his mother and sister, went into hiding in a nearby ghetto for a time. From there, miraculously, the trio successfully hid in the Polish countryside for three years. They alluded the Nazis. And by the end of the war, they were three of only a handful of Jews from Brzostek who survived.
When he emigrated to the U.S. in 1961, Schonwetter found work in a jewelry factory, and eventually purchased wedding jewelry manufacturer Lieberfarb. He worked in the industry until his retirement in 2018.
Arnold—a former CEO of Lieberfarb and current chief strategy officer of Buyers Intelligence Group (BIG)—wrote a book on her father’s story in 2016, Together A Journey for Survival. And with her sister, Isabella Fiske, she cofounded the Mark Schonwetter Holocaust Education Foundation to not only share their dad’s story, but to help schools educate students on the Holocaust.
Specifically, the foundation raises funds to allow schools to apply for grants that will help them purchase materials and programs to enhance and expand Holocaust curriculum, which is often sparse at public schools, chiefly due to budget restraints.
Arnold tells The Zing Report, “The book I wrote about my dad started to be used in schools, and so we started going to schools. And we found out that when schools’ budgets are cut, new programs are cut…teachers would say, ‘let’s bring in a speaker or get a new book,’ and they couldn’t get the money to do it.”
Grants are capped at $1,000, and the foundation delivered its first grant cycle in March 2020. The third grant cycle opened in August, and so far, “We’ve been able to reach almost 20,000 in 18 different states,” Arnold says.
And this November, the organization will debut its Journey for the Living challenge, which will ask participants to fundraise for a 15-mile walk, which they can do on their own time (the mile number is significant—when they escaped the Nazis, the Schonwetter’s walk to the nearest ghetto was a 15-miles trek).
Arnold explains that while the building blocks of Holocaust education initiatives are steeped in history—it’s important for kids to know what happened in an unvarnished way—the family’s foundation aids schools who are also interested in teaching history on the path to educating kids about respect and kindness. “It’s not about teaching the past,” Arnold says. “It’s about teaching the lessons of the past to make people better people.”
She adds, “My dad and his family survived in hiding for three years, and in the winter months they hid in people’s barns and attics, at great risk to the people who helped them. That’s why we’re all about kindness. My dad’s only here because of the kindness of people who risked their own lives. That’s why I’m here.”
Donate to the Mark Schonwetter Holocaust Education Foundation here
Top photo: Berlin Holocaust Museum; Pexels