New York, NY—Most jewelers know Mark Schonwetter (near left) as the gentle, cheerful former CEO of Lieberfarb, the bridal jewelry company acquired by Novell a few years ago. And many know his daughter, Ann Schonwetter Arnold of Arnold Advisory Group (far left), for her work in the industry with the Jewelers Board of Trade, MJSA and other organizations, as a consultant with BIG, a member of the 24 Karat Club of the City of New York, and as former president of the Women’s Jewelry Association.
But not many in the industry know the story of Manek Schonwetter, Holocaust survivor. Ann Arnold’s book, Together: A Journey For Survival, details the harrowing journey her father and his family withstood during the Holocaust.
Together is tale of both hope and fear. Schonwetter’s mother, Sala, lived a privileged life with her beloved husband Israel and their two children in Brzostek, Poland, until everything changed in 1939 when the Nazis came. Israel Schonwetter was arrested, and in a moment that defined their future, Sala seized up her children, Manek and Zosia, and fled into the woods. For the duration of the war, they kept on the move through forests and countryside like hunted prey, surviving on their wits and with the help of a few courageous Gentiles who risked their own safety to feed and hide the little family from time to time. Israel, meanwhile, was marched with his fellow Jewish prisoners and massacred in a large communal grave dug by their fellow townsmen.
After the war, Manek, his mother and sister returned to their hometown. He began to study law, but eventually immigrated to Israel and later to the United States, sponsored by relatives here. Here he became known as Mark, an Anglicized version of Manek, and ultimately became a leading producer of fine platinum wedding bands, a member of AGS, and beloved figure in the industry.
In 2009, Schonwetter and his wife, Luba, Arnold, her sister Isabella Schonwetter Fiske and their families, returned to Brzostek for a ceremony to re-certify a Jewish cemetery that had been destroyed in 1942. Through the efforts of a Polish-born religion professor in England who reached out to the mayor and town priest, the townspeople embraced the project, searching through masonry and even junk piles to find the old headstones destroyed during the war. About 30 headstones were eventually recovered, including that of Arnold’s great-grandfather.
What Mark Schonwetter and family had expected to be meaningful to a few dozen interested people turned into a celebration with hundreds of townspeople, who Googled old Jewish recipes and prepared a feast for the visitors—even creating kosher dishes for observant Jews attending.
From being hunted like prey, Schonwetter returned to his hometown a VIP, but he humbly put his hand to his heart and said, “I am a survivor of the Holocaust; however, I am from a generation that is fading away. In a short period of time this generation will not be around anymore. However the message that we have has to survive future generations and it makes no difference who you are, a Jew, Christian, Muslim, or any combination. It may happen to you, it depends who is in power at the moment. Don't allow it and be aware of what is happening in the world and don't turn a blind eye and think it can't happen here or again.”
Brzostek is one town that learned its lesson and takes Schonwetter’s words to heart. The Brzostek town hall bears a plaque that reads: “In memory of the Jewish community of Brzostek, its rabbis, teachers, shopkeepers and artisans and all families, and in memory of 500 Jewish men, women and children of Brzostek murdered in 1942 in the Podzamcze forest, in the Bezec death camp and other unknown places.” Another memorial headstone was created to honor the dead at the cemetery. The local high school has also instituted a Jewish studies program and a special scholarship into its curriculum.
Since the release of Together: A Journey For Survival in May (on May 5, Holocaust Remembrance Day), Ann Arnold has received extensive press coverage, and has accepted a number of invitations to appear at readings and signings. She was recently asked by the prestigious Simon Wiesenthal Center to be one of three honorees at their inaugural “Heroes for Tolerance” event on September 11, 2016.
Proceeds of the “Heroes for Tolerance” event will directly support the Center’s nationally renowned programming to confront hate, bigotry, and anti-Semitism through the proactive teaching of tolerance and diversity. Appearing at this event as an author and noted national lecturer on tolerance will provide Arnold with a larger audience with whom she can share her story, and the center’s long-standing reputation for vigilance distinguishes her within a larger context.
“I was raised with the story of my father, aunt, and grandmother’s journey for survival through the woods of Poland,” Arnold explains. “It is one of my most treasured legacies, and I was blessed to learn its lessons throughout my formative years; I am thrilled to have an opportunity to share this legacy with the world.”
Arnold firmly believes, as does her father, that as the witnesses to the atrocity of the Holocaust succumb to old age, it is time for the torch to pass to the next generation. Through organizations like the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Arnold’s family’s story and its inherent lessons can continue to benefit generations to come.
“Honoring Heroes for Tolerance” will be held September 11, 2016 at Yankee Stadium. For more information call (347) 604-4615 or email at Seliuk@wiesenthal.com. Click here to downloard or order Together: A Journey For Survival.