THE HELEN AND JOE FARKAS CENTER
FOR THE STUDY OF THE HOLOCAUST
IN CATHOLIC SCHOOLS
at Mercy High School
In 2007, Helen and Joe (of blessed memory) were honored with the founding of the Helen and Joe Farkas Center for the Study of the Holocaust in Catholic schools
Helen Farkas was born in Romania, as Helen Safar. She remembers the Hungarian occupation and growth of anti-Semitism very clearly. Her family was forced with all the other Jewish families in community to move to a local ghetto, before being deported to Auschwitz. Helen endured a months-long death march until she and her sister made a daring escape. After liberation, Helen made her way to Romania by walking and hopping freight trains. When she finally arrived home, she was reunited with and married her pre-war fiancé, Joe, and together they escaped Romania shortly after it came under communist rule. Helen Farkas lectured widely on her experiences during the Holocaust and
was a driving force in Holocaust education in the San Francisco Bay Area. She began speaking publicly after she spoke to her daughter’s class and understood that by sharing her story, she could touch people’s lives. Helen passed away in 2018 at the age of 97.
Joe Farkas was born in Satu-Mare, Romania and was a locally renowned soccer player. He met Helen just before the war and they were engaged. With the onset of WWII he was drafted into forced labor for the Hungarian army. During his time as a slave laborer Joe was lucky to be assigned a job as a cook in the kitchen; he was always able to eat as well as provide a little extra to other prisoners who needed it. His parents, Louis and Channa, were deported and perished in Auschwitz. Once in the United States Joe and his brother Morris played professional soccer and started a shoe business in which Joe took great pride. By the time he retired, the family owned three shoe stores in the Bay Area. He was vigilant
for his family, always helping those in need, and sitting by the bedside of his brothers who passed away before him. Joe passed away at age 92.
Jim McGarry founded the Helen and Joe Farkas Center for the Study of the Holocaust at Catholic Schools in 2007, and served as its first Director. Jim traveled with Helen Farkas and 24 students to Germany, Poland and Israel in 2012. He started teaching Holocaust Studies in 1992, featuring testimony of survivors. His trainings have included the Museum Fellows program at the USHMM in Washington, D.C. and the Shoah Foundation in Los Angeles. Jim teaches Religious Studies at Mercy.
Andrew Scott was born in London. His mother was a Holocaust survivor from Berlin who lost 29 family members in Auschwitz. Andrew’s professional career includes work as a college instructor (University of London, San Francisco State University), as a public policy advocate, and non-profit administrator. In 2005, he retired after 13 years as Executive Director for the YMCA of San Francisco to pursue his second career as a working musician and sound engineer as owner of Studio 401, a commercial recording studio. He has two children, both professional musicians, and three grandchildren.
Adrian Schrek is the Director of Educator Development at the JFCS Holocaust Center in San Francisco. She partners with educators to strengthen Holocaust curriculum and serves as a resource for building capacity within and across school communities. Prior to her work for the Holocaust Center, Adrian directed The Curriculum Initiative (TCI), a program designed to increase understanding of Judaism and Jewish culture among Jewish teens and their non-Jewish peers. She is a graduate of SUNY Albany and received her Master’s in feminist psychohistory from Wesleyan University.
John Ahlbach is a native San Franciscan who has taught English, history and religious studies at Archbishop Riordan High School since 1995. He has included Holocaust studies in his history and religion classes, sponsors a Survivor speaker at Riordan every year, and has brought students to almost every Holocaust event in the Bay Area. Last year, he was one of only two Catholic high school teachers in the Bay Area to take part in the Holocaust Center's Big Read. This involved reading The Children Of Willesden Lane with his class and attending the one-woman show at the Herbst Theater. He is the father of three children and lives in Pacifica.
Sister M. Pauline Borghello, R.S.M. is a native San Franciscan. After high school, she entered the Catholic religious order of the Sisters of Mercy. She has a BA in Education and an MA in Educational Administration/Supervision. She has been a teacher and administrator in Catholic elementary schools, most recently serving for 34 years as principal of St. Gabriel School in San Francisco. Sister Pauline continues her work by serving on Sister of Mercy high school boards and committees. She is active in promoting the welfare of aging sisters and planning regional assemblies that provide the opportunity for dialogue. Sister Pauline hopes to bring Holocaust education to Catholic junior high schools in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
Anne Grenn Saldinger, Ph.D. is former Executive Director of the Bay Area Holocaust Oral History Project for which she gathered hundreds of life stories of local survivors. She now works with families to preserve their legacies through her organization, “Looking Back for the Future.” Her dissertation research studied the psychological effects of bearing witness for Holocaust survivors and she has presented her findings at conferences worldwide. Since 1999, she has served on the organizing committee for North Peninsula Holocaust Remembrance and coordinates “Generation to Generation,” an intergenerational oral history project bringing together Holocaust survivors with local students. She is author of a textbook, "Life in a Nazi Concentration Camp."
George Schapiro first drove the eponymous Helen Farkas while serving as a volunteer driver for Jewish Family and Children’s Services in 2010. Over the next few years, he drove Helen to many school speaking engagements and assisted her in the Q&A sessions that would follow her presentations. They became good friends, and George joined the Board of the Farkas Center. He’s honored to continue to serve in Helen’s memory.
Morgan Blum Schneider is the Director of the JFCS Holocaust Center. She teaches seminars, mentors students and develops curriculum. Morgan also leads educator workshops and study tours to Europe and Israel. She graduated from Clark University in History, specializing in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and studied at Deakin University in Australia where she focused her Masters thesis on the forced removal of Aboriginal children as a case of genocide. A staunch advocate for innovative and interactive Holocaust education, Morgan has published several articles on the patterns of genocide, best practices for teaching the Holocaust, and the future of Holocaust education. She is active in the San Francisco Bay Area Darfur Coalition and on the advisory board of the Genocide Education Project.
Lynne Schuman is originally from Chicago. She has a BA in Education and an MA in Law and Legal Studies. She works with her husband’s law office in San Francisco. As a 15-year-old she went with her family to Germany and they visited the grounds of Dachau concentration camp. It left an indelible impression and had a lasting impact. Years later, when her daughter became a Holocaust educator, Lynn attended programs and reignited her interest in the Holocaust and the importance of teaching about it.
Carole Touye works in the Business Office at Mercy High School and is a key liaison to the Mercy community. She has been engaged in secretarial work in San Francisco Catholic Schools for more than twenty years. She first got interested in Holocaust education when she heard Helen Farkas speak, and she kept coming back year after year to hear the Survivor's stories. She is currently the Treasurer of the Farkas Center.
Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan is the Chief Program Officer and a Senior Educator at Lehrhaus Judaica. He is engaged in community education for the Bay Area, focusing on text study circle, conferences, retreats, tours, and adjunct faculty for the JFCS Holocaust Center. He is also a rabbi in the community.
AnneMarie (Feller) Yellin, was born in Chemnitz, Germany, and survived the Holocaust
as a "Hidden Child." After Kristallnacht, she went to Brussels, Belgium where she was hidden in a Catholic Convent for the duration of the war. She is part of the SF JFCS Holocaust Center Speaker's Bureau makes a lot of presentations at various schools.
The mission of the Farkas Center is close to her heart and she hopes to be part of it for a longtime to come.
Miriam Zimmerman, Ed.D., served as the interim director of the Farkas Center from 2012 to 2014. Her father, of blessed memory, was a German-Jewish refugee who escaped Nazi Germany in 1937. As part of Patton’s Third Army, he was a liberator of the Buchenwald concentration camp. She has taught a course on the Holocaust at Notre Dame de Namur University since 1995. In 1998, the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education (NCCHE) sent her to Jerusalem to study at Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies. She has presented papers on the Holocaust at Yad Vashem, NCCHE conferences, and the University of Haifa.
Thanks to our past Board members and Friends of the Center
Bruce Bramlett is a religious studies scholar and teacher in Holocaust/Genocide studies, Jewish History, the History of Anti-Semitism, and the History of the Jewish-Christian relationship. He is also a trained facilitator in diversity and inter-group relations. He is an ordained Episcopal priest. He has lectured and taught courses at St. Mary’s College, University of San Francisco, the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Dominican University, and has been on the faculties of the Jewish Studies programs at Sonoma and San Jose State Universities. He teaches through Lehrhaus Judaica’s adult education program at a number of synagogues, churches and schools throughout the Bay Area.
David M. Nigel was born in Harbin, Manchuria, and spent his high school years in Manila, Philippines. His family escaped Japanese occupation moving to Seattle, Washington in 1939. David received his B.A. and M.A. from San Francisco State University and enjoyed a successful teaching career of 38 years in the San Bruno and Burlingame School Districts. He teaches Holocaust Studies at Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame; 46 years as a member of that faculty. A significant highlight was studying at Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies in Jerusalem in 2002. He serves on the North Peninsula Yom HaShoah Planning Committee and his commitment to teaching Holocaust Studies continues to be an important part of his life.
Molly Robertson is a Mercy High School alumna whose passion for Holocaust education stems from hearing survivors speak during her time at Mercy. She graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree in marketing from Wagner College. Following university, she worked with the non-profit global education program “Up with People,” working in logistics and marketing through four international tours. Molly currently works as a tour guide in the Bay Area and is a company member of the Un-Scripted Theater Company. She is also a board member of the Lovell Foundation, a family philanthropic foundation.
Sister Patricia Ryan is a Sister of Mercy and former chemistry teacher at Mercy High School. Before entering the Mercy Community she worked at Mount Zion Hospital in a cardiovascular research lab. After retirement she was tutoring Mercy High students in what has become the Farkas Center Library. Her experience includes being President of the Mercy Community and Director of Mercy International Centre in Dublin, Ireland.
Louis deGroot was born in The Netherlands. At 13, he was separated from his family and sent into hiding for his protection. He was moved 13 times in the first 13 months and another 8 times after that before the end of the war. In April 1944, he learned that his parents and sister had been betrayed and were arrested by Dutch policemen and deported to Auschwitz where they were murdered. After liberation, Louis volunteered to go to Israel to fight for the creation of the Jewish state. He returned to The Netherlands to complete his high school education before immigrating to the United States. Louis has been active in Holocaust education to fulfill his personal goal of making sure that the truth is told about what happened during Holocaust.
Gabriel Farkas M.D., the nephew of Helen and Joe Farkas, was born in Satu-Mare, Romania. Crossing the border into freedom in 1949, the burden of carrying the 15-month-old Gabe was alternately shared by the two brothers, Gabe’s father Morris and Joe. The harrowing story of both Farkas families, all Auschwitz survivors, escaping Communist Romania, is documented in Helen’s book, “Remember the Holocaust.” Gabe went on to become a physician specializing in Ob/Gyn and infertility and recently retired after 38 years with Kaiser Permanente. He has been a musician with a variety of bands and for the last 15 years has led “Klezmer Soul,” a klezmer and Yiddish music group. In addition he has performed in community theater with the Tiburon Theater Troupe.