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Letter: Community has lost a wonderful teacher

Community has lost a wonderful teacher

For the past 18 years, I have been a teacher at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts. Over this time, one man has taught me more about teaching, humanity and life than all others. Joe Diamond was an Auschwitz survivor, my mentor and friend. He passed away last week.

During my second year of teaching, I had an issue with three young men who came to our multicultural March celebration wearing shirts covered in Nazi symbols and slogans. These were good kids and clearly didn’t understand the significance of what they were doing. After initial infuriation, it was clear that this was a teachable moment, so I contacted a friend at the Buffalo Jewish Federation, who calmly told me not to worry, he had the answer.

I was instructed to hold the students after school on Tuesday. That afternoon, a short and somewhat pudgy man walked into our office with a boisterous laugh and contagious smile. He stated: “I am Joe. Where are the kiddos?” I told him that I would take him to the library where they were waiting and would introduce him. He said, “That is not necessary. Point me in the right direction and stop down in 40 minutes.”

Initially I heard laughter, then silence. I waited 40 minutes and entered the library to find three teens who clearly had been crying but now had large smiles and were completely engaged to every word Joe was saying. I asked them to share their experience.

They took their time sharing a dark and powerful story of betrayal, trains, gas chambers and murder. These three described in detail Joe’s story of being removed from his home in Czechoslovakia by cattle car, the gassing of his mother and brother, the horrors of Auschwitz and the life lessons learned.

As we cried and looked at Joe, we saw the pleasure he took in his role of being a teacher. Joe spoke to the entire Performing Arts community every spring for the next 16 years. Every student who graduated from our school has heard his story. Joe was truly loved by our students.

As I follow the news of the day, I fear that we are losing Joe’s message of tolerance and compassion.

Jim Healy

Buffalo

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