April 2018 – Joachim Prinz—refugee, civil rights leader and Newark rabbi—spoke from the same podium as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. moments before he delivered his famed “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963.
Sandwiched between Mahalia Jackson and King, the rabbi’s role has largely been overshadowed by other high-profile civil rights leaders. But his legacy has been revisited, thanks in large part to the documentary film Joachim Prinz: I Shall Not be Silent.
“It has taken time to really understand how prophetic he was,” said Rachel Fisher, who wrote and produced the film with Rachel Pasternak. The duo, who founded multimedia production company R2, visited Drew University to screen the doc and answer questions about Prinz.
The event was the first of a three-part study seminar, “From the Holocaust to Social Justice,” that was presented by Drew’s Center for Holocaust/Genocide Study and supported by the David and Gerald Gurland Memorial Fund. Gerald Gurland was an architect from Essex County who directed construction of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial in Washington, D.C. and was a longtime supporter of the center. His son, James, attended the screening as did his widow, Evelyn, who, like Prinz, fled Nazi Germany.
As a rabbi in Berlin in the 1930’s, Prinz was outspoken in warning of the gathering Nazi threat, and thousands of Jews left for Palestine at his urging. He was expelled from Germany in 1937 and came to be the rabbi at Temple B’nai Abraham in Newark. He was president of the American Jewish Congress between 1958-1966, a “golden age” in the civil rights alliance between Jewish and black people.
Prinz saw parallels between the treatment of Jews in Germany and blacks in America and he became an eloquent voice for racial justice. At the March on Washington, he asserted that “America must not become a nation of onlookers. America must not remain silent.”
Prinz died in 1988 and Pasternak, whose grandparents attended B’nai Abraham, felt a sense of urgency in producing the film as many of the rabbi’s contemporaries were passing. The synagogue moved to Livingston in the 1970’s and the doc features interviews with congregants, the rabbi’s adult children and others who knew him.
Fisher and Pasternak conduct workshops along with the screenings as America continues to seek equality even as the multi-racial coalition promoted by Prinz has at times frayed. As Fisher put it, “When we look at what we’re experiencing now, we know it’s not simple. And it wasn’t simple back then either.”