By Jessica Chin
Despite losing two close friends to the Holocaust, Hannah Kroner never gave up — and she instilled that perseverance and resilience in her students at her dance studio, the Hannah Kroner School of Dance in Albertson.
“My mother suffered many losses of those who were close to her and of course many relatives who died also,” Evelyn Summer, Kroner’s daughter, said. “But, throughout all of it she kept trying to follow her dream to be a dancer.”
Kroner died in 2015 at the age of 95, but Temple Judea of Manhasset honored her life and legacy on April 23 in its Holocaust Resource Center.
The temple displayed photos, letters and a 74-year-old hand-sewn black dress given to Kroner by her childhood best friend, Susanne Wachsner, who perished at the Bergen Belsen concentration camp.
Kroner also lost her fiancée, Joseph “Vimms” Schecter, who died at the Auschwitz concentration camp, Summer said.
As a Jewish German living in Berlin during Adolf Hitler’s reign, Kroner was forbidden to attend professional schools, Summer said. A Swiss dance teacher named Max Terpis took her in.
Kristallnacht on Nov. 8, 1938, was the turning point for the aspiring dancer and her family. After her father hid in a park and avoided the wave of arrests and destruction of Jewish businesses by the Germans, her family obtained a visa. A year later, the 19-year-old Kroner went with her parents to the United States in November 1939, Summer said.
In 1947, Kroner formed her dancing school in Queens. Later, the school moved to Albertson. There, Kroner influenced her students, young and old, for 70 years, Summer said.
Many of Kroner’s former students said she taught them perseverance, discipline and resilience. Five or six students have started their own dancing schools, or continued to work in the arts or as educators, Summer said.
Debra Agin-Shine was one of those students. She opened her own dance studio in the North Flushing area for about 15 years, while teaching dance notation at Queens College.
“She really became almost like a second parent to a lot of us,” Agin-Shine said. “There was a point where if you had a problem and it wasn’t about dance, you know you were able to go to her and value her opinion.”
Many of Kroner’s former students are still friends and have “all stayed in contact with each other,” Agin-Shine said.
“That’s really a tribute to her and how her studio became like your family,” she said.
Carol Kaufman-Riley, one of Kroner’s former students, is now the director at the Hannah Kroner School of Dance.
Kaufman-Riley said she is continuing Kroner’s and the school’s goal, which is to mold not just dancers but “confident human beings.”
Kaufman-Riley and Agin-Shine said Kroner really pushed for her students to be “well-rounded” by teaching them several different dances: “ballet, modern miracle, pantomime, jazz, tap, everything.”
“She was able to see things in people, and put them in the right perspective on where they should go in their career,” Kaufman-Riley said. “I always knew I wanted to be a dancer and I always knew I wanted to run a school so she led me in that direction.”
Kaufman-Riley said Kroner’s private lessons and guidance were a big reason she got into the Rockettes, the precision dance company.
To both Agin-Shine and Kaufman-Riley, Kroner was a “teacher, mentor and friend.” They both knew Kroner for more than 50 years.
Kroner’s passion for dance never subsided. She continued to dance and teach until the age of 94, Summer said. She taught at the Bristal Assisted Living Home in North Hills where she was also a resident for seven years.
The Bristal residents “were very happy,” for her class, Summer said. “They would get into their seats and wait for her about a half an hour before her class every Monday morning,” Summer said.
A book titled “No Matter What, We Keep Dancing: Hannah Kroner’s Legacy,” a collection of stories written by Kroner and compiled by Summer, was available for purchase at Sunday’s event at Temple Judea. Summer also wrote some portions of the book, drawing from her personal stories.
Proceeds from the book will go to the Hannah Kroner Legacy Foundation, which will give scholarships and do “community outreach to tell a story about a woman who never gave up her dream even though they tried to take that away from her,” Summer said.