Dennis Ira Misler

[ Age 62 ] He founded a not-for-profit group to promote an understanding of Poland among Jews and Christians.

May 04, 2008|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,Sun reporter

Dennis Ira Misler, a retired teacher and trainer who founded an organization to promote understanding of Poland among Jews and Christians, died April 27 of complications from a stroke while in a rehabilitation center in suburban Warsaw, Poland. The Pikesville resident was 62.

Family members said he apparently suffered a stroke in Krakow while waiting for a streetcar and fell into the path of a moving vehicle Oct. 12.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Cottage Avenue, Mr. Misler attended the Louisa May Alcott Elementary School and was a 1962 graduate of City College, where he played baseball. He earned an English degree at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he also received a master's degree.

He taught in the Baltimore County public school system at Franklin High School in Reisterstown. He later joined Bendix Field Engineering in Prince George's County and taught writing and composition courses to military personnel. He worked summers in Alaska, New Mexico and Panama.

He later joined Montgomery County government and became its director of training. He worked at its training academy in Rockville before retiring nearly 15 years ago.

At the time of his death, he headed a not-for-profit organization, the Polish American Jewish Alliance for Youth Action. He and a friend started the group in 2000 with an eye toward helping young Poles and Americans with Jewish and non-Jewish roots develop friendship and understanding.

According to a story Mr. Misler told, he was moved to form the group by an experience he had while visiting a family in Krakow, Poland, in 1992.

"The hosts were a very warm and friendly Roman Catholic family," said his sister, Paulette Pollack of Pikesville. "The walls of their apartment were decorated with beautiful crosses and paintings of religious significance."

She said her brother had been warned about Polish anti-Semitism by American friends, who strongly advised him against visiting Poland.

"All of the sudden, he started questioning his own decision to come here," she said. "In his mind, he convinced himself that the other guest's parents may have helped Nazis to kill Jews during World War II, and now he, a Jew, is sharing the dinner table with the son of killers of his people. He came very close to following his instinct and fleeing the apartment."

During the evening, he learned that his host's family had risked their lives to aid in the rescue of several Jewish families.

"The power of this revelation was so strong that Dennis felt literally propelled to do something concrete about shattering other people's fears and prejudices," said his sister.

She said he became interested in Polish art with Jewish themes. He brought works of several Polish artists to the United States and organized art exhibits here.

The group he founded set up a workshop, "Developing Connections," for high school and college students of Polish and Jewish roots. It was held in the Polish Embassy in Washington.

"Dennis' chutzpah and his commitment to PAJA took him to Poland, where he lived and worked on his mission," said his sister.

He also organized a March of the Living to give the international Jewish students visiting Poland a better understanding and knowledge of Poland today.

In 2004, his group organized a ceremony for the ambassador of Israel to Poland to bestow a title of "Righteous Among the Nations" to two Poles who saved the lives of a Jewish family during the war. He believed that their sacrifice and courage had not been previously recognized.

In partnership with the Auschwitz Jewish Center and the Galicia Jewish Museum, his group helped in the exhibit, Those Who Saved Jews.

"He helped repair our broken world," said his sister.

Plans for a funeral service in Baltimore are incomplete.

In addition to his sister, survivors include two sons, Dr. Scott Misler of Winterport, Maine, and Ryan Misler of Washington; and three granddaughters. His marriage of more than 25 years to Nancy Chor ended in divorce.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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