Inwood Junior High School

Inwood Junior High School was very different from Frederick Douglass Junior High School.  When I met with Dr. Hanauer in his office and told him some of my stories about my old school, he explained that in his school there really was to be no corporal punishment, period.  Fine with me, I answered.  I had no problem with that.

by Dr. Milton L. Hanauer

The ethnic composition of this school was also quite different from what I had grown used to.  Just as the student body at Frederick Douglas had been composed of African Americans, the student body at Junior High 52 (Inwood’s official Board of Ed name) was composed almost entirely of the children of the German-Jewish immigrant community living in Washington Heights, Inwood and up on Cabrini Boulevard.  In those days, the area around Dyckman Street and north of Dyckman was mostly Irish, and the Irish kids attended St. Elizabeth’s (unless they’d been expelled, and then they joined us), while there were very few Puerto Rican and almost no African-Americans in the student body.  Teaching at Inwood Junior High, and working with the kids there, quickly became one of the highlights of my professional life.  That is not to say there were no problems, but to work with the bright kids I had in my 9th Grade SP (the accelerated track) was an incredible experience.  There was almost nothing I asked them to do that they weren’t willing and able, even eager, to do.

My supervisors were Dr. Milton Loeb Hanauer, Dr. Milton Finkelstein, his assistant principal, and Mr. Robert Griffenberg, the supervisor of the English department.  Hanauer and Finkelstein both had law degrees, but during the Great Depression, because of the combination of economic conditions and traditional anti-Jewish prejudice in the legal firms at that time, found no employment in the legal profession, and went into education, a path taken by many young Jews of that time with law degrees.  As mentioned before, Hanauer was a chess master, spoke French, and had been a French teacher.  Finkelstein was a somewhat weaker chess master

by Dr. Finkelstein

and a student of history.  He earned additional income by translating high school and college textbooks into baby-talk for junior high schools.  I don’t think Griffenberg played chess.  He was just a nice family man who followed the rules and saw to it that others did the same.

Each Monday morning, when I came into school, I had to leave my lesson plan book in Griffenberg’s office.  He was supposed to check and sign the lesson plans.  Soon, I noticed that he didn’t really bother reading them before signing them, and I began submitting off-color jokes for his signature, and he accommodated.  Things were rather relaxed.

In those days it was also difficult for the Board of Education to hire women physical education teachers, so male teachers taught girl gym classes. One of our two gym teachers was a Mr. Polakoff, a man in his late forties, with thinning hair which he pomaded down, an advancing forehead and glasses.  He was a nice enough man, and there were no complaints about him, but the only way he could get to the gym was through the girls’ locker room.  So, as he zoomed through their locker rooms, with the girls in various states of undress, he’d yell, “Close your eyes, girls!  I’m coming through!”  Schools in those days really were different.

Even spelling could be made simple


About AlexLevy

Dr. Alex Levy is a retired English teacher who survived World War II and the "Final Solution" by hiding in a Catholic orphanage for girls in Belgium for several years.
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7 Responses to Inwood Junior High School

  1. Amy Bunin Kaiman says:

    It was an experience, being inside of the locker room when Mr. Polakoff steamed through! Half the girls did what he said, and covered their eyes (you always did what Mr. Polakoff said!). The other half were a little more sophisticated, and covered other body parts instead. Both halves screamed bloody murder – it sounded like Elvis was in town! Those were the days…

  2. AlexLevy says:

    Of course, I was never present when this happened, but I heard about it. I thought it quite funny, then and now! Those were the good old days!
    Later, at GWHS, a woman had to sue to get a phys ed job. She won, became the chair of the department, and later became a principal. Wish I could remember her name. . .

  3. Wendy Packer Fleischman says:

    Mr. Polakoff was a character… and someone who probably would be accused of stuff today that was innocent back then. I will never forget in 7th grade, taking a Social studies test in Mrs. Kaufman’s class ( 7SPE2).. she needed to go to the ladies room and asked Mr. Polakoff to proctor. In the 5 minutes she was gone. Mr. Polakoff gave us all the answers and the classroom was in utter chaos! Mrs. Kaufman acted mad but I don’t think she was… oh the good old days…

  4. Steve Agid says:

    I was a student at JHS 52 from 1950-52, and taught 8th grade math under Dr. Hanauer from 1961-63. There were women in the PhysEd department when I was teaching, though the names are long forgotten. Mr. Poliakoff seemed so much older than 40ish. I believe he was one of the few who crossed the picket line during the very first union strike.

    The Asst Principals were Manny ? who was super nice, and Griffenberg who insisted on being called “Dr.” but no one did because he was a creep. Danny White really ran the school’s discipline and was very well respected.

  5. AlexLevy says:

    “Dr.” Hanauer was also no real doctor. He held a JD (a law degree). Griffenberg was still there as chairman of the English Department. Dr. Finkelstein (another JD) was basically Hanauer’s right hand man, probably because they were chess buddies. The last assistant principal was a Mr. Mundt, who chaired science and math.
    I remember Danny White, but he was no assistant principal, although he was involved in discipline in some capacity, being a big man who knew how to deal with the St. Elizabeth rejects.
    As to women in the phys. ed. department, they were probably there, but I just don’t remember them, and Polakoff was much more memorable (and funny). By the time I got to 52 the first strike was history (although not yet a teacher at the time, I walked that picket line), and I was always surprised at the number of teachers who had not taken part. As a group, they were rather unpleasant conservatives. Somehow, it doesn’t surprise me that Polakoff was anti-union and crossed the picket line.
    Thanks for reading my ramblings.

  6. Steve Agid says:

    Nice to hear from you. I consider a JD (Doctor of Jurisprudence) more of a doctor than one earned for being able to write a lesson plan. I earned my MBA (Berkeley) and JD (USF) after leaving JHS52. Three intensive years of classes and long study hours with a final exam (bar exam) where only 50% pass in California earn my respect for Dr. Hanauer.

    My significant other (Rinske Hali) attended 52 from 1959-61. She and I went to Geo Wash as well.

  7. Daniel Rosenberg says:

    Milton Hanauer was my French teacher in 1937 at Paul Hoffman .JHS (P.S. 45). He was a warm.very easy going guy. My one regret was an unfulfilled promise of his to treat the winner of some exam to a fancy French restaurant. I won and he forgot. Nevertheless I remember him with fondness and gratitude.

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