Nonagenarian language instructor honored by former students

Six people holding a giant check for $2,500.

Charles Mark, a longtime supporter of the Five College Center for the Study of World Languages, was honored recently at the Center by high school students he taught more than 50 years ago in Amityville, New York. Here they present him with a $2,500 check for language center scholarships in his name. From left: Five College Executive Director Neal Abraham, Language Center Director Amy Wordelman, Robert Silz, Charles Mark, Bruce Chattman and Lou Paris. 

Charles Mark survived Nazi labor camp, fled Communist Czechoslovakia

A group of former students gathered recently at the Five College Center for the Study of World Languages in Amherst to honor Charles Mark, one of their past teachers. What made the occasion unusual was the fact that these graduates hadn’t seen their teacher in more than 50 years, and that none of them had known until very recently of his remarkable past.

In the 1950s and early 1960s Charles Mark taught German and other languages at Amityville Memorial High School in Long Island, New York. He was a tough, exacting instructor, and some of his students responded by being, as they now describe themselves, unverschämter bengeln — “shameless villains.”

But it wasn’t until decades later, when they looked him up online, that they realized their demanding German teacher was actually a native of Prague, a survivor of a Nazi labor camp and a Soviet Bloc escapee who had taught himself the many languages he knew by toiling alongside native speakers. His life took him from Eastern Europe to New Zealand to Amityville and ultimately western Massachusetts, where he has taught at several colleges and universities, including UMass Amherst. Over the past two decades the South Deerfield resident has served as a Czech language examiner with Five College’s language center, and established Five College and UMass scholarships to help fund student trips to his homeland.

His former students—now in their 70s—got in touch with other ex-classmates and raised $2,500 for the scholarships of the teacher they affectionately (albeit discreetly) referred to as “Charlie.” Three of them, Robert Silz, Bruce Chattman and Lou Paris, recently traveled to Amherst to surprise their 90-year-old teacher at a ceremony hosted by the language center, where they presented him with an oversized replica of the donation check.

“Dr. Mark…we’re proud of you and what you taught us,” said Lou Paris during the presentation. “We hope you’re proud of us and what we’ve become. None of us could have been as successful as we were without the influence of Dr. Mark.” Dr. Mark responded with a broad smile and a twinkle in his eye.

Read more about Dr. Mark's remarkable life.


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