How had we, in our collective silence, allowed this to occur? At some level, we now said, we all knew. But what, exactly, did we know? One of my classmates sometimes came in on Mondays telling us how cool it was to stay at Mr. Lin’s house, sleeping on mats in his glass-walled living room. We’d heard that the music teacher, Johannes Somary, had kissed a couple of the best-looking boys. Did that constitute abuse?The Master, written by a Horace Mann alumni, talks about the inciipient nature of pedophiles. It is a harrowing look into the systematic way in which a pedophile grooms his victims over the course of time, how they gain their loyalty, test boundaries, make their victims feel obligated and ultimately concede to their advances.
And what about Mr. Berman—this odd, secretive man who frightened away many students, yet retired to a house that former students bought for him? He wasn’t mentioned in the Times stories, but he may have been the greatest enigma of all. I talked to more than a hundred alumni, to many teachers who worked with him in the sixties and seventies, and to administrators who dealt with complaints about teachers. Berman stood out for his extraordinary control over boys’ lives. Several of his former students have spent decades trying to grasp why they yearned to be close to him, and why they remained silent for so long after, by their accounts, he abused them. “Berman counted on everyone’s silence,” one of the men who lived with him after graduating from Horace Mann told me. Like some of the others, he asked not to be named. “He assumed that our own humiliation would keep us quiet,” he said.
(A warning to anyone who chooses to read it, the path can be triggering as it may cause you to remember your own grooming sessions.)
The begins with Fife, showing, from his journals the struggles he faced with both his individuality and his sexuality as Berman's advances grew stronger (emphasis mine):
“My obedience to Mr. B is absolute. If there is a God, and He descended to inform me that to follow B. were false, I would say, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan’ and continue to pursue the path that B. had set for me.”
Elsewhere, he writes of “my aversion to committing myself to Mr. Berman, in which act I would be inherently incorporating all my mortal misgivings as well as immortal longings. . . . I cannot extend myself unconstrainedly to Mr. Berman because of this inhibiting factor in me. This is impossible and intolerable, for it is a woman’s embraces that it needs.”
Culling his prey
Pedophiles choose their victims carefully. As we saw in the Jerry Sandusky case, typically there is only one parent and there is tumult in the home. Berman similarly culled his prey:
Adam Zachary Newton, a professor of literature and humanities at Yeshiva University and a 1975 Horace Mann graduate...[said] Berman could sense which boys to invite into the inner circle, either because their parents were splitting up or because they were struggling in school. “Berman was preternaturally gifted at remolding people at the vulnerable, liminal moment in adolescence,” he said. “He had this insidious way of making you feel absolutely singular when he was actually doing this to many people.”
Daniel Alexander, a longtime economics teacher and administrator at Horace Mann, says of Berman and his followers, “He tended to pick people who were vulnerable, who he knew wouldn’t speak out. The sister of one called me after her brother graduated and said, ‘Isn’t there something the school can do?’ I said, ‘There’s nothing we can do, since he graduated, and Berman is no longer employed here.’ But, whatever happened, parents were reluctant to complain, because of what it would mean about college or grades.”
Making the Grade
Like we saw in the Sandusky case, Berman's grooming followed the same plane, identify a boy struggling, either academically or personally, take him under his wing, make him feel special, important, loved even, lure him into his home and use him and abuse him... Also, as we heard from the young men who testified at trial, the abuse often happened without a word spoken. Two different pedophiles, two very similar patterns of abuse. Both used rewards (access to PSU football for Sandusky, Grades/College Letters of Recommendation for Berman) and both relied on the absolute silence of their victims.
“I didn’t have any special talent,” Gene told me. “But suddenly I was in this class and I stood out. He gave me A’s and talked about being noble, and I wanted that.” In Gene’s junior year, when he was taking two courses with Berman, the teacher invited him to his apartment. Berman didn’t approve of Gene’s parents; he called them mediocre people who wouldn’t understand the pursuit of truth. So, one Saturday afternoon, Gene told his parents that he was going to a museum and went to visit Berman, who had moved to East Seventy-second Street. Arriving at Berman’s apartment, Gene was intimidated; inside, he saw floor-to-ceiling bookcases and a bust of Leonardo. Berman welcomed him, and fed him a tuna sandwich, made with diced apples. Then he invited him into the living room, where he directed Gene to “turn around, pull down your pants.”
Gene was sixteen, and had never had sex. “I’m just standing there, bewildered, but under his control,” Gene recalls. Berman rubbed his own penis, then brought Gene into the bedroom and penetrated him. “I was numb,” Gene says. “It was almost like an initiation. He quoted some line in the Bible about if two lie together, then they have heat; but how can one be warm alone? I thought it was some sort of pathway to this special life. This is what you do if you’re going to be one of his poets.
About once a month for the remaining year and a half of high school, Gene would take the bus to Manhattan and visit Berman. Berman would insist on oral sex, sometimes bathe him, masturbate him, and at times penetrate him, all in silence.
No oversight, No Relief
“At the heart of all this was a weak administration,” Richard Warren, the English teacher, told me. “There was no visiting of classes by administrators. There was no review process, no supervision.”
After Fife ran away from Berman’s apartment—“You have your parents’ bourgeois morality,” Berman told him as he left—he went to see Philip Lewerth, a gruff but well-liked history teacher who served as the head of Horace Mann’s upper school. Fife told him what Berman had done. According to Fife, Lewerth (who has since died) asked if he had any hard evidence. When Fife said that he did not, Lewerth told him, “That’s a fight you can’t win.” If Fife pursued the matter, he warned, it could impair his efforts to get into a good college.
And, like Sandusky, Berman completely denies any wrongdoing, blaming instead the boys for misunderstanding or flat our lying:
“I had no sexual desire for Mr. Fife—or any student, for that matter,” he said. “I never ‘kissed’ him, neither did my hands stray to his ‘lower back.’ This is extremely repulsive to me; Mr. Fife has problems.” He said that Fife never visited his apartment, and dismissed his account as “inventions . . . a manner of desperation born of a self-perceived failed life.”There were reports at Horace Mann. Not only of Mr. Berman, but of other sexual abuse that occurred there. But no one protected the children. The survivors are still trying to come to terms as to what happened to them, what this school allowed to happen to them, and are organizing
Berman said he was aware that a former student had committed suicide but considered it “highly doubtful” that his reasons for killing himself “concerned me.” As for Gene, Berman called him a “problematic, confused, humorless young man” who “presented no especial talent or solid intelligence.” Berman wrote that there was no physical contact between them (“My interest was, and is, in women”) and that Gene never lived in his apartment: “Gene, in a word, lies.”
“people knew. They knew and they did nothing.”
Protecting the Reputation is more important than protecting the kids
In recent years, reports have surfaced of sexual abuse at St. Paul’s, Andover, Exeter, and other prominent private schools, from the nineteen-sixties to the nineties. At St. Paul’s, alumni gathered accounts of abuse by twenty-nine teachers over five decades.Earlier this year, Horace Mann did sit down and begin settling with the victims, however there is more work to be done for true justice to be served.
Each school has struggled to protect its image and its current students while addressing the victims’ hurt and the other alumni’s anger. Some schools have maintained a public silence. But in 2008 the Buckingham Browne & Nichols School, in Cambridge, apologized for failing to act when confronted with evidence of abuse, and offered counselling.
If you have any information or are an alumni or know an alumni, please visit www.Horacemannsurvivor.org
11:32 AM PT: H/T to afox for alerting me to this article.