Obama in Yom HaShoah message cites commitment to combat intolerance

President Obama in his Yom HaShoah message recalled his recommitment in Israel last month to combating anti-Semitism and intolerance.

“Today, we honor the memories of the 6 million Jewish victims and millions of others who perished in the darkness of the Shoah,” Obama said Monday in a message timed for Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“As we reflect on the beautiful lives lost and their great potential that would never be fulfilled, we also pay tribute to all those who resisted the Nazis’ heinous acts and all those who survived,” he said. “On my recent trip to Israel, I had the opportunity to visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, and reaffirm our collective responsibility to confront anti-Semitism, prejudice and intolerance across the world.”

Obama concluded: “On this Yom Hashoah, we must accept the full responsibility of remembrance, as nations and as individuals — not simply to pledge 'Never again,' but to commit ourselves to the understanding, empathy and compassion that is the foundation of peace and human dignity.”

In a separate statement, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, noted that the day marked the Hebrew calendar's anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

“This day is a reminder of all who had the courage to fight back; who refused to allow the inhumanity of the Nazis to deprive them of their own humanity,” she said. “It is a reminder of the defiant spirit of the survivors, whose strength and perseverance still inspire us today.  It is a reminder of the righteous among the nations who risked their own lives to protect the lives of their neighbors.”

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum announced Monday that the Capitol Rotunda remembrance it organizes each year would take place this year on April 11 and that its theme would be “Never Again: Heeding the Warning Signs.”

Eli Rosenbaum, the lead war crimes prosecutor at the Justice Department, will be the main speaker.

“Why did so many countries and individuals fail to respond to the warning signs?” the museum said in its release. “And what can we learn from the few who chose to act, despite widespread indifference?”

Obama outlines Holocaust lessons

One by one, the e-mails from the White House arrived in inboxes across Washington on April 23, each highlighting a unique initiative toward a different corner of the globe: Syria. Iran. Uganda.

The unifying factor was the president’s appearance that day at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, and together the seemingly disparate issues underscored a message carefully calibrated by top White House officials: The Holocaust was uniquely a crime against the Jews, and its lessons for today are realized both in protecting Israel and preventing atrocities from being inflicted on any other people.

Obama threaded the themes together in his Monday morning speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum following a tour guided by Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust memoirist and Nobel laureate.

The president segued from the uniqueness of the Holocaust to the threats facing Jews and Israel today.

“When efforts are made to equate Zionism to racism, we reject them,” Obama said. “When international fora single out Israel with unfair resolutions, we vote against them. When attempts are made to delegitimize the State of Israel, we oppose them. When faced with a regime that threatens global security and denies the Holocaust and threatens to destroy Israel, the United States will do everything in our power to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”

Obama then transitioned to the threats facing others.

“ ‘Never again’ is a challenge to societies,” he said. “We’re joined today by communities who’ve made it your mission to prevent mass atrocities in our time.”

The two-part message — protecting Israel, preventing atrocities — was reflected in the makeup of the audience, a mix of leaders of Jewish groups and groups that have advocated for other populations under threat, including Bosnians and the Sudanese.

Obama’s nod to the Holocaust’s uniqueness and how its trauma shaped his sensitivities to other peoples facing atrocities is not new. But in tying the threats facing Israel to the Holocaust, he seemed to be trying to address a perception among some Israeli and Jewish communal leaders that he does not “get” how Israel figures into post-Holocaust Jewish thinking.

Wiesel, introducing Obama, gave voice to Jewish concerns about Iran’s potentially genocidal intentions toward Israel.

“How is it that the Holocaust’s No. 1 denier, Ahmadinejad, is still a president?” Wiesel asked. “He who threatens to use nuclear weapons — to use nuclear weapons — to destroy the Jewish state. We must know that when evil has power, it is almost too late.”

While Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly expressed the desire to see Israel excised from the region, he has not explicitly threatened to use nuclear weapons against the Jewish state. Nevertheless, Israeli leaders have cited the rhetoric of Iranian leaders as evidence that the Islamic Republic cannot be allowed nuclear weapons.

Wiesel later made explicit the connection between Israel’s posture and the Holocaust.

“Now I hope you understand in this place why Israel is so important,” he said. “Not only to the Jew that I am but to the world. Israel cannot not remember, and because it remembers, it must be strong just to defend its own survival and its own destiny.”

Obama made it clear that he heard Wiesel’s concerns.

“As we walked through this exhibit, Elie and I were talking as we looked at the unhappy record of the State Department and so many officials here in the United States during those years,” he said. “And he asked, ‘What would you do?’ ”

Obama recalled telling an American woman he met while touring Israel’s Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, in 2008 — when he was a candidate — “I would always be there for Israel.”

Repeating that message seemed aimed at assuaging worries expressed by Israeli leaders that Israel stands alone in perceiving the potential of genocide in Iran’s belligerence.

“People who dismiss the Iranian threat as a whim or an exaggeration have learned nothing from the Holocaust,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in his own Holocaust remembrance message last week. “To cower from speaking the uncomfortable truth — that today like then, there are those who want to destroy millions of Jewish people — that is to belittle the Holocaust, that is to offend its victims and that is to ignore the lessons.”

Daniel Mariaschin, the executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, said that Obama citing the threats facing Jews was a welcome development.

“This is the first speech that connected the dots on the current threats together with Holocaust remembrance,” he said. “You had delegitimization [of Israel], you had the Iran issue.”

Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust survivor, said Obama’s speech was important for underscoring how “Never again” emerged from a Jewish tragedy. He also said Obama’s speech would help push back against accusations that Israeli leaders like Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres are overplaying the connection between the Iranian threat and the Holocaust.

Obama’s thinking about the Holocaust has been picked apart by the Jewish community since before his election as president.

On the one hand, Jewish leaders welcomed the sensibilities of a candidate who cited the postwar experience of a great-uncle helping to liberate a Buchenwald sub-camp.

“He returned from his service in a state of shock, saying little and isolating himself for months on end from family and friends, alone with the painful memories that would not leave his head,” Obama said during a presidential visit to Buchenwald in July 2009, also with Wiesel in attendance.
 On the other hand, a speech in Cairo by the president delivered the day before his visit to Buchenwald raised some Jewish hackles. In that speech, addressing the Muslim world, Obama said that America’s bond with Israel was based on “cultural and historical ties,” as well as “the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.”

While the president used the opportunity to condemn Holocaust denial and to make the case for Israel’s legitimacy — noting that threats to destroy the Jewish state evoked for Israelis memories of the Holocaust — some in the Jewish community were deeply troubled by the implications of his choice of words.

David Harris, the American Jewish Committee’s executive director, said at the time that it was “unfortunate” that Obama “implied that the Holocaust was the primary reason for Israel’s creation” rather than the Jewish state being the result of historic ties to the land.

Obama’s U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum appearance gave him an opportunity to more clearly articulate his views on the Holocaust. In his speech there, the president said one message of the Holocaust is that the capacity to inflict harm is embedded in everyone, as is the capacity to do good.

That thinking was reflected in one of the directives he issued Monday — recognizing Jan Karski with a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom for the Polish resistance fighter’s work providing some of the first eyewitness accounts of the Nazis’ mass murder of Jews.

“We must tell our children about how this evil was allowed to happen because so many people succumbed to their darkest instincts, because so many others stood silent,” Obama said. “But let us also tell our children about the Righteous Among the Nations.”

Obama’s thinking on genocide prevention has been informed by the work of his adviser Samantha Power, a top National Security Council official who has noted the West’s failure to do more to protect the Jews and other victims of genocide in making the case for intervention to stop modern-day atrocities.

Power, an architect of the Obama administration’s diplomatic and military strategies in helping to topple dictators in the Ivory Coast and Libya, and in aiding the creation this year of South Sudan, was named Monday by Obama to lead an Atrocities Prevention Board.

The board, Obama said, would oversee efforts in a number of departments to isolate and confront perpetrators of atrocities.

“We’re going to institutionalize the focus on this issue,” he said. “Across government, ‘alert channels’ will ensure that information about unfolding crises — and dissenting opinions — quickly reach decision-makers, including me.”

The White House was eager to convey the impression that the board’s agenda already was informing administration policy. Executive orders were issued Monday banning the sale of information technology to Syria and Iran that could be used to stifle dissent in those countries.

Obama also renewed the mandate of U.S. military advisers counseling Uganda on the pursuit of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rampaging militia led by Joseph Kony that kidnaps children and rapes and murders civilians.

The president, however, has come under fire by those who say he has not made good on campaign pledges to defend human rights. The Republican Jewish Coalition in a statement after the speech faulted Obama for not doing enough to bolster Iranian democracy activists in 2009. Conservatives and congressional Republicans say Obama has shown a lack of resolve in failing to provide opponents of the Syrian regime with military support.

In his speech, Obama defended what he said were his successes but said the United States has to pick and choose its battles.

Preventing atrocities, he said, “does not mean we intervene militarily every time there is an injustice in the world.”

Three generations will march, witness, remember

As the Germans marched toward the tiny French hamlet of Autrans, 10-year-old Eva Perlman (nee Gutmann) watched as an obviously frightened 17-year-old boy fled from a sawmill into the woods. The Germans shot him on sight.
It was 1942, and the boy wasn’t even Jewish, Perlman says.

“To this day, I’m afraid to go in the woods,” she said. “It makes me think of dead bodies.”

It’s one of several stories the Holocaust survivor recounted to wide-eyed teens as she participated in last year’s March of the Living in Poland for the first time.

Perlman, now 79, is attending again next month, but this time she plans to bring her daughter and granddaughter. And once the April 16-30 event ends, Perlman and her family will take a detour to France to retrace her Holocaust-era experience.

“It’s an incredible opportunity, said Ilana Meskin, Perlman’s daughter. “An entire generation alive during the war is not going to be here very much longer, and to hear their story is a privilege. I’m very honored.”

While in France, they will visit the house in Autrans where Perlman and her family hid in plain sight from the Nazis from 1942 to 1944. There, Perlman will meet with people she knew as a child as well as descendants of those non-Jews who aided her family.

Before reaching Autrans, however, Perlman will visit family in Paris and travel to a town near Nice, where she plans to reunite with her girlhood crush — and meet his wife.

Perlman first heard about March of the Living two years ago, when two students spoke about it at Temple Adat Ari El in Valley Village. The annual educational program takes students and survivors from around the world to Poland, where they explore remnants of the Holocaust and march out of Auschwitz on Yom HaShoah. From there, participants travel to Israel, where they observe Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut.

“The girl was unemotional, but the boy broke me up,” Perlman said. “I was so moved by his experience, and the thoughts, and the feelings, and the emotions of the trip.”

Perlman said she turned to her daughter and told her that she never had wanted to visit a concentration camp, but now she did. A friend arranged for Perlman to interview with a March of the Living official, who invited her to participate as a survivor.

Unlike many Holocaust survivors, Perlman carries no personal scars in the form of tattooed numbers on an arm; nor did she have to hide in a secret annex like Anne Frank. Yet she carries vivid memories of the time she and her family rented the upstairs rooms in a yellow house in Autrans, nine miles from Grenoble, in the French Alps.

Some of these memories hurt; Perlman to this day refuses to speak German, and if someone hears her German accent and tries speaking German to her, she will reply in English that she does not wish to speak or hear German.

She is considering documenting her life experiences in a book, which she would title, “A String of Miracles.”

One of these episodes was the time her mother, Charlotte, suffered a bicycle accident, preventing her from reaching her husband, Rodolfe, who had joined the French Resistance. Without the accident, Perlman says, she would have ridden right into the Nazis’ hands.

Another time, her mother carried a trunk loaded with silver and nearly missed her train. As it pulled out of the station, Charlotte saw that Nazis had set up a checkpoint on a bridge she would have had to walk across had she missed the train.

“How about that?” Perlman said recently. “So many times we could have been captured, and some invisible force kept us safe.”

Another stroke of good fortune was their genetics. Eva and her two brothers had blond hair and blue eyes, causing a Nazi to remark, “[They remind] me of our lovely German children.”

He wasn’t far off. Perlman was born in Berlin in May 1932, followed by her brothers Ernest and Raymond, who were born in France. The family had moved in 1933 partly because Rodolfe could get work as a patent attorney.

Her parents sought French citizenship and falsified papers. They wanted to change their last name, because Gutmann sounded too Jewish, but French authorities wouldn’t allow French identification cards to be reissued unless they were illegible. So her mother dropped them in the wash.

The family became the Gallians.

After the Germans marched through France and arrived at Autrans, Perlman said there came the time when a Nazi officer and his aide stayed in their house for two weeks. Her mother had to give up her bedroom and move to the attic.

“It was like letting the lion into the lamb’s cage,” Perlman said.

To avoid suspicion, German-born Charlotte spoke French with smatterings of broken German, mangling syntax and grasping for the right words.

“I cannot, for my part, imagine how I could have done what she did,” Perlman said.

In many ways, Perlman and her family were lucky. French non-Jews betrayed thousands of Jews. The Nazis deported 76,000 Jews, of which about 2,500 survived the death camps. All told, the Nazis wiped out almost one quarter of the Jewish population in France.

When she arrives in Autrans, Perlman said, she expects the yellow house will seem smaller than she remembered, but it won’t dampen her excitement.

Because she was so young at that time, she said she failed to understand the magnitude of the Holocaust. Perlman said she did not feel the mortal terror of the Germans or the Vichy government that her mother felt at that time. As a result, she says, her detailed recollections and her writing about that time lack emotion.

As an adult, however, she said she recognizes the importance of all survivors telling their stories, which is why she attends events such as March of the Living and why she’s bringing her daughter on this trip.

“My daughter will be the eyewitness,” she said. “Saying the story makes it more believable. Pictures are not as graphic as a number on an arm. It’s important.”

Holocaust remembrance — Exodus redux

Sitting by an open screen door, Tante Surcha switches off the television when I walk in. I lean into her recliner to kiss her cheek, and ask how she is feeling after her hip surgery. She gives a shrug and an OK, and eyes the notebook and digital voice recorder I’ve just pulled from my bag and set on the coffee table in the den of her elegantly decorated Beverly Hills home.

Sarah Jacobs (Surcha is the Polish version of Sarah) was married to my grandfather’s first cousin Max, who, along with my great uncle and grandfather, were the only ones from their family to survive the Holocaust.

And while we don’t see each other often, I was surprised to learn from her daughter recently that Tante Surcha was once a passenger aboard the Exodus.
Along with more than 4,500 other Holocaust survivors, Jacobs saw Israel from the deck of the Exodus in July 1947. But she couldn’t disembark, because the British, trying to enforce a strict quota in the Mandate of Palestine, rammed and boarded the rickety ship, killing three passengers and wounding 30. After a long standoff, the passengers were sent back to Germany.

The world uproar that followed is credited with leading to the creation of a sovereign Jewish homeland.

Jacobs’ daughter, Helen Lepor, set up this interview for us so I could learn more about her voyage, and while Jacobs, 82, agreed to let me come, now that I’m here she seems reticent. She doesn’t quite avoid my questions, but her answers are minimalist, and often accompanied by a shrug or a tilt of the head, as if the information is so obvious — or perhaps so painful — as to make the exercise unnecessary.

How were conditions on the ship?

“The facilities were not so good,” she understates in a thick Yiddish accent. “There wasn’t enough water.”

Weren’t you angry that after surviving concentration camp, you were once again being so mistreated?

“Yeah, so nu, that’s life.”

Jacobs isn’t the only survivor having memories plied from her.

Over the last several years, in anticipation of the voyage’s 60th anniversary, survivors of the Exodus have been asked to share their stories in an effort to solidify Exodus’ place in history, before all that is left are the fictionalized and romanticized versions of the 1958 Leon Uris novel or the 1960 Otto Preminger film (and even those are already being forgotten). Among the recent projects are “Exodus 1947,” a 1997 documentary film by Venice resident Elizabeth Rodgers, and a new release of journalist Ruth Gruber’s account of the voyage, “Exodus 1947: The Ship that Launched a Nation” (October 2007, Union Square Press).

Last week, 300 French Jews re-enacted the voyage, setting sail from Exodus’ original port in the South of France and arriving in Haifa. Unlike Exodus’ real passengers, they disembarked.

The largest of the commemorative events took place on Aug. 1 in Tel Aviv, when 1,500 Exodus passengers and descendants of passengers gathered for a reunion, initiated and organized by Meier Schwarz, a Haganah commander aboard the ship.

Schwarz, an 81-year-old botany professor who pioneered Israel’s hydroponics crop system, enlisted the help of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to put together a complete list of passengers. A manifest for the ship never existed, since the passengers were trying to smuggle into Israel illegally.

Around 2,100 names have been gathered so far. Many people also submitted memoirs or interviews, and Schwarz published these in Hebrew in “Maapilei Exodus 1947.” (“Maapilim” derives from the Hebrew word for “daring,” and refers to the Jews who ran the British blockade to get into pre-state Israel.)

Schwarz also officially presented to the Knesset “The Scroll of Exodus,” a document of the Exodus survivors.

Schwarz is hoping these events will raise interest among a generation that seems to have forgotten the vital role the ship played in the founding of the state.
“If you go on the street in Israel and ask somebody what happened on the Exodus, most of them say they don’t know what happened,” Schwarz said by phone from his Jerusalem home. “They know the Leon Uris book, and they know the movie, and they all have in mind that was the real story, but the real story was something quite different and more interesting.”

While he is proud that 1,500 people showed up for the reunion — double what organizers expected — he is disappointed that he’s received scant funding for his efforts. Only the Tel Aviv Municipality chipped in for the event.

Jacobs couldn’t make the reunion. Still, she is aware of her journey’s significance, not only in the role it played in creating the state, but in how it determined the course of her life: She landed in Los Angeles in 1950 and didn’t step foot in Israel until 1964.

And even if she is reluctant to let her mind go back in time, her nonchalance disappears and her fuzzy memory clears up when she remembers what happened after the British rammed the ship.

“We went outside, we went up to see Haifa. Everyone was there, and we started to sing ‘Hatikvah,'” Jacobs remembered, her eyes growing intense. “But unfortunately, they didn’t let us off.”

‘I Wanted to Go to Israel’

Like most of the 4,515 passengers, Sarah Jacobs (née Surcha Feder) was a young Holocaust survivor. Before the war, Jacobs had lost both her mother and the grandmother who raised her, and in 1943, when she was 19, she was taken from Sosnowicz, Poland, to a German labor camp. In 1944 she was transferred to a concentration camp, from which she was liberated in 1945. At the age of 21, with all of her immediate family dead, she went to live with her uncle in Germany.

“My uncle said to me and my cousin that we are young girls, we should go to Israel. He gave us the address of my cousin there,” Jacobs says.

Beyond Remembrance

If you want to get in trouble in the Jewish world, critique anything that has to do with Holocaust remembrance. It’s a pretty untouchable subject, and for good reason. The Holocaust is a horror that melts the human heart, especially the Jewish heart. I’m not immune.

For three years I lived next to a survivor, and I choked up every time I would hear another story. I was haunted for years by the scene in “Sophie’s Choice” when Meryl Streep had to decide which of her two kids would go to the gas chamber.

The Holocaust overwhelms me with grief.

So it is with some trepidation that I share with you my problem with the Jewish world’s obsession with Holocaust remembrance.

Maybe it’s a personal thing. I don’t like feeling like a victim. It makes me smug, arrogant and constantly outraged. It feels good in the moment, but I never feel like doing anything except remind the world that I’m a victim, over and over again.

Feeling like a victim doesn’t encourage me to improve myself. It just gives me instant righteousness. When I see how Jews are hated throughout the world — especially how certain enemies threaten another Holocaust — my righteousness goes off the charts. I get so worked up, so focused on our enemies, that I stop looking inward — at the beauty of my Judaism, for instance, and how I can get closer to it.

Feeling like a victim makes me Jewishly lazy.

This is why the best way I’ve found to honor Holocaust victims without feeling like a victim is to celebrate the Judaism they wish they could have celebrated. As I see it, wearing our Judaism on our sleeves is the best revenge.

So when I see hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into Holocaust memorials and Holocaust remembrance, I see an unspeakable tragedy for my people, yes, but I also see a missed opportunity. I see this enormous effort to tell us how Jews die, but so little effort to tell us how Jews live — more specifically, to tell us what is so extraordinary about this Judaism that those 6 million Jews died for.

I wonder what the Jewish world would be like if the slogan “never again” also came to mean: “Never again will we not help Jews get closer to their Judaism.” Could you imagine if we took half of the money we spend on Holocaust memorials and put it into Jewish education for all ages? Instead of forging a Jewish identity based on fear and suffering, we’d be forging one based on pride and knowledge. Ironically, because the Holocaust would be part of any curriculum, Holocaust education would also increase, but it would be in a classroom, not a museum.

It’s clear, though, that because the Holocaust is such a sensitive subject, we haven’t yet had a tough debate on the best way to commemorate this seminal tragedy. In the meantime, the promoters of victimhood have hijacked the agenda, and the fundraising pit to build more memorials seems bottomless. But think about it. What will better prevent another Holocaust: more fancy memorials to our suffering, or a generation of proud and committed Jews who love their Judaism and would do anything to defend it?

Proud, committed Jews are human museums. They’re walking memorials to the power of the Jewish faith. They remember Hitler, but they study Heschel. They honor Holocaust victims not by acting like victims, but by fearlessly living their Judaism. They honor the dead by helping the living.

Having said all this, the other day I was lucky enough to meet someone who volunteers at one of the crown jewels of Holocaust remembrance, right here in the hood: The Museum of Tolerance.

Her name is Sally Schneider, and she’s a former high school teacher from the San Fernando Valley who, for more than 10 years, has been a volunteer tour guide at the Museum of Tolerance.

When I talked to Sally on the phone, she overflowed with enthusiasm on the importance of Holocaust memorials. I was eager to hear a passionate opinion that was different than mine, so we met at her place in Santa Monica.

I have been to the museum, so nothing I heard surprised me: examples of the horror of the Holocaust, the universal dangers of prejudice and evil, the importance of tolerance, etc. I decided to make things more interesting by sharing my personal skepticism. I challenged her: I asked whether her experience at the museum has strengthened her connection to Judaism.

Schneider is a straight shooter — she told me that her work didn’t necessarily strengthen her connection to Judaism, but it did open her eyes to something else.

The non-Jewish world.

You see, the thing that has moved Schneider the most is not what the museum does for Jews, but what it does for non-Jews. She has seen former skinheads transformed after seeing their evil and hatred so graphically depicted.

She saw the daughter of a Nazi quietly sob because she couldn’t shake her sense of responsibility for the horrors her father participated in.

She saw how the grandson of Gandhi and his wife were riveted by the tragedy of another people. She saw Latino, African American and Asian kids of the inner city learn about hatred and prejudice, but more importantly, about tolerance — not just as a Jewish ideal but as a universal one.

What Schneider was telling me, in her sweet way, was that the evils of prejudice and hatred that Jews have faced and are still facing may be obvious to us, but they aren’t to everybody else. She clearly sees the tragedy of the Shoah as an opportunity to teach the world some important lessons, and her fondest wish is that in the end, many lives will be saved.

Schneider was passionate about Jews staying Jewish by staying alive, and I was passionate about Jews staying alive by staying Jewish.

Maybe there’s room for both.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Stark locations make perfect sets for ‘Anne Frank’ opera production

Few subjects resonate like the story of Anne Frank and her diary. The tale is familiar to many, yet even those who know little about the young writer’s life equate her name with courage in the face of grim reality. Beyond the much-translated diary, published in various incarnations (original, unexpurgated, revised critical), Anne’s story lives on in Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s Tony Award-winning play, first mounted on Broadway in 1955 and then revived in 1997, as well as the Oscar-winning 1959 movie derived from it.

Anne’s diary also inspired an opera composed in 1969 by Grigori Frid (sometimes credited as Fried because of the vagaries of transliteration), that had its premiere in Moscow in 1972 and was later performed in the Netherlands. It was first seen in the United States in 1978, and it has continued to be mounted in this country, albeit rarely.

Now Long Beach Opera, a company known for its daring repertory and unconventional interpretations, is presenting the West Coast premiere of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” with three performances, from April 17 to 21 at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and at Lincoln Park in Long Beach. (Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood will also present a semistaged performance on Yom HaShoah, April 15.)

Conducted and directed by Andreas Mitisek, Long Beach Opera’s artistic and administrative head, this production takes a daring new turn. He is staging the opera — really an hourlong monodrama for soprano — in parking structures at Sinai Temple and Lincoln Park.

Mitisek has also augmented Frid’s work, both by interpolating some material by Anne not set by the composer and by adding

Pledge to survivors — we will carry the torch

Growing up, we whose parents had emerged out of the Shoah believed that they were indestructible. After all, they overcame the German efforts to murder them, survived
ghettos and death camps, and rebuilt their lives after the war. They also had a special appreciation and zest for life. In our eyes, they were truly the “greatest generation.” It seemed to us that our parents would be here forever, and that they would always protect us, their children.

But age and the frailties of the human body are proving to be inexorable. The ranks of those who suffered alongside the murdered victims of the Holocaust are steadily dwindling. All too soon, their voices will no longer be heard. Many sons and daughters of survivors have already lost one or both of their parents. My father, the fiery leader of the survivors of Bergen-Belsen, died in 1975 at the age of 64. My mother, one of the founders of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., died 22 years later. More recently, the passing in late 2006 of Sigmund Strochlitz and Benjamin Meed, two of the most prominent Holocaust survivors in the United States, served to remind us all that we truly are at a moment of generational transition.

The responsibility for transmitting the survivors’ legacy of remembrance into the future must now increasingly shift to us — their children and grandchildren. In his keynote address at the First International Conference of Children of Holocaust Survivors in 1984, Elie Wiesel mandated us to do what the survivors “have tried to do — and more: to keep our tale alive — and sacred.” We are fortunate that the survivors are most ably represented by Sam E. Bloch, Roman Kent and Max Liebmann, the leaders of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, but it is now incumbent on us, the members of the second and third generations, to stand and work alongside them more closely than ever before in perpetuating remembrance and challenging the conscience of humankind. Our task is to integrate our parents’ memories, spirit and perseverance into the Jewish community’s and the world’s collective consciousness.

The sons and daughters of the survivors are diverse, multitalented and anything but homogeneous. Among us are Holocaust remembrance activists such as Rositta Kenigsberg, Romana Strochlitz Primus and Leonard Wilf — with whom I had the privilege of serving on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council; Dr. Joel M. Geiderman, co-chair of the Emergency Department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and the Council’s present vice-chairman; and psychologist Eva Fogelman, who pioneered support groups for children of survivors in the 1970s.

Our ranks also include Helen Epstein, author of the influential 1979 book, “Children of the Holocaust: Conversations With Sons and Daughters of Survivors”; Israeli clinical psychologist Yaffa Singer, an internationally recognized authority on post-traumatic stress disorder in military personnel and veterans; former World Jewish Congress Executive Director Elan Steinberg, the brilliant strategist behind the successful effort to wrest $1.25 billion of Holocaust assets from Swiss banks; my wife, Jean Bloch Rosensaft, an art historian and museum director who has curated numerous exhibitions of art by survivors and children of survivors as well as an international traveling photo exhibition about the displaced persons camp of Bergen-Belsen; talented novelists Lily Brett, Thane Rosenbaum and Melvin Jules Bukiet; Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic artist Art Spiegelman; CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer; New York Times journalist Joseph Berger; Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a former senior aide to New York Governor George Pataki and U.S. Sen. Alphonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.); Vivian Bernstein, co-chief of the Group Programmes Unit of the Department of Public Information at the United Nations; Rabbi Kenneth Stern of Manhattan’s Park Avenue Synagogue; Detroit psychologist Charles Silow, who devotes himself to the care of elderly survivors; Holocaust historian and educator David Silberklang; film historian Annette Insdorf and documentary filmmaker Aviva Kempner; American Jewish Committee Executive Vice President David Harris; Serena Woolrich, the founder of Allgenerations, an Internet clearinghouse of information for survivors and their families; Forward publisher Samuel Norich; museum architect Daniel Libeskind; and Israeli singer Yehuda Poliker who composed the classic rock ballad, “This Is Treblinka Station,” to name only a few.

Each one of us implements our parents’ legacy in a unique, personal way. Together, we personify our generation.

Because we are our parents’ children and grandchildren, we have a greater understanding of and sensitivity to their experiences than anyone else. We, who are the personal witnesses to the survivors, must ensure that their horrendous experiences, the brutal mass murder of their families, our families, and the attempted annihilation of European Jewry as a whole will never be forgotten, and that our parents’ and grandparents’ values and souls will remain core elements of the national and international institutions of memory they helped create.

We must carry on their unwavering struggle against all attempts to diminish the Jewish essence and centrality of the Shoah. We must intensify their allegiance and commitment to the centrality of the State of Israel.

And we must maintain their staunch opposition to all manifestations of Holocaust denial or trivialization.

That is our pledge to our parents this Yom HaShoah.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft, a lawyer in New York, is the founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.

Rites Mark Shoah, Camp Liberators


Rain and clouds greeted Southern California’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, while sunshine welcomed a gathering of World War II veterans and the Shoah survivors whom they liberated from concentration camps.

“Our remembrance ensures that the truth never will be forgotten; this time it might not happen to Jews but to other minorities in the world,” said Holocaust survivor and philanthropist Jona Goldrich, chair of the Los Angeles Holocaust Monument at Pan Pacific Park in the Fairfax District. The monument was seen by some of the 2,000 private and public school students who came to the park’s May 5 Yom HaShoah event.

Three days later, the Museum of Tolerance and the Simon Wiesenthal Center hosted about 600 people for a short March of Gratitude down Pico Boulevard, honoring Allied veterans. In contrast to the rainy, emotionally darker Yom HaShoah event, the march’s generally upbeat mood and sunny weather played perfectly last Sunday — the 60th anniversary of Europe’s liberation on May 8, 1945, V-E Day.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, Simon Wiesenthal Center dean and founder, noted that Holocaust and V-E Day gatherings — separated by just three days each May — reflect the world during World War II.

“Soldiers on the one hand, survivors on the other,” he said.

One distinction between World War II’s 50th and 60th anniversary events has been the toll of the 10 years between 1995 and now. About 50 survivors stood up at the Pan Pacific Park event, and the Museum of Tolerance gathering honored concentration camp-liberating veterans approaching their 90s.

“I’m getting older; I’m 87 years old and it’s getting difficult,” said Maurice Weinstein, a jeweler who served in Belgium’s independent brigade with Allied forces. “I lost all my family to the Germans.”

Attending the Holocaust and V-E Day events were Belgian, Croatian, French, German, Hungarian, Israeli, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish and South African diplomats. Also walking in the V-E Day march was Hans Wendler, the consul general of Germany in Los Angeles.

“I come here, of course, with mixed feelings. Nobody likes to celebrate the defeat of one’s own country, but we have to accept the bitter truth that the Germans were not able to liberate themselves from the Nazis,” said Wendler, whose prior diplomatic postings included Germany’s embassy in Israel. “I have come here to express my gratitude that the Allies sacrificed so much blood to liberate us from the Nazis.”

Both remembrance events had political overtones dominated by the current L.A. mayor’s race. Like at the V-E Day remembrance, Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn spoke at Pan Pacific Park, saying; “We’re here in one place showing that humanity can do better.”

Mayoral candidate and Los Angeles City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa presented a veterans’ proclamation at the V-E Day gathering and, like Hahn, spoke there and at Pan Pacific Park. But at the park event, Villaraigosa was not listed in the official printed program as a speaker. Instead, he spoke after the mayor and was introduced as speaking “on behalf of the City Council” — a curious choice of words, because the council as a whole usually is represented by City Council President Alex Padilla, who was at that same Shoah remembrance.

State Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, a Democrat running for lieutenant governor next year, took a veiled swipe at Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s praise last month for the self-appointed “minutemen” patrolling Arizona’s border.

“The brown shirts of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and the minutemen of America today both targeted minorities,” he said.

The governor did not attend the Museum of Tolerance or Pan Pacific Park events but he issued a proclamation declaring May 1-May 8 as “Days of Remembrance.”




Art From the Heart

Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom HaShoah, fell this year on Thursday, May 5. Did your school honor the day? Quartz Hill High School, in the Antelope Valley, honors the Holocaust every year by putting on a competition for the best creative work.

Train of Thought

This train has 75 spaces. Answer the questions and then place the answers in the correct spaces.
(Hint: Each word starts with the last letter of the word before it.)

[ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

[ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

[ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

[ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

• One of the more well-known concentration camps was: A_________
• “The night of broken glass” was called K_________
• The Final Solution called for the E__________ of the Jews.
• In 1948, the country of I________ was born.
• The German Air Force was called the L_________.
• Israel was established because of the ideal of Z___________.
• This camp in Eastern Poland is pronounced Maidanek, but is spelled M_________.
• The war spread over the continent of E__________
• Abbreviation of “National Socialist”: N_____
• The museum of T___________ speaks of many different Holocausts around the world.


New Releases Keep Shoah an Open Book

“The secret of redemption is remembrance,” as a sign announces in Israel’s Yad Vashem, an institution dedicated to remembering the Holocaust. Books, too, are in service of memory, inspiring readers to think again and anew — and to fight forgetfulness. As Yom HaShoah approaches, the call to memory resounds.

Despite the many thousands of books on the subject, there’s still much about the Holocaust that hasn’t previously been written about and published. This season, there are important new works by scholars analyzing newly available material, journalists uncovering little-known episodes, artists with new interpretations, survivors telling their own stories for the first time and more.

In “Resilience and Courage: Women, Men, and the Holocaust” (Yale, 2003) scholar Nechama Tec, who is herself a Holocaust survivor, tackles a topic that has been rarely discussed: the effects of gender on experience during the Holocaust. Through interviews conducted over a decade, she analyzes patterns of behavior in terms of women’s and men’s self-esteem and coping strategies.

“Even though the Germans were committed to sending all Jews to their deaths, for a variety of reasons women and men traveled toward that destination on distinct roads,” Tec writes. Recognizing that gender is a complex and sensitive issue, she looks at the issue from different vantage points and in various settings. She finds differences between how people reacted in the ghettos and concentration camps and those fighting in the forests, as well as social differences in each setting. She explains that those in the upper classes had “farther to fall” and seemed to have a harder time enduring constant humiliations.

Some anti-Jewish measures were gender specific. She shows how for many men, ruthless assaults led to the loss of their abilities to perform their roles as providers and protectors for their families, and also to their becoming demoralized and depressed. Many women, used to being in supportive roles, began to take on some of the traditional male roles with their families, as well as with people in the larger community.

The author of several award-winning books on the Holocaust and a professor at the University of Connecticut, Tec is a member of the Council of the U.S Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

“Holocaust: A History” by Deborah Dwork and Robert Jan van Pelt (Norton, 2003) is a remarkable work, a detailed and scholarly one-volume history that’s highly accessible for general readers. The authors, who previously collaborated on the award-winning “Auschwitz,” place the Holocaust in the context of European history and are mindful of the stories of individuals. Included are 75 illustrations and 16 original maps.

Dwork is the author of “Children With a Star” and a professor of Holocaust history at Clark University, where she is founding director of their Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Van Pelt, who was born in Holland, is professor of cultural history at the University of Waterloo and author of “The Case for Auschwitz.”

In his eighth book on a Holocaust theme, Sir Martin Gilbert presents inspiring stories of Christian and Muslim people — farmers, priests, soldiers, diplomats and other extraordinary “ordinary” people — in every occupied country, who risked all to save Jews from deportation and death. “The Righteous: The Unsung History of the Holocaust” (Henry Holt), draws on 25 years of research. In these true stories, “righteous acts testified to the survival of humane values and to the courage of those who save human life rather than allow it to be destroyed…. Six million Jews were murdered, but tens of thousands were saved.”

The author, a historian and the official biographer of Winston Churchill, is the author of eight books on Holocaust themes. This is the first to focus on altruism. Gilbert quotes Abraham Foxman, who was saved as a child by his nanny in Vilna, “Even in hell, even in that hell called the Holocaust, there was goodness, there was kindness, and there was love and compassion.”

“The Hidden Life of Otto Frank” by Carol Ann Lee (Morrow, 2003) is a penetrating, robust biography of the man turned into a legend by the publication of his daughter’s diary. The author breaks new ground in naming the man, a member of the Dutch Nazi party, who betrayed the Franks and their friends in 1944. The book was published to much acclaim and controversy when it was released in the Netherlands last year, and since then, Lee has gotten new information, included in the American edition. The English-born author, who previously wrote a biography of Anne Frank, lives in Amsterdam.

Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins bring to light the story of the largest maritime loss of civilian life during World War II, when the Struma, a ship filled with Jewish refugees with hopes to get to Palestine, exploded on the Black Sea, near Istanbul. About 800 people were killed in this little-known 1942 episode, including more than 100 children. One man survived; he is one of the sources in the compelling, well-written narrative, “Death on the Black Sea: The Untold Story of the Struma and World War II’s Holocaust at Sea” (Ecco). The authors piece together the facts, and also recount recent attempts to locate the Struma at the bottom of the sea, a search initiated by the grandson of two victims. An appendix lists the names and ages of the victims. Frantz is the former Istanbul bureau chief for The New York Times, now investigations editor for the newspaper, and his wife, Collins, has covered Turkey for the Chicago Tribune.

In 1941, when 16-year old Lena Jedwab left her Bialystock home for summer camp in Russia, she expected to return in a few weeks. But that was not to be, and she was stranded, separated from her family, after Germany invaded the former Soviet Union. “Girl With Two Landscapes: The Wartime Diary of Lena Jedwab 1941-1945” (Holmes & Meier, 2002) is the diary she began keeping that summer in a children’s home, translated from the Yiddish by Solon Beinfeld, with an introduction by Jan T. Gross and a foreword by Irena Klepfisz. The book is a powerful document by a young woman of intelligence, enthusiasm and moral strength, with much to say about themes of home and exile, as well as daily life. The author, Lena Jedwab Rozenberg, now lives in Paris.

The title, “Here There Is No Why,” Rachel Chencinski Roth’s memoir (translated from the Polish, with a grant from Yad Vashem), is Dr. Joseph Mengele’s response to the author and millions of others. The book is the fulfillment of a promise the author made at Maidenek, when she told a young friend she would tell the world of the horrors they experienced. The daughter of a journalist, she writes of her teenage life in the Warsaw Ghetto, her participation in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and her transports, along with her aunt, to several concentration camps.

The themes of the Shoah are taken up artistically by Judith Weinshall Liberman, who has just published a collection of her work, “Holocaust Wall Hangings” (Schoen Books, 2002). The artist was born in then-Palestine in the ’30s, and aware — as much as a teenager might be — of the Holocaust as people close to her were losing loved ones. In 1947, she moved to the United States to pursue her education, earned four university degrees and chose to pursue her artwork after lecturing and writing about law. Since 1988, she has been creating art, mostly on fabric, with a Holocaust theme, and many of her works are exhibited in the United States and Israel. She uses color expressively, although in limited ways, and also employs embroidery and beading, and repeated imagery like boxcars and views of Anne Frank. Included are essays by art historians and curators and explanations of each color plate.

Newly available:
Back in print, after Imre Kertesz won the Nobel Prize for literature are two of his novels, “Fateless,” his first and perhaps best-known novel about a Hungarian Jewish boy’s experiences in concentration camps and after the war, and “Kaddish for a Child Not Born,” the story of a Holocaust survivor taking stock of his life in middle age, both translated by Christopher C. Wilson and Katharina M. Wilson (Hydra/Northwestern University Press).

A Reason for Remembrance

Once upon a time, we celebrated holidays and honored men and women and moments from our past as though they were charged with meaning. Armistice Day, Independence Day, Lincoln’s birthday. I remember a Memorial Day, in 1976, when everyone marched through the six-block town to the cemetery and sat respectfully as David Bradshaw, a veteran of World War II, talked intimately about those who had given their life in battle in one or another of our 20th-century wars. It was an occasion for remembering friends and family, for weeping, and for some form of catharsis. It was an honored day, repeated year after year, and made fresh again and again.

Perhaps it is that I now live in a large city, or that our culture has placed such a premium on speed and change, but, today, memory often is something you locate on a chip, and the fragile connections to our past have eroded beyond repair. Many of those familiar celebratory days have been converted to a kind of kitsch culture, and they now are often welcomed for the pleasurable fact that they provide us with a three-day weekend.

Not so Holocaust Remembrance Day, which will be observed this Sunday, April 18, at Pan Pacific Park (Beverly Boulevard and Genesee Avenue in Los Angeles, 1:45 to 3:45 p.m.). Gov. Gray Davis and Israeli Consul General Yoram Ben Ze’ev will be in attendance, as will Harvard Professor Daniel Goldhagen, the keynote speaker, who will focus on the commemoration’s theme — “1939-1999: The 60th Anniversary of Hitler’s War of Genocide.” Goldhagen, as you may remember, is the author of the controversial 1996 historical account “Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust.”

Pulling together research material that had been bypassed or slighted by earlier scholars, Goldhagen, in his book, charged that the murderers in Germany were not drawn primarily from the SS and the bureaucrats of the Nazi Party. Rather, he asserted, the brutality and the killing were taken up by all sorts of ordinary German men and women from many walks of life. They fell to their task, said Goldhagen, not because they were under orders or faced death themselves, but because they were part of a national culture that hated and demonized Jews.

It will escape no one at Pan Pacific Park Sunday that 54 years after the death camps were freed, we are witnessing a related set of tragedies in Kosovo, albeit not genocide on the scale or in the systematic way that the Germans went at it under Hitler. Nevertheless, in less than a month, we have seen more than 600,000 “cleansed” from their homeland; an unknown number killed; and many, many more (hundreds of thousands, as reported in The New York Times) uprooted from their homes but still frozen somewhere in Kosovo. And from the limited reports that have filtered back, it seems that “ordinary Serbs” in Kosovo are either cheering on the Yugoslav security forces or are lending a cooperative hand.

So, no, April 18th will not be a “kitsch holiday,” or a day of forgetting.

It should be acknowledged, though, that we American Jews, 50-plus years after the fact, are still having trouble with the Holocaust. Perhaps that is as it should be. But most of us have not yet come to terms with the indifference of America’s elected leaders in the 1930s and 1940s; with the silence of some in our Jewish communities during those frightening years; with our lack of influence; and, yes, with our political impotence in those earlier decades.

Nor have many of us resolved our feelings about Germany, even though we are quick to recognize that most Germans today were either not born during the period of the Third Reich or were mere children. But — in explanation — there has been no opportunity for us to purge our feelings, to cherish the satisfaction of personal revenge, to experience some form of catharsis. All we have been allowed has been to bear silent witness for those who survived, and to mourn those who perished. It is why, Kosovo or not, Holocaust Remembrance Day will be with us — as we stand mute, confounded, enraged — for years to come.

Israelis I have met over the years seem somehow freer. They certainly remember the past, but appear less haunted by it. And that may go a way towards explaining why Israel has developed a number of strong ongoing programs with postwar Germany. And I believe it also illuminates Ari Shavit’s opinion piece (see page 43), in which he declares that Jews the world over carry a special responsibility to aid the displaced victims of Kosovo. Our history forces us to recognize their plight, he urges, and to identify with it. And with our position of strength in Israel and the United States today, he adds, we can and should act as NATO’s conscience. In short, it is the Jews who are obliged to take the lead in seeking aid and remedies for the displaced immediately.

I heartily endorse his column. But I have an additional thought. I wonder if our fury at Milosevic and the Serbs is related to our incomplete feelings about Germany and the Germans, and if our call for punishment and revenge in Yugoslavia might be designed to help bring us a sense of retribution, finally — or at least the illusion of it. —Gene Lichtenstein