June 26, 2019

When is it Appropriate to Draw Lessons From the Holocaust?  

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Recent discussion about the use of the term “concentration camp” to describe conditions facing migrants on the southern border have become mired in politically polarized discussion about what is right and wrong when using language heavily related to the Holocaust.

Whatever the intention of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democrat from New York has become a part of a long history of Holocaust appropriation.

While the term “concentration camp” predates the Holocaust, it has become shorthand in our society for a comparison to the Holocaust — and her remark was widely interpreted as such.

One of the first appropriations of the Holocaust happened right at the point of liberation. British troops, who had just risked their lives on the front lines, standing in front of the piles of corpses at the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, boldly stated to film cameras that “now I know what I was fighting for.” Those troops, however courageous, were never fighting to liberate Jews from concentration camps. Had that been the objective, things would have unfolded in a very different way. Piles of Jewish corpses — people they had failed to liberate weeks earlier — were some of the first victims of our insatiable need to represent the meaning of the dead to justify our own cultural, political and religious views and actions.

So, when is it appropriate to draw lessons from the Holocaust? We all do it from time to time, because we are still searching for meaning, an explanation, a lesson, from that terrible time in human history. We do need to be reminded that some people created a monstrous genocidal ideology, and others executed their orders, and millions of Jews were murdered, while all but a few were silent. We should struggle with the fact that the Holocaust shook the foundation of Western civilization. Remember, we all thought just how advanced we were, how educated we had become. But now we know that democracies can turn to dictatorships, technology can be used for murder, and Ph.D.s can pen the Final Solution. We learned that Jews can be attacked wherever they are. We learned that civilized nations can turn into killing machines.

The rule of thumb is never to appropriate the Holocaust to explain, compare or contrast contemporary issues

The Holocaust gave us a knowledge about humanity that we cannot undo. For the survivors and their families it is inked to their heritage like tattoos from Auschwitz. For the Jewish world, it is a warning to be vigilant against the evil of anti-Semitism; for everyone else, a need to check our actions. Reminding ourselves before it becomes too late is the right thing to do; taking it out of context is not. So how do we know the difference between the two?

In 2003, Oona King and Jenny Tonge, then members of Great Britain’s Parliament, laid bare their failure to understand the difference when they compared Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto.

Whatever their intent, the premise was wrong. It showed a profound lack of understanding of the Holocaust and of Gaza.

Even the mantra “never again” is mired in appropriation; it was popularized by the American-Israeli militant religious leader Meir Kahane in the early 1970s to justify acts of terror in fighting anti-Semitism.

As soon as we attempt to apply the meaning of the Holocaust to events less extreme, we take the Holocaust out of context.  But if the Holocaust is so extreme that it can never be talked about at all in contemporary society, we remove it from the world of real people. If the Holocaust tells us anything, it is that an ordinary society can quickly turn violent if it does not check its values and deeply respect the lives of everyone.

These opposing perspectives can live alongside each other. The Holocaust was an unprecedented and unimaginable example of anti-Semitic human behavior as never seen before. And it happened because of an ordinary set of decisions, made by a group ordinary people, who held extraordinarily evil ideas, and used the apparatus of state to succeed.

The rule of thumb is never to appropriate the Holocaust to explain, compare or contrast contemporary issues, whether we are Jews, Christian or Muslims, Republicans or Democrats. Families on the southern border of the United States, the rights of Palestinians, the existence of the State of Israel don’t need the Holocaust to have legitimacy as pressing issues in their own right. We don’t need to invoke the deaths of Jewish children 75 years ago, who have no voice of their own, to make our voice sound more legitimate. But their memory, should always provoke us to be more humane in every situation.


Stephen D. Smith is Finci-Viterbi executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation. 

When the Chicken Votes for Colonel Sanders

There is no question anti-Semitism is on the rise internationally at a level not seen in decades. Sometimes couched as anti-Israel, we find supporters of discrimination in their spheres of influence, including Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), spouting prejudices with hubris while their party’s leadership, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, remain mostly silent.

German Jews recognize they safely exist only through police protection, who park outside German synagogues to prevent anti-Semitic violence. In Poland, the home of Auschwitz, anti-Semitism has become so accepted it blatantly is part of the platform of the National Democratic Party, known as “Endeks.” A recent Polish weekly national newspaper ran the headline “How to Spot a Jew.” At a political debate in Poland, one of the candidates held a yarmulke over the head of his opponent and said, “She bows to the Jews.”

Anti-Semitism is not new. One can trace its roots to a mistranslation in the Vulgate bible of the fourth century; through the blood libel of the Middle Ages; the persecutions and pogroms of the last 500 years; to the culmination of the Holocaust in the last century. It is not surprising Omar and Tlaib quote Al-Jazeera — which is trying to rebrand itself as AJ+ to avoid its jihadist perception in the West — which publishes articles denying the Holocaust, blames Jews for the problems in the world and supports the destruction of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East.

What is surprising is how some American Jews support individuals and organizations promoting this hatred. Did 21st-century Jews learn nothing from the horrors of Nazi Germany?

Yet, this is not the first time Jews have been like chickens that vote for Colonel Sanders. From 1921 to 1935, there was a group named the Association of German National Jews (Verband national Deutsche Juden), whose goal was the total assimilation of Jews into German culture; the self-eradication of Jewish identity; the expulsion of all Eastern European Jews from Germany; and a radical hatred of Zionism. Sadly, these seem like the same goals of many Jews in America choosing to deny the faith and practices of their ancestors in favor of secularizing themselves. On some level — often unconscious — they believe if they deny their Judaism and go along with the anti-Semitic rhetoric, non-Jewish Americans will better accept them. Unfortunately, they are avoiding looking at history.

“Let us not make the mistake again of allying ourselves with people who hate us because we think there is a shared common goal such as a desire for different political leaders.”

Although the German Association advocated loyalty to the Nazis, the Nazis never accepted the group, declaring the organization illegal; it disbanded in 1935. The association thought that if it tied itself to many other groups that were coming together in support of the Nazis, it would be accepted. Ultimately, this was not only untrue, but in retrospect, shows the members to be leaders in their own self-destruction.

Today, many Jews have tied themselves to the world of academia and the intelligentsia, believing that by identifying with these intellectual leaders, their “Jewishness” will no longer be an issue. Again, history shows the exact opposite.

In Max Weinrich’s classic study, “Hitler’s Professors,” he relates that “people of long and high standing, university professors and academy members” colluded with the Nazi regime. “German scholarship provided the ideas and techniques which led to and justified this unparalleled slaughter.” Even German Nobel Prize-winners including Johannes Stark and Philipp Lenard created “research” to justify Nazi atrocities. In the United States today, just as in pre-World War II Germany, there have been instances of professors in disciplines unrelated to Judaism or Israel (such as mathematics, science, etc.) condemning Israel and Jews, and espousing their views from an “academic” perspective, even questioning the Holocaust itself.

In Germany, there was an alliance of “outsiders” that opposed the pre-Nazi government, but as soon as Hitler fully came to power, it quickly condemned the Jews as well, ultimately to their deaths. We must make certain history does not repeat itself — that Jews, academics with intellectual honesty and all people with good ethics not accept the words and actions of Tlaib, Omar, the Endeks and the like.

To avoid another Holocaust, God forbid, we all are obligated to take a stand against these anti-Semitic hate mongers. Let us not make the mistake again of allying ourselves with people who hate us because we think there is a shared common goal such as a desire for different political leaders. Those temporary allies will quickly abandon us and demonstrate their discrimination as soon as they have any control of their own.

Two thousand years ago, the great Rabbi Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” For 70 years, there has been the chant “Never Forget!” We need to remember not just the atrocities of the Nazis, but how they rose to power and who helped put them there. May we all have the courage and strength to stand up and act against all forms of hatred when they are expressed, especially when political leaders and parties espouse them. And may all people of all faiths honestly express and live out the teachings of their traditions to create a world of true peace.


Rabbi Michael Barclay is the spiritual leader of Temple Ner Simcha (NerSimcha.org) and the author of “Sacred Relationships: Biblical Wisdom for Deepening Our Lives Together.” He can be reached at RabbiBarclay@aol.com.

Ocasio Cortez and Cheney Should Stop Abusing Holocaust for Political Gain

Photo from Wikipedia.

When it was revealed that undocumented immigrants at the southern United States border were being mass detained without trials, I, like many others, was absolutely horrified. The Trump administration’s tactics of intimidating, traumatizing and punishing migrants have been some of the most characteristically cruel policies of its reign.

Many people, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, began to point out how the United States, once again, was running concentration camps. My grandmother survived Auschwitz, where most of her family was murdered, so this is a sensitive subject for me. It’s charged enough when prominent people like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez bring up “concentration camp,” a term that refers uniquely to one of humanity’s greatest atrocities. 

Even worse, though, is when the conversation quickly descends into a despicable feud, where members of both the right and the left used actual crimes committed against my family to swipe at one another. 

To all the people with no direct ties to the Holocaust throwing political punches: Stop using my family’s murders as a talking point, claiming their graves as a platform to stand on in your Twitter arguments.

This week, both Ocasio Cortez and Liz Cheney are guilty of exploiting the Holocaust for political points. After declaring the detention centers were concentration camps, AOC told her live-stream watchers to “talk to the people that are concerned enough with humanity to say that ‘Never Again’ means something.”

But “never again” means nothing to Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who consistently has taken a weak stance on anti-Semitism. Every time it’s brought up, she treats hatred of Jews as a distraction from “more important” problems. This March, the congresswoman implied that Jewish complaints about Ilhan Omar’s comments were distracting from other social issues.

“If we’re so concerned about implied tropes, why aren’t we concerned about this one?” she tweeted. “Where was the concern last week when 26 Dems voted for a GOP amendment to expand ICE powers rooted in the racist + false trope that Latino immigrants are more dangerous than US born citizens?”

When it comes to using the Holocaust as a talking point to promote her political goals, she’s all game. Actually defending Jews from another genocide? AOC’s got somewhere else to be. When asked point blank to condemn anti-Semitism from the Women’s March, she refused. While she talks about the cruelties on the Southern border, Cortez has been absolutely silent on the horrific 82 percent spike in anti-Semitic hate crimes in the city she represents. If she cares so much about learning from the Holocaust and protecting its lessons, why hasn’t she done anything about the one-third of its survivors living in poverty in America – many of whom reside in New York City?

While AOC only defiles the Holocaust as a springboard for other issues, Liz Cheney exploits it to silence her opponents.

“Please @AOC do us all a favor and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history. 6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust,” Cheney tweeted. “You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this.” Here, Cheney uses the Holocaust to hush Ocasio Cortez about policies that indeed resemble the early days of the genocide. Concentration camps, where prisoners were not murdered, existed before the death camps that took six million Jewish lives. Cheney herself demonstrates a poor understanding of Holocaust history, and is only looking for ammo against her opponents, which is exactly what she sees anti-Semitism charges as.

“To all the people with no direct ties to the Holocaust throwing political punches: Stop using my family’s murders as a talking point.”

In the past few months, Cheney has nonstop attacked Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and the Democrats at large by accusing them of anti-Semitism. But when Neo-Nazis marched in the streets looking to complete the mission of the Holocaust, Cheney did not adequately stand up for Jews.

In fact, she stood by Donald Trump as he equated counter-protesters with white supremacists and said there were “good people on both sides.”

“I welcome President Trump’s comments at the White House this morning, and his determination to ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice,” she said in response. When the White House didn’t even acknowledge the murder of Jews in its Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, the Republican congresswoman didn’t bring up that six million of us were slaughtered. Why would she? It wouldn’t benefit her politically.

Science writer Erin Biba best describes the common depravity between Ocasio Cortez and Cheney.

“The only time I ever hear any of our politicians speak about Jews is when they’re using us as a tool and an example to prove a point unrelated to us. It’s disgusting,” Biba tweeted. “This goes for Jewish ‘allies’ too. If you have only expressed support for us after the mass shootings in our places of worship (remember those?) and then forgotten to include us when you made your cute Twitter list of oppressed people to protect then you’re disgusting too.”

As the mob debated over the semantics of whether it’s appropriate to use the term “concentration camps,” one thing became clear: This fight is not about Jews or the Holocaust. It’s about who gets to exploit them.

New Play and Exhibit Wonders What If Anne Frank Lived?

Left to right: Nick Blaemire, Eve Brandstein, Rob Brownstein, Ava Lalezarzadeh and Aylam Orian. Photo by Gerri Miller

Had she not died in the Holocaust, Anne Frank might have lived to see her 90th birthday on June 12. Tragically, she perished at Bergen-Belsen at the age of 15, but the journal she wrote during the two years she spent in hiding has kept her story alive in book, play and film forms. “Anne,” a new theatrical adaptation of her diary that examines what would have happened had she lived, will have its U.S. premiere June 16 at the Museum of Tolerance, where a companion exhibit featuring artifacts, photos and documents from Frank’s life are on display.

As the play begins, Anne is a young woman who meets a publisher in a Paris café after the war and tells him her story as scenes from the secret annex in Amsterdam unfold. It employs minimal staging, making liberal use of words and images projected on the stage.

“We imagine what would happen if Anne had gotten to know her own success. It’s a ‘what if’ scenario,” writer Nick Blaemire told the Journal. He immediately was drawn to Dutch playwrights Jessica Durlacher and Leon de Winter’s take on the story. “You could not only see Anne’s perspective on being in this house with other people in such close quarters, but also this really interesting frame that the playwrights put in the show of what Anne imagines herself to be,” he said.

About one-fifth of the play’s dialogue comes directly from Frank’s diary, noted Blaemire, who also is an actor, currently appearing in the national touring production of “Falsettos.” Comparing “Anne” to “The Diary of Anne Frank” Blaemire said, “It’s more of a fever dream. It’s not a three-floor, ultra-naturalistic portrayal of these characters. They’re allegories. It’s very ethereal; there are no walls. Hopefully, the artifice of that allows us to feel closer to it.”

The production features an ethnically diverse cast that includes Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews, an African-American and an actor of Swiss-Japanese heritage, underscoring that “it’s about us, all of us,” Blaemire said.

In her first professional role, Persian Jew Ava Lalezarzadeh, a third-year theater major at UCLA, plays Anne. “It’s not so much pressure as an obligation and a responsibility to do right by her,” Lalezarzadeh said. “She’s been glorified and mythologized and I really want to make her more human and bring her back down to earth. Yes, she’s a pinnacle figure of the Holocaust, but she’s also a girl growing into womanhood during this time of war.”

“[Anne’s] been glorified and mythologized and I really want to make her more human and bring her back down to earth. Yes, she’s a pinnacle figure of the Holocaust, but she’s also a girl growing into womanhood during 

this time of war.” — Ava Lalezarzadeh

The daughter of a doctor and a psychologist who escaped Iran as teenagers in the 1980s, Lalezarzadeh finds a parallel in Frank’s Ashkenazic experience. “I see so much of my parents in this story that it feels very close to me,” she said. “Being Persian and Jewish is very much part of my identity and my culture. I was bat mitzvah and we do the High Holy Days, but it’s not as much religious observance as it is tradition and sticking to our roots and holding onto our values, especially because my family was persecuted for being Jewish in Iran.”

Rob Brownstein plays Otto Frank, Anne’s father. “For the longest time, I didn’t think about my Judaism that much,” he said. “I’m not religious. We did the holidays and this and that, but I’ve always felt a strong Jewish identity. And because of what’s happening in the world and our country, the rise in anti-Semitism and bigotry, it’s important to take a stand.”

Of mainly Russian heritage, Brownstein’s grandparents were leftists, artists and intellectuals. He was born in Saigon, Vietnam, where his father worked in agricultural training for the U.S. government, and his mother taught English. He majored in theater at Queens College in New York and has worked steadily on stage, film and television.

Brownstein’s acting includes roles in “Argo,” “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” and most recently, “Velvet Buzzsaw,” “St. Judy” and “Star Trek: Discovery,” in which he played a Talosian alien. Also an acting teacher and private coach, he’ll next appear in the horror movie “Hummingbird,” and in the comedy “Oh Boy!” as a villainous lawyer.

“Anne” also hit home with director Eve Brandstein, whose parents are Holocaust survivors. “Anne Frank spoke to my soul with the deep ideas she was writing,” Brandstein said. “I identified with these great thoughts that she had, the wisdoms that she spoke.”

Brandstein related the story of how her parents, their young son and daughter, and her maternal grandmother were sent from their Jewish community in the Carpathian Mountains to a ghetto, then taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau. There, a Jewish prisoner advised her father to give the children to his mother-in-law if he wanted to save his wife. He did, and the son, daughter and mother-in-law went to the gas chambers.

“My father saved my mother’s life, but he has lived with the guilt his whole life,” Brandstein said. Born in Czechoslovakia after the war, she was an only child, “but I lived in a household with ghosts.” She was raised in an Orthodox, kosher home, and characterizes her connection to Judaism as “stronger than ever” today. She has been involved with many Jewish-themed productions.

Acting in a production of “The Dybbuk” in college, Brandstein realized what she really wanted to do was direct. She has done a lot of work for the Jewish Women’s Theatre, directed Rain Pryor’s “Fried Chicken & Latkes,” and most recently directed “Miss America’s Ugly Daughter: Bess Myerson and Me.” She and “Anne” producer Suzi Dietz will reopen that show at the Edgemar Center for the Arts on June 14, and subsequently take it to New York. The two women and Blaemire are developing a stage version of “The Rescuers,” about non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust.

“I feel I was born to direct this play,” she said. “I feel like I’m honoring my parents and my sister and brother with this, and all those other souls.” She believes Frank’s story has endured so long and continues to resonate because it’s eternally universal, relevant and familiar. “We live our lives with our dreams and hopes, and then the world comes in on us,” she said.

Aylam Orian, who plays Mr. Van Pels, feels the same way. “I am very connected to the Holocaust. Nearly everyone on my father’s side was killed,” he said. “At 3 years old, my father escaped from Poland to Palestine with his parents, and everyone who stayed behind died. My mother’s side is from Romania and Ukraine. Some died, but a few more people went to Palestine. My mom was born in Israel and grew up on a kibbutz.”

Although Orian was born in Cleveland, where his parents were working for the Jewish Agency in the U.S., he grew up in Israel, served in the army in Intelligence, then went to film school at Tel Aviv University to become a director. He came to realize he liked acting more, and trained at the Lee Strasberg Institute in New York.

He moved to Los Angeles six years ago and since then, has worked in theater and television. He’ll next play a Polish-Jewish lawyer for the Mafia in “The Informer” in August, and a German racing commentator in November’s “Ford v. Ferrari” with Matt Damon and Christian Bale.

His facility with languages — he speaks English, Hebrew, Arabic, Polish and German — has served him well, landing roles including a German agent in “Shooter” and the Nazi villain in Syfy’s “Stargate Origins.” “I’m really happy to have the chance to tell the story of one of the victims instead of the victimizers, especially in this story,” Orian said of “Anne.”

He read “The Diary” as a child, but a visit to the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam made a greater impression. So did a chance discovery of the Anne Frank Zentrum (Center) when he was lost in Berlin. 

Although he does not consider himself religious, Orian believes Judaism “has a lot of beautiful things to offer. But I’m not interested in the ritualistic part of it,” he said. “For me, being religious is living the life that the songs and prayers are trying to get you towards: Love your neighbor as yourself. Be kind.” As a “big animal rights person,” he includes animals in that. “I extend my compassion to all living beings.”

He finds troubling parallels between the current state of the world and the one so tragically portrayed in “Anne.” “With the right being so strong, I don’t preclude the possibility of a police state,” he said.

“History repeats itself, and we have to remind ourselves that we can’t be apathetic,” Lalezarzadeh added. “We cannot tolerate injustice and inequality and anti-Semitism. We have an obligation to take care of each other.”

“Anne” begins previews June 5, with performances June 16-July 22 at the Museum of Tolerance.

‘Inherited Memories’ Exhibition Transforms Holocaust Stories

Installation of works by Shula Singer Arbel, Dwora Fried and Malka Nedivi at “Inherited Memories.” Photo by Joshua White

Local artists Shula Singer Arbel, Dwora Fried and Malka Nedivi have very different styles and employ different mediums, but their inspiration for their work is the same. As the daughters of Holocaust survivors, they channel the experiences and trauma of the past to create art that’s relevant in today’s troubled times. In advance of their combined exhibition, “Inherited Memories,” the women shared their stories with the Journal.

Arbel was born in Israel to a Chasidic, Yiddish-speaking mother who survived Auschwitz, and a father who spent the war in the Russian army. She grew up in Los Angeles, hearing about the horrors that haunted her parents. Not surprisingly, she felt an immediate bond with Fried and Nedivi. 

“We shared our stories of growing up with ‘broken’ mothers,” Arbel said. “We found many commonalities, although our upbringing was very different. … I felt our collective voices would create a powerful and emotional exhibition. I feel it is my duty and my legacy to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. In today’s political climate, it is more important than ever.”

Arbel’s paintings are based on photographs from the displaced-persons camp where her parents met. “In spite of the tremendous loss and unimaginable suffering they experienced, this was a time of great hope and optimism for the future, which is why I chose to make art about this little-known period of history,” she said.

Arbel used a limited palette of acrylic paints and described her style as “a fusion of representational, figurative, abstract and dreamlike imagery. My figures are faceless to create a more universal narrative, allowing the viewers to inject their own memories and stories into the painting.”

Although she grew up in a traditional, Zionist, kosher home, had a Jewish education and attended Camp Ramah, Arbel didn’t start expressing Judaism in her art until three years ago. Today, she continues to follow Jewish traditions in raising her family and often visits Israel. “But I’m much less religious than when I was growing up in my parents’ home,” she said. “I feel much freer now to choose what is meaningful to me.”

Fried is the daughter of a Viennese father who moved to Israel before World War II and a Polish mother who survived Plaszow, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. She uses her art to express what it was like to grow up Jewish, lesbian and the child of Holocaust survivors in post-war Vienna. “As a child, I was always preoccupied about what I would pack in my
little suitcase if we had to suddenly leave,” she said. “Or who of the neighbors in our building would hide me.” 

“I hope the exhibition sheds light on the fact that trauma is passed down generationally.” 

— Shula Singer Arbel

A photographer, collage artist and now an assemblage artist, Fried creates mixed-media tableaux in glass-fronted wooden boxes that “recreate the feeling of what it was like growing up. That feeling of impending doom, not belonging, being an outsider. I inherited a sense of isolation, displacement and an appreciation for the surreal. For this exhibit, I created house-like boxes … what I imagine those abandoned homes were like, what
immigrants felt like in a strange land, what the survivors dreamt about the places
they left behind.”

Nedivi, an only child, was born in Rehovot, Israel, to parents who survived Bergen-Belsen. She grew up with the ghosts of the Holocaust always present. “This felt like a big, black hole that was part of our life all around us,” she said. “It was always there but no one talked about it. I was always escaping to my friends’ homes to get away from the pain I felt at home.”

Her mother became a hoarder and today, Nedivi uses fabric, papers and junk in the collages she creates. “The same things my mom was hoarding,” she said. “I also find myself sewing in my art a lot, and she was a seamstress. I am more and more becoming my mom and I am finally so proud of it — and her. Her soul is always with me in my studio. I feel that my mom is proud of me and that all of our family members that perished in the war are sitting in the Garden of Eden, proud that I am presenting them and their memory.”

The three artists are excited about exhibiting their work together. 

“When I first saw Malka’s sculptures in an exhibit, I recognized the figures: They looked like my family members,” Fried said. “Shula’s paintings, based on old family photographs, could have been taken from one of my family albums. We were meant to have a show together. I am always surprised by visitors’ reactions to my work. I hope they recognize themselves and their own fragility in the world we live in.”

“If viewers feel something, then I have done my job as an artist,” Arbel said. “If I can evoke emotion, connect memories with a viewer, elicit some thought or self-reflection, then I am satisfied. I hope the exhibition sheds light on the fact that trauma is passed down generationally.”

“This exhibition is very important to me because I think it is so important not to forget our history,” Nedivi said. “If we do not learn about it and remember the ones that perished, history might repeat itself. I also feel that I have a strong need to make this art to try to understand my parents better. I think the art explains what words cannot say.”

“Inherited Memories” runs May 18-26 at the Castelli Art Space, 5428 Washington Blvd., Los Angeles. The artists will participate in a discussion at 3 p.m. May 26.

Get Serious About Holocaust Education

Photo from the National Museum of the USAF.

We were two of the youngest Jewish-Americans to run for Congress in 2018 — Naomi Levin and Bryan Leib. We have many things in common, including our backgrounds, our core beliefs, our love for Israel and the reasons we ran for Congress against insurmountable odds. 

We have a mutual belief that Congress should do more to educate our next generation about the Holocaust. In April 2018, a bipartisan group in the House of Representatives (four Democrats, four Republicans) introduced a bill called the Never Again Education Act (HR 5460). It was introduced in response to an alarming survey by the Claims Conference asserting that more than two-thirds of American millennials have never heard of Auschwitz. 

Furthermore, more than 45% of those surveyed couldn’t name one of the ghettos or concentration camps, and 9 in 10 surveyed responded “yes” when asked if American students should learn about the Holocaust. 

After hearing the results of this study, it became clear that the memory of the Holocaust is quickly fading while anti-Semitism around the world is on the rise. I (Leib) am the grandson of a Holocaust survivor and I (Levin) have relatives who survived the Holocaust. We will never forget about the Holocaust and we are personally invested in seeing Holocaust education rolled out nationwide. But what about the millions of Americans who don’t have grandparents or relatives who are Holocaust survivors and can’t name a single concentration camp? 

In response to these shocking statistics, the eight members of the House introduced a bipartisan bill that would authorize and fund the Department of Education to provide grants to carry out educational programs about the Holocaust. We and many others applauded these eight members who introduced the bill and started working with our friends, community members and members of Congress to whip up support for additional cosponsors of the bill. 

To date, the bill has 53 co-sponsors (33 Democrats, 20 Republicans). The growing number of cosponsors seemingly would have increased the likelihood that the bill would be voted on in committee with recommendation for a full vote on the House floor. 

Here is where things get weird and, well, frustrating. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on April 10, 2018 (the same day the bill was introduced), and now more than 365 days later, the bill has not been read once in committee and has not been voted on in committee. 

We don’t believe the federal government should tell Americans how to live our lives. However, in this case, we will make an exception because our future depends on it. 

The federal government has a real opportunity to pass a real bill that will have tangible and measurable results — that will affect the lives of our children. If we don’t start educating the next generation about the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler and the 6 millions Jews that were erased from existence, then we run the risk that history will repeat itself. 

We, Bryan Leib and Naomi Levin, are calling on Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Chairman Bobby Scott and the bill’s original lead sponsor, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), to breathe life back into this bill, get it out of committee and onto the House floor for a full vote. 

In the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., “The time is always right to do what’s right.” This bill is right, the cause is just and members of Congress must stop placating the American people by telling us they care about the growing tide of anti-Semitism and actually do something to address it. This bill is their opportunity to change the tide and make an impact. Will they? Your move, Congress.


Bryan E. Leib is a program manager for the Israeli-American Council and a member of the board of the National Museum of American Jewish History. He ran for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 3rd Congressional District. Naomi Levin, a software engineer, ran for Congress in New York’s 10th Congressional District. She is a board member of Endowment for Middle East Truth. 

Elan Carr Marches With US Delegation During March of the Living

Elan Carr, newly appointed special envoy for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism in Poland. Credit: Erin Ben-Moche

(KRAKOW, POLAND) — Elan Carr, newly appointed special envoy for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism arrived in Poland May 2 to march alongside the U.S. delegation for the 31st annual International March of the Living at Auschwitz.

Also in attendance were US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and Ambassador to Poland, Georgette Mosbacher.

It was Carr’s first visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau and he told the Journal, “It is a special honor to be tasked on the behalf of the United States [with fighting anti-Semitism]. It’s a vow all of us can make at this solemn and holy place.”

Carr said the first priority “is to remember and to warn and never to let go of what happened here about the murder of 6 million Jews because of who they were…making sure that we never allow this to happen again…It means to fight anti-Semitism with every fiber of our being.”

Earlier this week, Carr attended the funeral of Lori Gilbert-Kaye who was killed April 27 following an anti-Semitic attack on Chabad of Poway in San Diego County. The former L.A. county district attorney said the attack there made it even more clear that anti-Semitism needs to be fought and Jews need to be protected all over the world.

“Jewish people now have the state of Israel protecting them and the United States devoted in word and in deed and in law to fighting for the safety of the Jewish people,” Carr said. “It’s a very powerful oath to take here that we will commit ourselves and renew our commitment to fighting anti-Semitism. We have to fight anti-Semitism everywhere.”

 

Pence Lays Wreath, Speaks Out Against Anti-Semitism During Auschwitz Visit

Screenshot from Twitter.

Vice President Mike Pence laid a wreath at a memorial and spoke out against anti-Semitism during his visit to Auschwitz on Feb. 15.

Pence toured the concentration camp with his wife, Karen, and Polish President Andrezj Duda and First Lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda. Pence laid the wreath down at the Death Wall, where prisoners at the camp were executed.

Pence also laid a rose down on a train at Birkenau that the Nazis used to bring prisoners into the camps:

Toward the end of the tour, Pence said that Auschwitz is a reminder as to “why anti-Semitism needs to be universally condemned.”

“It begins with vile rhetoric, then proceeds into violence,” Pence said.

Pence described the experience of touring Auschwitz as “very hard to put into words.”

“The dimensions of what happened there, it’s unspeakable,” Pence said.

On Feb. 14, Pence spoke at the Warsaw Middle East summit, where he said Iran is calling for “another Holocaust.”

Pence Will Visit Auschwitz for the First Time With Netanyahu

Vice President Mike Pence in Washington, D.C., on May 1. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Vice President Mike Pence will make his first visit to Auschwitz with Polish President Andrzej Duda on Feb. 15, The Washington Post reported.

The vice president will be in Warsaw for a joint U.S.-Poland conference on Middle East peace and security later this week. Participants include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Tunisia.

Israel-Palestinian peace deal architects Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt also are scheduled to attend the conference. The Palestinian Authority is reportedly boycotting and calling on Arab governments to follow suit according to the JTA.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told government ministers at a weekly Cabinet meeting that he will meet with Pence, as well as with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Pence and Netanyahu will tour a memorial of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising where Jews resisted Nazi efforts to deport remaining residents. The effort failed and the remaining Jews were deported after a month.  

Pence, a conservative Christian, is a strong supporter of Israel within the Trump administration.

Pence’s keynote remarks at the Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East will highlight what the United States and Israel say is Iran’s widespread malign influence across the region.

“The vice president will essentially call out Iran for their actions. He will give a message to those groups that are there, that, you know, if you stand with us, we’ll stand with you,” a White House official told the Post.

‘Schindler’s List’: 25 Years Later

In third grade, the social studies teacher at the Hebrew day school I attended flipped off the lights and switched on an 8mm projector. Looking back, I suspect he didn’t trust his words to adequately convey what we were about to see.

The newsreel, the kind my parents watched in movie theaters at the end of World War II, showed scenes from the liberation of Auschwitz.

Images from that film stay with me to this day — such as the man with sunken cheeks, bones sticking out under his striped prisoner’s uniform staring blankly into the camera.

I knew that his eyes would haunt me for the rest of my life. I wondered what he might have said if given the chance.

Thirty years later, I stood inside Grand Central Terminal in New York as the nonprofit I founded, StoryCorps, opened its first booth. Its goal was to encourage everyday people to interview a loved one and to celebrate the stories we can find all around us when we take the time to listen. Since that day, more than 500,000 Americans have recorded StoryCorps interviews, each of which will live forever in the Library of Congress.

As we mark the 15th anniversary of StoryCorps, I’m reminded that it’s also the 25th anniversary of another effort to illuminate, honor and preserve the human story: producer-director Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece “Schindler’s List.”

My appreciation for the film and for Spielberg is rooted in his belief that there are few actions more important than reminding people that their lives and stories matter. That they won’t be forgotten. That they are not alone.
I spent the days leading up to Thanksgiving debating whether it was time for my 10-year-old son to watch this film. 

My son has been asking me questions about the Holocaust for years, but it’s hard to know when the time is right for your child to have that moment, the one I’d had all those years ago.
So while thinking about “Schindler’s List,” I shared with him a StoryCorps interview. In it, Debbie Fisher asks her father to tell her about Auschwitz. Her father had always downplayed his experiences there as a child, insisting that she not “knock on the door.” But when he was gravely ill in the hospital, she knocked one last time. He said, “I’ll let you in, but if I let you in this room, you will never, ever get out. Do you want to come in?”

After a few days, my wife and I decided it wasn’t the right time to let our son in the room.

But late one night recently, I sat down and screened the film alone. As I watched Amon Goeth stand on his balcony and casually pick off Jews with his rifle, I was transported back to my third-grade classroom.

I thought about the word Untermenschen — subhuman — which the Nazis used to call Jews,
blacks, the disabled — anyone who posed a threat to an Aryan “master race.” I thought about how they branded people in concentration camps with numbers, not names.

Which is to say: They didn’t think of them as human beings at all. 

This is why, 25 years after its debut, “Schindler’s List” matters more than ever.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, “Words create worlds.” He would remind his children that the Holocaust didn’t start with the gas chambers. It began with words. With Hitler putting calculated, dehumanizing speech out into the ether.

In the United States today, words of loathing and disgust directed at fellow human beings — whether they be asylum seekers or those we disagree with across political divides — are in the air as they have never been in my lifetime. Something dangerous and toxic has been unleashed in this country and it demands our attention.

Let’s be clear. Are we in 1930s Germany? No. 

Are we treating one another in ways that could lead us further down an extremely perilous path? Unfortunately, yes.

With StoryCorps’ new initiative, One Small Step, we are, for the first time, putting strangers across the political divides together in StoryCorps booths, not to talk about politics, but to be reminded of the fact that we are all living, breathing human beings. We hope to convince our countrymen that it is our patriotic duty to recognize the humanity in people who we may have regarded as “the other.”

So far, One Small Step has been working in all the ways StoryCorps hoped it would. Looking another human being in the eyes and asking, “Who are you?” “What lessons have you learned in life?” “How would you like to be remembered?” reminds us that listening is an act of love. Coming face to face with the stories of strangers we may have feared — or even hated —reminds us of our shared humanity.

History has taught us what can happen when we forget those inviolable truths. History also has shown what can happen when the world hears the voices of the most vulnerable among us, as they did a quarter of a century ago in Spielberg’s film. Numbers became names.

Soon after the release of “Schindler’s List,” Spielberg created the Shoah Foundation to ensure
that the voices and memories of all Holocaust survivors could whisper in our ears forever; that their words would help to create a different world, where we listen to one another, where we recognize that what’s at stake are individual human lives, not statistics.

That’s the world I want my son to grow up in.

I await the day when my son watches “Schindler’s List.” He’ll knock when he’s ready to come in the room. 

And just as Debbie’s father did for her, I’ll open that door, and sit right there beside him.


Dave Isay is the founder and president of StoryCorps.

Connecting to My Immigrant Grandmother

My grandmother was formidable, strong, built to last. After surviving the trauma of Auschwitz, she moved to the United States only to become a stranger in a strange land, struggling to make a decent living and learn a new language. In the face of all her challenges, she was indefatigable, unflappable.

At least that is the only way I saw her. During my entire childhood, I never glimpsed what was underneath all that strength, and while I grew up, it seemed as if there could only be more strength. For me, it took her death to really begin to understand who she was and what she meant to me.

Growing up as her deliberating, Americanized granddaughter, I felt as if we were on different wavelengths. I consistently second-guessed myself and got nervous about what to say when speaking with her because she always struck me as so serious, so sure of her opinions. There was not an indecisive bone in Grandma’s Hungarian body. She never deliberated or thought through things because that reflective process was unnecessary. Grandma possessed an innate sense of knowing that came from the old country and powered her through life. 

It was not that my grandmother had a handle on all knowledge. In fact, she wasn’t very worldly and didn’t care to know much about people and things that stood outside of her purview. But she had no questions or uncertainty when it came to things that were within her scope, her world. Lack of certainty would have been weakness. After conversations with her, I hoped that although I didn’t inherit her sense of sureness, maybe I could become more confident by osmosis.

My only real breakthroughs with my grandmother came from eating food she prepared. I think that is where she put most of the love she had for her grandchildren. She baked, fried, rolled, wrapped and stuffed it into her challah and kokosh and cheese danishes and nuckerlie and handmade pasta and tultott kaposta (stuffed cabbage). The vats of chicken fat we found in her freezer after her death were like finding a sacred storehouse, the secret ingredient that had held together our family for all these years. 

“She had no questions or uncertainty when it came to things that were within her scope, her world.”

Her stuffed cabbage was the Holy Grail and remains my favorite food to this day. She would often send my father home with portions just for me. On the one hand, she had this awkward habit of sending food to an individual person when there was an entire household of people who wanted to eat it. On the other hand, when it was my turn, and my father walked in the door with special stuffed cabbage just for me — well, those were the best days. Even after I moved away and got older, when I would come to visit, her first words were, “How you are? Vat you need? Stuffed cabbage, I made you. Go get it from the freezer.”

On some subconscious level, I may have chosen to live in Hungary with my husband for six months soon after we got married to work with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee just so that I could be closer to her. Not because the committee brought her and my father to the U.S., but so I could learn about these foods she made. I tried taking Hungarian cooking classes, but could not replicate my grandmother’s dishes (at the time, I was unaware of the secret chicken schmaltz). 

She died less than a year ago, and as I look at the few leftover portions of stuffed cabbage still sitting in her freezer, I still wonder what was underneath all of Grandma’s strength and gumption. I sometimes wonder if she even knew, or if she had puffed up herself with so much confidence over the years that even she forgot about the insecurities and bad memories simmering below the surface. Maybe as an immigrant and Holocaust survivor, she needed to forget in order to move forward with her life. 

What I do know is that she left a legacy of looking forward in life that has had a lasting impression on me. It is unlikely that I will ever fully inherit my grandmother’s level of certainty and willpower, but she has given me something to aspire to. And if all else fails, I think I have a decent shot at replicating her stuffed cabbage.


Na’amit Sturm Nagel teaches English literature at Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles.

Dutch Performance Artists Re-Create Life in Auschwitz … in Miniature

The atrocities at Auschwitz cannot be contained by any existing theatrical space or any single 60-minute performance, no matter how innovative, which is one reason why critics have found “Kamp,” the mixed-media work by the Dutch company Hotel Modern, so audacious. The scope of the project may be immense, but the company works — quite literally — in miniature, using puppets and models to depict the working life of the Nazi concentration camp.

“Using models, you can bring the whole world into the theater literally, very big themes, not only emotionally but physically,” said Pauline Karker, one of the three performing artists who created “Kamp.”

Audiences witness what might have been a typical day at Auschwitz, with the horror of the camp on full display. Trains arrive with new prisoners. Hundreds of Plasticine figures in black-and-white-striped pajamas are gathered for “roll call.” A garish sign over the entrance proclaims, “Arbeit Mach Frei” (Work makes you free). Here, it doesn’t. You witness people scrubbing floors and toting sandbags. You also see prisoners beaten or murdered in the gas chambers.  

All of this plays out on a cardboard stage filled with scale models of buildings and more than 3,000 miniature figures manipulated by three performance artists. There is a soundtrack but no dialogue. Cameras zoom in to bring elements of the action into close-up on screens surrounding the action.

“If you say, ‘They’re using puppets and miniature buildings and dolls to examine the Holocaust,’ it sounds like a terrible idea. But as you can see from the reviews and the ways that people have responded to it, it’s highly effective, profoundly moving and very sensitive.” — Mark Murphy

Photo by Redcat

“The stagecraft is ingenious,” said Mark Murphy artistic director of the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts (REDCAT) Theater , where “Kamp” will play for four performances Sept. 20-23. “But also there’s the incredible sensitivity to the horror of the material they are addressing. They are very matter-of-fact in the way they approach it.”

“If you say, ‘They’re using puppets and miniature buildings and dolls to examine the Holocaust,’ it sounds like a terrible idea,” Murphy conceded. “But as you can see from the reviews and the ways that people have responded to it, it’s highly effective, profoundly moving and very sensitive.”

“Kamp’s” inspiration was Joseph Kalker, a doctor who died at Auschwitz, and the grandfather of company performing artist Pauline Kalker. Following the success of their World War I project, “The Great War,” Kalker felt the need to produce a work that had a stronger personal connection to the Holocaust.

Her two fellow Hotel Modern company members, Arlène Hoornweg and Herman Helle, were receptive to the idea, but Kalker still had some lingering doubts.

“It was difficult on many levels, first because my father was Jewish and my mother is not,” Kalker said. “Also, I had this feeling of ‘Am I allowed to tell this story?’ But later I thought, ‘That’s stupid. My grandfather was killed and my father was in hiding,’ but I felt like I had to ask permission of the Jewish community to see how they would feel.”

Photo by Redcat

The artists began to build the piece, researching the extermination camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau and re-creating the layout via models created by Kalker’s husband. They brought Auschwitz survivors and members of the Jewish community into the studio to discuss the concept of the show and to look at the models. Even on the miniatures, several survivors were able to identify barracks where they had been housed. According to Kalker, some survivors have said they found “Kamp” to be cathartic and have seen the show multiple times. Others have given the performance their blessing but couldn’t bring themselves to watch it.

After each performance, audiences are invited to come down to the stage to take a closer look and to ask questions. “There’s a chance to speak directly with the artists and also to break that fourth wall and for a moment commune with the set and the objects that were used to convey such a difficult story,” Murphy said. “That’s a very important part of the experience.”

Hotel Modern created “Kamp” in 2005 and has taken the performance across Europe, and to Canada, Japan and Australia. In 2019, dates scheduled for France and in Kalker’s hometown of Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

Photo by Redcat

Kalker has not been part of every engagement and she notes that the work is by no means easy to perform. Seven years ago, she had to return to “Kamp” a few months after giving birth to her daughter.

“That was hard. To tell this horrible story again,” Kalker said. “Sometimes I’ve felt I wish I could leave it all behind, but then I think I can’t do that. It’s such a part of my father’s life and a part of my life. It’s been very rewarding to have found a way to share this history with an audience.”


“Kamp” will be performed at 8:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday at REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., Los Angeles. redcat.org.

Mandate an End to Holocaust Ignorance

Photo from the National Museum of the USAF.

A recent Claims Conference study that showed Americans’ knowledge of the Holocaust was unexpectedly low, particularly among millennials, drew national attention but should come as no surprise.

The survey revealed that 66 percent of millennials could not identify what “Auschwitz” was, and 41 percent thought that 2 million or fewer Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.

Although the figures are startling, the detail of history becomes less relevant to subsequent generations as events recede into the past. It is not young people’s fault they don’t know these facts; the fault primarily lies with the people who decide what is important to teach them. The survey is not an indictment of a lazy millennial generation, but of an uneven educational environment.

The problem is not new. A survey conducted by Peter Shulman in 1992 showed similar patterns of ignorance. At the time, 38 percent of respondents could not identify Auschwitz, compared with the 41 percent in this most recent survey. A quarter of a century on and we are worse off.

Students will not spontaneously start reading about Auschwitz — they need structure.

There is no lack of organizations and teaching resources that can provide young people with the knowledge they need about the Holocaust. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a national remit funded by the federal government. There are scores of Holocaust centers and online resources such as “Echoes and Reflections,” a curriculum supported by the Anti-Defamation League, Yad Vashem and the USC Shoah Foundation (which I run). There are enough teaching resources for every child to know precisely what Auschwitz was, how many Jews were murdered during the Holocaust and much more.

So, how do we close the gap between the obvious need for students to learn and the provision of educational support and resources to meet that need? We need to come up with a national plan. More states must mandate teaching about the Holocaust, more school district supervisors must ensure compliance of such mandates, and more principals need to understand that teaching about the Holocaust is an opportunity to educate and engage students with much more than knowledge alone.

A well-organized, well-funded lobby is needed to achieve this goal.

Ivy Schamis, who teaches a semester of Holocaust studies at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., was in class, using the USC Shoah Foundation’s IWitness platform the day Nikolas Cruz shot and killed two of her students.  The students in her class talk about the meaning of Auschwitz in the contemporary world. Schamis told me the Holocaust class was introduced because of a state mandate, and the school’s principal also was intent on ensuring the school’s curriculum made the most of the opportunity to expose students to complex world issues.

Almost all of the students who have gained national prominence for their involvement in responding to the shooting took the Holocaust class. Cruz did not.

Of course, it is not only important what students learn, but what they do with what they learn. I accompanied Schamis to the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C., where one of her students told me: “We were in her class learning about hate, and then seconds later we experienced it first-hand.” The Parkland students had already thought through what it meant to counter hate. He told me the classroom they were in had a “Never Forget” poster. It’s no coincidence they chose the hashtag #neveragain for their campaign. They had lived the idea of “Never again” in Schamis’ class.

We have two options. Either we shake our heads at the latest survey results and decry the ignorance of the younger generation, or we begin a serious and concerted effort to ensure that there is a plan for states to implement mandates as well as online Holocaust training for teachers.

Students will not spontaneously start reading about Auschwitz — they need structure. And educators need a plan for implementing that structure. Either that, or 25 years from now we will be seeing the same survey results all over again — only worse.


Stephen D. Smith is the Finci Viterbi executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation.

Poll: Nearly Two-Thirds of Millennials Don’t Know What Auschwitz Is

Photo from Pixabay.

A poll released on April 12 shows that nearly two-thirds of millennials don’t actually know what Auschwitz is.

The Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study found that 66% of millennials couldn’t identify Auschwitz; among all adults that number was 41%.

In fact, 49% of millennials couldn’t identify a single concentration camp or ghetto; that number was 45% among all U.S. adults. Forty-one percent of millennials also thought that two million Jews or less died in the Holocaust and 22% didn’t even know or weren’t sure what the Holocaust was. Among adults, those numbers were 31% and 11%, respectively.

Making matters worse was the fact that the poll found that 70% of all U.S. adults felt that less and less people care about the Holocaust and 58% thought that something like the Holocaust could happen again in the future.

The aforementioned numbers could be due to the fact that 80% of U.S. adults have never been to a Holocaust museum and 66% don’t know a Holocaust survivor.

However, there was some good news in the poll: 93% of U.S. adults said that all schools should teach their students about the Holocaust and 80% think it’s “important” that people know about the Holocaust to ensure that it never happens again.

Still, the whole point of #NeverAgain is to ensure that people don’t forget about the horrors of the Holocaust, and the Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study shows that there are “significant gaps in knowledge” in the country. This is at a time when anti-Semitic attacks in the U.S. increased by 60% in 2017 and anti-Semitic incidents throughout Europe increased.

However, a recent study found that anti-Semitic attacks globally declined by 9% in 2017.

Read the full results of the poll here.

The Jewish Geography of — and in — Auschwitz

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

After two nights in Krakow, we were returning to Warsaw to finish our study trip to Jewish Poland. I packed, pulling out clothes for Sunday’s site visit: comfortable shoes, pants instead of a dress, black clothing to convey an appropriate somberness for Auschwitz.

My deliberations seemed like unintentional mockery — disrespectful in the
light of history that we all know well. When Jews packed before “resettlement,” they had no idea where they were going, and many may have suspected that packing was just an exercise. I knew how the story ended, that later that day, I would see those suitcases and the belongings that filled them.

In conversation, a trip participant mentioned that his parents had been deported from Hungary around June 21 or 22 in 1945. Transports took about 10 days for the journey to Auschwitz, so they would have arrived on or around July 2. Our visit to Auschwitz was on July 2, 2017.

Seeing on social media where I was, one of my friends messaged me, “Look for my daughter — she is also at Auschwitz.” Although it’s an informational statement (and in 2017, 2.1 million people visited), adding “at Auschwitz” to any sentence brings a flush of nausea. This contemporary game of Jewish geography had a troubling, alternate reality echo: Had inmates been desperate to see familiar faces, or did not seeing familiar faces mean maintaining hope that some had survived?

We’re here. They never would have dreamed we would be. But we are.

I had a solid Jewish education and already understood my responsibility to never forget. I’d read Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel, Simon Wiesenthal and Yaffa Eliach. I wrote a book about the Hidden Children of the Holocaust. I’d been to Yad Vashem, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and half a dozen other Jewish museums in various cities. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know about Auschwitz, about the people who passed under that famous gate, the “Arbeit Macht Frei,” that sets an ache into the Jewish heart. Now that we were there, our guide explained that it was a replica; the real sign had been stolen in 2009 and cut into pieces to fit into the getaway car. The original is in storage, he said. I imagined it in a government warehouse with endless rows of identically sized boxes, while its understudy played its part.

I had been prepared to feel every aspect of sadness in this space, but as I went from room to room, looking at the artifacts — shoes, hairbrushes, suitcases, uniforms — I felt the mildest version of sadness. Where were my tears? What was wrong with me? Was I too prepared? Or was it the damned replica gate, the fact that some of this experience had been constructed for tourists, that made me disconnect?

Then I saw the hair. Cut from the heads of the victims, the hair was horror, and the human loss it represented snapped me back into humanity. From that point on, I was emotionally tuned in.

One of the men on our trip wore his tallit throughout the visit, and I understood it was his way of proclaiming triumph: We, the Jews, are still here. I needed to find my own way to do that.

I pointed my phone’s camera toward the ground and walked; filming my feet, black sneakers on gravelly earth; not speaking, listening to the mostly quiet air, the sound of my feet as they hit the ground; feeling my breath as I walked and being both grateful and horrified.

I walked in their footsteps, in their memory, in an attempt to feel, understand and experience a new kind of Jewish geography — the mobius strip of communal memory, where location binds past to the present, and we all march into our unknown future.

Connecting with others who are here. Seeing the place. Feeling the gravity of the location beneath our feet. Inhaling the trauma of our history with every breath. Trying to process their loss and the triumph of our return. We’re here. They never would have dreamed we would be. But we are. I am.


Esther D. Kustanowitz, a 10-year veteran of Twitter, is a contributing writer at the Jewish Journal and an editor at GrokNation.com.

Remembering Why We Must Remember the Holocaust

Photo from Wikipedia

January 27th, the anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz, is the day designated by the United Nations as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Observed at the UN headquarters and in countries throughout the world, it is not the only Holocaust memorial day. Some countries observe dates that relate directly to their own Holocaust history. Jews throughout the world observe the 27th of Nissan in the Hebrew calendar — just after Passover and in proximity to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 — as Yom HaShoah .

It’s a fitting time to ask: Why should the world remember the Holocaust, which began more than 75 years ago and enveloped almost all of Europe?

Because it happened, we must understand the evil — systematic evil, state-sponsored evil, industrialized killing, mass murders — that was the essence of the Holocaust. We must understand its emblematic invention, the death camp and the people who served in these camps. Their assignment: mass murder.

Some were sadists and criminals – people unlike us – but many more were ordinary men trying to do their best, to fulfill their obligations. Some were even professionals, lawyers and doctors, ministers and economists who used the skills they had learned to become more efficient killers. Some were enthusiastic, others more reluctant.  All became killers.

Because it happened, we must understand the circumstances of the victims, who had to make choiceless choices between the impossible and the horrific, and who faced conditions of such utter powerlessness that they could do little to determine their fates. Yet even though they were powerlessness, they were far from passive. Resistance took many forms, courage manifest itself in many ways; taking up arms was but a last stand.

And we must understand the indifference of neutrality. In the struggle between powerless victims and an overwhelmingly powerful killing machine, neutrality is anything but neutral. Indifference is a death sentence. The bystander is also an enabler.

We can learn so much about evil in studying the Holocaust that it leaves us numb, that despair overtakes us, that we sense our own helplessness. Indeed, the Holocaust was an atrocity, senseless and anguishing. But there were a few — a precious few — men, women and even children who opened their homes and their hearts and provided havens for the victims, a place to sleep, a crust of bread, a kind word, a hiding place. What makes such goodness possible? Why were some people immune to the infection of evil?  We call them Upstanders. These are the people whose deeds we may wish to emulate, who can serve as models for how we want to behave and what we want to become.

The Holocaust began slowly. Age-old prejudice led to discrimination, discrimination to persecution, persecution to incarceration, incarceration to annihilation. Mass murder, which culminated with the killing of six million Jews, did not begin with the Jews nor did it encompass only the Jews. The violations of one groups’ rights are seldom contained only to that group. Scholars have identified stages of the Holocaust; it is far easier to stop a genocide in its early stages of persecution and discrimination before dehumanization and mass murder ensue.

We must understand the fragility of democracy: however precarious, it is ever more precious. Yet it can be undermined when leaders show a little commitment to democratic rule; when political opponents become enemies, denied all legitimacy; when violence in tolerated and ultimately employed to quash dissent; when civil liberties and freedom of the press are restricted and when democratic institutions are weakened.

Sadly, the issues raised by the Holocaust are not consigned to our past. Genocide, a word invented to give voice to the fate of the Armenians in World War I and the Jews in World War II, a crime outlawed by the United Nations, has recurred since 1945, even today. Refugees fleeing oppression and near certain death are still unwanted in most places on the globe. Inter- religious hatred flourishes; so too, intra-religious conflict.

The study of the Holocaust is not easy, emotionally or intellectually.

To understand this event, we have to confront death, yet the study of these deaths is in the service of life. The study of this evil is intended to strengthen decency and goodness.

The Holocaust shatters faith — faith in God, secular faith in human decency and faith in the inevitability of progress and even in Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s teaching that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. The Holocaust provides few answers, but raises many questions — questions that invite moral struggle against that evil.

The call from the victims — from the world of the dead — was to remember. Today we hear from those who were there and those who were not, the urgency of memory, its agony and anguish, the presence of meaning and its absence. To live in our age, one must face that absence as well as that haunting presence.


Michael Berenbaum is a professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at American Jewish University.

Charlottesville put focus on alt-right, but watch out for the anti-Semitic left

Protesters and counterprotesters clashing at Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

What can the hunt for Josef Mengele teach us about the challenges facing Jews today? With a debate stirring about whether left-wing or right-wing Jew-haters pose the greater threat, a new account of the decisions made by Israel’s leaders regarding the evil doctor of Auschwitz should give us some food for thought.

Author Ronen Bergman has written a new book about Israeli intelligence and contributed an op-ed in The New York Times concerning an enduring mystery of the Mossad: Why wasn’t Mengele brought to justice like Adolf Eichmann?

Israel made the capture of Eichmann — the man responsible for organizing the Nazi industrialization of murder — a priority mission for its intelligence operatives. After he was run to ground in Argentina and brought to Israel for trial and eventual execution, Mengele was the logical next target. Yet he evaded capture and died a free man in Sao Paulo in 1979.

Was he just too clever or lucky? No. As Bergman reports, Mengele was spotted in Sao Paulo in 1962 by a Mossad team. Had their commanders and their political masters ordered an operation to snatch him, he would have gotten the same just deserts Eichmann received. But they didn’t, and their reason provides an insight both into Israeli history and the choices that are often posed to the Jewish people.

As Bergman explains, the same day that the news about Mengele’s spotting arrived on Mossad chief Isser Harel’s desk, he learned Egypt was recruiting German scientists to build missiles. Harel oversaw the operation to get Eichmann but thought the threat from Egypt was more important than justice for Mengele. Had Gamal Abdel Nasser’s regime — which was then using chemical weapons in its military adventure in Yemen — acquired missile technology, that would have raised the prospect of Jews being gassed the next time Egypt attacked Israel.

With limited personnel at his disposal, Harel ordered the Mossad to stand down in Brazil and to concentrate on a campaign of intimidation and murder of Germans helping Egypt. Harel’s successor, Meir Amit, went further. He ordered his agents, “Stop chasing after ghosts from the past and devote all our manpower and resources to threats against the security of the state.” In other words, forget about old Nazis and concentrate on those Arabs and their allies trying to murder Jews now. Every Israeli prime minister concurred with Amit until Menachem Begin was elected in 1977. But Mengele died long before the Mossad was able to track him down again.

Yet the question lingers as to whether the Mossad’s decision to de-prioritize the hunt for Nazis was correct. Perhaps it might have been possible to do both, but it is not unreasonable to argue that a choice had to be made. Getting Mengele would have been just and emotionally satisfying, yet assigning its scarce resources to the more potent threat was probably the rational option.

Today, Jews face another portentous choice.

Because of what happened in Charlottesville, Va., last month, neo-Nazis are much on our minds. The imagery of a torchlight march of American racists chanting anti-Semitic slogans evoked the tragic past in a way that few events have done. With a small but noisy alt-right movement spreading Jew-hatred on the internet and social media, it’s also no longer possible to claim the anti-Semitic right is dead, as many of us had thought.

Yet, while Charlottesville has refocused us on neo-Nazis, the growing forces of the anti-Semitic left may be a far more potent contemporary threat. President Donald Trump’s inconsistent statements about Charlottesville were outrageous and have encouraged hate groups, but although we are right to worry about the alt-right, the ability of left-wing Israel-haters and their Islamist allies to mobilize far larger numbers of supporters in Europe and on American college campuses is a more serious problem. They can also influence popular culture and mainstream politics via the anti-Trump “resistance.” That presents a clear and present danger to Jewish communities and students that the marginal figures who assembled in Virginia do not.

Jews are capable of opposing both threats. Yet if, due to the antipathy Trump generates among many Jews, we ignore the left-wing anti-Semites in order to concentrate on the less dangerous right-wing haters, that would be a mistake. The Jews have more than one enemy, but the one that is still actively plotting the destruction of the Jewish state and the murder of Jews should remain the default priority. The lesson of Jewish history is not just “never again.” Meir Amit’s warning about chasing ghosts should also not be forgotten.


JONATHAN S. TOBIN is opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributing writer for National Review. Follow him on Twitter at @jonathans_tobin.

Jewish life and history are complicated in Poland

President of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust Paul Nussbaum, during a reflective moment at Auschwitz. Photos by Esther D. Kustanowitz

“There are no Polish concentration camps.”

I felt our group’s energy shift defensively at our guide’s proclamation. Quickly, there was a clarification: This was not a denial of Auschwitz and Birkenau’s existence, but a semantic edit — they were German Nazi camps on Polish soil, not camps established by Poles.

This is the murky, difficult-to-navigate space of contemporary Poland, a country eager to tell its national story but unsure of how to handle the more challenging stories within its history.

As a first-timer in Poland and guest of the Polish Press Office and the Polish government on a recent trip with seven other West Coast Jews, I had to balance the tales I’d heard of Poland’s anti-Semitism with the country’s contemporary, culture-celebrating face: Who has the right to shape the story of what happened in Poland in the 1930s and ’40s and put it into a contemporary Polish context? How could I acknowledge Polish pain within the deep wound of my Jewish pain? And how would being here inform my relationship with Poland and its people?

Joshua Holo, dean of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion campus in Los Angeles and one of the five local people on my trip, explained Polish attempts to present history are “a bit like a three-car accordion mashup.” As he explained, the first car (Nazis) rear-ends a second car (Poles), which then rear-ends a third (Jews). The Poles understand that the third car was damaged but don’t see themselves as responsible.

“In fact,” Holo said, “the Poles braked as hard as they could and heroically tried to avoid damaging the third car, but the violence of the collision proved too much. But the Polish version risks appearing defensive to many Jews and even partially distorted — distorted, that is, where it concerns us most.”

The week before she joined our trip, Rabbi Cheryl Peretz, associate dean at American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, was in Germany and noted how differently the Poles and the Germans handle acceptance of the Holocaust. In Germany, she said, “everywhere you go, there’s testimony to the existence of the Jewish people — memorials, museums, statues. With the Poles, that story is still sort of hidden.” She observed that the Germans are “clearer on their story,” and that “some of their acts of teshuvah (repentance) or reparations is to tell the Jewish story. Poles haven’t yet gotten to the place to say, ‘We were part of this’ because they feel like it was done to them.”

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust President Paul Nussbaum, a trip participant whose Hungarian parents survived Auschwitz, said he believes the responsibility to be vigilant in telling the truth is sacred.

“It is entrusted to us by those who cannot speak their truth themselves,” he said. “So when the truth is hijacked or attempted to be managed for petty political purposes, I am compelled to fight it with all my strength in order to honor my sacred responsibility.”

​Close-up of the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial

Everything we did in Poland had two layers — what is now, and what was and is no longer. And the transition often was an emotional and historical whiplash. For instance, our group took a train from Warsaw to Krakow on a Friday for a 650-person Shabbat dinner and a Jewish culture festival held in Kazimierz, which had been Krakow’s Jewish quarter before the Nazis deported the inhabitants. The following morning, we were at Auschwitz, making the weekend feel like a reductive, sped-up tour of the Jewish European experience: vibrant  Jewish culture suddenly, and drastically, dimmed at a concentration camp.

The trip presented contemporary Warsaw and Krakow as Poland’s current cultural and cosmopolitan face to accompany a troubled history. The Poles — at least those we met in the context of our trip — were fond of saying, “There is no Polish history without Polish Jewish history” —  often before reminding us again that the Poles were victims and that they weren’t responsible for the concentration camps.

It seemed like they were sincere and trying to say, “We’re all in this together.” But equating the Jewish and the Polish experience under Nazi-occupied Poland didn’t sit quite right.

At the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which opened in 2013 and is built where the Warsaw Ghetto once stood, our guide shared a legend: When the wandering Jews reached Poland, they saw the word “Polin” — Poland in Yiddish — written on a tree. They mistook it for the Hebrew po-lin, “rest here,” and they did for 1,000 years, until 90 percent of Poland’s Jewish population was destroyed in the Holocaust. The architecture of the museum entrance was designed to evoke the parting of the Red Sea and also the bridge of history — a rich Jewish life in Poland, disrupted by the Holocaust, and now moving forward.

The question of where Jewish culture and symbols belong in contemporary Poland is complicated. Because the Jewish population was decimated during the war, the Jewish culture has become for the Poles something exotic, somewhere between a fascination and a fetish. And the elevation of Jewish deference, even for celebratory or festival purposes, may still, for some Jews, feel more like anti-Semitism.

On Aug. 9, JTA reported on a fake Jewish wedding, held by a Polish cultural heritage group, involving a group of non-Jewish volunteers dressed in traditional Charedi costumes. Many Polish souvenir shops sell small figures of bearded Jewish men, called “Lucky Jews.” One of our guides said it’s not considered anti-Semitic, explaining that Jews are so rare as to have become the emblem of good fortune.

And then there is the annual Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, a week in June offering workshops, concerts, tours and lectures for thousands of people for the past 28 years. As the brainchild of Janusz Makuch, a non-Jewish Pole, the festival culminates in a massive, multi-act, outdoor, afternoon-to-night klezmer concert on Szeroka Street in Kazimierz. In the background stands the shul of Rav Moses Isserles (the Rema), considered to be the Maimonides of Polish Jewry.

Makuch spoke with us at a Morocco-and-Israel-themed coffee shop called Cheder Cafe, where many patrons spoke Hebrew. The menu offered Israeli snacks, kosher wine and charoset. The finjans (tea kettles) were authentic, Makuch bragged, from Nazareth.

Makuch grew up knowing nothing about Jews until he visited Kazimierz and realized “there had to be young Jews hungry for knowledge of the world we lost.” He credited young musicians for “bringing real Jewish light to this dark place” and expressed pride in the festival’s mostly non-Jewish volunteers.

The culture festival is curated, likely with the best of intentions, initiated by a new generation trying to apply cultural salve to what the wartime generation had wrought. But some Jews see the result as similar to Disney’s Epcot Center’s treatment of different countries: well-intentioned but inevitably displaying little more than cultural tropes and stereotypes. Jews of the world, ingrained with ancestors’ anecdotes over decades, may not always see this a positive, whatever the intent.

Still, what a marvel, I thought, that 70 years after near extermination, Jewish culture had returned to Krakow. And what a strange gloss on history such a vibrant, loud and musical return of Jewish culture to the main square truly is.

In Warsaw, the ground floor of the Jewish Community Center (JCC) resembles a cafe, with a coffee bar and tables. The JCC also hosts films, events, lectures and classes for its 400 members and 1,000 program participants, most of them young families. And in Krakow, the JCC is serving 630 members and actively building the Jewish community of tomorrow. Its preschool, pristine at the time of our visit, opens this fall.

While most online sources indicate that modern Krakow has “a few hundred Jews,” Jonathan Ornstein, a Polish and United States citizen who is the JCC’s executive director, estimates there are at least 100,000 in Poland and a few thousand in Krakow, but admits, “it’s hard to know.”

He painted a picture beyond verifiable statistics and our American-inflected understanding of “who is a Jew.” A Pole discovers, through a family confession or a box of relics in the attic, that she has a Jewish mother. She becomes involved, even religious. Her 12 other relatives are as Jewish as she is but do not care and do not become involved.

Ornstein knows this kind of story from personal experience. The weekend of our visit, he married his fiancée, Kasia, who had learned of her Jewish heritage only several years ago, after which she sought out the JCC to learn more.

“The people who are living there as Jews clearly want to tell their own story,” said Peretz, recalling another woman who had discovered she was Jewish but didn’t want to be told how to be Jewish. “She and her sons are exploring it, while no one else in their family is interested. We have to be willing to let them write their own story.”

Krakow has seven synagogues within walking distance of one another, and the JCC had 100,000 visitors last year, “after the Polin Museum and the camps, the most visitors,” Ornstein said.

“There’s the idea that we have to treat it [Poland] as a cemetery. Now, there’s a rebirth. Hey, March of the Living, come inside and see some Polish Jewish life,” Ornstein said.

As one example, he mentioned the Krakow JCC fundraising program, Ride for the Living, an 8-hour, 55-mile bike ride starting at Auschwitz and ending in the massive, JCC-orchestrated Shabbat dinner that happens during the culture festival.

“Why are we still around as Jews? We developed values and mechanisms for dealing with our tragic past,” Ornstein said. “We are Jewish despite the Holocaust not because of it.”

Nedda Black, an L.A.-based lawyer on the trip, found this future-driven spirit deeply resonant.

“Polish-Jewish children, no less and no more than American-Jewish children, need to feel loved, to laugh, to experience joy and to have a story that is their own,” she said. “I felt honored that so many Polish Jews shared their stories with me and allowed me into their community and homes to light candles, break bread, sing and dance together with them. In the end, we are all looking for the same things in life.”

Former Auschwitz guard, 96, found fit to serve prison sentence

Oskar Groening, then 93, arrives for the first day of his trial in Lueneburg, Germany, to face charges of being accomplice to the murder of 300,000 people at Auschwitz on April 21, 2015. Photo by Andreas Tamme/Getty Images

A 96-year-old former Auschwitz guard is fit to serve a prison sentence, according to prosecutors in the German state of Hanover.

Oskar Groening was convicted and sentenced in July 2015 to four years in jail for his role in the murder of 300,000 Hungarian Jews at the concentration camp in Poland. A federal appeals court rejected his appeal in November.

A doctor who examined Groening found him fit to go to prison with appropriate medical care, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office told The Associated Press. The prosecutor’s office then rejected a defense request to excuse Groening from going to jail.

A date for Groening to enter prison has not yet been set. He has remained free for the appeal and the decision on his fitness for prison.

Groening had admitted to being tasked with gathering the money and valuables found in the baggage of murdered Jews and handing it over to his superiors for transfer to Berlin. He said he had guarded luggage on the Auschwitz arrival and selection ramp two or three times in the summer of 1944.

During the trial, Groening asked for forgiveness while acknowledging that only the courts could decide when it came to criminal guilt.

Groening was held in a British prison until 1948. He eventually found work as a payroll clerk in a factory.

The first investigations of Groening took place in 1977, but it was only after the conviction of Sobibor guard John Demjanjuk in 2011 that the courts were emboldened to try camp guards on charges of complicity in murder.

Six-Day War: Voices after victory

A group of Israeli soldiers at the Western Wall after it was recaptured in the Six-Day War. Photo by David Rubinger

Few wars fought on any soil have had as profound an impact as the Six-Day War, which began June 5, 1967. The Jewish Journal asked Jewish leaders and thinkers to assess the war’s aftermath 50 years later.

Six Days, Followed by 50 Years of Palestinian Posturing

The Six-Day War was a turning point. Until then, Arab leaders were all about avenging Palestine; the defeat in 1948 swept the old elites out of power and brought in younger ones from the military. They made Palestine the central issue — not to resolve it but to use it internally and in their rivalries with other Arab leaders to see who could dominate the Arab world. Pan-Arabism — one Arab nation — was the idiom, and Palestine was the vehicle around which it was built. That, for all practical purposes, ended after those six days in June 1967.

Dennis Ross

Palestinians, who had left their fate to the Arabs after 1948, now knew they could not count on them. Unfortunately, the Palestinian leaders — while claiming they now would assume responsibility for fulfilling national aspirations — found it easier to focus on symbols and not substance, rejection rather than reconciliation, and grievance rather than achievement. Even today, their tendency remains more a flag at the United Nations than state and institution-building. There are those like former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad who recognize that the State of Palestine is far more likely to emerge when the rule of law becomes more important than seeking resolutions in international forums that deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem.

Israelis expected peace after the war. The Cabinet adopted a secret resolution on June 19, 1967, accepting withdrawal to the international border in return for peace with Egypt and Syria. More discussion was needed on the West Bank/Gaza. Israelis had not expected to be occupiers of what at that time were a million Arabs. The Oslo process was supposed to resolve the problem of occupation, but has not.

The challenge now — 50 years after 1967 — is for Israeli leaders to figure out how to avoid becoming a binational state when it is not clear that two states for two peoples can be negotiated, much less implemented, anytime soon.    

DENNIS ROSS is a former Middle East envoy and negotiator under four U.S. presidents.


From Auschwitz to Jerusalem and From Jerusalem to …

As the three-week buildup to the Six-Day War began, Jews sensed that Jewish life was again at risk, this time in the State of Israel. Once again, the world was turning its back. The United States would not come to Israel’s aid. The United Nations troops left.

Michael Berenbaum

A friend suggested that we bring the Israeli children to the U.S., where they would be safe. I decided that my place was to be in Israel. If the Jewish people were threatened, it was my fight, my responsibility. So instead of attending my college graduation ceremony, I left for Jerusalem. I was in the air when the June war began, and landed in Israel just in time to be in Jerusalem when the city was reunified.

I can still hear the words of the bus radio announcement as it was driving on old Highway 1: 

“An IDF (Israel Defense Forces) spokesman has said: The Old City is ours; I repeat the Old City is ours.”

I can still see the tears in the eyes of my fellow passengers as they embraced one another.

On the fifth day of the war, I went to Shabbat eve services and heard then-Israeli  President Zalman Shazar speak the words of “Lecha Dodi”: “ ‘Put on the clothes of your majesty, my people. … Wake up, arise.’ All my days I have prayed these words and now I have lived to see them.”

Never were those words more true. Never did they touch my soul more completely. I was a participant in Jewish history; I was at home in Jewish memory; I was embraced by Jewish triumph. However much skepticism — political and religious — has entered my understanding of that war and its consequences in the past 50 years, that moment is indelible in my soul and touched it, oh, so deeply.

My role in the war was anything but heroic. I organized a group of American volunteers to drive and work on garbage trucks. In that capacity, I helped clear the rubble of the war that divided Jerusalem at Jaffa Road and some of the stones from the homes demolished near the Wall. I was there on Shavuot when 100,000 Jews went to the Wall — under Jewish sovereignty for the first time in 1,878 years — and women in miniskirts danced alongside Charedi men, each fully absorbed in the moment, oblivious to the incongruity of what they were doing.

And yet, looking back, I think we are still fighting the Six-Day War, now a 50-years war. The “victory” has lost its majesty and mystery, though not its necessity. Even without walls in the center of Jaffa Street, Jerusalem is a divided city, nationally, ethnically and religiously. Repeated triumphs have not yielded security. The Jewish narrative is anything but simple: From Auschwitz to Jerusalem, and from Jerusalem of Gold to an earthly place divided and dividing. Time has made it more difficult to return to that heroic, miraculous moment -— more difficult but perhaps not less urgent.

MICHAEL BERENBAUM is a professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at American Jewish University.


Following Maestro’s Advice Changed His Life

Both of my parents are seventh-generation Israelis. On June 3, 1967, I was in medical school in Philadelphia studying for my med boards when the Arabs were surrounding Israel, screaming for its destruction.

Howard Rosenman

I flew to Israel,  volunteered as an intern in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and was stationed in Gaza. On the morning of June 8, my commanding officer, who knew of my family — called “Vatikay Yerushalayim” (“The Ancients of Jerusalem”) — said, “Tzahal [the Hebrew acronym for the IDF] is about to recapture the Old City. Go up to Jerusalem.”

I was there when Rabbi Shlomo Goren blew the shofar on Har ha’Bayit (the Temple Mount). It was the most important moment in my life.

I was then transferred to the Hadassah Medical Center, and Leonard Bernstein came to conduct Mahler’s “Resurrection Symphony” on the newly reconquered Har ha’Tzofim (Mount Scopus).

Bernstein came to visit the volunteers. “You look exactly like a waiter of mine at a discotheque in New York City,” he said to me.

“I am your waiter,” I answered. He immediately invited me to the concert.

Afterward, at the party at the King David Hotel, he offered me a “gofer” job on the documentary film of “the maestro” conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Judea and Samaria for the Tzahal, with Isaac Stern playing the violin. It was a war zone and you couldn’t go unless you got special clearance. 

Lenny encouraged me to leave medical school: “You are too good of a storyteller. Go into the arts. You will never bow to the Mistress of Science.”

Back in Philly, while assisting on an amputation, I decided to take a leave of absence. I called up Mr. Bernstein and told him, “I took your advice.”

Mr. Bernstein then introduced me to Katharine Hepburn, whose assistant I became on [the Broadway musical] “Coco,” and Stephen Sondheim … and my life was never the same again.

HOWARD ROSENMAN is a Hollywood producer.


An Unexpected Narrative

Eight years ago, I happened to be in Memphis, Tenn., where I visited the National Civil Rights Museum. The guided tour was led by an elderly gentleman, probably in his early 80s, who introduced himself as a civil rights activist and a personal friend of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Sharon Nazarian

As he walked us through the museum, we arrived in the hall showcasing an actual Freedom Rider bus. He proceeded to share with us the story of young students bravely coming to Memphis, in racially mixed groups, to show solidarity with the civil rights movement.

Knowing that many of the courageous riders were Jewish students, I raised my hand to ask his perspective on the role of the American-Jewish community in the civil rights struggle.

His answer has plagued me to this day. He said that at the height of the civil rights battles, the Jewish community had stood side by side with the African-American community, that is, until the 1967 Six-Day War.

During and after the war, he said, the attention and passion of the Jewish community turned completely toward Israel and away from the equal rights struggle in the United States. He went on to say that he, along with the leadership of the civil rights movement, felt completely abandoned and forgotten and continue to feel that way to this day.

Although this was a narrative I had never heard before, it helped explain what may have been the beginning of the deep rift that has taken hold between the Jewish and Black communities in the U.S., as felt and viewed from the perspective of the African-American community. We are still realizing the ripple effects of those momentous six days; this is another ripple that continues to impact our community here in the U.S.

SHARON NAZARIAN is president of the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation.


Millennials and the War

Jesse Gabriel

For my parents and many of their friends, the Six-Day War brings to mind David Rubinger’s iconic photograph of Israeli paratroopers standing in front of the Western Wall, their hopeful young faces an indelible reminder of Israel’s miraculous military victory less than 25 years after the Holocaust. But for many millennials, the Six-Day War is not what comes to mind when they think about Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict. On the contrary, my peers have tended to view Israel largely through the lens of more recent conflicts. As we tell Israel’s story on college campuses and to a new generation of U.S. policymakers, we should keep in mind that Israel’s incredible contributions to science and technology, its vibrant democracy and free press, and its commitment to treating victims of the Syrian civil war are likely to resonate more strongly than its struggle for survival in 1967.

JESSE GABRIEL is an attorney and board member of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.


Six-Day War: A Poem

Rabbi David Wolpe

The war
Became the wall.
But it was also
Families fleeing, fighters dying
Ghosts returning, rejoicing.
The city no longer a widow
The people no longer an orphan.
The tangle of promise and power
Tight as a schoolgirl’s braids.
And the Jews,
Bearing rifles and regulations
Dove deeper into history,
Brutal, fickle history,
Afraid
And unafraid.

RABBI DAVID WOLPE is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple.

Ex-Auschwitz guard, 95, dies while appealing conviction by German court

Former Auschwitz guard Reinhold Hanning sitting in the courtroom in Detmold, on June 11, 2016. Photo by Bernd Thissen/AFP/Getty Images

A former Nazi SS guard who was sentenced to five years in prison by a German court for his role as an accessory in the murder of at least 170,000 people in the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in Poland has died.

Reinhold Hanning’s lawyer told Reuters he found out about his client’s death on Tuesday, and did not go public with it until Thursday, and did not say what was the cause of death beyond noting that his client was elderly. Hanning, 95, was appealing his conviction and remained free at the time of his death.

He was convicted in June 2016 by the district court in Detmold, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Hanning, who had jointed the Hitler Youth in 1934, joined the Waffen SS in 1942 and was posted that year to Auschwitz where he served until at least June 1944.

He has denied participating in mass killings, but prosecutors argued that, as a guard, Hanning helped facilitate the murders.

He said during his trial that he was “ashamed that I knowingly let injustice happen and did nothing to oppose it.”

“I want to tell you that I deeply regret having been part of a criminal organization that is responsible for the death of many innocent people, for the destruction of countless families, for misery, torment and suffering on the side of the victims and their relatives. I have remained silent for a long time. I have remained silent all of my life,” Hanning said in court, reading from a written statement.

His was likely one of the last trials of Nazis in Germany.

Spicer and his critics are historically off

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer speaks during a press briefing at the White House on April 11. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

My Passover holidays were interrupted by the news, shared by friends in the synagogue, that the press secretary to the president of the United States had just said that Syrian President Bashar Assad was worse than Adolf Hitler because Assad gassed his own people.

I was astounded and saddened by the comment referring to an event in the village of Khan Sheikhoun on April 4. Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s remark was not, as my distinguished colleague professor Deborah Lipstadt said in The New York Times, “anti-Semitism,” masked or real, but ignorance pure and simple, an ignorance that should disqualify one from so exalted a position.

My mood didn’t lighten as I read critique after critique discussing the murder of German Jews by gas in such “extermination camps,” to use the Nazi term for killing centers, such as Auschwitz and Treblinka.

Their critique overlooked the origin of Germans gassing their own population, which had nothing to do with Jews.

Forgive the history lesson, but permit me to explain.

Mass murder began with the death of a few individuals. In October 1939, Hitler signed an authorization permitting his personal physician and the chief of the Führer Chancellery to put to death those considered unsuited to live. He backdated it to Sept. 1, 1939, the day World War II began, to give it the appearance of a wartime measure. In the directive:

Reich leader Philip Bouhler and Dr. Brandt are charged with responsibility for expanding the authority of physicians, to be designated by name, to the end that patients considered incurable according to the best available human judgment of their state of health, can be granted a mercy killing.

What followed was the so-called euthanasia program, in which men, women and children who were physically disabled, mentally deficient or emotionally disturbed were systematically killed. They were termed “useless eaters” and “life unworthy of living.”

Within a few months, the T-4 program (named for Berlin Chancellery Tiergarten 4, which directed it) involved virtually the entire German psychiatric community. A new bureaucracy, headed by physicians, was established with a mandate to “take executive measures against those defined as ‘life unworthy of living.’ ”

A statistical survey of all psychiatric institutions, hospitals and homes for chronically ill patients was ordered. At Tiergarten 4, three medical experts reviewed the forms returned by institutions throughout Germany but did not examine any patients or read their medical records. Nevertheless, they had the power to decide life or death.

Patients who doctors decided should be killed were transported to six main killing sites: Hartheim, Sonnenstein, Grafeneck, Bernburg, Hadama and Brandenburg. SS members and other health care personnel in charge of the transports donned white coats to keep up the charade of a medical procedure.

The first killings were by starvation: starvation is passive, simple and natural. Then injections of lethal doses of sedatives were used. Children were easily “put to sleep.” But gassing soon became the preferred method of killing; 15 to 20 people were killed in a chamber disguised as a shower. The lethal gas was provided by chemists, and the process was supervised by physicians. Afterward, black smoke billowed from the chimneys as the bodies were burned in adjacent crematoria. Communities adjacent to these facilities could see that smoke even in the heat of summer and they could smell the burning flesh.

Families of those killed were informed of the transfer. They were assured that their loved ones were being moved in order to receive the best and most modern treatment available. Visits, however, were not permitted. The relatives then received condolence letters, falsified death certificates signed by physicians, and urns containing ashes. There were occasional lapses in bureaucratic efficiency, and some families received more than one urn. They soon realized something was amiss.

A few doctors protested. Karl Bonhoeffer, a leading psychiatrist, worked with his son Dietrich, a pastor who actively opposed the regime, to contact church groups, urging them not to turn patients in church-run institutions over to the SS. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by the SS just before the end of the war.) A few physicians refused to fill out the requisite forms. Only one psychiatrist, professor Gottfried Ewald of the University of Göttingen, openly opposed the killing.

Doctors didn’t become killers overnight. The transformation took time and required a veneer of scientific justification. As early as 1895, a widely used German medical textbook made a claim for “the right to death.” In 1920, a physician and a prominent jurist argued that destroying “life unworthy of life” is a therapeutic treatment and a compassionate act completely consistent with medical ethics.

Soon after the Nazis came to power, the Bavarian minister of health proposed that psychopaths, the mentally deficient and other “insane” people be isolated and killed. “This policy has already been initiated at our concentration camps,” he noted. A year later, mental institutions throughout the Reich were instructed to “neglect” their patients by withholding food and medical treatment.

Pseudoscientific rationalizations for the killing of the “unworthy” were bolstered by economic considerations. According to bureaucratic calculations, state funds that went to the care of criminals and physically and mentally disabled persons living in institutions could be put to better use, for example by loans to newly married couples. Incurably sick children were seen as a burden for the healthy body of the Volk, the German people. In a time of war, it was not difficult to lose sight of the absolute value of human life. Hitler understood this. Wartime, he said, “was the best time for the elimination of the incurably ill.”

Historian and Auschwitz survivor Henry Friedlander traces the origins of the Final Solution to the “euthanasia” program. The murder of handicapped people was a prefiguration of the Holocaust. The killing centers to which the disabled were transported were the antecedents of the death camps. The organized transportation of the disabled foreshadowed mass deportation. Some of the physicians and other health care workers and hospital personnel as well as ordinary guards and mechanics who became specialists in the technology of cold-blooded murder in the late 1930s later staffed the death camps. All their moral, professional and ethical inhibitions had long been lost.

Psychiatrists, voluntary participants in the German “euthanasia” program, were able to save patients, at least temporarily, but only if they cooperated by sending others to their death.

Gas chambers were first developed at the “euthanasia” killing centers. The perpetrators cremated the dead bodies. In the death camps, the technology was taken to a new level: Thousands could be killed at one time and their bodies burned within hours.

The Roman Catholic Church, which had not taken a stand on the “Jewish question,” protested the “mercy killing.” Count von Galen, the Bishop of Münster, openly challenged the regime, arguing that it was the duty of Christians to oppose the taking of human life even if this were to cost them their own lives. It seemed to have an effect.

On Aug. 24, 1941, almost two years after the “euthanasia” program was initiated, it appeared to cease. In fact, it had gone underground. The total number of people killed in the Nazi “euthanasia” program is estimated to have been between 200,000 and 250,000. The majority were Germans, but Poles and Soviet citizens of various nationalities were also among the victims.

The killing did not end; mass murder was just beginning. Physicians trained in the medical killing centers went on to grander tasks. Irmfried Eberl, a doctor whose career began in the T-4 program, became the commandant of Treblinka, where killing of a magnitude as yet unimagined would take place.

Again, gassing did not begin with the Jews; it began with Germans who found the presence of fellow Germans of special needs an embarrassment to the myth of the “master race” and an economic hardship. Hitler initiated the process but the participation of German society and even its elite psychiatric community was as widespread as is was essential.


MICHAEL BERENBAUM is a professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at American Jewish University.

Survivor Celina Biniaz: The youngest of Schindler’s Jews

Photo by David Miller

“Get in rows. March,” the block leader ordered the nearly 300 women in the Auschwitz barracks who had arrived from the Plaszow concentration camp only weeks earlier, in mid-October 1944.

Thirteen-year-old Celina Karp dutifully obeyed, though this was the first time in Auschwitz that she had been separated from her mother, who earlier that morning had volunteered to peel potatoes, along with 29 others, hoping to pilfer a few skins.

Celina and the others were marched to another barracks, where they were ordered to strip and form a single line. Dr. Josef Mengele stood facing them, pointing with a yellow pencil in one direction or another as each prisoner drew near. Most were shunted to his left, rapidly exiting the barracks. Celina was directed to his right, frightened to find herself on the wrong side. Then unexpectedly, Mengele ordered Celina’s group to repeat the inspection. This time, as Celina approached Mengele — “I don’t know what made me do it,” she recalled — she looked up at him and said, “Lassen sie mich.” (“Let me go.”)

He pointed to his left. She grabbed her dress and ran out, crying hysterically. “I’m 13 years old and I’ve just been given life by Dr. Mengele,” she recalled.

That was just one of the twists that allowed Celina to survive. Perhaps more famously, Celina is alive today, at age 85, because of the actions of Oskar Schindler, the Czech businessman memorialized in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film “Schindler’s List.” She is the youngest of the roughly 1,200 Jews Schindler rescued.

But she credits Spielberg, who brought to the screen so many of the horrendous incidents that she witnessed, with enabling her to speak about those experiences.

“I always tell Steven Spielberg that he gave me a voice,” she said. “I say, ‘You are my second Schindler. He gave me life, but you gave me a voice. Because for 40 years, I never was able to talk about it because I didn’t think that anybody would understand.’ ”

Celina Biniaz, since her marriage in 1953, was born in Krakow, Poland, on May 28, 1931, the only child of Ignac and Felicia Karp.

Both parents were accountants, and the family was comfortably middle class, living in a mixed neighborhood in a two-room apartment with a kitchen and bathroom. They celebrated Jewish holidays but were not strictly Orthodox. 

After Germany attacked Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, Celina’s parents decided that she would have to relinquish her beloved puppy, a white Spitz. Several days later, as they took the dog to the animal shelter, they saw from a distance three bombs fall on the radio station — the beginning of the Nazi occupation of Krakow — and ducked into a nearby building. They then continued to the shelter, where Celina painfully surrendered her dog.

Celina was eager to enter third grade, but schools didn’t open that fall. Additionally, Jews couldn’t work, and Ignac joined the many Jewish men who began walking eastward, fearing capture by the Germans. But as winter approached, he returned.

By that time, the Jews were being conscripted into slave labor. Celina and her parents worked, shoveling snow.

By late fall 1940, the Karp family, along with most of Krakow’s Jews, had been relocated to a ghetto in the city’s Podgorze section. Celina’s parents, who were given blue cards, or work permits, were assigned to work at a factory outside the ghetto that was owned by Julius Madritsch.

Madritsch, a 34-year-old businessman and anti-Nazi from Vienna, had been named administrator of the F.A. Hogo shirt factory in Krakow, which he relocated to Podgorze and converted to sewing army uniforms. Ignac, who had been an accountant for F.A. Hogo, became Madritsch’s accountant, helping him manage the business. Felicia worked as a bookkeeper.

Celina, meanwhile, worked in the ghetto, making envelopes and brushes. But as roundups increased, Celina’s parents, worried she would be apprehended, procured a blue card for her, falsifying her age as 12, two years older than she was. Celina joined her parents at the factory, sewing uniforms.

“[Madritsch] was an amazing human being,” Celina said. He and Raimund Titsch, his factory manager, hired as many Jewish workers as possible, training them and providing them with extra food and medications.

When the Krakow ghetto was liquidated on March 13 and 14, 1943, those working in the Madritsch factory, who were essential to the war effort, were transferred to Plaszow, which was then a labor camp, rather than deported to a concentration camp.

During the liquidation, Celina witnessed German soldiers swinging infants by the feet, bashing their heads against stone walls. “I kept asking my mother, ‘How could God allow this?’ ” she said. “I lost my faith.” The experience also reinforced her fear of authority, which has never left her.

In Plaszow, Celina and her mother lived in a women’s barracks, walking to and from the factory daily in groups of five. She often saw her father there.

Inside the camp, however, where Amon Goeth was the commandant, fear ruled. “He was a beast,” Celina said. She witnessed hangings, shootings and beatings.

During one of the selections, Celina watched as the Germans rounded up 10 or 15 children. They then trucked them up a hillside and shot them, while the German lullaby “Gute Nacht, Mutter” (“Good Night, Mother”) played on the camp loudspeakers. “So sadistic,” Celina said. “You can’t imagine.”

During that time, six children managed to hide in the latrines. Madritsch’s workers later smuggled them out to the factory under big coats, two with Celina’s group, and they were placed with Catholic families.

In September 1943, a new edict forbade prisoners from leaving Plaszow’s confines. In response, Madritsch opened a factory inside the camp.

A year later, as the Russians approached, the Germans ordered all factories in the Krakow area closed. Schindler suggested that Madritsch, who had become his friend, join him in relocating his factory to Czechoslovakia. Madritsch declined, but sent 50 or more of his workers, including Celina and her parents, with Schindler’s group.

The men were shipped out first. Two weeks later, the 300 women were loaded into cattle cars. A day and a half later, in mid-October 1944, the train came to a screeching halt. As the door banged open, the women heard, “Raus, raus” (“out, out”) and dogs barking. “All of a sudden, we realized we’re someplace we’re not supposed to be,” Celina said. “Auschwitz.”

The women were marched into a barracks marked “sauna” (bath) and told to strip. Celina’s hair was clipped very short, others were shaved, and all were shoved into the shower room. “This is when we don’t know … is it going to be water or gas?” Celina said. She was incredulous when water burst from the showerheads. “That meant we had another day.”

The women were given dresses and taken to a barracks. Mostly they remained inside, except for the three times a day they stood in roll call, often for hours in the cold.

A few weeks after Celina’s run-in with Mengele, the women were unexpectedly loaded into cattle cars, pulling into the town of Brunnlitz, 140 miles northeast of Prague, three days later. Schindler had secured their release with bribes.

The women slept in the attic of the factory, where components of V2 rockets were manufactured. “Schindler told us from the very beginning that nothing was going to leave that factory that would be useable,” Celina said. With her small hands, she was put to work cleaning the insides of the large machinery. She also worked on a lathe and a calibrating machine.

On May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered. Schindler escaped, but not before giving each family two bolts of fabric and five pairs of scissors to use as barter.

Two days later, the Soviets officially liberated the prisoners, and Celina and her parents walked and hitchhiked back to Krakow, a two-week journey. Celina was almost 14. She weighed 70 pounds.

Celina spent the summer being tutored and was accepted into high school in September. But four weeks later, a pogrom hit eastern Poland, and the Karps fled.

They were smuggled over the border into Slovakia and eventually reached the displaced persons camp in Landsberg, Germany. But after two weeks, having had enough camp life, they moved to Mindelheim, a small community about 20 miles east, where they shared an attic apartment with the widow of a Nazi.

Celina attended school in a semi-cloistered convent where an elderly nun, Mater Leontina, 90, taught her German and English. “She was the first human being who accepted me for who I was, a 14-year-old girl who needed help,” she said. Celina studied with her from December 1945 until May 1947, when she left for the U.S., and the two continued to correspond until Mater Leontina’s death at age 94.

Ignac’s brother, David Karp, who had sent affidavits for the family, met them when their ship docked in New York in June 1947 and drove them to Des Moines, Iowa, where he lived. Celina attended summer school, entering North High School for her senior year.

She attended Grinnell College, majoring in philosophy, and then Columbia University in New York, where she earned a master’s degree in education and where, in the international dormitory, she met Amir Biniaz. They married on Sept. 12, 1953, and moved to Wantagh, a town on Long Island, where Amir opened a dental practice.

In 1963, when their children — Robert was born in 1954, Susan in 1958 — were older, Celina began teaching elementary and learning disabled students. She retired in 1992. A year later, they moved to Camarillo, Calif. They now have four grandchildren.

The Holocaust taught Celina that “Evil can happen anywhere, with any human being, if you give it a chance.” But when Celina speaks about her experiences, which she has done since becoming active in the USC Shoah Foundation when it opened in 1994, she tells people:

“Don’t hate. Try to see the good in people. Nobody is better than anyone else.”

Letters to the editor: Fear of Muslims, praise for Bret Stephens, quiet Trump supporters

Photo from Pexels.

‘Kapos’ and Auschwitz

I read the letter from a survivor indicating that all “kapos” at Auschwitz were of the German criminal groups assigned to Auschwitz (Letters, Feb. 24). With all due respect, and I hesitate to take historical issue with survivors whose act of witness I revere, but I must. While that may have been true of his experience, it is not true of Auschwitz and certainly not of other camps.

Michael Berenbaum, Director of Sigi Ziering Institute, American Jewish University via email

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

My husband is not afraid of heights. He is not afraid of snakes. And he is not afraid of the sun (“The Rabbi Speaks Out,” Feb. 10). But, he is very scared of Muslims — Muslim mentality and Muslim savagery. I know because I have heard him repeat it daily for the past 46 years. 

He is afraid of Muslims because as a child living as a Jew among them, he was already witness to many atrocities committed by them.

Your mother-in-law’s aunts and uncles and cousins were murdered in the Holocaust, as were mine, but my husband’s kin were slaughtered in the streets of Algiers by Muslims.

Yes, Jews have been refugees and immigrants and have been given safe haven, myself included.

But Jews do not terrorize. Jews do not massacre. Jews do not create havoc worldwide.

I am proud of my husband because, unlike many North American Jews who either suffer from short-term memory or are brainwashed, he always remembers the inhumanity and is never afraid of being politically incorrect.

He is not afraid of speaking out against Muslims, the perpetrators of so much repeated evil against the Jews and against the world.

Naomi Atlani via email

Smart Words About Trump

I read your article on Bret Stephens taking on Donald Trump (“Five Dumb Words,” Feb. 24.) I have never been so moved. This put everything in perspective.

I want everyone I know to see this, even though I know true Trump supporters would make an excuse that this is liberal BS. They will not hear it.

Thank you for publishing this and do not stop.

Sherry Pollack via email

Daily Bruin Cartoon

I can see how some people would find the editorial cartoon that appeared in the Daily Bruin offensive, but as a Jew I believe it’s important not to assume that cartoons and articles critical of Israeli policies are necessarily either anti-Israel or anti-Semitic (“Bruin Cartoon Assailed as Anti-Semitic,” Feb. 17). I protested vigorously against the policies of the United States during the Vietnam War and approved of cartoons and articles that did the same. However, I certainly was/am not anti-American. Likewise, many of us who decry the continued building of settlements that encroach on Palestinian land are against this Israeli policy, but are not against Israel and are not anti-Semitic.

Barbara Bilson via email

No Bull From Suissa

Recently, I was introduced to David Suissa in a restaurant. When he asked me which side I am on, I responded, “On the right side: the left.” Thus, one might surmise that I often disagree with his views. However, in his recent column (“Is Trump Worse Than a Liar?” Feb. 24) he hit the nail on the head regarding Donald Trump. To summarize, he explains how bullshit is the greater enemy of truth than lies. While liars know, but manipulate the truth, bullshitters are unanchored to the truth and create “alternate realities.” I would go a step further. Although I am neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist, I believe that a tenuous connection to reality is usually diagnosed as schizophrenia. The more common term is madness. May God have mercy on us all.  

Michael Telerant, Los Angeles

Instigating the ‘Haters’

While I agree with the nuances covered by Shmuel Rosner (“Spite Doesn’t Make Trump Anti-Semitic,” Feb. 24), unless one has been and still is like a proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand, Trump’s vitriol, rhetoric and hate encourages haters to act out. Yes, some are anti-Semitic.

Whether or not he is a friend of Israel and has a daughter and grandchildren who are Jewish, actions have consequences and his are the worst ever in the White House.

Bottom line: Anti-Semitism is on the rise due to his comments and lack of respect for all.

Warren J. Potash, Moorpark

Silent Support for Trump

The demonizing of Donald Trump in the Jewish Journal will solidify his victory in the 2020 election, as it did in 2016. Unlike the liberal opposition, unlike the Democratic opposition, the backers of Trump are a quiet lot. They do not send hate letters, they do not burn office buildings, they respect the U.S. Constitution, they do not denigrate the founding fathers, but their determination to restore the values that enabled us to defeat the enemies of freedom in World War II will again prevail, thanks to them.

Philip Springer, Pacific Palisades

Calendar: March 3-9, 2017

Maya Avraham. Photo courtesy of YouTube.

SAT | MARCH 4

UNPLUG L.A.

Join Reboot and Open Temple for an “Unplugged Party” in celebration of Reboot’s National Day of Unplugging. Your phone will be checked at the door. Step off the grid to listen to live music, play board games, visit the analog photo booth, and more. Event dedicated to the late Levi Felix, founder of Digital Detox and Camp Grounded; $3 of each ticket will be donated to Camp Grounded in his memory. 21 and older. 7 p.m. $18; tickets available at eventbrite.com. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. nationaldayofunplugging.com.

A TOAST TO HEROES

Honor a group of 10 young Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers visiting Los Angeles who have been wounded in combat. Food, drinks and an open-bar after-party with a DJ spinning until midnight. All proceeds go to Lev Chayal’s program for wounded IDF soldiers. Black-tie attire. 8 p.m. VIP reception; 9 p.m. cocktails and buffet. $180 for individual reservations; $100 for young professionals ages 21 to 35. Tickets available at eventbrite.com. Venue TBA. levchayal.com.

SUN | MARCH 5

ALONG THE GOLDENEH LINE: JEWISH LIFE AND HERITAGE OF NORTHEAST L.A. AND THE SAN GABRIEL VALLEY

A chartered bus will take riders alongside the Metro Gold Line into the San Gabriel Valley on a tour that will focus on the area’s unique Jewish heritage and its contemporary community life. Wear comfortable walking shoes — the tour includes two miles on foot. Instructors include Stephen Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California since 1989, and Jeremy Sunderland, who is on the board of directors for the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California. Space is limited. Lunch on your own. 9 a.m. $58. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-9777. wcce.aju.edu.

NEFESH B’NEFESH ISRAEL ALIYAH FAIR

The ninth annual Nefesh B’Nefesh Israel Aliyah Fair offers the opportunity to gather aliyah information under one roof. Professionals will discuss financial planning and budgeting, choosing a community, building a strategic job search plan, navigating the health care system, buying or renting a home in Israel, and more. 10 a.m. for retirees and empty nesters; noon for students and young professionals. Free. Shalhevet High School, 910 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. nbn.org.

“HIGH NOON: THE HOLLYWOOD BLACKLIST AND THE MAKING OF AN AMERICAN CLASSIC”

cal-hign-noon“High Noon” is more than a Western; it is also a story about the Hollywood blacklist. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Frankel will discuss his book about  screenwriter Carl Foreman, producer Stanley Kramer, director Fred Zinnemann and actor Gary Cooper, and how their creative partnership was influenced — and crushed — by political repression and agendas. Book signing to follow presentation. 2 p.m. $14; $10 for students and seniors; $6 for children; free for members. Autry Museum of the American West, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles.

THE LOS ANGELES BALALAIKA ORCHESTRA

The Los Angeles Balalaika Orchestra presents its 22nd annual concert, featuring the voice of Mark Goldenberg, cantor at Young Israel of Century City. 3 p.m. $35-$45. Herbert Zipper Hall, 200 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (626) 483-2731. balalaikala.com.

“VISIONS FOR A SHARED SOCIETY: THE ‘TRIBES’ OF ISRAEL”

Elana Stein Hain, director of leadership education at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, will discuss the core values of some of the “tribes” that compose Israel today, and how a divided people build a shared society. Part of the Synagogue Collaborative Lecture Series. 4 p.m. $20. (Post-lecture dinner and discussion extra; RSVP only.) Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. shalomhartman.org/LAcollaborative.

“LABSCAPES: VIEWS THROUGH THE MICROSCOPE”

“Labscapes” presents vivid images from the mysterious and usually unseen wonders that exist under the powerful lenses of the microscopes of some of the world’s most renowned researchers at Technion — Israel Institute of Technology. A special presentation by students will be followed by the grand opening. RSVP requested: jose@ats.org or (310) 254-9899. 5 p.m. presentation; 6 p.m. reception and exhibit. Through March 27. Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. ats.org/labscapes.

MAYA AVRAHAM

Before joining The Idan Raichel Project, Maya Avraham was a widely sought-after backup singer for Israeli superstars such as Eyal Golan, Sarit Hadad and Shlomi Shabat. She will sing some of The Idan Raichel Project’s greatest hits as well as her own songs. 7 p.m. Tickets start at $35. Gindi Auditorium at American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-9777. wcce.aju.edu.

“FROM SHTETL TO STARDOM: JEWS AND HOLLYWOOD”

This panel discussion features Vince Brook of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television; David Isaacs, TV scriptwriter, producer and Emmy winner; Shaina Hammerman, Jewish film, literature, religion and cultural historian; Josh Moss, visiting assistant professor of film and media studies at UC Santa Barbara; and Ross Melnick, associate professor of film and media studies at UCSB. 6:15 p.m. dessert reception; 7 p.m. panel. Free. RSVP by March 3 at wbtla.org/shtetl or (424) 208-8932. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Irmas Campus, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 388-2401.

TUES | MARCH 7

GOOGLE FOR GENEALOGISTS

Learn how to use Google Earth and Google Maps to gather information about where your ancestors lived, and how to educate yourself and meet other like-minded individuals (and perhaps relatives) using Google’s social media. Mary Kathryn Kozy, who has been researching her family history for more than 35 years, will speak at this meeting of the Jewish Genealogy Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County. 7 p.m. Free. Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest, Thousand Oaks. (818) 889-6616. jgscv.org.

THURS | MARCH 9

ELON GOLD

cal-elon-goldComedian, writer and actor Elon Gold kicks off the Purim weekend with a night of comedy, drinks and a DJ. Also featuring Alex Edelman. 8 p.m. $40. Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (888) 645-5006. sabanconcerts.com.

“THE AUSCHWITZ VOLUNTEER”

Explore the ethical and religious implications of the Holocaust at this event. Wine and cheese reception will be followed by a multimedia program and discussion about the Polish underground’s mission that sent officer Witold Polecki into Auschwitz to gain intelligence and build resistance among the prisoners. 7:30 p.m. $8. Burton Sperber Jewish Community Library at American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-1572. wcce.aju.edu.

Progressives now trivializing Hitler, Nazism, Auschwitz

The main entrance to Auschwitz Birkenau

Those who wish to perpetuate the sacred memory of the Holocaust have long guarded against the misuse of the terms “Nazi,” “Hitler,” “Fascist,” “Goebbels,” “Auschwitz” and the like.

Jews and Jewish defense agencies have understood that the cheapening of these terms cheapened the suffering of those who endured the true horrors of the Nazi era.

Not anymore.

It is so common to call President Donald Trump and conservatives Nazi, Hitler and fascist that Jews have not only stopped condemning the practice, they have led it. And Jewish defense agencies have largely remained silent.

I could fill this whole issue of the Jewish Journal with examples. But I will suffice with only a handful.

Rachel Maddow of MSNBC interviewed in The Hill:

Maddow: “I’m studying Hitler to prep for Trump.”

The Hill: “How?”

Maddow: “By studying the first few months of Adolf Hitler’s tenure as German chancellor, beginning in 1934.”

Richard Cohen, Washington Post: Trump “is Hitlerian in his thinking.”

Henry S. Rosen, Daily Kos: “Any student of history can compare current times to the rise of fascism in the 1930s — when an electorate reeling from The Great Depression brought to power Hitler and emboldened Mussolini.”

Richard Cohen, Washington Post: “The differences between Weimar Germany and contemporary America are significant but so, increasingly, are the similarities.”

Natasha Lennard, The Nation: “To call Trumpism fascist is to suggest that it demands from us a unique response. … It is constitutive of its fascism that it demands a different sort of opposition.”

Neal Gabler, BillMoyers.com: “Like Goebbels before them, conservatives understood that they had to create their own facts, their own truths, their own reality.”

Dana Milbank, Washington Post: “Anti-Semitism is no longer an undertone of Trump’s campaign. It’s the melody. … When the election returns come in Tuesday night, it will be Nov. 9 in Germany — the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the ‘Night of Broken Glass’ at the start of the Holocaust when Nazis vandalized synagogues and businesses.”

The Hill: “MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said Friday that President Trump’s inaugural address was both ‘Hitlerian’ and meant to mimic Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

New York Daily News: “A group of Cypress Hills High School (Texas) students gave the Nazi salute and shouted ‘Heil Hitler’ and ‘Heil Trump’ while their class photo was being taken.”

University of Wisconsin Education Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab: “My grandfather, a psychologist, just walked me through similarities between [Wisconsin Gov. Scott] Walker and Hitler. There are so many — it’s terrifying.”

Charles Blow, New York Times: “[Trump is] the demi-fascist of Fifth Avenue … an arguably fascist and racist demagogue.”

Paul Krugman, New York Times: “It takes willful blindness not to see the parallels between the rise of fascism and our current political nightmare.”

Germany’s leading news magazine, Der Spiegel, headlined: “How Much Mussolini Is There in Donald Trump?”

To be fair, Donald Trump, too, recently tweeted about “leaked” fake news depicting him cavorting with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel: “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. … Are we living in Nazi Germany?”

Then Jewish spokesmen raised their voices in protest.

Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, intoned: “It is a despicable insult to Holocaust survivors around the world, and to the nation he is about to lead, that Donald Trump compares America to Nazi Germany.”

And Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, also weighed in: “No one should cavalierly draw analogies to Nazi Germany, especially the next leader of the free world. It is not only a ridiculous comparison on the merits, but it also coarsens our discourse and diminishes the horror of the Holocaust.”

What we have here is a cheapening of the unique evils of Hitler, Nazism and fascism. If Donald Trump is a Hitler, a Nazi or a fascist, then Hitler, Nazis and fascists were nothing special.

Even Auschwitz.

The most recent issue of the Forward, the oldest Jewish progressive newspaper, presented the nadir of the left wing draining Holocaust terms of their meaning in an article by a writer named Sophia Marie Unterman, titled “Is This Sugarcane Plantation ‘America’s Auschwitz’?”

After a visit to a Louisiana plantation serving as a museum of slavery, Unterman wrote:

“The phrase ‘America’s Auschwitz’ was used by now-mayor of New Orleans Mitch Landrieu in 2008, when he visited the site and spoke to the museum’s creators. … Landrieu used the term ‘Auschwitz’ to encapsulate the darkest part of a country’s history; in that, he was correct to call slavery our Auschwitz.”

“… Landrieu’s description was apt: Slavery is our country’s darkest chapter; and 150 years after Emancipation, we still don’t know how to talk about it.”

That Jews, the people who endured the unique evil of Nazi genocide, would align themselves with those who cheapen that evil, is just one more tragic testament to the poisonous effect of the left on Jewish life.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Record of over 2 million people visited Auschwitz museum in 2016

More than 2 million people from around the world visited the Auschwitz museum in 2016, setting a record.

The 2,053,000 visitors to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum were led by the host country, Poland, with 424,000, the museum said Monday in a statement on its website. The museum this year marks the 70th anniversary of its creation.

Rounding out the top 10 countries were the United Kingdom, with 271,000 visitors; the United States, 215,000; Italy, 146,000; Spain, 115,000; Israel, 97,000; Germany, 92,000; France, 82,000; the Czech Republic, 60,000, and Sweden, 41,000.

The numbers include 61,000 organized tour groups, and individually conducted tours by museum guides for 310,736 people, according to the museum. In addition, some 150 movie crews produced documentaries last year at the museum and memorial.

“In today’s world, torn by conflicts, increased feeling of insecurity and strengthening of populist tones in public discourse, it is necessary to re-listen to the darkest warnings from the past,” museum director Piotr Cywinski said in a statement announcing the 2016 numbers.

Last week, a Polish organization fighting for fathers’ rights compared Auschwitz to the obligation to pay alimony. On its website, the group posted a photo of the entrance gate of the camp, where the sign “Arbeit macht frei,” or “Work makes you free,” was changed to “Work on alimony makes you free.”

The group is demanding the elimination of the obligation to pay maintenance for fathers fighting for custody of their children.

The museum protested on Facebook and asked for the removal of the doctored photo.

“The use and instrumentalization of the tragedy of Auschwitz is sad and inappropriate, and painful for many people, including those who survived the nightmare of Auschwitz,” said the Facebook post.

The chief of staff behind Portman’s come-from-behind 2016 victory

His father’s first trip outside his small village on the Ukrainian-Slovakian border was when the Nazis shipped him to Auschwitz in 1944. His mother spent the tumultuous years of World War II secretly stored away as a hidden child in Central Europe. Against all odds, this child of two Holocaust survivors, Mark Isakowitz, rose to become the influential Chief of Staff for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). “The idea that a mere few decades after my parents stepped off the boat that I could do jobs like this, I was deeply honored,” noted Isakowitz to Jewish Insider in a wide ranging interview from his Capitol Hill office.

A graduate of Ohio State University and father of three children, Isakowitz played a critical role in one of the most important Senate races of 2016. With the Democrats pushing to take back the Senate, Portman’s seat appeared vulnerable. In the first public poll of the race, the Ohio Republican’s challenger led by nine points, but by the night of November 8, Portman coasted to victory by an astounding 21 percent.  Working with Campaign Manager Cory Bliss, Isakowitz and the team orchestrated a strategy of reaching out to groups generally distant from the Conservative party: achieving a tie with Democrats among millennials and obtaining the endorsements of labor unions. Isakowitz and his staff highlighted the Senator’s work, which they believe directly improved the lives of Ohioans such as combatting heroin addiction and protecting local steelworkers.

Isakowitz cites his father for pushing him towards the Republican Party. With no more than a middle school education, the elder Isakowitz, who was trained as a plumber in Europe, managed to create a small business that lasted his entire adult life. Mark emphasized, “Having an economic system under free enterprise where people have a chance to do that, I think is the greatest kind of system that you could set up.”

In addition to his public sector service, Isakowitz worked as a lobbyist for over a decade as President of Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock. When Portman asked him to return to Capitol Hill and run his Senate office, Isakowitz walked away from an almost $7 million salary, according to a Roll Call report. What motivated the Ohio native to abandon such a lucrative salary? Isakowitz explained his passion for public service, but as with many in Washington, relationships are critical. “I was a friend and a huge admirer of Rob Portman, and I always had in the back of my mind that if he asked me to do something for him, I would need to find a way to do it,” he added.

Judaism and Israel remain important elements of his identity. Having visited Israel approximately 20 times, Isakowitz proudly displays pictures with former President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu on his office wall. He is fluent in biblical storytelling. As if recalling details from yesterday’s legislation, Isakowitz enumerates various biblical examples of Jewish leaders from Abraham to heroes of the Purim story positively interacting with local political authorities. Isakowitz cited how Joseph counseled Pharaoh to “make the Egyptian economy work,” which sounded almost like a GOP campaign advertisement.

Colleagues are quick to praise Mark. Vincent Harris, CEO of Harris Media and former Chief Digital Strategist for Senator Rand Paul, highlighted the Chief of Staff’s commitment to public service. “To be involved in politics out of conviction rather than selfish ambition is rare in the Beltway,” Harris noted.  Nathan Diament, Executive Director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, who has collaborated with Isakowitz on Israel and religious liberty issues, praised his Capitol Hill experience. “Mark has a mastery of the politics and policy around the issues. He’s a great partner. “

Off Capitol Hill, Matt Brooks, Executive Director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, emphasized Isakowitz’s lighter side. He recalled the times their joint passion for the sitcom “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” watching the comedy show together when on work trips overseas. On a more serious note, “He is an uber-Mensch, the definition of a giving and caring person,” admired Brooks. “Mark represents the very best that Washington has to offer. He is a consummate professional…  and a great listener,” gushed Norm Brownstein, a prominent attorney and lobbyist active in national Democratic politics.

Climbing the ranks and running the Senator’s office, Isakowitz remains staunchly loyal to Portman. “I work for a really good United States Senator,” he asserted when describing the role of Chief of Staff. “I feel that a big part of my job is help set up his day so he can achieve what he wants to achieve.”

German court upholds conviction, prison sentence of former Auschwitz guard, 95

Germany’s highest federal court upheld the conviction and prison term of a 95-year-old former Auschwitz guard for being an accessory to murder.

The Federal Court rejected the appeal by Oskar Groening,  his attorneys said Monday, according to the German news agency dpa. Groening, an SS member during World War II, was sentenced in July 2015 to four years in prison for his role in the murder of 300,000 Hungarian Jews at the camp in Poland.

Reuters reported that the court had made the decision in September but only publicized it Monday. It is not known if Groening is well enough to be put in jail.

Groening had admitted to being tasked with gathering the money and valuables found in the baggage of murdered Jews and handing it over to his superiors for transfer to Berlin. He said he had guarded luggage on the Auschwitz arrival and selection ramp two or three times in the summer of 1944.

During the trial, Groening asked for forgiveness while acknowledging that only the courts could decide when it came to criminal guilt.

Groening was held in a British prison until 1948. He eventually found work as a payroll clerk in a factory.

The first investigations of Groening took place in 1977, but it was only after the successful trial against convicted Sobibor guard John Demjanjuk in 2011 that the courts were emboldened to try camp guards on charges of complicity in murder.

German court drops case against woman, 92, who worked at Auschwitz

A state court in northern Germany said it is dropping a criminal case against a 92-year-old woman who worked as a radio operator at Auschwitz.

The woman, identified by the Kiel state court as Helma M., is almost completely blind and deaf and was unfit to stand trial because she was weakened by an unnamed illness, the court said in a statement issued on Friday, according to news reports.

She was charged with 260,000 counts of accessory to murder connected to her work at the Nazi concentration camp as the radio operator of the commandant there.

In March, a former Auschwitz medic, 95, was found unfit to stand trial for his role in the murder of more than 3,600 people at the Nazi death camp. A court-appointed physician determined that Hubert Zafke’s health was too poor to go on trial in Neubrandenburg state court. Prosecutors said the medic’s unit in which he served placed the Zyklon-B pesticide crystals into the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Zafke did not deny he served at Auschwitz, but said he did not see or participate in any of the murders.

In June, Waffen SS member Reinhold Hanning, 94, was sentenced to five years in prison by the district court in Detmold, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, for his role as an accessory in the murder of at least 170,000 people at Auschwitz. He remains free as he appeals the verdict.