November 16, 2018

Letters to the Editor: Holocaust, Media Bias and Progressives Being Good Parents

Why the Holocaust Still Resonates

I would try to briefly reflect on Thane Rosenbaum’s question: “Is there anything left to say about the Holocaust?” (“What’s Left to Say?” April 6). David Irving and his ilk would show up with technical drawings of concentration camps to argue that the crematoriums were not really used for what all the survivors say they were used for. Or, one of the effects of the fading memories and political manipulations is the emerging concept that the Holocaust was a terrible thing, but it was not just about Jews; these revisionist “historians” would say that gypsies, homosexuals and communists also were unfortunate victims, and numerous soldiers and civilians died as a result of the war. At least Hungary, which certainly has its share of revisionists, is not confused about the word. The equivalent, Hungarian word for “Holocaust” is “vészkorszak” (the age of danger,) and it is used only in the Jewish persecution’s context and does not cover any other death, including the fallen soldiers of the Hungarian 2nd Army or other, non-Jewish civilians.

What we must repeat is that not long ago, 6 million people’s genocide took place on racial/religious grounds. It could happen again if we are not on guard.

Peter Hantos, Los Angeles

It is with concern that I read your article on the Holocaust. More and more young people regard the Holocaust as distant as Hannibal and the Alps. There’s plenty left to say, i.e., Auschwitz II (Birkenau) was so large that it required traffic lights! The camps were nearly as numerous as post offices.  Camp personnel, including guards and administration, were kept drugged on crystal meth. Back then it was known as Pervitin. This was done so they could perform their tasks without giving it thought and in dealing with the large numbers of inmates.

Daniel Kirwan via email

Poland’s Holocaust Law

Regarding your article “The Polish Jewish Story” (March 23), may I bring up a couple of rarely mentioned facts: During their occupation of Europe, only in Poland did the Germans punish those who helped Jews by death, and the punishment included the helper’s closest family (in other countries the penalties varied from dismissal from work to jail time).

On the other hand, the Polish underground, the largest anti-Nazi underground army in Europe, punished by death those Poles who snitched on their Jewish neighbors.

Also, with all due respect to the author of the article, the new Polish law, although imperfect and perhaps in need of correction, does not criminalize “any mention of Poles” being complicit in the Nazi crimes. Rather, it prohibits accusing “the Polish nation or the Polish state” as a whole, of being complicit in the Nazi German crimes.

Jozef Malocha, Chrzanow, Poland

Media Bias Against Israel 

“(((Semitism)))” author Jonathan Weisman commendably assails surging right-wing anti-Semitism, including social-media trolls and Nazis marching through Charlottesville, Va. (“A Call to Action in the Age of Trump,” March 16). However, anti-Semitism takes many forms, including media bias against Israel, which Weisman seems to ignore. His own newspaper, The New York Times, is a leading offender.

Consider the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. On May 14, 1948, Israel legally declared its independence, consistent with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181. The next day, five Arab armies invaded the Jewish state, determined to annihilate it.

The New York Times never reports these facts. Instead, it describes the conflict as “the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation” (March 8) or “the 1948 war that broke out over Israel’s creation” (March 31). The Times’ Orwellian descriptions whitewash the Arab states’ genocidal intent continues to this day, obscuring the fact that Israel was attacked and implicitly blame Israel.

Rewriting history to vilify Israel is also anti-Semitism.

Stephen A. Silver, San Francisco

Hold on: Progressives Are Good Parents, Too

Here you go again, Karen Lehrman Bloch. In your constant search for negative comments about anything that contradicts conservative dogma, you find the other side guilty of supporting terrorism and raising kids who are insensitive bullies (“Progressive Bullies,” April 6).

As a lifelong progressive, I abhor terrorists and so do all of my progressive friends. I don’t propose that we or Israel give terrorists a pass because they had a rough childhood. Despite blame and fault, Israel is in the dominant position and must treat the general Palestinian population with as much dignity and respect that security allows, and punish terrorists as they deserve.

Regarding child rearing, our two daughters were raised in a progressive home and have become progressive adults who care about their fellow human beings in both their personal and professional lives. They are also raising children to follow our humanistic ideals.

If the proof is in the pudding, we don’t need to look further then at our conservative administration. Bullying, dishonesty, lying and lack of concern are its hallmarks.

Michael Telerant, Los Angeles

Response to Letter Writers 

In his April 6 letter, Martin J. Weisman blames President Donald Trump for the rise in global anti-Semitism (“Trump and Anti-Semitism,” April 6). Respectfully, far-right Trump support explains the emergence of “old-school” American Jew-hatred, but the explosion of Israel-bashing and anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party and on American campuses is the fault of former President Barack Obama, with his anti-Israel bias and promotion of Muslim groups in government and academia.

Moreover, Trump has nothing to do with the rebirth of European anti-Semitism, which is mainly caused by the immigration of millions of Muslims, and the rise of right-wing parties protesting them. In fact, some of those parties, like France’s National Front and the Dutch Freedom Party, are wooing Jewish support to fight Muslim misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism and even Christian-bashing.

Irrational Trump-hatred closes the minds of otherwise intelligent, inquisitive folks. Jewish Democrats who refuse to face this provide cover for the anti-Semites, Louis Farrakhan supporters and Israel-bashers in their party.

Rueben Gordon via email

Marc Yablonka besmirches the name of David Harris in his letter to the editor (“He Doesn’t Miss the ’60s,” April 6) when he falsely calls him a “draft evader … who persuaded others to go to federal prisons for five years for burning their draft cards,” and wrongly claims Harris “chewed up and spit out those of us who were naive enough to ride along so [he] could further [his] own egotistical adventures. … [He] didn’t give a hoot about the rest of us.”

Factually wrong on every count. Harris was the very model of patriotic objection to a governmental policy.

First, he advised his draft board in writing that he would not cooperate with any of its requirements. Second, he publicized his non-cooperation in his advocacy against the war, ensuring that he would become the focus of federal enforcement. Only then did he publicly and repeatedly urge other young men to do the same.

I should know. Harris — a former Stanford student body president — was in prison when I arrived there to begin my freshman year in September 1969.

I turned 18 that November. Federal law required I register with my draft board. I went to Palo Alto Resistance headquarters, which Harris helped establish, for counseling. The draft counselor’s kindness and respect for my struggles and questions as to what to do, even though he was to begin his own prison term for resistance the very next day, moved me to my core. It still does.

These brave men and the equally brave women who supported them will soon get their due when the documentary “Boys Who Said No!: Draft Resistance and the Vietnam War” is released.

David I. Schulman, Los Angeles


“Why Is This Sport Different?” April 6:

I love it. Baseball is timeless. There is no clock to run out. What a great metaphor for redemption.

Cyndi Buckey

“Between the Shoah and Mimouna,” April 6:

The beauty and light and optimism of Mimouna is tempered, as a sword blade is tempered in the blacksmiths forge and under his hammer, by the awful evil that was the Shoah. It is built into the very fabric of our divinely created world that the forces of destruction and savagery will never have a final conquest. … Not as long as the Chosen People can find the will to resist.

Ernest Sewell

Thank you for writing of the concerns I share about current events.

Marilyn Danko

Beautiful words.

Tamara Anzivino

Book review: ‘How Sweet It Is!’ is a gangster’s paradise

The first voice you hear in the latest novel by Thane Rosenbaum, “How Sweet It Is!” (Mandel Vilar Press), belongs to the Great One himself, Jackie Gleason. 

“Miami Beach is magical, but it is the magic of the dark arts,” Gleason is made to say. “Black magic masquerading as enchantment.” A Brooklyn boy who ended up as the self-styled “King of Miami Beach,” a fictional version of Gleason sets the scene of South Florida in 1972 — the glamorous hotels and nightclubs and eateries, the beaches and the blue sky, but also the “fleabags, flophouses, and eyesores,” the gambling dens and the strip joints: “For all the talk of radiant light, darkness shares equal billing in this variety show of a tropical paradise.”

So begins a smart, funny, rollicking and razor-sharp novel with the unlikeliest cast of characters, starting with the unforgettable Sophie Posner, who survives the Holocaust only to end up in service to Meyer Lansky’s Jewish Mafia in its post-Castro decline: “Bickering, elderly Jewish gangsters, stabbing their pudgy fingers in the air and insulting one another, had taken a well-oiled machine and made it resemble a failed industry from the Rust Belt.” 

In a post-Holocaust version of the cute meet, Lansky first encounters Sophie, a deli cashier on her night off, when he tries to frighten her away from one of his poker tables before she breaks the bank. “Mister Gangster, I’m already living on borrowed time,” she retorts. “I’m playing with the house’s money. Most of the people at Majdanek were gassed and cremated — the Royal Flush of death.” Lansky, who has already noticed the numbers tattooed on her arm, reacts “as if he had just seen the face of God.”

It’s a peak effort by Rosenbaum, a Renaissance man of arts and letters who is, at once, a novelist, a legal scholar and commentator, and a public intellectual whose work appears in The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications. As he shows us here, he has the chops for sly social observation, cultural and political satire, and ironic Jewish humor all at once.  

“Meyer had little of that charisma and confidence that makes the shtarkers all that shtark,” he observes. “Bugsy had been a Mafia rock star; Sophie carried herself not like a cashier but as a warrior princess.” Indeed, the “Lady Consigliere,” as Lansky dubs her, is more bloodthirsty than the boss, as when she counsels him to murder a rival mobster. 

“ ‘Slit his throat,’ she suggested.”

“ ‘Absolutely not.’ ”

“ ‘Shoot him in the head.’ ”

“ ‘Stop it, already.’ ”

“ ‘Where’s your balls, Lansky? What’s the matter with you? Is this any way for a Jewish don to act? Have some dignity and stand up straight!’ ”

Rosenbaum also introduces us to Sophie’s enigmatic husband, Jacob (“He was the sort of person who believed that a human being can never get enough camouflage in his life”), and their son, Adam, a reluctant little-leaguer in the throes of puberty who discovers the sexual revolution in full display when he and a friend prowl through Flamingo Park by night: “Sex was never mentioned at home, nor, he doubted, was it ever performed there,” the author explains. “Neither [Brad] nor Adam had received much in the way of sex education at school. Now it appeared that they had skipped a few grades.”

Gleason and Lansky, as it happens, are not only real people who appear in Rosenbaum’s book. Indeed, it is the point of contact between fact and fiction that strikes sparks in his narrative prose. The most pointed example is the encounter between Jacob Posner, a former partisan and a camp survivor, and Isaac Bashevis Singer, who is harshly depicted as someone who “had already milked the Jews on West End Avenue of Manhattan” and “now would deplete the Jews of Collins Avenue in Miami Beach.” When Jacob makes a heartbreaking revelation to Singer over a baked apple at a restaurant table, the great man hastily writes it down.

“Here, of course, I. B. failed to acknowledge how he was cashing in on another’s suffering, mining his mind, the petty thefts of the fiction writer,” the author tells us in an aside that is no less heartbreaking or revelatory than Jacob’s story. “I. B. was writing furiously like a court stenographer charged with capturing every syllable.” 

This, of course, is the crime of every novelist and short-story writer, including Rosenbaum himself.  But he also demonstrates in the pages of “How Sweet It Is!” — a book that treats the Posner family with the deepest compassion — that the crime, if that’s what it is, brings its own redemption.

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal.