November 16, 2018

Letters to the Editor: Poland Holocaust Law, Gaza Border, and Israelis in the Diaspora

Poland Holocaust Law

The letter to the editor about Poland’s recently passed Holocaust law could not have been written by a grown-up (Letters to the Editor, April 13).

It had to have been written by a child who was raised on lies and wrong information.

Claiming that the Polish underground was the largest anti-Nazi underground army in Europe is laughable.

There are still a few of us around, so you can’t make up history to suit you.

You need to be honest and speak the truth or don’t speak at all.

Ella Mandel, Polish Holocaust survivor, Los Angeles


Gaza Border Unrest

Kudos to David Suissa for exposing the hypocrisy of the Gaza “protests” (“When Truth Comes Marching In,” April 13). His most powerful point was quoting Ben-Dror Yemini’s observation that the Palestinian marchers chanted “Khaybar Khaybar ya yahud.”  This war cry relates not to the current State of Israel but to the seventh-century ethnic cleansing of the two Jewish tribes in Medina by Mohammad’s army. Those slaughtered Jews were not living in current-day Israel but in ancient Saudi Arabia — thus exposing the virulent anti-Jewish hatred from Islam’s earliest history. This same “Khaybar” chant was sung eight years ago in the Turkish flotilla as it approached Gaza.

Hamas made a fatal miscalculation more than a decade ago. Despite being offshoots of the Sunni/Wahabi, Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida and ISIS axis, Hamas switched allegiance to Shiite Iran, prompting Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Gulf states to abandon them. Recently Israel, with the assistance of its former enemy Egypt, destroyed much of Hamas’ tunnel infrastructure, leading inevitably to the violent protests we are witnessing today.

Richard Friedman, Culver City


Israelis in the Diaspora

This is another in a long line of letters disputing wild, unsourced journalistic estimates of Israelis living in the Diaspora, which Danielle Berrin has repeated as “more than 1 million” (“Wandering Israelis,” April 13).

The most trusted demographic estimate done by Pew Research in 2010 was 230,000 Jewish emigrants from Israel living in other countries, with the most, 110,000 in the U.S. This aligns with my 1982 published estimates for Israeli emigrants in the U.S. and about my estimate of 25,000 living in and around Los Angeles.

Fun fact: Using Berrin’s source data from the Israel Bureau of Central Statistics about 2.2 million flying abroad in a six-month period, and the U.S. nonimmigrant Israeli entry estimates for roughly the same period, fewer than 1 in 10 Israeli tourist flyers eventually landed in the U.S. As we are all learning, visiting or immigrating to the U.S. is a pain.

While the Los Angeles Israeli community has become much more organized, now raising tens of millions of dollars yearly through the Israeli-American Council (IAC), in the 36 years since a realistic estimate of numbers has been published, I have not found any evidence that the number of Israelis has changed substantially from being about 1/20th of the Los Angeles Jewish community.

Pini Herman, Beverly Grove


Israeli Salad Gets Thumbs Up

Loved the article about Israeli salad by Yamit Behar Wood (“Why I Will Eat an Israeli Salad on Yom HaAtzmaut,” April 13).

I love serving it at every Jewish affair. It just speaks to me and tells me to celebrate and be grateful to be able to celebrate and be grateful to be alive.

Phyllis Steinberg via email

What a delightful, wonderful essay. You took your readers right along on part of the wonderful ride your life has been (so far), and we enjoyed both cultures as you described them and their impact on your growing years.

Miriam Fishman via email


New, Improved Journal

First, allow me to add my praise to those of other readers who commend the Journal for avoiding the need to turn pages to continue reading your columns. It is a great convenience — and much appreciated. As we age (I am 91), our fingers become less dexterous and it is harder to turn the pages to continue reading a particular article.
More important, your articles are of much greater interest to me and, I am sure, other readers. This includes articles of a broad range of interests, such as (in the April 13  issue):

1) “Adam Milstein: Promoter of Israeliness.” I wept as I read it. He is a brilliant and great leader.

2) “Israeli Taekwondo Program Has Local Source.” As a result, I am going to ask the director of the JFS Freda Mohr Multipurpose Senior Center to provide our community with a special event to meet and talk to Lois and Richard Gunther, in honor of whom the new JFS three-story building will be named.

3) “How to Tie Shoelaces Into a Star of David.” I followed the steps on paper, and will now try it for real.

George Epstein via email


Memories of the Holocaust

Writer Thane Rosenbaum appears to hedge on the ultimate reason for remembering the Holocaust (“What’s Left to Say?” April 6). Is the continuing scourge of anti-Semitism or the “moral mystery” of the Holocaust the principal cause of its refusal to stop haunting our minds and hearts? A bit of both? If anti-Semitism disappeared forever, instead of just moving from dormancy to flare-up, the Holocaust would weigh even more heavily on the memory and conscience of mankind.

The Shoah was a catastrophe for the Jewish people, a cataclysm from which recovery is gradual at best. There are only 2 million more Jews in the world than existed in 1939, and this is despite the miraculous growth of Israel and the impressive birth rate of Orthodox Jewry in the United States.

The life force is with us, but the Holocaust is in our genes.

And as for the non-Jewish world, the eradication of anti-Semitism and the marginalization of the Jews would make the Holocaust such an embarrassment to the modern world’s sense of its humanity that all of its accomplishments in science, technology and medical cures would seem incidental to a fundamental flaw in its moral compass.

Peter Brier, Altadena

An essential part of what should be commemorated on Yom HaShoah is the extraordinary courage and dignity shown by Jews living in hopeless conditions in terrifying times. “Zog Nit Keinmol” (Song of the Partisans) should be part of any commemorative program, along with a few words about poet Hirsh Glick.

While imprisoned in the Vilna Ghetto, Glick was inspired to write these strong, deeply moving lyrics when he heard about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Glick escaped the Vilna ghetto when it was liquidated in October 1943, but was recaptured and sent to a concentration camp in Estonia, from which he escaped in 1944. He was 22 years old and was never heard from again.

Here are the words of the young poet’s masterpiece (unknown translator):

Never say that there is only death for you,
Though leaden skies may be concealing days of
blue.

Because the hour we have hungered for is near,
Beneath our tread the earth shall tremble: we
are here!

From lands so green with palms to lands all
white with snow.

We shall be coming with our anguish and our
woe,
And where a spurt of our blood fell on the earth,
There our courage and our spirit have rebirth!

The early morning sun will brighten our day,
And yesterday with our foe will fade away,
But if the sun delays and in the east remains,
This song as motto generations must remain.

This song was written with our blood and not
with lead,
It’s not a little tune that birds sing overhead,
This song a people sang amid collapsing walls,
With pistols in hand they heeded to the call.

So never say that there is only death for you,
Though leaden skies may be concealing days of
blue.
Because the hour we have hungered for is near,
Beneath our tread the earth shall tremble: we
are here!

Julia Lutch via email

Childhood Holocaust Survivors Reunite 76 Years Later

Childhood Holocaust survivors Alice Weit Gerstel and Simon Gronowski reunited last Sunday at the L.A. Museum of the Holocaust after not seeing each other for 76 years. Photo by Ryan Torok .

In the summer of 1939, one month before Germany invaded Poland, two Belgian families vacationing in Ostende met and developed a friendship. The couples’ children, including 11-year-old Alice Weit Gerstel and 7-year-old Simon Gronowski, also quickly became friends.

Alice’s father, Herman, was in the diamond business in Antwerp, while Gronowski’s father, Leon, was in the leather business in Brussels.

When the Nazis invaded Belgium in 1940, Herman Gerstel foresaw more serious danger and planned for his family to get out of Belgium. In October 1941, he and Alice’s 16-year-old brother, Zoltan — who had developed a relationship with Simon’s older sister, Ita — went on a scouting trip to find a safe place for the family. Accompanied by a hired smuggler, and defying the 8 p.m. curfew, they set out in darkness.

Herman simultaneously sent his wife, Frida, and their three other children, including Alice, to stay with the Gronowski family in Brussels. The family left in the morning, wearing diamonds under their clothes.

The Gronowskis hid five people on the floor above the family’s leather business: Alice, her siblings Ita and Armand, Frida, and Frida’s mother, Blanche. Ten days later, the smuggler’s wife arrived to take the Gerstels out of Belgium.

“The train goes too fast.” They were the last words Simon heard his mother say before he jumped from the train bound for Auschwitz.

When the two families bade farewell, they had no idea it would be the last time they would see each other. The Gerstel family set off for France, eventually making their way to Cuba, while the Gronowskis’ route to liberation was laced with loss.

On April 19, 1943, Simon and his mother, Chana, were among the Belgian Jews awaiting deportation from Menchelen, a transit camp midway between Antwerp and Brussels. Three members of the Belgian Jewish Underground stopped the train with a red light that forced the driver to hit the brakes. As the train slowed to a halt, the resistance fighters opened up a car and many escaped. When the train started up again, passengers in Simon’s boxcar managed to pry open a door. Grabbing her son by the shoulders of his jacket, Chana lowered Simon onto a running board several feet below the moving car.

“The train goes too fast,” Chana said. They were the last words Simon heard his mother say. When the train slowed down, Simon jumped onto the tracks. Chana was gassed upon arrival in Auschwitz. A separate convoy transported Ita to Auschwitz. She also died there.

After jumping from the train, Simon ran into the woods. A Belgian police officer — later declared a Righteous Gentile — saved his life, putting him on a train back to Brussels, where he met a Catholic family that took him in until the Allies liberated Belgium in September 1944. A different Catholic family also hid Simon’s father, Leon. The two were reunited after the war. Leon, however, died at the age of 46 when Simon was just 13.

After the war, Alice heard that the entire Gronowski family, including Simon, had died. However, last year, her son, Dann Netter, a Los Angeles television producer, discovered Simon’s autobiography, “The Child of the 20th Convoy” which described the Gronowskis’ friendship with the Gerstels. Subsequently, Alice and her son tracked down Simon, who today is 86 years old, lives in Belgium and is an attorney.

On April 15, Simon and Alice, who lives in Westwood, reunited for the first time since their separation 76 years ago.

The two shared their story at Pan Pacific Park at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust’s Yom HaShoah ceremony. Their rapport with each other was easy and familial. Both had vivid recollections from their time on the beach in Ostende.

Speaking in heavily accented English, Simon told the Journal what he thought about people coming together to mark the Holocaust. He said that every day for him is Yom HaShoah. Every day he remembers.

Alice weighed in. “He says Kaddish every day.”

Honoring Resistance

Wolf Gruner. Photo courtesy of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Countless acts of defiance and overwhelming examples of bravery, protest and resistance during the Holocaust were front and center this year at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s 34th annual community Yom HaShoah program.

Held on April 11, founding director of the USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research Wolf Gruner spoke on the topic of “Defiance and Protest: Forgotten Individual Jewish Resistance in Nazi Germany.”

Gruner, who is also the Shapell-Guerin chair in Jewish Studies and professor of history at USC, spoke of the discoveries following a 10-year research project that includes new sources, such as Berlin police logbooks, trial materials and video testimonials from survivors.

“Countless acts of defiance and protests emerged from the files,” he said. “[These acts] can be found in all aspects of the Jewish population, regardless of gender, age, education, socialization or social status. … It was much more widespread than we ever expected.”

Hundreds of attendees packed the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Harvey Morse Auditorium as Rabbi Jason Weiner, senior rabbi and manager of the Cedars-Sinai Spiritual Care Department, delivered the invocation, and a number of singers performed an operatic version of “Oseh Shalom.” Recording artist Marina accompanied the vocalists on piano. The event also featured a candlelighting ceremony for the victims of the Shoah.

“A lot of people were crying and it was very emotional,” Marina — who goes by her first name only — told the Journal in an interview after the event.

Various Yom HaShoah commemorations took place across Los Angeles last week.

Elected officials, survivors and additional community leaders, including Nancy Rubin, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and Galit Prince, a third-generation survivor and member of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) board, appeared on April 15 at the museum’s annual Yom HaShoah commemoration at Pan Pacific Park.

“It is important to include these courageous acts [of defiance] in the general narrative of Nazi persecution of the Jews.” — Wolf Gruner

Assemblymember Richard Bloom and L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz were among the attendees seated under a canopy erected in the park. Outside the canopy, members of Hatzolah — the volunteer Jewish medical emergency response organization — waited in one of their trucks nearby, ready to provide aid to anybody in need.

Bloom attended the ceremony with his wife, Robbie Black, whose German-born father served in the U.S. Coast Guard during the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Bloom told the Journal he appreciated the ceremony, in particular survivors David Lenga and Henry Slucki’s performance of the Jewish partisan’s song, “Zog Nit Keinmol,” (The Partisan Song) which, he said, demonstrated that the ceremony celebrated a variety of political viewpoints, including those on the left.

Additional participants in the program included Valley Beth Shalom Cantor Phil Baron, who led attendees in reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish and Gary Schiller, honorary director at LAMOTH.

“We cannot deny the institutions or commemorations like this one, the noble intent of their creators, but we must acknowledge their limited scope,” Schiller said. “Instead we should look at the personal and the impact of memory on those who have spent their lives in an attempt to remember.”

Two days earlier, on April 13, Father Patrick Desbois, president and founder of Yahad in Unum, a French organization dedicated to discovering the mass graves of Jews killed by the Nazis, attempted to shed light on the stories of so many individuals who died during the war. Visiting from France, and appearing at the Beverly Hills Synagogue for a Yom HaShoah dinner, he spoke about his organization’s work, as detailed in his new book, “In Broad Daylight: The Secret Procedures Behind the Holocaust by Bullets.”

This year marked 75 years since the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Commemorations, including those organized by Cedars-Sinai and LAMOTH, highlighted the importance of remembering Jewish resistance during the Shoah.

“It is important to include these courageous acts,” Gruner said, “in the general narrative of Nazi persecution of the Jews.”

The Challenge of Legacy

Photo from Wikipedia.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a transcript of Edwin Black’s April 11, 2018 keynote address in the Michigan Capitol Rotunda for that state’s official Holocaust Commemoration.

Today, I come not just to mourn nor to scorn but rather to warn our world, that is, the world of today whose memories are still whistling and bristling with the torments and tribulations of a generation now passing before our eyes. But also, for the world of tomorrow — and the day after — pulsed by a generation whose torments and tribulations may yet be in store. The outrages are audible just over the horizon. But in many cases the horizon is speeding toward us like an unstoppable tsunami preparing to crash.

Many of us dwell in the dark past hoping to immunize our future from the maniacal and ideological fires that immolated six million Jews and so many others— and left a world’s hands and souls smoke-singed in the process. The Holocaust was unique among history’s great cruelties for it was a 12-year international persecution and murder machine perpetrated in the glare of broad daylight as well as the dim of night… emboldened by its own German Ministry of Propaganda advertising it and amid incessant media coverage that bled across the front pages of newspapers, crackled into regular radio reports, flickered in newsreels, and even saddened the whispers and diaries of children hiding in an Amsterdam attic. The world knew.

With study, revelation, and investigation, many now understand how we got here. Make no mistake. The Germans did it. Their allies and accomplices did it. Hitler did it.

But Hitler had help.

Der Fuhreradopted the Jew-hating ideology of Henry Ford, whose car company distributorships mass-circulated the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the Dearborn Independent so often quoted and lionized by Hitler. Nazism was driven by the American pseudoscience of eugenics that called for the elimination and even the chamber gassing of so-called inferior social groups, a murderous medical discipline developed in America by our great universities in the first two decades of the twentieth century, but then transplanted into Nazi Germany and even into Mengele’s Auschwitz laboratory by the million-dollar charitable programs of the Carnegie Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation. Hitler’s troops dismounted their WWI-era horses and stormed into Poland and the rest of Europe in a never-before-seen Blitzkrieg, driving the Blitz truck and flying JU-88 bombers both manufactured under corporate camouflage by General Motors under the direct supervision of its offices in Detroit. And it was up to IBM—the solutions company—to organize all six phases of the Holocaust: identification, exclusion, asset confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, and even extermination. With its advanced punch card technology, IBM knowingly conducted the census to identify the Jews, religious or not, made the railroads run on time, and pinpointed Jewish bank accounts to seize. Every concentration camp had its own IBM customer site. The infamous Auschwitz tattoo began as an IBM number before it morphed into other serial systems.

Profit was the perfidious ally of the perpetrators of the Holocaust because whether it was the Aryanization of the corner grocery store in Berlin or the millions hidden by IBM in cloaked bank accounts in Prague, the malice and the murder was made all the more morally manageable by the tintinnabulation of money. For some, the clatter of the coins could drown out the screams of the victims

So, today we know more about how we came here… but how many truly understand where we really are. Do not believe that the Holocaust is a mere scar from afar. Yes, it is a sickness but one that has re-abrupted like an irrepressible plague. We have seen the infection in Rwanda with the Tutsis, in Syria with the Yazidis and Christians, in Darfur with Black Africans.

We warn, we write poetry, we assemble in Rotundas, publish books, we solemnly chant “never again.” Now, we know better. We silently whisper, not just “never again,” but … “oh, no… not again.”

There is no hate without fear. But hate cannot triumph in a world of enlightenment. So, what is the true challenge to both our legacy and our future. Is it men with Nazi emblems and burning crosses or is it really something else? Flags, white sheets hoods, and venomous marches, we can see. Less visible is the new emerging enemy of enlightenment, and purifying spotlight.

Inscribe their names upon your notepads and your desktops. Facebook, Google, Amazon and many more who in their misguided algorithms decide what shall be seen and what shall be shuttered, who will be heard and who shall be demurred.

The triumph of ignorance with all its well-intended coding rises to a level of censorship only imagined by George Orwell. Last Christmas, Amazon quietly informed publishers that history books about the Holocaust and even the Third Reich could no longer display a swastika on the cover when sold outside North America. So, my book Nazi Nexus about Ford, General Motors, Carnegie, Rockefeller and IBM was re-designed without the swastika for European sale. Many more famous books chronicling the hell of Nazi Germany are now being re-designed without swastikas on the covers for overseas.

A mere photo of a Holocaust history book on Facebook recently was cautioned with a warning tab to be clicked that the topic might be distressing; that book was the recently published Czech language edition of my book IBM and the Holocaust. It is now possible for routine computer programs now in use at Twitter and Facebook to create zombie accounts where the users think they are communicating with the world—but their message in quarantined and no one sees it. Goebbels needed minders sitting in newsrooms. Facebook and Twitter only to click a few keys—and most will never even know they have been muffled.

Now, nations are re-inventing their history. Poland has criminalized the discussion of the involvement and collaboration of its citizen with the Nazi killing machine. The Poles were involved. When a town’s Jews were publicly marched and trucked to the shooting pits, who took their property and auctioned it off the next day in the school yard or town square? Just hours after the new law took effect, the first Polish lawsuit was filed against an Argentinian newspaper that used a war-time photograph.

Lithuania has followed suit quickly with a pending amendment to its “Law on Consumer Protection” that would outlaw books critical of the country during the Holocaust—Lithuania where 90 percent of Jews perished, and many at the hands of their Lithuanian neighbors. These laws will be used by misguided programmers in Silicon Valley to avoid liability by simply quietly shutting out the history.

What if a tree falls and no one hears the sound? What if six million people perish and no one is reminded?

Hitler declared who will remember the Armenians? When my mother was pushed thru the vent in the boxcar en route to Treblinka, her mother said, “tell someone.” My father fought as a partisan in the woods for two years with her to ensure that I would be here to “tell someone.”

What if we tell the world and the world cannot hear us. How sad that we have struggled with Holocaust denial and belief? Might we next struggle with induced collective amnesia? Ask not what you remember. Ask what your children’s children will know.

The new battleground is not in some basement or backyard where hate is brewing. It’s not on the street. It’s in your phone and on your screen where history, anguish, and the rallying cry of “never again” to all humankind will be a muffled echo within an Internet algorithm. We must fight back against the electronic ghetto, the digital ghetto, and the algorithm ghetto. This is the new Challenge of Legacy.


Edwin Black is the New York Times bestselling author of IBM and the Holocaust and Nazi Nexus.

Celebration, Commemoration and Disappointment

This year it has been an odd holiday season for many Jews. The joy of our celebrations has been marred by disappointment as we ponder the holidays’ themes and their implications for the world around us.

Our commemorations of suffering and slavery and then freedom ought and are meant to resonate in our activities in the real world.

As we celebrated Passover, we are instructed to feel as if we, ourselves, were slaves in Egypt. [Deuteronomy 24:18, “Always remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God redeemed you from your slavery”]. The Passover Seder had us metaphorically re-experience the exodus—we consumed its symbols (the bitter herbs of slavery and Matzah, the unleavened bread eaten while fleeing) to make dramatic and personal the challenges and the implications of the journey from slavery to freedom.

The eight-day Passover festival has been supplemented by contemporary Jews with three more commemorations on the Jewish calendar, the first addition in more than a millennium.

Today we recollect the Holocaust, the annihilation of six million Jews with Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). One week later Jews observe Israel’s Memorial Day and the sacrifice of its soldiers who defend the right of the Jewish people to be free. It is followed immediately by the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day – this year its 70th.

Most Yom HaShoa commemorations reference the indifference of the world to Jews and Jewish refugees. As the man who would become Israel’s first President, Chaim Weizmann, said in 1937 (eleven years before the creation of the state) the world was then divided “into places where the Jews could not live and places where they cannot enter.”

In the context of celebration and commemoration, with four holidays whose themes intertwine around freedom, moral responsibility and action we witnessed the prime minister of Israel reneging on an agreement with the United Nations. A pact that would have provided refuge in Israel, Europe and Canada to thousands of Africans who have sought asylum in Israel from persecution and violence and who face the threat of death if they are forced to return to their homelands.

Israel is a sovereign state that has the right and obligation to take care of its own, thirty-nine thousand refugees in a nation the size of Israel is not without issues; but the arrangement with the UN and other nations including Canada, Germany and Italy was a viable and fair resolution to the crisis. Yet Prime Minister Netanyahu cancelled the agreement within hours of endorsing it at the behest of right wing allies.

It is difficult to square our traditions and religious admonitions with the expulsion of desperate immigrants into a world where not only their freedom may be denied, but also their lives taken.

Some will commemorate the Holocaust today to largely teach that the “whole world is against us and only an empowered Jewish people that can defend itself will offer security and safety.” That is one lesson that can be drawn from the tragic events of seventy-five years ago; but surely not its only one.

The Holocaust is also a story that happened to a distinct people that has become a shared universal paradigm which speaks to human conscience. It ought to inspire active moral values, enlarge the domain of human responsibility, elicit compassion, and command respect for universal human rights and dignity. That was the core of the Jewish message transmitted by the survivors and by those millions of others who have become witnesses to their witness.

That message ought to be reflected in Israel, envisioned as a beacon to the world, a place that would not only give substance to Jewish nationalism and chauvinism but also to Jewish values. Values that reflect the Biblical injunctions on how to treat the stranger and the sojourner.  Having been history’s “wanderers” we should comprehend the real-world impact of ignoring the Bible’s noble commands.

Those values were diminished by the Prime Minister of Israel and those who pressured him to abrogate the agreement he had reached to resettle the thousands of African refugees.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Netanyahu was not alone in diminishing history’s lessons and values. For on the very day that coincided with Easter and Passover the President railed against our strangers and sojourners. He demeaned foreign born children in our midst who have lived in America and are American in every sense of the term, save their citizenship papers.

Our holidays are marred by leadership who have ignored the lessons of history and the season and acted in ways as our tradition decried.


Dr. Michael Berenbaum, is the Director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust at American Jewish University. David A. Lehrer is the president of Community Advocates, Inc. (www.cai-la.org) a human relations agency in Los Angeles chaired by former mayor Richard J. Riordan.

Personalize Candles With Transferred Images

If you love candles, here’s a way to personalize them with photographs, drawings or quotations of your choice. After printing an image onto tissue paper, the image is then bonded to the surface of the candle with heat. It’s a simple technique that transforms even the plainest candle into a thoughtful gift, personalized décor or even a meaningful memorial candle for Yom HaShoah.

What you’ll need:
Tissue paper
Plain copier paper
Glue stick or tape
Printer
Pillar candle
Wax paper
Oven mitt
Hair dryer

1.

1. Cut a piece of white tissue paper so it is about 1 inch wider on all sides than a piece of plain copier paper. You will be printing onto the tissue paper, which first will be adhered to the copier paper so it will go through the machine.

2.

2. Fold over the edges of the white tissue paper to the back of the copier paper, and adhere these edges in place with a glue stick or tape. Try not to have any of the tissue paper loose, to prevent it from jamming in the printer.

3.

3. Select artwork for your candle. Size it to fit with photo-editing software. Place the tissue-wrapped copier paper in the printer, being aware whether the paper should be positioned right-side up or upside down. Print your artwork.

4.

4. Cut out the artwork with scissors. Keeping the copier- paper backing on as you cut helps because it’s easier to work the scissors through the heavier weight of the paper. You might need to trim the image to fit onto the candle surface.

5.

5. Position the tissue with the printed artwork onto the candle, and wrap it with a piece of wax paper that completely covers the tissue. Wearing an oven mitt to protect your fingers, hold the wax paper tightly in place as you heat the image with a hair dryer.

6.

6. As you apply the heat, the tissue paper bonds with the candle, and the wax from the wax paper coats the artwork. You’ll know the process is done when the wax paper becomes clear. If the image has not transferred to the candle when you lift the wax paper, heat it for a few more seconds.


Jonathan Fong is the author of “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

Yom HaShoah Events, Supplies for Syria

Rabbi David Dalin.

SAT APRIL 7
“FLY”

Interfaith and multicultural teens confront their values, identity, gender and more in “Fly,” a new musical debuting at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and the Pico Union Project, a multifaith cultural arts center and house of worship. An Art+Soul production directed by Stuart K. Robinson, the show is the culmination of months of exploration, creative thinking and rehearsing. April 7: 7:30 p.m. Free. Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. April 8: 3 p.m. Free. Pico Union Project, 1153 Valencia St., Los Angeles. (213) 915-0084. picounionproject.org.

SUN APRIL 8
“WHAT’S GOING ON WITH POLAND?”

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett.

Professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, chief curator of the Core Exhibition at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, discusses “What’s Going on With Poland?” The professor emerita of performance studies at New York University will address a controversial law passed by Poland’s government that criminalizes the suggestion that Poland was complicit in the Holocaust. Presented by the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and American Jewish Committee Los Angeles. 4 p.m. $15 advance purchase required. Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, 100 The Grove Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 651-3704. lamoth.org.

“SILENT WITNESS”

Sinai Temple holds a communitywide Yom HaShoah program. Participants include children from the MATI Masa El Habagrut program, Alice and Nahum Lainer School, Israeli Scouts, Sinai Temple Cantor Marcus Feldman, Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust Executive Director Beth Kean and Holocaust survivor Dana Schwartz. 11 a.m. Free. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518. sinaitemple.org.

THE BIG FILL

As the civil war in Syria continues, and as part of a large-scale humanitarian effort dubbed “The Big Fill,” Jewish communities across Los Angeles have been collecting supplies to send to Syrian children under siege. Participants in the effort, including congregants of Stephen Wise Temple, IKAR, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and Temple Judea, come together with the founders of Save the Syrian Children, a nonprofit dedicated to delivering medical supplies directly to Syrian hospitals, to sort and ship the supplies to Syria. Guest speakers are slated to appear. Wear comfortable clothes. 11 a.m.–2 p.m. Free. Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. RSVP at thebigfill.org.

POETRY AND MEMORY

Carine Topal.

In observance of National Poetry Month and Holocaust Memorial Day, the Skirball Cultural Center holds a live poetry reading featuring poet Carine Topal, reading from “In Order of Disappearance”; American Book Award winner Dorothy Barresi; and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee John Densmore of The Doors. Suzanne Lummis, editor of Beyond Baroque Books and its Pacific Coast Poetry Series, hosts the program. A meet-and-greet reception with the authors follows the program. 2 p.m. $12 general, $8 Skirball members and full-time students. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. skirball.org.

THE STORY OF THE KINDERTRANSPORT

A Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration program in the San Fernando Valley features stories of two children, Hilda Anker and Dave Lux, who were involved with and rescued in the historic World War II Kindertransport mission to save young Jews. Presented by The Mati Center, which seeks to build a united Israeli-American community. 3 p.m. Free. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000. vbs.org.

BULLETS AND BAGELS MOVIE NIGHT

Schmooze, nosh and learn about Israel’s original secret agent. Jewish shooting club Bullets and Bagels and the Long Beach Jewish Film Festival screen “The Mossad’s First, Reuven Shiloah,” a documentary about the Israeli intelligence agency’s first director, who served from 1949 to 1953. The film explores Shiloah’s contributions to the birth of Israel and his secret efforts to defend the Jewish state. The evening includes an appearance by Shiloah’s son, Dov, aka “Dubbie,” who will discuss Israel’s security. 6–9 p.m. $15 advance, $20 walk-ins. Alpert Jewish Community Center, 3801 E. Willow St., Long Beach. (562) 426-7601. bullets-bagels.com.

TEEN CENTER SEPHARDIC CULTURE NIGHT

Teens come together for a lively evening of music, food and schmoozing in celebration of Sephardic culture. Don’t miss this opportunity to make new friends and experience Arabic music, Middle Eastern food, backgammon, belly dancing and henna tattoos. Families welcome. 6–8 p.m. $20. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518. sinaitemple.org.

MON APRIL 9
“HOW SLAVE LABORERS SURVIVED”

Christopher Browning.

Drawing on the testimony of 292 slave labor survivors, Holocaust historian and USC Shoah Foundation Scholar-in-Residence Christopher Browning examines their survival strategies in a lecture titled, “Jewish Slave Labor and the Struggle for Survival,” which commemorates Yom HaShoah. The Holocaust historian will probe the various survival methods Jews experimented with in the Wierzbnik ghetto and the Starachowice factory slave labor camps in south-central Poland under Nazi occupation. 7:30 p.m. Free. Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-7353. tbala.org.

“ISRAEL AT 70: BEYOND THE HEADLINES”

Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutsch.

Promising to go “Beyond the Headlines” and talk about seldom-seen aspects of his country in a celebration of Israel’s 70th birthday, Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutsch discusses how Israel and Israelis are changing in the face of new challenges. A former educator at UC Berkeley, Novis-Deutsch is dean of Jerusalem’s Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, where he was ordained a Masorti rabbi 15 years ago. 7:45 p.m. Free. Shomrei Torah Synagogue, 7353 Valley Circle Blvd., West Hills. (818) 854-7650. stsonline.org.

ZIKARON BASALON

Holocaust survivors share their personal stories at intimate settings around the Los Angeles area. Organized by the Israel-American Council, the event, Zikaron Basalon — Hebrew for “memories in the living room” — takes place in advance of Yom Ha-Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. 7 p.m. Free. Brentwood, Agoura Hills and Tarzana, with addresses provided upon registration. (818) 451-1201. israeliamerican.org/los-angeles/zikaron.

TUE APRIL 10
“JEWISH JUSTICES OF THE SUPREME COURT”

Rabbi David Dalin.

Fresh from his latest book, “Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court, from Brandeis to Kagan,” Jewish history scholar Rabbi David Dalin explores the lives and Jewishness of nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. He will talk about the historic appointment of Justice Louis Brandeis in 1916, which introduced the notion of a so-called Jewish seat. Dalin also will discuss the views of Justices Frankfurter, Cordozo, Goldberg, Fortas, Bader Ginsberg, Breyer and Kagan, and the role of anti-Semitism in their lives. 7:30 p.m. $15 Stephen Wise Temple members, $20 general. Stephen Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-8561. wisela.org.

“JUDAISM AND THE SELF”

Rabbi Shaul Magid, a senior research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute and a professor of Jewish studies at Indiana University, discusses “Judaism and the Self: Personal Dimensions of Jewish Identity.” He examines the relationship between internal Jewish life and external ritual performance, between Jewish ethics and physical human reality, and he explores how the American-Jewish experience has given rise to new possibilities for individual Jewish spirituality. The evening begins with a wine-and-cheese reception. 7:30 p.m. $15. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-9777. wcce.aju.edu.

WED APRIL 11
FATHER PATRICK DESBOIS: “IN BROAD DAYLIGHT”

Father Patrick Debois.

Humanitarian and activist Father Patrick Desbois, founder of Yahad-In Unum, a global organization raising consciousness of the sites of Jewish and Roma (gypsy) mass extinctions by Nazi killing units in Eastern Europe during WWII, discusses his new book, “In Broad Daylight: The Secret Procedures Behind the Holocaust by Bullets.” The book, which documents mass killings in seven countries formerly part of the Soviet Union that were invaded by Nazi Germany, is a follow-up to Desbois’ National Jewish Book Award-winning book, “The Holocaust by Bullets.” Desbois will also sign his book. 7 p.m. Free. Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, 100 S. The Grove Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 651-3704. lamoth.org.

YOM HASHOAH SERVICE AND FILM EXCERPT

Roberta Grossman.

In her documentary film “Who Will Write Our History,” producer and director Roberta Grossman examines an archive of 30,000 pages of material, including scholarly essays, poems, underground newspapers and more, providing an unfiltered record of Warsaw Jewry and the conditions of the Warsaw Ghetto. Marking the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, an excerpt of the film screens at Temple Israel of Hollywood. A Q-and-A with Grossman follows. The evening also includes a Yom HaShoah service. 7–9 p.m. Free. Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 876-8330. tioh.org.

THU APRIL 12
“THE RISE AND FALL OF MOSES, SERVANT OF GOD”

Temple Beth Am Rabbi Emeritus Joel Rembaum leads a class exploring the Torah accounts of Moses’ life journey. Through a close reading of selections of the Torah, participants will gain insights into Moses’ persona, his relationship with his people, his relationship with God and his impact on the generations that came after him. A reading knowledge of Hebrew is helpful but not required, as Hebrew/English texts of the Torah will be used. 7:30–9:30 p.m. Free. Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-7353. tbala.org.

ARTIST OF THE WEEK: ‘Hope and Darkness’

“Hope and Darkness”

Yom HaShoah: Holocaust Remembrance Day

Between the Shoah and Mimouna

We make a statement by what we choose to feature on the cover. This week, we had to choose between two upcoming events — the Sephardic Mimouna party, which celebrates the end of Passover, and Yom HaShoah, which commemorates perhaps the worst atrocity in human history. It’s a choice between the ultimate light and the ultimate darkness.

We chose darkness.

Had Mimouna been our cover story, you would have seen a beautiful, joyful image on the cover, instead of the haunting one you see now. Mimouna represents the joy of breaking free, the freedom to live as you wish, the unbridled pursuit of happiness.

But while it’s not featured on the cover, you’ll still see plenty of Mimouna coverage. One of the articles is a reprint of a column I wrote many years ago titled, “The Magic of Mimouna.”

“The night of Mimouna was all about bringing good fortune into your life,” I wrote. “After eight days of prohibitions, Mimouna was the night you broke free, the night anything was possible. For the Jews of Morocco, Mimouna was the Jewish holiday that celebrated optimism.”

For the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, optimism was not an option; breaking free was not a possibility. There was nothing to see besides darkness.

Our memories dance between these two impulses — between the Mimouna part of our lives and the Holocaust part, between the craving for light and the unbearable weight of darkness. We yearn for Mimouna because we yearn for happiness, but we’re haunted by Shoah because our memories so easily surrender to the trauma of darkness.

The great irony is that Mimouna glitters at night, under the romance of the moonlight.

It is this darkness we wanted to explore in this issue. At the same time, we didn’t want to regurgitate what you already know. But how does one avoid that with the Holocaust, a subject about which everything has already been said a million times over?

We commissioned a Holocaust scholar and novelist, Thane Rosenbaum, to tackle that very question: What is there left to say?

“Holocaust memory has grown a little stale these past several years, and fatigue has set in,” he writes. “There are, in fact, fewer Yom HaShoah commemorations around the world.  With each passing year, they dwindle, not unlike the number of survivors themselves.”

He adds: “Perhaps the savagery of the world has simply caught up with the Holocaust in a twisted competition for evil supremacy.  We are tragically becoming inured to the atrocious, surrounded by so many contenders.”

For this one, singular moment of unspeakable darkness, “never again” is never enough.

Rosenbaum takes us on a tour of darkness to help us frame the role of memory:

“The Holocaust is being forgotten and exploited — both at the same time.  A surging wave of global anti-Semitism has surfaced with the added aim of pummeling and plundering the Holocaust.  Who knows what will be left when this new period of anti-Semitic fervor comes to an end?”

Despite the enormous industry of Holocaust memory, Rosenbaum concludes that we have fallen short:

“All around the world, even throughout the United States, the grand experiment of Holocaust memory appears to have failed.  Museums and memorials, although still well attended, are perceived as depressing amusement rides, with statistics about mass murder, artifacts from concentration camps, and an occasional cattle car just to complete the necessary ‘real-feel,’ ‘you are there’ experience.

“After departing from such places of ephemeral horror, visitors emerge into the light, and settle upon where to have lunch. Their confrontation with Holocaust memory lasting as long as Chinese food traveling through a digestive tract.”

Perhaps that’s why we chose to put Yom HaShoah on the cover — because for this one, singular moment of unspeakable darkness, “never again” is never enough.

As much as my heart yearns for a time when the joy of Mimouna will dominate our consciousness, the reality of evil keeps getting in the way. Confronting evil while also embracing joy may well be the paradox of the human condition.

On the night of Mimouna, I will taste a few moufletas (recipe inside) and surrender to optimism. But a few days later, I will attend a Yom HaShoah event to commemorate the very opposite of optimism, a moment in Jewish time when Jews were crushed by darkness.

The irony is that Mimouna glitters at night, under the romance of the moonlight. Maybe this is a gentle reminder that even darkness holds the promise of joy.

Week of April 6, 2018

Kindertransport passenger shares a different kind of survivor story

Ruth Moll. Photos courtesy of Cedars-Sinai

It was not until a movie about the Kindertransport came out in 2000 that Ruth Moll began to consider herself a Holocaust survivor.

Moll was 10 years old when she and her two sisters boarded a train to escape Nazi Germany shortly after Kristallnacht in November 1938. They were among the 10,000 children saved in the Kindertransport, a series of rescues organized by Great Britain before World War II began.

So, unlike many of the stories recounted around Yom HaShoah, Moll’s evasion of Nazi persecution does not involve ghettos or concentration camps. But that does not make her experience less harrowing or, as she insists, less critical to relate.

“It’s very important for people to know,” Moll told the Journal after a memorial candlelighting at a Cedars-Sinai Yom HaShoah ceremony on April 21.

As a contrast, she cited the example of the MS St. Louis, an ocean liner that was filled with hundreds of European Jewish refugees but turned back from the United States in 1939.

“To think a country like America could have done that — it’s not very nice,” Moll said. “And that’s why I stress that if it wasn’t for England, I wouldn’t be talking to you today.”

Now 89, Moll volunteers in various nonclinical roles at Cedars-Sinai, where she was one of several survivors who participated in the memorial candlelighting. The event included an address from Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, before a crowd of 200 or so members of the extended hospital community.

Born Ruth Schmidt in Stuttgart, Germany, Moll enjoyed a traditional Jewish childhood before the horrors of Kristallnacht ravaged her community. She remembers hearing the sound of shattering glass from inside her home. Weeks later, the Gestapo came looking for her father, a successful businessman. Luckily, he wasn’t home.

Sensing the immediacy of the Nazi threat, the Schmidt parents sought to protect their three daughters, ages 12, 10 and 9 at the time. With the help of a wealthy aunt, they secured travel documents and tickets for their children on a train bound for the Netherlands coast. A ferry would take them the rest of the way to England.

The children were permitted one small overnight suitcase each; no sentimental items could be accommodated. But Moll managed to smuggle her wooden recorder, on which she had been playing children’s songs since kindergarten, in her bag. She has kept the instrument to this day.

“It meant a lot to me because I was the only one of the three of us [who played] an instrument,” she told the Journal. She joked that she would probably need some breathing practice before she could play the wind instrument again. “I’m an old woman,” she laughed.

She left home not knowing if she ever would see her parents again, and upon arriving in England, on Feb. 3, 1939, the Schmidt girls were met by a relative, who enrolled them in a Christian boarding school. Moll’s parents later gained passage to England, mere weeks before the war started, and while they were able to visit their daughters at the boarding school, the family was not fully reunited until after the war.

Unfortunately, many of the other children saved by the Kindertransport never saw their families again. That includes her late husband, Rudy Moll, whom she met after moving to California in the 1950s.

Moll’s flight from Nazi persecution was made possible in the aftermath of Kristallnacht when a group of British Jewish and Quaker leaders appealed to Parliament for the admission of unaccompanied Jewish children as refugees from Nazi territories. British authorities agreed to take in an unspecified number as temporary migrants, with the assumption that they would return to Germany once the danger had passed.

Jewish organizations inside Germany and its territories planned the extraction, prioritizing especially vulnerable children, such as orphans, and organizing the travel from major cities like Prague, Vienna and Frankfurt, where Moll and her sisters were dropped off at the train station by the family maid.

Ruth Moll as a child

Ruth Moll as a child

Overall, around 10,000 children made it safely to England, mostly by train and ship, with a few arriving by airplane. The Kindertransport ceased operating in May 1940, when Dutch forces surrendered to the German army, making the last leg, the ferry, unnavigable.

“England was the only country who was willing to open their doors to save 10,000 children,” Moll said, “and they would have saved more if they would have had the money.”

Still, since she never saw the inside of a concentration camp, she never thought of herself as a Holocaust survivor. “Into the Arms of Strangers,” a documentary about the Kindertransport, changed her perspective.

“Now when people ask me, I tell them I’m a survivor,” she said. “It seems to have some kind of impact, which is really what I’m happy about.”

She sees the rescue effort that saved her life as a moral imperative for future generations, one that’s never been more pressing than today. With this in mind, she talked about the refugee crisis in Syria and Europe, saying that people today aren’t listening to what’s going on in Syria and noticing the parallels with the Holocaust.

“I’m scared for what’s happening in the world, for myself,” Moll said. “Because we said never again, but who knows?”

Jewish organizations welcome Trump Yom HaShoah remarks

President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on April 20. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Jewish organizations representing a variety of viewpoints on Tuesday praised President Donald Trump for his Holocaust Remembrance Day remarks.

“We welcome President Trump’s clear pledge today to confront anti-Semitism and we look forward to working with the president and his administration to put his pledge into action,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said in a statement, a departure from many recent ADL statements that have criticized the president for his failure to denounce the apparent rise of anti-Semitism in the United States.

“We deeply appreciate President Trump’s heartfelt remarks today commemorating the Holocaust and honoring the memory of the six million Jewish people mercilessly killed by the Nazi regime,” Orthodox Union (OU) President Mark Bane said in a statement.

“After several gross missteps related to Holocaust remembrance in the first 100 days of his administration, President Trump finally struck the right note in his speech at the Capitol today at a ceremony in honor of victims of the Shoah,” left-leaning pro-Israel group JStreet said in a statement.

JStreet added the president should fire Steve Bannon, chief strategist in the Trump administration and Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to the president, in order to demonstrate his words are more than empty promises.

“If he wants his words to carry conviction, the president should fire both men immediately,” the JStreet statement said.

Appearing at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Days of Remembrance ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda, Trump emphasized support for Israel, mourned the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and said he would not tolerate acts of anti-Semitism.

“The state of Israel is an eternal monument to the undying strength of the Jewish people,” Trump said on Tuesday, hours after the conclusion of Yom HaShoah, which began Sunday evening, ended Monday evening and commemorates the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust between 1933-1945.

Trump’s words followed his omission of the word, “Jews,” from remarks in January commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Yom HaShoah was established by the Israeli government. International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz and was established by the United Nations General Assembly.

Here are the president’s Yom HaShoah remarks in full:

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Friends, members of Congress, ambassadors, veterans, and, most especially, to the survivors here with us today, it’s an honor to join you on this very, very solemn occasion.  I am deeply moved to stand before those who survived history’s darkest hour.  Your cherished presence transforms this place into a sacred gathering.

Thank you, Tom Bernstein, Alan Holt, Sara Bloomfield, and everyone at the Holocaust Memorial Council and Museum for your vital work and tireless contributions.

We are privileged to be joined by Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, friend of mine — he’s done a great job and said some wonderful words — Ron Dermer.  The State of Israel is an eternal monument to the undying strength of the Jewish people.  The fervent dream that burned in the hearts of the oppressed is now filled with the breath of life, and the Star of David waves atop a great nation arisen from the desert.

To those in the audience who have served America in uniform, our country eternally thanks you.  We are proud and grateful to be joined today by veterans of the Second World War who liberated survivors from the camps.  Your sacrifice helped save freedom for the world — for the entire world.  (Applause.)

Sadly, this year marks the first Day of Remembrance since the passing of Elie Wiesel, a great person, a great man.  His absence leaves an empty space in our hearts, but his spirit fills this room.  It is the kind of gentle spirit of an angel who lived through hell, and whose courage still lights the path from darkness.  Though Elie’s story is well known by so many people, it’s always worth repeating.  He suffered the unthinkable horrors of the Holocaust.  His mother and sister perished in Auschwitz.  He watched his father slowly dying before his own young eyes in Buchenwald.  He lived through an endless nightmare of murder and death, and he inscribed on our collective conscience the duty we have to remember that long, dark night so as never to again repeat it.

The survivors in this hall, through their testimony, fulfill the righteous duty to never forget, and engrave into the world’s memory the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people.  You witnessed evil, and what you saw is beyond description, beyond any description.  Many of you lost your entire family, everything and everyone you loved, gone.  You saw mothers and children led to mass slaughter.  You saw the starvation and the torture.  You saw the organized attempt at the extermination of an entire people — and great people, I must add.  You survived the ghettos, the concentration camps and the death camps.  And you persevered to tell your stories.  You tell of these living nightmares because, despite your great pain, you believe in Elie’s famous plea, that “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”

That is why we are here today — to remember and to bear witness.  To make sure that humanity never, ever forgets.
The Nazis massacred 6 million Jews.  Two out of every three Jews in Europe were murdered in the genocide.  Millions more innocent people were imprisoned and executed by the Nazis without mercy, without even a sign of mercy.

Yet, even today, there are those who want to forget the past.  Worse still, there are even those filled with such hate, total hate, that they want to erase the Holocaust from history.  Those who deny the Holocaust are an accomplice to this horrible evil.  And we’ll never be silent — we just won’t — we will never, ever be silent in the face of evil again.  (Applause.)

Denying the Holocaust is only one of many forms of dangerous anti-Semitism that continues all around the world.  We’ve seen anti-Semitism on university campuses, in the public square, and in threats against Jewish citizens.  Even worse, it’s been on display in the most sinister manner when terrorists attack Jewish communities, or when aggressors threaten Israel with total and complete destruction.

This is my pledge to you:  We will confront anti-Semitism (Applause.)  We will stamp out prejudice.  We will condemn hatred.  We will bear witness.  And we will act.  As President of the United States, I will always stand with the Jewish people — and I will always stand with our great friend and partner, the State of Israel.

So today, we remember the 6 million Jewish men, women and children whose lives and dreams were stolen from this Earth.
We remember the millions of other innocent victims the Nazis so brutally targeted and so brutally killed.  We remember the survivors who bore more than we can imagine.  We remember the hatred and evil that sought to extinguish human life, dignity, and freedom.

But we also remember the light that shone through the darkness.  We remember sisters and brothers who gave everything to those they loved — survivors like Steven Springfield, who, in the long death march, carried his brother on his back.  As he said, “I just couldn’t give in.”

We remember the brave souls who banded together to save the lives of their neighbors — even at the risk of their own life.  And we remember those first hopeful moments of liberation, when at long last the American soldiers arrived in camps and cities throughout occupied Europe, waving the same beautiful flags before us today, speaking those three glorious words:  “You are free.”

It is this love of freedom, this embrace of human dignity, this call to courage in the face of evil that the survivors here today have helped to write onto our hearts.  The Jewish people have endured oppression, persecution, and those who have sought and planned their destruction.  Yet, through the suffering, they have persevered.  They have thrived.  And they have enlightened the world.  We stand in awe of the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people.

I want to close with a story enshrined in the Museum that captures the moment of liberation in the final days of the war.  
It is the story of Gerda Klein, a young Jewish woman from Poland. Some of you know her.  Gerda’s family was murdered by the Nazis. She spent three years imprisoned in labor camps, and the last four months of the war on a terrible death march.  She assumed it was over.  At the end, on the eve of her 21st birthday, her hair had lost all of its color, and she weighed a mere 68 pounds.  Yet she had the will to live another day.  It was tough.

Gerda later recalled the moment she realized that her long-awaited deliverance had arrived.  She saw a car coming towards her.  Many cars had driven up before, but this one was different.  On its hood, in place of that wretched swastika, was a bright, beautiful, gleaming white star.  Two American soldiers got out. One walked up to her.  The first thing Gerda said was what she had been trained to say:  “We are Jewish, you know.”  “We are Jewish.”  And then he said, “So am I.”  It was a beautiful moment after so much darkness, after so much evil.

As Gerda took this solider to see the other prisoners, the American did something she had long forgotten to even expect — he opened the door for her.  In Gerda’s words, “that was the moment of restoration of humanity, of humanness, of dignity, and of freedom.”

But the story does not end there.  Because, as some of you know, that young American soldier who liberated her and who showed her such decency would soon become her husband.  A year later, they were married.  In her words, “He opened not only the door for me, but the door to my life and to my future.”

Gerda has since spent her life telling the world of what she witnessed.  She, like those survivors who are among us today, has dedicated her life to shining a light of hope through the dark of night.

Your courage strengthens us.  Your voices inspire us.  And your stories remind us that we must never, ever shrink away from telling the truth about evil in our time.  Evil is always seeking to wage war against the innocent and to destroy all that is good and beautiful about our common humanity.  But evil can only thrive in darkness.  And what you have brought us today is so much more powerful than evil.  You have brought us hope — hope that love will conquer hatred, that right will defeat wrong, and that peace will rise from the ashes of war.

Each survivor here today is a beacon of light, and it only takes one light to illuminate even the darkest space.  Just like it takes only one truth to crush a thousand lies and one hero to change the course of history.  We know that in the end, good will triumph over evil, and that as long as we refuse to close our eyes or to silence our voices, we know that justice will ultimately prevail.

So today we mourn.  We remember.  We pray.  And we pledge:  Never again.

Thank you.  God bless you, and God bless America.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

 

Extracting meaning from the madness

A flower is placed by next to the name of a former concentration camp inside the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem on April 24. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

Rabbi Harold Schulweis wrote 30 years ago that the way we work through the memory of the Holocaust, the Shoah, the way we extract meaning from the madness, would be the most critical question of post-Holocaust generations.

That question remains the premiere challenge of our generation.

Today, on Yom HaShoah, the day of remembering, here are three ways to wrest meaning from the madness.

First, we remember. Remembering is not the same as not forgetting. Not forgetting is driven by fear. Remembering is driven by love. Read survivor testimonies. Watch a film. Feel something. Remember the human capacity for depravity, cowardice and complicity, and remember human courage and compassion. Active memory is a gesture of hesed—it is equal parts an act of grace and an expression of loyalty toward those who lost everything and persisted in breathing and loving and rebuilding nevertheless.

Second, we would do well to reacquaint ourselves with the quiet heroism of the righteous gentiles, hasidei umot ha-olam, who jeopardized everything to protect, support and save the lives of Jews. Their stories remind us not only that good exists even in the heart of evil, but that the demands of human decency call us to stay vigilant to the dangers of bigotry, racism and discrimination even when we are not directly in the line of fire.

In this moment, in America, many minority communities feel like endangered species: diminished, scapegoated and targeted. The threat doesn’t have to rise to the level of Holocaust horror for us to mobilize against it. The Jewish community honors, indeed venerates the Righteous Gentiles who risked and often gave their lives to defend our people. The best way to honor their memory is to strive to be like them. Today we are called to become Righteous Jews. To use whatever resources we have—political, financial, spiritual—to stand up and speak for those whose rights or safety or dignity are threatened. The memory of our suffering calls us not only to hold compassion, but to actively stand in solidarity with those who today are vulnerable to racialized hatred.

Finally, we must stay awake and discerning. Anti-Semitism is a real and present danger. Over the last several years, we’ve seen a spike in violent incidents directed against the Jewish community, the vicious trolling of prominent Jewish leaders and journalists on social media, cemetery desecrations, and—perhaps most ominously—the elevation of unabashed hate mongers—including those who traffic in racist and anti-Semitic tropes—to the highest offices. In France today, the daughter of an avowed Holocaust denier and rabid anti-Semite, someone who herself argues that French Jews ought not be permitted to wear kippot or hold dual citizenship with Israel, is emerging as a lead presidential candidate, again raising the terrifying specter of state supported anti-Semitism in Europe.

And still, the reality of anti-Semitism and the aching truth of the Shoah must not distort our judgment or weaken our discernment.

Not every criticism of Israeli policy, not every analysis of Jewish power or privilege is evidence of anti-Semitism. To turn every critic into an enemy is not only wrong, it is disingenuous and dangerous. It diminishes our ability to respond effectively to the real threat of anti-Semitism, to protect our communities and live by our core Jewish values. We must remember this.

Yom HaShoah is a day not only to mourn, but to rededicate ourselves. Let us remember the past in a way that transforms the present. In a landscape of increasing incivility and cruelty, we honor the memory of those whose lives were tragically cut short by living more compassionate, more purposeful, more meaningful, more dedicated lives.

Zikhronam livrakha– may their memories be a blessing.

Episode 35 – Holocaust Memorial Day Special with Yad VaShem Chief Historian Prof. Dina Porat

Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day, commemorates the 6 million Jews who perished in the genocide. However, in order to prevent the crimes of history from repeating themselves, we cannot simply remember, we must learning from them. We must study the past and compare it to the present. Professor Dina Porat does exactly that at the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry. Every year on the eve of Yom Hashoah,  the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University publishes its Report on Antisemitism.

Professor Porat is also the chief historian of Yad Vashem, Israel’s National Holocaust Museum and she joins Two Nice Jewish Boys in this episode for a special on Antisemitism and Yom HaShoah.

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Yom HaShoah: A Day of Remembrance and Reflection

The Eternal Flame memorial in Baku, Azerbaijan

We recently took in the news of chemical weapons used to murder children in Syria, an act few considered possible since a time 70 years ago, when over 1 million children were murdered by the Nazis. Our shock and outrage as a global community never fades, and our understanding of history seems to grow with the decades between then and now. But the sheer brutality with which these attacks have occurred reminds us of the true nature of evil and contempt for human life, as well as the capacity of intolerance to rearrange the human condition and spirit. The attack in Syria weighs on our minds, and is an important reason why we must never let the memory of a great tragedy as the Holocaust slip into the annuls of history past.

Yom Hashoah begins on the evening of April 23, 2017, a day to remember the 6 million Jews, the 5 million others, and the heroes that risked everything to save lives from the perpetrators and accessories to the Holocaust.

In my homeland of Azerbaijan, the remembrance of the Holocaust has always felt personal and close to home. Azerbaijan has always stood against hatred and fascism, and this was the case during the time of Nazism, as it is true today. History remembers Hitler’s vain attempt at capturing Azerbaijan’s capital city of Baku, which was key to his eventual defeat, when en route, his army endured Stalingrad. Azerbaijan was then, as it is today, a haven for Jews fleeing persecution in Europe and neighboring regions.

In 2016, the Baku International Center for Multiculturalism and Baku Slavic University organized a roundtable of high level scholars to discuss the implications of the Holocaust today, and to do so through the lens of our own national tragedy, the Khojaly Massacre. This massacre was committed against innocent Azerbaijani civilians, including hundreds of children, women and elderly in February 1992 by invading Armenian troops. The Human Rights Watch called it the “largest massacre” in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict and condemned the “unconscionable acts of violence against civilians” by the Armenian forces.

The said 2016 memorial in Baku for the 6 million Jews was mostly attended by Muslim students of the Baku Slavic University. And it is no coincidence. Holocaust studies are a part of the majority-Muslim Azerbaijan’s educational system, and with our strong Jewish population, deep ties to the State of Israel for 25 years, and our own experience during World War II, the Holocaust has, in many ways, left a permanent impression on Azerbaijan.

The Holocaust is one of many connections that tie Azerbaijan to the Jewish people. Jewish communities have also shown immense support to Azerbaijan for the endurance of our own tragedy. For the past several years, the Khojaly Massacre has been memorialized in Los Angeles, with Rabbis and synagogues leading the way in this compassionate, cross-cultural effort. Survivors that have participated in these remarkable memorials have noted the impact of feeling cared for by another, and how especially meaningful the memorialization of their tragedy was under the leadership of Jewish communities, to whom such tragedy is unfortunately very familiar. But it is precisely in that space of familiarity that remembering atrocities such as the Holocaust yields hope for a future free from the evils of hatred that made the Holocaust, and many other tragedies, possible.

Remembering the Holocaust is a truly universal undertaking. And yet, it should be looked at in context for a new generation of young people that have no connection to the experience of the past.  With so few survivors left to tell their stories, with few children of the children of survivors feeling the direct connection to a page in history in a world driven by 15 minutes of fame relegates this important time to ancient history.

No matter where you come from, no matter your religion or culture, every human life is precious and deserving of freedom and dignity. If we can cross the barriers of difference to memorialize such a tragedy, we can surely cross it for many other reasons and on many more days.

Morgenthau’s Children

Oscar Isaac in “The Promise.” Photo by Jose Haro

If you go see the movie “The Promise” this weekend — and you should — you’ll notice a brief scene about two-thirds of the way through, one that ought to resonate even more deeply with American Jews.

“The Promise” is the first large-scale Hollywood film about the Armenian genocide of the early 20th century. It uses big stars, gripping action and a wrenching love story to tell about what the United Nations recognizes as the first modern, organized mass murder of a single people. 

In the scene I’m referring to, Henry Morgenthau, the United States ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, played by actor James Cromwell, confronts Mehmet Talaat, the empire’s interior minister. Morgenthau demands the Turks put an end to the killing and forced deportation of innocent Armenians. When the official repeats the party line (which Turkish officials parrot to this day) that any deaths are the unfortunate consequence of the chaos of war, Morgenthau presents evidence compiled by American consuls and journalists of an organized and concerted effort to wipe out the Armenian minority. Talaat fixes Morgenthau with an icy stare.

“You are a Jew, Ambassador Morgenthau,” he says. “Why should you care about these people?”

Morgenthau answers that as a Jew and an American, he knows what it is to be persecuted, and a refugee.

That shuts upTalaat — but the killing continues.

I don’t know whether the incident happened exactly as it played on screen. But I do know that in reality, Morgenthau cabled Washington, D.C., to report, “a campaign of race extermination is in progress.” He exhausted himself trying to stop it and, despondent that he failed, spent much of the rest of his life raising the equivalent of $1 billion in today’s dollars for Armenian relief.

I used to think the Holocaust was special. I now know that it is, and it isn’t. It was preceded by genocides, it has been followed by genocides, and it will likely, tragically, be echoed by current and future genocides.

The current list includes those in Syria and Iraq, where, along with 500,000 casualties of the civil war, ISIS has singled out the Yazidi people for extermination. In the Central African Republic, continuing violence between Christian majority and Muslim minority militias have seen thousands murdered and hundreds of thousands driven from their homes.

In South Sudan, genocide already has taken 450,000 lives since 2003 and threatens to take many more. This year, the group Genocide Watch listed the failed state of Somalia at Stage 9 on the 10 Stages of Genocide and issued a Genocide and Mass Atrocities Alert. In Myanmar, the 1 million members of the Muslim minority Rohingya face persecution, deportation and starvation.

We know these things are happening. The lack of information is only a convenient excuse in hindsight. Even in Morgenthau’s time, there was contemporary reporting and eyewitnesses.

This week, we learned from newly released archives from the Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust & Genocide that as early as 1944, the West knew what was really happening in Auschwitz and Treblinka. Documents smuggled out to the Polish government in exile provided all the evidence leaders needed to act. Today, we have even fewer excuses.

The American-Jewish community focuses a lot of attention on what will happen when there are no more Holocaust survivors to bear witness to what happened. I can understand why. Each year I go to Holocaust commemorative events, where the survivors in the audience are asked to stand up. What used to be dozens of resolute individuals has now dwindled to a handful — and most of these men and women were young children during the war years.

Fortunately, we have created a firewall of memory that includes liturgy, museums, art, film and TV, books, academic research and documentary testimony that will speak to future generations. It is easy to groan at yet another Holocaust memorial or movie, but each is a testament to the disappearing survivors, that their suffering will not be forgotten, that the living have done their duty to the past.

The question we need to ask ourselves is this: Have we done our duty to the living? Are we listening to the eyewitnesses to the contemporary genocides who are trying to speak to us? Are we reading the unpleasant journalism from the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Myanmar? As we turn our attention, activism and philanthropy, for good reason, to the shambles that is our domestic politics, are we ignoring the urgent pleas from this generation’s victims?

The answer is yes, we are guilty of all those things. The internet has made it easier than ever to find out what fresh hell is happening — just click on the website for Genocide Watch or add The Mantle (mantlethought.org) to your favorites bar. But the internet also has given us the attention spans of 2-year-olds. 

Too sad?  Too hard? Too much?  Remember: We are the children of Morgenthau. If we, of all people, do not take up the cause of the victims of genocide, in every country, in every generation, who will? 


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email
him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism
and @RobEshman.

Stephen Smith’s quest to find survivor from Bergen-Belsen liberation film

Stephen Smith and Helen Colin

Last summer, I watched the disturbingly iconic reel of black-and-white footage that revealed the shameful truth of Bergen-Belsen.

The grainy footage, which many of us have seen, was taken at the concentration camp in Germany, a few days after the liberation on April 15, 1945. It offered one of the first glimpses into the hell that was the Holocaust. Under the armed command of liberators from the British Army, SS men are seen unloading the skeletal corpses of the Jews they’d murdered from the back of a pickup truck, and carrying them to a mass grave.

I was struck by two things I hadn’t noticed before:

First, the reel shows a woman screaming at the SS men laboring under the gun of the liberators.

Second, in an extraordinary moment of reckoning, a young Polish-Jewish woman named Hela Goldstein — who appeared to be the same woman who’d been screaming in the earlier shot — steps up to a microphone and delivers, in German, a short account of what had transpired at the camp, while standing against the backdrop of a massive open grave.  As I watched her interview — which lasts all of 93 seconds — it occurred to me that this was likely the first audiovisual Holocaust survivor testimony ever recorded on camera.

I wondered if Goldstein was among the nearly 54,000 Holocaust survivors who later gave their testimonies to the USC Shoah Foundation, whose Visual History Archive features a powerful search engine.

Thanks to the remarkably detailed work of the archive’s indexers, I was able to locate a woman in Houston named Helen Colin. Colin had previously been known as Hela Goldstein — and she was liberated at Bergen-Belsen. I called a friend at the Holocaust Museum Houston, who provided contact information for Helen’s daughter Muriel. After connecting with Muriel, I immediately booked a flight from Los Angeles to Houston.

The next day — June 8, 2016 — I arrived at Helen’s house for the purpose of interviewing her for the USC Shoah Foundation again. In her first interview, recorded in 1996, Helen had never mentioned the statement she’d made to the British film crew at Bergen-Belsen, where 50,000 innocents (including diarist Anne Frank) were murdered during World War II.

I filmed the 93-year-old Helen watching her 1945 testimony. Then I asked her what it was like to stand in front of a microphone as a woman in her early 20s and speak about what had happened.

“I was very, very scared,” she said, adding that the British officers had forced the SS men to listen.

Here she was, staring her former captors in the face, with a camera rolling, telling the world what they’d done. Despite the presence of the British Army, she feared reprisal in the form of a sniper’s bullet from the guard tower above. But it was unoccupied.

Helen also confirmed that she was, indeed, the woman who’d been screaming at the SS men, who were grabbing and dragging bodies by the feet. What was she saying?

“I says, ‘You are not allowed to drag on this gravel such a precious people. They may be my family, they may be my mother, father — who knows?’ ”

She ordered the SS men to “immediately” begin carrying the bodies over their shoulders, to afford the victims a shred of dignity. The Nazis complied, as can be seen in the footage.

“They did it because the British were surrounding me,” she said.

April 15, 1945, was not just the day Bergen-Belsen was liberated; it was also Helen’s 22nd birthday. And as it happens, April 15 is my birthday too.

We bonded that day at her home, made even more hospitable by her lovely daughter Muriel, so eager to ensure that her mother’s story be told.  After the interview, Helen and I agreed to get together again, but this time for the purpose of celebrating our birthdays, on April 15, 2017.

That was not to be. Helen died just weeks after our interview. So, in lieu of the party we’d planned, this piece will celebrate her memory.

With Yom HaShoah just a few days away, when we recall the testimony of survivors, Helen Colin’s legacy rebuts a longstanding popular misconception — that Holocaust survivors were silent after the Holocaust. Many did speak, but in fact their words all too often fell on deaf ears.

As that young woman stood in front of her captors with the dead piled up behind her, it took courage to speak. Helen that day was prepared to speak even though she feared lethal retaliation. But survivors have felt other fears: that words may be twisted for nefarious purposes; that their memories might not be respected; that they must re-live the trauma.

Helen, like all the survivors who have shared their stories — who lost her mother, father, younger brother and little sister to the Holocaust — was among the brave. Happy birthday, Helen.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple to hold public reading of Wiesel’s ‘Night’

Wilshire Boulevard Temple (WBT) will host a public reading of Elie Wiesel’s “Night” at its Koreatown campus on the evening of April 23. The reading will coincide with Yom HaShoah, an international day of Holocaust remembrance, the first since Wiesel’s death in July.

Among the dozens of celebrities and public figures tapped to read from the harrowing account of Wiesel’s Holocaust experience are actor Tom Hanks, author and talk show host Tavis Smiley, Rabbi David Wolpe and journalist and producer Tom Teicholz. The list also includes Holocaust survivors, politicians and interfaith leaders.

WBT Rabbi Susan Nanus said her friend, television movie producer Linda Kent, who frequently collaborates on synagogue events, told her about a reading from the landmark memoir at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in January. She quickly decided, “We should do it, too.”

She said the people who were invited to participate were deeply honored and enthusiastic. As she and Kent began to prepare a list of readers, she reached out to Writers Bloc Presents, a local nonprofit that holds events dedicated to books and literature.

“We’re living in frightening times, and we should be looking at history and great writers to see the relationship between the past and now,” said Andrea Grossman, founder of Writers Bloc Presents. “So when Susan Nanus emailed me about this program, I jumped at it.”

The two met at Factor’s Famous Deli on Pico Boulevard and began to draft, with Kent, a list of celebrities and leaders from a broad range of Los Angeles faith and civic communities.

The diversity of the participants underscores the evening’s themes of “unity and memory and tolerance and remembering what happened — how evil triumphs when good people do nothing,” Nanus said. “That’s really what it’s all about.”

Among others scheduled to participate in the reading are Rabbi Laura Geller, Rabbi Steven Leder, Rabbi Karen Fox, Jewish Journal columnist Danielle Berrin and attorney E. Randol Schoenberg. The list also includes leaders from other faiths, including Mohammed Akbar Khan of the King Fahad Mosque in Culver City, acclaimed choir director Diane White-Clayton of Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood and Sikh scholar Nirinjan Khalsa.

Actors and filmmakers set to join the reading include Hanks’ wife, Rita Wilson; Michael Tolkin; Mike Burstyn; Eric Roth and Rain Pryor. Local government officials slated to participate include former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin and Beverly Hills Mayor Lilli Bosse, a daughter of Holocaust survivors. Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg also is set to read a passage.

Other scheduled participants include Korean community leader Hyepin Im; oncologist Gary Schiller, a son of Holocaust survivors; novelist and Jewish Journal columnist Gina Nahai; 2016 MacArthur Fellow Josh Kun; and Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan.

Each participant will read approximately two to three pages of the text, Nanus said.

“It’s always great, wonderful to hear a terrific actor read, so … it will be wonderful to hear Tom Hanks and Rain Pryor and Rita Wilson,” Grossman said. “But it will also be interesting to hear the children of Holocaust survivors or Holocaust survivors themselves tackle this book. It’s difficult reading and it’s a difficult memory.”

More information and tickets are available at wbtla.org/night.

‘Remember the 11 Million’?

Child survivors of Auschwitz, wearing adult-size prisoner jackets, stand behind a barbed wire fence.

“Five million non-Jews died in the Holocaust.”

It’s a statement that shows up regularly in declarations about the Nazi era. It was implied in a Facebook post by the Israel Defense Forces’ spokesperson’s unit on Jan. 27 marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day. And it was asserted in an article shared by the Trump White House in defense of its controversial Holocaust statement the same day omitting references to the 6 million Jewish victims.

It is, however, a number without any scholarly basis.

Indeed, say those close to the late Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, its progenitor, it is a number that was intended to increase sympathy for Jewish suffering but which now is more often used to obscure it.

The White House statement sent waves of dismay through the Jewish community, including among groups that have been supportive of President Donald Trump.

By mentioning the “victims, survivors, [and] heroes of the Holocaust” without mentioning the Jews, said a host of Jewish organizations, the statement risked playing into the hands of the European right, which includes factions that seek to diminish the centrality of the Jewish genocide to the carnage of World War II.

In defending the omission of Jews from the statement, a White House spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, sent CNN a link to a 2015 Huffington Post-UK piece titled “The Holocaust’s Forgotten Victims: The 5 Million Non-Jewish People Killed By the Nazis.”

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, appeared to cite the same source on Jan. 30, saying that the Nazis’ victims included Roma, gays, the disabled and priests. He called complaints about the statement “pathetic.” In the wake of the controversy, the world’s two leading Holocaust museums, in Washington and in Jerusalem, issued statements emphasizing the centrality of the annihilation of the Jews to the understanding of the Holocaust; neither mentioned Trump.

The “5 million” has driven Holocaust historians to distraction ever since Wiesenthal started to peddle it in the 1970s. Wiesenthal told the Washington Post in 1979, “I have sought with Jewish leaders not to talk about 6 million Jewish dead, but rather about 11 million civilians dead, including 6 million Jews.”

Yehuda Bauer, an Israeli Holocaust scholar who chairs the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, said he warned his friend Wiesenthal, who died in 2005, about spreading the false notion that the Holocaust claimed 11 million victims — 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews.

“I said to him, ‘Simon, you are telling a lie,’ ” Bauer recalled. “He said, ‘Sometimes, you need to do that to get the results for things you think are essential.’ ”

Bauer and other historians who knew Wiesenthal said the Nazi hunter told them he chose the 5 million number carefully: He wanted a number large enough to attract the attention of non-Jews who might not otherwise care about Jewish suffering, but not larger than the actual number of Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, 6 million.

It caught on: President Jimmy Carter, issuing the executive order that would establish the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, referred to the “11 million victims of the Holocaust.”

Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta, wrote in 2011 how the number continues to dog her efforts to teach about the Holocaust.

“I have been to many Yom HaShoah observances — including those sponsored by synagogues and Jewish communities — where 11 candles were lit,” she wrote in an article in the Jewish Review of Books in which she lacerated Wiesenthal’s ethical standards. “When I tell the organizers that they are engaged in historical revisionism, their reactions range from skepticism to outrage. Strangers have taken me to task in angry letters for focusing ‘only’ on Jewish deaths and ignoring the five million others. When I explain that this number is simply inaccurate, in fact made up, they become even more convinced of my ethnocentrism and inability to feel the pain of anyone but my own people.”

The problem, according to Bauer, who has debunked the number repeatedly in his writings over the decades, is not that non-Jews were not victims; they were. It is that Wiesenthal’s arbitrarily chosen tally of non-Jewish victims diminishes the centrality to the Nazi ideology of systematically wiping any trace of the Jewish people from the planet.

In fact, he said, the term “genocide” could accurately be applied to the 2 million to 3 million Poles murdered and millions more enslaved by the Nazis. But the mass murder of the Poles, Roma and others should not come under the rubric “Holocaust,” a term that Holocaust historians generally dislike because of its religious connotations but nonetheless have accepted as describing only the annihilation that the Nazis hoped to visit on the Jews.

“All Jews of the world had to be annihilated,” Bauer said. “That was the intent. There was never an idea in Nazi minds to murder all the Russians.”

The number 5 million also adheres to no known understanding of the number of non-Jews killed by the Nazis: While as many as 35 million people were killed overall because of Nazi aggression, the number of non-Jews who died in the concentration camps is no more than half a million, Bauer said.

Mark Weitzman, the director of government affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said that Wiesenthal, in advancing the number, “never intended to minimize the Jewish specificity of the Shoah,” the Hebrew word for Holocaust.

“He was trying to draw attention to the fact that there were other victims of Nazi genocide,” Weitzman said.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, who founded the Wiesenthal Center and delivered the benediction at Trump’s inauguration, told CNN on Jan. 31 that Trump’s statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day was a “mistake,” but one he did not believe was intended to diminish Jewish suffering.

“I do not accuse President Trump of wanting to dishonor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust who were Jewish, but it was a mistake,” he said.

Lipstadt, writing in The Atlantic, is not so sure.

“It may have all started as a mistake by a new administration that is loath to admit it’s wrong,” she wrote. “Conversely, it may be a conscious attempt by people with anti-Semitic sympathies to rewrite history. Either way, it is deeply disturbing.” n

Yom HaShoah 2016: This year, it’s ‘ever again’

For over seven decades, on Yom HaShoah- Holocaust Memorial Day, people pause to reflect on the mass murder of 6,000,000 Jews, a genocide conceived, organized and executed by Hitler’s Third Reich. Two words sum up the silent pleas from the ashes of the victims and those who survived the Shoah: “Never Again.”

But let’s be honest. In 2016, the operative term is “Ever”, not “Never Again.”

What lessons from the Nazi Holocaust has the US or other nations applied to stop the ethnic cleansing of Iraqi Christians, the genocide of Yazidis, the gassing of civilians and targeting of hospitals in Syria, the Boko Haram outrages in Nigeria?

And what about ISIS? While we still might get around to destroying ISIS’ physical Caliphate and the tens of thousands of their terrorist troops, they have in a sense, already won. They have succeeded in changing humanity’s terrain—and not for the better.

The Nazis attempted to hide their genocidal agenda, ISIS shouts it from the rooftops.

In 2016, Islamist terrorists openly boast about the mass rapes and beheadings; they leverage social media and send out millions of tweets to broadcast the final moments of their doomed victims, simultaneously instilling fear around the world, while recruiting young Muslims around the world with their heroin-strength, theologically-driven hate.

Any world leader who actually believed in Never Again would never have allowed the global menace of Islamist Jihadists to gain such traction.

For Jews, Never Again meant the hope that after the Shoah, our people would never have to stand alone; that we could rely on a coalition of democratic European nations, led by the children of those who suffered Nazi invasion and occupation along with the children of the perpetrators the crimes against humanity, who understood the historic responsibility of post-war Germany to stand as a bulwark against history’s oldest hate.

The bitter reality on the streets of European capitals today is that Jews are no longer safe. They are leaving by the thousands, not only because of terrorists but also because too few of their fellow-citizens care.

Elsewhere where millions of Jews perished during the Shoah, xenophobic politicians from Poland to Lithuania to Hungary brazenly whitewash their history and erase Jewish martyrdom to suit their extremist agendas.

And then there are the Ken Livingstones of the world. They are all too happy to invoke Hitler, Swastikas and Nazis, so long as they can smear “Zionists.” Perfectly timed for the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, the former Mayor of London asserted that Hitler was a supporter of Zionism! When and Jews and the political opposition raised a ruckus, Piers Corbyn, the brother of Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn remarked that there was 'too much sensitivity' surrounding anti-Semitism. All this as some 50 Labour politicians were suspended after their anti-Semitic sentiments were reported on social media. They need not be too worried, for Mr. Corbyn counts Hamas terrorists among his friends.

Never Again indeed!

It would be useful if that cackle of Labour anti-Semites visited the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance. There they would read a four-page letter that Hitler typed and personally signed in 1919- twenty years before WWII! In it he describes his hatred of Jews and outlines his plans calling for, “The uncompromising removal of the Jews altogether,” which, he says, can only be accomplished, “Under a government of National strength and never under a government of National Impotence.”  Hitler warns against an “emotional anti-Semitism which will always find it expression in the form of pogroms” and seeks rather “a legal…removal of the rights of the Jew.”

Hitler taught us to take every demagogue at their word. That is why we say Never again to anti-Semitism/anti-Zionism. That is why a strong and safe Israel is so important to Jews the world over.

So what should Americans be learning from this Yom Hashoah?

First, if you know an aging Holocaust survivor—give them a hug and if needed, a helping hand. Each is a national treasure, a beacon of hope in a world gone mad.

Second. We must never tire in protesting the mass murders, the mass rapes, the growing online culture of hate. Americans are deeply divided and we have entered stormy and unchartered waters in our society and political landscape. Still we must find a bi-partisan voice on human rights and wrongs. Everyone, from Left-leaning Progressives to arch-social Conservatives should demand that the next occupant of the White House Never Again more than a meaningless slogan. It must mean never again to genocide, never again to mass murder, never again to anti-Semitism, and never again to terror.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Top Jewish official on Holocaust day: ‘Fear of the other’ rising in US

A top Jewish Obama administration official decried the rise of “the fear of the other” in the United States at an event marking Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Hashoah.

“I do not think a Holocaust is happening in America, but I do worry about what is happening when we betray the principle of inclusion,” Penny Pritzker, the U.S. commerce secretary, said in remarks Thursday in the Capitol building.

“Today in our beloved United States, we are witnessing a rising fear of the other,” she said. “We are better than the language of hate. America is not the tribe of folded arms,” Pritzker said, using a metaphor for the Germans who stood by while the Nazis rose to power and carried out the mass murder of Jews and Roma.

Pritzker, who is Jewish, did not name perpetrators of hate speech, but she noted rising feelings of insecurity among Hispanic and Muslim Americans, who have been the targets of broadsides by the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

“Do we sit with our arms folded while words are used to dehumanize other human beings?” she said.

Pritzker, the scion of a Chicago hotel family, was one of Obama’s first backers.

Also speaking was Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer, who identified some extremes of anti-Israel rhetoric in present-day Europe, including in some cases in governments, with the anti-Jewish rhetoric that preceded the rise of the Nazis.

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, never forget necessitates never Trump

Today, on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), we pledge to never forget the genocide of 12 million people, based on their religion, ethnicity, sexuality, and other factors. We do this so that we always remember that it is the duty of each and every one of us to fight genocide, anti-Semitism, and bigotry in every form that we see it.

This week, Donald Trump cemented his place as Republican presidential nominee. More than any other year, I’m cognizant today of my responsibility to speak up against the hatred that Donald Trump espouses day after day.

On this Holocaust Remembrance Day, ‘Never Forget’ necessitates ‘Never Trump.’

The unhinged bigotry of Trump requires Jewish Americans – and all Americans – to speak up. Trump has been perfectly clear with his pledge that as president – in fact, within the first 100 days of his presidency – he’ll ban Muslims from entering the country. He kicked off his campaign describing Mexican immigrants as “rapists.” When a Trump supporter punched an African American protester at one of Trump’s rallies, saying, “next time we see him, we might have to kill him,” Trump said that the protester “obviously loves the country” and that Trump would pay the protester’s legal fees.

Trump legitimizes and raises up the profile of the white nationalist movement in the United States. He at first refused to disavow support from former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke.  Yesterday, Duke celebrated Donald Trump’s place as leader of the Republican Party, stating, “Even though Trump is not explicitly talking about European-Americans, he is implicitly talking about the interests of European-Americans,” and “Jewish supremacists who control our country are the real problem and the reason why America is not great.” And Trump says he “doesn’t have a message to [his] fans” who have been sending death threats to Jewish reporter Julia Ioffe, who wrote a profile for GQ on Melania Trump.

When we see this, how can we do anything but speak out? It’s this type of rhetoric that has escalated to genocide in the past. I hope we can put partisan politics aside, and agree that no person hoping to be the next president of the United States should promote racist policies or use xenophobic rhetoric.

It should deeply trouble all Americans that Donald Trump is empowering white nationalists across the country and basing his campaign on demonizing people based on their race and religion. We’re at a pivotal moment in our country. Republican or Democrat, we have an obligation to speak up against the bigotry of Trump. As we pledge on Holocaust Remembrance Day to never forget, we must commit to Never Trump as well.

Israeli flag burned at Kiev Holocaust memorial on Yom Hashoah

A group of young people burned an Israeli flag outside a Ukraine Holocaust memorial in Kiev on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, on Thursday.

The flag burning near the Babi Yar ravine, where 30,000 Jews were murdered over the course of two days in September 1941, was captured on surveillance video, Interfax-Ukraine reported.

Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko condemned the incident, referring to the flag burners as “young vandals.” He called on law enforcement authorities to investigate.

“This happened on the national Holocaust Remembrance Day, when the Jewish people all over the world remember the 6 million victims who perished during World War II,” the press service of Kiev City State Administration quoted Klitscho saying, according to Interfax.

“It is intolerable to brutalize the memory of the victims, especially at the place which is globally known as one of the symbols of a terrible crime of fascism, at the [Babi Yar], where dozens of thousands of people of different nationalities, the majority of them, Jewish, had been destroyed,” he said.

The flag burning is the latest in a string of anti-Semitic incidents at the memorial, according to the Times of Israel.

Klitschko appealed to law enforcement agencies for help in strengthening security measures at the site.

Last year, the monument was vandalized with swastikas on five separate occasions, according to the Times of Israel.

Earlier this year, the Ukrainian government announced it would allocate approximately $1 million to upgrade the memorial.

The lessons of Nuremberg: Stand up to hate, and remember hate’s victims

Yom Hashoah arrives this year on the eve of two historic anniversaries: the 80th anniversary of the coming into effect of the Nuremberg Race Laws, which served as prologue and precursor to the Holocaust, and the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials, which served as the foundation for the development of contemporary international human rights and humanitarian law.

This historic juncture will be the theme of an international legal symposium on May 3 at Jagiellonian University in Krakow. It will be followed the next day by the March of the Living, when some 10,000 young people and survivors will march in remembrance and solidarity from the gates of Auschwitz to Birkenau.

We must ask ourselves two questions: What have we learned? What must we do?

The responsibility of remembrance

The first lesson is the importance of “zachor,” of remembrance of the victims defamed, demonized and dehumanized as prologue and justification for genocide, so that the mass murder of 6 million Jews, and of millions of non-Jews, is not a matter of abstract statistics.

The responsibility to prevent state-sanctioned incitement to hate and genocide

The Holocaust succeeded not only because of the industry of death — of which the crematoria are a cruel reminder — but because of the Nazis’ state-sanctioned ideology of hate. Genocide starts with teaching contempt for, and demonizing, the other. As the Canadian Supreme Court affirmed, “The Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers – it began with words.”

The responsibility to combat old/new anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism is the oldest and most enduring of hatreds and the most lethal. If the Holocaust is a metaphor for radical evil, anti-Semitism is a metaphor for radical hatred.

From 1941 to 1944, 1.3 million people were murdered at Auschwitz – of whom 1.1 million were Jews – recalling Elie Wiesel’s dictum that “the Holocaust was a war against the Jews in which not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims.”

Jews died at Auschwitz because of anti-Semitism, but anti-Semitism did not die there. As we have learned only too tragically, while it begins with Jews, it doesn’t end with Jews.

The responsibility to repudiate false witness

The Holocaust denial movement – the cutting edge of anti-Semitism old and new – is not just an assault on Jewish memory in its accusation that the Holocaust is a hoax and the Jews fabricated the hoax. Rather it constitutes an international criminal conspiracy to cover up the worst crimes in history. The Holocaust denial movement whitewashes the crimes of the Nazis, as it excoriates the “crimes” of the Jews. And now, in an inversion of the Holocaust, Israel is labeled as a genocidal state and the Jews are smeared as the new Nazis.

The danger of indifference and inaction in the face of mass atrocity

Holocaust crimes resulted not only from state-sanctioned incitement to hatred and genocide, but from crimes of indifference and from conspiracies of silence – from the international community as bystander. What makes the Holocaust, and more recently the Rwandan genocide, so unspeakable, is not only the horror of the genocide itself but that these genocides were preventable.

Indifference and inaction always means coming down on the side of the victimizer, never on the side of the victim. In the face of evil, indifference is acquiescence, if not complicity in evil itself.

The responsibility to bring war criminals to justice

If the last century was the age of atrocity, it was also the age of impunity. Few of the perpetrators – despite the Nuremberg Trials – were brought to justice. Just as there must be no sanctuary for hate, no refuge for bigotry, there must be no base or sanctuary for these enemies of humankind. Impunity only emboldens and encourages the war criminals and war crimes.

The responsibility to speak truth to power

The Holocaust was made possible not only because of the “bureaucratization of genocide,” as described by Robert Lifton and personified by Adolf Eichmann – but because of the “trahison des clercs,” the complicity of the elites, including physicians, church leaders, judges, lawyers, engineers, architects and educators.

It is our responsibility, then, to speak truth to power, to hold power accountable to truth.

The responsibility to intervene

It is revealing, as Henry Friedlander pointed out in his work “The Origins of Nazi Genocide,” that the first group targeted for killing were the Jewish disabled.

It is our responsibility to give voice to the voiceless and to empower the powerless, be they the disabled, poor, elderly, women victimized by violence or vulnerable children – the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.

The responsibility of rescue

Remembrance and tribute must be paid to the rescuers, the Righteous Among the Nations, like Raoul Wallenberg, who demonstrated that one person with the compassion to care and the courage to act can confront evil, resist and transform history. Tragically, the man who saved so many was not himself saved by those who could have. We have a responsibility to help discover the fate of this great hero of the Holocaust, whom the United Nations called the greatest humanitarian of the 20th century. (The Raoul Wallenberg International Roundtable, to be held May 20-21 at Budapest’s Holocaust Memorial Center, will attempt to do just that.)

The responsibility to remember the survivors

We must always remember – and celebrate – the survivors of the Holocaust, the true heroes of humanity. They witnessed and endured the worst of inhumanity, but somehow found, in the depths of their own humanity, the courage to go on, to rebuild their lives as they helped build our communities.

Together with them, we must remember – and pledge – that never again will we be indifferent to incitement and hate; never again will we be silent in the face of evil; never again will we indulge racism and anti-Semitism; never again will we ignore the plight of the vulnerable, and never again will we be indifferent in the face of mass atrocity and impunity.

We will speak up – and act – against racism, against hate, against anti-Semitism, against mass atrocity, against injustice, and against the crime of crimes whose name we should shudder to mention: genocide.

Irwin Cotler is professor of law [emeritus] at McGill University and founding chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights. A former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada and longtime member of Parliament, Cotler is co-chair with Alan Dershowitz of the forthcoming international legal symposium “The Double Entendre of Nuremberg: The Nuremberg of Hate and the Nuremberg of Justice.”

For Dutch property owners, Holocaust commemoration begins at home

After Yvonne van Gennep-Bouma discovered that Holocaust victims used to live in what is now her home, she began to think about them constantly.

At night, van Gennep-Bouma imagined the former occupants preparing to turn in. And in the morning, she wondered where they had their breakfast.

That was in 2012, she recalled, talking to a visitor in the manicured three-story townhouse in the Hague where she has lived with her husband and three children since 2001.

It was also in 2012 that van Gennep-Bouma, a nurse in her 50s, started to research the tragic story of Barend Koekoek, who lived here with his wife and son until they were evicted and murdered in the genocide.

In researching their story, van Gennep-Bouma said she relied on help from a historian who studied The Hague’s Jewish community. Koekoek, she learned, joined the Nazi-sponsored Jewish Council through his friendship with the controversial Friedrich Weinreb — a Jewish author accused and later imprisoned for taking money from other Jews he falsely promised to protect. After being deported to Theresienstadt, Koekoek insisted on boarding a death transport to Auschwitz with his ailing 5-year-old son, Henry Martin, to be with him. His wife, Goderta Frederika Koekoek-Micheels, perished in Auschwitz on Oct. 30, 1944, at 33.

Though she has to hold back tears while talking about certain parts of the story, van Gennep-Bouma said knowing Koekoek’s fate ultimately helped her find peace and learn to live with the Koekoeks’ memory.

“It brought closure and replaced the uncertainties with facts,” she explained.

In February, van Gennep-Bouma completed a two-year effort to have memorial cobblestones placed outside her home bearing the victims’ names. Now she doesn’t think about the Koekoeks as much as she once did.

Yet van Gennep-Bouma wanted to do more than merely know the story. On Sunday, she decided to share it by joining Open Jewish Houses, a unique grassroots project featuring dozens of property owners and renters of former Jewish homes. Each year on and ahead of Holland’s national memorial day for its World War II victims, they open their homes to strangers for lectures about the Jews who used to live there.

At a time when survivors are increasingly scarce, she said, “buildings can tell the story in a very powerful way,” she told JTA at her home on Sunday.

Taking place for the fifth consecutive year, the Open Jewish Houses project was born in 2011 out of a website, joodsmonument.nl, which lists the former addresses of 104,000 Dutch Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Having found his own address in the database, advertising copywriter Frits Rijksbaron urged other Amsterdam residents of former Jewish homes to place a “Jewish home” poster on their windows.

The action created a small community in Amsterdam, which in 2012 saw the first Open Jewish Houses event ever held in Europe. The following year, the project spread to five other cities and now encompasses dozens of homes in 16 municipalities, with 10,000 visits expected this year on May 4, the Netherlands’ day of Remembrance of the Dead (which this year happens to fall one day before Yom Hashoah, world Jewry’s day of Holocaust remembrance).

Danielle Citroen, who coordinates the project for Amsterdam’s Jewish Historical Museum, attributes the project’s success to a number of coinciding factors that are specific to the Netherlands, including the fact that unlike in Austria, Hungary and Poland, “Jewish property issues were resolved vis-à-vis the Dutch government shortly after World War II, meaning very few homeowners have reasons to resist or fear the initiative.” Most Jewish victims, she added, were renting their residences.

In addition, information about Dutch Jewry was preserved thanks to meticulous archives.

And then there’s “a certain element of guilt,” she noted, for the murder of 70-75 percent of Dutch Jewry during the Holocaust – the highest death rate in Nazi-occupied Western Europe. And whereas this guilt would have prevented earlier generations from talking about the Holocaust in such an intimate setting, “younger  generations are sufficiently distant from the genocide to speak about it without triggering questions about personal complicity,” said Citroen, who is Jewish.

The Netherlands also has Western Europe’s highest number of non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust. With 5,516 Dutch rescuers designated as Righteous among the Nations by the State of Israel, the Netherlands is second only to Poland’s 6,620. If Poland had the Netherlands’ ratio of saviors per Jews in 1940, there would have been nearly 120,000 Polish Righteous among the Nations.

Hosts and guests often discuss the broader context of World War II over coffee or tea, after the host is done telling about the specific Holocaust victim who lived at that Open Jewish House.

In Vught, an eastern town that is infamous for the nearby concentration camp run by the Nazi SS, host Kees van den Heuvel remarked on Saturday that the story of the Frankenthals, Jewish refugees from Germany who lived in what is now his home, “is something very familiar to countless Syrians today.” He also said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte should take in more Syrian refugees. Not everyone agreed.

Van den Heuvel and his wife, Bernadette, knew their house used to belong to Jews — a wine dealer and his brother, who were killed, and a dentist who avoided deportation thanks to his marriage to a non-Jewish woman – because they found “little signs,” he said. These included special tiles favored by Jews in the 1940s and a mural of a Jewish man. But Van den Heuvel learned the story from local volunteers working with Citroen to encourage participation in the Open Jewish Houses project.

Kees van den Heuvel, standing, talking to guests about the Jewish family that once lived in what is now his home in the Netherlands town of Vught, April 30, 2016.

“I now know this space right here used to be the waiting room for the dentist’s clinic,” he said at his home. “His clinic was upstairs. I can really see it before me.”

For the volunteers, “Googling and researching on Yad Vashem archives till 3 a.m. is very normal in the days leading up to May 4,” said Robert Herbschleb, a Jewish businessman from Vught who helped set up the town’s first Open Jewish Homes edition last year.

“You know you need to go to sleep, get ready for a day’s work,” he said, “but here’s this person, you only have three lines about them and it’s up to you to do for them the only thing you can do: Remember.”

Learning to err on the side of compassion

This was rage — I had no doubt about that. The fire exploding upward from my chest, consuming me from the inner reaches of my core was pure, unbridled fury, the sort that I hadn’t encountered in some time.

Silence choked the operating room as every eye fixed upon me. My own attention was locked on the naked torso prominently displayed in the center of the room. There, permanently etched in the skin of the young man lying motionless on the table, was an unassuming tattoo of a swastika. 

Immediately reminded of my setting, the paralysis imposed by my initial response quickly relented, and I instinctively resolved to quell the tension in the room. 

“Hmmm,” I snorted through a forced smile.  I turned to my scrub tech. “I wonder if he knows?”

The truth is, while still in my first year of private practice as a general surgeon, my elective schedule has been rapidly expanding for a variety of reasons, and I am not altogether certain where these patients all come from. In the era of Google, Healthgrades and myriad other public rating sites, it is a common occurrence that folks show up in my clinic with uncanny detail in their knowledge of my personal life.  In 2016, the majority of people research their health care providers long before passing through the door of the examination room.  Among the most readily discoverable details regarding my personal life is the fact that I am Jewish and active in a number of local Jewish organizations. 

The operating room staff let out a nervous, collective giggle at my response. Then the circulating nurse, who had removed the patient’s gown in preparation for the operation, gasped. She was standing on the opposite side of the patient. I stepped forward and turned my attention to the flank that had previously been hidden from me. I was confronted with the instantly recognizable portrait of Adolf Hitler. 

A few moments of silence passed. “What are you going to do?” the surgical assistant asked me.

“I’m going to fix his hernia,” I said. 

The gentleman had presented to my office a few weeks prior to this moment, fresh from a visit to the emergency room of a crosstown hospital, seeking relief from the unforgiving discomfort that had evolved with the expansion of a weakness in the wall of his groin. He had patiently suffered for a few weeks as we awaited authorization from his insurance company to pursue definitive correction of this affliction. He was in pain, nearly debilitated physically at this point, yet he had continued to work through the discomfort, primarily out of necessity. There was no doubt in my mind that I was morally obligated to help him.

“It’s not my fault he didn’t adequately research his surgeon,” I said.

As I started the ritual of cleansing my hands and arms in preparation for the surgery, I began to manufacture a detailed personal history for this young man. The tattoos were clearly faded, suggesting that they were acquired some time ago. I imagined a disillusioned soul in his late teens or early 20s, burdened with the new responsibilities and expectations of adulthood, seeking a target for the angst and animosity these pressures so commonly foment. I have often hoped that, as I approach my fifth decade of life, I will not be held to account for the unending parade of bad decisions I made as a young man. In my mind, I fashioned an individual who was truly contrite for his past prejudices, though branded with evidence of those ideals for perpetuity. 

I suddenly found myself in admiration of his courage. Here he lay, willingly assuming the most vulnerable position imaginable, utterly dependent upon others for the most basic of human needs, down to the breath, without which life ceases to exist. In just a few moments, I would be placing sharpened steel to his belly, encountering the vital structures of the human organism on my journey to the source of his malady. Had he known of my Jewish faith when we met in clinic? Surely he would have informed me of the existence of the tattoos prior to the surgery if he had. If he hadn’t known, would he want to be made aware after the operation? I briefly contemplated awakening him from the anesthesia to offer the information, in case he would prefer to seek a new surgeon if he knew this personal detail about me.

All of these thoughts proved to be fleeting. As I have done thousands of times before, I finished washing my arms and hands, gowned up, and applied the skill I had gained in over a decade of surgical experience to mend the defect in his abdominal wall. The procedure was uneventful, and when I met the young man in the post-anesthesia care unit after his recovery from the cocktail of medications he was given over the course of operation, I described my findings, gave him a few postsurgical instructions and smiled as I left, promising that we would see each other in clinic in a few days.

Over the ensuing weeks, I thought frequently of this event, wondering mostly if I had handled it skillfully. As I considered what my alternatives might have been, I recalled one of the first patients I encountered in my practice as a freshly minted, attending surgeon. I had performed no more than 50 operations since completing my training and felt as green as I must have seemed to most of my patients to that point. I had occasion to consult on a 92-year-old man in my clinic, who had come to me to ask about correction of longstanding — and very large — hernias in both groins. For a nonagenarian, he was remarkably healthy, and I was beyond surprised to learn from the medical history forms he had provided that his sole previous surgery had been on his lung, done more than 70 years prior at the age of 20. A rough calculation indicated that this would have occurred in the 1940s, predating our modern understanding of mechanical ventilation by at least a decade. This, naturally, led me to question why he underwent such a risky procedure by the standards of the time. Following a brief pause, he smiled and said, “I suffered a gunshot during the war.” 

I have no doubts that he had encountered this conversation many times over his lifetime. I also have no illusions about the challenges generated by such conversations. After all, the gentleman had an undeniably German name, and his impeccable English was highlighted by an accent unmistakably Deutsch. He immediately followed this first statement with, “Yes, I fought for the wrong side.” 

In that moment, I became painfully aware of just how inexperienced I was. He went on to explain that he had been a 16-year-old boy growing up unimaginably poor, but with the intelligence, ambition and drive to be an engineer. In his reality, the only path to fulfillment of his dream was through the army. When he entered the military, Hitler had not been in power long, and the unspeakable atrocities he would ultimately bear responsibility for most likely had not yet begun, although this had offered my patient little consolation over the course of what turned out to be an extraordinary lifetime. No doubt shaken visibly, I wanted no more details, however.

“Sir,” I said, “I have to tell you: I’m Jewish.”

He again smiled and said, “I know. I can see your necklace.” 

I glanced down at the Star of David nestled in the “V’”of my blue scrub top. 

“I was hoping that you would fix my hernias, anyway.”

I repaired his hernias a couple of weeks later, and he presented to clinic to receive my congratulations for a flawless outcome two weeks after that. He was exceptionally gracious in showing his appreciation, and I last heard from him upon receipt of a brief “thank you” note through the mail some time later.

The human condition bears no prejudice. I happen to possess the training required to address the physical ailments that invariably affect all people, but human needs take on many different forms beyond the purely physical: emotional, psychological and spiritual, to name just a few. Regardless of race, creed, gender, politics or pedigree, maintaining health in each facet of the whole human being requires a constant vigilance in the battle against forces — both external and internal — that ultimately work toward their degradation. These forces act without concern for any variable that we may construct or artificially use to define ourselves as individuals or communities. I have the conviction that it is my moral obligation to use my abilities — both innate and acquired — to alleviate the suffering caused by this degradation without discrimination. In short, I seek to allow myself to be governed by the fundamental principle of kindness. If I have it within my power to lessen suffering, I will.

What did I learn from the patient with the Hitler tattoo?  That in such moments, it is imperative that we have a clear, unwavering sense of our values and that we act in a manner consistent with those values. I resolved that day that, when in doubt, I would always err on the side of acting compassionately. Kindness, it turns out, is sometimes the bold path forward. 

James Wiseman is a graduate of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, and the Residency in General Surgery at Houston Methodist Hospital. He currently lives in Tucson, Ariz., where he is an associate in a multidisciplinary surgical practice.

The last voice from the French internment camps

In 1942 on the eve of Passover, Dora Werzberg, a 21-year-old French Jew, walked through the gates of the Rivesaltes internment camp in Vichy, France.  She arrived at the camp not by force but by choice, as a volunteer social worker sent by the Oeuvre de Secours Aux Enfants, (OSE), a French-Jewish welfare organization.

Today, at 95, Dora Werzberg Amelan, who still lives independently at her Paris home, has outlived all her OSE supervisors and co-workers. When I learned about Amelan last November, I immediately wanted to interview her. I had read about and interviewed camp internees, but here was a different side of the story, and one that has received little attention — the relief worker’s experience.

Not wanting to let the opportunity slip by, I traveled to Paris in December, booking a room close to her apartment building. As I stepped off the elevator, a booming “allo,” directed me to her home. Gray-haired, dressed in gray and leaning against the door, she appeared to be like any grandmother, except for her trendy, fluorescent blue glasses and the vigorous voice.

Over coffee and slices of fruit stolen, she told her story. 

Dora Amelan. Photo by Charlotte Bonelli

At the war’s outbreak, her family, French nationals living in Belgium, fled to unoccupied France, where she met the charismatic OSE supervisor Andrée Salomon. At their very first meeting, Amelan decided to help her imprisoned coreligionists at Rivesaltes.

On Oct. 4, 1940, the Vichy French government had authorized the internment of foreign Jews. It was a mixed population composed of East European Jews, some of whom had lived in France for decades without becoming nationalized, German-Jewish refugees as well as German Jews whom the Nazis had dumped into unoccupied France, and Jews from the Low Countries who had fled the Nazi blitzkrieg of May 1940.

Eventually, it was hoped, these foreign Jews would leave France. Until that time, it was best, so thought the Vichy government, to place them in holding centers along with political dissidents, Gypsies and Spanish Civil War refugees. By the end of 1940, of the roughly 45,000 imprisoned at these camps, an estimated 70 percent were Jewish.

Little thought had gone into Amelan’s decision to answer Salomon’s call for volunteers. But in her first day at Rivesaltes, she had ample time for reflection. The OSE staff had left for the Passover holiday, leaving Amelan on her own to explore this massive camp located on a plain between the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean.  

Row after row of dismal concrete housing units, unheated and poorly lit, stretched out into the barren landscape. “Ah, the smell of the barracks,” she exclaimed, rolling her eyes. “Day and night they were in the same dirty clothes. There were no pajamas.”  Nor were there beds. Inmates slept on wooden frames topped with straw. 

Stepping into the “so-called hospital,” she was assaulted by the stench of urine, saved in large bedpans and later used to study the effects of a lack of protein in the diet.

Asked about her first impression of the internees, she replied, “They had no real thought or reaction, just the look of just giving up. I had never experienced such misery. I was young with no life experience. I wondered if I could support this work.”

A full seven-day work week quickly erased her early doubts.  She assisted internees with correspondence, distributed donated clothing and delivered extra rations, supplied by the Secour Suisse, to those in the infirmary, who were on the verge or already suffering from starvation.    

Amelan described one experience that, in her opinion, summed up life at Rivesaltes. One day, she and her colleague Simone Lipman had just lugged an industrial-size pot, filled with rice, milk and cheese, to the hospital’s doorway, when suddenly a handle snapped off. The pot crashed to the ground, its contents spreading across the floor. 

The hospitalized inmates had lost their supplementary meal. But the spilled food was not wasted. Internees who had been trailing Amelan and Lipman, hoping to snatch a few scraps, dived to the floor, spoons in hand. “They always had a little spoon in their pocket. You never know where you could find food,” Amelan remembered. “They were on all fours eating from the floor.” 

The children were the other group designated for extra rations. Every afternoon, the Secour Suisse relief agency prepared hot chocolate and bread for them. This well-intentioned and seemingly simple act was often thwarted by the camp’s logistics and the weather. To partake in this treat, the children had to march more than a kilometer from their residences to the Secour Suisse barrack. “In this climate, with the wind,” Amelan said, “they very often couldn’t do it. Even I couldn’t ride my bike sometimes because of the wind.”  For roughly 100 days a year, the Tramonte, a fierce wind, barreled through the camp, at times reaching a speed of 75 miles per hour.

All struggled in the camp, particularly the children. OSE made their liberation and relocation to OSE children’s residences in villages and towns outside of the camp its top priority. “We had an office where we received the parents,” Amelan recalled. “And all whose parents agreed, and we could get permits for, were taken out.” The cut-off age, as Amelan remembers, was 13 or 14. “Whenever we could, we lied about the age of the child and made false papers.” 

Vichy authorities were amenable to the children’s relocation because it relieved the camp commandant of a responsibility. Five hundred Jewish children were released from Rivesaltes. Most of these children, unlike their parents, escaped the impending deportations east.

Historian Robert Paxton notes, “When the Vichy government learned in the spring of 42 that the Germans were going to run trainloads of Jews back off to the East; they volunteered 10,000 foreign Jews from the unoccupied Zone. They wanted to empty those camps.”

From Aug. 11, 1942 until Oct. 20, 1942, 2,289 foreign Jews were deported from Rivesaltes, first to Drancy, a transit camp outside of Paris, and then to Auschwitz. During this period, Amelan was startled to encounter the parents of friends from Belgium. “They came to me and begged me to help them. But if we freed one person, another one was immediately put on the list … the Germans asked for so many people per day or per week. ” 

Aware that the couple was planning an escape, Salomon, the OSE supervisor, instructed Amelan not to get involved.

Salomon had relieved Amelan of the burden of decision making, but she could not free the 21-year-old from the ensuing guilt. For the first time, Amelan came close to the breaking point. “It was a heavy load,” she said. “I could not endure it.” And so, Salomon transferred Amelon to Camp Gurs. 

Well to the west of Rivesaltes, Gurs sat at the foot of the Pyrenees, near the Spanish border. “The landscape was friendlier at Gurs,” Amelan recalled. “It was green, and there were woods.”

Yet Gurs had the same problems as other Vichy internment camps: inadequate food and medicine, horrid sanitation and poor housing. “If Auschwitz was hell,” recalled one survivor, “Gurs was purgatory.” 

Occasionally, Amelan and a friend, Ms. Resh, a Quaker volunteer, would leave “purgatory” behind, riding their bikes to a village restaurant. Relishing this chance to relax, before drinking her wine, Resh would hoist her glass and declare, “‘It’s as if an angel flies down my back.’”

I asked if Resh ever felt guilty about dining at a restaurant when those back at Gurs barely had enough to eat. “Guilty, no, I don’t think she ever talked about being guilty,” Amelan replied. “And she was a very solid person.” Neither did Amelan have guilt about these brief respites.

Probably no aspect of camp life created more anxiety or pain than the deportations.  As the decades have passed, Amelan’s recollections of individual inmates, their faces, voices and pleas, have slipped away. A young Jew from North Africa is the exception.

“There in the darkness of the night he asked me, ‘Mademoiselle Dora, what do you think will happen to us?’ ” She responded, “For the very young and the elderly it will certainly be the end. But you are young and maybe can work.”

But the young man was uncertain there would be work for him stating, “If I am to be killed or tortured, I would rather fight and die here.” Amelan answered, “I can’t advise you.” She took his watch and other personal items to forward to relatives.

Between Aug. 6, 1942 to March 3, 1943, 3,903 Jewish inmates were deported from Gurs. The majority was sent to extermination camps. “Certainly we knew that they were not going to a camp for fun,” Amelan said. “But did we know about the gassings?  No.”

Initially, the Vichy French had, in the summer of ’42, turned to foreign Jews to fill Nazi quotas, giving some French Jews a false sense of security.  Yet, by the time Gurs closed in November 1943, there was no longer a distinction between foreign Jews and French Jewish citizens. Amelan, now herself a target for arrest and deportation, left for Limoges with false identity papers.

For the first two months, she was a courier delivering payments from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to families hiding Jewish children. It is estimated that the OSE, either on its own or in cooperation with other organizations, saved more than 5,000 Jewish children.

At the suggestion of and with the help of George Garel, the head of OSE’s underground network, Amelan spent the remainder of the war studying at a nursing school in Toulouse. 

During her year and a half at Rivesaltes and Gurs, Amelan had been a camp “social worker.” In truth, she had no formal training. After the war, she earned a degree in social work in Paris. In 1948, she married and left for Israel, where she was a social worker for more than three decades before returning to Paris in the 1980s.

Amelan was not the only one in her family associated with OSE. Her teenage cousin, Marcel Mangel, had given drama lessons to the children at OSE residences. Millions around the world would come to know him as the famous French actor and mime, Marcel Marceau.

At the conclusion of our meeting, I asked how a young woman, from an assimilated middle-class French family, withstood work and life at Rivesaltes and Gurs. She shredded my question. “I did not get up every day and think, ‘How do I feel? What do I want?’  My person ceased to exist. I was there to do a job.” 

Asked if this attitude strengthened her, Amelan countered, “I would put it differently. Let’s say it didn’t weaken me. And it is easier to be the one giving help than the one waiting to receive it.” 

Charlotte Bonelli is the author of “Exit Berlin” (Yale University Press, 2014).

The prophecy of Primo Levi

In January 1985, a laudatory New York Review of Books review of Primo Levi’s “The Periodic Tablesent me straight to my local bookstore for a copy, which I devoured in one or two sittings. I’d never read anything like it — truly one of those rare books where, after finishing it, you’re a different person, seeing the world through new eyes.

The book tells the story of Levi’s personal experiences as a member of the Italian Resistance and survivor of Auschwitz metaphorically, refracted through the scientific properties of various elements he studied and worked with as an industrial chemist. It was such an instant commercial and critical success that its publisher, Schocken Books, persuaded the reclusive author to undertake a two-week speaking tour of the United States that spring. A few weeks later, by happy coincidence, a longtime friend, Rabbi Haim Beliak of the Claremont Colleges Hillel, called to tell me that Levi would soon be speaking there. Would I like to interview him for my radio station? I was working at the time for KBIG-FM, where I was the editorial director and produced documentaries and various short news features built around interviews with prominent authors. 

Levi spoke in Claremont on Sunday, April 21, 1985, three days after Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. A dapper and distinguished figure with a neatly trimmed beard and nimbus of white hair, Levi spoke with careful, elegant precision, as you might expect of a formally educated Italian scientist trained to meticulously and dispassionately record his observations.

Despite his slight build and self-effacing manner, Levi was an intimidating presence. After what he’d been through, after his eloquent and unsparing chronicles of that suffering over nearly four decades (his first Holocaust memoir, alternately titled “If This Is A Man” and “Survival in Auschwitz,” was first published in Italian in 1947, when he was only 27), after all his international acclaim, I suddenly felt inadequate for the task of interviewing him.

When it was over, I worried I’d blown the kind of journalistic opportunity that comes along rarely, if ever. Levi was nervous, guarded; the harder I tried to elicit more expansive replies to my questions, the further he withdrew. To top it off, ambient noise in the room rendered the audio useless for broadcast, which had been the point of the exercise. I filed the cassette and materials away with a nagging sense of failure.

Recently, amid the publication of Levi’s “Complete Works” and the accompanying resurgence of interest in his writing, I came across the cassette from that 1985 interview. I was pleasantly surprised at how differently I experienced our conversation today.

Levi sounds cordial and responsive, carefully framing his replies on such a familiar, yet inescapably painful, topic in what was, after all, not his native tongue (his conversational English was certainly adequate, but he had no translator). As I listened, he reappeared before me and I vividly remembered his bright eyes, frequent smile and self-deprecating struggles to find the right words — but there was also a hint of melancholy that hovered over him like a shadow.

Here is some of what Levi told me during our interview:

I know this is a difficult question: How did the Holocaust experience change your orientation to the rest of the world?

It is very curious. It is a question which I have received many, many times, and to [which] I am almost unable to reply. How could I forecast a future of my life, which did not come into existence? … If I had not had the experience of the concentration camp, perhaps I would have kept chemistry without turning into a writer.

Let me ask you about chemistry and writing. What preserved your interest in the profession of chemistry, given your obvious ability to write and your success as a writer?

Oh, it’s a very clear matter, because out of chemistry, you can make a living. Out of writing, it is very difficult, unless you consent to write commercially, I think — which I have always refused. I found it much more apt, for free writing, to keep to a material trade, a concrete trade … and to keep writing for Sundays, not to earn a living out of them. Of course, if you earn something out of writing, so much the good. But it came very late.

I wanted to ask you something to follow up on some remarks you made in your talk about these so-called “revisionists” who deny or minimize the Holocaust. How do you respond to questions from people who don’t have the kind of firsthand experience you do, or the background?

Oh, I get angry. I refused a discussion with [Robert] Faurisson, the French revisionist. I think the revisionist either an idiot or in bad faith. It can’t be together an intelligent man, and a sensible man, and in good faith. It is impossible. … I had a discussion, in fact, with a young man in Italy, a revisionist. And look, what convinced him was that — their argument, their point, as you know, is “nobody of you survivors has seen a gas chamber” — and I told him, in fact, that I didn’t see a gas chamber. But hydrogen cyanide was used every time lice [were] found in the barracks. And I had not seen the gas chamber, but I had seen the gas. And he told me arrogantly, “And how could you recognize hydrogen cyanide? How could you tell hydrogen cyanide from another stuff to kill pests?” I told him as a chemist, I recognized very easily hydrogen cyanide from another poison. And he felt a little crestfallen … embarrassed. 

How do you think the Jewish community, as a whole, should respond [to Holocaust denialists]?

With good sense. … It is not acceptable to state that every picture is a fake and that every witness is a lie. It’s too easy. This way, you could demonstrate that Napoleon never existed. It is enough to say that all historians that stated anything were liars. Liars! That the ruins of Ligne Maginot in France have been built by scenograph [a professional constructed set] and so on.

Let me just ask you a final question. Briefly, what is the relevance today of Holocaust observances and remembrances for the world of non-Jews? How would you convey the importance to them of this?

(Pause of several seconds, heavy sighing) Can I recoil? I am not able to reply. Too difficult. I apologize to you. I’m pretty exhausted.

What I could not have known I later learned from the detailed account of Levi’s American tour in Ian Thomson’s biography, “Primo Levi: A Life.” That Levi had undertaken the tour only under duress; that it had also been a tremendous physical and emotional strain for his wife, Lucia, who had accompanied him; that he had been suffering from and been treated for depression for several years; that he was preoccupied with the health of his invalid mother, whom he lived with and cared for in the Turin apartment where he was born; that by the time I spoke with him, he had already delivered several speeches, been overwhelmed and intimidated by the hothouse literary salons of New York and submitted to other media interviews (which he found sheer torment); and that after flying across the country, he had just traveled up from San Diego earlier in the day following a taxing series of family and social obligations.

In the space of three weeks, he had crisscrossed the country, delivered six speeches and sat for 25 media interviews. In retrospect, it’s a wonder that Levi was able and willing to talk to me at all, yet he handled it with as much grace, candor and courtesy as he could muster.

After 38 years, America had finally discovered, and embraced, Primo Levi. But despite his publisher’s hopes that he would return for another visit to the U.S, that first trip was to be his last. Two years later almost to the day, depressed and in poor health, Levi would greet his landlady as she brought him the daily mail, and then a few minutes later, without warning, step out of his apartment and pitch himself over the stair railing and plunge four floors to his death. He died instantly on the marble floor of the stairwell in the building where, apart from his internment and imprisonment, he had spent virtually his entire life. He was 67.

“It is not very probable that all the factors that unleashed the Nazi madness will again occur simultaneously but precursory signs loom before us,” Levi concluded in “The Drowned and the Saved” (1986), the last book he would publish during his lifetime. Sporadic acts of individual violence as well as government lawlessness were on display everywhere, he asserted. “It only awaits its new buffoon (there is no dearth of candidates), to organize it, legalize it, declare it necessary and mandatory, and so contaminate the world. Few countries can be considered immune to a future tide of violence generated by intolerance, a lust for power, economic difficulties, religious or political fanaticism, and racialist attritions. It is therefore necessary to sharpen our senses, distrust the prophets, the enchanters, those who speak and write ‘beautiful words’ unsupported by intelligent reasons.”

For Primo Levi, the memory of the offense lasted a lifetime. Were he still with us today, his heart would be breaking at how thoroughly we seem to have forgotten it all. 

Joel Bellman is a writer and columnist who served as communications deputy under three Los Angeles County supervisors, following a decade as an award-winning L.A.-based broadcast and print journalist.

Family connection found in long-lost box of puppets

“I will never have closure,” Katy Haber said. “I hate to say it, but I think closure is such an awful word. What does closure mean?”

“No,” she said, as if to answer her own question, “you never have closure when you understand and learn what horrors your own personal family have gone through.”

Haber is a product of the Holocaust. Both of her parents fled Nazi-occupied Prague in 1939 and traveled to England, leaving behind their whole family, including Katy’s 8-year-old cousin, Martin.

Haber now lives in West Hollywood and owns a box of puppets.

It’s not really a box. It’s more like a picnic basket with old wicker braids, tightly knotted and covered with dust. Inside this basket are layers of bubble wrap, laid in like icing on a cake, inside of which are 20 marionette puppets that were sent from Prague by a man Haber has never met.

 

The puppets originally belonged to Martin.

Ash blond with an infectious smile, Martin is an enigma to Haber. “All I know is, I imagine Martin to be the love of my parents’ life and the love of my aunt and uncle’s life, because he was their first and only child. I know that he was a much-treasured child, a very happy child, because all the photographs I have of him are just how a child should be,” she said.

In 1944, Martin and his parents were transported to Auschwitz in a crowded cattle car. They arrived at the camp in mid-October.

Sixty-four years later, when Haber returned to the city her parents had fled so many years before, she found the names of Martin and his parents inscribed on a wall at the Pinkas Museum in Prague.

“It’s just a museum with thousands and thousands of people’s names on the walls. And I came to the name Zelenka, and I found Franta, Trudy and Martin. Each one of them had their date of birth, and they all died on exactly the same day: Oct. 14, 1944. And I stood there and saw these names with the realization that this is my family.”

Haber was born and raised in England, where her parents settled, against all odds, escaping Prague after Hitler’s arrival. “I remember my parents spending endless hours trying to find out what happened to their family, but they never did,” she said.

Haber, 72, has auburn hair and a thick British accent. She came to the United States in the 1970s to work in the film industry, a right-hand woman for Hollywood director and screenwriter Sam Peckinpah. She now lives on the second floor of an art deco complex filled with family heirlooms. Haber is a busy woman, always on the phone or in a meeting. But in those rare moments of down time, when she isn’t on a conference call about her next project, she’s able to reflect on family — she’s even joined a genealogy website, Geni.com, to reconnect with relatives. “It means everything to me, since I don’t have family,” said Haber, who lost her parents years ago.

Before being deported, young Martin’s mother gave the family’s most precious belongings for safekeeping to her good friend and neighbor, Hana Chabra, including the 20 marionette puppets. Chabra faithfully held onto the box, awaiting the family’s return. They didn’t come, and the marionettes remained stowed away in a closet for seven decades.

It wasn’t until 2008 that Haber, for the first time, returned to the city where her family had once lived.

On that journey, Haber retraced her lost relatives’ footsteps. She visited their old neighborhood; she also went to Terezin and Auschwitz. And along the way, she found some of what she was looking for.

There’s a picture of Trudy and Martin. Trudy is gazing somewhere off-camera, Martin is sitting on his mother’s lap, flashing a precocious smile. For 70 years, nobody knew who this picture was of, two nameless victims, as it hung in the Jewish Museum in Terezin. That is, until Haber visited the camp’s museum and identified her aunt and cousin.

“So this identification that I did at the museum became huge, huge news. And it was in all the magazines and newspaper articles, that this Jewish woman from Hollywood had identified, you know, a photograph that had been unidentified for over 70 years,” Haber said.

In 2008, when Pavel, Hana Chabra’s son, read about the identification in a local paper, he emailed Haber, saying he had a “box of memories.” He asked for her address, so he could send them to their rightful owner. Weeks later, she received the wicker box.

“This was something they had in their apartment up until 1943, in a war-torn country and living under the most terrible conditions,” she said. “So I had in my hands something that they had in their hands. Martin had been holding them, my cousin had been holding them.”

These puppets are a bridge to the past, the belongings of an 8-year-old boy, cherub-like with blond hair, round cheeks and a beaming smile, who suffered a tragic fate, his memory nearly lost to time. These are his toys, now with frayed cloth and chipped paint. And through these objects that Haber inherited — 20 marionette puppets and a handful of faded photos — we can piece together the puzzle of who Martin was.

LAMOTH expands Memoir Project with call for more

Gary Steinberg, son of a Holocaust survivor, recently donated to the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) signed copies of his father’s memoir.

Steinberg’s father, Manny, died this year at the age of 90, shortly after completing a memoir that had sat, unfinished, in a box for all of Steinberg’s childhood.

So the question that interests Samara Hutman, LAMOTH executive director, is how many more memoirs and manuscripts written by Los Angeles Holocaust survivors continue to sit in boxes, collecting dust?

And on May 1, at the museum’s annual Yom HaShoah commemoration, Hutman plans to announce the museum’s expansion of the Remember Us Memoir Project, which connects high school and college students across Los Angeles with specific memoirs and Holocaust narratives, giving the students an opportunity to personally identify with individual survivors. As part of the project, students meet with the authors or, if they are no longer living, they meet with the survivors’ relatives.

“I know there are many, many more boxes of incomplete manuscripts in closets and garages and storage areas around Los Angeles that risk invisibility if they are not preserved and archived,” Hutman said in an interview.

To expand its Remember Us collection, LAMOTH is inviting donations of Holocaust memoirs from survivors and their families. She said the museum currently has between 75 and 100 memoirs but wants to collect hundreds more.

“Every day, somebody is cleaning out their garage and giving books away, and those precious gems are possibly being given to stores and maybe even meeting worse ends,” Hutman said.

The expansion of the project already has gotten seed funding of $20,000 from LAMOTH board member and Holocaust survivor David Wiener, whose memoir, “Nothing to Lose But My Life,” is currently used in the Remember Us curriculum by students at Milken Community High School and at Loyola Marymount University.

The funds will be used for staffing and for materials needed to archive new memoirs and manuscripts, including shelving, cataloguing and digitizing. The current collection can be seen in the museum’s atrium, and the expanded collection will be accessible in the museum’s library and archives. Portions will also be shown on rotation in the museum’s bookstore and memoir library.

Hutman said LAMOTH will accept self-published books in any condition and any quantity, including manuscripts (partial and completed), notes and documents written by survivors and immediate family members with connections to Los Angeles. She added that the museum hopes ultimately to digitize its entire memoir collection, with the permission of the authors, families or other copyright holders. And for memoirs penned in a language other than English, and those that need further editing, Hutman said LAMOTH will work with translators and editors to “capture the essential soul and ineffable voice of the author.”

Dana Schwartz, a Holocaust survivor from Lvov, Poland, who lives in Beverly Hills and is on LAMOTH’s Survivor Advisory Board, said she remembers first realizing the scope of personally written Holocaust memoirs in the early 1980s, when she attended meetings of local Jewish child survivors of the Holocaust.

She said one of the women in the group gathered up as many personal writings as she could and put them into a spiral notebook to show to the other group members. 

“Many in that community began writing about their experiences,” Schwartz said. “Amazing memories in poetry and stories. It led many to publish or self publish books.”

Schwartz was struck by how much material from Holocaust survivors remains unknown to the outside world, and she hopes that LAMOTH’s expansion of Remember Us will help bring some of those manuscripts out of storage.

“Many of the books were passed among friends and later discarded by future generations, or given to libraries. I have personally seen many of these discarded books in bins to be rummaged through. Many which had a small printing are disappearing,” Schwartz said. “We, the survivors, have many which will hopefully find a home.”

On May 1, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust Yom HaShoah commemoration will be held in Pan Pacific Park at 2 p.m. The museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will have tables with staff and volunteers who can answer questions about the memoir expansion and be able to accept memoir donations.