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August 3, 2015 / 18 Av, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Anne Frank’

Google Cultural Institute Presents Jewish Content in 1st Exhibits

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

Google introduced a new online historical collection of digitized material, highlighting several Jewish themes, events and institutional partners in its first wave of exhibits.

At least 13 of the Google Cultural Institute’s inaugural collection of 42 featured exhibits consist of materials from the Anne Frank House, the Polish History Museum, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Foundation France Israel and Yad Vashem.

Highlighted exhibits announced Wednesday include the testimony of Jan Karski, the World War II Polish resistance hero who tried to convince Allied leaders of the horrors of the Holocaust; as well as the saga of Edek Galinski & Mala Zimetbaum, the couple who unsuccessfully attempted to escape Auschwitz.

Visitors to Google’s new online multimedia museum can also see the last known photograph taken of Anne Frank, and browse featured historical events that include the Nuremberg Trials, the 1948 Arab-Israel War and the 1958 bombing of the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation in Atlanta.

The new resource comes one year after Google published the Dead Sea Scrolls online, the result of a partnership with the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Charge: Facebook Pages Spew Blood Libels, Attack Jews and Aborigines, Mock Anne Frank

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

There is no scientific equation to determine what is hatred, but a Facebook picture of a smiling Anne Frank surrounded by the caption, “What’s that burning?  Oh it’s my family” is an easy one.  So is a Facebook picture of a baby on a scale emblazoned with a Jewish Star, where the bottom of the scale is a meat grinder with raw ground meat (presumably, a baby’s) oozing out.

Is there any doubt in your mind that those images constitute hate speech (one of the official categories for removal under Facebook’s Terms of Service) and should be removed from Facebook?  That was the basis for the complaints filed by the Online Hate Prevention Institute last month.

Facebook disagreed.  The pictures remain up.

The Australia-based Online Hate Prevention Institute was launched in January this year.  Its mission is to help prevent, or at least control, abusive social media behavior which constitute racism or other forms of hate speech.

Dr. Andre Oboler is the chief executive officer of OHPI.  Oboler has been involved in analyzing and monitoring online hate for five years.   In the time that he’s been monitoring Facebook, the response time has improved, but the results have not.

“OHPI submitted documented complaints following the Facebook complaint protocol, and, true to their word, we received a response within 48 hours,” Oboler told The Jewish Press.  “It’s quite amazing; the Facebook reviewers took down the images, reviewed them, and put them back up with a ‘no action’ decision within 48 hours.”

Oboler waited until the Facebook reviews were completed before posting OHPI’s findings.  The methodical process and the constructive suggestions OHPI made could be held up as models of what to do when confronted with hate speech on social media, except that at this point the diligence does not appear to have paid off.

The suggestions included:

1. Remove the offensive images

2. Close the offensive pages that are posting them

3. Permanently close the accounts of the users abusing Facebook to spread such hate

4. Review which staff assessed these examples and audit their decision making

5. Take active measures to improve staff training to avoid similar poor decisions in the future

6. To institute an appeal process as part of the online reporting system

7. To institute systematic random checks of rejected complaints

At this point, Oboler is hopeful that if sufficient attention is generated, Facebook will feel compelled to re-examine their procedures.  What he would like is for there to be a “systematic change to prevent online-generated harm in the future.”

One way to generate that attention, Oboler suggested, is for Facebook users who think the images described above are offensive to go to the Facebook OPHI site and “Like” it.  Another is to sign the OPHI petition urging Facebook to stop allowing hate speech on its site.

OHPI is also critical of the way in which Facebook has chosen to respond to complaints about offensive Facebook Pages.  Its standard response to pages that are entirely devoted to offensive material is to insert the bracketed phrase: [Controversial Humor] before the rest of the page title.  That phrase acts kind of like the warning label posted on cigarette packages.  The page remains vile, just as the cigarettes remain carcinogenic, but by slapping on the Controversial Humor disclaimer, it appears Facebook is seeking immunity from liability.  Or at least from responsibility.

OPHI discovered this Facebook method when it was engaged in an effort to eradicate hate-filled Facebook Pages dedicated to brutalizing Aborigines.  Remember – OPHI is based in Australia.  After engaging in some promising responses to OPHI’s complaints, Facebook ultimately responded that “While we do not remove this type of content from the site entirely unless it violates our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, out of respect for local laws, we have restricted access to this content in Australia via Facebook.”

But that just doesn’t make any sense, according to Oboler.  As he pointed out, “Facebook’s ‘Statement of Rights and Responsibilities’ says at 3.7 ‘You will not post content that: is hate speech’. We find it very hard to understand how Facebook can look at this material and decide it is not hate speech. Ultimately, this is where Facebook is going wrong.”

Is there anything Facebook has determined to be sufficiently offensive that it will be removed? Yes, but not much.

Oboler explained that thus far the only hate speech kind of content that has been permanently removed by Facebook is when it is directed against an individual, rather than at an entire race or religion.  In other words, the same problem that hate speech codes on campuses have encountered, plagues complainants hoping for a non-offensive inline community.  Unless the nastiness is directed at a specific person, the default Facebook position is to not remove it.

But really, is it possible for anyone to consider the words accompanying the Anne Frank picture anything but impermissible hate speech?  Facebook apparently does and will continue to do so unless enough people tell them they are wrong.


Amsterdam Tram Employees Deny Making Fun of Anne Frank

Saturday, August 11th, 2012

Two employees of an Amsterdam tram company are denying making anti-Semitic comments about Anne Frank as their vehicle approached her former house.

An unidentified member of the Amsterdam Jewish community reported hearing the conductor of Line 17 say on Monday as the tram neared the Anne Frank House, “The Jews have to make a living somehow,” Ronnie Eisenman, chair of the Jewish Community of Amsterdam, told JTA.

He complained on Wednesday about the alleged comments to the GVB municipal transport company.

The conductor had reportedly been answering the driver, who had allegedly asked, “What are all these people doing here? That woman died a long time ago.”

The home of Anne Frank, the teenage Jewish diarist murdered during the Holocaust, drew more than one million visitors last year.

GVB announced on Friday that both employees denied having made the statements. Two days earlier, in a written announcement, GVB distanced itself from anti-Semitic statements and said the company would research the complaint.

Eisenman said that the witness, a man in his fifties, had said the statements were “very clearly heard on the intercom system.” The witness heard the conversation after the tram doors closed at the Westermark tram stop near the Anne Frank House, Eisenman said.

The witness did not see the driver and the conductor, but knew one was a man and the other a woman.

“The fact that the employees deny that such a conversation ever took place does not add to their version’s credibility,” Eisenman said.

GVB said it would invite the witness to further discuss the details of the incident.

Too Much Symbolism? South Bronx Kids Visit Anne Frank Center Betwixt Freedom Tower and Ground Zero Mosque

Monday, March 19th, 2012

Is there such a thing as too many metaphors for the triumph of the human spirit packed into one sidewalk, especially such a crowded sidewalk near Wall Street (add that, too, to the mix, wrap in an American flag and call it a day?). But I’m probably being too cynical. It’s actually a heart warming story.

The Daily news reports that the Anne Frank Center USA, on Park Place and Church St., near the Freedom Tower and the Ground Zero Mosque, opened its doors last Thursday to Holocaust survivors, guests and a class of fifth-graders from Public School 43 Jonas Bronck in Mott Haven.

The kids spread across the exhibit, examining the simulation of Anne’s bedroom, family photographs and cites from her diary on the bright orange walls. They read Anne’s diary on iPads, although some of them said they had already read it several times.

The Mormon Senator Who Tried To Save Anne Frank

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

The news that a Mormon temple in the Dominican Republic recently conducted a posthumous proxy baptism of Anne Frank, the most famous diarist of the Holocaust, undoubtedly will cause some offense in the Jewish community. Evidently the baptizers believe they were saving Anne’s soul. Of greater significance, however, is what Mormons tried to do to save Anne’s life.

Millions of Americans know the story of the German Jewish teenager who hid for more than two years in an Amsterdam attic until she and her family were discovered by the Nazis and sent to the death camps. Anne Frank’s heartbreaking diary is required reading in schools throughout the United States.

What was not known, until a few years ago, is that before they went into hiding, the Franks requested permission to immigrate to the United States but were turned away. Anne’s mother, Edith, wrote to a friend in 1939, “I believe that all Germany’s Jews are looking around the world, but can find nowhere to go.”

Immigration to the U.S. was determined by quotas that had been set up in the 1920s to reduce the number of “undesirable” immigrants – particularly Jews and Italians. Even those quotas were almost never filled because the Roosevelt administration imposed bureaucratic obstacles designed to disqualify visa applicants. As a result, during the Holocaust, only 10 percent of the quotas from Axis-controlled European countries were utilized – and nearly 190,000 quota places went unused.

Most Americans opposed more immigration. Fear of foreigners and the difficulties of the Great Depression hardened many hearts. But there were exceptions. One was the most famous and influential Mormon in America, Sen. William H. King, Democrat of Utah. In early 1939, refugee advocates in Congress proposed legislation to admit 20,000 German Jewish refugee children outside the quota system. One of the children who theoretically could have qualified to come to the U.S. under the bill was Anne Frank. Senator King supported the bill, although that meant defying most of his Democratic colleagues, as well as President Roosevelt.

Laura Delano Houghteling, a cousin of FDR and wife of the U.S. commissioner of immigration, typified opposition to the bill when she remarked that “Twenty thousand charming children would all too soon grow up into 20,000 ugly adults.”

Unfortunately, Houghteling’s sentiment carried the day. The legislation was buried. On May 10, 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands and completed its conquest in five days. Trapped under the heel of the Nazi jackboot, the Franks and other Jews in Holland now found themselves in an increasingly desperate position.

Coincidentally, that same week in Washington, the U.S. House of Representatives held hearings on legislation sponsored by Senator King to open Alaska to European Jewish refugees. This bill, too, might have enabled Anne Frank and her family to come to America.

Sparsely populated and strategically located, Alaska was in urgent need of development. Immigrant laborers could serve a vital national purpose. The Labor Department and the Interior Department endorsed King’s bill. But President Roosevelt told Interior Secretary Harold Ickes he would support only a watered-down version of the plan in which just 10 percent of the workers would be Jews, so as “to avoid the undoubted criticism that we would be subjected to if there were an undue proportion of Jews.”

The State Department and anti-immigration groups strongly opposed using Alaska for the resettlement of any refugees, and Roosevelt soon dropped the whole idea. The bill went nowhere.

Meanwhile, throughout 1941, Otto Frank continued writing to American friends and relatives, and U.S. government officials, in the hope of securing permission for his family to immigrate.

Little did he know the Roosevelt administration was quietly inventing new ways to shut the nation’s doors even tighter. In the summer of 1941, the State Department began automatically disqualifying all visa applicants who had “close relatives” in occupied Europe – on the specious theory that the Nazis might hold the relatives as hostage to blackmail the emigrants into becoming Axis spies. (No such spies were ever discovered.)

The new regulation may have disqualified the Franks, since one of their “close relatives,” Anne’s paternal grandmother, Rosa Stern Hollander, was ill with cancer in late 1941 and probably would not have been able to make the cross-Atlantic journey.

William H. King concluded his Senate service in 1941 and returned to Utah having failed to open America’s doors to European Jewish refugees – but not for lack of trying. His state had few Jewish voters, and his party was largely against more immigration, but King was driven by his Mormon faith to aid the downtrodden. Another Mormon U.S. senator from Utah, Democrat Elbert Thomas, would soon pick up where King left off and help lead the campaign to rescue Jews from the Nazis in the 1940s.

Anne Frank occupies a special place in the hearts of Jews, and any affront to her memory naturally arouses Jewish ire. Some members of the Jewish community have even urged presidential candidate Mitt Romney, today America’s best-known Mormon, to speak out against posthumous baptisms of Holocaust victims.

Secret Posthumous Mormon Baptism of Holocaust Victims, Jewish Leaders

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

The secret posthumous baptism of key Jewish figures by the Mormon church has caused outrage in the Jewish community and led to an apology by Mormon leaders.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned the Mormon church for performing baptismal rites on the parents of Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter Wiesenthal’s parents, Asher and Rosa Rapp Wiesenthal, according to the Associated Press. The baptisms took place in late January at temples in Arizona and Utah.

The proxy ceremonies are believed by Mormons to allow the deceased into the afterlife by giving them the Gospel.  Names are submitted by Mormon Church members, and are then given baptisms without their presence, or the presence or even notification of their families.

After Jewish groups protested the practice of baptizing members of their faith without their consent or the consent of the families of the deceased, the Mormon Church issued a promise in 1995 not to continue the practice.

Yet records indicate Wiesenthal’s parents, Asher and Rosa Rapp Wiesenthal, were baptized in proxy ceremonies performed by Mormon church members at temples in Arizona and Utah in late January.

The Mormon Church has baptized many figures involved in the Holocaust – and not just Jewish victims, such as Anne Frank.  Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun were also baptized by the Church in separate ceremonies decades apart, with Hitler being “bound” to his parents in a ceremony in 1993.

Other Jewish figures, such as the great Jewish sage and scholar Mamonides (Rambam), Nobel Prize winner Albert Einstein, and author Elie Wiesel have also been baptized, as well as hundreds of Holocaust victims.

“We are outraged that such insensitive actions continue in the Mormon temples,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement by the Associated Press.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints replied with an apology in a statement issued Monday.  “We sincerely regret that the actions of an individual member of the church led to the inappropriate submission of these names [of Wiesenthal’s parents],” Micharel Purdy, spokesman for the Church said.  “We consider this a serious breach of our protocol and we have suspended indefinitely this person’s ability to access our genealogy records.’’

The discovery of many posthumous baptisms has been conducted by Helen Radkey, a former Mormon who has dedicated herself to uncovering this practice and the specific individuals who have been baptized.  She also found that the family members of several US political figures – the mother of President Barack Obama and the atheist father of presidential candidate Mitt Romeny – had undergone the ritual.

Doll (Haunted) House: Two ‘Naïve’ Holocaust Artists at GW’s Brady Gallery

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Works by Magda Watts and Malcah Zeldis

Through Feb. 25, 2011

The Luther W. Brady Art Gallery, George Washington University

805 21st Street, NW, Washington, D.C.



In an interview for an article published in these pages (Aug. 25, 2004), Jewish Bombay-born painter Siona Benjamin discussed her technique of hiding troubling imagery in the seemingly inviting floral and decorative borders of Indian and Persian miniature-influenced paintings. “Under the beauty of miniatures you can hide danger,” she told me of her “Finding Home” series. “The beauty of miniatures draws you in-veiling and revealing.”


I couldn’t help but think of the embedded symbols of slavery and violence in Benjamin’s borders as I walked through the current exhibit of Magda Watts’ dolls and Malcah Zeldis’ paintings at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery. Both artists are about the same age (the New York-based Zeldis is 79 and the Israel-based Watts is 81), and though the two have never met nor exhibited together, Lenore Miller, director of the gallery, had the insight to show the two side by side.


It is rare to see an idea this fresh in the Jewish curating circuit, and in this case, it is certainly not an overstatement to say the works together are more exciting and interesting than they are separately.


Writing about Zeldis’ exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum in Manhattan in these pages about a year ago (Feb. 3, 2010), I noted that the works didn’t strike me as particularly high quality. One painting “lacks any sort of perspective, proportion and shading, and the palette seems to be most appropriate for a chemical plant,” I argued. “But one needs a different set of standards in approaching works of folk art.”


I stand behind my remarks about the quality of Zeldis’ work, but Miller’s fascinating decision to juxtapose the two artists has made me rethink Zeldis’ art. It is too easy to write off the dolls and the paintings as childish and undisciplined. It’s also too tempting to categorize it as “naïve” or “folk” art and to say that such a categorization simply introduces a different vocabulary. Whether or not Zeldis and Watts (a Holocaust survivor whose doll-making skills proved her ticket out of Auschwitz) intended the stylization of their Holocaust-themed works to be directly tied to the content of the pieces, the combination works in a powerful way.


Just as Edgar Allan Poe turned a costume ball into a nightmare in “Masque of the Red Death” and Rod Serling lent masks an even creepier feeling in the Twilight Zone episode “The Masks,” the bold, bright colors of Zeldis’ paintings and Watts’ sculptures are all the more disturbing because they were initially so inviting.


Magda Watts. Detail of “Dollmaker of Nuremberg” (c. 2000). Mixed media

Courtesy of Richard Vanderveer. Photo: Jessica McConnell-Burt/GW



Watts’ “Dollmaker of Nuremberg” shows a woman at a table (a self-portrait?) surrounded by spools of thread, sewing materials and dolls in various stages of completion. An unattached head (with purple hair so disheveled it may have been designed by Medusa’s stylist) seems innocuous enough until you watch a documentary about Watts streaming in the gallery.


In the beginning of “Liberation of the Spirit: The Journey of Magda Watts,” a documentary film by Jennifer Resnick, Watts is shown creating one of her dolls. As she uses a knife to sculpt the nose and cheeks of a doll, the skin tones are so realistic that one cannot help but squirm at what seems to be the mutilation of a real person. The decision to show Watts in this light by Resnick – who also collaborated with the artist on the fascinating memoir Dafka (2008) – is no doubt intentional.


Magda Watts. “The Holocaust Dolls” (c. 2000). Mixed media

Collection of Zahava Bar Nir and Deborah Venderveer. Photo: Olivia Kohler/GW



The subjects of “The Holocaust Dolls” are corralled like cattle in an enclosed barbed wire fence, marked above “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work shall set you free”). Two skull-and-crossbones signs attached to the fence identify it as an electrified fence – which plays a significant role in Watts’ memoir, as she recalls inmates who chose to “go to the wire,” or commit suicide, rather than endure the hell of Auschwitz. To the right, a Nazi soldier watches from a guard tower with a machine gun slung over his shoulder, and white thumbtacks have never looked so ominous as do the ones stuck into the wooden planks of the fence to Auschwitz.



Malcah Zeldis. “Me and Anne Frank” (1998). Oil on board. Photo: Olivia Kohler/GW



In Zeldis’ “Me and Anne Frank,” the artist is depicted in a light blue top sitting beside Frank. Both figures wear yellow stars pinned to their clothes, and the white-haired Zeldis adopts a maternal pose, as she puts her arm around Frank. Over Zeldis’ left shoulder is a canvas on an easel depicting Jewish inmates in a concentration camp overseen by armed Nazis, who surround a guard tower. The composition of Zeldis’ painting-within-a-painting is very similar to Watts’ “Holocaust Dolls,” and the palette is equally muted, though the Zeldis’ larger work is quite colorful.


On Zeldis’ side of the table is a colorful palette and flowers surround Frank. Tea and pastries have been laid on the table, and beside the yellow stars, the only mournful symbol of the work is a piece of paper on the table which contains the Hebrew word, “Yizkor,” the memorial prayer for the dead.


A pack of cards on the table may be a reference to fate, but the painting is otherwise joyful, particularly a view out the window of a bright landscape with a birdbath – a frequent symbol in Zeldis’ work. One is reminded of Watts’ dream, which surfaces frequently in her memoir and helps her maintain her wits through her traumatic experiences, in which the young Watts dons magical glasses which help her soar (like a bird) high above the ground-level horror. Zeldis also illustrated her daughter Yona Zeldis McDonough’s picture book Anne Frank (1997), which features the same blend of childish illustrations and sobering content.


When I reviewed the war photographs of David Seymour (Chim) in this column (June 21, 2006) and in New York Arts Magazine, I used a title that would apply to the body of work in the Brady Art Gallery show as well: “Smile and Say Cheese: Children Maimed by War.”



Magda Watts. “Jew and Tefillin” (c. 2000). Mixed media. Courtesy of Deborah Vanderveer.

Malcah Zeldis paintings in the background. Photo: Jessica McConnell-Burt/GW



“Children playing with dolls generally make good photo ops. They fit well on wall calendars, interspersed among images of flowers and colorful birds, to be gazed at while listening to CDs with sounds of the rainforest,” I noted, but Chim was after a different sort of child – “the vulnerable, persecuted sort that frolics not on picturesque jungle gyms but in war zones.”


Neither Watts nor Zeldis deals exclusively in Holocaust imagery. Scenes of mahjong players, a bagel seller, Abraham Lincoln and the Statue of Liberty appear in the exhibit. Miller’s curatorial insight, which other venues showing Jewish art ought to study carefully, is to tease out the rare combination of naïveté and experience, and joy and trauma embedded within the work of the two nearly octogenarians, who, however similar, have never before been compared and contrasted in the same context.


Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/doll-haunted-house-two-naive-holocaust-artists-at-gws-brady-gallery/2011/02/02/

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