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Posts Tagged ‘Auschwitz’

Greek City to Build Holocaust Museum and Research Center

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

The northern Greek city of Thessaloniki will build a Holocaust research center at the site where some 50,000 of the city’s Jews were deported to Nazi death camps. “This is the fulfilment of a historic responsibility for Thessaloniki,” city Mayor Yiannis Boutaris told reporters.

The agreement to establish the Memorial Center on Holocaust Education Remembrance and Research at the city’s old railway station was signed among the Thessaloniki Jewish community, the city and the Greek transport ministry.

The Jewish community of Thessaloniki was one of the most important centers of Sephardic Jewry for 450 years following the expulsion from Spain. Known as the Flower of the Balkans, it was the center of Ladino culture in the region. In March 1943 the Nazis began sending Jews in railway convoys to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. By August, 49,000 out of the city’s pre-war population of 55,000 Jews had been deported. Fewer than 2,000 survived.

Boutaris has been instrumental in acknowledging the city’s rich Jewish history and the extent of its devastation. Earlier this year he organized a public march to commemorate 70 years since the first deportations, the first such display by the Jewish community since the end of the war.

The Thessaloniki Jewish community said the project was a long-held dream and particularly important at a time when Greece is struggling to deal with the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party which has 18 seats in parliament.

Canada Sends Ex-Jobbik Leader Packing before Montreal Speech

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Canadian immigration officials this week ordered a former leader of the ultra-nationalist Jobbik party in Hungary out of the country prior to a speaking engagement in Montreal.

Csanad Szegedi was sent back to Budapest on a plane just before he was slated to address a Chabad group. Approximately 200 people who came out to hear Szegedi, who two years ago discovered he had a maternal Jewish grandmother and was ousted by Jobbik, instead heard a videotaped message.

“I acknowledge that I have a lot of sins,” Szegedi said. “And this is why I understand those people who are not happy me being here. But these sins I try to rectify not only at the verbal level but at the level of my actions.

“I have to tell the Canadian Jewish community … that I am exactly such a Jew as they are. I cannot help it — as you cannot help it.”

Szegedi, 31, was a leading figure in the neo-fascist Jobbik party for a decade and was known for his rabid anti-Semitism. After discovering his Jewish relative — an Auschwitz survivor — he made contact with Chabad representatives in Hungary. He since has embraced his Jewish roots and publicly denounced Jobbik.

His talk at Montreal’s Chabad of Westmount was titled “My Journey From Hater to Fighter of Hatred,” but the speaking engagement caused a backlash in Montreal’s Jewish community, with detractors charging that his denunciation of Jobbik is insincere and that he only embraced his Jewish identity after he failed to suppress the news through bribery.

Holocaust Researcher Yisrael Gutman Dies at 90 in Jerusalem

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Warsaw Ghetto survivor and researcher Israel Gutman has died in Jerusalem at the age of 90. He was born in Warsaw, where he was wounded in the Jewish uprising against the Nazis in 1943. He is survived by two daughters and three grandchildren.

Gutman survived three concentration and death camps, including Auschwitz, but his parents and all of his brothers and sisters died or were killed in the Ghetto. He survived the January 1945 death march from Auschwitz to Mauthausen, where he was liberated by U.S. forces.

Gutman moved to Israel after the war and spent the rest of his life researching the Holocaust. He was the chief historian at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and was a professor of history at Hebrew University.

Germany Wants to Indict 30 Auschwitz Nazi Guards

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

Judicial officials in Germany have investigated 49 former Nazi guards at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and said 30 of them should be prosecuted, while nine others have since died

Another seven of the former guards are living outside of the country. Some of the guards are reportedly as old as 97.

The justice agency in Ludwigsburg, Baden-Wuerttemberg, which heads German investigations into Nazi war crimes, also plans to carry out “time-consuming” work and re-examine files of all former Nazis who worked in extermination camps and were part of Nazi murder squads.

The Ultimate Revenge for Holocaust Survivor: New Torah Scroll

Monday, August 19th, 2013

An 88-year-old survivor of the Auschwitz death camp has donated a new Torah scroll to the Lubavitch Chabad of Skokie, near Chicago, the ultimate revenge against the Nazis who tried to eradicate Jews and Judaism.

Her other revenge was to dwell in the future and present, instead of the past, and marry and bring more Jews into the world.

Marge Fettmen, her children and grandchildren attended a recent Torah dedication ceremony, in memory of her late husband Daniel, also a Holocaust survivor.

Fettman, known by the Nazis as prisoner No. 21880, told the Chabad website, “God gave me a good idea – to have a Torah written. It is our guide. I want the Torah to be used to teach people about Judaism.”

Fettman was living with her family in Romania in 1944 when the Nazis stormed into their town of Szaszregen and herded her and her relatives into a cattle car for Auschwitz.

“When we arrived, Dr. [Josef] Mengele stood there flicking his whip, sending some of us to the right and others to the left. I was separated from my family,” she told Chabad. “Since I had the snacks we had packed for the children, I was concerned that they would be hungry. I wanted to bolt to the other side to be with them, but Mengele saw and shouted at me in German, ‘Are you a fool?’ I stayed where I was, and my life was spared.”

After surviving the death camp, she married her husband, and the couple moved to the United States in 1949, where they raised they raised their children in the Jewish tradition. Her husband, a grocery store owner, died in 2004 at the age of 83.

Her parents were very religious, and she decided that dedicating a new Torah scroll was the best way to remember them forever.

100 Jewish Teens Kicked off a Plane: a Teaching Moment

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

I will never forget watching my elementary school principal pick food out of the trash and thinking I hope he doesn’t find my lunch. I was a picky eater (I still am) and the principal was a Holocaust survivor.

He was a principal that did not use classroom management techniques to get our attention because he did not need to.  He had a short, white beard, a limp from an injury he sustained shortly before liberation, a steely stare and a commanding voice with a strong accent. If he so much as looked at you, you immediately became quiet. When he walked into the room, you did not have to be told to stand up out of respect.

And, as a man who nearly starved to death at Auschwitz, he did not tolerate wasting food.

He would walk up to the microphone with a half-eaten sandwich in hand and demand, “Whose is this”? The guilty party would walk to the front of the room on shaky legs and retrieve their sandwich along with a strict admonishment not to waste food. And after being called out like that, you learned your lesson: you did not waste food.

Kids aren’t like that anymore. Neither are principals.

In the eight years between the time I graduated elementary school to the time I entered the classroom as a teacher, it seemed things had changed. Teachers were no longer “always right”. And kids were no longer afraid of teachers, principals or parents.

Perhaps it was the advancement of technology–cell phones barely existed when I was in 8th grade; when I walked into my first 8th grade classroom as a teacher, nearly every student had one.  When I was in school, if you dared use chutzpa in front of a a teacher, you sweated all day, knowing the teacher would call your parents and that you would be in hot water when you got home. Now, when every kid has a cell phone in school, they can often call their parents to complain about the “unfair teacher” so that by the time the teacher can get near a phone at the end of the school day to discuss the child’s inappropriate behavior, the parent has already called the principal to complain about the teacher. Accountability is no longer a word that is stressed in homes and schools, and it seems that the plague of self-entitlement has resulted in its stead. And this is not the fault of our children and students, but rather the fault lies with us- the parents and educators.

One of the lead stories this morning is “100 Jewish Teens Kicked Off Plane” and the article goes on to explain how 100 (or 101) Jewish students from the Orthodox Yeshiva of Flatbush (a great school and my mother’s alma mater) were kicked off a flight on their way to a school trip, due to “rowdy behavior.” When you look at other articles, it appears there are different accounts of what actually happened on that flight and whether or not the decision of the airline was warranted. Whatever actually took place, it is clear that some of those students were not acting appropriately on the flight. By all accounts, some did not put their phones away on when they were asked to and had to be told to sit down. I would argue that this behavior is typical of a group of teens flying on a school trip. I don’t think it has anything to do with the fact that they are Jewish.

However, anyone who read this news story probably had the same thought I had: what a chillul Hashem-  a desecration of God’s name. And for me, it brought to mind a memory of Rabbi Friedman.

Before every school trip, from first grade to when I was in sixth grade when he retired, Rabbi Friedman got onto the school bus before we departed and gave us the same speech. “You are Jewish boys and girls. Everywhere you go, people will know that you are Jews. They will be watching you to see how you behave. You have the choice to make a Kiddush Hashem or to make a Chillul Hashem” and then giving us no choice but to obey, he fixed us with his steely glance and said, “Make sure you make a Kiddush Hashem.”

The Brave Soldier from Auschwitz

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

My late father was a survivor of Auschwitz.  He arrived there as a young Hassid from a Jewish village in Poland, and he left as he had arrived, with his faith intact, and with an awareness that following the Holocaust, he must not be tempted by the offers of the JDC and HIAS to travel to America.  As he put it one of the few times he broke the long silence that characterized his life: “The time had come to go home.”

He went to fight in the War of Liberation, although my mother, who had survived the ghettos, already was carrying me in her belly.  They had made a decision to build a family together, and were married by a British military rabbi in a Cyprus detention camp for Jews who attempted to break the British blockade of the Land of Israel.

Upon arriving here in Israel he was immediately conscripted and sent to infantry training and then to serve at Haganah positions.  He left my pregnant mother in a village in the north with other families that had come from the gloom of the Diaspora and forged a community of Hassidic laborers out of its wreckage.

Alongside him served other survivors.  The cynics among them would later laugh about those days of “Yiddish soldiers” whose maneuvers were executed in exquisite Yiddish that to my ears sounded like a Dzigan sketch.   I remember their reminiscences about mortar-firing exercises accompanied by otherwordly orders straight out of the shtiebl.  “Arise, Reb Yechiel—honored with the firing of one bomb!”

As much as this was a Hassidic community, it was a Zionist one, at once hard-nosed and idealistic.  Its members took Independence Day with the utmost seriousness, and recited the formal blessing over the Hallel prayer.  “Anyone who wasn’t there has no business telling us not to say a blessing,” Daskal, the synagogue manager, once said to me.  He would later lose his son Ya’akov, a brilliant yeshiva student, when he fell with two fellow students in a terrorist ambush in the Jordan Valley.

There was no quibbling with decisions as to who was called up for duty.  Encounters at the shtiebl between Torah students and fighters lacked the tension that is there today.  There was agreement that everyone was on a mission, whether a military mission or one of Torah.

“A Head with Tefillin”

It was the first day of the Yom Kippur War.  We were in the middle of the Mussaf prayer, and I was there in my commanding role in the Hassidic choir as we sang “Be with the mouths of your people the House of Israel.”

My mother, who had been informed well in advance that two consecutive calls were due cause to pick up the phone on a Shabbat or holiday, arrived at the synagogue and hurried me out.

“I think they’re calling from your unit,” she said nervously.

Before saying goodbye to me, the old Hassidim sent me to receive a blessing from the rebbe of the neighboring shtiebl, who was considered a miracle worker.  He too had come from there.

With the convulsions of war and the battles, I moved around between various units so as to stay on the front.  As time went on, as would be expected of me, I lost more and more of my equipment—but not my gun or my tefillin.

My gun—granted, but tefillin?  To understand that you have to know a story from my youth.

One day in yeshiva I received a package of cookies from my mother, accompanied by an agitated letter from my father.

“My dear son,” he wrote in the rugged handwriting of a manual laborer, “you know what ‘a head without tefillin’ is.  But the head of the yeshiva has informed me that you missed putting on tefillin one day!”

He continued, adding that in Auschwitz there were no tefillin, until in 1943 a certain group of Hungarian Jews arrived.  When he heard that they had a pair of tefillin, he began crossing the fence that separated him from them very early each morning to put on tefillin for a moment and say “Shema.”

“Let this deed not seem trivial to you,” he wrote in Diasporic Hebrew.  “It was a very difficult thing to do, it was cold, and I stood the risk of missing the distribution of rations—and someone who missed receiving food for one day was in danger.  Nevertheless, this was [serving God] ‘with all your means.’”

When I came home I wanted to hear more of the story.  Was the fence electrified?  It wasn’t every day that he opened up, and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.

“What was, was,” he said definitively.  “That is all.”

“But wasn’t your life at risk?!” I said deviously.  “Is it really permitted to risk your life in order to perform a mitzva?”

That already was a halakhic discussion.  He responded.

“True.  As soon as I saw that other Jews were copying me and waiting on line, I stopped.”

I took this story with me to every war.  Before beginning a day of forced labor, a Jew goes and finds other Jews like him waiting at dawn on a long line to put on tefillin.  Just so they would not have “a head without tefillin,” as the Talmud puts it.  How then could I not be sure to put on tefillin every day?

Still, the Lebanon War came and, as luck would have it, my tefillin remained in the APC behind the lines with the rest of my equipment, while I was in the alleys of Baabda at the entrance to Beirut, part of the first battalion to arrive there.  A few inquiries later a pair of tefillin was found for me, and I went to the side, dressed in tefillin and talit.

Suddenly an Arab couple appeared, a man and woman dressed in their finest.  They drew closer, heading straight for me.

I pulled my gun out of the folds of the talit.

“Rifa ayadikum!” I ordered in Arabic.  “Put your hands up!”

As they stood there opposite me, their hands aloft, the man made a gesture to his wife with his raised hand.

“Marati!” he exclaimed.  “Yahudi.”  “She is a Jew.”

“Prove it,” I countered.  “What does it say inside this box?” as I pointed in the direction of my forehead.

“Shema Yisrael,” she answered, lowering one hand from above her head, covering her eyes, “Hashem elokeinu, Hashem echad.”

“Uchtei anta,” I said.  “You are my sister.”  Her eyes were moist.  I think mine were, too.

I could feel my father standing there with me, and his fathers as well.

“How great tefillin are,” I thought.  “They connect different worlds and different generations.  If I hadn’t been wearing them, the lost daughter who married a Christian man might not have dared approach the enemy invaders.  She might never have reconnected with her family in Bat Yam.”  Now, as she told the story of her family members with whom she had lost contact when they departed for Israel, the connection was renewed.

One good deed leads to another.  I don’t know what happened to that woman, but maybe, just maybe, her earth-shattering “Shema Yisrael,” together with the prayers for the safety of our soldiers, gave us the boost we needed in the ensuing battles.

A Dream

I have a strange occupation: I attend funerals and memorial services.  After a recent funeral, I had a dream in which my father appeared, waking me with his numbered hand.

“You cried?” he said.

“No.  Why?”

“I heard you cry.  I know you.  You’ve cried every time since you came back from the Six-Day War as a young man.  Anyway, I thought I heard you crying from up here, so I came.”

“So I cried.  So what?

“I’ve told you a thousand times you don’t have what to cry over.  We didn’t cry ….”  He gestured with his numbered hand.  “What we went through without crying … Thousands of us killed every hour, herded by the hundreds into the crematorium every seven minutes, and we didn’t cry!”

“Then maybe the time has come to cry,” I said.  “The numbers keep adding up.  There’s no end.  You promised us that we had come here to put an end to the era of death!”

“Nu, nu,” said my father in his Polish Yiddish Hebrew, clicking his tongue.  “Have you forgotten the inheritance I left you?”

“What inheritance, Abba?  You worked liked a dog your whole life, but there was no inheritance!  Not a dime!”

“What abbout the Kaddish prayer I left you?  That inheritance.  Every year I said Kaddish on the Tenth of Tevet and on Holocaust Remembrance Day in memory of all the relatives who were murdered by the hundred.  Now it’s you, my heir, who has to say it instead of me.”

“What kind of an inheritance is that, Abba?” I yelled.  “I should say Kaddish?  I never even met them!”

“Precisely,” my father exclaimed with a victorious smile.  “You understand now.  You never met them, and I never meet them either.  They went to their deaths anonymously by the hundred, by the thousand, by the million.  Now everything has changed.  Today your newspapers are full of names, pictures, stories.  Every person who is killed has a name, and the whole nation remembers him.  Where we were, who remembered them?

“Now you understand that there is a difference.  In between the tears, you can smile a little, you have to allow yourself some happiness.  Now you have a state, and an army, and someone to bury the dead, which we did not have …”

With that my father disappeared, wearing the doleful smile he had worn when he came, offering a survivor’s consolation so relevant to these days.

Originally published in Makor Rishon, April 12. Translated from Hebrew by David B. Greenberg.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/the-brave-soldier-from-auschwitz/2013/04/18/

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