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October 20, 2016 / 18 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘legacy’

Retracing A Family’s Legacy

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

Two years ago I met several descendants of Rav Simcha Dinter (1867-1929), an active member of the Belzer chassidic dynasty and a right-hand man to the then third and fourth Belzer Rebbes, Rav Yissachar Dov Rokeach (1851-1926) and his son, Rav Aharon Rokeach (1880-1957), respectively.

When the family learned that I was traveling to Poland last fall, they asked me if I would take photographs of the Dinter family property in Krakow, located at 9 Brzozowa Street in the once heavily Jewish neighborhood of Kazimierz, Krakow.

When I reached the street, I expected to find a small house.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself gazing up at an impressive stone building, several stories high. Fortunately, one of the tenants of this apartment building was leaving and allowed me to enter and take photographs of the building’s interior.  Unlike what I witnessed in Warsaw, my grandmother’s city of origin, in which the vast majority of buildings did not survive the bombings of World War II, this building was quite intact.  Moreover, it had been extremely well maintained and still bears the original, huge, and intricately hand-carved wooden front doors.

From the interior staircase landing, I peeked out the window overlooking the sizable backyard, where, according to Dinter family members, two wooden frame houses formerly stood.  I began to picture the Yom Tov of Sukkos, with the large, extended Dinter family along with the building’s other Jewish tenants seated in the sukkah, eating their meals and singing festive holiday songs.

Simcha Dinter poising in traditional Hasidic garb for his American passport application, c. 1920. (Thanks to Dinter family members for providing this photograph.)

Simcha Dinter poising in traditional Hasidic garb for his American passport application, c. 1920. (Thanks to Dinter family members for providing this photograph.)

After I returned to New York, the family asked me to assist them with additional genealogical research, particularly about their progenitor, Rav Simcha.  What follows is the story of the Dinter family and the biography of Rav Simcha, as it was related to me by one of his grandsons.

Rav Simcha was one of the gabbaim to the aforementioned Belzer Rebbes.  Upon his marriage to Bina Dreier, he moved from the town of Belz to the city of Krakow, his new bride’s hometown and the Dreier family’s site of residence.

In Krakow, Rav Simcha purchased a large apartment building in the historically and centrally-located neighborhood of Kazimierz, the city’s predominantly Jewish quarter.  The Dinters would have eight children and own a family business that made medical uniforms.

Rav Simcha was a major financial supporter of Belzer chassidim.  Not only did he give generously from his own funds, but he also raised money both in Galicia and America.  Beginning in 1908, Rav Simcha made more than a dozen trips between Krakow and America, speaking to Belzer chasidim about the importance of sending money to the Belzer community in Europe.

When he traveled to America in 1914, Rav Simcha brought along his wife and five of their children. When shortly thereafter, World War I broke out, the family spent the remainder of the war and beyond on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  Rav Simcha started a business producing wigs for dolls.  In those days, dolls were made out of porcelain and wigs were glued on.  Before the war, most of the toys and dolls sold in America were manufactured in Germany, and the war curtailed this production.  As this created a newly-found opportunity, some Jews from Galicia (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) went into this business.

When the war ended in late 1918, the Belzer community was in dire need of financial assistance.  Rav Simcha expended his time and energy in raising money for the Belzer community in Europe. His letters to the editor were published in Yiddish newspapers and advertised that he would be speaking on the Lower East Side as part of this fundraising campaign.

In 1920, Rav Simcha, who had become an American citizen, applied for a U.S. passport to return to Europe. Interestingly, his passport photo shows him appearing as a typical chassidic rav.  Perhaps, today, it is not unusual to see somebody who looks like Rav Simcha on the streets of New York City, but in 1920, it was quite unusual.

The first thing a great number of religious male Jews did upon arrival in America was shave or trim their beards, cut off their peyos, get rid of their black hat, and change their mode of dress to that of the average American male of the day.  But such was not the case with Rav Simcha.  His passport application describes him as having a “long beard [grey], large moustach[e], [and] a curl at [the] side of each ear.”  In his passport photo, Rav Simcha is wearing his rabbinical black hat – clearly, he had refused to remove it.

In 1923, Rav Simcha can be found in a photograph with the Belzer Rebbe and his aides, which was taken in Marienbad, Czechoslovakia (today, the Czech Republic), a well-known resort where many chassidim vacationed prior to World War II.  During this visit to Marienbad, Rav Simcha and his wife Bina were photographed strolling in the town square.

Rav Simcha’s four daughters and one son remained in New York while he and his wife returned to Krakow. Afterward, he made yearly trips to New York, raising funds for the Belzer community. Rav Simcha died in 1929; his wife Bina in 1936.  They are both buried in the new Jewish cemetery in Krakow on Miodowa Street.

Sadly, the Dinter family met the same fate as most of Poland’s Jews.  The three children still in Poland, not being American citizens, found themselves trapped there when World War II broke out.

In the summer of 1940, the Germans ordered the majority of Krakow’s Jews to relocate to other ghettos.  The Dinter family chose to go to Bochnia, where some relatives owned property.  Along with their children and spouses, Rav Simcha’s three children managed to survive until the first Aktion of the Bochnia ghetto in the summer of 1942.  Most of the Dinter family perished then, others during the Aktion in the summer of 1943.  Jews who were not killed in Bochnia were deported to death camps, where the overwhelming majority was murdered upon arrival.

At the war’s end, of the entire Dinter family that had been caught up in Hitler’s murderous web, only one grandson had managed to survive.

Rivka Schiller

The Mixed Legacy of Nuremberg

Monday, May 9th, 2016

This year commemorates the 80th anniversary of the notorious Nuremberg Laws, the Nazi racist enactments that formed the legal basis for the Holocaust. Ironically, it also marks the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials, which provided the legal basis for prosecuting the Nazi war criminals who murdered millions of Jews and others following the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws.

There is little dispute about the evil of the Nuremberg Laws. As Justice Robert H. Jackson, who was America’s chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, put it: “The most odious of all oppressions are those which mask as justice.”

There is some dispute, however, about the Nuremberg trials themselves. Did they represent objective justice or, as Hermann Göring characterized it, merely “victor’s justice?” Were the rules under which the Nazi leaders were tried and convicted ex post facto laws, enacted after the crimes were committed in an effort to secure legal justice for the most immoral of crimes? Did the prosecution and conviction of a relatively small number of Nazi leaders exculpate too many hands-on perpetrators? Do the principles that emerged from the Nuremberg Trials have continued relevance in today’s world?

Following the Holocaust, the world took a collective oath encapsulated in the powerful phrase “never again”, but following the Nuremberg Trials, mass murders, war crimes and even genocides have been permitted to occur again and again and again and again. Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur, the former Yugoslavia and now Syria. Why has the promise of “never again” been so frequently been broken? Why have the Nuremberg principles not been effectively applied to prevent and punish these unspeakable crimes? Will the International Criminal Court, established in 2002, be capable of enforcing the Nuremberg principles and deterring future genocides by punishing past ones?

Whether the captured Nazi leaders — those who did not commit suicide or escape — should have been placed on trial, rather than summarily shot, was the subject of much controversy. Even before the end of the war, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau had proposed that a list of major war criminals be drawn up, and as soon as they were captured and identified, they would be shot. President Roosevelt was initially sympathetic to such rough justice, but eventually both he and President Truman were persuaded by Secretary of War Henry Stimson that summary execution was inconsistent with the American commitment to due process and the rule of law.

It was decided, therefore, to convene an international tribunal to sit in judgment over the Nazi leaders. But this proposal was not without considerable difficulties. Justice must be seen to be done, but it must also be done in reality. A show trial, with predictable verdicts and sentences, would be little better than no trial at all. Indeed, Justice Jackson went so far as to suggest, early on, that it would be preferable to shoot Nazi criminals out of hand than to discredit our judicial process by conducting farcical trials.

The challenge of the Nuremberg tribunal, therefore, was to do real justice in the context of a trial by the victors against the vanquished — and specifically those leaders of the vanquished who had been instrumental in the most barbaric genocide and mass slaughter of civilians in history. Moreover, the blood of Hitler’s millions of victims was still fresh at the time of the trials. Indeed, the magnitude of Nazi crimes was being learned by many for the first time during the trial itself. Was a fair trial possible against this emotional backdrop?

Even putting aside the formidable jurisprudential hurdles — the retroactive nature of the newly announced laws and the jurisdictional problems posed by a multinational court — there was a fundamental question of justice posed. Contemporary commentators wondered whether judges appointed by the victorious governments — and politically accountable to those governments — could be expected to listen with an open mind to the prosecution evidence offered by the Allies and to the defense claims submitted on behalf of erstwhile enemies.

A review of the trial nearly 70 years after the fact leads to the conclusion that the judges did a commendable job of trying to be fair. They did, after all, acquit three of the twenty-two defendants, and they sentenced another seven to prison terms rather than hanging. But results, of course, are not the only or even the best criteria for evaluating the fairness of a trial. Furthermore, it is impossible to determine with hindsight whether the core leaders, such as Göring, von Ribbentrop and Rosenberg, ever had a chance, or whether the acquittals and lesser sentences for some of the others was a ploy to make it appear that proportional justice was being done.

In the end, it was the documentary evidence — the Germans’ own detailed record of their aggression and genocide — that provided the smoking guns. Document after document proved beyond any doubt that the Nazis had conducted two wars: One was their aggressive war against Europe (and eventually America) for military, political, geographic, and economic domination. The other was their genocidal war to destroy “inferior” races, primarily the Jews and Gypsies. Its war aim was eventually crushed by the combined might of the Americans and the Russians. Their genocidal aims came very close to succeeding. Nearly the entire Jewish and Gypsy populations within the control of the Third Reich were systematically murdered while the rest of the world — including those nations sitting in judgment — turned a blind eye.

The Nuremberg tribunal and those that followed it administered justice to a tiny fraction of those guilty of the worst barbarism ever inflicted on humankind. The vast majority of German killers were eventually “denazified” and allowed to live normal and often productive lives.

It is necessary to ask whether, on balance, the Nuremberg Trials did more good than harm. By convicting and executing a tiny number of the most flagrant criminals, the Nuremberg tribunal permitted the world to get on with business as usual. The German economy was quickly rebuilt, unification between East and West Germany became a reality, and anti-Semitism is once again rife through Europe.

Perhaps Henry Morgenthau was asking for too much when he demanded that Germany’s industry and military capacity be destroyed “forever,” and that Germany must be “reduced to a nation of farmers.” But perhaps the Nuremberg tribunal asked too little when it implicitly expiated those guilty of thousands of hands-on murders by focusing culpability on a small number of leaders who could never have carried out their wholesale slaughter without the enthusiastic assistance of an army — both military and civilian — of wholesale butchers.

The Nuremberg trial was an example of both “victor’s justice” and of the possible beginning of a “new legal order” of accountability. Trying the culprits was plainly preferable to simply killing them. But trying so few of them sent out a powerful message that the “new legal order” would be lenient with those who were “just following orders.”

The reality that, following Nuremberg, the world was to experience genocide again and again demonstrated that trials alone cannot put an end to human barbarity. But the fact that tribunals were established to judge at least some of these crimes against humanity also demonstrates a willingness to at least attempt to prevent and punish evil using the rule of law.

These and other issues have challenged and continue to challenge thinking. That is why a major conference of judges, academics, prosecutors, victims and government officials is convening today, May 4, 2016, at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland to consider the duel legacies of the Nuremberg Laws and the Nuremberg Trials. We plan to explore all sides of these enduring issues in a series of talks, panels and visual presentations. The goal of the conference is symbolized by Santayana’s famous dictum: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” The world cannot afford to repeat the tragedies of the Holocaust and so we must learn from the duel legacies of Nuremberg.

One of the most important lessons of history is that for genocide and other mass killings to be carried out requires the active participation of numerous individuals, from those who do the actual killing to those who incite, organize and provide the means. The Holocaust itself required hundreds of thousands of active co-conspirators and millions more of morally complicit people who remained silent while it was being carried out around them. Not only were most of these guilty participants immunized from prosecution, but many were rewarded with good jobs and other economic benefits. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the Nuremberg trials did not effectively deter subsequent mass killings. Indeed, the use of civilians as weapons of war — victims of genocide, mass rapes and human shields — has continued, with only a few handfuls of leaders and perpetrators prosecuted and punished. The challenge of Nuremberg is to construct an effective, ongoing, legal regime that punishes not just the leaders, but each and every guilty participant in the most egregious of war crimes.

Alan M. Dershowitz

Obama’s Cultural Rape

Monday, October 28th, 2013

Rape is an ugly word, an even uglier deed. I don’t use the word lightly or easily. Rape is a crime of violence, not passion; of destruction. The intent is to take the soul, destroy the body. It is an injustice beyond measure, a violation of humanity. No, I’ve never been raped but I know women who have been.

When someone uses the word “holocaust” – even without the capital letter, it bothers me because too often it is thrown around easily and rather than elevate the crime, it diminishes, just a bit, the Holocaust. I think rape is the same way – people use the word so freely, it takes away from when a real rape is inflicted on a person.

And yet…and yet, I’m going to use it here because it is the only word I can think of that applies, and the man ultimately responsible for this rape, this cultural rape – is Barack Hussein Obama – and yes, I’m using his middle name because he felt fine using it in Cairo and other places. And perhaps, just a little, that middle name plays a role in what he is about to do.

The full story, credit for it, comes from and goes to Caroline Glick in her article in the Jerusalem Post, “Our World: A miracle and an Outrage.” The gist of it is – by some miracle, 2,500 years of heritage, of holy books and more survived the devastation and the almost entire complete exile of the Iraqi Jewish community. Saddam Hussein (yeah, there’s that name again), stole over 2,700 Jewish books and writings from the Jewish community. He stored them in some basement to rot and by some miracle, invading US troops found the waterlogged remains.

Amazingly enough, the troops and leaders realized the magnitude of what they had found and the collection was taken to the States, refurbished, renewed, reclaimed at a cost of $3 million dollars. I don’t know how, but I’m willing to raise the money to pay the Americans back for this kindness.

But…here comes the outrage about which Caroline Glick wrote. The American government proudly put their accomplishment on display. Good for them. The exhibition at the National Archives runs through January – that is the scheduled date of the cultural rape about to take place. On or around that time, Obama and the State Department feel it is their responsibility to return the archive to its rightful owners. And I commend them for this decision as much as I condemn them for being too stupid to know who those rightful owners are. No, Mr. President

I believe that the Israeli Ambassador to the United States should request an immediate meeting with the United States President. I believe our Prime Minister must, in no uncertain terms, make it clear that the owners of the archives are the Iraqi Jews – who live primarily in Israel and that to send the archives, these holy books, “back” to Iraq is tantamount to destroying them. Obama might as well blow them up in Washington for all that sending them back to Baghdad will accomplish.

It is hard to believe that caring human beings would not do all in their power to stop a rape they know is about to take place – well, here’s our chance. We know where, we know when – now it is up to each of us to stop it.

Obama – what do you want to stop this travesty? Do you want 3 million dollars? We will raise it. You want a request from the Iraqi Jewish community – I’ll see to it. You want the Israeli government to request it – Bibi, please, do this before it is too late.

Just was what was stolen by the Nazis has long been recognized as belonging to the victims of the Holocaust, the archives belong to the Jews from whom Saddam Hussein stole them. They are not, and never were, the legacy of Iraq – rather, they are the legacy of a small community that was all but hounded into exile, only to re-establish themselves in Israel.

The archives should be donated to the community here in Israel, to a museum they established as a true legacy to what was once a thriving Jewish community. These holy books never belonged to the Iraqi government, Saddam Hussein, or the greater Iraqi people. To deny the rightful owners, to turn these books over to the Iraqis is an abomination, a cultural rape of 2,500 years.

Please help – write to Washington and demand that the archive be given to their rightful owners, the Iraqi JEWISH community, largely represented in Israel and no where else.

Please write to your Congress representatives and ask them to add their voices against this injustice.

Visit A Soldier’s Mother.

Paula Stern

In History’s Footsteps: A Family’s Roots and Legacy

Wednesday, July 4th, 2007

Two months ago I was standing on a single dirt road in a tiny village in Ukraine. No cars were in sight; horse-drawn wagons passed by. People were pumping water from wells in front of their homes. Horses were pulling plows in the fields. The town was Maydan, where my father grew up. My sister and I had returned to our roots.

My father, Meyer Tannenbaum, who died nine years ago at the age of 93, told many stories of the old country. Maydan, at that time, was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Although my father was not a romantic, the cherries were sweeter, the forests were thicker, the water was purer than anything we had experienced.

These stories were supplemented by Chana (my Tanta Anna), three years younger than my father, who will, God willing, celebrate her 100th birthday on July 7.

My dream was always to return to my father’s birthplace.

My father was the youngest son in a family of five boys and two girls in Maydan. They were one of three Jewish families in a village of 65 Ukrainian and Polish homes. His parents operated a tavern, which had been leased to the family for generations by the government. In addition to the tavern, they owned rich farmland, fruit trees, livestock, and were quite comfortable. Running the tavern required hard work and long hours.

In recounting stories, my father would invariably touch upon the benevolent Franz Josef, emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for more than 60 years. Much beloved by the Jews, Franz Josef provided them with unusual protection against the growing forces of anti-Semitism in the region. He began his rule in 1848, and continued until his death in 1916.

The family’s favorite story about Franz Josef is told by my aunt. Prior to our trip, my husband and I spent hours visiting with my aunt and videotaping her memories. She speaks Yiddish, Polish, Ukrainian and English, and sand to us and recited poetry in all those languages. Her most memorable even occurred when she was six years old and the emperor visited the town.

How extraordinary it must have been for the people of Maydan to have had Franz Josef come to their tiny village. Chana was given the honor of offering him a cup of water from the well that made the town famous. Franz Josef drank the water, bent down, and kissed my aunt on her cheek.

The nearby village of Gologory had a Baron Hirsch School that my father attended between the ages of six and ten. He walked three kilometers every Sunday afternoon to the school with a loaf of his mother’s home-baked bread, boarded for the week with the rabbi, returning Friday afternoon for Shabbat.

He always spoke fondly of those early school years, as he was one of the brightest pupils and the family talked about sending him to the university to study medicine.

At school he learned German, Polish, mathematics, literature, as well as all the Hebrew subjects. But the school closed at the start of World War I, effectively ending my father’s very promising formal education.

My aunt Chana went to the local Ukrainian school across the street from her house. She knew all the stories of the local population, was very well liked by her teachers, and worked hard in the tavern to help her mother. She was famous for making the best potato pancakes in Galicia, something I can confirm because years later she disclosed her secret and taught me to make them, crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

Then there were the hushed-up stories, the ones that were supposed to stay within the family confines. Now, almost 100 years after the incident, I still tell this one in a whisper; it was to dramatically alter the fate of the family:

Betty Salz

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/in-historys-footsteps-a-familys-roots-and-legacy/2007/07/04/

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