web analytics
October 21, 2014 / 27 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘rescue’

Debating America’s Response To The Holocaust With The U.S. Holocaust Museum

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

During a recent trip to Rwanda, former president Bill Clinton lamented his failure in 1994 to intervene in that country’s genocidal massacres. “I don’t think we could have ended the violence, but I think we could have cut it down. And I regret it.”

Clinton, perhaps in atonement, has helped raise money to build the Kilgali Genocide Memorial Center.

Clinton’s hindsight regret is relevant to a debate I recently had with another genocide memorial institution, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The debate concerned my book about the epic battle in 1943 between the Treasury and State departments over a plan by the World Jewish Congress to rescue tens of thousands of Romanian Jews trapped in the hellish land of Transnistria in the Nazi-occupied Ukraine.

The patrician diplomats in the State Department blocked the rescue while the middle class lawyers in the Treasury Department (all Christians) fought for it. The battle led directly to the formation of the War Refugee Board in early 1944, which is credited with rescuing 200,000 Jews, including surviving Transnistrian Jews.

In a critique, the museum’s historians disputed my book’s criticism of the State Department. Ordinarily, authors don’t direct readers to a negative review but because this one was so heavily dependent on a hindsight analysis to justify a failure to rescue (the opposite of President Clinton’s hindsight regrets), that is just what I am doing.

Now, the museum’s website displays remarks by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner at the 2012 National Day of Remembrance ceremony in Washington. He described how “State Department officials were systematically undermining efforts to save Jews in Europe” including in Transnistria, and “blocking the spread of information about the Holocaust.”

Without contesting these facts, the museum’s critique argued that the rescue would never have succeeded because, at least based on more recent information about “machinations” in Europe, the “Germans were stringing the Allies along . . .without any intention of freeing the Jews.”

Further, “the overwhelming majority of Jews who died in Transnistria were already dead” by the time rescue was proposed; there were limited “available resources,” such as ships, with which to transport the Jews from Transnistria; and an “evacuation by sea” would have exposed “Jews who would survive the war to lethal danger from German or Soviet submarines in the Black Sea.”

My response was that when the War Refugee Board finally was established, its agents overcame German resistance and rescued more than 50,000 surviving Transnistrian Jews. Enough shipping was available because the Board, as Secretary Geithner pointed out, “helped purchase boats to ferry thousands of refugees out of Romania.”

Jews, warned of the risks in advance, were ready to board any ship to get out of Transnistria (or anywhere else in the hell that was occupied Europe). Not all of the “Jews who would die” were already dead. At least 7,500 more died in 1943 during the Cabinet battle over rescue and the survivors endured much suffering. When Jewish orphans finally were rescued, they raised their hands to protect their faces as if expecting beatings.

The museum’s historians are well-credentialed scholars dedicated to Holocaust studies. But, as I argued, their hindsight analysis was flawed because the necessity of rescuing Jews from the Holocaust was not a sliding scale that rose or fell on a Jew’s odds of survival, even if such odds could have been calculated then. Nor should the difficulty of rescue have relieved the State Department of its humanitarian obligations, an inherent implication of the historians’ analysis.

That’s why the museum’s critique sounded eerily like the State Department’s do-nothing arguments in 1943 at one meeting with a Treasury lawyer that “It would be probably be impossible to work out satisfactory arrangements with the Romanian authorities. German consent would not be forthcoming. The Turkish government has refused entry to Jewish refugees.”

In the final analysis, no humanitarian intervention would ever be undertaken if it required proof in advance that, absent rescue, the victims will die (or, at least, more than 7,500 will perish), deems suffering short of death irrelevant, and requires an absence of risk and certainty of success. Of course, those conditions never existed in Nazi-occupied Europe. The Treasury lawyers battled the State Department over rescue because they understood that, since both lives and core American values (if not American honor) were at stake, no matter the obstacles, this country had to at least try to rescue Jewish victims of genocide.

The Unmentionable Pig

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

One of the stranger aspects of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox, “Chareidi” press, is their determination not to use the word “pig.”

Last night, 2 Israelis were killed when their car smashed into a wild boar on Highway 5, East of Tapuach Junction.  Here is how the Chareidi newspaper, HaModia reported it:

HaModia Newspaper reports on the unmentionable wild boar.

“In a head on collision last night, in which 2 “wild other things” ran into the road, 2 men in their 40′s were killed.

The accident took place in the area between Tapuach and Migdalim in the Shomron.  Magen David Adom’s (Israel’s emergency medical and rescue service) attempts failed to save the wounded, and doctors pronounced the men dead on the scene.  MDA reported that next to the car were 2 dead “wild other things” and it is assumed they caused the fatal accident.”

It’s a bit ridiculous that HaModia can’t even use the word, “pig” (or wild boar).

Had this not been such a tragic story of 2 people being killed, I would have added a picture from Maurice Sendak’s book, “Where the Wild Things Are.”

May their memories be blessed.

Heroism on a Crowded Planet

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Two weeks ago, Nadav Ben Yehuda received from President Shimon Peres the distinguished service award, for rescuing a Turkish climber in the Himalayas.

Now Ben-Yehuda has climbed 5000 meters (16404.2 ft.) to the summit of Mount Kazbek in the former Sovier Republic of Georgia, and flew there a flag he had received from the President. When he reached the top, to his surprise, Turkish soldiers serving in a multinational force up there called him by name, greeted and hugged him.

I was touched by the story of the Turkish soldiers’ gratitude, as I had been touched by the story of the heroic rescue, back in May.

Then I started wondering, Wait a minute, the guy climbed up 5000 meters to singularly make it to a mountaintop full of soldiers?

But maybe they had been brought up there by air. Or maybe there’s a perfectly usable road going up to the top, but Ben Yehuda chose the really difficult face of the mountain.

This must be the nightmare of heroic travelers everywhere: that they’ll risk their lives going down some unimaginably dangerous path, through jungles or up mountains or under the face of the Earth, only to reach a destination populated by thousands of utterly civilized dwellers, complete with Starbucks and Gap outlets.

Which can be good, in case their iPhone 5 malfunctions.

At Least 260 Dead, More than 2,100 injured, in Iran Earthquake (Updated)

Saturday, August 11th, 2012

Two strong earthquakes struck northwest Iran on Saturday, killing 250 people and injuring more than 2,000, with many buildings being reduced to rubble, and completely destroying 6 villages according to Iranian officials.

Thousands are fleeing their homes and staying outdoors, fearing more damage from aftershocks – at least 20 of which have hit the region.

Casualty figures will probably continue to rise, say Iranian officials, since many of the injured are in critical condition, and many civilians are still trapped under the rubble.

Iran is situated between two major fault lines and has endured a few devastating earthquakes in recent years, including a 6.6 magnitude quake in 2003 which demolished the southeastern historic city of Bam and killed at least 25,000 people.

The U.S. Geological Survey measured Saturday’s first quake at 6.4 magnitude and said it struck 60 km (37 miles) northeast of the city of Tabriz at a depth of 9.9 km (6.2 miles). A second quake measuring 6.3 struck 49 km (30 miles) northeast of Tabriz 11 minutes later at a similar depth.

Tabriz is a major city and trading hub far from Iran’s oil producing areas. Though buildings in the city are substantially built, homes and businesses in Iranian villages are often made of concrete blocks or mud brick that can crumble and collapse in a strong quake.

A second quake struck near the town of Varzaghan. “The quake was so intense that people poured into the streets through fear,” the Fars news agency reported.

About 210 people in Varzaghan and Ahar have been rescued from under the rubble of collapsed buildings, the official IRNA news agency said, quoting a local official.

“So far 73 bodies from Varzaghan and Ahar have been handed over to the coroner’s office,” IRNA quoted Bahram Samadirad, a provincial official from the office, as saying.

He added, “Since some people are in a critical condition and rescue workers are still trying to rescue people from under the rubble, unfortunately it is possible for the number of casualties to rise.”

Rabbi Drowns During Ritual Dipping in the Ocean in Wales

Monday, August 6th, 2012

The Daily Mail reported that Stamford Hill, London-based Orthodox Rabbi Dov Berish Englander, 47, on holiday at the scenic seaside town of Aberystwyth in West Wales, “got into difficulties” while performing a full body ritual immersion.

Last Thursday, Rabbi Englander walked into the ocean for an early morning ritual bath. A guest at a hotel overlooking the bay rang 999 after seeing him struggling to stay afloat. A lifeboat and rescue helicopter were sent to the scene and the lifeboat crew pulled the drowning rabbi from the water.

Despite the efforts of paramedics to resuscitate Rabbi Englander, he was declared dead at Bronglais General Hospital, Aberystwyth.

Rabbi Englander was greatly respected for his scholarship and charitable work.

The seaside resort of Aberystwyth is a popular destination for Haredi families.

Police are not treating the incident as suspicious.

In June, Satmar Chasid Rabbi Chaim Breisch died after struggling in a rough sea off Broadstairs, Kent.

The Train

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

He was having trouble getting up from the platform and into the cattle car. After all, he was only twelve years old and there was no ramp leading inside. An SS thug saw him “dawdling” in front of the car and aimed a boot at the boy’s posterior. The boy jumped out of the way just in time and the SS man fell to his face from the violence of his own kick.

Fearing the German would take his fury out on him, the boy scampered into the train. He hid himself from the Nazi inside a crowded, filthy car until the train pulled out of Budapest’s Nyugati station.

And thus began David Kohn’s participation in what many regard as the most dramatic and controversial train journey in history. For this was the train organized by Dr. Rudolf Kastner, head of the Hungarian Judenrat, on which 1,685 Jews rode to safety.

Kohn, today a well-known medical doctor and expert on geriatric health problems in Haifa, Israel, is one of the diminishing number of survivors from the Kastner train. And he may be the only one who kept and preserved a journal of that journey to freedom.

He was born in a small town in Czechoslovakia, in a region where many of the residents and most of the local Jews spoke Hungarian. After the destruction and division of Czechoslovakia in the wake of the Munich accord, the area passed to Hungarian rule.

The problem was that David’s father had been a patriot and had taken Czechoslovak citizenship, which was frowned upon by Hungarian authorities. The boy was quickly expelled from school there, supposedly because of the father’s citizenship but more likely because they were Jews.

The family moved into Hungary proper, looking for work and a place to live. Then Slovakia was detached from the Czech state by Germany, so for a while they moved back there. The father worked as a forestry manager, a public service job that kept the family safe as deportations of Slovakian Jews commenced.

In 1942 rumors reached them that they were on a list of Jews to be deported. The family stole across the border into Hungary. There they were hosted by relatives who managed to obtain forged residency papers for them.

By 1943 Hungarian Jews were being moved into “concentration” areas – not yet internment camps but rather buildings in which the Jews of a town would be segregated. David was staying with his uncle, a prominent Neolog rabbi, in Czegled, a town outside Budapest near what is today the city’s international airport. They were locked up in a single building, and later moved into the town’s synagogue. Then twenty-three of those in the building were selected to be sent to Budapest for internment. The rest were deported.

David and his uncle were among the twenty-three.

In Budapest they were marched down Andrassy Boulevard, the city’s equivalent of Fifth Avenue with its luxury stores, many owned by Jews at the time. They were taunted by Hungarian anti-Semitic youths along the way and eventually were held inside the Rumbach Street synagogue in the Jewish Quarter.

* * * * *

Rudolf Kastner was a pompous, arrogant and irritating person. He was born and raised in the largest city in Transylvania, the Hungarian-speaking territory now in Romania that has passed back and forth between Hungary and Romania due to the frivolities of war and politics. He rose to importance in the Hungarian Jewish community and had the reputation of being an aristocratic “fixer” with ties to the regime.

When war broke out, Hungary allied itself with Hitler’s Germany. Kastner served as a journalist and community leader, moving from Transylvania to Budapest. Later, as a head of the Hungarian Judenrat, he was able to move about freely throughout the war. His residence and offices stood on Vaci Avenue, three blocks from my office today at Central European University in Budapest, where I teach when I am not in Israel.

Kastner was renowned for hatching assorted schemes, some rather hair-brained, during the war years. He tried to recruit support from Jewish Agency leaders in Tel Aviv for negotiating different rescue schemes with the Nazis, including the notorious “Trucks for Jews” deal, which never came to fruition. In 1944 he met several times with Adolf Eichmann to negotiate the escape of Jews in exchange for bribes or ransom payments.

Why Raoul Wallenberg’s Centennial Matters

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

The Swedish rescuer Raoul Wallenberg was born 100 years ago this summer, and his centennial is being commemorated with events in many cities across Europe and North America. On July 26, a symposium in his memory will be held at Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research in Jerusalem.

Wallenberg, whose birth date is Aug. 4, 1912, is one of the approximately 24,000 individuals who have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations, the honor bestowed by Yad Vashem and the State of Israel upon non-Jews who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.

Why is his centennial the cause of so much commemorative activity?

Certainly part of the answer lies in Wallenberg’s tragic fate. Early in 1945, after having been involved in rescuing Jews in Budapest since the previous summer, Wallenberg was arrested by the conquering Soviets.

Explanations ranging from the banal to cloak and dagger have been advanced as to why he was arrested. It could simply be that as a foreigner carrying a variety of currencies and official documents on his person, he may have aroused suspicion. It could be that as a Wallenberg, whose family like many neutral Swedes had engaged in business with Germany during the war, he was an intentional target of the Soviet security apparatus. And it may even be that the Soviets suspected that he was being used as an intermediary between the Nazis and Western Allies to arrange a separate peace, so that both sides could then turn against them.

None of these reasons, even if one may be the correct one, sufficiently explains why Wallenberg was held in captivity after the war ended, and why neither the Soviets nor their successor regime in Russia have provided the full documentation they most likely still hold regarding his fate. All we know for certain is that at some point, Wallenberg died in Soviet captivity.

In addition to his disappearance, other facets of the story rivet our attention on Wallenberg. In many ways he has emerged as an icon of the Holocaust, one of a select group of people through which people understand the cataclysmic events. Along with Oskar Schindler, Wallenberg has become the best known and therefore the foremost symbol of the rescuers.

Wallenberg was among a handful of neutral diplomats engaged in a rather wide-ranging rescue operation that evolved after the German occupation of Hungary on March 19, 1944. One could say that effort reached its pinnacle during the period of the Arrow Cross regime in the autumn of that year, and that it continued until the conquest of Budapest by Soviet forces in mid-January and early February 1945.

This was not a single coordinated rescue operation. Rather it was composed of different groups and many individuals, often in a kind of confederation, all trying to do the same thing. They strove to keep Jews alive and out of the hands of their persecutors until the Germans and their Hungarian allies were defeated. The rescuers were many and varied, among them neutral diplomats, adult Zionist activists, Zionist youth movement members of all persuasions, church people and others. Through the use of diplomatic protection, (relatively) safe refuges and the provision of the basic necessities of life, they helped to keep alive more than 100,000 Jews in Budapest.

A cardinal reason that Wallenberg is so venerated is bound up in his character and the nature of his mission. In the late spring of 1944, Wallenberg was approached by the Swedish government, which in turn had been approached by the American rescue agency the War Refugee Board. He was asked to go to Hungary as a certified emissary of the Swedish government, and his job was to help Jews.

Wallenberg readily volunteered to enter the conflagration. If this was not enough, unlike other diplomats who confined themselves to rescuing Jews by diplomatic means – certainly a laudable enterprise – Wallenberg at times was out on the streets proffering his aid, in the midst of extreme danger and again on his own volition.

Not only was Wallenberg an emissary of his government, essentially he was an emissary of the Western world. In the name of the Western world, he not only engaged in rescue, but displayed the best in Western values in doing so – courage, compassion and ingenuity. He was the ideal to which the Western world would like to have lived up to more during those dreadful war years.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/why-raoul-wallenbergs-centennial-matters/2012/07/04/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: