Members of Machnot Olim youth movement along with Holocaust survivors, flying kites for the 72 year rememberence of the execution of Yanush Korjack and his students in Treblinka at Yad Vashem on August 7, 2014. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Posts Tagged ‘shoah’
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Yad Vashem recognized its first Righteous Among the Nations from Peru.
Israel’s national Holocaust memorial on Thursday posthumously honored Jose Maria Barreto, a diplomat in Switzerland who used his position to attempt to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. A ceremony for Barreto will be held at a future date, Yad Vashem said in a statement.
As the consul general of Peru in Geneva, Barreto issued 27 Peruvian passports to 58 Jews, including 14 children, even though the government of Peru by 1938 had given instructions to its consulates in Europe not to issue visas to foreign immigrants — with an emphasis on barring Jews in particular.
Barreto was acting on the request of Abraham Silberschein, the head of RELICO, a Jewish relief organization in Switzerland funded by the World Jewish Congress, to issue Peruvian passports for Jews under German occupation.
Silberschein in a letter from August 1943 said, “Mr. Barreto, deeply moved by the suffering of millions of human beings in the occupied countries, wished to participate in helping to alleviate the plight of these innocent people, and decided to agree and provide us with a certain number of passports so that we could send them to different persons in the countries under German control. Mr. Barreto was convinced that by this highly humane deed he would save a number of people.”
That year, the Peruvian foreign minister canceled the passports and ordered the closure of the Peruvian consulate in Geneva. In addition, Barreto was fired and dismissed from Peru’s Foreign Ministry.
The words we recite when taking the Torah from the ark are found in this week’s portion: “And it came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moshe said ‘Rise up O Lord and let Your enemies be scattered; and let them that hate You flee before You’ ” (Numbers 10:35).
This sentence is unique in its importance as it is inserted between two inverted letters nun that almost look like brackets. The Talmud says this sentence actually constitutes a book of its own (Shabbat 116a).
In this way, it is actually the smallest book of the Torah. What truly is the meaning of this sentence? What is the relationship between the Ark and the scattering of our enemies? And, finally, what makes this sentence important enough to be recited when taking the Torah from the ark?
Ultimately the Torah is a book that reflects a system of ethics that comes from God. From that perspective, the Torah is at war against paganism and other practices that are contrary to God’s ethical systems. Thus, when we take the Torah from the ark, we declare that its very motif is to scatter those who are antagonistic to Torah to its fundamental ethical principles.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch offers a variation of this theme. In Nechama Leibowitz’s words: “Hirsch remarked that Moshe was aware that enemies would rise up against the Torah from the moment that it was given. Its demands for justice and altruism were bound to antagonize aggressors and tyrants and stand in the way of their design. The Torahs call to holiness would not only arouse hatred, but also active persecution.”
Just seventy years after the Shoah, this concept especially resonates. Some have actually suggested that Hitler’s hatred of the Jews was precipitated by his understanding that Judaism stood firmly against his positions. Thus, when taking out the Torah we say that the enemy who would oppose the Torah should be defeated.
Another thought comes to mind. The test of one’s ethical behavior is how we act in the most difficult of situations. One of those situations is in war itself. Therefore we see the juxtaposition between Torah and scattering the enemy. In other words, the Torah declares that when we go to war and are hopeful the enemy will be dispersed, the Torah must always be kept.
This concept has contemporary meaning. When Israeli soldiers are inducted into the army they make a commitment to what is called purity of arms. In other words, they declare that even in the most difficult situations, when they must use force, they commit themselves to do so with purity, with goodness, with a sense of what is right.
To the world we must echo the words of this week’s portion. We must declare, “Blessed is the nation that has as its army the Israel Defense Forces, which is among the most moral armies on the face of the earth.”
Thousands of non-Jews from across Europe and Eastern Europe saved Jewish lives from the horrors of the Holocaust, placing their lives and the lives of their families at risk. Over 25,000 known non-Jews have been recognized by Yad Vashem as “Righteous Among the Nations” including Christians and Muslims.
Today many of these rescuers are aging and living in poverty. The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR) founded by American Rabbi Harold Schulweis in 1986 is one non-profit organization that seeks to repay the debt of gratitude by providing financial support to those non-Jewish rescuers in need.
JFR provides on-going monthly financial assistance to 654 rescuers in 22 countries to pay for food, housing and medical expenses. The rescuers are often reluctant to ask for help, having acted without expecting a reward then or now according to the organization’s website. One of those recipients is Czeslaw Polziec, whose family took in a Jewish family and hid them for two years on their farm in Zawadka, Poland. This past Chanukah, JFR reunited Czeslaw Polziec with a member of the Jewish family that his parents rescued, Dr. Leon Gersten of Cedarhurst, New York.
Leon Gersten grew up in the Jewish shtetl of Frysztak, Poland. His mother, Frieda Tepper Gersten was a peddler who traveled throughout southern Poland to support her family. Her parents, Yitzchak and Necha Tepper raised Leon.
Gersten recalls how on Rosh Hashana in 1939, all the Jews of his community were praying in the shtetl synagogue, when the Germans surrounded the building and started shooting. “We all laid down on the floor and started praying Shema Yisrael. After killing a few Jews, they let us out – that was our first introduction to the Germans,” remembers Gersten.
“It’s one thing to kill a few people, it’s another to kill everybody, where every Jewish soul, every baby was on the most wanted list,” says Gersten.
On July 1942, the Germans ordered all of Frysztak’s Jews to gather in the animal marketplace. Around 1,600 Jews were rounded up- mostly elderly and children – and taken outside of town, where they were killed and buried in a mass grave. Leon’s grandparents, Yitzchak and Necha, were among those murdered.
After the mass killing, Leon’ s mother, Frieda, went out to the countryside dressed up as a Polish Catholic woman to try and find someone to take in her family. She went to Polish families who had purchased goods from her, and although a number of homes turned her away, one couple, Maria and Stanislaw Polziec agreed to provide shelter for her family. Maria, a seamstress, and Staninslaw, a farmer, had five children and barely enough food for their own family, but they were willing to house the five desperate Jews.
For more than two years, Leon Gersten, his mother, Frieda, her sister and brother-in-law, Celia and Herman Wiesenfeld and their son Moshe, were kept hidden from the Nazi occupiers in the Polziecs’ attic.
The Polziecs also built an underground earthen bunker that they covered with a grain storage bin in case of a raid. One night, recalls Leon, German soldiers raided the farm. “We were very organized and ran down to the bunker but the German soldiers heard us. They suspected the Polziecs of hiding Jews and proceeded to beat Stanislaw who tried to tell them it was his children sleeping in the attic that had run down scared.”
“We could hear Stanislaw screaming and the cries from the Polziec family but not one of them said a word about us,” recalls Gersten. “There was one goal and that was to keep Frieda and her family safe until the Soviet Army arrived,” said Czeslaw, who was the oldest son in the family and responsible for bringing the Gerstens food and standing guard.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., received a $10 million grant from the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation.
The museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies will be renamed the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies and will concentrate on Holocaust studies throughout the world. The center sponsors new Holocaust scholarship, training new scholars in the discipline.
“The Mandel family generously helped establish the museum in its early years, and now through this campaign gift they are helping us lay the foundation for the institution’s future, ensuring the permanence of Holocaust memory, relevance, and understanding,” said Museum Director Sara Bloomfield.
Morton Mandel, chairman and CEO of the Cleveland-based foundation, said in a statement: “Our Foundation is delighted to have been an ardent supporter of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum since its inception. We are pleased to place the Mandel name on the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, one of the world’s principal venues for Holocaust scholarship.”
Last month, the foundation announced a $13 million grant to Ben Gurion University of the Negev.
January 27, the date in 1945 on which Auschwitz was liberated by the Allies, is the day designated by the United Nations to officially commemorate the Shoah.
But there are some who cannot permit a mention of the Holocaust without insisting, sometimes in lurid pictures, that Israel is a modern day version of the grand masters of genocide: Hitler and the Nazis. And there are armies of willing collaborators for that concept, which include many in the chattering classes. These second level haters repeatedly insist that Jews use the “Holocaust” card to block what they say is just criticism of Israel’s “Apartheid,” and brutal “occupation” of the Arab Palestinians.
The cartoon in this week’s British Sunday Times is a stellar example of the first category.
Notice the hulking presence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Raheem Kassam, of The Commentator, describes the depiction as the stereotypical Jew anti-Semites love to hate: “the large-nosed Jew, hunched over a wall, building with the blood of Palestinians as they writhe in pain within it.” He is slathering the bricks of the infamous “Apartheid Wall” – which is neither about a separation of the races, nor is it a brick wall – more than 97% of it is fencing. Also, instead of mortar, the cartoon depicts the substance being used to cement the “wall” is blood. And whose blood? Why, the blood of Arabs, of course.
The words printed beneath the wall say “Israeli Elections.” Perhaps the author never got the memo that rather than a huge right-wing surge by the Israelis, this election instead brought in an almost perfectly balanced knesset of members from the right and the left. The scrawled words beneath the picture state: “Will Cementing Peace Continue?”
Many people were horrified not only that the Times ran the cartoon, but that it was run on Holocaust Rememberance Day. The Anti-Defamation League condemned the cartoon by calling it a “blood libel” and “grossly insensitive,” according to a report in the Algemeiner.
The Times of London is indirectly owned by Ruport Murdoch. Murdoch, as the Algemeiner points out, has been the recipient many times of honors from Jewish groups, including the ADL, for being a friend to Israel.
The cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, is well known not only for his Sunday Times work, but also for drawing musicians. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that one of his best known album covers is for Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” Roger Waters, lead singer of Pink Floyd, is a virulent Israel hater who penned an appeal to fellow artists to boycott Israel, and most recently compared Israel to Nazis.
Which brings us back to Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the use by anti-Semites to accuse Israel of being the new Nazis.
Merry Olde England had another bout of “Let’s Call Israel Nazis” just a few days ago, on January 25. David Ward, who is a Liberal Democrat member of Parliament, wrote the following in his personal blog after signing his name in the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Book of Commitment in the House of Commons during an event in anticipation of Holocaust Remembrance Day:
Having visited Auschwitz twice – once with my family and once with local schools – I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.
After a flurry of criticism, Ward invoked the standard excuse given when caught with one’s pants down and anti-Semitism showing: “I never for a moment intended to criticise or offend the Jewish people as a whole, either as a race or as a people of faith, and apologise sincerely for the unintended offence which my words caused.”
And many hours after the Sunday Times began receiving criticism for the “grossly insensitive” cartoon it ran on Holocaust Remembrance Day, its editors used the very same excuse, to wit: it isn’t Jews we were criticizing, just Israel.
The Sunday Times firmly believes that it is not anti-Semitic. It is aimed squarely at Mr Netanyahu and his policies, not at Israel, let alone at Jewish people. It appears today because Mr Netanyahu won the Israeli election last week. The Sunday Times condemns anti-Semitism, as is clear in the excellent article in today’s Magazine which exposes the Holocaust-denying tours of concentration camps organised by David Irving.
Oh my: we don’t insult dead Jews, only live ones, especially the kind that firmly believes in, and practices, self-defense.
We were dismayed by the criticism Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel leveled at Prime Minister Netanyahu following the latter’s speech marking Holocaust Remembrance Day. Mr. Wiesel took issue with what he said was the prime minister’s likening of the Holocaust to the threat posed to Israel by Iran. Obviously whatever Mr. Wiesel says about the Holocaust is worth listening to. But we are nonetheless puzzled.
Mr. Wiesel said:
Iran is a threat, but can we say that it will make a second Auschwitz? I don’t compare anything to the Holocaust…. Only Auschwitz was Auschwitz. I went to Yugoslavia when reporters said that there was a Holocaust starting there. There was genocide, but not an Auschwitz. When you make a comparison to the Holocaust it works both ways, and soon people will say what happened in Auschwitz was “only what happened in Bosnia.”
But Mr. Netanyahu did no such thing. Here is part of what he said:
On this day, when our entire nation gathers together to remember the horrors of the Holocaust and the six million Jews who were murdered, we must fulfill our most sacred obligation.This obligation is not merely an obligation to remember the past. It is an obligation to learn its lessons, and, most importantly, to apply them to the present in order to secure the future of our people. We must remember the past and secure the future by applying the lessons of the past.
This is especially true for this generation – a generation that once again is faced with calls to annihilate the Jewish state. One day, I hope that the state of Israel will enjoy peace with all the countries and all the peoples in our region. One day, I hope that we will read about his calls to destroy the Jews only in history books and not in daily newspapers. But that day has not yet come.
Today, the regime in Iran openly calls and determinedly works for our destruction. And it is feverishly working to develop atomic weapons to achieve that goal…. I know there are also those who believe that the unique evil of the Holocaust should never be invoked in discussing other threats facing the Jewish people. To do so, they argue, is to belittle the Holocaust and to offend its victims.
I totally disagree. On the contrary. To cower from speaking the uncomfortable truth – that today like then, there are those who want to destroy millions of Jewish people – that is to belittle the Holocaust, that is to offend its victims and that is to ignore the lessons.
Clearly Mr. Netanyahu was not focusing on the human horrors of Auschwitz but rather on the Nazis’ end goal of eradicating the Jewish people and Iran’s vow to obliterate seven and a half million Jews living in Israel.
But what really rankles is that Mr. Wiesel was standing near Barak Obama as the president delivered his own remarks at the United States Holocaust Museum on April 23. Mr. Obama spoke about millions of people sent to their deaths “just for being Jewish.” He also noted the “millions of Poles and Catholics and Roma and gay people and so many others who also must never be forgotten.” He mentioned the killings in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Libya, Central Africa and South Sudan. He spoke of the phrase “never again” as “a challenge to reject hatred in all its forms – including anti-Semitism” and as “a challenge to defend the fundamental right of free people and free nations to exist in peace and security and that includes the state of Israel.”
And he characterized “never again” as “a challenge to nations. It’s a bitter truth – too often, the world has failed to prevent the killing of innocents on a massive scale. And we are haunted by the atrocities that we did not stop in the lives we did not save.”
So here was the president of the United States speaking of the Holocaust – at an event memorializing the Holocaust – as one of a series of tragic and bloody events in recent history. Talk about minimizing the uniqueness of the Shoah!
And yet Mr. Wiesel said nothing at the time. Perhaps he felt it wasn’t his place to take issue with the president at such a sober gathering. But we have heard nothing from Mr. Wiesel on the subject since then. Given his sharp response to what Mr. Netanyahu said, his silence over President Obama’s far more egregious remarks is deafening.