web analytics
April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘survivors’

Yesh Atid, Revise Your Platform

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

In a recent account of his first Knesset term, Dov Lipman writes that “Yesh Atid Education Minister Rabbi Shai Piron is hard at work making major changes to improve the education system.” I wonder what values he brings to that project since Piron and other Yesh Atid cabinet members gave key votes to free 104 terrorists .

Looking at Yesh Atid’s statement of beliefs , one finds several sections that need to be revised and clarified given its role as a liberator of murderous Jew haters. Below are some examples with proposed revisions in italics:

“We believe that every person in Israel must have their fundamental rights met…”

Not applicable to terror victims and their families’ fundamental right to justice.

“We believe it is the duty of the state to care for the health of its citizens.”

Not applicable to health damage inflicted upon bereaved families by freeing their relatives’ murderers—depression, loss of sleep , etc.

“We believe in a unified society and the principle which says ‘all Jews are responsible for one another.’ ”

Not applicable to terror victims and their families.

“We believe that it is the state’s responsibility to ensure the safety of its citizens.”

Not applicable to incentivizing terrorism by freeing murderers.

“We believe that it is the duty of the state to care for all its seniors to enable them to live with dignity and enjoy their retirement years without worry or distress. These words are particularly focused on Holocaust survivors who live among us.”

Not applicable to the dignity of murdered Holocaust survivors and their families.

 

Living Respectfully among Non-Jews: an Open Letter to Jewish Parents

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

What would you do if you learned that a small group of people threatened to make Jewish life in our communities less inviting and secure? Would you be concerned enough to learn about them, warn your children about them, and try to blunt the damage these people are doing? And what if “these people” turned out to be ourselves?

The dismissive, uncivil, and disrespectful attitudes and behavior too many of us show to our neighbors threaten our collective future.

Our job at the Simon Wiesenthal Center is to stay on top of trends around the world. Our work takes us around the globe, advocating for Jewish and for human-rights causes. We meet with world leaders, government officials on all levels, and elite cadres of civil society. We have seen the hydra of anti-Semitism regenerate with renewed strength, too often met in the mainstream with apathy, even acceptance.

Campaigns against shechitah need not always be anti-Semitic, but they have been inspired by Norwegian politicians who simultaneously defended whale-hunting while calling kosher slaughter “a blood orgy.” Some people may decide hey are not interested in the medical advantages of milah, but when a national ombudsman for children’s rights in Oslo tells you to your face that it cannot be justified as a religious ceremony because it is a form of “barbaric abuse,” it is time to worry.

Across Europe, the lid has come off the demons repressed for a few decades after the Holocaust.

Yes, you might say, but we live in North America, far from those forms of overt and dangerous threats. But that is our point. We live, b’chasdei Hashem, in a bubble – one that we threaten to burst ourselves.

Not that anti-Semitism doesn’t exist in the Goldene Medinah, but its harshest manifestations are mostly relegated to the margins, and it has not derailed the decades of remarkable Orthodox growth since World War II.

We have, baruch Hashem, built thriving, bustling communities, full of schools, shuls and social service providers. We in the U.S. and Canada have learned to be more confidently assertive. Through the pioneering efforts of Agudah and the OU, we are a presence in state capitol buildings, in the White House and in Ottawa. Kippot appear on the heads of public officials and in sitcoms, and Yiddishisms don’t need to be explained to our fellow citizens.

We have built up huge amounts of good will with many neighbors and politicians and don’t think twice about leveraging that hard-earned good will to accommodate our needs. We ask for – and expect – that testing schedules will revolve around our holidays, that garbage pickups will bend for Pesach, that parking tickets will not be issued when halacha won’t allow us to move our vehicles.

More important, we have come to rely on the largesse of the government and our neighbors for all kinds of support we now take for granted: reimbursement for mandated school services, textbooks, welfare and housing stipends, grants for senior centers and special-needs children. To ensure that the perks keep coming, we build upon our network with politicians, appear at the right public forums, and bundle contributions – just like every other organized interest group.

Observant Jews are no longer seen or treated as a small, quaint, community clinging to its ancient ways on America’s margins. We are mainstream, swimming alongside others in a fishbowl. Our neighbors, the media, and politicians pay attention – not because they hate us but because we are part of society’s fabric. No one should be surprised, then, that our faults and foibles – true or exaggerated – are splashed across headlines and cable news.

Most good people (and the bad ones are in the minority) do not expect perfection. They do expect menschlichkeit and respect – respect for laws and for the rule of law itself. They expect us to show pride in the appearance of our houses and streets, and other good-neighborly behavior. They expect to be valued and treated as respected human beings, just as we expect that of them.

Too often, though, we don’t think in these terms and we do not deliver. The resulting chillulei Hashem, both miniscule and large, weaken our Torah values, erode our shem tov, and potentially threaten our future.

We entirely understand the derision and contempt displayed to non-Jews by some Holocaust survivors. They experienced firsthand unfathomable atrocities, often committed by non-Jewish neighbors they had trusted. But we, the children and grandchildren of those survivors, know full well the difference between their experience and ours – yes, even the difference between one group of people and another. We also know of many survivors whose personal experiences were also horrific and yet they always displayed impeccable graciousness to all human beings.

Some of us, however, continue to speak – and think – disparagingly of every non-Jew. Besides being wrong in a Torah context, this attitude, in our opinion, is suicidal. It will bring catastrophe upon us, as the realities of the new economy will mean more and more groups competing for a shrinking pot of available public funds and resources. We are going to need to generate greater good will from our neighbors. The near-daily allegations of financial irregularities and cheating on government programs don’t help, making the forging of long-term coalitions that much more difficult.

Please don’t get us wrong. We are not saying that what we have described is the majority attitude in our community. Far from it. It is a minority one, but it threatens to engulf us all.

So why are we writing this? Because the attitudes children develop about their neighbors is considerably more reflective of what they learn from family than what they hear in school.

We both had elders in our extended families who survived the violent and genocidal hate of Tsarist Russia and Nazi Germany. Yet we were inculcated to show derech eretz to all people, not only “unzere.”

That is why we are taking this plea to Jewish parents. As parents, you try to give your children every advantage. If, God forbid, Mashiach does not arrive soon, and your children spend years of their lives in what Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, called the “medinah shel chesed,” you want them to live in a hospitable environment. But that will not be the case unless you educate them better than they have been educated until now in how to live respectfully among non-Jews.

Teach your children how different Americans are relative to, say, people in Saudi Arabia, Greece, or Spain. Speak to them about our great mission of Kiddush Hashem, and the severity of Chillul Hashem. Speak to them also about the practical consequences of being part of a minority whose future will be rockier without strong alliances with our neighbors.

An aphorism of a previous generation was, “If Jews won’t make Kiddush, non-Jews will make Havdalah.” It meant that if Jews, who have a special mission to live by Hashem’s instructions and be an ohr lagoyim (a light to the nations), don’t live up to His expectations, He will use non-Jews to remind us – sometimes in unpleasant ways.

Today those words have additional meaning. If we won’t act toward our neighbors with Kiddush Hashem, we will be spurned and shunned by them. This will impact negatively on so much that has been so important in the building of our Orthodox communities.

Bottom line: Let parents lead the way in raising our children to always show humanity and decency. It’s time – for those of us who have not already done so – to mensch up.

The Holocaust as an Expression of Kindness? Seriously?

Monday, August 5th, 2013

One of the things that never fails to upset me is when people of stature start trying to explain the Holocaust. There are some rabbinic figures who have tried to do so, both past and present. It seems like there is a new addition to those ranks in the person of Rabbi Avigdor Miller, a venerated Rabbinic personality of the 20th century.

I do not say this to disparage him. He is a man who garners tremendous respect from observant Jews from all walks of life. There are people who consider his Hashkafos about Judaism their guide to life. He has a wide following, perhaps greater today posthumously than when he was alive.

My introduction to Rabbi Avigdor Miller was when I read his book, Rejoice O’ Youth which was an unsuccessful attempt to refute the theory of evolution.  For many years that book angered me. But I have mellowed in that regard and now believe that he has every right to his views on that subject and to promote them in a book. Just as others do to refute it.

I recall also being upset at something I once read about him where he strongly disparaged Modern Orthodoxy. I will be Dan L’Kaf Zechus that he was not disparaging observant Jews that are modern but meticulous in their observance and respect the Mesorah. He was probably referring to those I like to call MO-Lites. Jews who are not so meticulous about their religious observances and are more assimilated into the culture than they are into their Judaism. Or those Modern Orthodox Jews that are on the extreme left and try to innovate practices that depart from the Mesorah.  Like Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) and Yeshivat Maharat.

According to an article in Mishpacha Magazine, his son, Rav Shmuel Miller, has published a book posthumously written by his father  that in my view is unconscionable. The thesis of the book is that the Holocaust was actually a Chesed… a kindness from God in the way of a wake-up call! It is called  ‘A Divine Madness’ – Rabbi Avigdor Miller’s Defense of HaShem in the Matter of the Holocaust.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller did not want to publish this work during his lifetime. He felt that so soon after the Holocaust it would upset survivors. His son has decided that enough time has passed and published it. Rabbi Avigdor Miller is certainly entitled to his views. But I am entitled to totally reject them.

He is not the first one to put forward the theory that the Holocaust happened because Jews were abandoning the Torah and observance in droves in the period prior to the Holocaust. But what is so upsetting about this particular thesis is that he considers the Holocaust a kindness. I understand his point. Which he tries to illustrate using an example once cited by the Chofetz Chaim as follows.

If someone is in the coldest region on Earth like the North Pole and falls asleep, he will freeze to death in short order. If someone is there next to him, he will try to wake him up from his slumber. If calling out to him, won’t work, he will shake him. If that doesn’t work he will smack him. If that doesn’t work, he will take a stick and hit him. An onlooker might see this as being cruel and not understand that he is trying to wake him up in order to save his life. In other words what looks like a cruelty to another human being – is actually a kindness meant to save his life.

This is such a bad analogy that it boggles my mind that it was even attempted let alone published in a book.

There are 6 million individual stories of savage slaughter that happened in the Holocaust. And that is just about Jews that were systematically killed. There could be as many as another six million stories about horrors experienced by survivors.

Just to cite 2 personal examples.

My father escaped the Nazi death camps by hiding in 3 different bunkers with other families until his city was liberated by the Russians.

When the first bunker was discovered, the escape route planned in such an eventuality via the town sewer system enabled an escape by my father and my 3 older brothers (who were in their early teens at the time). But my father’s first wife (my brothers’ mother) never made it. She was captured while trying to escape. The next bunker was a makeshift one in the forest. That too was discovered, but my oldest brother got caught while my father and his two younger sons escaped. My father heard his oldest son screaming as he was being carried off by the Gestapo.

My wife’s uncle was an Ish Tam – a Gerrer Chasid; kind and sincere; simple  and pure in his devotion to God. He had not an ounce of evil in his bones. He had a beautiful family – a wife and children – prior to the Holocaust. They were all slaughtered by the Nazis except for him. He was captured by the infamous Josef Menegle for purposes of medical experiments. That left him without family and sterile after the war… never able to rebuild his family. Although he did remarry and made Aliyah.  He was a truly good man who never questioned God.

You can multiply these two stories by the number of victims and survivors. How many stories like this and far worse have we all heard?!

If this is God’s Chesed, I’d like to know what it’s like when He gets angry! How dare anyone say that God decided to torture innocent people in order to wake us up? Rabbi Miller does not make understanding the Holocaust any easier. He makes it even more difficult to understand, in my view.

Many great rabbinic figures were slaughtered by the Nazis. It is said that the great people of any given generation are punished because they did not protest the increasing rejection of Mitzvah observance of their time. Even if that’s true, how can such inhumanity to the average Jew – innocent people who are not Gedolim – be explained?

How can anyone say that being tortured by the likes of Mengele is the same as being hit with a stick at the North Pole?! How can anyone say that forcing Jews to dig mass graves for themselves and then being shot into them is the same as being hit with a stick?! How can anyone one say that the millions of Jews marching into the ‘showers’ at Auschwitz and Buchenwald is the same as being hit with a stick. Such analogies are an insult to not only the six million who died, but to all the survivors and their children, of which I am one!

Wake up call?! How exactly did all the torture endured by survivors wake up all those who lost their faith after the Holocaust?

My negative attitude about the Satmar Rebbe is well known here becauseof his antipathy towards the State of Israel and his disparagement of Rav Kook. But there is one thing I do agree with him about. The Holocaust cannot be explained.  And all victims of the Holocaust including survivors have earned an automatic place in the world to come – even if they did not remain religious.
I therefore object in the strongest possible terms the publication a book which espouses the view that the Holocaust was a ‘wake-up’ call. His right to publish such opinions should not trump the hurt such views have upon survivors and their children.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

A Call to Action: Shut Down the Claims Conference

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

By Naomi Vilko, MD

Many Jewish Americans are unaware not only of the sordid behavior of the Claims Conference (Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany); they are also unaware of its existence and mission. Established in 1951, the Claims Conference has the tasks of negotiating for compensation and restitution for Jewish victims of Nazi persecution and of distributing payments from the German government to individual Jewish Holocaust survivors and the social services agencies that serve them.

Shamefully, $57.3 million intended for survivors was stolen from the Claims Conference by 31 people – 11 of them employees – over 16 years. [For more information, please read Isi Leibler’s numerous articles covering the Claims Conference scandal on his blog.] Now, influential Jews including Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress and Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel have insisted upon an independent investigation into the Claims Conference fraud as well as a change in its leadership and governance. I am grateful to Rabbi Mark Golub of Shalom TV, Isi Leibler of The Jerusalem Post and staff writers from The Jewish Daily Forward and The Jewish Week who have been following the Claims Conference scandal and pressing for justice for the survivors. I hope that we can mobilize the Jewish community to quickly close this corrupt agency and transfer the funds to another agency who will distribute them in time to help those in need.

Many Holocaust survivors have not received compensation for their suffering and losses because for some of these aging victims, the process is simply too painful; others have not received compensation because the Claims Conference is at best, difficult and obstructionist, and at worst, corrupt. Claims Conference officials have also continued to expand the definition of “Jewish victim of Nazi persecution”. Today, it administers programs providing funds not just to those who survived ghettos, concentration camps, forced labor battalions and death marches, but to anyone who fled Nazi invasion, lived in hiding, or lived under curfew. As a Psychiatrist specializing in trauma, I am well aware that it is difficult to tease out the quantitative and qualitative differences between different traumatic experiences – but I am certain that those who survived concentration camps (the youngest of whom are in their 80s) should receive assistance immediately and without the frustration of dealing with the uncaring staff of the Claims Conference and its various agencies.

My mother and I have dealt with the issue of reparations since my father, a survivor of 5 concentration camps, death marches, Hungarian forced labor and a ghetto, died suddenly in 1962. My father was denied any compensation. As his widow and a survivor herself, my mother appealed, but the appeals were denied. Recently, I again contacted several Jewish agencies in a futile attempt to assist my now 92-year-old mother with paying for her home-care. I was astounded to learn that if she only needed assistance 20 hours/week, she would receive funds, but since she requires 24-hour assistance (which she pays for herself) she will receive nothing to defray the expense. We were advised that she could go on Medicaid and/or be sent to a nursing home.

Jewish social agencies are doing the best they can to help survivors, but they say that they have limited funds. After helping themselves to large salaries and allowing fraud to persist under their noses for over a decade, is it any surprise that the Claims Conference does not have enough funds for the survivors it “claims” to serve? Furthermore, while it is commendable in theory for the Claims Conference to work to expand eligibility for these funds, I must ask: if there is not enough money available to help the survivors who have already been identified, what is the result of such efforts beyond making the bread lines longer?

It is an outrage and an embarrassment that the Claims Conference has continued to operate without oversight, even after failing in its responsibility to adequately investigate and prosecute the fraud for so many years. We must shut down the Claims Conference and transfer the funds to an existing agency, such as the Jewish Federation or the World Jewish Congress that can quickly prioritize the way funds are distributed to survivors. We have an obligation to take care of those who have been tortured and enslaved because they are Jewish – before it’s too late.

There are many survivors who have no children to care for or advocate for them and who live isolated lives in apartments with no services and little human contact. My hope is that raising awareness of the additional psychological trauma survivors experience as a result of the reparations and compensation processes and, specifically, the New York based Claims Conference itself, may lead the Jewish people to take action. Let’s face it: The Jewish people have not adequately taken care of the survivors, who are now extremely elderly and dying. They are entitled to live the last years of their lives with dignity.

Confronting Auschwitz and Birkenau

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

There was a shift in the paradigm of my life after my experience at Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the largest concentration and extermination camps operating during the Holocaust.

The cold, hard facts of the Holocaust are well known, but it is only once you hear a survivor tell you their personal story that it truly strikes you how they now appreciate their lives in a way that not many of us do today; some attribute their survival to God, some to faith, to love, to family, to luck.

We are the most likely the last generation to be able to hear these stories from the survivors of the Holocaust and be able to ask them questions. That is a huge privilege. A privilege which I was able to take part with the ‘Lessons From Auschwitz’ program with the Holocaust Educational Trust.

We had been warned by our team leaders that there was no right or wrong way to feel about the experience, but prior to the trip to Poland in November 2012, some may have had some prior idea as to how they would react – for me, it was numbing, absolutely numbing. Expectations were of misery and sadness; the lessons taught were vital for us as “Holocaust Ambassadors,” but also to absorb and reflect upon as human beings.

In both Auschwitz and Birkenau, the atmosphere was very sombre and we all said little as we walked through the camps, supposedly out of respect, or out of sadness, or shock; there was an almost alien sense of peace, as if the silence that had settled over the camps was still somehow alive, as if the sounds heard all those years ago were still echoing within the brick walls. I’ve never experienced an environment so heavy with sorrow, and it frightened me – it’s almost a warning to us as the new generation about to inherit responsibility of the earth, as it could be seen as a display of the consequences of power being given to the wrong hands.

Such was the melancholy atmosphere. The cold was extraordinary; by the time we had reached the Birkenau camp, the sun had almost set and the bitter cold was starting to seep in through our clothing. We tightened our coats and took the long, mournful walk alongside the train tracks leading into the camp. I was taken aback by the sheer scale of the place; rows and rows of identical empty warehouses. The camp was monstrous and almost mechanical; it had no signs of life, of civilization, just building after empty building. It was difficult to imagine how many men had crossed paths here, young, old, wealthy, poor, doctors, lawyers, laborers, all being given the saddest of all fates.

One of the most startling moments, for me, was one of the very first things we came across; the now iconic “Arbeit Macht Frei” wire sign, which directly translates to “labor makes you free,” referring to the physical labor that the sufferers in the camp were to believe would liberate them. But for the majority of prisoners in the camps, their only liberation was death, many of them dying brutally. One could only imagine the faces of the prisoners who saw this sign and understood their likely fates, or the many young children who could not even imagine what lay ahead.

We learned that very young children were almost always sentenced to death, along with their mothers, to prevent the new generation of Jews from surviving, which was awful to hear; I could not imagine a future so awful in which that could happen, or a man so soulless, who might have even has his own children, that he would give or execute such an order. This impression of this total lack of empathy or compassion on the Nazis’ part was horrifying, because it is hard to understand the circumstances in which this would be considered acceptable. Even now, it is obvious to see that we have moved forward in terms of acceptance of other faiths and races and we must preserve this tolerance in our society, but also promote it all over the world.

It is too late for the victims of the Holocaust, and one of the slightly uplifting things about the visit was the Oshpitztin visit, a graveyard for Jews, which clearly demonstrated to me that there was some respect for the Jews, and I was happy that someone had deemed them worthy to be given the blessing of a gravestone, of a resting place where their loved ones could come to mourn them. As we all know, there were far more victims of the Holocaust that could not be given the privilege of a burial, or a grave, but it gave me hope that even in a situation where so many acted so wrongly, there will be others who will do what is right.

Nazi Camp Barbed Wire Sale Cancelled

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

First, if you think that treating a post-holocaust story with humor presents a problem, kindly click away. May I suggest our gifted cartoonist JooHoon? Thank you.

I’m the son of a holocaust survivors, and so dealing with the horror with a touch of humor is both my prerogative and my therapy. OK, I hope that covers all the liabilities. Now the news item:

The management of a Nazi concentration camp in the Netherlands (no longer in service, please try again at a later time) on Tuesday decided to drop the sale of bits of barbed wire from the camp, because of protests from Jewish groups.

(Had we known it would be so easy, we would have protested back in 1941. Who knew?)

Harry Ruijs, director of the Kamp Amersfoort Foundation, told AFP he decided not to sell 50 pieces of wire for 10 euros ($13) apiece, which he was planning to sell hoping the income would pay for an exhibition of artifacts discovered at the site, around 30 miles south-west of Amsterdam.

“It seems we have hurt some people and it was not our intention at all,” Ruijs said. “That’s why we decided to halt the sale.”

The exhibition which the sold wire was going to fund (at around $500), was intended to “draw attention to the importance of physical evidence whose preservation costs money.”

Artifacts to be displayed at the exhibition included helmets, water bottles and 150 “mysterious name tags in which the names and addresses have been engraved in mirror image.”

(Sounds like they were used to print those names and addresses, but I’m no holocaust expert. The mystery of mirror-image name tags will linger on.)

Jewish organizations expressed outrage on Tuesday, following the announcement of the barbed wire sale.

(There’s a first – Jews upset at a sale.)

“Barbed wire is the archetypal symbol of the concentration camp. It should not be put up for sale at all,” said Esther Voet, deputy director of the Dutch Center for Documentation and Information on Israel (CIDI).

“Imagine if some of these pieces of barbed wire are ultimately bought by a neo-Nazi. That would be horrible,” Voet said.

(Is there a sanctity of concentration camp barbed wire clause I haven’t heard of? If you ask me, let those neo-Nazis contribute their share to the commemoration effort.)

A spokeswoman for the Netherlands’s Central Jewish Council who asked not to be named said that idea was “completely tasteless and lacking in respect for the victims and their families.”

(As opposed to displays of concentration camp artifacts which are tasteful because they’re supported by government?)

Between 35 000 and 40 000 people were processed in Kamp Amersfoort, at least half of whom were deported to Nazi death camps. The current camp manager Ruijs said he consulted former prisoners at the camp and their relatives before the sale and their reactions had been positive.

“We’ll now give away the barbed wire pieces to those who ask for it and had relatives who passed through the camp,” said Ruijs.

But not even an inch goes to the neo-Nazis!

Nazi Leader’s Sister Hid Jews Near Brussels

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

The sister of a Belgian Nazi leader hid three Jews in her home near Brussels during the Holocaust, according to one of the survivors.

Hanna Nadel, now 86, said she, her mother and her niece were rescued by M. Cornet, the sister of Leon Degrelle, who, as leader of the Belgian Nazi Rexen movement, was responsible for deporting Jews to their deaths during the German occupation of Belgium.

Nadel’s account, related to historian Jan Maes, appeared earlier this week in the Belgian-Jewish monthly Joods Actueel,

The three, having escaped deportation orders, wandered  with their suitcases around the town of Sint-Genesius Rode, where they happened upon a help-wanted sign on Cornet’s door.

The mother rang the doorbell and Cornet, without asking many questions, hired the mother as cook and Nadel and her niece to work as chambermaids.

Cornet knew the three women were Jewish and promised them they would survive. Visitors associated with the Flemish Nazi movement would routinely dine at the house , while the three Jewish women hid in the basement.

Nadel’s mother would sometimes cook gefiltefish, which the lady of the house advertised to her guests as “oriental fish”, Nadel recalled.

Nadel immigrated to Israel after the war. Leon Degrelle left for Spain, where he died of old age in 1994, escaping the death sentences that his Nazi associates received back home.

I Am Proud

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

As I approached the home of Irving and Miriam Borenstein in the Mill Basin section of Brooklyn, two things became clear: the pride they feel at being Jewish and their joy at living in America. On their front lawn are large American and Israeli flags with a plaque in front which reads:

Irving and Miriam

Never forget the six million murdered in the Holocaust and the three thousand murdered on 9/11.

May G-d remember them for the good with the other righteous of the world.

Inside their home the theme continues; their walls are covered with pictures, souvenirs and memorabilia related to Israel.

Where did this sense of pride come from? Join me as we learn a little bit about Miriam and Irving’s backgrounds and hear their incredible stories.

Irving: I was born in America in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. It was like the “Yerushalyim of New York.” I went to yeshiva there and then to Harron High school. My father owned a shomer Shabbos grocery store. When I was 16 he passed away; my mother continued to run the store and at some point I began to take responsibility for it, but ultimately it wasn’t for me. I studied and excelled in electrical engineering, which helped me when I was in the military.

Miriam: I was born in Czechoslovakia in the Carpathian mountain region. I have been living in the states for 67 years. Carpathia became a hostile region to live in once the Hungarians took over. First, they put all the Jews in a ghetto. I was in a ghetto called Izah for 6 weeks before they transported us to Auschwitz.

The Borensteins in Germany after the war.

Mr. Borenstein, when did you join the service?

I was drafted into the army when I was 18, like so many others. I could have easily gotten a 4-D (a deferment) since I was a rabbinical student in yeshiva at the time but I didn’t feel that was right.

Were you scared to join the army?

No. I was happy to go. I had no fear. My mother wasn’t too happy about it but I was a strong-minded kid and running the family grocery store was not for me.

What are your thoughts about those who avoided service due to religious observance?

I am a Zionist. I told people you cannot hide behind the Torah. In fact, the Torah demands that we go and help our fellow brethren.

What was your position in the military?

Luckily, I was not in man-to-man combat. I was involved in the anti-aircraft artillery outfit. Basically, I was a utility repair soldier.

Were you ever injured?

I was hurt badly when a car near me blew up; I was unconscious for a while. I was hospitalized for 5 months in London with a fractured skull and malfunctioning kidneys. Eventually I healed, and those of us who were feeling better were given office jobs, so the office clerks could go fight.

Did you experience any anti-Semitism in the military?

Not really. I am as strong as an ox and growing up in Brownsville you knew how to defend yourself. I recall one incident where a non-Jewish man and I were reaching for the same butter during mealtime and I got it first. He said, “Just like a (expletive) Jew!” I flipped over the table and that was the end of that.

In the DP camp in 1945. Irving and Miriam are on the far right.

Were you able to be observant in the army?

Not really. It was hard. I did manage to daven with tefillin every day. One day my captain was inspecting the barracks and I was standing in the corner engrossed in my davening. He asked a fellow soldier what I was doing and when they told him I was praying he said, “If anybody bothers him they are going to have to deal with me!”

What about keeping kosher and Shabbos?

Impossible. The only thing I could do was stay away from meats. As for Shabbos, that was out of the question. The first time I drove a car on Shabbos, I thought it was going to blow up. They did let me go home for the holidays when I was in basic training.

Were there other Jews stationed in your outfit?

It was a 25% Jewish outfit with mostly New Yorkers. This is maybe why anti-Semitism wasn’t so prevalent. I did have to tell one Southerner that Jews don’t have horns though!

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/potpourri/i-am-proud/2012/10/18/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: