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September 22, 2014 / 27 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

Irena Sendler, We Honor You

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

During World War II, Irena, a Polish Christian woman, got permission to work in the Warsaw ghetto, as a Plumbing/Sewer specialist. She had an ulterior motive. Irena smuggled Jewish infants out in the bottom of the tool box she carried. She also carried a burlap sack in the back of her truck, for larger kids.

Irena kept a dog in the back that she trained to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in and out of the ghetto. The soldiers, of course, wanted nothing to do with the dog and the barking covered the kids/infants noises.

During her time of doing this, she managed to smuggle out and save 2,500 kids/infants. Read that number again – 2,500 lives…Ultimately, she was caught, however, and the Nazi’s broke both of her legs and arms and beat her severely.

Irena kept a record of the names of all the kids she had smuggled out, In a glass jar that she buried under a tree in her back yard. After the war, she tried to locate any parents that may have survived and tried to reunite the family. Most had been gassed. Those kids she helped got placed into foster family homes or adopted.

In 2007 Irena was up for the Nobel Peace Prize. She was not selected. Al Gore won, for a slide show on Global Warming. Today, we honor her courage, her bravery. She has been recognized as a Righteous Gentile in Yad Vashem.

May God bless her memory.Please share this to honor the sacrifice and courage of this fine human being who gave so much and saved so many.  See also www.irenasendler.org.
Visit A Soldier’s Mother.

With an Anti-Semitic Holland, Where Is It Safe for Jews?

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

A few years ago in Amsterdam I was shown the most popular manual published in the Netherlands, in Dutch, on how to raise one’s children as proper Muslims. The book included virulently anti-Semitic passages, based on Muslim holy texts. After the Jewish community objected, the authorities forced the publisher to put white tape over the offending passages. The tape could easily be peeled off by purchases so that these words could be read.

Separately, consider what has just happened. A Turkish-Dutch researcher publicized a record of systematic anti-Semitism among other Muslims in the Netherlands, including a dramatic video that showed teenage boys calling for genocide and praising Hitler.

What happened? The researcher, Mehmet Sahin, had to go into hiding after being accused by others of being a Jew and a Zionist.

The growing anti-Semitism in Western Europe is like that. The European Union, governments, and the media paste a white tape over the problem to conceal it or pretend to do something about it. But when one peels back the tape the hatred is revealed as growing and being passed onto the next generation.

While one doesn’t want to exaggerate rising anti-Semitism in Europe – mostly from Muslim immigrants and their children but facilitated and even reflected by the increasingly intellectually hegemonic left – the growth of anti-Jewish hatred is enormous. Some people view this as fear-mongering, pointing to other developments that show the glass to be half full. Indeed, the hostility of European governments toward Israel has often been exaggerated. The situation is actually better than it was 20 or 30 years ago.

Yet the broader question is one of social trends and the behavior of institutions, especially the mass media and universities, which are generally becoming not just critical but viciously so of Israel and periodically Jews generally.

Take the Netherlands, a mild-mannered country that prides itself on moderation in all things. Traditionally, the Netherlands was friendly to Israel and while it has always had its anti-Semites and even, historically, fascists, it had far less proportionately than other European countries during the last half-century. In other words, if things are bad in the Netherlands, they’re really bad.

Last year, the chief rabbi of the Netherlands spoke in a published interview in which he spoke extensively about his love for the country, the good treatment of Jews there, and other such points. Asked at the end, however, whether there was any future for Jews in the country he said, “No,” and advised the community to move to Israel.

That doesn’t mean the Netherlands is a maelstrom of anti-Semitism. It isn’t. But there’s a growing anti-Semitic sector which consists of two parts: Muslim immigrants and their offspring, and the far left that is so often dominant in the Netherlands –as in other Western countries.

The Dutch government, unlike others in Europe, has defined Hezbollah as a terrorist group and while less favorable to Israel than its predecessor remains on good terms with Israel. Yet shocking slanders appear about Israel in the mainstream Dutch media.

To cite just one example, on March 17, 2010, NRC Handelsblad, Holland’s most prestigious newspaper, published a front-page article claiming the “Israel lobby” was threatening to defeat President Barack Obama’s health plan to blackmail him regarding his Israel policy. While statements on other matters by Israel’s government are evaluated in a cynical way, the basis for this story was a single left-wing blogger.

An observer who wants to avoid exaggerating the problem warns about: “A rising tide of anti-Semitism that the top level is unwilling to address out of a fear of being labeled a racist or out of a fear of losing the all-important Muslim vote,” which is vital for the Left in elections. There is no effective opposition in the political sphere. The center dithers; some on the right speak out but do nothing effective.

A Dutch person involved in inter-communal work adds: “I know many upstanding young Muslims who are as appalled by anti-Semitism,” and these voices should not be forgotten. It should also be remembered that there have been attacks on mosques over the years. In contrast, though, a moderate left politician described in great detail how her family was forced to leave their neighborhood by verbal and at times violent harassment by Muslim youths there.

Democracy is Not the Answer

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

To understand how we got to the point that spending hundreds of millions of dollars to support a government run by people who have been at war with us for almost a century is a policy that most foreign policy experts endorse, it helps to take a brief trip back in time.

In the last century, our big three wars, the two we fought and the one we didn’t, were against enemies who were seen as being distinguished by a lack of democracy, with the Kaiser, the Fuhrer and the Commissar embodying the antithesis of the American system.

The Democratic Party, which stood at the helm during both hot wars, was able to link its brand to the wars by defining them as struggles for democracy. The process of de-nationalizing war from a conflict between nations and ethnic groups was only partly realized in WWI, where invective against the “Huns” still simmered, but was largely achieved in WWII; with some exceptions made for Japan.

This idealization of war made post-war reconstruction and alliance easier. National and ethnic grudges were set aside and replaced by ideological platforms. If the trouble was a lack of democracy, then all we needed to do was defeat the tyrant’s armies, inject democracy and stand back. Focusing on democracy made it possible to rebuild Germany and Japan as quasi-pacifist entities expressing their grievances toward the Allies from the pacifistic stance of the moral high ground, rather than  through  military rearmament and revenge.

The United States had traded Hitler for Gunter Grass and while both hated the United States, Gunter Grass would write nasty essays about it, instead of declaring war on it.

And democracy made it easier to turn liberals against the Soviet Union, which had tossed aside every pretense of being a bottom-up system for what was clearly a top-down tyranny. The liberals who had believed in a war for democracy in Europe had difficulty tossing it aside after the war was over. And that emphasis on democracy helped make a national defense coalition between conservatives and liberals possible. Both might have fundamental disagreements, but they agreed that democracy was better than tyranny. And if that was true, then America was better than the USSR.

This strategy was effective enough against existing totalitarian systems. It however had a major weakness. It could not account for keeping a totalitarian ideology from taking power through the ballot box.

The assumption that because the Nazis and the Communists rejected open elections that they could not win open elections was wrong. Democracy of that kind is populism and totalitarian movements can be quite popular. The Nazis did fairly well in the 1932 elections and the radical left gobbled up much of the Russian First Duma. The modern Russian Communist Party is the second largest party in the Duma today.

Democratic elections do not necessarily lead to democratic outcomes, but the linkage of democracy to progress made that hard to see. The assumption that democracy is progressive and leads to more progress had been adopted even by many conservatives. That fixed notion of history led to trouble in Latin America and Asia. And it led to total disaster in the Arab Spring.

Cold War America knew better than to endorse universal democracy. Open elections everywhere would have given the Soviet Union more allies than the United States. The left attacked Eisenhower and Kennedy as hypocrites, but both men were correct in understanding that there was no virtue in overthrowing an authoritarian government only to replace it with an even more authoritarian government; whether through violence or the ballot box.

As time went on, Americans were assailed with two interrelated arguments. The left warned that the denial of democracy was fueling Third World rage against the United States. By supporting tyrants, we were conducting an occupation by proxy. And on the right we heard that tyranny was warping Third World societies into malignant forms. The left’s version of the argument directed more blame at America, but both versions of the argument treated democracy as a cure for hostility.

September 11 appeared to confirm one or both of the arguments as policymakers and pundits found themselves confronted with an unexpected wave of hostility from countries that they had not spent much time thinking about.

The German Women Who Stood Up to the Nazis

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

This year marks the seventieth anniversary of a remarkable public protest by ordinary German women against the Nazi regime.

From February 27 to March 6, 1943, a group of unorganized German women went into the streets of downtown Berlin, within a few city blocks of the most feared centers of Nazi power, to protest for the release of their Jewish husbands, who had just been arrested by the Gestapo. Daily giving voice to their collective demand – “give us our husbands back” – first softly, then with increasing urgency, they succeeded in achieving their goal.

For these German women, the brutal Nazi state had lost all legitimacy. Like very few others, they were willing to express this publicly, on the streets, for all to see. For decades, their story was largely absent from histories of Nazi Germany. Their story challenges the comforting, generally accepted narrative that opposition was honorable but always futile. This year’s anniversary is an opportunity to focus deserved attention on these women’s brave action – and its implications for resistance more broadly.

On February 27, 1943, as part of the Nazi plan to remove the last remaining Jews from German soil, the Gestapo arrested some 2,000 Berlin Jews who had not yet been deported because they were married to non-Jews. In response, hundreds of women – wives of those arrested – pushed their way onto the street in front of Rosenstrasse 2-4, an office of the Jewish community where these arrested Jews were being held, and began to protest.

SS men as well as policemen guarded the single entrance. Over the course of the following week the Gestapo repeatedly threatened to shoot the protesters in the street, causing them to scatter briefly before resuming their collective cry of “give us our husbands back.”

Decades later, I interviewed one of these women, Elsa Holzer, who remembered arriving on the street in search of her husband. “I thought,” she said, “I would be alone there the first time I went to the Rosenstrasse…. I didn’t necessarily think it would do any good, but I had to go see what was going on…. If you had to calculate whether you would do any good by protesting, you wouldn’t have gone. But we wanted to show that we weren’t willing to let them [our husbands] go. I went to Rosenstrasse every day, before work. And there was always a flood of people there. It wasn’t organized, or instigated. Everyone was simply there. Exactly like me. That’s what is so wonderful about it.”

During the same week of this protest, some 7,000 of the last Jews in Berlin were sent to Auschwitz. On Rosenstrasse, however, the regime hesitated; almost all of those held there were released on March 6. Even intermarried Jews who had also been sent to Auschwitz and put in work camps were returned to Germany.

Surprising as it might seem, these events on closer examination fit with the treacherous strategies of the Nazi regime for domestic control. The Rosenstrasse protest occurred as many Germans were tempted to doubt Hitler’s leadership following Germany’s debacle in the Battle of Stalingrad. As he elaborated in Mein Kampf, Hitler believed that popular support comprised the primary pillar of his authority among the German “racial” people, and his dictatorship throughout strove to maintain this basis of his power. To end this protest, the regime released the intermarried Jews, furthering, for that moment, Hitler’s goal of quelling any appearance of dissention.

The murderous Nazi regime also appeased other public protests. On October 11, 1943, on Adolf Hitler Square in the city of Witten, some three hundred women protested against the official decision to withhold their food ration cards until they evacuated their homes as part of Nazi policy to protect civilians from bombing raids. The following day Germans in Lünen, Hamm and Bochum also protested on the streets for the same reason.

In response, Hitler ordered all regional authorities not to withhold ration cards as a method of forcing civilians to evacuate their homes. This was followed by further orders by Nazi officials to refrain from “coercive measures” against evacuees who had returned. In his cold calculations, Hitler chose not to draw further attention to public protest, judging it the best way to protect his authority – and the appearance, promoted by his propaganda machine, that all Germans stood united behind him.

A Holocaust Pageant that Was too ‘Political’ for FDR

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Seventy years ago this week, 40,000 New Yorkers watched as Jewish activists and Hollywood celebrities joined hands to bring news of the Holocaust to the vaunted stage of Madison Square Garden. But a requested message of greeting from President Franklin D. Roosevelt never arrived, because the White House decided the mass murder of the Jews was too “political” to touch.

In January 1943, a Gallup poll asked Americans, “It is said that two million Jews have been killed in Europe since the war began. Do you think this is true or just a rumor?” Although the Allied leadership had publicly confirmed that two million Jews had been murdered, the poll found only 47 percent believed it was true, while 29 percent dismissed it as a rumor; the remaining 24 percent had no opinion.

The failure of the news media to treat the Nazi genocide as a serious issue contributed to the public’s skepticism. To some extent, editors were following the lead of the Roosevelt administration, which, after issuing a condemnation of the mass murder, made no effort to publicize the tragedy or aid Jewish refugees.

Ben Hecht, the newspaper columnist and Academy Award-winning screenwriter, responded in the way he knew best: he picked up his pen and began to write.

With his outsized dramatic sense in high gear, Hecht authored a full-scale pageant called “We Will Never Die.” On a stage featuring forty-foot-high tablets of the Ten Commandments, it would survey Jewish contributions to civilization throughout history, describe the Nazi slaughter of the Jews, and culminate in an emotional recitation of Kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayer for the dead, by a group of elderly rabbis.

“Will it save the four million [Jews still alive in Europe]?” Hecht wrote on the eve of the opening. “I don’t know. Maybe we can awaken some of the vacationing hearts in our government.”

Hecht was involved with a small group of Jewish activists led by Hillel Kook, a Zionist emissary from Palestine who operated under the pseudonym Peter Bergson. The Bergson Group booked Madison Square Garden for the evening of March 9 and set about trying to convince the established Jewish organizations to cosponsor “We Will Never Die.”

Bergson’s well-meaning attempt at Jewish unity flopped. A meeting of representatives of several dozen Jewish groups, hosted by Hecht, deteriorated into shouting matches. It was an example of what the historian Henry Feingold has described as the sad tendency of some Jewish organizations to “allow themselves the luxury of fiddling while Jews burned.”

Hecht succeeded, however, in persuading some of Hollywood’s most prominent Jews to volunteer their services. Actors Edward G. Robinson, Paul Muni, Sylvia Sydney and Stella Adler assumed the lead roles; Kurt Weill composed an original score; Moss Hart agreed to serve as director, and famed impresario Billy Rose signed on as producer.

It was Rose who decided to approach Roosevelt. Through White House adviser David Niles, Rose asked the president for a “brief message” that could be read aloud at the pageant. Nothing bold or controversial, of course – something that would say “only that the Jews of Europe will be remembered when the time comes to make the peace.”

Rose assured the White House, “There is no political color to our Memorial Service.”

But apparently even the very mention of the Jews was “political” in the eyes of official Washington. White House aides warned the president that sending the requested message would be “a mistake.” Despite Rose’s assurance, “it is a fact that such a message would raise a political question,” Henry Pringle of the Office of War Information advised.

What Pringle meant was that publicizing the slaughter could raise the “political question” of how America was going to respond to the Nazi genocide. And since Roosevelt had decided the U.S. was not going to take any specific steps to aid the Jews, raising that question would be embarrassing. Hence Rose was informed that the “stress and pressure” of the president’s schedule made it impossible for FDR to provide the few words of comfort and consolation the Bergson Group sought.

None of this deterred the irrepressible Ben Hecht and his comrades from making sure the show would go on. More than 20,000 people jammed Madison Square Garden on the frigid evening of March 9. Since there were so many people gathered on the sidewalks outside who were unable to enter the packed hall, the cast decided to do a second performance immediately after the first. The second show, too, filled the Garden.

Seventy Years Later, White Rose Anti-Nazi Resistance Still Resonates

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Though Sophie Scholl and the students of the White Rose resistance were executed by the Nazis seventy years ago last month, the example they set of courage in the face of authoritarian repression is as relevant today as it was seven decades ago.

Their crime: Daring to rouse the consciousness of their countrymen in the face of Nazi Germany’s destruction of all civil rights and its mass murder of European Jews.

In 1933, when Sophie was twelve and her brother, Hans, was fifteen, the Scholl siblings rejected their Lutheran upbringing and their parents’ Christian humanism and instead embraced Hitler’s philosophy of racial superiority, becoming leaders in the Hitler Youth.

But when Hans was arrested and convicted in 1938 for a same-sex relationship he had had three years earlier, when he was sixteen, their admiration for Hitler quickly ended. Gradually they became activists against the Nazi cause. By 1942, the siblings were engaging in daring forms of nonviolent resistance.

Newborn-030113In May 1942, they dubbed themselves the White Rose and joined with a handful of friends at the University of Munich to produce what became a staccato burst of six impassioned anti-Nazi leaflets. Reproducing thousands in their secret headquarters over a nine-month period – ages before the push-button efficiency of the Internet – they made dangerous train trips to distribute the leaflets throughout Germany. They mailed them to sixteen cities – Stuttgart, Vienna, Frankfurt, Berlin and Hamburg among them – in a bid to mislead the Gestapo into thinking theirs was a broad-based movement and not just a handful of students.

“Since the beginning of the war,” they declared in their second leaflet in June 1942, “300,000 Jews have been murdered in the most bestial manner. This is a crime unparalleled in human history – a crime against the dignity of Man. But why do we tell you these things when you already know them? Everyone wants to be exonerated, but you cannot be, because everyone is guilty, guilty, guilty.”

In their fourth leaflet, they wrote: “We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!”

On Feb. 18, 1943, Sophie and Hans climbed a high gallery at the University of Munich’s vast atrium. From there they scattered hundreds of their sixth leaflet down upon the heads of astonished students below in what was called the only public protest by Germans against Nazism ever to be staged.

Spotted almost immediately, they were arrested by the Gestapo and subjected to grueling interrogation. Sophie, Hans and their comrade Christoph Probst were tried in a show trial in Munich by Hitler’s “hanging judge,” Roland Freisler. They were condemned to death. Just four days after their arrest, the three were beheaded by guillotine. Hans was twenty-four, Sophie twenty-one.

But their message lived on. Their last leaflet, smuggled out to the West, was dropped by the tons over Germany. Nobel laureate Thomas Mann broadcast back to Germany from American exile, praising the “splendid young people” who “at the time when Germany and Europe were still enveloped in the dark of night, knew and publicly declared” the ugly truth about Nazism in an attempt to bring about the “dawning” of a “new faith in freedom and honor.”

Today, the White Rose students are icons in Germany. In a nationwide TV competition to choose the top ten most important Germans of all time, German voters chose Sophie and Hans Scholl for fourth place – beating out Goethe, Gutenberg, Bach, Bismarck, Willy Brandt and Albert Einstein.

A German film, “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days,” was nominated for an Academy Award in 2006, the same time that “Sophie Scholl and the White Rose” was published. Its Hebrew edition just appeared in Israel in time for the seventieth anniversary of their extraordinary protest and executions.

Despite all this, the story of the White Rose resistance remains barely known by the general public outside Germany.

But heroism like theirs is being replicated in countries around the world. There is Malala Yousafazai, the now-thirteen-year-old Pakistani children’s rights activist who was shot in the head by the Taliban last October and now says she’s ready to fight on. There are Chinese dissidents like Liu Xiaobo, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2010 but is languishing in a Chinese prison.

Ed Koch and New York’s Fighting Generation

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

The last sentence on Ed Koch’s tombstone reads: “Above all, he loved his country, the United States of America, in whose armed forces he served in World War II.”

The preceding two lines engraved on the headstone of the former New York City mayor, who died on February 1 at the age of 88, declare that “He was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith. He fiercely defended the City of New York, and he fiercely loved its people.” The stone also includes the first line of the Shema in Hebrew and English.

Unfortunately, the Koch obituaries in New York City’s three major daily newspapers devoted just one or two flimsy sentences to his pivotal wartime experiences (1943-46), and none even mentioned that he fought in the outstanding 104th (Timberwolf) Infantry Division for a month in the fall of 1944.

Additionally, at his funeral at Temple Emanu-El on February 4, none of the eulogists, who included former president Bill Clinton, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Israeli consul general in New York Ido Aharoni, discussed Mayor Koch’s World War II service. Only Koch’s law partner, James F. Gill, said in passing that Koch served “as a soldier in World War II.”

Ironically, an “appreciation” of Koch in the Forward by Jonathan Soffer, a history professor and author of Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City, erroneously stated that he “joined the 104th Infantry Division, and fought against the Wehrmacht in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany in the spring of 1944.”

In reality, the only fighting in the “spring of 1944” in northwest Europe occurred during the season’s last two weeks beginning on D-Day, June 6, 1944, when the Americans, British and Canadians stormed ashore in Normandy.

But the Allies were then bottled up in northern Normandy until the last week of July 1944, when the American-led breakout (Operation Cobra) occurred, and the Second, Third, Fourth and Sixth Armored divisions swept down the Cotentin Peninsula and demolished the entire left flank of the Wehrmacht’s defenses. By early September, in conjunction with the Franco-American invasion of the French Rivera on August 15, 1944, the American-dominated Allied armies had liberated most of France.

Ed Koch’s 104th Infantry Division, commanded by the highly competent General Terry de la Mesa Allen, first entered combat in late October 1944, when it was assigned to the Canadian First Army. In Citizen Koch, a 1992 autobiography, Koch provides a brief and confusing account of his combat record, writing that his “frontline duty was curtailed after about three months by another accident.”

But since the 104th Infantry Division entered combat on October 23, 1944, and since Koch said his “combat duty” ended in November 1944, he could not have been on the frontlines for more than five weeks. It’s important to realize, however, that many 15,000-soldier American infantry divisions suffered severe casualty rates in their battles with the highly skilled Wehrmacht in northwest and central Europe between June 6, 1944 and May 8, 1945. The website of the 104th Infantry Division’s Veterans Association states that 34,000 men served in this division, which means it had 19,000 replacement soldiers.

The commanding officer of the Timberwolves, General de la Mesa Allen, was even more intense than General George Patton, his superior officer in North Africa and Sicily. In these campaigns between November 1942 and August 1943, Allen ably led the fabled First Infantry Division, and his assistant division commander was Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who would win the Medal of Honor for his uncommon bravery and competence with the Fourth Infantry Division on Utah Beach on D-Day.

A month after D-Day, General Roosevelt, son of the 26th president, died of a heart attack and is buried in the Omaha Beach Cemetery next to his brother Quentin Roosevelt, who was killed twenty-six years earlier flying for the U.S. Army Air Service in World War I. Another great New York City mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, also flew in General John J. Pershing’s Air Service in World War I. (My maternal grandfather, David Schneiderman, and his brother Reuben, born on the Lower East Side in 1892 and 1894, respectively, were among the 250,000 Jewish Americans who served honorably in World War I.)

The Koch obituaries in the major New York dailies also omitted the fact that on April 11, 1945, the Timberwolves and their brother division, the sterling Third Armored Division, liberated the notorious Nordhausen/Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp, where the Nazis built the V-1 and V -2 rockets that wreaked such human and physical devastation on London in 1944 and 1945.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/ed-koch-and-new-yorks-fighting-generation/2013/02/13/

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