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April 27, 2015 / 8 Iyar, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

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.

A Story of Three Friends

Monday, January 28th, 2013

I am a survivor of the Holocaust. Of the several concentration camps which I lived through, in one in Germany, I became close to two Slovak boys around my age named Artur and Miki. The three of us shared the same fate right through the end of the infamous twelve-day “Sachsenhausen Hunger March” and were liberated together near the town of Schwerin in northern Germany, on May 2, 1945.

I now live in New York City. In November, 2012, I published my memoir, “MEMORIES OF EVIL,” where I described parting with Artur in Schwerin.

“Schwerin was a beehive of activity: ex-prisoners and American soldiers were swarming about. The Americans directed us to a former German army compound for food and lodging. As we passed the town park we came across some adult ex-prisoners I knew. They busied themselves setting up a campsite and cooking sausages. They invited me and my friends Miki and Artur to stay with them. Artur declined and decided to go on, but to Miki and me an army compound had the odor of a concentration camp about it and so we gladly accepted the invitation.

So, how did Artur and I part? We had been together through so much: in Heinkel, sleeping on the concrete floor, we used our breath and bodies to warm each other; we were together in all the small Jugendliche (juveniles) groups of the camps that followed; we shared our first Red Cross food package; we shared our “bed” on the forest ground of the last night of the Hunger March; and we had recently shared our first meal of freedom – a surfeit of delicious boiled new potatoes.

So, here is the question: what did we say to each other? And here is the answer: nothing. He left, I stayed.

We were not insensitive. We were simply emotionally dead. My entire concentration camp ordeal had felt surreal to me and thus Artur and Miki were equally unreal. Artur and I parted and we never saw each other again.

Fast forward 67 years. In early July, 2012, I received a phone call from a woman speaking with a strong Israeli accent:

“This is Ruthi Paz, I am calling from Israel and my father (she pronounced it fazzer) thinks he knew you a long time ago in Germany.”

“Well, I don’t come from Germany, I come from Slovakia, but I was in Germany in concentration camps during the Second World War.”

“Well, so was my fazzer. His name is Yitzchak Ringwald, but his original name in Slovakia was Artur.”

Yitzchak/Artur gets on the phone line. His language is Hebrew, which I don’t speak, and my language obviously is English, which he does not speak. So, we have an emotional conversation in Slovak, our native language which neither of us had much occasion to use over the past decades. Speaking it is a struggle for both of us. It turns out that it was his grandson who discovered me on the Internet. The grandson also discovered a reference to my 2006 memoir “1000:1 ODDS.” I promise Artur to mail him a copy.

The other problem is that Artur does not use a computer or the Internet. So, I exchange several e-mails with his daughter, Ruthi. We communicate our mutual feelings of excitement over the recent turn of events; she gives me their exact address in Haifa. I airmail Artur a copy of my book. He phones me again some ten days later to thank me for it. He, of course, is unable to read it and his children are attempting to translate it via Google Translator.

There is more to the story.

In our second phone conversation Artur tells me that our mutual friend Miki also lives in Haifa. It takes till September before I receive a phone call from Miki. He had kept is original name; his last name is Brand. Miki and I had stayed together until our repatriation to Prague and he got to meet my mother after I ran into her on a Prague street.

He, too, neither speaks English, nor is he capable of using the Internet. He finally mails me a letter in Slovak, with copies of some old post-War photos of himself, one of me from my home town of Trencin after the War, and a couple of recent photos of me which his grandson discovered on the Internet. We exchange further correspondence by mail, in Slovak. I find this language easier to write than to speak since I can do so with a dictionary next to my computer. My last letter is dated November, by which time my new memoir, “Memories of Evil” has been published; I mail him a copy, trusting his grandson will be able to attempt a translation.

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.

Hungarian Jews to Russia: Give Us Back Our Looted Torahs

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Hungarian Jewry is asking the government of Russia to release between 300 and 400 Torah scrolls, covers, crowns, pointers, and other objects seized by the Nazis during World War II and then appropriated by the Red Army.

Many of the items were taken from the Hungarian National Bank, where they were being safe kept as their owners were being murdered in concentration camps and ghettos across Europe.

Some 600,000 Hungarian Jews –one out of every ten of Hitler’s Jewish victims – were murdered by the Nazis during the war.  Approximately 100,000 Jews live in the country today, including 8,000 Holocaust survivors.

The religious artifacts are just some of the items Russia is being asked to restore to its rightful owners, including art and other valuables.

Some holy scrolls have already been released to Hungary’s State Historical Museum.  A catalog of items compiled by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany lists 344 scrolls which have been returned by Russia’s Special Archive.

It’s My Opinion: Precautions

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

A dear friend recently shared a family story. Her grandfather had come to America before World War II to test the prospects of relocating his family in the new country.

Before grandfather left Hungary, he had heard whispers of what was happening in Europe. He assumed the stories were exaggerated. The accounts were hard to accept. After all, it was the 20th century in a civilized world. What kind of delirium was this?

Grandfather knew there was always some vestige of anti-Semitism floating around, but he felt that the most recent wave would pass. He could not believe there was any grave danger.

It is human nature for decent people to have trouble accepting the existence of indecent evil. Ugly reality is often met with denial. It just doesn’t seem possible.

Life in America had many unexpected trials and difficulties. The streets were not paved with gold. Grandfather returned home. He and nearly all of his family perished in the Holocaust.

Anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incidents continue to take place throughout the world. What else is new? We hope this wave will pass.

The Jewish community is now preparing to celebrate the new year and high holiday season. There will be large groupings of Jews, gathered together and potentially vulnerable, attending services in synagogues.

My dear Jewish brothers and sisters, what are the security precautions in your synagogues and neighborhoods? What safeguards are in place in your children’s schools and yeshivot? Does your family have a plan in case of emergency?

It is forbidden to rely on miracles. We have an obligation to visit the doctor, take medicine, drive with care, look before we cross and certainly to take measures in order to ensure security.

It is difficult to wrap our heads around the idea that there could be danger lurking. Yet every life is valuable and even a small incident can be devastating to those who are involved.

Pay attention. Take preventive measures. Have a contingency plan, and then sit back and have beautiful and safe yom tovim. Shanah tovah!

How the Holocaust Never Happened in Rumania

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

The virus of antisemitism is alive and well in Eastern Europe, and so is the denial of the Holocaust. It is particularly disconcerting that a younger generation in Rumania, and more than likely everywhere else in the world, should be infected with this virus, and is — or claims to be — ignorant of the real treatment of Jews in the 20th century.

Dan Sova, a 39 year old Rumanian lawyer and Social Democrat, who has been a Senator in the Parliament since 2008, was promoted to the position of Minister for Parliamentary Relations by the Prime Minister Victor Ponta on August 6 after saying on a television broadcast on March 5, that “no Jew suffered on Rumanian territory (during the Holocaust) thanks to Marshal Antonescu.” Two days later Sova was removed “temporarily” from office as speaker of his political party. He has also said that “only 24 Jews were killed during the Iasi pogrom (of June 28-29, 1941) by the German army.”

Both statements by Sova were false and malicious. Ion Antonescu, the pro-Nazi dictator of Rumania during World War II was “leader of the state,” prime minister, foreign minister, defense minister, and self-appointed Marshal. He joined the Tripartite Pact of Germany, Italy, and Japan against the Allies in November 1940, two months after it had been signed. He also established close personal contact with Hitler. It was Antonescu who on June 27, 1941, ordered the commander of the military garrison of the town of Iasi, in northeast Rumania, to “cleanse” the city of its Jewish population. The action was not instigated by the Nazis but by the Rumanian authorities and the Rumanian army on their own initiative.

It is estimated that during the two days of the pogrom in Iasi, between 13,000 and 15,000 Jews were massacred in the streets or else died in the death trains on which 100 Jews were herded into each boxcar; most died of thirst, starvation, or suffocation. The actions of the Rumanian regime in the Holocaust led to the deaths, not of 24 Jews, but a number estimated to be between 280,000 and 380,000 Rumanian Jews — most likely the larger number, in the territories under its control.

It was not Nazi policy that triggered the massacre of Jews but the Rumanian government itself — with the enthusiastic participation of the military, and the endorsement of the broader society, similar to the better-known participation of the French Vichy regime and French authorities during the war.

In the period after World War II, from 1945 to 1989, Rumania was under Communist control, first by the Soviet Union and then as an independent country; information about the country’s actions during the war was largely suppressed. Few Rumanians were aware of the involvement of their country during the Holocaust. Perhaps the kindest thing to be said of Dan Sova is that his schooling did not include any information about the Holocaust.

It is difficult, however, to believe that a young lawyer educated at the University of Bucharest could be so ignorant. When criticism arose of his promotion on August 6, four days later he confessed that his remarks on the Holocaust were “completely wrong.” It would be nice to take at face value his plans to take concrete actions on the matter, one of which will be a course of lectures on the Holocaust.

No matter the degree of sincerity in Sova’s apologies and regrets, a few lessons could be drawn from his case: there is a critical need to keep on discrediting Holocaust deniers, ranging from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran to Ernst Zundel, a German who lived in Canada. Education, especially of the young, about the Holocaust is urgent and essential to put an end to the falsehoods of distortions of history by individuals such as David Irving in Britain, Robert Faurisson in France or Louis Farrakhan in the U.S. Both the young and the old should continue to be informed of the assertions of the deniers — the allegations that the Diary of Anne Frank was a hoax because parts of it were written with a ball point pen, or that Auschwitz was too small to have been an extermination camp — to be able to refute them.

Luncheon Honors Wallenberg And L.A. Residents

Friday, July 27th, 2012

Both houses of Congress unanimously passed bills awarding World War II hero, Raoul Wallenberg, with the country’s highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, in recognition of his heroism in saving 100,000 Jews during the waning days of the Holocaust. The legislation is expected to be signed by President Barack Obama shortly.

(L-R, standing) Ben Hoffman, board member (Lakewood); Jonathan Zalisky, Healthplus Amerigroup; Stanley Treitel, board member (LA); Leon Goldenberg, board member; Abe Biderman, board member; Senator Johnny Isakson; The Honorable Emil Fish, honoree; Ezra Friedlander, CEO Friedlander Group; Andrew Friedman, esq., luncheon co-chairman/LA fire commissioner. (L-R, sitting) Sidney Greenberger, Ken Abramowitz, Peter Rebenwurzel, board members.

Attorney Andrew Friedman of Los Angeles was co-chairman of a congressional luncheon held on Capitol Hill on July 12, honoring Los Angeles residents Andrew Stevens, Stanley Treitel and Emil Fish. The luncheon featured Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who introduced the legislation, Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA-Jr.), Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT-Sr.), Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR-Sr.), Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI-Sr.), Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-08) and other members of Congress.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/community/west-coast-happenings/luncheon-honors-wallenberg-and-l-a-residents/2012/07/27/

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