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October 31, 2014 / 7 Heshvan, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

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.

Stolen Valor: Democrats’ Holocaust Distortions

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

While the Supreme Court recently invalidated the Stolen Valor Act, which imposed criminal penalties on Americans who falsely claim medals for combat bravery, prominent Democrats – including Jesse Jackson, Charles Rangel, Robert Morgenthau and Eric Holder – have repeatedly distorted World War II and Holocaust history for purposes of ethnic politics.

This sordid affair began in 1978 when Jimmy Carter established the President’s Commission on the Holocaust, chaired by Auschwitz and Buchenwald survivor Elie Wiesel, to recommend a suitable national memorial for the 6 million Jewish and 5 million other victims of the worst genocide in history.

But as historian Edward Linenthal points out in Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust Museum, Carter was also using – or misusing – Holocaust remembrance to “reach out to an increasingly alienated ethnic constituency.”

In October 1980, one month before Carter’s crushing defeat by Republican Ronald Reagan, a Democratic-controlled Congress adopted the commission’s main recommendations to create a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, whose members are appointed by the president and Congressional leaders, and to build a national Holocaust museum. In the November election, Carter received 45 percent of the Jewish vote, a sharp drop from the 65 percent he won in 1976.

The first major event sponsored by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council and chairman Wiesel was a 1981 International Liberators Conference at State Department headquarters. Though it occurred during the first year of Reagan’s presidency, the conference was planned by Wiesel and other Carter appointees, who in the summer of 1979 traveled to Europe and met liberators from the Soviet Union and other World War II allies.

At that event, Leon Bass, an African-American veteran and a member of the official U.S. delegation, was presented to national and international audiences as a liberator of Buchenwald (which, with 21,000 prisoners, was the first large concentration camp freed on the Western Front).

A front-page article in The Washington Post of October 28, 1981 mischaracterized Bass as a “high school principal from Philadelphia who liberated Buchenwald with an all-black unit.”

Another veteran of the 183rd Combat Engineers Battalion at the conference was William Scott III, who likely was acquainted with President Carter, the former governor of Georgia, as Scott was a top executive at the family-owned Atlanta Daily World, the South’s most influential black newspaper. In reality, the “heroism” of Bass and Scott consisted of a tour of Buchenwald on April 17, 1945, six days after liberation, during which Scott took some photographs.

* * *

On the 40th anniversary of the liberation of the Western concentration camps, Elie Wiesel and Leon Bass again propagated the myth of the African-American liberators of Buchenwald in a New York Times “news” article on April 14, 1985, “For Survivors and Liberators: A Commemoration.”

Ironically, Wiesel, in his classic Holocaust memoir Night, first published in English in 1960, doesn’t mention black liberators, but his book does conclude with a story concocted by East German Communist leaders, many of whom were Buchenwald survivors, that the camp’s prisoners liberated themselves in an armed uprising before the arrival of American soldiers on April 11, 1945.

From 1950 until 1990, the former concentration camp was controlled by East Germany, whose leaders employed it as a nationalistic indoctrination center. On the same day the Wiesel/Bass article appeared, the Times also published a front-page article, “At Buchenwald, Ceremony of Bitter Memory,” that repeated the Communists’ “self-liberation” fabrication.

* * *

During the 1988 Democratic presidential primaries, Jesse Jackson enlarged the myth of black liberators to include Buchenwald and Dachau. A Jackson campaign speech on Memorial Day in Jersey City was dutifully reported in The New York Times on May 31, 1988:

“Placing the wreath on a statue called ‘Liberation,’ which depicts an American soldier carrying a survivor of the Holocaust, Mr. Jackson said that the first American soldiers to liberate Dachau and Buchenwald were black men who served in the United States Army Corps of Engineers.”

Jackson also falsely identified Paul Parks, a close associate and appointee of the eventual Democratic presidential nominee, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, as an African-American Dachau liberator.

* * *

On November 9, 1992, New York City Mayor David Dinkins was the keynote speaker at the Lincoln Center world premiere of PBS’s soon-to-be notorious “Liberators: Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II,” which further expanded the “black engineers liberated Buchenwald and Dachau” myth to include the 761st Tank Battalion.

A Jewish American Warrior

Friday, July 6th, 2012

Fighting during World War II took on special significance for U. S. Jewish servicemen and women in the 1940′s. They understood that they were fighting a double war – one against the Axis of Evil, and one against blatant world anti-semitism. As Americans, they fought to protect their country, and as Jews they fought to protect their brethren suffering Nazi persecution. According to the Department of Defense, Jews made up 4.3% of the armed forces, while they were only about 3% of the overall population. Some 550,000 American Jews fought during World Ware II; 11,000 of them were killed and 40,000 wounded. They were an integral part of the Allied war effort.

The Jewish Press has been privileged to have one of those former servicemen on its staff for many years. Arthur Federman, our controller, was a member of the 103rd infantry division. The following is his story.

Ita Yankovich: Tell me about your background.

Arthur Federman: I was born in Manhattan, on the Lower East Side in 1922. My parents were both Polish immigrants. My father came in here 1912, when he was 14 and my mother came from Warsaw as an infant in 1900.

As with many of the apartments on the Lower East Side, we had no central hot water or central heat. (We had a coal stove – but rarely had coal!) We had no electricity, but we had a gas pipe hanging from the kitchen ceiling that we used for light. We had no bathroom. There was a toilet in the hallway of the building that all four families used. When it was time to take a bath, we would go to the public bath house on Rivington or Allen Street.

Around 1932 my family moved to the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. This was during the Great Depression. A few years later we were lucky enough to move into a public housing development in Red Hook – there we had hot running water and central heat.

There were no shuls in Red Hook then, so my father rented a store on Columbia Street, and with the help of a few neighbors, started a shul which was in use seven days a week. This was the focal point in building the Jewish community there. I am reminded of an amusing incident that occurred soon after the shul opened. One Monday morning a young man walked into the shul. When it was time to layn, my father who was the gabbi, asked this fellow if he was a Kohen or a Levi, he answered, “No, I’m a plumber’s helper.”

Were you afraid to be drafted?

No, I wanted to go. I felt it was my duty. In fact, when I got the draft notice and went down for the physical, the military wouldn’t accept me because I had a hernia. Unbeknownst to my parents, I went to Bellvue Hospital and had surgery so I could enlist.

You and your wife married while you were in the service. How did you meet?

I was first stationed in Fort Bragg in North Carolina. We were then shipped overseas, and landed in Liverpool, England. There was a shul there which posted lists of homes where soldiers could eat a Friday night meal; I went to eat at the Simpson home. The rest as they say is history. I met my lovely wife Anita. We have been happily married for 67 years and are great-grandparents to 22 great-grandchildren.

What was it like being a Jew in the Army?

Life changed for me dramatically, especially during basic training. There was no Shabbos or Yom Tov. Food was a big issue. Kashrus certification was not even a dream, and so for the three years that I was in the Army I survived on a more or less vegetarian diet.

103rd Infantry Division

When we got overseas we were always on the move, either going forward or retreating. We had no barracks or shelter. When we could rest, we slept on the ground in the snow or mud or in a ditch along the road. Regular meals did not exist. Being on the move all the time, we ate when and where we could. The meals consisted of C rations or K rations, which we carried with us. These C and K ration packets contained a variety of items, such as biscuits, cereal, chocolate peanut butter bar, dehydrated soup, hard candy, gum, cigarettes and Spam (a canned pork product) which I always traded for other goodies. Occasionally we got some hot cereal, powdered eggs, and hot coffee from the mess truck, but this did not happen too often.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/potpourri/a-jewish-american-warrior/2012/07/06/

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