‘Like a mitzvah’: Italian conductor brings to life music composed in the camps

Francesco Lotoro spent the last 30 years researching music lost in the Holocaust; now he’s performing it with the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra

Italian conductor Francesco Lotoro rehearses his concert of reconstructed musical compositions created in the concentration camps, April 8, 2018 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

When the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra performs a selection of reconstructed music composed by Holocaust victims next week in Jerusalem, it will feel like the fulfillment of a mitzvah, said Italian conductor Francesco Lotoro, using the Hebrew word for a meritorious act.

“To play this music feels like a reparation for me,” said Lotoro. “Each Jew is said to have a book in them. These victims didn’t get the chance to write their books, but this is their book; it’s a testament to what they would have done.”

It’s been nearly 30 years since Lotoro began a laborious process of researching works of music composed in the concentration camps, delving into the lives and thoughts of the victims who found ways to write lyrics and compose scores.

Lotoro has since discovered 8,000 pieces of music composed by Jews in the concentration and work camps, and has reconstructed some 400 of them. He has published a set of 24 discs called the “Encyclopedia of Music Composed in Concentration Camps.”

On Sunday, Lotoro arrived in Ashdod’s Yad Labanim auditorium for a morning of rehearsals for “Notes of Hope,” the upcoming April 15 concert featuring the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra.

The project is spearheaded by the Jewish National Fund in the United Kingdom, with the goal of celebrating Israel’s 70th and raising awareness of increasing levels of global anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

The British non-profit also funds two music schools in Israel’s south, and some of those young musicians will be performing alongside the more senior members of the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra.

Francesco Lotoro, the Italian conductor and pianist, who has spent 30 years researching music composed in the concentration camps (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

During Sunday’s morning rehearsal, Lotoro was busy working with the musicians, introducing pieces to the orchestra with a brief bio of the composer. He sprang into action with each composition, waving his hands and muttering the tune or words, if there were any, sotto voce.

The pieces vary widely in sound and genre. There are classical works heavy on violins and cello, joyous, big-band scores full of horns and the sounds of ragtime, and a piercing, emotional work of Greek music.

For the sparse audience at the rehearsal, there was a sense of wonder in imagining what it must have been like for the camp inmates who composed these works while undergoing Nazi torture. Yet for the musicians, it was the usual cacophony of perfecting sounds and handling logistics.

A pair of preteen violinists approached Lotoro about where they were sitting, while an accordion player wanted to be sure he was getting the right sound on one section.

Lotoro is the right person to ask. He reconstructed these compositions based on materials he found, scouring secondhand stores, attic drawers and dusty archives.

“When I would find sheets of music in a museum, okay, it’s there,” he said. “But sometimes survivors or their family would find a song, but no score. One woman had recordings, and I made a master of that and then had to figure out the score.”

Sometimes survivors could remember a piano piece, which Lotoro would then recreate from their humming the tune or singing the lyrics. Sometimes there written pieces that had disintegrated, eaten by insects, or had been written in pencil that had become nearly invisible.

A composer might have written notes quickly and roughly, leaving markings and notes that Lotoro painstakingly transcribed into something akin to a musical score.

In a German labor camp, Ervin Schulhoff, a Jewish Czech communist who loved jazz and ragtime, included three cryptic sets of horizontal markings in a piece of 10 verses he composed. After conferring with another musicologist, Lotoro figured out that the markings stood for Lenin, Stalin and Marx, the three Communist leaders.

One of the discovered works, Rudolf Karel’s ‘Nonet’ scrawled on toilet paper (Courtesy Francesco Lotoro)

“Each one of them had their histories, and their lyrics and scores referenced all of that,” he said. “They couldn’t use their mother tongues in the camps — that was prohibited — and that also altered what they wrote.”

Lotoro’s involvement in this piece of Holocaust history began when, in his work as a pianist and conductor, he happened upon several pieces of music composed by concentration camp victims, exposing him to an area of research that hadn’t been examined closely at that time.

“There was no internet, no iPhones,” he said. “I was curious, and that meant traveling to the cities where these composers had lived, to Prague, to Paris, to Holland.”

His research focused on a period beginning in 1933, when Jews in Germany began experiencing Nazi persecution, and continuing through 1944, when the Germans began to lose World War II.

It wasn’t an obvious area of research for Lotoro, 53, who was raised as an  Italian Catholic in Barletta on the Adriatic coast, a place of maybe “300 Jews,” he said, holding up three fingers.

Yet from the age of 15, Lotoro felt he had a Jewish soul. He had, on his own, begun a process of Jewish study, eventually converting to Judaism in 2004. He later discovered that his great-grandfather was Jewish.

The Holocaust research happened alongside his drawn-out conversion process. Over the last 30 years, Lotoro has spent months on the project, recruiting friends and family as well, traveling to many countries, searching homes and attics, archives and libraries.

“I didn’t do this because I was becoming a Jew,” he said. “As a musicologist, I was interested in the music. But as a Jew, this feels like a mitzvah.”

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/like-a-mitzvah-italian-conductor-brings-to-life-music-composed-in-the-camps/

PA TV presents image of Nazi camp victims as taken from ‘Deir Yassin massacre’

Original picture, photographed right after liberation of Nordhausen, edited to exclude images of corpses in striped uniforms

A doctored image of Jewish Holocaust victims portrayed by Palestinian television in April 2018 as an image of Arab victims of the "Deir Yassin massacre" in 1948 (PMW)

The Palestinian Authority’s official television station misappropriated a photo showing dead bodies at a Nazi concentration camp, presenting them as Arabs killed by Jews in the village of Deir Yassin in 1948.

In an April 9 report on the 70th anniversary of the Deir Yassin events, Palestine TV used an image from the Nazi camp at Nordhausen, originally a subcamp of Buchenwald, to describe what took place at the Arab village in 1948, the Palestinian Media Watch group said Wednesday.

The Palestinians refer to those events as the “Deir Yassin massacre,” a term used repeatedly in the PA TV report. The village was located at the entrance to Jerusalem, where the Givat Shaul neighborhood stands today.

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During the incident, fighters from the Jewish Irgun and Lehi groups entered the town and, in house-to-house fighting, killed many of its residents, including women and children. The death toll is disputed: while the Israeli fighters said they had killed some 254, other counts put that figure at as low as 107.

The original picture, which was taken right after liberation of the concentration camp by the American army, was “carefully distorted” by Palestine TV so that the images of the corpses in the striped uniforms, the American soldiers and the concentration camp buildings were not seen, PMW said.

An image of Jewish Holocaust victims that Palestinian television doctored and presented as an image of Arab victims of the Deir Yassin killings in 1948 (PMW)

The following caption was added by Palestine TV: “When they killed and mutilated the bodies of 250 women, children and elderly residents.” The caption refers to the events at Deir Yassin.

The TV video also included a photo of victims of the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugees camps in Lebanon. Then, hundreds of Palestinians were slaughtered by Christian militiamen. The photo of the Sabra and Shatilla massacre was also misrepresented as showing Arabs killed by Jews in Deir Yassin.

The Palestine TV video also included a photo with the following text printed on the screen: “And [the Jews] burned the women and children in the village’s oven.”

On Thursday, Israel will mark Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, to pay tribute to those who were killed during the Holocaust, including at Nazi concentration camps like Nordhausen.

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/pa-tv-presents-image-of-nazi-camp-victims-as-taken-from-deir-yassin-massacre/?utm_source=The+Times+of+Israel+Daily+Edition&utm_campaign=af0e915820-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_04_12&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_adb46cec92-af0e915820-55812549

Israel solemnly remembers 6 million victims on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Israel solemnly remembers 6 million victims on Holocaust Remembrance Day

In first, Kastner honored at Knesset Holocaust Remembrance Day event

Parliament defends right for Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli, accompanied by mother, to dedicate candle-lighting to her controversial grandfather accused of Nazi-collaboration

Suzi Kastner (C) lights a memorial candle in the Knesset for her father, Israel Rudolf Kastner at the parliament’s official Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony. Her daughter, Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli, is pictured on the right (Knesset spokesperson’s office/Yonatan Sindel)

Six decades after the deeply controversial trials over his negotiations with high-ranking Nazis and his subsequent assassination, Yisrael Rudolf Kastner was honored during the Knesset’s official Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony on Thursday, in the presence of the prime minister, Knesset speaker, opposition leader, and head of the Supreme Court.

Kastner’s daughter, Suzi, and granddaughter, Zionist Union lawmaker Merav Michaeli, lit a candle at the official parliament ceremony for the former Budapest Zionist leader, who both rescued nearly 1,700 Jews during the war and later testified on behalf of prominent SS officers in the Nuremberg trials.

The Knesset, in a statement, defended Michaeli’s right to dedicate the candle to her grandfather. Six Knesset representatives and employees, accompanied by survivors, lit candles at the memorial event.

“The Knesset never has and never will hold personal ceremonies for people killed in the Holocaust or survivors,” it said. “The Knesset members who go up to light a memorial candle tend to dedicate the candle to a family member who was killed or survived the Holocaust and no one in the Knesset can dictate to the Knesset member who they may honor with their memorial candle.

“It is flawed and immoral to try and determine who is more or less worthy among the survivors and victims,” the Knesset said. “Certainly the Knesset won’t act this way, and one must hope that others will also respect the Holocaust and the sanctity of the ceremony.”

Likud minister Ofir Akunis stepped out the hall in protest when Michaeli and her mother stood up to light the candle.

A Likud youth activist group on Tuesday had sent a letter expressing “disgust and disappointment” over the honor, citing Kastner’s actions “to save Nazi murderers, including mass murderer Kurt Becher, from the noose” and his “controversial actions during the deportations of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews to the Auschwitz chimneys.”

But otherwise, little protest was registered over the inclusion of the former Hungarian Jewish journalist turned-Israeli official, who was defended by the State of Israel in the now-infamous 1954 libel case over accusations of Nazi collaboration.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a Holocaust ceremony held at the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament in Jerusalem, April 12, 2018.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Sixty-four years ago, the State of Israel brought libel charges against pamphleteer and Hungarian-Israeli Jew Malchiel Gruenwald, over claims Kastner had collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. The case ultimately served as a searing indictment of Kastner’s activities during the Holocaust in his dealings with high-ranking Nazi officers, with Halevy accusing him of “selling his soul to the devil.”

The main characters in the high-stakes courtroom drama would also go on to have ties to the Knesset: The defense attorney cross-examining Kastner, Shmuel Tamir, became justice minister under Likud’s Menachem Begin, and the judge, Benjamin Halevy, also later became a Knesset lawmaker.

The Supreme Court in 1958 cleared Kastner of all the collaboration charges handed down by Halevy, and said he was solely motivated in his dealings with the Nazis by the rescue of Jews from their deaths.

The justices, however, unanimously established that Kastner had testified on behalf of Becher at Nuremberg in a perjurious affidavit, resulting in the senior SS officer’s exoneration. (In his statement to the tribunal, Kastner maintained Becher tried to save Jews and attested to his “good intentions.” The Israeli justice system, however, determined Kastner was well-aware of the Nazi plans for the genocide of the Jews. Kastner also lied to the Jerusalem court about his Nuremberg testimony. Becher died in 1995. He was never tried.)

The exoneration by the Supreme Court came too late for Kastner, however, who was assassinated by right-wing extremists in 1957.

Defenders of Kastner maintain that he, in an impossible moral position, used his ties with the Nazis to save Jews, and point to the outcome in the form of the so-called Kastner Train — nearly 1,700 Jews taken to safety in Switzerland.

His critics, meanwhile, say those Kastner saved were friends and relatives, as well as other prominent Jews. They charge that the remainder of Hungarian Jews were actively duped by Kastner, who was aware of the Final Solution and the Auschwitz gas chambers, but did not inform the local community, thus preventing attempts to organize resistance efforts or flee en masse across the border, and thereby facilitating the mass deportations to Auschwitz that resulted in the decimation of most of Hungarian Jewry.

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/in-first-kastner-honored-at-knesset-holocaust-remembrance-day-event/

Poles helped in Nazi extermination, Rivlin tells Polish counterpart

Israel’s president says Warsaw has witnessed a ‘wave of anti-Semitism’ sparked by law criminalizing mention of complicity in Holocaust

President Reuven Rivlin, center, and Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, left, participate in the March of the Living at the Auschwitz-Birkenau site in Poland, as Israel marks the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, on April 12, 2018. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

On Polish soil, President Reuven Rivlin told his Polish counterpart, Andrjez Duda, on Thursday that while some Poles helped rescue Jews during the Holocaust, others took part in their extermination.

“There is no doubt that there were many Poles who fought the Nazi regime, but we cannot deny that Poland and Poles had a hand in the extermination,” Rivlin said during a joint press conference with Duda in Krakow.

“The country of Poland allowed the implementation of the horrific genocidal ideology of Hitler, and witnessed the wave of anti-Semitism sparked by the law you passed now,” the president added, challenging recently passed legislation that criminalized the mention of complicity by the Polish state in the Holocaust.

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The president noted that Israel honors those Poles who gave their own lives to save Jews, but pointed out the widespread anti-Semitism that existed in Holocaust-era Poland and the fact that many Poles also participated in the extermination.

“People murdered and then inherited [the property of the dead]. Here was the foundation” of anti-Semitic feeling “that allowed the Nazis to do as they wished, not only in Poland but throughout Europe,” Rivlin said.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda (R) and Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin (L) arrive to attend the March of the Living, a yearly Holocaust remembrance march between the former death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, in Oswiecim on April 12, 2018 (Janek Skarzynski/AFP)

“This land was a forge of the Jewish nation’s soul, and to our deep sorrow, also its largest Jewish graveyard. You can’t erase such a rich history, full, painful history,” Rivlin told Duda.

“Policymakers have a duty to shape the future. Historians have a duty to describe the past and investigate history. One must not overstep into the field of the other.”

For his part, Duda welcomed his Israeli counterpart to Poland. “Our meeting today is a great honor, but also of course a testimony to the enormity of the disaster that happened here,” Duda said.

The Polish president acknowledged that “three million Jews were murdered in Poland in the Holocaust” and assured Rivlin that Poland “will never forget them.”

Addressing the recent controversy over the Holocaust legislation, Duda admitted “there is great disagreement” on the matter but reiterated that “at no point did we want to block testimony [on the Holocaust]; on the contrary we wanted to defend the historical truths, and as a leader, I want to do this at any price, even when it is difficult for us.”

Rivlin’s own words ahead of the annual March of the Living from Auschwitz barracks to the Birnenau death camp, which he led, echoed a speech he gave the previous evening in Israel at a state ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance eve.

He asserted that no country can “legislate the forgetting” of Jews murdered during the Holocaust, in what ostensibly was meant to be a jab at Warsaw.

“We do not expect European countries to pass on to the younger generation a sense of guilt. However, we do expect and demand that they pass on the torch of memory and responsibility,” he said.

Rivlin used similar rhetoric during the Thursday press conference, telling Duda that “cooperation between Israel, Poland, and the Jewish people on remembrance and memorial, in education and research is the way to pass the torch of remembrance and responsibility to the next generations.”

Passed in February, the Polish law calls for prison terms of up to three years for attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish state or nation. The law also sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish.

A group of Panama youth visit the former Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz ahead of the yearly March of the Living, a Holocaust remembrance march, in Oswiecim, Poland on April 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

One key paragraph of the law states, “Whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich… or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes, or whoever otherwise grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes – shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.”

The legislation, which was introduced by Poland’s conservative ruling party, has sparked a bitter dispute with Israel, which says it will inhibit free speech about the Holocaust. The United States also strongly opposes the legislation, warning it could hurt Poland’s strategic relations with Israel and the US.

Jewish groups, Holocaust survivors and Israeli officials fear its true aim is to repress research on Poles who killed Jews during World War II. The law and subsequent backlash have unleashed a wave of anti-Semitism in Poland.

Earlier this month, senior Israeli and Polish diplomats met in Jerusalem in a bid to resolve differences, with both sides vowing to preserve “the truth.”

But last month, Poland demanded that the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem remove a reference to “Polish police” guarding the Lodz ghetto.

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/poland-and-poles-helped-in-nazi-extermination-rivlin-tells-polish-counterpart/?utm_source=The+Times+of+Israel+Daily+Edition&utm_campaign=af0e915820-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_04_12&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_adb46cec92-af0e915820-55812549

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, We Should Also Recall Those Who Destroyed the Nazi Regime

Limiting observance to expressions of grief and mourning, failing to take account of the valor that defeated Hitler, is untrue to the full meaning of the day.

Today is Yom Hashoah, commonly known as Holocaust Remembrance Day. Increasingly, as this day approaches each year, my thoughts have turned to the biblical prophet Nahum.

Why Nahum? That’s a long story. As I wrote in an earlier essay in Mosaic, I believe his brief book, which predicts and celebrates the downfall of the Assyrian empire in the late-7th century BCE, has been wrongly neglected by Jewish tradition. Indeed, Nahum is obscure to the point of invisibility. No part of his book, itself a mere three chapters long, is ever read in the synagogue, or in Christian churches, and even theologians who recognize his high literary merit evince an acute discomfort with the content of his message.

And yet, there is much to be learned from Nahum. His eloquent, impassioned writing honors the divine attribute of vengeance. In expressing satisfaction and even joy at the downfall of those who destroyed the ancient northern kingdom of Israel and nearly succeeded in destroying the southern kingdom of Judah as well, the prophet rehearses the classical Jewish teaching that even a merciful and patient God will ultimately wreak powerful, unanswerable retribution upon the enemies of His chosen people. Nahum’s intense focus on an aspect of the divinity that seems dissonant to modern sensibilities reminds us that the Bible presents a God who is many-sided—and that “without this frightening side,” as one thoughtful reader of Nahum has written, “one could misread the portrait of the loving God as that of a passionless, doting, and undemanding dispenser of cheap grace.”

For these reasons, as I argued in my earlier article, I believe Nahum’s book should be rehabilitated and given a place in the order of Jewish worship. In my previous essay I proposed that that place should be in the liturgy for Yom Kippur afternoon, following the traditional reading of the book of Jonah. But now I’m convinced otherwise. Following a suggestion by my friend Johanna Kaplan, I think the time and place to read and learn from Nahum is in the observance of Yom Hashoah.

Let me explain.

There is no fixed liturgy for Yom Hashoah. Over the decades since the Israeli Knesset established the day in 1951, it has been marked predominantly in a variety of secular forms: reading out the names of the murdered, participating in the youth-oriented “March of the Living” to Auschwitz and other Holocaust sites, observing the two minutes of silence held at 11:00 a.m. all over the land of Israel, and so forth. Attempts to create a specifically religious liturgy—like, for example, the Conservative movement’s initiative to propagate a “Holocaust Scroll” (Megillat Hashoah)—have been notably unsuccessful. To the extent that religious observance informs any part of the day, it lies in reciting the mourners’ kaddish and other solemn prayers.

As for the day’s secular observances, I have noticed one commonality among them: while we mourn the victims of the Nazi genocide, we do not mark the justly ignominious end of the victimizers and perpetrators, let alone rejoice and take comfort in the fact that these monsters lie in the dustbin of history while the Jewish people continues to grow and thrive. In particular, so far as I can determine, no observance of the day includes a celebration of the victory of the Allies in World War II—a victory that brought the Holocaust to an end, destroyed the Nazi regime, punished its infamous leaders with death, and wrought physical and economic devastation on Germany.

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This omission strikes me as another grievous error, ignoring not only a crucial part of the history of the Holocaust itself but also a critical facet of the day’s specifically religious significance: the vindication in our own time of the traditional Jewish belief in the God who wreaks vengeance on the wicked, the same aspect of God glorified for all time in the book of Nahum.

Of course, that the Holocaust poses grave difficulties for religious faith, and for Jewish theology, is a major understatement. For many, the murder of millions makes a mockery of the claim that the Jews have a special place in God’s affections; for some, it has led to a loss of belief altogether. Even among the observant, the fact of the Holocaust inevitably complicates one’s relationship to the tradition and one’s understanding of God’s purposes. In that shadow, the absence of any consensus on a liturgy appropriate for the day comes to seem less surprising.

And yet, without claiming the prophet Nahum as an all-purpose remedy for this rightly unnerving condition, I persist in thinking that reading and studying his text, recalling the circumstances that led to its creation, and considering its lessons for our own time would greatly enrich the observance of Yom Hashoah.

How so? The book of Nahum reminds us that nearly three millennia before the Holocaust, the Jews came within a hairsbreadth of total destruction—and lived. The northern kingdom, representing ten of the twelve tribes, vanished from history; the southern kingdom avoided the same grisly fate only when the Assyrian army, on the brink of conquering Jerusalem, was forced by a deadly plague to abandon its nearly fatal siege of the city. And yet, less than a century after these devastating blows to his people, Nahum expressed unalloyed confidence that God would avenge the victims—as soon happened when Assyria fell first to the Babylonians and then to the Persians.

Thus, consideration of Nahum on Yom Hashoah would focus our attention not only on the dark significance of the day but on the fact that the Holocaust was ended short of achieving its full murderous goal and that its perpetrators were brought to ruin.

In this case, too, vengeance came about through a sequence of unpredictable and seemingly miraculous turning points marked by razor-thin margins of chance. These included Winston Churchill’s success in rallying the British War Cabinet during five days in May 1940 (recently depicted in the movie Darkest Hour); the massive feat of the Russian army and citizenry in resisting and repelling a three-million-man Nazi onslaught in June 1941—this, despite Joseph Stalin’s feckless dealings with Hitler, his murderous evisceration of the Red Army leadership, and his willingness to give up the fight in October 1941; the fact that a few bombs out of the hundreds dropped by U.S. planes at Midway in June 1942 managed to find their targets and decimate the Japanese carrier fleet; the eleventh-hour deployment of a handful of very long range bombers by the RAF in April and May 1943 that won the “battle of the Atlantic,” enabling American supply shipments to reach Britain and the Continent; the turns in the weather that capriciously favored the Allies at Normandy in June 1944 and ultimately disfavored the Nazis at Bastogne in December of that year; and on and on.

In sum, as Richard Overy writes in Why the Allies Won, “It is hardly surprising that Churchill thought at the end of the war that Providence had brought the Allies through.”

Yes, assuredly, victory came too late to save the lives of millions of Jews. But it no less assuredly saved millions of others. A Nazi victory would have spread Hitlerian genocide across the entire Soviet Union and who knows how far beyond. The fate of the Jews of North Africa, the Levant, and Mandatory Palestine would have lain in the power of Hitler’s acolyte Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem. The words of George Orwell’s arch-inquisitor in 1984 come to mind: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” Instead, those Russian and Middle Eastern Jews survived, and many wound up living in the reborn nation of Israel.

The full name given by the Knesset to Yom Hashoah was “Yom Hashoah v’Hagvurah.” The additional word, denoting courage or heroism, refers specifically to those Jews who (like the fighters in the April 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising) participated in armed resistance against the Nazis. The full name is still in common use in Israel and is eminently worth recovering in the diaspora. In light of it, limiting observance of the day to expressions of grief and mourning, and failing to take account of the valor and might that achieved the downfall of the Nazis, is not really true to the purposes of the day’s creators. At the time, as it happens, there was serious opposition in Israel to the notion of setting aside a separate day in the Jewish calendar for memorializing the Shoah, precisely because doing so, by reinforcing what the historian Salo Baron referred to caustically as the “lachrymose theory of Jewish history,” could betray the moral messages of Zionism, of biblical teachings, and of Jewish history seen in the round.

Finally, there is this: in remembering the millions who perished, Nahum’s full-throated praise of the God who takes vengeance on the enemies of His people, written in the aftermath of an earlier historical disaster, offers its own priceless species of consolation. (Indeed, the name Nahum derives from the Hebrew root meaning to comfort or console.) Like the so-called precatory psalms that similarly celebrate the power of divine vengeance, the book of Nahum, expresses (in the approving words of a Catholic theologian) “a longing that evil, and evil people, may not have the last word in history.”

Surely, Yom Hashoah is an occasion when that longing should be given voice, and there is no more eloquent, assertive, and unforgettable voice, or one more directly addressed across the millennia to the monstrous architect of the Holocaust, than the voice of the prophet who wrote:

The Lord is a passionate avenging God, the Lord is vengeful and fierce in wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on His enemies, He rages against His foes. The Lord is slow to anger and of great forbearance, but the Lord will not acquit the wicked. . . .

* * * * * * *

Your shepherds slumber, O king of Assyria: your nobles lie inert: your people are scattered upon the mountains, and no man gathers them in. There is no healing for your injury, your wound is grievous: all that hear the report of you clap their hands over you. For upon whom has not your wickedness continually passed?

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, We Should Also Recall Those Who Destroyed the Nazi Regime

He survived Auschwitz by faking a boxing career. Watch his amazing story.

Noah Klieger: Holocaust Survivor and Pioneer Journalist

He survived Auschwitz by faking a boxing career. Watch his amazing story.

Posted by JTA News on Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Now Streaming on Amazon, Masterful Documentary Captures the Haunting History of Moldovan Jews

‘Absent’ is a deeply personal and moving work

Had history gone another way, I might have grown up in a rural Moldovan village.

So begins Absent, the masterful 2015 documentary film by director Matthew Mishory. As history did not go another way, Mishory’s father and grandparents left Moldova before WWII, and he grew up in Los Angeles. Absent documents his journey to Mărculeşti, a small village in the country’s north, as the first of his family to return since the war. The film has finally completed its run of the festival circuit and is now streaming on Amazon.

Those expecting a whimsical portrait of the old country are sure to be disappointed. Absent is the anti-Everything is Illuminated, and perfectly captures what the author Robert D. Kaplan calls “the familiar hollowness in the ambience common to cities and towns throughout Eastern Europe where the Jews had either been killed or had emigrated”. In the summer of 1941, Mărculeşti, then almost entirely Jewish, was invaded by Ion Antonescu’s Romanian forces, who massacred its residents. A concentration camp was established on the outskirts of the village, one last stop for the Jews of Bessarabia before their final deportation to the nearby Transnistria Governorate.

Mishory and crew wander through the town, asking the residents what they know about their local history. Predictably, most of the children have only the vaguest notions. A woman, proud of her “Jewish house” (it lets in less of the cold, and she can’t afford to pay for heating), guesses the Jews left because “they have a better life where there are now, but I don’t know why they left their houses behind”. Her daughter says that they were killed for their cleverness. A meeting with the town historian is even more disappointing; he speaks warmly of the town’s pre-war period, with its six synogogues, but denies the massacre and the looting that followed.

Though Absent does not dwell much on Mishory’s ancestral story, it is obviously a work of deep personal meaning for him. He visits the mayor in Mărculeşti’s town hall, formerly the Jewish schoolhouse where Mishory’s own grandfather was principal. “These are minor moments in the film, but personally, they have stayed with me,” Mishory told me in a recent interview. “Mostly what lingers is the landscapes, the feel of the place. The family letters I’ve read, the ones from the 1930s about not wanting to leave Bessarabia and reluctantly setting out to Eretz Israel, suddenly made sense.” Mishory’s father’s grandfather, grandmother, aunt, and her husband were all murdered in the massacres of June 1941, in the “Cleansing of the Land”. “They died in a village not far from Mărculeşti, or on one of the death marches to Transnistria,” he said. “It’s probably impossible to know for sure, but they were almost certainly killed by Romanians and not Nazis. My father’s other set of grandparents were ‘lucky’ to have been deported to Siberia for their Zionism by the Soviets just before the invasion. They lived out the war there and died in Siberia. They never saw my grandmother again.”

With its lingering shots of the village’s asbestos roofs and abandoned Jewish graveyard, and its scoreless soundtrack, Absent is a haunting experience. Mishory cites Claude Lanzmann as an obvious influence, but the film is almost Sebaldian in tone, taking its time to painstakingly circumnavigate Mărculeşti’s atrocities before finally and horrifically homing in on its valley of death.

I asked Mishory what his feelings were before setting out on his journey, and whether they changed over the course of putting the film together. “I came into the project a committed Zionist, and came out with my convictions strengthened,” he said. “But the history of Mărculeşti and the Holocaust pose impossible intellectual and theological questions. All I can say is that my feelings about what happened in Mărculeşti are complicated. I remain a practicing Jew. And I also have serious doubts about human nature. I’m angry that people who live overlooking a killing field lie about their history. But I also have a lot of empathy for the current residents of the village and their difficult circumstances.”

It’s been over four years since Mishory and crew paid a twenty-dollar bribe at the Romania-Moldova border crossing to gain entry to the poorest country in Europe, beginning a shoot which Mishory described as quick and difficult. There were logistical challenges, of course, but also personal ones. “My father was already quite ill when I started the film,” Mishory said. “I think I was very much aware that my living connection to the place would not be around much longer, so it was the time to act. And that came to pass; my father died as I was editing the movie. I am now the only living member of my family who has been to Mărculeşti, and I will probably be the last.”

Source: http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/259390/now-streaming-on-amazon-masterful-documentary-captures-the-haunting-history-of-moldovan-jews