Trailblazing Connecticut Course Is Blueprint for Future Holocaust Education

(FILES) This photo taken on January 27, 2014 shows a former concentration camp prisoner attending (R) a ceremony at the memorial site of the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland, on Holocaust Day. Mostly in their nineties now, some are still well enough to attend on January 27, 2015 ceremonies marking 70 years since the Soviet Red Army liberated Auschwitz, the largest German death camp, on January 27, 1945 in what is now southern Poland.  AFP PHOTO/JANEK SKARZYNSKIAs UN discussion seeks best means to connect to future generations, new high school program uses current events to help students better understand horrors of the past

UNITED NATIONS – As the Holocaust recedes further into history and as the era of the living witness closes, educators and researchers are grappling with how best to teach it to future generations.

“We need to create a real bond with history, to give it a human story rather than just present a series of frightening pictures of piles of bodies. We must make it relevant. We must constantly engage students, delivering the subject in bite-sized bursts,” said Jane Jacobs-Kimmelman, director of the International Relations Department at the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem.

Jacobs-Kimmelman was one of several researchers and educators to participate in a discussion at the United Nations on Thursday about the future of Holocaust research and education. Of concern is how to make the Holocaust, which occurred more than 70 years ago, relevant to today’s students, particularly in places where there are few Jewish students or where perhaps students aren’t aware of their grandparents or great-grandparents’ stories.

Since 2013, laws mandating the inclusion of the Holocaust in curricula have been on the books in Austria, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. In the US, individual states decide on curriculum content. To date Holocaust education is mandatory in California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

While Connecticut doesn’t mandate Holocaust education, schools include the Holocaust as part of the unit on World War II. Beyond that, many schools offer a variety of history electives on the subject.

At Weston High School in Connecticut, the course “Facing History and Ourselves” provides a blueprint for the future of Holocaust education. The semester-long history course, for juniors and seniors, uses current events to link students to the past, said Weston Public Schools social studies teacher Jennifer B. Klein.

Although Klein didn’t attend the UN meeting, her class is an example of the future of Holocaust education.

To prepare for the course, Klein trained with in New York City. The organization now has educational partnerships in 150 countries including China, Israel and South America.

In Weston, Klein opened the course by asking students to think about what influences their decision making. Next they consider “We and They” — how different social groups perceive each other, and how people consider the “other.” The students then examine how societal decisions and divisions can combine to allow atrocities to occur. Lastly, the students explore the aftermath of an atrocity and think about justice and remembrance.

“So by the time the students get to the Holocaust we’ve made a whole framework,” Klein said. “The students learn that anti-Semitism wasn’t something Hitler created. They learn he was bringing up ideas that were simmering below the surface. They learn that he was voted in and they look at the conditions that made that possible.”

As part of the course, students learn about Judaism and how they might find common ground with different elements of the religion – such as its emphasis on family, food, or study.

Students also relate to the many photos they see of Jewish life before the Holocaust, from Orthodox men walking to synagogue in rural Poland to Reform Jews enjoying a day at the beach.

“I ask the students to think about what’s familiar to them. I ask them to see that these were people just like you and me,” Klein said.

If the class “Facing History and Ourselves” shows what can be accomplished with access to teacher education and dedication on the part of a school district, a recent report out of the United Kingdom shows how much more needs to be done.

As if to echo the UN panel’s call for expanded teacher training and Holocaust education worldwide, a committee of parliament members recently cautioned the government that not enough teachers receive adequate training to teach the Holocaust.

According to Paul Salmons, program director at the University College London Centre for Holocaust Education, about 80 percent of those teaching the Holocaust said more professional development in this area is needed and priority must be given to this curriculum.

Expanding teacher training will naturally lead to an expansion of Holocaust studies in the classroom, Yad Vashem’s Kimmelman said.

“In Europe you can understand there is interest where the Holocaust took place, but there is interest in other countries to study the Holocaust as a way of looking at their own conflicts. Argentina is a very good example of this,” Jacobs-Kimmelman said. “Still, we work very hard to make sure facile and incorrect comparisons to current conflicts are avoided. We emphasize the uniqueness of the Holocaust.”

That’s especially important in Central and Eastern Europe, said Szabolcs Takács, chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an intergovernmental body that works to expand Holocaust education around the world.

“The trauma of the Holocaust was distorted by communist regimes because it was ignored. It’s only 25 years since we can openly talk about the Holocaust, which is of course a national tragedy in Hungary,” said Takács who is Hungarian.

Although many teachers use the Holocaust as a means of combating racism, anti-Semitism and even bullying, a recent study released by the University College of London Centre for Holocaust Education indicates that might not be effective.

‘The real take away was they learn there is a step-by-step move to evil and a step-by-step move to rescue’
According to the report, 93 percent of the students said they felt learning about the Holocaust to change racist attitudes missed the mark, said Dr. Deborah Dwork, the Rose Professor of Holocaust History and Founding Director of the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University.

“An overwhelming majority of students felt it was important to learn about the Holocaust because it was an important part of European history,” Dwork said. “But the real take away was they learn there is a step-by-step move to evil and a step-by-step move to rescue. They learn you are not born a hero but step-by-step you can become one.”

Some educators worry recorded testimonies and DVDs aren’t as powerful as having actual survivors or other eyewitnesses, such as camp liberators, speak to students. Oral histories, such as those archived at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, can help fill that void. Second and third generation survivors are another untapped resource for the classroom.

“It is quite clear that the world is not finished learning about the Holocaust, despite the fact that the survivor population is diminishing,” Jacobs-Kimmelman said.


What Justin Trudeau Did—and Did Not—Include in His Holocaust Remembrance Statement

By omitting Jews from the story of the Holocaust, the Canadian prime minister fell for the false choice between depicting the tragedy as either a universal warning against prejudice or a particular one against anti-Semitism

On Wednesday, recently-elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued his first official commemorative statement for International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The 111-word pronouncement is notable less for what it does mention, than for what it doesn’t: Jews and anti-Semitism. Here it is in its entirety:

On this day, we pay tribute to the memory of the millions of victims murdered during the Holocaust. We honour those who survived atrocities at the hands of the Nazi regime, and welcome their courageous stories of hope and perseverance.

The Holocaust is a stark reminder of the dangers and risks of allowing hate, prejudice, and discrimination to spread unchallenged. It also reminds us that silence must never be an option when humanity is threatened.

As we pause to educate ourselves and our families on the bitter lessons of the Holocaust, we also strengthen our resolve to work with domestic and international partners to continue defending human rights and condemning intolerance.

Remarkably, Trudeau elided the Jews from the story of their own genocide. As Yaacov Lozowick, the former director of archives at Yad Vashem put it, this is “the Holocaust, devoid of history.”

Now, it’s not hard to understand what the Canadian premier was trying to do. His intention was not so much to erase Jewish suffering as it was to draw out the ecumenical lessons of it. But in doing so, Trudeau fell prey to the false choice between depicting the Holocaust as either a universal warning against the human propensity for prejudice or as a particular one against the especial evils of anti-Semitism. In reality, it’s both.

Despite the fact that many feel compelled to choose between them, the universalist and particularist interpretations of the Holocaust are not actually mutually exclusive. One can recognize that the Shoah reflects a deep-rooted human tendency to demonize the Other, while also acknowledging how that Other has, for centuries, tended to be the Jews. The two-fold lesson, then, is that we must be vigilant against all forms of bigotry, while taking special care to combat anti-Semitism, in recognition of its deadliness and durability.

But Trudeau’s statement embodies more than just an illusory dilemma. It reflects a dangerous dynamic. Individuals or communities who pick only one of these takeaways from the Holocaust, rather than taking both to heart, risk misunderstanding the tragedy’s lessons. Those, including Jews, who view the Shoah as a purely particularist portrait of the perils of anti-Jewish prejudice may fail to confront such hatred when it is being faced by non-Jewish communities. At the same time, those like Trudeau who focus solely on the Holocaust’s universalist implications may come to underrate the uniquely murderous threat that anti-Semitism has and continues to pose for Jews—or even erase those Jews as inconvenient accessories in the story of their own persecution.

The challenge, in others words, is not to choose sides; it’s to internalize both sides.

For an example of how to achieve this, Trudeau might look to another North American political leader to whom he has been compared: Barack Obama. Speaking on Wednesday at the Israeli embassy’s ceremony to honor American gentiles who saved Jews during the Holocaust, Obama gave voice and balance to both the universal and particular understandings of the Shoah. First, like Trudeau, he referenced the tragedy’s universal lessons:

[E]ven as the Holocaust is unique, a crime without parallel in history, the seeds of hate that gave rise to the Shoah—the ignorance that conspires with arrogance, the indifference that betrays compassion—those seeds have always been with us. They have found root across cultures, and across faiths, and across generations… Too often, especially in times of change, especially in times of anxiety and uncertainty, we are too willing to give into a base desire to find someone else—someone different—to blame for our struggles.

But immediately following this nod to the human lessons of the Holocaust, Obama acknowledged its specifically Jewish ones as well:

Here, tonight, we must confront the reality that around the world, anti-Semitism is on the rise. We cannot deny it. When we see some Jews leaving major European cities — where their families have lived for generations — because they no longer feel safe; when Jewish centers are targeted from Mumbai to Overland Park, Kansas; when swastikas appear on college campuses — when we see all that and more, we must not be silent.

The president then called for action to fight prejudice against all, and specifically against Jews:

As President, I’ve made sure that the United States is leading the global fight against anti-Semitism. And it’s why, with Israel and countries around the world, we organized the first United Nations General Assembly meeting on anti-Semitism. It’s why we’ve urged other nations to dedicate a special envoy to this threat, as we have.

Finally, he pivoted once more to the universal:

We’re called to live in a way that shows that we’ve actually learned from our past. And that means rejecting indifference. It means cultivating a habit of empathy, and recognizing ourselves in one another; to make common cause with the outsider, the minority, whether that minority is Christian or Jew, whether it is Hindu or Muslim, or a nonbeliever; whether that minority is native born or immigrant; whether they’re Israeli or Palestinian.

It means taking a stand against bigotry in all its forms, and rejecting our darkest impulses and guarding against tribalism as the only value in our communities and in our politics.

In this manner, Obama offered an eloquent reminder that the particular and universal interpretations of the Holocaust are not contradictory, but complementary. It’s a lesson Trudeau and so many others—Jewish and not—should take to heart.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet and the editor of the English-language blog of the Israeli National Archives. Follow him on Twitter @Yair_Rosenberg.


Obama at Holocaust Event: We Are All Jews; We Must All Fight Anti-Semitism, Evil

President Barack Obama speaks at a Holocaust remembrance ceremony at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, January 27, 2016 (YouTube screenshot)Speaking at Israeli embassy ceremony for Righteous Gentiles, president says it would be ‘fundamental moral failure’ if US ever broke its bond with Jewish state

US President Barack Obama delivered a resounding denunciation of anti-Semitism, and a fierce defense of “our ally, our friend” Israel, at a Holocaust Day ceremony at the Israeli Embassy in Washington on Wednesday evening.

America’s commitment to Israel’s security “remains now and forever unshakeable,” he declared. “It would be a fundamental moral failure if America broke that bond.”

He lamented that anti-Semitism is again on the rise, with families leaving Europe because they no longer feel safe. “Even as the Holocaust is unique, a crime without parallel in history, the seeds of hate that gave rise to the Shoah… have always been with us,” he said.

The president attended the ceremony honoring four people, including Americans from Indiana and Tennessee, for risking their lives to protect Jews during the Holocaust. He was the first sitting president to attend the ceremony.

Righteous Among the Nations medals were presented posthumously to the families of the four.

Ambassador Ron Dermer welcomed Obama to the event, calling his presence “a powerful tribute to the memory of the victims.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the gathering by satellite, and praised Obama for his commitment to ensuring Israel’s security.

Said Spielberg: “The president makes sure that phrase ‘Never Again’ is not an empty declaration.”

In a passionate address (full text here), Obama hailed the four honorees, “whose courage is measured in the lives they saved.”

He recalled visiting Israel’s Yad Vashem, and taking his daughters to the Washington Holocaust museum — “because our children must know this chapter of our history, and that we must never repeat it.”

People are too often willing to give in to “a base desire” to blame others for their struggles, he added.

‘We are all Jews, because anti-Semitism is a distillation, an expression of an evil that runs through so much of human history. And if we do not answer that, we do not answer any other form of evil’

“We must not be silent. An attack on any faith is an attack on all of our faiths,” said Obama. “For Americans in particular, we should understand that it’s an attack on our diversity — on the very idea that people of different backgrounds can live together and thrive together.

“We are all Jews,” the president said, “because anti-Semitism is a distillation, an expression of an evil that runs through so much of human history. And if we do not answer that, we do not answer any other form of evil,” he said, repeating, “We are all Jews. We know that we’ll never be able to wipe out hatred from every single mind. We won’t entirely erase the scourge of anti-Semitism. But like the Righteous, we must do everything we can.”

Relating to Israel in this context, Obama said: “It’s why when voices around the world veer from criticism of a particular Israeli policy to an unjust denial of Israel’s right to exist, and when Israel faces terrorism, we stand up forcefully and proudly in defense of our ally, in defense of our friend, in defense of the Jewish state of Israel.”

He also hailed Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin for speaking out eloquently for tolerance and “acceptance among all Israelis, Jewish and Arab.”

Obama said “evil can flourish if we stand idly by, so we’re called to live in a way that shows we’ve actually learned from our past… to make common cause with the outsider, the minority, whether that minority is Christian or Jew, whether it is Hindu or Muslim or non-believer, whether that minority is native born or immigrant, whether they’re Israeli or Palestinian. It means taking a stand against bigotry in all its forms and rejecting our darkest impulses….

“That’s how we never forget,” said Obama. “Not simply by keeping the lessons of the Shoah in our memories, but by living them in our actions. As the Book of Deuteronomy teaches us,” he said, “Justice, justice, you shall pursue…”

“May the memory of the lost be a blessing. And as nations and as individuals may we all strive to be among the Righteous. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. And God bless the State of Israel,” the president concluded.”

Recognized posthumously at the ceremony for protecting Jews from harm during the Holocaust were Roddie Edmonds of Knoxville, Tennessee; Lois Gunden of Goshen, Indiana; and Polish citizens Walery and Maryla Zbijewski of Warsaw. The honors were bestowed by Yad Vashem, the world’s Holocaust education and research center, based in Jerusalem.

Each was designated Righteous Among the Nations, an official title awarded by Yad Vashem on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Edmonds, a master sergeant, participated in the landing of U.S. forces in Europe and was taken prisoner by the Germans. When the Germans ordered all Jewish prisoners of war to report, Edmonds defied the order by figuring out how to keep the Jewish POWs from being singled out for persecution.

Gunden, a French teacher, established a children’s home in southern France that became a haven for children, including Jews she helped smuggle out of a nearby internment camp. She protected the children when French police showed up at the home.

The Zbijewskis hid a Jewish child in their Warsaw home until the girl’s mother could take her back.


Merkel Opens Holocaust Art Expo with Anti-Semitism Warning

German chancellor Angela Merkel speaks on January 25, 2016 in Berlin during the opening of the exhibition 'Art from the Holocaust -100 Works from the Yad Vashem Collection' (BRITTA PEDERSEN/POOL/AFP)Paintings on display at Berlin’s German Historical Museum depict suffering endured by Jewish concentration camp prisoners

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday opened a major exhibition featuring works by Jewish concentration camp prisoners, as she pledged to combat a feared rise in anti-Semitism in Germany linked to a record influx of refugees.

The show, “Art from the Holocaust”, brings together 100 works on loan from Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial by 50 artists created in secret between 1939 and 1945 while they were confined to the camps or ghettos.

Twenty-four of the artists did not survive the Nazi period, even as their works endured.

The drawings and paintings on display at Berlin’s German Historical Museum depict the suffering, drudgery and terror endured by the detainees.

But about a third of the collection shows artists’ attempts to escape their plight with their imaginations, putting to paper treasured memories and dreams of freedom beyond the barbed wire.

Merkel, looking ahead to the opening and Wednesday’s commemorations of the 71st anniversary of the Auschwitz liberation in her weekly video podcast, said such exhibitions served as a crucial tool for educating younger generations.

She cited in particular the fears of German Jewish leaders that the need to impart the lessons of the Holocaust has grown more urgent with the influx of a record 1.1 million asylum seekers to Germany last year, many from the Middle East.

“We must focus our efforts particularly among young people from countries where hatred of Israel and Jews is widespread,” she said.

The head of Yad Vashem, Avner Shalev, called the works on loan irreplaceable “treasures,” many of which were hidden by their creators and only discovered after the war.

They are “the expression of human beings under these unique circumstances to try and prevail… above the atrocities and deaths,” he told reporters at a press preview of the exhibition.

“After thinking and rethinking, we thought it might be the right time, the right place, to bring this collection to Germany.”

Merkel noted later at the opening that the collection had been sent to Berlin in two shipments “in case something happened, so that they would not all be damaged.”

“That moved me very much,” she was quoted as saying by German news agency DPA.

The only surviving artist, Nelly Toll, traveled to Berlin from the United States to take part in the opening.

She said she created the two pencil-and-watercolor works when she was six years old and in hiding with her mother in a small room in the home of a Christian family in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943.

One drawing shows two carefree girls in a sun-dappled field wearing brightly colored dresses with floral patterns.

The other, “By the Piano,” depicts a character which she said was inspired by Cinderella and another, a princess, enjoying music together in a well-appointed salon.

Toll said the scene might have been her family’s own living room before they had to flee.

“My memory and my imagination all blended,” she admitted with a smile.

Painting and drawing allowed her to escape the loneliness, boredom and fear in the tiny annex.

“They were very happy pictures. The figures you see almost became my friends,” she said.

The bulk of the works in the exhibition, however, are stark testimonials to savage treatment at the hands of the SS men and the fragility of daily life.

An artist named Jacob Lipschitz, who survived Dachau, immortalized his brother in a watercolor called “Beaten,” showing his scabbed and scarred back with his head bowed after a vicious attack by guards.

A wrenching ink drawing by Josef Schlesinger, “The Hanging of Nahum Meck,” depicts the execution of a prisoner accused of shooting a guard while trying to escape the Kovno Ghetto, as other detainees are forced to watch.

A chilling unfinished work entitled “Rest” by Malva Schalek, who would perish at Auschwitz, shows an exhausted elderly woman sneaking a brief nap during a work shift in the kitchen at the Theresienstadt camp.

Curator Eliad Moreh-Rosenberg said many of the pieces were created in the certainty that they would send a message from the grave.

“The artists were conscious that they were painting for posterity,” she said.

“It was their hope that something would survive for generations to come — to leave a trace.”

The exhibition will run until April 3.


Stashed Love Letters Shed Light on Divisive Holocaust Legacy

Dutch Israeli holocaust survivor Mirjam Bolle looks out of the window in her house in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)Mirjam Bolle’s memoir of forgotten WWII-era messages reveals dark bureaucracy of the Dutch Judenrat

AP — Throughout the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam, and while incarcerated in two prison camps, Mirjam Bolle wrote letters to her fiance that she never sent but hoped to share with him after the war. Yet when the two ultimately reunited she decided to leave the past behind and stashed them away. Now, decades later, she has published them as a memoir.

The result is “Letters Never Sent,” 18 months of diary entries and observations that experts say shed new light on one of the Holocaust’s most controversial legacies — the Judenrat, or Jewish Councils — the dark bureaucracy of intermediaries responsible for implementing Nazi orders.

They were often despised by fellow Jews as traitors, but Bolle, still lively at 98 years old, defends their actions. She says the Judenrat had little choice and yet managed to lessen the blow to the community. As a secretary for the Jewish Council of Amsterdam, she was privy to their inner workings and says they managed to save lives by staving off Nazi deportation orders.

“The Germans decided that there would be a Judenrat, we had nothing to do with that,” Bolle said in the living room of her meticulously kept old stone home in Jerusalem, where she has lived alone since her husband’s death in 1992. “The Germans did what they wanted to do. I always say that if the war had ended after two years, no one would have had a problem with the Judenrat.”

With time, however, Bolle believes they outlived their usefulness. The nearly 1,200 Jewish councils continued to enjoy preferential treatment, even as they devolved into an administrative body for the Nazis’ so-called “Final Solution,” the planned extermination of the Jewish people. For some, the burden was too great to bear. Adam Czerniakow, head of the Warsaw Ghetto Judenrat, killed himself after he was forced to deport Jews to their deaths.

Bolle’s role was more limited. She took dictations, dispatched letters and was sitting in on discussions when the first mention was made of the Nazi system of concentration camps.

“It was a different world … You cannot judge what people did,” she said. “People who are living a relatively normal life just cannot imagine.”

Six million Jews were killed by German Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust, wiping out a third of the world Jewry. Today, fewer than 190,000 elderly survivors remain in Israel. Bolle is among the oldest.

Israel’s main Holocaust memorial day is in the spring, marking the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising — when Jews in the Polish capital launched a brave, but ultimately doomed, attempt to resist the Nazis.

The United Nations has designated January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorating the date of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in 1945.

Bolle’s entries began on this date in 1943. Her fiance, Leo Bolle, had left in 1938 to what was then the British Mandate territory of Palestine and she had stayed behind a bit longer to work.

Her letters describe German raids and deportations, the struggles of the Judenrat to postpone them and her own escape from one roundup when a German officer saved her by chaperoning her down the street. She described other soldiers as “wild beasts” and detailed how Jews were shot by German firing squads.

Eventually, she was sent to Westerbork, a transit camp, before moving on to Bergen-Belsen, the infamous German camp where fellow Dutch Jew and diarist Anne Frank died.

Bolle managed to smuggle her collected letters out by wrapping them in a shirt, tossing them over the barbed-wire fence out of sight of a Nazi guard and collecting them on the other side. “I did something very foolish,” she said. “If he had seen that, I wouldn’t be here today.”

In one segment, she writes to her fiance that “we’ll need years to talk about everything we’ve been through.”

They were reunited in July 1944, four years before Israel gained independence, when she arrived in the Holy Land through a prisoner exchange of Dutch Jews for German prisoners of war. “I had a lot of luck,” she said. Hoping to put the war years behind her, she stored the letters in a drawer and forgot about them for decades.

Her hardship didn’t end in Israel. Her son, an Israeli air force pilot, was killed in the 1967 Mideast war, and three years later her younger daughter died in a military accident when the jeep she was riding in drove over a Syrian mine on the Golan Heights. Her only remaining child, a daughter, died of illness in 2011.

Dan Michman, head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, said Bolle’s insights were particularly valuable because of the scope of devastation in the Netherlands, where 75 percent of the country’s 140,000 Jews were exterminated.

He said the Jewish Council in Amsterdam was colloquially known as “Jewish treason,” but it did succeed in employing around 35,000 Jews who were exempt from immediate deportation.

“We are approaching the moment that all survivors will not be with us anymore. Memoirs are therefore very important, but even more important are diaries and letters written during the period itself,” he said. “They’re real time documents and therefore they are very important for future teaching and studying the Holocaust.”

Bolle stumbled upon the letters in a drawer in 2000 and later decided to publish them. An English translation was published just over a year ago.

Despite wanting to move on from the Holocaust, one entry from the 280-page book indicates how even as a younger woman, Bolle cared deeply about keeping the memory alive.

“I am vain enough to believe that this diary may be found hundreds of years from now and serve as an important source of information,” she writes on Jan. 29, 1944. “That’s why I included all the trivial things, because they may provide an outsider with a more vivid picture … Perhaps one day our children will read it.”

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.


Obama to Honor Four Who Protected Jews During Holocaust

US President Barack Obama waves to the press as walks to board Marine One at the White House in Washington, DC, January 25, 2016.  (AFP/Nicholas Kamm)Two Americans and two Poles to be awarded Righteous Among the Nations medals at first ceremony held in US

WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama is slated honor four people, including Americans from Indiana and Tennessee, for risking their lives to protect Jews during the Holocaust.

The United Nations has designated Wednesday as International Holocaust Remembrance Day to commemorate the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazis’ Auschwitz death camp in southern Poland in 1945.

Six million Jews were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust.

Obama was scheduled to join Jewish leaders at a ceremony Wednesday at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, where Righteous Among the Nations medals are to be presented posthumously.

It’s the first time the ceremony is being held in the United States. Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the US, said Obama’s participation “will be a worthy tribute to the worthiest among us.”

Last year, Obama said the international anniversary was an opportunity to reflect on progress “confronting this terrible chapter in human history” and on continued efforts to end genocide.

“Honoring the victims and survivors begins with our renewed recognition of the value and dignity of each person,” Obama said in a written statement last January. “It demands from us the courage to protect the persecuted and speak out against bigotry and hatred.”

Americans Roddie Edmonds of Knoxville, Tennessee; Lois Gunden of Goshen, Indiana; and Polish citizens Walery and Maryla Zbijewski of Warsaw are being recognized by Yad Vashem for protecting Jews from harm during the Holocaust.

Yad Vashem, based in Jerusalem, is the world’s Holocaust education and research center.

Righteous Among the Nations is an official title awarded by Yad Vashem on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Master Sgt. Edmonds participated in the landing of US forces in Europe and was taken prisoner by the Germans. When the Germans ordered all Jewish prisoners of war to report, Edmonds defied the order by figuring out how to keep the Jewish POWs from being singled out for persecution.

Gunden, a French teacher, established a children’s home in southern France that became a safe haven for children, including Jewish children she helped smuggle out of a nearby internment camp. She protected the children when French police showed up at the home.

The Zbijewskis hid a Jewish child in their Warsaw home until the girl’s mother could take her back.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.


Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese Diplomat Who Saved Thousands from the Nazis, Gets His Own Movie

‘Persona Non Grata,’ a feature-length biopic about the Holocaust hero, premieres next week

This coming Sunday, January 31, the man who saved my grandfather and thousands of other Jews from the Holocaust will finally be getting his own film adaptation. “Persona Non Grata,” which will have its U.S. premiere next week at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, tells the story of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese consul who granted 3,500 transit visas to fleeing Lithuanian Jewish refugees–including many yeshiva students–without the approval of his government.

As Yad Vashem recounts:

The Japanese consul asked for time to obtain authorization from his superiors to grant the visas. Nothing indicated that the Japanese Foreign Ministry would agree to this unusual request. However, Sugihara was very troubled by the refugees’ plight and therefore began issuing visas at his own initiative and without having obtained his ministry’s support. Nine days later the response from Tokyo arrived. The proposal was rejected, and authorization to grant transit visas was denied. Sugihara decided to continue with the distribution of the visas anyhow. His wife later described how the predicament of the desperate Jewish refugees had impacted her husband. After the meeting with the delegation he was troubled and contemplative until he decided to go ahead and disobey his orders. Within a brief span of time before the consulate was closed down and Sugihara had to leave Kaunas, he provided approximately 3,500 transit visas. Thanks to Sugihara they were able to leave Europe and the murder that was to begin a year later. Among the recipients of visas were many rabbis and Talmudic students. Their narrow escape enabled them to re-establish the Jewish traditional schools elsewhere.

Ultimately dismissed from the Japanese Foreign Service, Sugihara lived out his post-war life in obscurity, doing menial work to support his family. He was eventually tracked down in 1968 by one of the Jews he saved, then an economic attaché to the Israeli Embassy in Tokyo, and brought to Israel, where he received a hero’s welcome. In 1984, Yad Vashem recognized Sugihara as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. Two years later, he died.

Though Sugihara’s story has been the subject of several documentaries, it has not received biopic treatment until now. “Persona Non Grata” was directed by Japanese-American director Cellin Gluck, filmed in Poland, and stars Toshiaki Karasawa in the lead role.

Watch the trailer below:

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet and the editor of the English-language blog of the Israeli National Archives. Follow him on Twitter @Yair_Rosenberg.


Non-Jewish Germans Honored for Preserving Local Jewish History

BERLIN (JTA) — A preacher, teachers, business leaders and an artist were among the non-Jewish Germans who were recognized for helping preserve local Jewish history.

On Monday, they were presented with the Obermayer German Jewish History Awards in the Berlin Senate as Germany prepares to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday, the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

The winners of the 16th annual awards, which were established by the late U.S. philanthropist Arthur Obermayer, have faced a mix of support and resistance over the years.

One awardee, Peter Franz of Weimar, was undeterred when neo-Nazis destroyed an exhibit on local Jewish history and left two pigs’ heads
outside the Praeger Haus, a memorial and meeting center he helped create in his town.

In Frankenthal, some residents did not want brass “Stumbling Block” memorials to former Jewish residents in front of their homes, said
award winner Werner Schaefer. “Then our mayor personally approached the homeowners” and convinced them, he said.

In Berlin, after years of “paying lip service” to the history of “Aryanization” of Jewish businesses, local retailers in 2013 finally joined in an annual commemoration of Kristallnacht, said Nils Busch-Petersen, managing director of the Berlin-Brandenburg Retailers Association, who won a distinguished service award.

In general, local politicians and city administrations have been supportive, the awardees agreed.

“But there are also many people who remain silent” about local Jewish history, said Almut Holler of Norden, a retired pastor who shared the award with retired teacher Walter Demandt.

The other awardees are:

Elizabeth Quirbach and Hans Schulz, who helped turn the site of a former Jewish school and rabbi’s house in Braunsbach into a museum and educational center.

Reinhard Fuehrer, former member and leader of Berlin’s House of Representatives, who earned a distinguished service award for early
support for the Obermayer Awards and his work to preserve Europe’s largest Jewish cemetery, in Weissensee.

Elmar Ittenbach, who wrote a history of Thalfang’s Jewish community and a biography of Rabbi Samuel Hirsch, a founder of Reform Judaism in the 19th century.

Also Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel attended the opening of an exhibition in Berlin featuring 100 works created by concentration camp prisoners and ghetto residents on loan from the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. According to news reports, 24 of the artists represented in the exhibition, “The Art of the Holocaust,” did not survive the Shoah.