Category Archive: THINK PIECES & OPINION

Making a difference in people’s lives


The Jerusalem Foundation works with vulnerable populations in the city, from at-risk teens to Holocaust survivors.

group-gathering“‘David’, a 16-year-old with a reputation for violence, was invited for a 4 p.m. interview at the day center,” recalls Eitan Yogev, director of the Yaelim Nature Therapy Center at Ein Yael. “The mother called to say that the boy refused to come, but that we should wait. They finally showed up at seven. His mother was afraid of him, and the staff worried that he lacked motivation.”

The mother promised the center that if David were accepted at Yaelim, she and her husband would get him on the bus.

“In the end,” says Yogev, “David didn’t miss a single session. He started to become successful at Yaelim and he took control of himself at school, too. The school couldn’t believe the difference.”

The Yaelim Nature Therapy Center is just one of several projects funded by the Jerusalem Foundation that make a difference to old and young among the vulnerable populations every day in Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem Foundation established the Ein Yael Living Museum in 1989, buying the land around a natural spring and ancient settlement in the southwest of the city. The museum houses the Yaelim Nature Therapy Center, which serves 250 at-risk youth each year.

“Yaelim works with teens who are failing at school or ‘acting out,’” explains Oded Regev, director of Ein Yael.

Many have a history of disabilities, abuse, or neglect.

“After we see that the children are connecting with the agriculture, we ask them to train as young counselors. It’s a dramatic turnaround, when a teen about to drop out of school gets asked to become a leader.” Once they graduate the year-long course, counselors work at Yaelim’s day camp and serve as guides at the Ein Yael museum.

Teens at the center learn a range of skills such as gardening, recycling, composting, climatology, ecological systems, use of tools and pest management.

“The welfare services refer the teens to us,” says Yogev.

“After a year of training, they get a salary, along with supervision and support. They don’t just learn agriculture. They learn to take responsibility, work in a team and speak in front of groups.”

At-risk teens attend a day center at Yaelim twice a week.

“This gives them a year to get organized and connect to themselves, to the community,” Yogev explains.

“In addition to the nature program, the teens learn about entrepreneurship, computers, culture, and current events.

Yaelim provides ongoing mentoring to help the children recognize and develop their unique strengths. While accepting the child’s difficulties, we give them supervision and support for making productive choices.”

“A typical child at risk, who dropped out of school, may not only have no money. He likely has no boundaries, no attention, nothing. At Yaelim he builds himself up from scratch, in the field, by completing tasks. He has to make food, he has to learn what he is good at. Gradually he learns what skills he can take with him as an adult.”

“The goal isn’t to throw teens into nature. It’s to provide a safe ‘home’ where they can test boundaries.”

The Welfare Ministry also refers families to Yaelim for therapy. One case involved eight children whose father was in jail for murdering the children’s mother.

“The children lived apart from each other in foster or institutional care,” recalls Yogev. “A few had had private therapy, but the siblings had virtually no connection. The social services decided something had to be done to rehabilitate the family.”

Yaelim provided a young counselor trained by the organization as a Hebrew-Arabic interpreter. When they started, the children barely spoke at all. Through their shared experiences at Yaelim, including activities like hiking, cooking, and crafts, the children developed shared experiences and began to bypass the psychological barriers.

“At first there was some regression, which is typical in cases where victims have not processed trauma,” explains Yogev. “But now the children have begun rebuilding their relationships with one another.

All of us involved in the case found it very emotional.”

Among other projects that the Jerusalem Foundation funds is Café Europa, which runs several programs to serve the approximately 22,000 Holocaust survivors in the Jerusalem area.

According to the Jerusalem Foundation’s community and social welfare project director, Adit Dayan, Café Europa aims to meet the social, not the therapeutic needs of survivors.

“For many, the only thing they remember from their childhood is the war,” says Dayan. “But a culture existed in Europe before the war. Café Europa’s activities trigger positive memories of childhood, by creating a social experience through shared memories.”

Café Europa meets in Rehavia for the general population of survivors, and in Romema for the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sector, with separate groups for men and women.

An additional program, called Café Moscow, serves Russian speakers in Pisgat Ze’ev and Neveh Ya‘acov, northern neighborhoods in the capital.

“The Russian speakers are Jewish World War II refugees, yet they were not recognized as survivors,” notes Dayan. “But they also lost everything, and have social issues that were never dealt with. They are telling stories that have never been told. Some of them join a therapeutic group that we have set up for that purpose.”

Ruchami Merenstein, coordinator of the Holocaust division of Misgav Lakashish (“refuge for the elderly”), describes the significance of Café Europa for the group of haredi women.“ The meetings start with each survivor telling about the [happy family events] during the previous week. Many are the matriarchs of large families.

They also ask after friends who didn’t attend.”

The first hour consists of a lecture, musical program, or workshop, with the second hour devoted to an exercise activity or health education.

They are served coffee and cake, and a light hot meal before they go home. About 100 women attend each week, while 40 to 50 attend the men’s program.

Aside from the activity at the café, survivors go on monthly trips around the Jerusalem area and throughout the country.

A range of additional programs, also supported by the Jerusalem Foundation, are available for survivors, according to Tamar Schiff, CEO of Misgav Lakashish. These include a library, computer education and meals for the homebound.

Large numbers of volunteers speaking a variety of languages attend Café Europa to assist the survivors. The volunteers also visit the survivors in their homes, bringing videos of the Café Europa cultural events, teaching computers, or whatever the survivor asks for. “We try never to say no to requests,” says Schiff.

Holocaust survivors can also visit the Center for Verification of Rights and Eligibility for Holocaust Survivors, also supported by the Jerusalem Foundation.

“Every survivor should check,” urges volunteer translator Dr. Ruth Flosshauer, “as new funds continually become available. Survivors from Morocco and survivors who were babies are now eligible.

One can never know.”

Mrs. Glendwar, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor, never went out of the house, according to her daughter Shoshi.

“She dedicated her entire life to her children and grandchildren.

Café Europa was the first event she attended just for herself.”

Glendwar’s participation in Café Europa led to her talking about her prewar childhood with her adult children. The cultural activities and trips via Café Europa gave her a peek into her grandchildren’s world, enabling the third generation to form a stronger relationship with their grandmother.

The Jerusalem Foundation’s programs provide services for members of vulnerable populations to lead richer, more productive lives. David, the teen who didn’t want to attend the interview at Yaelim, now works at the center in the summer and visits often.

“At the end-of-the-year party,” recalls Yogev, “when asked how he had changed, David said he no longer ‘causes trouble in the neighborhood.’”


Elie Wiesel: Conscience of humanity

Irwin Cotler

wieselThe passing of Professor Elie Wiesel was – and on his shloshim today remains – a personal and profound loss. It is akin to the passing of one of the legendary “Lamed Vavniks,” the 36 righteous people living in the world. Their just lives, at any given moment, redeem humanity. This is how I always felt about the person who was my teacher, mentor, role model, inspiration and friend of 50 years – in a word, the most remarkable and inspirational human being I have ever encountered and had the honour to work with in common cause.

Indeed, Elie Wiesel’s life’s work – his life itself – is a source of learning and inspiration for us all. In remembering Elie Wiesel, we remember and celebrate the life of a tzaddik, a just and righteous person who has come to symbolize and embody the conscience of humanity – not only by and for Jews, but by and for humanity as a whole. Accordingly, when the Nobel Prize Committee awarded Elie the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 the choice was greeted with international acclaim, for it was difficult to imagine any other person in the world who had so commanded the respect of political leaders and the people themselves, who had become our collective moral compass in a world devoid of moral leadership, our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper in a world of amoral international bystanders.

Elie wrote, as the title of one of his works suggests, as a “soul on fire.” That flame not only animated the literary imagination – and had he received the Nobel Prize for Literature the acclaim would have been no less – but it ignited the struggle for peace and justice worldwide. His eloquence was all the more remarkable, because as he would often put it, the Holocaust was beyond vocabulary. Yet the man who felt that Auschwitz and Buchenwald were beyond communication and comprehension not only conveyed the particularity of things too terrible to be believed but not too terrible to have happened, but also transmitted the universality of the messages, the lessons, that we continue to ignore at our peril, including:

The danger of forgetting — The imperative of remembrance

(FILES) This June 5, 2009, file photo shows US President Barack Obama (C), German Chancellor Angela Merkel and holocaust survior Elie Wiesel making their way to pay their respects at a memorial during a visit to the former Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar in Germany.

(FILES) This June 5, 2009, file photo shows US President Barack Obama (C), German Chancellor Angela Merkel and holocaust survior Elie Wiesel making their way to pay their respects at a memorial during a visit to the former Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar in Germany.

President Obama described Elie Wiesel as having told him during his visit to the Buchenwald death camp that “Memory has become a sacred duty of all people of goodwill,” adding that “upholding that sacred duty was the purpose of Elie’s life.” As Elie wrote in Night, his 1960 classic memoir of Holocaust remembrance depicting the horrors of Auschwitz: “to forget would not only be dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”

Interestingly enough, the original version of this memoir was in Yiddish, ran to 800 pages, and was titled “Un Di Velt Hot Geshvign” – “And the World Remained Silent”. Indeed, the Yiddish title was a more compelling and revealing one, but which, like the book itself, was condensed in translation – 200 pages in the French edition and 100 pages in the English one.

But the haunting words of Elie Wiesel remain, albeit diluted somewhat in translation:

Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself. Never.

The danger of silence in the face of evil – The imperative of standing up against injustice

As Elie Wiesel put it in his 1986 Nobel Prize lecture,

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor never the victim, silence encourages the tormentor never the tormented… wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion or political views that place must – at that moment – become the centre of the universe.” And he added: “there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time where we fail to protest against injustice.

The danger of state sanctioned cultures of hate – The responsibility to prevent

The enduring lessons of the holocaust, and the genocides that followed in Srebrenica, Rwanda and Darfur – during which Elie sounded the alarm again and again – is that the Shoah, and these genocides, occurred not only because of the machinery of death but because of state sanctioned ideologies of hate. It is this teaching of contempt, this demonizing of the other, this is where it all begins, which is why Elie was such an outspoken leader in holding the incendiary incitement of Khamenei’s Iran – as distinct from the people and publics of Iran –to account. It is not unrevealing – and particularly poignant – to appreciate that July 1st, the day before Elie’s passing, was marked by Khamenei’s Iran as Al-Quds day, with its attending Holocaust denial and call for removing “this cancerous tumour Israel from the Middle East.”

The danger of indifference and inaction in the face of mass atrocity and genocide – The responsibility to protect

What made the Holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda so unspeakable was not only the horror of the genocides themselves but that these genocides were preventable. We knew and we did not act, just as we knew and did not act in the genocide in Darfur, and just as we know and have not acted in the mass atrocities in Syria. As Elie warned us again and again, indifference in the face of evil is acquiescence with evil itself – it is complicity with evil.

In a memorable piece published in Tablet Magazine on the occasion of Elie’s passing, a longtime friend and disciple Menachem Z. Rosensaft wrote as follows

He believed fervently, passionately, that a paramount responsibility inherent in his survival, alongside remembrance, was to speak out forcefully against indifference and against suffering, persecution, or oppression of any kind. His charge to the thousands of survivors and their children assembled in Jerusalem for the 1981 World Gathering reflected the universality of this worldview: ‘In an age tainted by violence, we must teach coming generations of the origins and consequences of violence. In a society of bigotry and indifference, we must tell our contemporaries that whatever the answer, it must grow out of human compassion and reflect man’s relentless quest for justice and memory’

The danger of evil masked under the cover of law – Our responsibility to unmask and confront evil

As Elie reminded us always: “It is our responsibility to confront evil, as Raoul Wallenberg did, to resist it, to expose it – particularly when evil masks itself under the cover of law.” For let us not forget, on this the 80th anniversary of the coming into effect of the Nuremberg Race Laws and the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials – this “Double Entendre of Nuremberg: the Nuremberg of Hate and the Nuremberg of Justice” – which inspired the international legal symposium on this subject with Elie as its Honourary Chair.

The Nazis committed mass murder under the cover of law – aided and abetted by Nuremberg elites – doctors, lawyers, judges, educators, engineers, architects and the like – la trahison des clercs. As Elie succinctly put it:

“why was the Nazi era so horrifying? Because the law itself was immoral. The killers were convinced that they were obeying the law. And indeed it was the law to kill children, parents, old men, and women, all those who needed protection. It was the law to be inhuman.

Holocaust crimes were the crimes of the Nuremberg elites. As Elie continued:

Cold blooded murder and culture did not exclude each other. If the Holocaust proved anything, it is that a person could love poems and kill children.

And so it is our responsibility, as Elie taught us, to speak truth to power and to hold power accountable to truth, as Elie did so memorably on receiving the Congressional Medal of Freedom. It was April 19, 1985, the 42nd anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and just before US President Ronald Reagan was to lay a wreath at a German military cemetery in Bitburg. In the public ceremony Elie told the President that “I belong to a people that speaks truth to power… Mr. President, your place is not that place, your place is with the victims.”

Similarly, at the opening of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington on April 22, 1993, two years before the mass murder at Srebrenica, Elie Wiesel called on the President to intervene to stop the killing. “

Mr. President, I cannot not tell you something. I have been in the former Yugoslavia last fall. I cannot sleep since for what I have seen. As a Jew I am saying that we must do something to stop the bloodshed in that country! People fight each other and children die. Why? Something, anything must be done.

And so, those entrusted with the education and training of the leaders of tomorrow should ensure that Elie Wiesel is studied in schools of law, medicine, engineering, architecture, education, theology – and not just in classes of literature; that the “double entendre” of Nuremberg is part of our learning as it is part of our legacy; that Holocaust education must underpin our perspective as it informs our principles – on justice and injustice.

The Danger of anti-Semitism, old and new — The responsibility to combat

Simply put, 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz – 1.1 million of them were Jews – of which Elie Wiesel was one. One million of them were murdered, including Elie’s parents and sister. But let there be no mistake about it, as Elie would remind us again and again, Jews were murdered at Auschwitz because of anti-Semitism, but anti-Semitism itself did not die at Auschwitz. As we have learned only too tragically, and all too well, while it begins with Jews it does not end with Jews. Jew-hatred remains the canary in the mineshaft of global evil that threatens us all.

At the dawn of the 21st Century, even before the latest dramatic global escalation in anti-Semitism, Elie repeatedly spoke out with a growing sense of urgency:

I have not felt the way I do now since 1945. There are reasons to feel concerned and alarmed. Now is the time to mobilize the efforts of all of humanity.

In this, as in so many of his teachings, his words led to action, helping to inspire the founding of the Inter-parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-semitism (ICCA) and where he served as International Chair and Keynote Speaker of the ICCA Conference held in Ottawa in November 2010.

The danger of impunity — The imperative of bringing war criminals to justice

If the 20th century was the age of atrocity (these horrors continuing into the 21st), it has also been the age of impunity. Few of the perpetrators of state sanctioned mass killings have been brought to justice. The purpose of Nuremberg – and international tribunals established since – was to deter mass atrocity, to protect the victims, to prosecute the perpetrators. Regrettably, the credibility of these tribunals have been undermined by their sometimes failure to bring perpetrators to justice or by their selective use of justice. Even the Nuremberg trials were themselves critiqued for “selective justice” in that few of the perpetrators were put on trial, with the selective prosecution serving to whitewash the others.

But as Elie would remind us, the power of the Nuremberg Tribunal – not unlike the International Criminal Tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda – lies also in the bearing of witness. Indeed, it lies in the affirmation of memory, of fidelity to truth, in the “triumph of memory” and where memory allowed justice to be served.

Elie captured the paradox – and the pain – of selective justice redeemed by memory in his own bearing of witness in the Inaugural Raoul Wallenberg Lecture in Human Rights at a Conference on “Nuremberg 40 Years Later” at McGill University in 1987, titled simply, yet movingly enough,“Witness”. He said:

Justice was served, but, above everything else, in a strange way, in a dark poetic way, it was memory that was confronted and celebrated at Nuremberg. When hundreds and hundreds of witnesses emerged to piece together a story – a story that we all must remember, although our memory and our mind and our soul are too small to comprehend it, to take it all in. Our sanity was at stake. If we remembered everything, we would lose our minds. But then, if we don’t remember everything, we also lose our minds.

And as he put it so movingly in his address to the United Nations on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau,

The Jewish witness speaks of his people’s suffering as a warning. He sounds the alarm so as to prevent these things being done. He knows for the dead it is too late… but it is not too late for today’s children, ours and yours. It is for their sake alone that we bare witness. It is for their sake that we are duty-bound to denounce anti-Semitism, racism, and religious or ethnic hatred. Those who today preach and practice the cult of death. Those who use suicide terrorism, the scourge of this new century, must be tried and condemned for crimes against humanity. Suffering confers no privileges. It is what one does with suffering that matters. Yes, the past is in the present but the future is still in our hands.

And he concluded:

Those who survived Auschwitz advocate hope, not despair; generosity, not rancor or bitterness; gratitude, not violence. We must be engaged, we must reject indifference as an option. Indifference always helps the aggressor, never his victims. And what is memory if not a noble and necessary response to and against indifference?

But… will the world ever learn?

The vulnerability of the powerless and the powerlessness of the vulnerable – The protection of the vulnerable as the test of a just society

The genocide of European Jewry occurred not only because of the vulnerability of the powerless, but also because of the powerlessness of the vulnerable. It is not surprising that the triage of Nazi racial hygiene – the Sterilization Laws, the Nuremberg Race Laws, the Euthanasia Program – targeted those “whose lives were not worth living”; and it is not unrevealing, as Professor Henry Friedlander pointed out in his work on “The Origins of Genocide,” that the first group targeted for killing were the Jewish disabled – the whole anchored in the science of death, the medicalization of ethnic cleansing, the sanitizing even of the vocabulary of destruction.

And so it is our responsibility, as Elie taught and demonstrated in his good deeds, whether we be government representatives or citoyen du monde, to give voice to the voiceless, as we seek to empower the powerless, be they the disabled, the poor, the refugee, the elderly, the women victims of violence, the vulnerable child, whoever and wherever they may be.

As my daughter Gila put it, at 15 years of age, and invoked by Elie: “Daddy, if you want to know what the test of human rights is, always ask yourself at any time, in any situation, in any part of the world, is it good for children? Is what is happening good for children?”

And as Elie spoke so movingly in his lecture on “Witness”

I could spend centuries speaking in praise of Jewish children. One million or more, they were the first target of the enemy. If, from now until I die, I were to do nothing else but name them, simply recite name after name – and the least they could expect is that their names be remembered – I would die before reaching the end of the list. Those children were brave, and noble, and so generous. They would sneak out of the ghetto clandestinely, risking prison for eating or death, to bring a potato back to their parents, a piece of bread to their friends. Izhak Katnelson proposed to erect a monument to the Jewish child.

And so Elie emerged as the leading melitz yosher (“advocate”) for children — for the brutalized children of the killing fields of the Balkans, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Darfur – just as he was a leading advocate for Ethiopian Jewish children in Israel.

Holocaust remembrance and denial — The responsibility to educate

Elie Wiesel was the inspiration for the four historic Stockholm Conferences on Conscience and Humanity, 200-2004, whose generic theme dealt with the importance of Holocaust remembrance, research and education. In particular, the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of Victims of the Holocaust – now commemorated on January 27th each year, grew out of the first Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust, whose thinking and language were also inspired by Elie. As one who headed the Canadian Delegation to the Stockholm Conferences, I can attest to Elie’s impact as Honourary Chair, as well as then Swedish Prime minister Goran Persson, who founded and chaired the conferences, the last of which was on the prevention of genocide

In these excerpts of the Stockholm Declaration on the Holocaust, you can almost hear and feel Elie’s words, and the impact of his hushed eloquence:

The Holocaust fundamentally challenged the foundations of civilization… [its] unprecedented character will always hold universal meaning… [its] magnitude… must be forever seared in our collective memory… together we must uphold the terrible truths of the Holocaust against those who deny it. We must strengthen the moral commitment of our people and the political commitment of our governments, to ensure that future generations can understand the causes of the Holocaust and reflect upon its consequences. We pledge to strengthen efforts to promote education, remembrance and research about the Holocaust… We share a commitment to encourage the study of the Holocaust in all its dimensions… a commitment to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and to honour those who stood against it… a commitment to throw light on the still obscured shadows of the Holocaust… a commitment to plant the seeds of a better future amidst the soil of a bitter past… a commitment… to remember the victims who perished, respect the survivors still with us, and reaffirm humanity’s common aspiration for mutual understanding and justice.

The danger of abandonment — Defending political prisoners as a special commandment

It is somewhat surprising that Elie Wiesel’s heroic role in the defending of political prisoners – inspired by and also anchored in the commandment of pideon shvuim, the liberation of political prisoners – has not always received the recognition that it warrants.

Indeed, Elie was not only a heroic – historic – voice in the struggle for Soviet Jewry, but also for the jailed Prisoners of Zion, as attested to by Natan Sharansky; not only an advocate on behalf of the disappeared in Argentina, but for political prisoner Jacobo Timmerman; not only in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa but on behalf of imprisoned anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, and so on. As one who had the privilege of acting on behalf of these political prisoners, I can attest once again to the singular role of Elie Wiesel in the defense of political prisoners, as has my colleague and friend, Professor Alan Dershowitz, who has written how his work on behalf of political prisoners in the Soviet Union was inspired by Elie Wiesel.

As Elie put it in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech on the danger of silence and indifference in the face of evil,

that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation… apartheid is, in my view, as abhorrent as anti-semitism. To me, Andrei Sakharov is as much of a disgrace as Joseph Begun’s imprisonment. As is the denial of the “Solidarity” trade union and denial of Lech Walesa’s right to dissent and Nelson Mandela’s interminable imprisonment… as long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true.

Israel as an antidote to Jewish powerlessness

Nazism succeeded not only because of the state-sanctioned hate and crimes of indifference, not only because of “la trahison des clercs” and eliminationist anti-Semitism, but because of the powerlessness of the Jew, and so – the vulnerability of the Jew.

Simply put, it is not the case, as we are sometimes told, that if there had not been a Holocaust, there would not be a state of Israel. It is the other way around – that if there had been an Israel, there might well not have been a Holocaust, or the horrors of Jewish history. As Elie put it:

At least there would have been a place for refuge. At the Evian conference in 1938 and beyond, Europe was divided into two places – those where the Jews could not leave – or even live – and those where they could not enter.

At least there would have been universes that could have been saved, an antidote to the radical evil of the Shoah. At least there would have been an old-new state, an “ancient homeland for an ancient people,” for the ingathering of the exiles. At least there would have been a living expression of “zachor” – remembrance, as an antidote to the oldest and enduring hatred of anti-Semitism.
At least there would have been a state founded – however imperfectly it may act – on “tzedek, tzedek tirdof” – “justice, justice, shall you pursue”

At least we might have been spared the horrors that underpinned the searing testimony of Elie Wiesel himself in his first memoir Night, or as found expression in his incredible Raoul Wallenberg lectureship titled “Witness.” Listen to his words, as his inaugural lectureship was a transformative event for all who attended – a case study in how an encounter with Elie Wiesel can be a life changing experience of the highest moral character. Former Canadian Supreme Court Justice Claire L’heureux-Dubé was inspired to write a poem; human rights advocates from all over the world sat transfixed and transformed; students still recall how the experience changed their lives; the clergy – Christians, Jews, and Muslims – made it the subject of interfaith dialogue.

Herewith but one small excerpt from this searing testimony:

How can you bear witness when the memory has attained such a dimension that it is broken down by language? No word will ever contain the silence of one child, when that child went to the nocturnal flames. No word can contain the prayer of an old man who, hand in hand with his grandchild, stepped forward to the mass grave. No word can contain the anguish that preceded a selection in a concentration camp. No word can ever contain the fear that descended on a ghetto at certain times, at certain moments. No word can contain the solitude, the solitude of the Jewish victim who was more alone and more abandoned and more tragic than all the other victims. Granted, there were other victims as well; we should never forget them either. But the solitude of the Jewish victims remains unparalleled. How many times must we repeat that? Everyone who was not Jewish had family outside. Thus, the non Jewish prisoner could cling to hope: ‘If I die, my son will live. My parents will have more children. My sister will remarry.’ The Jewish prisoner knew that he or she was alone, maybe the last, for his or her entire family had been condemned to extinction. An entire people was sentenced to death for being.

Herewith but one small excerpt from this searing testimony:

How can you bear witness when the memory has attained such a dimension that it is broken down by language? No word will ever contain the silence of one child, when that child went to the nocturnal flames. No word can contain the prayer of an old man who, hand in hand with his grandchild, stepped forward to the mass grave. No word can contain the anguish that preceded a selection in a concentration camp. No word can ever contain the fear that descended on a ghetto at certain times, at certain moments. No word can contain the solitude, the solitude of the Jewish victim who was more alone and more abandoned and more tragic than all the other victims. Granted, there were other victims as well; we should never forget them either. But the solitude of the Jewish victims remains unparalleled. How many times must we repeat that? Everyone who was not Jewish had family outside. Thus, the non Jewish prisoner could cling to hope: ‘If I die, my son will live. My parents will have more children. My sister will remarry.’ The Jewish prisoner knew that he or she was alone, maybe the last, for his or her entire family had been condemned to extinction. An entire people was sentenced to death for being.

May I close on a personal note: As my colleague John Roth once wrote – “in allowing me to enter his life, Elie has given meaning to mine.” Elie Wiesel as a conscience of humanity has impacted all of humanity – not as an abstraction but on people individually in their daily lives – as he has in my own life and work.

  • Where in 1962 I read Night for the first time on the eve of my first-ever visit to Auschwitz, where I was shocked and outraged when our guide referenced all the nationalities murdered Auschwitz but omitted the word “Jew”;
  • Where, as a student, I became involved in the struggle for Soviet Jewry on reading Elie Wiesel’s classic 1966 work on “The Jews of Silence.” That book served as a wakeup call for the struggle for Soviet Jewry, referring not just to the Jews silenced in the Soviet Union, but to the silence of Jews in the free world who were not standing up to that injustice; and where his clarion call mobilized generations in that struggle, and where we had our first of lifelong encounters;
  • Where, as a law professor, I was profoundly influenced by Elie’s writings, suffused as they were with the pursuit of justice;
  • Where, as a human rights lawyer, I was inspired by his passion and commitment to tikkun olam – the betterment of the human condition – in the best sense of the word;
  • Where, as counsel to prisoners of conscience, Elie’s voice and testimony was our most powerful ally;
    Where, as an MP, he was for me, as for parliamentarians worldwide, an inspiration in our work;
  • Where as a citoyen du monde, whenever I would feel despair about the human condition, or about what we could do about it, or feel overwhelmed by evil – or the indifference that would accompany it – I would remember Elie Wiesel’s words on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, and which resonate no less powerfully 30 years later. “There’s so much injustice and suffering crying our for our attention: victims of hunger, of racism, and of political persecutions… prisoners in so many lands governed by the Left and the Right… more people oppressed than free”.
  • But then, always, the call to action. In Elie’s words:

there’s much to be done, there’s much that can be done. One person – Raoul Wallenberg – one person of integrity, can make a difference, a difference of life and death. As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our lives will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.

As Elie would remind me again and again, we must never be bystanders to injustice, never be indifferent to human suffering, never be silent in the face of evil, never abandon the victim to stand alone. It is this that inspired the founding of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights – where Elie Wiesel was our Honourary Chair – and where the Centre’s agenda is anchored in, and inspired by, Elie’s teaching and action. Indeed, the best remembrance, and the best tribute we can pay to Elie Wiesel, is to commit to action, such as that which found expression in the “Never Again Declaration” that we adopted at the International Legal Symposium at Jagiellonian University in May 2016 – co-chaired by the Raoul Wallenberg Human Rights Centre and the March of the Living – and where Elie acted as our Honourary Chair, one of his last public acts.

The closing excerpt of this “Never Again Declaration” inspired by Elie Wiesel is as follows:

That “never again will we be indifferent to incitement and hate. Never again will we be silent in the face of evil. Never again will we indulge racism and anti-Semitism. Never again will we ignore the plight of the vulnerable. Never again will we be indifferent to mass atrocity and impunity. But we will speak up and act against indifference, against racism, against hate, against anti-Semitism, against mass atrocity, and against the crime of crimes whose name we should even shudder to mention: genocide

Irwin Cotler is Professor of Law Emeritus at McGill University and Former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. He recently founded and chairs the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, where Elie Wiesel was Honourary Co-Chair and guiding inspiratio


Op-Ed:Crafting a Holocaust insurance solution that works

By Menachem Z. Rosensaft, Vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.
There is a solution to get us beyond the seemingly endless stalemates and complications that continue to characterize the ongoing debate over Holocaust-era insurance claims. And I do not believe it can be found in the well-intentioned bill before the U.S. Congress.
This different approach will put money more quickly into the community of the survivors and their families, minimize huge financial rewards for certain lawyers, and help bring closure to this extremely painful process.
I propose that the relevant insurance companies agree to the appointment — at their expense — of an independent monitor who could determine whether all potentially valid but as yet unresolved Holocaust-era claims are being honestly processed under the relaxed standards of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, or ICHEIC.
Some history of how we arrived at this point is in order.
For more than 50 years after the end of World War II, many German and other European insurance companies refused to honor life insurance policies that they or their predecessors had sold to Jews who eventually perished in the Holocaust.

Poland And The Death Camps: Setting The Record Straight

By Abraham H. Foxman
Special To The Jewish Week
It should be simple to make the proper distinction: Poland has a long and not distinguished history of anti-Semitism, including before, during, and after World War II. But it was not responsible for the death camps and the Holocaust. This distinction is, however, too often glossed over and is the backdrop for the fierce Polish reaction to President Obama’s slip in referring to the “Polish death camps” in recognizing Jan Karski, a hero of the Polish resistance to the Nazis, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The trouble with the Hitler trade

A booming market for Nazi artifacts and Hitler-inspired baubles — Naziphilia, if you will — has sprung up in the United States, enabling shameless entrepreneurs to enrich themselves from the detritus of a regime that murdered millions.These profiteers ought to be shunned by polite society.Take, for example, Alexander Historical Auctions, of Stamford, Conn., and its affiliate Alexander Autographs, which advertises “militaria, historic letters, manuscripts, documents and relics in all fields of collecting.”Among the toxic items featured in one of these outfits’ more recent auction catalogs:*A birthday note from Adolf Hitler to a presumably Aryan “dear and gracious lady.”*The signed receipt for the SS Totenkopf (death head) ring of Juergen Stroop, the Gestapo officer who oversaw the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto.*A December 1943 holiday message from SS Obergruppenfuehrer (Lieutenant General) Gottlob Berger to the head of Hitler’s euthanasia program.*The “service contract” of an SS officer, signed by SS chief Heinrich Himmler.*A postcard signed by Hitler’s sister Paula, in 1959.*Lovely signed photographic portraits, perfect gifts for the neo- or crypto-Nazi in one’s life, of not only Hitler (an “extraordinary, very early” 1924 portrait, as well as a more run-of-the-mill 1935 snapshot), but a succession of prominent Nazis, including the racial ideologist Alfred Rosenberg, Third Reich youth leader Baldur von Schirach and Gertrude Scholtz-Klink, head of the Nazi Women’s League.Who buys this garbage?People like Marc Garlasco, who was forced to resign last year as a military analyst at Human Rights Watch after he was outed as both the author of a 430-page book on Nazi war paraphernalia and an avid collector of Nazi relics. In a blog, Garlasco wrote: “The leather SS jacket makes my blood go cold it is so COOL!”Or like the Iron Cross-wearing British heavy-metal musician Lemmy, who explains that “by collecting Nazi memorabilia, it doesn’t mean I’m a fascist or a skinhead . . . I just liked the clobber.”Yet Bill Panagopulos, who runs Alexander Historical Auctions, argues not only that he is just a legitimate businessman out to make a buck but also that he performs a legitimate social function. His purpose, he protested self-righteously after I excoriated him for auctioning off the journals of the notorious SS “doctor” Josef Mengele, who sent untold hundreds of thousands of Jews, my aunt among them, to the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau, is “not about money, it’s not about condemnation of Nazi’s [sic] families, it’s not about profit, and it’s not about military collectors . . . it’s about not forgetting.”Is he kidding?Profiting from genocide isn’t illegal in America, but that doesn’t make it any less reprehensible.Comparing Hitler to Thomas Jefferson, Panagopulos wants us to ignore the basic difference between Nazi memorabilia and other historical artifacts.“As despicable a character as Hitler was,” Panagopulos writes, “is he not a legitimate historical figure? Should people not offer for sale Mao or Stalin? Confederate leaders and generals? President Jefferson, who was a slave holder? There is ‘good’ history and there is ‘bad’ history, and if we ignore the ‘bad’ we are opening the door to have it repeated.”Nazi-memorabilia market-makers and their customers must be ostracized. Contrary to Panagopulos’ protestations, it’s all about money — and sleaze.
Menachem Z. Rosensaft is vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.

Israelis performing Wagner in Germany – a national disgrace


Wagner’s history cannot be summarily dismissed. He was a central pillar in the anti-Semitic character of Nazism.

The Israel Chamber Orchestra on Tuesday performed Wagner’s opera Siegfried Idyll at the Bayreuth Opera Festival. It was the first time an Israeli orchestra had played Wagner in Germany.

The conductor, Roberto Paternostro, whose mother and other relatives were Holocaust survivors, agreed that “Wagner’s ideology and anti-Semitism were terrible, but he was a great composer.” He opined that Wagner’s worldview should be treated separately from his music. Paternostro conceded that not enough time had passed for Wagner to be played in Israel, but felt it was appropriate to do so in Germany. “The aim in the year 2011 is to divide the man from his art.”

The orchestra’s chief executive, Erwin Herskovits, went further, telling Reuters that “there is great pride and excitement… This is not just another concert. It is a once-in-a-lifetime concert.” With works from Jewish composers Gustav Mahler and Felix Mendelssohn (banned by the Nazis) also being played, he said that “it was like a mission to be here playing Jewish music by Jewish musicians from the Jewish state… It was a victory concert.”

But Wagner’s history cannot be so summarily dismissed. He was a central pillar in the anti-Semitic character of Nazism. In fact, Wagner even coined the terms “Jewish problem” and “final solution,” which subsequently became central to the Nazi vocabulary.

In his notorious essay titled “Judaism in Music,” first published in 1851, Wagner expressed his extreme revulsion for what he described as “cursed Jewish scum” and declared that the “only thing [that] can redeem you [the Jewish people] from the burden of your curse [is] the redemption of Ahasverus – total destruction” – a code term for expelling Jews from society. In this essay, Wagner described Jews as “hostile to European civilization” and “ruling the world through money.” He argued that “Judaism is rotten at the core, and is a religion of hatred,” describing the cultured Jew as “the most heartless of all human beings” and referring to Jewish composers as “comparable to worms feeding on the body of art.”

Wagner’s family continued to promote his vile anti-Semitic ideology. His daughter Eva married Houston Chamberlain, an Englishman who crafted the ideology for Nazi racism in his notorious book, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century. After his death, Wagner’s family became a central attraction for radical right-wing Germans.

ALTHOUGH WAGNER died 50 years before the Nazis came to power, Hitler venerated him, proclaiming that “whoever wants to understand National Socialist Germany must know Wagner.” He was so enraptured with him that he is quoted as having said, “Richard Wagner is my religion.”

Hitler also became a friend of Wagner’s son Siegfried. After Sigfried’s death in 1930, Hitler remained very close to his English-born widow Winifred, a passionate Nazi and anti-Semite who had befriended him early in his career.

Wagner’s great-grandson Gottfried visited Israel in 1996, giving lectures condemning his great grandfather’s obsessive hatred of Jews, stressing that Wagner’s anti-Semitic views were far more important to him than his music. Gottfried was regarded as the black sheep of the family, which disowned him, and he came under attack from neo-Nazi groups.

For Jews, and in particular for survivors, Wagner is not just another anti-Semite. He is bracketed with Nazism, and can be said to have been a forerunner of those who paved the way for the Shoah. On top of this, Bayreuth, the location of the festival, was renowned as a center for Nazi “cultural” activity.

Under such circumstances, it is surely shameful for an Israeli chamber orchestra, perceived to be representative of the Jewish people, to be linked to such an evil person.

It truly requires a person to act in a schizophrenic manner to say that they can enjoy this man’s music and close their eyes to his evil actions. But even more so, the heartlessness of Israelis ignoring the sensitivities of Holocaust survivors represents a stain on our dignity and national identity.

Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, accused the Israeli orchestra leaders of being “tone deaf.” He condemned the performance as “a disgraceful abandonment of solidarity with those who suffered unspeakable horrors by the purveyors of Wagner’s banner.”

For the Israeli Chamber Orchestra to have actually gone to Germany to perform his works in Bayreuth, where he was glorified by the Nazis, is truly a national disgrace.

U.S. Must Learn from Nazi Doctor, says Association of American Physicians and Surgeons

TUCSON, Ariz., – Hitler’s personal physician didn’t start out as a monster, observes Lee Hieb, M.D. Like Karl Brandt, she is an orthopedic surgeon. Brandt may be the only person sentenced to death by both sides after World War II, Hieb writes in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons ( When he repented of his association with Hitler, the Nazis arrested him and gave him a death sentence. Then the Allies tried him at Nuremburg, and hanged him for war crimes.Because he saved the life of a member of Hitler’s inner circle when he was injured in an automobile crash, Brandt came to Hitler’s attention. Besides serving as Hitler’s personal surgeon, Brandt frequently visited the war zones and operated on wounded soldiers.The destruction of hospitals by the Allies’ bombing raids imperiled the survival of injured soldiers as well as civilians. Brandt found that psychiatric hospitals, generally located in the countryside, were relatively undamaged. Faced with a choice of feeding soldiers or chronic schizophrenics, the government shunted resources to the productive.Rather than watch their patients slowly starve to death, medical directors asked for permission to carry out “mercy killings.” As head of the medical system, Brandt signed the program authorization.”Euthanasia morphed into a nightmarish killing machine,” writes Hieb. Less well known, she observes, is the conclusion of the allied prosecutors after the Doctors Trial, as summed up by Leo Alexander: The fault of the German doctors (he had once been one of them) was not that they were intrinsically evil, but that they worked for the government.Read more: U.S. Must Learn from Nazi Doctor, says Association of American Physicians and Surgeons

Why are we still obsessed with the Third Reich?

It’s long been a truism of publishing that putting a swastika on the front of a book will guarantee healthy sales. (Yes, yes, or indeed a healthy readership for a blog post.) I have direct experience of this, as most of the books I write feature swastikas, or eagles, or similar pieces of Third Reich iconography. Unsurprisingly, I’ll therefore be tuning in to Radio 4 at 11.30 this morning, which is broadcasting a documentary called Nazi Gold on the publishing industry’s Third Reich fetish. (Ironically enough, at the time of writing, a piece about the program is the third-most read story on the BBC news website.) As one of the interviewees for the program, I was asked why the publishing industry, and indeed why such a large segment of the (male) population, maintains this interest in a murderous regime that extinguished millions of lives. It’s a question I tried to answer nearly nine years ago, in a piece I wrote for The Spectator shortly after I published my first book (which was about Nazis). I concluded then that the fetish arises from ‘the human attraction towards evil’. “The Devil not only gets the best tunes,” I wrote, “but, in the case of the Nazis, the best costumes, the best generals, the best weapons, the best iconography and even the most powerful-sounding language. From Göttermorgen to Götterdämmerung, it is the blackest story ever told, and it’s still being told everywhere.”I’m not sure that after nearly a decade of immersing myself in the Third Reich that I can come up with much better than that. We, like many other cultures, do tend to glamourise evil and violence – read David Wilson in today’s Daily Mail about TV’s love affair with serial killers – and there is no doubt that this often lurid obsession with Nazis is part of that malaise.