Board fires Florida principal who said couldn’t confirm Holocaust was ‘factual’

Official reason for William Latson’s termination is his failure to return messages from district officials in the days after his comments became public

Palm Beach County School principal William Latson, October 31, 2019 (WPTV Screen grab via CNN)

Palm Beach County School principal William Latson, October 31, 2019 (WPTV Screen grab via CNN)

(JTA) — The high school principal in Boca Raton, Florida, who told a parent that “Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened” was fired.

The Palm Beach County School Board voted 5-2 to terminate William Latson’s employment, according to minutes of the meeting posted online. His firing will take effect on November 21.

The official reason for Latson’s termination was not the comments that appeared to justify denying the Holocaust but his failure to return messages from district officials in the days after his comments became public, according to the Palm Beach Post.

The church at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, former site of Nazi SS headquarters during the Holocaust, May 2019 (Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)

The school, which has about 2,500 students, is said to have one of the largest Jewish student populations in the county, according to the Palm Beach Post, which first reported the incident in July 2018, three months after it occurred.

Latson, in an email, told the mother of a student that “Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened,” in response to an inquiry about the Holocaust not being taught at the school.

“I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in the position to do so as a school district employee,” he wrote. “You have your thoughts, but we are a public school and not all of our parents have the same beliefs.”

“The Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, which represents scores of individuals whose families were killed in the Holocaust, commends the move to fire” Latson, Matt Levin, Federation CEO told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “We are grateful for Superintendent Donald Fennoy’s leadership and commitment to a thorough investigation resulting in this vote by the school board. Latson’s abhorrent denial of the Holocaust is unacceptable, and there is no place in our community, and certainly not in our education system, for such unethical ignorance.”

Latson’s attorney said he will appeal the firing in state administrative court, calling it arbitrary and driven by political expediency.

Latson has been with the school district for 26 years and had been principal of Spanish River since 2011.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/board-fires-florida-principal-who-said-couldnt-confirm-holocaust-was-factual/

On May 8, 1945, the Soviet military interpreter Elena Kagan was entrusted with a burgundy-colored box. Her superior in the SMERSH counterintelligence group had told her that it contained Adolf Hitler’s dentures and teeth and that she was answerable with her life for its safekeeping. On V-Day, Elena, a Jew who would have turned 100 this week, was holding a box with what remained of Hitler. “The situation in which I found myself was odd, unreal,” she later wrote in her book, Memoirs of a Wartime Interpreter. “God Almighty, is this happening to me? Is this me standing here at the moment Germany surrenders, with a box in my hands containing the indisputable remnants of Adolf Hitler?!” It would take her a lifetime to fully grasp this moment, and its consequences.

The charred remains of Hitler and Eva Braun were unearthed in Berlin on May 4: A soldier found them in a bomb crater in the Reich Chancellery garden. The remains were unrecognizable and were reburied. On May 5, after a series of interrogations, which yielded testimony about Hitler’s suicide, the bodies were uncovered and an official document was drawn up. Elena was there to witness: “On a grey blanket, contorted by fire, lay black, hideous human remains, caked with lumps of mud.” The moment left her emotionally unaffected, unlike the recent sight of Goebbels’ dead children, which haunted her: The youngest girl, Heidrun, seemed to be the same age as her own daughter.

Kagan’s counterintelligence unit attached to the 3rd Shock Army was assigned to hunt for Hitler, a search conducted in deep secrecy. In late April, as the battle for Berlin was nearing the end, Elena interpreted prisoner interrogations in the basement of a house near the Potsdamer Platz. “We were interested in just one thing: where was Hitler?” Unknown to them at the time, on April 30, in the Führerbunker underneath the Chancellery, Hitler and Eva Braun had committed suicide. Elena would recall the center of Berlin ablaze, “the collapsing walls of burnt-out buildings,” and unbreathable air, “acrid and opaque from the fumes and stone dust.” It was her fourth year at the front where she volunteered at 21, leaving behind her baby daughter.

In 1941, after Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, the Red Army desperately needed interpreters. Elena had enrolled in a military translation course where her excellent command of German was noticed (Karl Liebknecht’s widow, Sophie, was among her teachers). Offered a posting in Moscow with the general staff, Elena refused, choosing the front lines. In January 1942 she was deployed to the environs of Rzhev, the ancient city 132 miles northwest of Moscow, and the site of ferocious battles. The Germans called Rzhev, standing at a junction of major railways and highways, “the springboard” for a leap to Moscow. In turn, Stalin demanded that the city be liberated “at any cost.”

Lasting 17 months, the battles for Rzhev and surrounding regions were some of the bloodiest in the war: The Red Army suffered incalculable losses. Yet, these battles did not even enter Soviet history books. After the war Elena campaigned for official recognition of Rzhev’s heroic and tragic role in defending Moscow and took the pen name Rzhevskaya.

In Poland Elena’s superior in the counterintelligence unit, Major Boris Bystrov, had proclaimed: “When we enter Germany I am going to capture Goebbels.” On May 2, 1945, she was astounded to see Major Bystrov and two other officers in Berlin discovering Goebbels’ remains. Goebbels’ charred body was put on display in front of the Reich Chancellery. Recognizable for its metal prosthesis and orthopedic boot, Goebbels’ body “symbolized the collapse of the Third Reich,” Elena writes. His yellow tie, which somehow survived the fire, seemed emblematic of the yellow star Goebbels invented to identify Jews.

Stalin was displeased that the discovery of Goebbels’ remains was publicized. The search for Hitler, he decreed, would proceed in strict secrecy. Elena’s counterintelligence unit was downsized to three: Colonel Vasily Gorbushin (in charge of the search), Major Bystrov, and the translator. They were prohibited all contact with the press and photographers.

Elena (second from left) at the front, May 30, 1943 (Photo courtesy Lyuba Summ)

On May 2 the Russian assault detachments of the 5th Shock Army broke into the Reich Chancellery. Elena’s group was ordered to inspect the Chancellery and the Führerbunker. During heavy bombardment artillery shells had been hitting the Chancellery, some landing on the bunker’s roof and cutting its electricity; the place was dark and stuffy. Elena recalls: “There were overturned tables, broken typewriters, glass and paper underfoot.” Working by the light of oil lamps, she sorted through documents, hoping to find clues about Hitler. There was Bormann’s correspondence, Hitler’s personal papers, and Goebbels’ diary—the notebooks dated from 1932 to July 8, 1941. She read the papers in the halls of the Chancellery. Focused on her immediate task, Elena could only skim through Goebbels’ diary before dispatching it to the front headquarters with her notes. In 1964, while researching her memoir, she would read this diary at the Council of Ministers Archive.

After the liberation of the Reich Chancellery Soviet war correspondents streamed into the Führerbunker, emerging with souvenirs. By May 5 Colonel General Nikolay Berzarin, the commander of the 5th Shock Army that liberated the Chancellery, put the place under guard. Elena’s counterintelligence group of the rival 3rd Shock Army had to smuggle out the presumed remains of Hitler and Eva Braun. On May 6, at the crack of dawn, the bodies were carried over the fence of the Chancellery garden and loaded onto a waiting truck. In Buch, on Berlin’s outskirts, a commission of medical experts and pathologists, headed by the principal forensic medical specialist of the 1st Belorussian Front, Lieutenant Colonel Faust Shkaravsky, conducted a series of autopsies. In 1936, in Buch, the first racial evaluations had been performed on Hitler’s orders. On May 8, 1945, Soviet forensic experts examined Hitler’s remains.

A Jewish female doctor, Anna Marants, a medical service major, performed the dissection. (A native of Kyiv, Marants was acting principal pathologist of the 1st Belorussian Front; after the war she worked in Kyiv’s hospitals.) The Soviet forensic pathologists were forbidden to take photographs, but on May 9, during the autopsy on Goebbels’ body, Doctor Shkaravsky photographed the medical experts in the examining room.

Because Hitler’s remains were badly burned, the teeth, with abundant bridgework, crowns, and fillings, presented the most important anatomic means of identification. Hitler’s gold bridge and lower jaw were placed in a box and handed over to Colonel Gorbushin who gave it to Elena, deemed the most reliable in their group of three. (Earlier, in Poznań, “a bulky, reinforced coffer” with gold items was brought from a bank to Elena’s bedroom. The gold was to be dispatched in sealed bags to Moscow; in the meantime it was emptied into a compartment underneath her sofa. “I was trusted. So in Poznań I slept on a hoard of gold,” she remarks.)

On May 8, driving through a devastated Berlin, they located Hitler’s laryngologist, Dr. Carl von Eicken, the head of the Charité university clinic. The professor had last treated Hitler in 1944; he said Lev Trotsky also had been his patient. A dentistry student in this clinic helped in the search for Hitler’s dentist, Dr. Hugo Blaschke, who by then had fled Berlin; working in his clinic was Dr. Bruck, a Jewish dentist recently emerged from hiding. His former student, Käthe Heusermann, had been Dr. Blaschke’s dental assistant. She had attended Hitler—and helped hide her Jewish teacher from the Nazis. Heusermann received her rations at the Reich Chancellery, sharing them with Dr. Bruck.

Heusermann was a tall, blond, attractive woman of 35. As part of Hitler’s entourage she had much to fear; however, she had refused Dr. Blaschke’s offer to evacuate. As she explained to Elena, her fiancé was in Norway and she was afraid to lose touch with him if she left Berlin. She had been working for Dr. Blaschke since 1937 and had assisted in extracting Hitler’s teeth.

Heusermann was interrogated several times and at great length. She was the only person on hand who knew the distinctive features of Hitler’s teeth. Elena writes, “I asked her not to give the teeth their specialist names—incisor, canine, and so on, for fear I might not correlate the German and Russian terms correctly. Instead she simply gave them numbers.” Heusermann’s account coincided with the autopsy report. She also helped locate Hitler’s dental records and X-rays, having guessed correctly that they were kept at the Führerbunker. Hitler’s dental records were found in the box room, surprisingly intact, given the general chaos of the bunker where Russian soldiers were partying.

On May 11 Dr. Shkaravsky, who had been in charge of the autopsies, interviewed Heusermann in Buch. This time she drew a diagram of Hitler’s teeth, commenting on every detail. She said Dr. Blaschke’s dental technician, Fritz Echtmann, could confirm her report. Echtmann examined Hitler’s and Eva Braun’s dentures. He recognized his work and said that Braun’s bridge was his invention: “I did not make such a bridge for anyone else …”

The investigation was nearing the end when a member of Hitler’s bodyguard, Harry Mengershausen, was captured. He had observed Hitler’s and Braun’s cremation and burial. Mengershausen and his interrogators sat on logs in the Chancellery garden while Elena translated. When Mengershausen pointed out the burial site, irrefutable evidence of Hitler’s death was obtained.

“I was confident,” Elena writes in her memoir, “that within another day or two the whole world would know we had found Hitler’s body.” But Pravda, the major Soviet publication, printed accounts of Hitler’s escape, and the Red Army was urged to hunt for Hitler. “It was a deceitful charade, a weird attempt to disguise the fact that his body had been found,” Elena remarks.

Stalin, informed of the investigation results, sent his representative to Berlin to personally verify the reports. Around May 23 Lieutenant General Alexander Vadis, head of counterintelligence SMERSH of the 1st Belorussian Front, launched a new round of interrogations. Käthe Heusermann and Fritz Echtmann, free until then, were detained. Elena, as a translator, was warned of her potential liability: Everything concerning the investigation of Hitler’s death was a Soviet state secret and the punishment for disclosing it was up to 15 years in the gulag. Lieutenant General Vadis compiled a dossier for Stalin, which was sent to Moscow along with material evidence: Hitler’s dentures and teeth. From Berlin, Vadis’ reports went to Lavrenty Beria, head of the NKVD.

Elena’s superior, Colonel Gorbushin, was summoned to Moscow where Victor Abakumov, the head of SMERSH of the USSR Commissariat of Defense, told him: “Comrade Stalin has familiarized himself with the entire course of events and the documents relating to the discovery of Hitler. …  He considers the matter closed. At the same time, Comrade Stalin said, ‘But we shall not make this public.’”

***

On Nov. 1, 1965, Kagan, now Elena Rzhevskaya, received a phone call from Marshal Georgy Zhukov. During World War II the distance between Zhukov, the commander in chief of the Soviet army and Stalin’s deputy, and Elena, then a rank-and-file translator, was immense. Now aged 69, demoted after the war by Stalin and later by Nikita Khrushchev, Marshal Zhukov lived in obscurity, receiving no one.

His meeting with Elena was an exception. Despite his proximity to Stalin Zhukov had not been informed about Hitler’s death, obtaining the first definite confirmation from Elena’s book. Unfathomable to her, even the glorious marshal who had accepted Germany’s surrender in Berlin was kept unaware that Hitler’s body had been found and identified. After the war Stalin had pressed Marshal Zhukov, “Where is Hitler?”

By then, Stalin had received ample factual evidence of Hitler’s death, yet  he denied this knowledge to the world. So, it fell to Elena to disclose the secret of the century. First published in Moscow in 1965, her memoir became widely translated (although not into English) and sold 1.5 million copies. The English translation of an expanded version of her book appeared in 2018.

Käthe Heusermann and Fritz Echtmann (sitting on the ground) with Soviet officers  (Photo courtesy Lyuba Summ)

Elena struggled for answers as to why Stalin suppressed information about Hitler’s death. Stalin’s “inscrutable personality” and his “ambiguous attitude towards Hitler” were some of her best clues. In 1965, Marshal Zhukov would tell her the obvious: “Stalin had no sense of responsibility to the historical record …”

Before returning to her army unit stationed in the German town of Stendal, Elena had visited Käthe Heusermann and Fritz Echtmann at the front headquarters and was allowed to take Heusermann for a walk. They chatted about things they would do together upon her release. “I liked everything about her. … Käthe was just somebody people liked.” She would not see Heusermann again. Two decades later, from an archival document, Elena would learn her fate and that of Echtmann.

When in October 1945 Elena was leaving Germany, Major Bystrov told her: “There were three of us at every stage of this Hitler saga. Of those three, you are the only one who can write about it.” Elena was a future writer, having studied literature before the war; two others were intelligence officers. She left Germany on board Zhukov’s Douglas cargo plane, which was returning to Moscow.

During the postwar decade, when Stalin launched his campaign against the Jews, Elena witnessed arrests in the Jewish community. In January 1948, Solomon Mikhoels was killed on Stalin’s orders. Elena was in the stream of mourners going past the great actor’s coffin in the Jewish State Theater. Mikhoels’ theater, which she had frequented, was shut down the following year. Like other Soviet Jews at the time Elena was denied employment. She also faced an additional fear—she was one of the three witnesses of Adolf Hitler’s postmortem. Nonetheless, she recorded information about the search for Hitler.

In 1954, one year after Stalin’s death, she took her memoir to Znamya literary magazine, which published war journalism and prose. The editor, afraid to be the first to publish an account about the discovery and identification of Hitler’s remains, printed her memoir, but without this vital part. In 1961 Elena outwitted her editors and included the story establishing Hitler’s death in her book Spring in a Greatcoat, a collection of her previously published novellas. Her editors failed to spot the new material.

In September 1964, after years of trying, she received access to the documents she had been translating in Berlin two decades earlier. Some bore her signature as a military translator; others were new to her. Thus, she came upon a folder containing the 1945 “delivery notes for items the staff at front headquarters were sending to the SMERSH directory in Moscow.” Two of Hitler’s tunics and a cap were being forwarded to Moscow along with two other “items”—K. Heusermann and F. Echtmann. This brief inhumane reference spelled out their fate. “I just sat there dejected, switched off,” Elena writes. “I just had to live with it, another secret.”

Much later, Elena read Heusermann’s unpublished memoir about her imprisonment in Russia, which she received from Lev Bezymensky, a fellow wartime interpreter and writer who had interviewed Heusermann in Düsseldorf. Before being charged she spent six months in the Lubyanka Prison, then six years in solitary confinement in Lefortovo. In November 1951 Heusermann and Echtmann (among others) were condemned by resolution of the Special Council of the Ministry of Internal Affairs “as witnesses of Hitler’s death.”

In December Heusermann was dispatched in a cattle car to a labor camp in Taishet, southeastern Siberia, where, unable to fulfil her labor quota and put on a penal ration, she became emaciated. She was saved by a woman, a Carpathian Jew, who shared her food parcels with her.

The end of Heusermann’s term, in 1955, coincided with Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s visit to the USSR; he agreed with Khrushchev about the return of German prisoners. Flown to Moscow, placed in a well-furnished cottage in the countryside, Heusermann was taken on a sightseeing tour of Moscow—before being dispatched to Berlin in a first-class sleeping compartment. She was 45 when she returned. Her fiancé was long married and raising a family. Heusermann settled in Düsseldorf and worked for a while in dental practice. In the mid-1960s she and Echtmann testified in Germany that they had identified Hitler’s body from his teeth. Elena learned this from articles in Shtern and Die Welt.

After publication of her book Berlin, May 1945 Elena repeatedly traveled to Germany. When offered to meet Heusermann, she refused. “What could I say to her?” she writes. “I had been spared, but had evidently myself come within a whisker of her fate.” Heusermann had paid a terrible price for helping the Soviet investigation. In Memoirs of a Wartime Interpreter where she first included Heusermann’s story, Elena writes: “That burden of guilt will never leave me.”

A brief afterword: In 1986 my father, the writer Grigory Baklanov (Friedman), published Elena Rzhevskaya’s account of her meeting with Marshal Zhukov in the literary magazine Znamya, which he edited. He was able to prevail over censors who wanted to suppress Zhukov’s negative remarks about Stalin.

https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/293400/elena-rzhevskaya-hitlers-teeth

Lipstadt: Take anti-Semitism seriously ‘not just when there are dead bodies’

Episode #9: Deborah Lipstadt explains Jew-hatred in 2019 * Dr. Matthew Levitt on what Israel can expect from Lebanon protests * Raoul Wootliff breaks down Israeli coalition efforts

This week “People of the Pod” speaks with Deborah Lipstadt, the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, whose book, “Anti-Semitism: Here and Now,” proved to be tragically prescient when released earlier this year prior to a spate of lethal anti-Semitic attacks around the world.

In conversation with the podcast’s co-host, Manya Brachear Pashman, Lipstadt provides insight on the many directions from which anti-Semitism is emanating today, along with what can be done to fight it.

Lipstadt’s book was conceived of in the wake of a 2014 attack by a jihadist gunman on Belgium’s Jewish Museum that killed four visitors, and “a lot of the anti-Semitism that emerged around the war in Gaza,” the author says. “But it was clear to me that it wasn’t just related to the war in Gaza, that there had been enough other things happening that to just say, ‘This is all about Gaza,’ was a simplistic view.”

Lipstadt discusses “white genocide theory, or white replacement theory” on the far-right, whose conspiracy theorists accuse “the Jews” of being behind an insidious plan to displace America’s white majority.

On the far left, the author says, anti-Semitism finds a foothold in anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric – though in many cases those are just stand-ins for classic Jew-hatred.

“All you have to do is follow the comments made by Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British Labour Party and those around him, or Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London, who is very much a man of the left, or some people in this country, our representatives and leaders in this country as well,” to see this in action, Lipstadt says.

A new United Nations human rights report focusing exclusively on anti-Semitism, rather than grouping it together with other forms of bigotry, is encouraging, Lipstadt says.

Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt during a BBC interview, 2017 (courtesy)

“What the existence and contents of the report are saying is that it’s time to take this seriously. We need to take the issue seriously not just when there are dead bodies lying on the ground,” she says.

This week, after sustained protests against widespread government corruption throughout Lebanon, the country’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, resigned.

The protests have not let up, and crowds chanting, “All of them means all of them,” call for not just Hariri, but all politicians across the spectrum, to step down.

Speaking to “People of the Pod” co-host Seffi Kogen, the Fromer-Wexler Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Dr. Matthew Levitt, breaks down what spurred the protests – as well as what they spell for Israel, Lebanon’s neighbor to the south.

Levitt says that a proposed tax on using the WhatsApp messaging platform was just the straw that broke the camel’s back, but underlying issues regarding Lebanon’s currency had already sparked a crisis over concerns with fuel, wheat imports, and the Lebanese lira’s strength against the dollar.

“The party most shocked by this is Hezbollah, because you even have supporters in Hezbollah strongholds protesting against the government, though Hezbollah didn’t want it,” Levitt says. “So Hezbollah sent its thugs into Marty’s Square in downtown Beirut to rip down tents in the peaceful protests that have been going on there. Those tents have since been rebuilt.”

Lebanese anti-government protesters celebrate the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Beirut on October 29, 2019, on the 13th day of anti-government protests. (Patrick Baz/AFP)

Levitt says that the armed militia Hezbollah, which holds a large majority in Lebanon’s parliament, has long been benefiting from “strong-arm, mafia-like tactics.” Banks provide “large, unsecured loans to Hezbollah senior officials and others in the government, which are not being repaid or are going unreported,” Levitt says.

This “exposes the entire Lebanese financial system to a significant amount of risk,” he says.

“I don’t think that necessarily that what’s going to come out of [the protests] is a Jeffersonian democracy… but I do think this is going to have to lead to some type of change,” Levitt says.

“There is an undeniable opportunity here to try and help the people of Lebanon form a government that is representative of all of their needs,” he says, and “maybe the Lebanese armed forces to be able to actually exert control along the border between Israel and Lebanon. Right now, Hezbollah controls much of that territory.”

“How much of that is going to be translatable into actual policy?” Levitt says. “We just don’t know. Because at the end of the day, the reality is that Hezbollah is the largest and most powerful militia in Lebanon.

Supporters of the Hezbollah terror group drive in a convoy in support of its leader Hassan Nasrallah’s speech, in the area of Fatima’s Gate in Kfar Kila on the Lebanese border with Israel, October 25, 2019. (Ali Dia/AFP)

Kogen also speaks with The Times of Israel’s chief political correspondent, Raoul Wootliff.

Wootliff picks up from where he left off when he was last on the podcast over a month ago, as the results from Israel’s second election were rolling in.

In September, Wootlif described challenger Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party as the election’s biggest winner. They had become the largest party, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still had no clear path to form a government. Following that, President Reuven Rivlin asked Netanyahu to take the first stab at assembling a majority anyway.

“You didn’t really see the same effort that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put into previous coalition building efforts that he’s made,” Wootliff says. “He tried, but returned the mandate a few days early. He met with Benny Gantz once, but there was no significant breakthrough between any of the parties.”

From R to L: President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President of the Supreme Court Esther Hayut, and Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White party, at a memorial ceremony for late president Shimon Peres, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on September 19, 2019. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

Wootliff says that Netanyahu persisted in representing not just his Likud party, but a bloc of 55 seats of the right-wing and religious parties. Blue and White was unwilling to begin negotiations with preconditions, while one of the conditions of [Netanyahu’s] group was that they would all enter the government together.

There remain three options for Gantz at the moment, says Wootliff: “Breaking away people from the right-wing bloc [to join a Blue and White coalition]; forming a minority government; or admitting that he also can’t form a government and passing the process on to the next stage.”

“Polling shows that a third election could yield very similar results to both this election and the previous one,” Wootliff says. “That would result in more gridlock, and who knows — fourth elections? It’s hard to imagine, but it’s possible.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/lipstadt-take-anti-semitism-seriously-not-just-when-there-are-dead-bodies/

How Holocaust survival of Michael Bennet’s family shaped his 2020 campaign

The Democratic hopeful won’t promise to cut aid to Israel, saying such a move might backfire by hardening Israeli right

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado, speaks at the J Street National Conference, with the hosts of "Pod Save the World," October 28, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado, speaks at the J Street National Conference, with the hosts of “Pod Save the World,” October 28, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON — When Democrat Michael Bennet goes on the campaign trail, he often talks about his mother. That’s not unusual for a presidential candidate; they often invoke their family as an inspiration for getting into politics. But Bennet’s Jewish mother has a story that none of the other candidates’ mothers do.

A native of Poland, she was separated from her family as a young girl and survived the Holocaust. The experience, Bennet said, has made her acutely aware of the danger posed by US President Donald Trump.

In an interview Monday with The Times of Israel, the Colorado senator elaborated on how his mother views the parallels between her experience and that of immigrant children now in the United States.

“I think she’s mostly seen it at the separation of families at the border,” he said. “That’s a very personal thing for her. I wouldn’t want to overextend the analogy or the metaphor, but I think that’s where she really sees that. And I think she does see Trump as a tyrant.”

A boy from Honduras is shown being taken into custody by US Border Patrol agents near the US-Mexico Border near Mission, Texas, June 12, 2018. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Susanne Bennet, 80, was born in 1938 in Warsaw, Poland, where her family owned a small art gallery. After the Nazi invasion, they had to separate to survive. (In 2012, she offered an oral history to the United States Holocaust museum.)

“My grandfather didn’t want to leave his family,” candidate Bennet said, “so my mom and her parents were split up during the war. My mom went out to a suburb of Warsaw and lived there. My grandmother lived with a convent of nuns and my grandfather hid underneath a candy manufacturer in Warsaw.”

The family was reunited after the war, and went on to live in Sweden and Mexico before settling in the United States in the 1950s.

Rarely did they discuss what happened to them, Bennet recalled.

“They seldom talked about their experience,” he said. “You could tell something terrible had happened. But only until later in life would my grandmother talk about it.”

That family history, Bennet said, has profoundly shaped his political outlook.

“I’ve never met people who were greater patriots than my grandparents were, and I really mean that,” he said. “America gave them a lot, and they gave a lot to America. And I think that’s the way this place is supposed to work.”

In this photo taken on March 27, 2019, US Senator Michael Bennet listens during a news conference on climate change at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. (ALEX WONG / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

As a candidate he regularly touts his immigration bona fides — he was part of the “Gang of Eight” senators who wrote and shepherded an immigration reform bill in 2013 that passed the Senate but died in the House — as he tries to climb from the bottom of the polls. (He’s currently under one percent in most surveys)

“I know — notwithstanding our imperfections — how much the world looks to us as an example of pluralistic, democratic leadership in a world beset by sectarian hatreds and violence,” he said.

“We really remain a singular example. That’s why I find Trump so offensive, because he rejects the tradition of responsibility for the rest of the world, for living up to those democratic ideals,” Bennet said.

On US policy toward Israel

On Monday, Bennet appeared at J Street’s National Conference along with four other 2020 Democratic hopefuls.

While his main policy position vis-a-vis the conflict is in line with the liberal Mideast advocacy group’s — supportive of a two-state outcome — he differs from some of his 2020 rivals on tactics.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has vowed to leverage US military aid to pressure Israel to roll back its settlement enterprise and enter peace talks with the Palestinians. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has floated the same possibility if Israel creeps closer toward annexing the West Bank settlements. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has promised to work to end the occupation.

Bennet, on the other hand, wouldn’t go quite that far.

“I think what we’ve got to do is reassert the importance of there being a two-state solution and having the United States play whatever role is constructive to achieve that,” he said. “We’re living in an era where I recognize that there is not a domestic constituency in Israel, or in the Palestinian territories, for that solution. I hope that’s not a permanent state of things.”

He went on, “But I don’t think this is really about whether you are willing to use this lever or that lever so much as it is, I believe, about trying to forge a relationship between the American people and the Israeli people in our mutual self-interest and democratic impulses.

“In a post-Trump, post-Netanyahu era, I believe those impulses are very important. I would do everything I could as president to rebuild those bridges.”

US President Donald Trump, right, and visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk along the Colonnade of the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Bennet suggested that cutting aid to Israel could ultimately backfire on an American president’s attempts to move Jerusalem closer to a peace deal.

“I’m not saying it would, but I’m saying it could,” he said. “I would want to make sure that whatever we’re doing was weakening the resolve of the elements trying to push for settlements, rather than strengthening their resolve. And I think that’s just realistic. I mean, I don’t want to be seen as overly pessimistic, but I think it’s important to take those things into account when you’re deciding what your policies are.”

Another priority, he said, would be to repair the relationship between Washington and Ramallah, which has deteriorated under the Trump administration.

Since Trump ordered the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in December 2017, the Palestinian Authority has refused to engage with the White House. In retaliation, Trump cut aid to the PA and the East Jerusalem hospital network, and shuttered the PLO’s compound in Washington.

Democratic presidential candidates Senator Kristen Gillibrand of New York., left, former Colorado senator Michael Bennet and California Representative Eric Swalwell stand on stage before a Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, June 27, 2019, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

 

“The United States is, I believe, in the end, the only one that’s going to be able to bring the parties together to forge a peace,” Bennet said. “It doesn’t when the Palestinians believe we’ve completely put the thumb on the scale for Israel, which is what they believe today.”

In the interview, Bennet also said he would seek to either reenter the Iran nuclear deal that Trump withdrew from, or bring Tehran and world powers back to the negotiating table to broker a new one.

“I think that it would be really important to put our allies in a room who helped negotiate that deal and see where it is they see the prospect for restarting it,” said Bennet, who voted for the landmark pact as a member of Congress in 2015. “And Iran would obviously want to weigh in as well.

“I think it’s unlikely that we could end up with an identical deal because times have changed, we’re further along in the calendar, but there’s no doubt in my mind that we would be better off having the parties sit down and negotiate and see if we can make progress,” he added. “There’s not a shred [of doubt] in my mind that the whole world would be better off if Donald Trump had never pulled the plug on the Iran deal.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/how-holocaust-survival-of-michael-bennets-familys-shaped-his-2020-campaign/

Historian: New evidence shows FDR’s bigotry derailed many Holocaust rescue plans

In his book about Franklin Roosevelt and the Holocaust, Rafael Medoff finds links between the US president’s anti-Japanese stances and his policies against Jews fleeing Hitler

President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivers a 'fireside chat' from the White House. (public domain)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivers a ‘fireside chat’ from the White House. (public domain)

Not only was US president Franklin Roosevelt perfunctory about rescuing Jews from the Nazis, but he obstructed rescue opportunities that would have cost him little or nothing, according to Holocaust historian Rafael Medoff.

FDR’s role in preventing the rescue of European Jewry is detailed in a new book called, “The Jews Should Keep Quiet: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, and the Holocaust.”

Wrote Medoff, “Franklin Roosevelt took advantage of Wise’s adoration of his policies and leadership to manipulate Wise through flattery and intermittent access to the White House.” In return for visits to the White House and Roosevelt calling him by his first name, Wise undermined Jewish activists who demanded the administration let more Jewish refugees into the US.

According to Medoff, Roosevelt’s policies toward European Jews were motivated by sentiments similar to those that spurred him to intern 120,000 Japanese Americans in detention camps as potential spies.

“Roosevelt used almost identical language in recommending that the Jews and the Japanese be forcibly ‘spread thin’ around the country,” Medoff told The Times of Israel. “I was struck by the similarity between the language FDR used regarding the Japanese, and that which he used in private concerning Jews — that they can’t be trusted, they won’t ever become fully loyal Americans, they’ll try to dominate wherever they go.”

‘The Jews Should Keep Quiet,’ by Rafael Medoff

During the 1920s, when Roosevelt was already a seasoned politician and a vice presidential candidate, he expressed racist views in editorials and interviews. Regarding new immigrants — and Asians in particular — he bemoaned the creation of ethnic “colonies” in major cities.

“Our main trouble in the past has been that we have permitted the foreign elements to segregate in colonies,” Roosevelt told the Brooklyn Eagle daily newspaper in a 1920 interview. “They have crowded into one district and they have brought congestion and racial prejudices to our large cities.”

During these key years before Roosevelt entered the White House, he also wrote and spoke about “the mingling of white with Oriental blood” and preserving other forms of “racial purity.” According to Medoff, all of this was part of a long-held worldview that later guided Roosevelt during his three terms in office.

“Roosevelt’s unflattering statements about Jews consistently reflected one of several interrelated notions: that is was undesirable to have too many Jews in any single profession, institution, or geographic locale; that America was by nature, and should remain, an overwhelmingly white, Protestant country; and that Jews on the whole possessed certain innate and distasteful characteristics,” wrote Medoff.

During the 1920s, members of the KKK march in Washington, DC (Public domain)

Even as late in the war as 1944, when a Gallup poll found that the American public overwhelmingly approved of letting in an unlimited number of Jewish refugees, Roosevelt worked to make sure nothing of the sort took place.

“It wasn’t the public mood that set Roosevelt’s immigration policy; he could have quietly allowed the quotas to be filled without anybody knowing it,” said Medoff. “His harsh policy was a choice that he made, which emanated from his vision of what he thought America should look like.”

‘They’ll try to dominate wherever they go’

Last year, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum opened an exhibition called “Americans and the Holocaust.” In many ways, Medoff’s book challenges the premises of that installation, although the exhibition is not mentioned by the author.

According to Medoff, the USHMM exhibition “distorts and minimizes Roosevelt’s abandonment of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.” The president is depicted as having been virtually powerless to enact rescue efforts, despite overwhelming evidence the administration worked to torpedo rescue plans at nearly every opportunity, explained the author.

USHMM exhibition distorts and minimizes Roosevelt’s abandonment of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust

Historian Rafael Medoff

“[Roosevelt] would not have had to incur substantial political risks had he permitted immigration up to the limits set by US law, admitted refugees temporarily to a US territory, utilized empty Liberty ships to carry refugees, or authorized dropping bombs on Auschwitz or the railways from planes that were already flying over the camp and its environs,” wrote Medoff.

The Holocaust museum’s portrait of Roosevelt is particularly problematic, believes Medoff, because the president’s torpedoing of Jewish rescue efforts has been well-documented for several decades. Specifically, Medoff pointed to David Wyman’s seminal 1984 book, “The Abandonment of the Jews,” as well as research conducted by historians Henry Feingold and Monty Penkower.

“I’m told that the museum’s bookstore ordered only three copies [of Medoff’s new book, ‘The Jews Should Keep Quiet’],” said the author, who directs the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. “It would be interesting to compare that to the number of copies they have ordered of books that defend Roosevelt’s response to the Holocaust.”

Asked for a response to Medoff’s take on “Americans and the Holocaust,” USHMM communications director Andrew Hollinger said the exhibition “clearly” shows instance in which Roosevelt declined to save Jews from Hitler.

An image from the exhibition, ‘Americans and the Holocaust,’ running at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum through 2021 (courtesy)

“[Rescuing Jews] was not a priority for President Roosevelt or virtually anyone else in the government, which the exhibition lays out,” Hollinger told The Times of Israel. “The exhibition clearly shows President Roosevelt led the effort to prepare America to enter the war, but never made rescuing the victims of Nazism a priority.”

The installation, said Hollinger, asks a key question: “If Americans knew so much about Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews, why didn’t rescue become a priority?” The installation poses that question not only with regard to Roosevelt but to various sectors of the American public, said Hollinger.

“[FDR] condemned Kristallnacht but did not loosen immigration quotas despite pleas to do so,” said Hollinger. “His State Department took steps to prevent Jews and other refugees from entering the country… All of this is examined in the exhibition. I would encourage people to visit the exhibition in person or online to see it for themselves.”

‘Not to repeat the failure of their parents’

During the 1930s, Roosevelt maintained trade with Nazi Germany, and his administration even helped the Germans evade the boycott against German goods that many Americans were practicing.

As detailed by Medoff in “The Jews Should Keep Quiet,” products from Germany were permitted to enter the US with misleading labels that disguised the country of origin. This helped FDR undercut the boycott movement supported by Jewish leaders and millions of other Americans.

Even after the Kristallnacht pogrom in November of 1938, Roosevelt refused to criticize the leaders of Nazi Germany. His statement about the slaughter merely called the night’s events “unbelievable,” and he declined to name the victims or perpetrators. Indeed, FDR did not issue a single statement critical of the Nazis during the first five years of Hitler’s rule.

Synagogue in Hanover, Germany, set ablaze during the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 9-10, 1938 (public domain)

In 1939, as the world went to war, Hitler broadcast his intentions to annihilate European Jewry. Simultaneously, FDR refused to support a bill that would have let 20,000 Jewish German adolescents into the US. Anne Frank and her sister Margot could have qualified to be included, since they were German citizens and under age 16, said Medoff.

Roosevelt’s determination to keep Jews away from America knew few limits, as probed in several chapters of Medoff’s book. Although it is well-known that Roosevelt turned away the St. Louis ship packed with German Jewish refugees, the president took other steps that have been omitted by most of his biographers.

For example, when the Dominican Republic made a public offer to take in 100,000 Jews on visas, the administration undermined the plan. From Roosevelt’s point of view, explained Medoff, that country was too close to home, and Jews deposited there would inevitably come to America. Officials in the US Virgin Islands, too, were willing to rescue Jews by letting them into the country, but Roosevelt halted the plan, wrote Medoff.

US president Franklin D. Roosevelt meets with the National Jewish Welfare Board — (left to right) Walter Rothschild, Chaplain Aryeh Lev, Barnett Brickner and Louis Kraft — at the White House on November 8, 1943 (public domain)

When asked what Jewish leaders in the US learned from those dark years, Medoff pointed to the community’s later activism for the Jewish state and Jews endangered behind the Iron Curtain.

“Where we can really see the impact of remorse over the Holocaust is in the rise of the Soviet Jewry protest movement and pro-Israel activism by American Jews,” said Medoff. “Many of the key figures in those efforts have said they were driven by a determination not to repeat the failure of their parents’ generation to speak out during the Shoah.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/historian-new-evidence-shows-fdrs-bigotry-derailed-many-holocaust-rescue-plans/

Principal and teacher at Utah school placed on leave after student dresses as Hitler

(JTA) — The principal and a teacher at an elementary school in Utah have been placed on paid administrative leave after a student dressed in an Adolf Hitler costume and participated in the schools Halloween parade.

The student at the Creekside Elementary School in Kaysville, Utah wore a brown long-sleeve shirt with a red swastika armband on the sleeve in photos that circulated Friday on social media. He also appeared to be wearing a Hitler mustache.

The Davis School District apologized for the incident in a statement, the local Fox affiliate reported.

“The Davis School District apologizes for what took place yesterday. It does not tolerate speech, images or conduct that portray or promote hate in any form. The district is taking the matter very seriously and is investigating every aspect of the situation,” the statement said. “It does not tolerate speech, images or conduct that portray or promote hate in any form.”

“The United Jewish Federation of Utah is deeply concerned about the rising tide of hateful speech and actions in our country. As such, we are appalled that an elementary school student at Creekside Elementary School in Kaysville, Utah was allowed to participate in a Halloween parade dressed as Adolf Hitler. Almost all Jews and Americans regard Hitler and Nazi symbols as signifiers of the worst hatred, racism, and crimes against humanity that the world has known. Dressing a child as Hitler is intolerably offensive and should not be suggested, permitted or condoned.

https://www.jta.org/quick-reads/principal-and-teacher-at-utah-school-placed-on-leave-after-student-dresses-as-hitler

UK’s Labour Party has an opportunity in upcoming elections. The anti-Semitism controversy is holding it back.

BY CNAAN LIPHSHIZ

(JTA) – After nearly a decade in power, Britain’s Conservative Party is in tatters.

Years of failing to negotiate a deal with the European Union to follow through with Brexit have led to internal party discord and roiled public frustration. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s controversial push to leave the EU without a negotiated deal has only added to the political headache.

As if Brexit woes aren’t enough, Conservatives are also under fire in the media for alleged xenophobic radicalization in their ranks — not least by Johnson himself, who last year wrote an op-ed calling Muslim women who wear face-covering veils “ridiculous” for choosing to look like “bank robbers” or “letterboxes.”

Johnson’s approval ratings in August were the lowest of any British prime minister in over 40 years of polling, and since then he’s suffered a succession of policy defeats. He felt the need to call for new elections, which will be held Dec. 12.

It all adds up to what seems like ideal conditions for the liberal Labour Party’s return to power, which it has not held since 2010 under Gordon Brown.

But multiple opinion polls consistently suggest that the Conservatives still have a significant lead on Labour, which has been led by Jeremy Corbyn since 2015.

Corbyn’s hard-left economic policies, often described as populist, his perceived neutrality on Brexit and his history of alleged support for Britain’s enemies have caused major strife in Labour’s own ranks and likely have contributed to its dismal performance in the polls.

But Labour’s many scandals involving anti-Semitism — and the British media’s unrelenting attention to these problems — are also a key factor holding back the party at this crucial moment of opportunity, according to expert observers.

Following Corbyn’s takeover of the party, hate speech against Jews and Israel began proliferating in Labour’s ranks. Thousands of incidents have been recorded both by internal Labour groups like Labour Against Anti-Semitism, and external ones, including the Campaign Against Antisemitism.

British Prime Minister-elect Boris Johnson waiting to glide on a zip line onto the Olympic Park in London, the United Kingdom, on August 1, 2012. (Barcroft Media / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson, then the mayor of London, waits to glide on a Zip line onto the Olympic Park in the British capital, Aug. 1, 2012. (Barcroft Media/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Corbyn came under scrutiny increasingly in the media and beyond both for his alleged failure to stop the hate speech and for past actions in which he appeared to ignore, condone or encourage it — and even to partake in it himself.

He has defended a London mural showing bankers, understood by many to be Jewish, playing monopoly on the backs of dark-skinned people. He once said that UK-born “Zionists” have “no sense of irony.” He blamed “the hand of Israel” for an Islamist terrorist attack in Egypt in an interview for the Iranian state-run Press TV network. He has called Hezbollah and Hamas — militant groups that vow to destroy Israel — his friends. In 2015, he placed a wreath in a Tunisian cemetery to commemorate the Black September terrorists who killed 11 Israelis at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

In 2016, an interparliamentary committee, which included Labour representatives, accused Labour of creating a “safe space for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people.”

Jewish community leaders and prominent members have not minced words about the controversy.

British Jewry’s leaders, including former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks, said it would be an “existential threat to their community were Corbyn to come to power. In a recent poll, 85 percent of British Jewish respondents said Corbyn is anti-Semitic.

In a Jewish News poll last month of more than 1,000 non-Jewish voters, 55 percent agreed with the statement that Corbyn’s “failure to tackle anti-Semitism within his own party shows he is unfit” to lead.

In the poll, 51 percent said Labour has a “serious anti-Semitism problem” – up from 34 percent when the same question was asked by an earlier ComRes poll. Just 18 percent disagreed.

According to a YouGov survey from May, 80 percent of British voters are now aware of Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis, and just 19 percent are still convinced by Labour and Corbyn’s arguments that they are not anti-Semitic.

Still, a typical voter from northern England, for example, where few Jews live, will likely not be aware of the intricacies or the timeline of the Labour anti-Semitism crisis, says Jonathan Arkush, the previous president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

But even there, “there is now a pretty wide spread perception that there’s something rather nasty around Labour,” Arkush suggested.

“Voters aren’t stupid. They’re able to recognize when a pregnant woman, a member of Parliament, is being bullied,” he said, referencing the case of Luciana Berger, a young rising star who resigned from Labour this year over anti-Semitism while pregnant.

U.K. parliament member Luciana Berger announces her resignation from the Labour Party at a press conference in London, Feb. 18, 2019. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Parliament member Luciana Berger announces her resignation from the Labour Party at a news conference in London, Feb. 18, 2019. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

“They recognize it when another Jewish lawmaker, who represented Labour for 20 years, faces hostile and aggressive questions at a party meeting,” Arkush added, referencing recent incidents involving lawmakers Louise Ellman and Ruth Smeeth. Ellman recently joined other Jewish Labour leavers when she quit the party over anti-Semitism after 55 years in its ranks.

If Corbyn’s critics, especially his Jewish ones, are correct, it means that the general electorate is punishing Corbyn for Labour’s perceived treatment of a minority so small that it comprises less than half a percent of the population. It’s a remarkable scenario considering the relative success of parties with a longer tradition of anti-Semitic controversy elsewhere in Europe, including the National Front in France and the Freedom Party in Austria.

The possibility that Labour pays a price for its anti-Semitism problem at the ballot box makes activist Jonathan Hoffman, an activist who last year spearheaded a billboard campaign against Corbyn, feel “relieved.”

“If we lived in a society whose people and media were prepared to overlook anti-Semitism, it’d be a terrible place,” Hoffman said. “And I’m proud of how Jews, but also many non-Jews, are standing up to anti-Semitism here.”

https://www.jta.org/2019/11/01/global/uks-labour-party-has-an-opportunity-in-upcoming-elections-the-anti-semitism-controversy-is-holding-it-back

 

Men dressed as Jews hand out Holocaust denial fliers at Colorado mall

Group wearing yarmulkes and fringed prayer shawls distribute leaflets proclaiming that ‘Marxist Jews’ dominate academia and Jewish people run the porn industry

Pearl Street Mall, Boulder, Colorado. (Google Street View)

Pearl Street Mall, Boulder, Colorado. (Google Street View)

A group of men wearing large white yarmulkes and fringed prayer shawls handed out fliers promoting Holocaust denial and hung up cards bearing anti-Semitic canards on a pedestrian mall in Boulder, Colorado.

The fliers handed out at Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall by the men who appeared to be posing as Jews claimed the Holocaust was “impossible.”

The men livestreamed their actions, according to the report.

As of Sunday morning, no reports were filed with police about the fliers, Boulder police told the newspaper.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/men-dressed-as-jews-hand-out-holocaust-denial-fliers-at-colorado-mall/