Teens remanded for robbery, attack on Holocaust survivor, 76

While relatives say they are ‘good kids,’ victim Reli Shemesh asks, ‘How do you raise children like that?’

The Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court on Thursday extended the remand of three youths suspected of assaulting an elderly woman and stealing her handbag.

The teenagers will remain in custody for five days, after security footage Wednesday captured their assault on the 76-year-old Holocaust survivor.


According to police, the youths have admitted to the attack and expressed remorse for their actions.

A family member of one of the teens expressed regret for the incident, but maintained that the attack was out of character for the youths.

“They are good children and the incident surprised us, it is not like them and we are shocked by what has happened. We hoped that the woman would be here so that we could ask for her forgiveness,” they told the Ynet Hebrew-language news site.

Shemesh responded to the comments, telling Ynet that she was surprised that the family had defended the youths as being well-behaved.

“They say they are good children? I have children and grandchildren their age and I don’t think for a second that one of them would do something like this,” Shemesh said. “How do you raise children like that?”

Shemesh also expressed a desire to meet with her attackers, to try to make them understand what they did.

“I would very much like to see the youths who assaulted me, to look them in the eyes and ask them how they would react if it happened to their mother or their grandmother.”

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/teens-remanded-for-robbery-attack-on-holocaust-survivor-76/

What the last survivor of Rome’s Jewish ghetto raid leaves behind

Lello Di Segni, who died at age 91, is mourned by his community and internationally — but he might be missed most inside the classroom

Lello Di Segni. (Courtesy/ Press Office of the Jewish Community of Rome)

Lello Di Segni. (Courtesy/ Press Office of the Jewish Community of Rome)

On a cloudy autumn morning 75 years ago, the inhabitants of Rome’s Jewish ghetto were abruptly awoken by the sound of heavy footsteps, doors slamming, and the barking of orders in a foreign accent.

At 5:30 a.m. on October 16, 1943, 300 German soldiers began their hunt and round-up of Roman Jews while their victims were still blissfully asleep, expecting a usual Shabbat morning. It was not to be.

Just 16 of the victims — 15 men and one woman — returned home two years later. Among them was Lello di Segni, the last remaining survivor of that deportation, who died on October 26 at the age of 91.

Born on November 4, 1926, Di Segni was the eldest of the four children of Cesare De Segni and Enrichetta Zarfatti. He attended an interfaith, mixed school until 1938, when Fascist racial segregation laws were passed. The family lived in a house on Portico d’Ottavia — a street in the historic Jewish ghetto along the Tiber River.

In a 1995 interview with historian Marcello Pezzetti, Di Segni recounted how on the evening of October 15 German soldiers warned the local Jews not to leave the neighborhood. They discouraged any attempt to escape, Di Segni said, by spraying automatic gunfire at the outer walls of neighborhood homes.

A family bakery/delicatessen shop on Portico d’Ottavia, 1921. (Courtesy/ Press Office of the Jewish Community of Rome) Indeed, despite the fact that an armistice between Italy and the Allies had been signed that September, many Jews opted to remain in Rome. They were lulled into a false sense of security, having paid an ostensible “ransom” of 50 kilograms (110 lbs) of gold to the Germans on September 28 in order to avoid handing over 200 people for deportation.


Deceived by the Germans, the Roman Jews were deported regardless; the identification number given to each concentration camp prisoner burned forever into the forearms of the survivors.

During Di Segni’s internment in Auschwitz and then Dachau, he was known only as “158526.” Deported with his entire family, he was the only child to survive, along with his father Cesare, who was sent to work in the coal mines of Upper Silesia.

“Like a horse, the number pinned to my clothes said that I was nothing but a beast,” Di Segni told Pezzetti.

After 30 days in Auschwitz, Di Segni was transferred to the Warsaw Ghetto, where he was responsible for the removal of debris and rubble, as well as the construction of new crematoriums and gas chambers at the Warsaw concentration camp.

As soviet troops began to advance on the Eastern front, however, Di Segni was sent to the sub-camp of Allach, and then Dachau, where he was eventually freed by United States forces.

A community decimated

Di Segni was among the 2,489 Jews arrested by the Nazis in Italy. Though in Rome local residents were often uncooperative with deportation efforts against the Jews and police were deemed unreliable, throughout the country 1,898 more Jews were arrested by Italians.

Lello Di Segni (Screen capture: YouTube)

An additional 312 were arrested in joint actions by both forces. There is no evidence for those responsible for the remaining 2,314 arrests.

In a phone interview, Aldo Pavia, vice president of the National Association of Italian Political Deportees to Nazi Concentration Camps — and himself the son of deported Jews — told The Times of Israel that once back in Rome, Di Segni was silent about his ordeal for years.

Di Segni wanted to return to his normal life, forget what he had seen and endured, and was afraid that people would not have even believed his story, Pavia said.

“Our friendship went beyond his experience in the camps. I was fascinated by the way he described the atmosphere in Rome in the years preceding and following those tragic events,” Pavia said. He added that the roundup on October 16, 1943, had a strong impact not just on the Jewish community but also on the entire city.

Pavia underlined how Di Segni used to downplay his role as a witness, saying that his testimony would, after all, have just added to what was already said by his cousin Settimia Spizzichino.

Spizzichino was the one woman among those 16 survivors who returned to Rome, and became a leading Italian figure in the testimony of the crimes committed during the Shoah.

Aldo Pavia, vice president of the National Association of Italian Political Deportees to Nazi Concentration Camps, in a 2015 YouTube video. (Screenshot/YouTube)

Remembering the long conversations the two used to have at a bar on Catania Street in Rome’s center which Di Segni used to call his “office,” Pavia said that when the two were together, Di Segni overcame his characteristic reluctance to speak. Di Segni shared harrowing stories, Pavia said, such as hiding behind a tree to avoid been seen by a passing SS truck after he left Birkenau.

Although he was reserved and sometimes needed to be prompted to speak, Di Segni would go to schools to share his story with students as long as his health allowed it, the Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation’s Sandra Terracina told The Times of Israel.

Di Segni also wrote a book, “Buon Sogno Sia lo Mio,” or “I Hope To Have Good Dreams,” whose title was inspired by a little prayer Di Segni’s parents taught him to say before going to sleep, Pavia said.

A loss of a man — and his memories

Leaders of the Italian and Roman Jewish communities mourned the loss of Di Segni.

A Jewish delicatessen in the area of the Rome Ghetto, at the corner of Santa Maria del Pianto and Costaguti streets, 1938. (Courtesy/ Press Office of the Jewish Community of Rome)

“With his loss, we lose the memories of those who suffered the October 16 raid and survived to tell us about it,” said Ruth Dureghello, president of the Jewish community of Rome.

Community councilman Lello Mieli told The Times of Israel that Di Segni had been like a father to him. Because every member of the Jewish community has lost relatives in the Holocaust, Mieli said, they tried to take care of survivors like Di Segni, whom he called “one of the diamonds of the community.”

“As people disappear, we fear that their testimony will disappear as well,” said fellow Holocaust survivor and Italian senator for life Liliana Segreduring a conference at Gelasio Caetani High School in Rome.

Rome’s Mayor Virginia Raggi also posted her message of condolence on Twitter.

Segre, who like Di Segni has embraced the mission of bearing witness to what Jews endured under the Nazis, commented earlier this month on the climate of hatred that seems to have emerged in Italy in last few months.

In fact, according to the Antisemitism Observatory, anti-Semitic incidents in Italy have increased considerably over the last four years. In 2018 alone, there have so far been 159 episodes, including racist graffiti and social media posts.

Screen capture from video Selene Ticchi, an activist with the Italian neo-fascist Forza Nuova movement, wears a t-shirt with the slogan ‘Asuchwitzland’ on it at a rally in the northeast town of Predappio, October 28, 2018. (YouTube)

During the October 29 neo-Fascist rally at Benito Mussolini’s burial place in Predappio, political activist Selene Ticchi — previously a mayoral candidate in the city of Budrio with the far-right New Force party — wore a t-shirt emblazoned with the word “Auschwitzland,” comparing the death camp to an amusement park.

Asked about what can be done to stem this tide of hatred, Pavia said that the danger today, as it was 75 years ago, is to “neglect these signals and let them fall into indifference,” adding that “anti-Semitism often hides behind anti-Zionist claims.”

“Young people cannot be blamed for this because they don’t and can’t have the memory of those facts,” Pavia said, underlining how just speaking about the horror of the Holocaust “risks turning such memories into a movie.”

According to Pavia, a collective memory must be built through a combination of historical documentation, education and the explanation of not just how, but why certain things happened, with an emphasis on those responsible.

Pavia said that Di Segni’s most vivid memory was probably the moment when, unable to stand on his feet, he was carried out of the wooden barracks in Dachau by his fellow inmates and realized that the camp had been liberated by US troops.

In that moment, said Pavia, Di Segni remembered exclaiming: “Now I’m finally happy.”

Polish nun who helped hide Vilna ghetto rebels during Holocaust dies at 110

Cecylia Roszak was thought to be the oldest nun in the world; poet Abba Kovner was one those she and her sisters saved at a local convent

Cecylia Maria Roszak, right, who was awarded the 'Righteous Among Nations' honor for helping to save Jews during the Holocaust, seen here in Krakow, Poland, May 2018. (Piotr Jantos/Archdiocese of Krakow)

Cecylia Maria Roszak, right, who was awarded the ‘Righteous Among Nations’ honor for helping to save Jews during the Holocaust, seen here in Krakow, Poland, May 2018. (Piotr Jantos/Archdiocese of Krakow)

A Polish Catholic nun who was honored by Israel for helping to hide Jewish would-be resistance fighters in her convent during World War II died last week aged 110.

Among those who hid in the small convent of nine Dominican nuns during the war was poet and activist Abba Kovner, who in 1942 circulated among the Vilna Ghetto residents a manifesto, titled “Let us not go like lambs to the slaughter,” that warned of Nazi Germany’s plans to wipe out the Jews of Europe. It marked the first time a victim of the Holocaust had sounded the alarm over what was happening to the Jewish population and called for rebellion against the Nazis.

Along with photos of Roszak posted to its Twitter feed, the archdiocese wrote: “In Krakow the oldest sister in the world died – sister Cecilia Maria Roszak from the monastery of Dominican sisters.”

Roszak was born on March 25, 1908 in the village of Kiełczewo in west Poland and joined the Dominican monastery of Gródek in Krakow when she was 21, the Independent reported.

In 1938 Roszak traveled with a group of nine nuns to Vilnius in Lithuania to set up a new convent, but war interrupted the plans.

According the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial page dedicated to Anna Borkowska, the mother superior of the convent, the sisters took in 17 members of an illegal Jewish underground movement that formed to fight back against the extermination of the ghetto’s residents.

One of the underground members was Kovner, who, according to Yad Vashem, wrote his landmark manifesto within the walls of the convent. Kovner tried unsuccessfully to organize armed resistance inside the ghetto. Borkowska smuggled the first hand grenades into the community.

Abba Kovner (back row, center) with members of the Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye (The FPO – Eng: United Partisan Organization) in Vilna, 1940s (Courtesy Israel National Library)

Kovner escaped the ghetto and survived the war after fighting among Polish resistance partisans. He later testified at the trial in Israel of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann.

Borkowska was arrested in 1943 and the convent closed down. She and Roszak both survived the war and the latter returned to the monastery in Krakow, where she worked as an organist and cantor.

In 1984 Yad Vashem gave the members of the convent, including Borkowska and Roszak, its Righteous Among Nations award, which honors non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Kovner participated in a tree-planting ceremony at Yad Vashem and then traveled to Warsaw, where he personally presented Borkowska with the award and a bottle containing soil from the planting ceremony.

From Elie Wiesel’s classroom, lessons in sainthood and redemption

As the late Holocaust survivor’s teaching assistant, Ariel Burger learned to unpack his own personal life with guidance from Nobel Laureate Wiesel, his mentor of two decades

Elie Wiesel (left) with student Ariel Burger, author of a book based on Wiesel as an educator (courtesy)

Elie Wiesel (left) with student Ariel Burger, author of a book based on Wiesel as an educator (courtesy)

BOSTON, Massachusetts — When Ariel Burger was 17 years old, he told his father he wanted to be a saint.

Preoccupied with the concept of perfection, Burger was on a quest to find answers to life’s vexing questions. Having received what he called “mixed messages” about Judaism from his divorced parents, the aspiring rabbi decided to move to Israel. For seven years, Burger immersed himself in Jewish texts and sought guidance from rabbis.

Specifically, Burger told Wiesel he was not satisfied with the answers he was receiving during conversations with rabbis. Deep spiritual growth seemed to elude him, he said, even while immersed in Jewish texts and surrounded by well-known thinkers.

Not for the first time, Wiesel knew how to help Burger “re-frame” his thoughts.

In a nutshell, Wiesel suggested that Burger might be looking for something less concrete and final than “answers.” Perhaps, Burger was looking for “responses” to his questions, fears, and aspirations — in other words, responses to his life.

“Answers close things down, responses do not,” said Wiesel, who died at age 87 in 2016. In Jerusalem, the author helped Burger see his challenges not as roadblocks to spiritual growth, but as helpers in achieving that growth.

“I began to see life and experience not as obstacles to spiritual growth but as the language God used to communicate with us,” wrote Burger, who now lives outside Boston with his family.


This conversation between a teacher and his student about “answers,” along with many others, form the crux of Burger’s new book, “Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom.”

There have been quite a few biographies about Wiesel, but this is the first based on the late Holocaust survivor as a teacher. Other authors have focused on — for example — Wiesel’s prolific writing career, or his global activism for human rights.

Although Burger first met Wiesel as a 15-year old, most of the book takes place during the five years in which Burger served as Wiesel’s BU teaching assistant, a period that ended in 2008. Based on five years of journal entries and piles of classroom notes, “Witness” follows Wiesel’s personal interactions with Burger, as well as how Wiesel related to the students chosen for his intensive seminars.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Holocaust was rarely a major focus of Wiesel’s seminars on ethics or historical memory. Sometimes, the only Holocaust-related book on the reading list was “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and the professor’s own works seldom appeared. Wiesel made use of texts from many eras and cultures, all of which he helped students connect to current events and ethical behavior.

In the classroom, students were encouraged to grill Wiesel and each other with questions. There were debates about what “chosen people” means, and about Joan of Arc’s visions. Often, Wiesel’s response to a student’s heated question was, characteristically, “Tell me more.”

Wiesel and Burger’s relationship far exceeded the probing of Jewish texts. The book reveals several turning points in Burger’s life during which Wiesel provided guidance, ranging from marital issues to the difficulties of being a Jewish educator in bureaucratic systems. In all of these encounters, Burger attempts to bring the venerated Wiesel down to Earth for readers.

“He loved chocolate, was afraid of policemen, never learned how to swim, and didn’t like celebrating his birthday,” wrote Burger. He called Wiesel an “anchor” during the trials of his life.

‘To renounce despair’

For both the teacher and the student, an issue of overriding concern was how to keep one’s faith in a world beset by evil.

“If I had not had my faith, my life would have been much easier,” said Wiesel on many occasions.

Ariel Burger speaks at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Massachusetts, November 13, 2018 (courtesy: Michael Bogdanow)

With his typical wryness, Wiesel was pointing to the difficulty of integrating his experience during the Holocaust with his belief in God. After the war, as soon as Wiesel had access to books again, he opened a Talmud to the same page he had been studying before the Nazis deported his family to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Burger summed up the role of faith in Wiesel’s life: “Faith can coexist with tragedy, can survive it, and that we carry it with us in spite of — or perhaps because of — our wounds.”

From among the Bible’s narratives, Wiesel found the Book of Job to be the most personally relevant. In Job, Wiesel could see himself — a servant of God who had everything taken away from him, but who refused to give up his faith. Job argued with God, but he did not forsake his faith and validate Satan’s belief that he, Job, would cave-in.

“To renounce despair is an act of will. And it is the only way to continue and be able to confront, to resist, darkness,” wrote Wiesel.

Although Wiesel’s Holocaust experiences are not a primary focus of “Witness,” Burger demonstrates ways in which Wiesel, a Nobel Laureate, sometimes brought the voices of victims and survivors into the classroom.

Ariel Burger (left) and Elie Wiesel (courtesy)

“Wiesel frequently pointed to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust who, hiding in bunkers from the Nazis, scratched their names into the walls and wrote invisible messages in urine, who buried manuscripts in tin cans under the ghetto streets so that one day their names, their words, their lives might be remembered,” wrote Burger.

In addition to renouncing despair, it helps if one has a sense of humor. According to Burger, Wiesel would sometimes muse in class, “Come on, Mr. God, really? Why did You do that?”

Of all the questions Wiesel’s students asked him over the decades, the most common had to do with how — and why — Wiesel maintained his religiosity after the destruction of his family in the Holocaust.

“You must turn hate into something creative, something positive,” was one of Wiesel’s responses. He modeled this approach for his students, including when Wiesel publicly forced the hand of president Bill Clinton to intervene in Bosnia during a well-remembered speech outside the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1992.

‘A generation haunted by ghosts’

A modern-day renaissance man, Burger’s professional hats include rabbi, artist, musician, and poet. Only in recent years, though, has he learned to meld these facets into an interconnected whole, he told The Times of Israel in an interview.

“My teaching almost always involves a deep dive into text, whether a religious text or literary work, but increasingly it also centers on questions of ethics and application,” said Burger. These days, Burger said he is responding to what he called “the new American moment of 2016,” which includes tackling issues of bullying and public discourse.

Elie Wiesel (center) inside a Boston University theology classroom, April 1977 (Boston University Photography)

Without his lifelong mentor Wiesel to guide him, Burger has given thought to his teacher’s views on perpetuating Holocaust memory in the absence of survivors.

“As a member of a generation haunted by ghosts, Wiesel was on a quest to make his memories redemptive,” wrote Burger, who related that Wiesel saw the challenge of his generation of survivors to be, “What would we do with our memories?”

For Wiesel, transforming the murder of his family into something resembling “redemption” involved writing about the Holocaust. But even more so, it involved teaching.

“Listening to a witness makes you a witness,” said Wiesel. For Burger, these words translated into his book’s title, and they also helped him find solace after Wiesel’s death.

To The Times of Israel, Burger explained how he and other educators can foster Holocaust memory in the spirit of Wiesel’s teachings.

Art by Ariel Burger, 2010 (courtesy)

“I know that Professor Wiesel wanted to see more education — but not just the transmission of information,” said Burger. “He wanted to see approaches to learning that have a high probability of changing someone’s mind to the point they he or she will respond differently to injustice. In other words, he wanted to see greater investment in effective moral education,” said Burger.

Among the challenges for educators, said Burger, is to teach about the Holocaust “without causing students to despair and turn to apathy as a response,” he said.

One of the remarkable traits about Wiesel, said Burger, was his ability to accept other people’s “natures, gifts, and limitations.” Eventually, even Burger let himself off the hook in his quest for perfection and sainthood, he said.

In the process of realizing that Wiesel had embraced Burger’s “natures, gifts, and limitations,” the student was able to accept these things himself.

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/from-elie-wiesels-classroom-lessons-in-sainthood-and-redemption/

The night before my family had its property seized and was kicked out of Egypt, everyone went to the movies. This may seem like callous, even glib behavior on the eve of what was probably one of the most difficult events one can endure, but it is also a Jewish tradition as old as time. As was the case with French Jews who threw lavish parties in the months leading up to their deportation, or the Poles who helped manufacture the very weapons that would be used against them a year later, for my family the impending loss of their property, their homes, and even their lives seemed so surreal as to be almost impossible. They don’t actually mean it. They’ll make a show of it but we’ll be fine. There’s no chance we’ll really be gone tomorrow. The tragedy is that we don’t recognize how intractable these political climates are with a sudden timely realization, but rather as a slow burn—imperceptible until only after the damage is done.

This year, as the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht approaches, the Leo Baeck Institute developed the 1938Projekt—an online exhibit that demonstrates just how quickly the lives of German and Austrian Jews imploded. 1938Projekt uses diary entries, letters, and news bulletins from Jews in 1938 to stitch together a story about European Jewry and allow us to experience what it was like to be a Jew in the year that changed everything.

Every day since the start of 2018, the 1938Projekt website has posted a new story showing what happened on that specific day in 1938. In entries from January, it’s obvious that Jews sensed only the first rumblings of disaster on the horizon. Although almost 20,000 Jews had immigrated to the United States by 1938, most did not yet feel the need to leave. And while the Projekt shows us that some German Jews were making arrangements to emigrate in the early months of ’38, we also learn of the businessmen who believed, or at least told themselves and others, that the growing animosity toward the Jews wasn’t alarming enough a reason to leave behind the family business. We can watch, day by day, the slow erosion of rights, peeled away one at a time: the seizure of Jewish businesses, orders that restrict the movements of Jews, rules about what kind of artwork can be shown. We watch the pincers close in a way that simply isn’t possible if you’re living it.

In many cases, even for those who did feel a sense of alarm it was still subdued and it was difficult to understand how a series of unfriendly bureaucratic rules could eventually lead to Kristallnacht only 10 months later: On Jan. 31, the Projekt’s website highlights a postcard from a Jew on vacation in the French Riviera. Jews were still going on vacation rather than selling all their belongings and leaving. Butthree weeks later comes one of the earliest of many heartbreaking letters: Writing to a friend, a young lover contemplates being apart from his beloved because his family had decided to emigrate and hers had chosen to stay behind.

In April, the early deportation of small numbers of undesirables to Buchenwald begins. By summer, the bulletins on the Projekt’s website are more desperate. OnJune 16, a young woman writes to an American man she has met only once, asking for his help in arranging transit. Jews begin writing to distant relatives in the US asking for help. By September, those who had managed to secure papers to emigrate were making their final arrangements. By the end of the month, entire German-Jewish congregations would be empty. The Projekt tells the story a bar mitzvah of 15 teenagers in September attended by people who were planning  to emigrate and leave their homes forever only days later—some of them already had their suitcases packed. Still, they decided to congregate and celebrate together one last time for what would perhaps be one of the final services that this synagogue would ever host.

Among the documents that make up the Projekt are a series from the family of the artist Eva Hesse, whose father kept scrapbooks. “We’re emigrating,” says one of the entries in late September. They’d had enough.

The Projekt’s mission isn’t to highlight how German Jews didn’t get the picture. In fact, they may have understood it too well: Anti-Semitism felt like a fact of life and therefore was nothing to be alarmed by. Most of them simply didn’t believe that there was any credible reason why things would suddenly surpass normal levels of anti-Semitism and go from bad to catastrophic. You’d have to have been crazy to have predicted such a thing as the Holocaust. The story of 1938Projekt is more than just a catalogue of the final days of the European Jewry. It is the story of how easy it is to become inured to the progression of a deteriorating situation. Through its lens, we see the time more clearly for what it was: not just another brief chapter in the thousands-of-years-old story called anti-Semitism, but a tinderbox heating up with the passage of each day. It’s easy to look now and see a series of warnings plastered onto the walls of the past, plain and clear for all Jews to see, only for fools to ignore. But if someone were to tell you about a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and swastikas graffitied on the Upper West Side and Nazi marches and Jewish cemeteries being defaced and a president who calls himself a nationalist and ordinances that dissolve the rights of immigrants and of the queer community and a caravan of refugees, and told you to leave behind your family business and your belongings and your home and move across the world to a place where you didn’t know a soul and didn’t know the language, would you? You’d have to be crazy.

Instead, you might just go to the movies.

Source: https://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/274646/what-it-was-like-to-be-a-german-jew-in-1938

After Kristallnacht, American Jews Did Little to Demand Action from Their Government

On the evening of November 9, 1938 Nazi party operatives orchestrated anti-Jewish violence across Germany that left scores dead and hundreds of synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses destroyed. The German government followed up by sending some 30,000 Jews to concentration camps. While these events, known to posterity as Kristallnacht, garnered the attention of the international media, the organized response of American Jewry was tepid. Matt Lebovic explains:

Most notably, the influential General Jewish Council insisted on maintaining radio silence following Kristallnacht. Composed of leaders from the so-called “defense” organizations, the council issued instructions in the pogrom’s aftermath [that] “there should be no parades, public demonstrations, or protests by Jews.” . . . The council also reminded American Jews that it was in their interest not to advocate for admitting more Jewish refugees into the country. [Meanwhile], most prominent American Jews were afraid of how their fellow citizens would react to “demands” from the Jewish community. Few Americans supported going to war with Hitler, and anti-Semitism was more widespread than at any other point in U.S, history. . . .

The most prominent American Jewish leader to petition President Roosevelt [to respond to Kristallnacht] was Rabbi Stephen S. Wise. With FDR reluctant to condemn the Nazi regime in public, the venerable Wise pleaded with the president to issue—at least—a statement against the violence.

In his four-sentence “condemnation,” the president did not mention the Nazis or Hitler by name. With few Americans in favor of going to war, FDR was keen to prevent anti-Nazi rhetoric emanating from his bully pulpit, even after Hitler began to carve up central Europe. . . . President Roosevelt’s Jewish advisers pressured him to make some gestures after Kristallnacht. FDR recalled his ambassador to Berlin for “consultations,” and he helped solidify the status of some Jewish refugees already in the U.S. The president refused, however, to support legislation that would have permitted an additional 20,000 German Jewish children into the country.

Source: https://mosaicmagazine.com/picks/2018/11/after-kristallnacht-american-jews-did-little-to-demand-action-from-their-government/

Stunning posthumous release from ‘Shoah’ director resonates post-Pittsburgh

Filmmaker Claude Lanzmann died this past July, but a new work, ‘Shoah: Four Sisters,’ compiled from past footage to debut in NY, is chillingly applicable today

Claude Lanzmann poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film 'The Man Who Killed Don Quixote' and the closing ceremony of the 71st international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 19, 2018. (Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

Claude Lanzmann poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film ‘The Man Who Killed Don Quixote’ and the closing ceremony of the 71st international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 19, 2018. (Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

NEW YORK — Claude Lanzmann may have died in July of this year but his work lives on. And it still provokes powerful and emotional reactions.

The foremost chronicler of the Holocaust on film, Lanzmann gave 220 hours of additional footage from his 1985 master work “Shoah” to Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1996. They are still being indexed.

Four remarkable interviews Lanzmann conducted for “Shoah” didn’t quite fit thematically. They are survivor’s stories, and “Shoah,” by design, is meant to be a relentless examination of destruction and death with no exit. But the interviews are connected in a way, as they are stories (one-on-one conversations with Lanzmann) about women of tremendous ingenuity, stamina and luck.

These interviews range from 52 to 89 minutes, and are grouped to form the two-part theatrical release “Shoah: Four Sisters.” The films screened at last year’s New York Film Festival, but make their theatrical debut on November 14 from Cohen Media Group. (The Cohen-owned repertory theater in Manhattan, Quad Cinema, is using this as a springboard for a complete Lanzmann retrospective from November 9–20. If you live in New York, make an effort to come downtown; some of these films are not currently available on streaming or DVD.)

Filmmaker Claude Lanzmann is fitted with a hidden microphone to record Nazi testimony, circa 1978. (Image courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum/Yad Vashem)

Temple Emanu-El’s Streicker Center on New York’s Upper East Side hosted a special screening this week of the longest, and, in my opinion, most devastating of the four interviews, subtitled “The Hippocratic Oath.”

Before the tale of survivor Ruth Elias unspooled, a few speakers offered a benediction. First, Rabbi Joshua Davidson opened with a remark about the recent shootings in Pittsburgh, referring to anti-Semitism as “the world’s oldest hatred.” Then, the French Ambassador to the United States, Gérard Araud, began with an “erev tov,” the Hebrew term for good evening, and spoke about the rise of anti-Semitism in France and how French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron is “aware of the situation and taking it and Holocaust denial seriously.”

After Araud, French intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy took the podium and, reading a speech from his iPhone, rattled the walls of the Streicker Center with a booming remembrance of Claude Lanzmann, whom he compared to Orpheus, Dante and Homer.

“He was drawn to the abyss, and we may never understand why,” Lévy said, suggesting that his life’s work was a sacrifice for the rest of us.

Lévy called Lanzmann a “man of fury,” a “poet” and a “nourished warrior” whose life was full of “bountiful adventures” and who refused to be a “humbled Jew.” He said that Lanzmann was also pro-Israel his entire life, despite supporting anti-Colonialist causes that led some of his colleagues to take anti-Zionist positions.

Bernard-Henri Lévy speaks at Temple Emanu-El’s Streicker Center on New York’s Upper East Side for a screening of one part of ‘Shoah: Four Sisters’ by Clause Lanzmann; November 5, 2018. (Courtesy)

I’ve been to a lot of film screenings in my day, and rarely does an introduction go on for 15 minutes, and rarer still does it lead to thunderous applause. I’ve watched Bernard-Henri Lévy on YouTube before, but to be there in person is to witness something truly extraordinary.

The film itself is a masterpiece of storytelling. It seems simple at first; just a camera pointed at a woman as she recalls her youth. Ruth Elias was born in Czechoslovakia and deported to Theresienstadt at the age of 19. She lost her entire family at Auschwitz and suffered some of the most cruel indignities I’ve ever heard. Her story involves numerous near-misses with death, thanks to a mixture of quick thinking and dumb luck. Her tale leads to a showdown of sorts with one of the worst figures of the Holocaust, Dr. Josef Mengele.

I’d seen the film before, but alone at home. Seeing it in a packed theater of mostly Jews was an entirely different story. This voice from the past was a voice we all knew; a mother, a grandmother, a neighbor. I don’t want to give away the ending, as it were, but Ruth lived by being put in an impossible position, one as heart-wrenching as the climax of “Sophie’s Choice.”

The film is not exactly upbeat. When the lights came back on I had a pounding headache. This was the fourth arts event I had attended in a Jewish space in the 10 days since the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and, to be honest, foremost on my mind was that I felt tired. Perhaps there was a little angry energy in the crowd.

To the stage came Prof. Deborah Lipstadt, a brilliant author and quick-witted speaker probably best known for taking the Holocaust denier David Irving to court (as dramatized in the film “Denial.”) She spoke eloquently about Lanzmann’s technique (it may seem hands-off, but it isn’t), his insistence on including narrative tangents and shades of gray in what we want out of heroes and villains. Most striking is Ruth Elias describing her tormentor Dr. Mengele as handsome.

From left to right: Rabbi Joshua Davidson, French Ambassador Gérard Araud, Deborah Lipstadt, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Charles Cohen, and Daphne Merkin, at Temple Emanu-El’s Streicker Center on New York’s Upper East Side for a screening of one part of ‘Shoah: Four Sisters’ by Clause Lanzmann; November 5, 2018. (Courtesy)

Alongside was author Daphne Merkin, whose demeanor stood in contrast with Lipstadt’s. With crumpled notes in her hand and a proclivity to drop names (plus breathing into the microphone when others were speaking) Merkin’s points rambled considerably, eventually annoying the audience into hisses as she paid Ruth Elias what could easily be interpreted as backhanded compliments.

Like I say, maybe the crowd was just feeling down, but the vibe was undeniably contentious. Questions from the audience were met with combativeness, particularly from Merkin. And since I was sitting close, I could overhear Lipstadt mutter a spare “oy” at one point.

Ruth Elias emigrated to Israel after the war (where she kept, oddly enough, a German Shepherd by her side) and spoke lovingly of the country in her interview with Lanzmann. A woman in the audience raised her hand and began asking a question about how the post-war influx of Jews who “dispossessed a whole society of Pales–”

At which point Lipstadt, sensing where this was going, threw up a yellow card: “I’m going to stop you right there. A) that is not the topic of tonight. B) that is a misrepresented view of history.”

This was met with applause, but was not enough for some in the audience, especially one man who started screaming “How dare you?!?” at the woman who was attempting to ask a question, and then just started shouting in general.

When Lipstadt tried to calm him with “Let’s all be grown-ups here,” this clearly lit his fuse, and he accused the speakers of “passing judgement on Holocaust survivors,” which was certainly an inaccurate statement about Lipstadt and, even though Merkin was speaking inelegantly and perhaps too dispassionately, unfair to her, too.

Lipstadt quoted Primo Levi’s epigraph to “If This Not A Man” (“You who live safe in your warm houses …”) to suggest that none of us could ever know how we would act if confronted with the horrors of the Holocaust. This, to me, is the very opposite of someone who is passing judgement. If I didn’t have such a headache, I would have shouted back at the guy who was shouting.

Like I said, I think everyone was a tad on edge.

As the guests left the stage I walked out into the rain. (Classic.) I wasn’t in a good mood. Then I heard a young woman talking to her sister and her dad.

“Yeah, she’s just like that in class,” she said. Rachel Kramer, 20, studies at Emory University and is a student of Lipstadt.

“She’s amazing, super opinionated and confident,” Kramer told me, and, laughing, added that “You can tell she’s warm, but she’s stern; I would not go up against her.”

More importantly, we discussed Ruth Elias and the film. “I went to a Jewish day school and have heard from lot of Holocaust survivors. But I thought this was one of the most powerful stories I’ve ever heard,” she said.

When the analysis and the arguments simmer down, a new generation of Jews learning these stories is, I think most would agree, the most important thing.

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/stunning-posthumous-release-from-shoah-director-resonates-post-pittsburgh/

80 years after Kristallnacht terror, survivor revisits once glass-strewn streets

Walter Frankenstein, who helped save orphanage and synagogue on November 9, 1938, returns to the building where he saw Germans unleash horrors on the Jews of Berlin

BERLIN (AP) — Walter Frankenstein was 14 years old when a police officer came to the Jewish orphanage he was living at in Berlin, urging all children to leave the building immediately because “something bad will happen tonight.”

It was early evening, November 9, 1938. Later that night, he climbed up on the roof of the orphanage and saw fire lighting up the city.

Frankenstein, now 94, was describing Kristallnacht — the “Night of Broken Glass” — when Nazis, among them many ordinary Germans, terrorized Jews throughout Germany and Austria. They killed at least 91 people and vandalized 7,500 Jewish businesses. They also burned more than 1,400 synagogues, according to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

Up to 30,000 Jewish men were arrested, many taken to concentration camps such as Dachau or Buchenwald. Hundreds more committed suicide or died as a result of the mistreatment in the camps years before the official mass deportations began.

Walter Frankenstein born in 1924, witness to the November 9, 1938 terror against Jews in Berlin and one of the few survivors of Auerbach’sches Waisenhaus orphanage poses for a photo at the orphanage memorial site for an interview with the Associated Press in Berlin, November 5, 2018. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

As Germany marked the 80th anniversary of the anti-Jewish pogroms this week with a series of memorial events, Frankenstein returned to the place where he witnessed the violence as a teenager.

One of the dwindling number of Holocaust survivors, Frankenstein needed a walker as he slowly entered the compound where the Auerbach’sches Waisenhaus orphanage once stood. But his memory is still sharp, and he remembers exactly how the events unfolded that night.

Kristallnacht destruction in Magdeburg, Germany, November 1938. (German Federal Archive/Wikipedia Commons)

“A few hours after the plain clothes police officer had warned us, a group of men in uniforms came and told us, ‘you need to leave now, we want to set fire to the building,’” Frankenstein said during an interview with The Associated Press this week.

There would have been no way to take the youngest children to a safe place that quickly, he said. Frankenstein and some of the older boys at the home managed to convince the uniformed men, who belonged to the paramilitary SA, that if they burned down the orphanage the fire would spread to surrounding buildings.

“So instead, they went into our synagogue and turned off the sanctuary light in front of the holy ark,” Frankenstein said. “They did not turn off the gas and after they left, we suddenly could smell gas everywhere inside the building.” Frankenstein and his peers ran inside the synagogue, tore open all windows, and turned off the gas before it could lead to an explosion.

“The men probably thought that if enough gas would stream out, the building would blow up,” he said.

In this Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 photo, a Nov. 10, 1938 photo from the AP Archive, showing by Nazis destroyed Jewish shops at the Kurfuerstendamm street, is placed at the same location 80 years later in Berlin. (AP/Markus Schreiber)

Kristallnacht is often referred to as the beginning of the Holocaust. It would still be years before the Nazis formally adopted their “Final Solution” for the Jews of Europe, when boycotts, anti-Semitism legislation and expulsions would evolve into a policy of mass murder. In all, 6 million European Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

Guy Miron, who heads Israel’s Yad Vashem’s Center for Research on the Holocaust in Germany, said Kristallnacht represented an end to Jewish life in Germany, a point of no return.

The Borneplatz synagogue ablaze on Kristallnacht (photo credit: Courtesy)

The Borneplatz synagogue ablaze on Kristallnacht. (Courtesy)

“Until then, the Jews could still try to convince themselves that the wheel could be turned back. After it, the rupture was complete. They realized it was over,” he said at a Yad Vashem event this week marking the anniversary. “Before Kristallnacht people emigrated. After it, they fled.”

Standing under an old poplar tree shedding its bright yellow leaves, Frankenstein gazed at a red brick wall — the only remainder of the orphanage in the city’s Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood. The building was badly destroyed during a World War II air raid in 1943, and the ruins were torn down in the 1950s.

The wall was turned into a memorial for those Jewish orphans who did not survive the Holocaust, with the names and ages of 140 children inscribed on the bricks. The youngest one, Cilla Fuks, was ten months old when she was murdered.

The memorial site of Auerbach’sches Waisenhaus orphanage in Berlin, November 5, 2018. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

Frankenstein was one of the few who survived. In 1943 he went into hiding with his wife Leonie, whom he had met at the orphanage, as the Nazis were deporting thousands of Jews from Berlin to Auschwitz.

“We had promised ourselves not to do what Hitler wanted,” he said, still feisty after all these years. “So we went into hiding.”

Together with their newborn son Uri, the couple spent 25 months in hiding in Berlin. A second son, Michael, was born in 1944, during their time on the run.

In 1945, after the collapse of the Nazis’ Third Reich, the Frankensteins immigrated to what was then still British Mandatory Palestine. Eleven years later, in 1956, they moved from Israel to Sweden where they settled for good.

Walter Frankenstein, witness of the November 9, 1938 terror against Jews in Berlin and one of the few survivors of Auerbach’sches Waisenhaus orphanage shows a box with the Yellow badge the Nazis forced him to wear and with the Germany’s Federal Cross of Merit he got in 2014, during an interview with the Associated Press in Berlin, November 5, 2018. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

Nowadays, Walter Frankenstein returns to Germany several times a year. He often talks to schoolchildren about his life and on Friday, the anniversary of November 9, 1938, he will be honored in an award-giving ceremony by Germany’s Culture Minister Monika Gruetters.

In 2014, he received Germany’s highest civil honor, the Federal Cross of Merit.

Every time Frankenstein travels to Berlin, he brings along the small blue case containing the cross. Inside the case’s lid, he has attached the first “mark” he got from the Germans: The Yellow Badge, or Jewish Star, that he had to wear during the Nazi reign to identify him as a Jew.

“The first one marked me, the second one honored me,” he said as he slowly closed the lid.

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/80-years-after-kristallnacht-terror-survivor-revisits-once-glass-strewn-streets/