Category Archive: Commemorations

Chaim Ferster, survivor of 8 Nazi concentration camps, dies at 94

Screen-Shot-2017-02-07-at-3.10.24-PM(JTA) — Chaim Ferster, a Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivor who spent time in eight concentration camps, has died.

Ferster died Monday in Manchester, England, from pneumonia and a kidney infection, surrounded by his three sons and other family members, the BBC reported. He was 94.

He was born in Sosnowiec, Poland, in an Orthodox Jewish family. In 1943, the Nazis forced him to leave his home, and he spent time in concentration camps in Germany and Poland, including Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

Ferster, his sister Manya and a cousin were the only members of their family to survive the Holocaust. Manya is now 92.

After World War II, Ferster moved to England, where he found work repairing sewing machines. He later set up “a series of successful businesses,” according to the BBC.

Ferster lectured about the Holocaust in schools and colleges.

“His greatest fear was that people would forget the horrors of the Holocaust,” his son Stuart told the BBC.

On Monday, the Greater Manchester Police shared a video of Ferster playing the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,” on the violin during a Jan. 27 visit to its headquarters on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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Under Trump, a new job for Holocaust scholars

For those of us who teach and research the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, the Trump administration’s refusal to mention Jews in a statement commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day has been both horrifying and confusing. It has been horrifying because the failure to acknowledge that Jews were the overwhelming victims of Germany’s genocidal campaign is unquestionably a form of Holocaust denial. It has been confusing because we haven’t been able to understand why the administration would choose to engage in Holocaust denial nor begin to grasp the implications for the American Jewish community.

There had been warning signs throughout the 2016 campaign. In three years of teaching a course on America and the Holocaust at Northeastern University in Boston, I have always treated American anti-Semitism as mostly a remnant of a darker time in American history that only manifested itself now on the extreme left or the extreme right of American politics. As I taught the course this fall, however, I had to confront Facebook memes depicting Trump critics in concentration camp uniforms behind Auschwitz’ gates and Stars of David superimposed on Hillary Clinton’s face in front of piles of money. I had to read the stories of Jewish journalists, who received a steady stream of vicious anti-Semitic messages delivered to their email inboxes, Twitter accounts, and even front steps.

Still, I assumed that the problem was that Trump and his minions weren’t doing enough to rein in their more vociferous supporters. Even after Trump chose Steve Bannon, the executive chair of the far right and white supremacist affiliated site, Breitbart News, to run his campaign, I still assumed that Holocaust denial and the anti-Semitism inevitably associated with it, weren’t important to Trump.

After all, he has a Jewish son-in-law, daughter and grandchildren.

Then came the Holocaust statement that didn’t mention Jews.

As Deborah Lipstadt, author of Denying the Holocaust and several other important books on the Holocaust, recounted in an article in The Atlantic, she initially assumed the failure to mention Jews was a rookie mistake, an oversight during the chaotic first days of a new administration. It quickly became apparent that this was no mistake. Trump’s key spokespeople defended the omission, explaining that Trump officials deliberated overlooked Jews because “We are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered.” Of course no one denies that other groups suffered horribly at the hands of Nazi Germany but as Elie Wiesel famously stated, ‘Not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims.”

The White House press secretary attacked those who criticized the statement as “ridiculous,” “pathetic,” and “nitpicking,” and explained how much “the president went out of his way to recognize the Holocaust.” Politico recently reported that the State Department had drafted a statement mentioning Jewish victims, similar to ones issued by Presidents Bush and Obama, but that the Trump White House refused to use it. The administration also seemed to defend that statement by releasing the nugget that it had been written by a Jewish advisor.

In the days following the offensive statement, those who study the Holocaust responded quickly and fiercely. Led by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, they asserted the undeniable historical record of Jewish targeting and Jewish suffering, and condemned those who tried to obfuscate it. Indeed, Holocaust scholars have done a good job tackling what was horrifying in what Trump said.

But we haven’t faced what was confusing. Why would the President of the United States in a public statement on a most solemn of days choose to identify with Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism? What was he, and frankly Bannon, trying to say and to whom? Were they speaking to the white supremacists and anti-Semites among Trump’s followers who clearly got the message? Was it just another example of this administration’s intent to defy all societal norms, even seemingly the most sensitive and nearly universal ones surrounding Holocaust remembrance? Did they relish the fact that they could get away with it? Was it a sinister threat aimed at liberal Jews who retain powerful positions, particularly in the media and entertainment industry? Did it reflect the administration’s adoption of the Russian perspective on this as on so many things, leading it to parrot the old Soviet-line that many people were “innocent victims” of the Nazis? Was it a signal to everyone in society that nothing, not even the murder of six million people, is sacred?

I don’t know the answer or answers. But those of us who research and teach this most important and most profound of topics should not just condemn the deeply demoralizing statement but also begin to probe its meaning and ramifications. That means we need to do what makes us profoundly uncomfortable — establish clearly and publicly the connections between the history we understand and the reality we are experiencing. Of course, we must do it with the scholar’s mindset, pointing out the differences as well as the similarities, rejecting overstatement and emotionalism. We also need to encourage the journalism that seeks to reveal the administration’s motivation and operation and then be willing to analyze the disclosures through our unique lens. We need to jump into the public arena in a way we never have before. Right now that may be the most important work as scholars, as Jews, as citizens, that we can possibly do.

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Jewish aide wrote White House Holocaust statement — report

Politico says Boris Epshteyn, a former Russian refugee who lost family to the Nazis, penned release that failed to mention Jews

Boris_Epshteyn-e1485850395557A Jewish aide reportedly wrote US President Donald Trump’s statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day which was widely condemned for failing to mention Jews or anti-Semitism.

Boris Epshteyn, a special assistant to the president, wrote the speech, a source told Politico on Monday.

In the speech Trump vowed to combat the forces of evil, and called on listeners to “make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world,” but failed to mention Jews or anti-Semitism. The omission was condemned by Jewish organizations across the spectrum, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Democratic Virginia Senator Tim Kaine called it Holocaust denial.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended the speech on Monday, saying “the statement was written with the help of an individual who is both Jewish and the descendent of Holocaust survivors.” He also called protests over the omissions “pathetic” and “nitpicking.”

Earlier this month, Epshteyn was asked by The Daily Beast about anti-Semites supporting the Trump administration. He answered, “I’ve had family who died in the Holocaust.”

Formerly a New York-based investment banker and finance attorney, Epshteyn worked as a communications aide for Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008, focusing his efforts on the Arizona senator’s running mate, then-Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

Epshteyn was born in Russia and emigrated to the US in 1993, aged 11, as a refugee along with his family. In a 2013 US News article Epshteyn thanked Senator Frank Lautenberg for easing “the restriction on refugee states and thereby allowed for tens of thousands of Jews like me from the former USSR to come to America.”

Epshteyn has been criticized for his business ties with Russia and for claiming on CNN that Russia did not seize Crimea.

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ZOA, Jewish Republicans join criticism of Trump’s Holocaust remembrance statement

(JTA) — The Zionist Organization of America expressed its “chagrin and deep pain” that a statement by the Trump administration marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day did not mention the Jewish victims of the Nazis.

Also Sunday, the Republican Jewish Coalition offered similar criticism the same day.

In a news release Sunday evening, Morton Klein, national president of the ZOA, praised President Donald Trump as a “great friend and supporter” of Israel and the Jewish people. Nevertheless, he wrote, “especially as a child of Holocaust survivors, I and ZOA are compelled to express our chagrin and deep pain at President Trump, in his Holocaust Remembrance Day Message, omitting any mention of anti-Semitism and the six million Jews who were targeted and murdered by the German Nazi regime and others.”

In his first statement about the Holocaust as president, Trump on Friday spoke of “the victims, survivors, [and] heroes of the Holocaust,” but did not mention the Jews or anti-Semitism, which had been customary in statements by his predecessors Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

The Anti-Defamation League’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, criticized the statement on Friday, saying the omission was “puzzling and troubling.”

Last year, the ZOA was one of the groups critical of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day similarly failed to mention Jews.

The Republican Jewish Coalition said Sunday in its statement: “As supporters of President Trump, we know that he holds in his heart the memory of the six million victims of the Holocaust, and is committed not just to their memory, but ensuring it never happens again,” RJC spokesman Fred Brown said in its statement.

“The lack of a direct statement about the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust was an unfortunate omission,” he continued. “History unambiguously shows the purpose of the Nazi’s final solution was the extermination of the Jews of Europe. We hope, going forward, he conveys those feelings when speaking about the Holocaust.”

Responding to criticism from the ADL and others, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Sunday morning on NBC that “there was no harm or ill will or offense intended” by leaving Jews and anti-Semitism out of the statement, adding that the White House “certainly will never forget the Jewish people that suffered in World War II.”

The ZOA has been perhaps the most vocal supporter among Jewish advocacy groups of the Trump administration in its early days, issuing statements praising Trump’s choice for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman; his stated intention to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, and Friday’s executive order barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days and suspending the admission of all refugees for 120 days.

Recounting his own history as the son of Holocaust survivors, Klein quoted a blistering criticism of the White House by John Podhoretz, a former Reagan White House aide, who wrote in Commentary on Saturday that to universalize the Holocaust “is to scrub the Holocaust of its meaning.”

Klein added: “ZOA hopes that President Trump will direct his staff and COS Reince Priebus to immediately rectify this painful omission.”

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The Trump Administration’s Holocaust without Jews

To mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day last Friday, the White House issued a statement that made no mention of Jews. Initially willing to give the new administration the benefit of the doubt, John Podhoretz chalked up the omission to “ignorance and sloppiness”—until one of President Trump’s representatives defended it:

The decision not to mention the Jews was deliberate, [the White House spokeswoman Hope] Hicks said, a way of demonstrating the inclusive approach of the Trump administration: “Despite what the media report, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered; . . . it was our honor to issue a statement in remembrance of this important day.”

The Nazis killed an astonishing number of people in monstrous ways and targeted certain groups—Gypsies, the mentally challenged, and open homosexuals, among others. But the Final Solution was aimed solely at the Jews. The Holocaust was about the Jews. There is no “proud” way to offer a remembrance of the Holocaust that does not reflect that simple, awful, world-historical fact. To universalize it to “all those who suffered” is to scrub the Holocaust of its meaning.

Given Hicks’s abominable statement, one cannot simply write this off. For there is a body of opinion in this country, and in certain precincts of the Trump coalition, [whose proponents] have long made it clear they are tired of what they consider a self-centered Jewish claim to being the great victims of the Nazis. . . . [T]he Hope Hicks statement does not arrive without precedent. It is, rather, the culmination of something: the culmination of decades of ill feeling that seems to center on the idea that the Jews have somehow made unfair “use” of the Holocaust and that it should not “belong” to them. Someone in that nascent White House thought it was time to reflect that view through the omission of the specifically Jewish quality of the Holocaust.

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US Jews see ‘tragic irony’ in refugee ban on Holocaust Remembrance Day

ADL chief invokes doomed passengers of MS St. Louis, says he will roll out plan to combat policy ‘in the coming days’

Protestors Rally At Boston's Logan Airport Against Muslim Immigration BanWASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s executive order banning refugees from entering the United States left much of the American Jewish community horrified — particularly as the announcement came on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The order — titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States” — immediately suspends all refugee resettlement from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days and forbids those from war-ravaged Syria from entering the country indefinitely.

The Anti-Defamation League’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt vowed in a statement Thursday to “relentlessly fight this policy,” noting “our history and heritage compel us to take a stand.” The ADL, a Jewish civil rights group, monitors and combats anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry across the globe.

But that was before it was announced, when rumors were circulating that Trump would soon fulfill his controversial campaign pledge, which started as a “Muslim ban” and then morphed into a proposal to halt immigration from territories, particularly in the Middle East, where terror groups have a foothold.

On Saturday, Greenblatt, who was not shy to speak out against Trump during the election, noted with revulsion that the presidential executive order was signed on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, likening it to passengers of the MS St. Louis, a German ship filled with 937 Jewish refugees, who were denied entry into the United States, as well as Cuba and Canada, in 1939.

“It’s impossible to ignore, whether intentional or not, the tragic irony in executing the kind of order that kept Jews out of America, like those who perished on the St. Louis and countless others, on the day when we remember the unspeakable tragedy that befell European Jewry and the Jewish people,” he told The Times of Israel.

“The tragic irony of this order being executed on the same day is, at best striking, and sad to see,” he added. “[It is] a policy that is in direct contravention to our core values as a country and all that we’ve learned in the years since the Shoah.”

On Twitter, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the head of the Union of Reform Judaism, compared the order to the Dred Scott court decision upholding slavery in the antebellum South and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

The American Jewish Committee also spoke out swiftly against the order, calling it “both unjust and unwarranted” in a Friday statement.

Trump, said the organization’s CEO David Harris, is justified in wanting to assure a secure border that properly vets those who enter the country. But such blanket action is beyond the pale, he indicated.

“Blanket suspensions of visas and refugee admission would suggest guilt by association – targeted primarily at Muslims fleeing violence and oppression,” he said. “AJC regards such actions, contrary to international perceptions of a compassionate America and reinforcing anti-Muslim stereotypes, as both unjust and unwarranted.”

Trump’s executive action includes a provision that allows the US to admit refugees on a case-by-case basis during the freeze, as the government will process requests from people claiming religious persecution, but only if the religion of any such individuals is a minority religion in the respective country.

Greenblatt found that disturbing.

“It’s impossible not to see this as a broad brush that paints all Muslims from these countries with the same regard,” he said. “All of us are struggling to make sense of a policy that is at odds with the values of our country.”

The ADL, he explained, is preparing a course of action to combat that policy of the Trump administration and will be rolling out its plan this week.

“We’ll be clarifying that in the coming days,” he said.

B’nai B’rith International also voiced its objections, saying it was “deeply concerned” by the “drastic” plan.

“While we acknowledge the very real threat posed by terrorists who aim to exploit our nation’s humanitarian instincts, a more nuanced and balanced approach to helping those seeking a safe harbor is clearly preferable, and more in keeping with America’s values, than the sweeping ban being imposed by the administration,” B’nai B’rith International President Gary P. Saltzman and CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin said in a joint statement.

“Our country has a great, though sometimes imperfect, tradition of welcoming those fleeing oppression, persecution and unending civil wars,” they said.

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Congressman: Trump refugee ban ‘disgusting’ on Holocaust Remembrance Day

“It’s pure hypocrisy, because he’s doing exactly what caused a lot of deaths by the Nazis when we turned away Jews in the 30s.”

MUQ4MDkwRkYwREUxQjg3QjM0RTEwRjVBNTlBNzU2Mjg=WASHINGTON – Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-New York) was swimming against the current at John F. Kennedy International Airport Saturday night, lobbying for the release of vetted refugees and visa holders who hoped gain entry to the US as President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning their entry.

He succeeded in securing the release of Hameed Khalid Darweesh, an Iraqi national who worked for the United States Army as a contractor and interpreter for nearly a decade.

Darweesh was detained for 14 hours after the president on Friday directed the Department of Homeland Security to turn away all citizens of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

There were at least 10 additional foreign nationals stuck at JFK on Saturday morning.

But “more and more people are being detained,” Nadler said in a phone interview. “And we heard there’s a plane full of Iranians en route.”

The scope of Trump’s executive order has caught state and federal law enforcement officials off guard. Citizens from these countries – which together comprise of 134 million people – will not be allowed entry into the US even if they are green card holders, or hold dual nationality with countries that are not listed.

“The whole executive order is disgusting and unconstitutional,” Nadler said. “The whole thing is just wrong – its religious discrimination. And it’s unconstitutional, because Muslims can’t come in but Christians can.”

Particularly irksome to Nadler, one of Congress’s most prominent Jewish voices, is the president’s decision to sign the order on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“The mitzva most often repeated is, ‘You shall not oppress the stranger, for you were strangers in Egypt’ – and what are we doing?” Nadler asked. “It’s pure hypocrisy, because he’s doing exactly what caused a lot of deaths by the Nazis when we turned away Jews in the ’30s.”

Several major American-Jewish organizations have joined Nadler’s cause: The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee both released strong statements of disapproval, characterizing the order as cruel and contrary to Jewish values.

Nadler expects to lead a “raucous” revolt against the measure in the House, and said he expects a class action suit would proceed in the Eastern District of New York.

“There are good grounds for saying this is unconstitutional,” Nadler said, still at the airport.

“We’ll fight it.”

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German Muslim students protest Holocaust remembrance, attack Israel

The school director said that it was good there was student opposition to the memorial event because it “is the basis of discussion.”

ShowImageMuslim students of Arab and Turkish origin protested participation in an International Holocaust Remembrance Day event in Germany, while their high school’s administration showed understanding for their criticism of Israel.

“Some Muslims students said they would not participate in the event,” said Florian Beer, a teacher at the school in the city of Gelsenkirchen in North Rhine-Westphalia state, Der Westen newspaper reported on Thursday.

The Holocaust remembrance event was part of a global commemoration in which participants take selfie photographs along with a sign saying “I Remember“ or “We Remember.“ A blackboard at the school was defaced with the sentence: “F*** Israel, free Palestine.” The school was not able to identify the perpetrator.

Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Jerusalem Post on Friday, “Muslims students are greatest in need of Holocaust education, so it would be unfortunate if they were excused from those activities.”

Zuroff, who is Wiesenthal’s chief Nazi-hunter, added, “Given that Holocaust consciousness is a central idea of civic identity in the Federal Republic, it is doubly important for families that come from countries with deep antisemitic traditions and no knowledge of the Holocaust and the destruction of European Jewry.”

The Weiterbildungskolleg Emscher-Lippe school, where the protest unfolded, has 500 students, 40% of whom have a migrant background.

School director Günter Jahn told Der Westen it was good that there was student opposition to the remembrance event. “It is important that there is criticism. That is the basis for a discussion.” He added that in certain communities, criticism of Israel is demanded.

The school is located in the northern part of the Ruhr region and Gelsenkirchen’s population in 2015 was roughly 260,000.

Some of the students allowed themselves to be photographed with the remembrance signs but declined to permit the photographs to be displayed on the Internet. A number of students, according to Der Westen, asked, “Why always the Jews?” The students added there are, after all, other problems in world.

Beer said the school likes to be provocative because there are always events at the school that leave an “aftertaste of antisemitism.” He added that representatives from the World Jewish Congress have been invited to come speak at the school.

The number of antisemitic attacks reported in Germany doubled from 2015 to 2016, according to a report the Diaspora Affairs Ministry released last Sunday. The actual number of attacks is believed to be higher because of the lack of standards to identify contemporary antisemitism in the Federal Republic.

In January, a German court reaffirmed a legal decision from the city of Wuppertal stating the torching of a synagogue by three Muslims was not motivated by antisemitism. The court wrote the men only sought via the arson “to clearly draw attention to the blazing conflict between Israel and Palestinians” during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. The original synagogue in Wuppertal was burned by Germans in 1938.

Volker Beck, a German Green Party deputy in the Bundestag, said on Thursday that the memorial day for the victims of National Socialism must not just be about remembering, it must lead to action.

Beck, who has led the parliamentary fight to blunt the mushrooming modern Jew-hatred in Germany, said “antisemitism frequently appears clothed as anti-Zionism.” He cited three German academic institutions that stoked anti-Israel propaganda that delegitimizes the Jewish democratic state. “Whoever boycotts Israelis or Israeli institutions, because they are Jews, acts in an antisemitic way,” said Beck, who appears to be the only Bundestag deputy to connect the remembrance of the Holocaust with efforts to combat contemporary antisemitism targeting the Jewish state.

The University of Hamburg appointed the academic Farid Esack, a leader of the South African anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, to serve as a guest lecturer on Islamic theology. Esack praised Leila Khaled, a convicted terrorist and member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, at a BDS fund-raiser in 2015.

“This is a man who expressed antisemitic statements, and who is sympathetic to Holocaust denial,” the Israeli Embassy in Berlin told the Post. “A person with such views has no place as an educator in a university, especially not in Germany, for both professional and moral and probably also legal reasons.”

Post email queries to the University of Hamburg’s president Dr. Dieter Lenzen were not returned.

The Max Planck Institute hosted the American pro-Hezbollah activist Norman Finkelstein on Monday. He delivered a lecture sympathetic to the US- and EU-designated terrorist organization Hamas to more than 30 students. The head of the Max Planck Institute, Dr. Martin Stratmann, declined to respond to Post requests for an interview about the alleged spread of new forms of antisemitism at the Planck Institute branch in the city of Halle.

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