Category Archive: History

Notorious Nazi’s house of horrors to become a luxury villa

Developer plans to move his family into house used by Krakow-Płaszow camp commander Amon Goeth, featured in ‘Schindler’s List’

Amon_Göth-prisoner_1945The Poland home of a Nazi concentration camp commander who tortured and murdered Jewish captives in the building, is reportedly being renovated and restored as a luxury family home, to the dismay of Holocaust education activists.

Last year real estate developer Artur Niemyski bought the building, located in Plaszow, a suburb of Krakow, and plans to move in with his family when the repair work is complete, the Daily Mail reported Wednesday.

From 1943 to 1944, Amon Goeth, who held the rank of Hauptsturmfuhrer in the SS, lived in the house while serving as the commandant of the Krakow-Płaszow concentration camp. After the Krakow ghetto was liquidated on March 13, 1943, those considered still fit to work were sent there. Goeth’s cruel treatment of prisoners earned him the nickname “The Butcher of Płaszow.”

Survivors of the camp told of his brutality, which included shooting Jewish prisoners for sport and torturing others inside the villa. On one occasion he shot dead a Jewish boy for leaving a room without permission and kept two guard dogs that he would occasionally order to tear victims apart.

Oskar Schindler, who is credited with saving some 1,200 Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust, was able to do so by taking advantage of his friendship with Goeth. Schindler was a frequent visitor to the home and many of those he saved by employing them in a munitions factory were prisoners in the camp.

The villa was depicted in the 1993 Steven Spielberg movie “Schindler’s List,” in which actor Ralph Fiennes, playing Goeth, was famously shown shooting Jewish prisoners from the balcony of the two-story building.

“My opinion is that this building was occupied for a small period by the Nazi, which should not influence this property forever,” Niemyski was quoted as saying.

“Many houses in the area were occupied by Nazis. Officers from the camp lived in all the houses in the street. Bad things may have happened in the old properties, but basically these were living compounds. Generally, I want to restore the house to be once again a Polish family house and keep it like this,” he said.

Niemyski added that while he will no longer allow educational tours to enter the home, he won’t be bothered if they gather outside.

“They can take photos from the outside, this is their right,” he said. “But I will not allow them to come in. Why should I allow people to look into my private property?”

He had no intention to cause offense, he added, noting his good ties with Jews.

“I used to be on good terms with the Jewish community. I have project-managed the renovation of a synagogue and I met at the time groups from Israel, New York, all over the world,” he said. “I don’t want to make somebody feel bad about what we are doing.”

Rabbi Naftali Schiff, founder of the British charity JRoots, said the renovation of the home was whitewashing its sinister past.

“We welcome dialogue with the owner, but he has made it clear to us that he wants the world to forget what happened there,” he told the Daily Mail.

The charity, which organizes Jewish heritage pilgrimages, has in the past brought groups to view the dilapidated building. JRoots has launched a campaign to have the villa preserved as a memorial site.

“We aim to inspire young people to light candles there and bring light into a dark place, to sing Jewish songs there that Goeth would have had you killed for singing. We ask young people to make a pledge in that house of cruelty to return to Britain and make society a better place,” he said. “Now all of this education has been lost. History is being erased before our eyes.”

Much of the testimony on Goeth’s crimes inside the home came from his two Jewish maids, Helen Horowitz and Helen Jonas-Rosenzweig, who both survived the war after being saved by Schindler.

On one occasion Goeth stabbed Horowitz in the leg for not setting enough places for dinner.

“I overcame the pain and ran into the kitchen,” she said, according to the Daily Mail report. “And then I saw he’d cut through a vein.”

Another time he assaulted her.

“He was a sadist, indescribable sadist,” she said. “He started beating me and threw me with all his strength.”

The maids were kept in the basement of the building, which is now being renovated for use as either a workshop or a wine cellar.

Former maid Jonas-Rosenzweig, who backs the memorial plan for the villa, spoke to the Mail of her experiences in Goeth’s captivity.

‘I was a prisoner in this house and a victim. I want the world to learn what happened there,” she said.

Jonas-Rosenzweig served Goeth, who was married twice, and the mistress he lived with, beautician Ruth Irene Kalder. The Nazi often held extravagant parties for other SS officers. She was also tasked with taking care of the fearsome dogs.

“One was black and white. He was so big,” she recalled. “I brushed the dog, I fed the dog.

“He would give this order to the dog, Ralph, and it would tear people apart. Tear people apart, grab them by parts of the body.”

She recalled how one day Goeth told her he was going to start shooting from his balcony at slave laborers digging ditches along the road next to his garden.

“He said to me, ‘Look at those pigs. If they don’t start working in a few seconds, they are all going to be dead,’” she said. The maid ran out to warn the workers and so prevented a shooting spree.

On September 13, 1944, Goeth was removed from his position at the camp and charged by the SS with the theft of Jewish property that, under Nazi law, belonged to the state, as well as with the mistreatment and abuse of prisoners under his command. But before he could be brought to trial, World War II ended and he was arrested by the US military in May 1945. He was put on trial and sentenced to death for “personally killing, maiming and torturing a substantial, albeit unidentified number of people.” He was hanged 10 days later, on September 13, 1946.

Source

Minimizing the Holocaust at the “New Yorker”

In a brief review of the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy’s recent The Genius of Judaism, an unnamed author at the New Yorker points to the “real contradiction” between Lévy’s insistence that the Holocaust was a “crime without parallel” and his objection to the recent fad of “competitive victimhood.” James Kirchick assails the shoddy and “sinister” thinking behind this comment:

The New Yorker has it backwards. The competition for victimhood wasn’t started by Jews but in reaction to them. The issue is not minimizing other historical tragedies in relation to the Holocaust but minimizing the Holocaust in relation to other historical tragedies. This is not just the realm of Holocaust deniers, but increasingly of progressives who, whether through conscious malice or sheer naiveté, speak of the Holocaust (when they’re not speaking of “holocausts”) as but one unfortunate episode among many, not a world-historical crime that singled out Jews first and foremost. . . .

If those like the New Yorker’s anonymous book critic believe that Lévy is engaging in unseemly “competitive victimhood” simply by claiming that the Holocaust, in both nature and degree, was worse than any other crime in human history, that’s because [the critic] falsely interprets such claims as entries into a victim competition—when, in fact, it is those challenging the singularity of the Holocaust who are responsible for creating this obscene contest. . . .

The review’s sinister element comes in its accusation that Jews like Lévy are responsible for corrupting the commemoration of history and not, say, the Muslim propagandists who frequently invoke the Holocaust to equate Israelis with Nazis or the British student activists who voted against recognizing Holocaust Remembrance Day because doing so “prioritizes some lives over others.” As the British sociologist David Hirsch observes, “When people get competitive about the Holocaust, they do it by accusing the Jews of being competitive.” Not even in talking about something so grave as the Holocaust can the Jews avoid being pushy, it seems.

Source

Dutch Jewish wedding film from 1939 shines light on doomed community

The only known pre-Holocaust footage of an obliterated Frisian Jewish community, footage offers hope while memorializing Nazi victims

Boas-Pais-CROPAMSTERDAM (JTA) — The Jews of Friesland, a region in the northern Netherlands, are not known for stories with happy endings.

During the Holocaust, Friesland’s vibrant Jewish community was forever obliterated, including its endemic customs and distinct Yiddish dialect. It is one of the starkest examples of how the Holocaust decimated and irreparably changed Dutch Jewry.

That’s why the recent surfacing of a unique film from 1939 showing the wedding of a Frisian Jewish couple who escaped the genocide is generating remarkable reactions from local media and Dutch state historians here over the past week.

The film is the only known footage of Frisian Jewish life from before the Holocaust. Its discovery comes amid a wave of popular interest in the Holocaust in the Netherlands, including in films and series with record ratings and in the construction of monuments – most recently with the opening last year of the National Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam.

The silent, black-and-white film was the subject of a special aired last week in prime time by the region’s public broadcaster, Omrop Fryslân. All the region’s main dailies reported on it, as did some national publications — including the Netherlands’ main television guide. Placed on YouTube by the Frisian Film Archive on January 25, it received thousands of hits, becoming the archive’s second-most-watched video over the past two years.

The couple’s children handed it over this month to the Frisian Film Archive after finding it in their late mother’s suitcase in 2008. They had hung onto it for nearly a decade to “come to terms with it,” Andre Boers, one of the couple’s three children, told JTA on Tuesday.

The seven-minute film posted online last week — excerpted from longer footage — shows the bride, Mimi Dwinger, wearing a form-fitting satin wedding dress and riding a horse-drawn carriage with her fiancé, Barend Boers. It’s a sunny spring day and the couple is headed from Leeuwarden City Hall to the local synagogue.

As elegantly dressed women and men wearing top hats stream into the synagogue, other locals from the Jewish quarter of this poor, provincial city gather around the entrance for a better view of what seems to be an unusually opulent affair.

Inside the synagogue, which seems full to capacity with wedding guests, the region’s chief rabbi, Abraham Salomon Levisson, officiates. He’s wearing the black hexagonal hat favored by Sephardic rabbis — an influence brought to Holland by Portuguese Jews. Smiling, Boers signs the ketubah, the religious marriage contract.

The ring is too small for a comfortable fit. Boers flashes an amused smile at the camera as Dwinger quickly licks her finger to make it easier to slip on the jewelry. Touchingly, Boers holds up her veil while she does this.

The newlywed couple appears relaxed at the reception held at the local Jewish kosher hotel, The German Eagle. The guests chat and, after a few glasses of advocaat — Dutch eggnog — they giggle at the cameraman. The excerpt — the full footage was given on loan to the archive earlier this month — ends with Boers gently kissing his wife on the forehead.

Nothing about the film suggests that the people featured in it had any idea their world was coming to an end.

Just a year after filming, the people in the movie would come under the Nazi occupation that decimated the Frisian Jewish community, along with 75 percent of Dutch Jews — the highest death rate in occupied Western Europe.

For example, the body of the congregation’s rabbi, Levisson, was found in 1945 inside a German cattle car that was full of dead or dying Jews when the advancing Russian army encountered it in Eastern Europe.

The bride’s father, Moses, was arrested and sent to the death camps in 1943. Fewer than 10 members of his extended family of about 100 survived the war, according to Andre Boers.

Though the Jews in the film appear relaxed, Frisian Jews did have an inkling of the storm heading their way, according to Hans Groeneweg, a historian at the Frisian Resistance Museum, a state-funded institution entrusted with documenting the occupation years.

“The bride you see smiling in that film, she’s a woman running for her life,” he told the Frisian Broadcasting Authority in a 25-minute round table discussion that aired January 25. Levisson was especially aware of the danger, as he had been helping settle in the Netherlands refugees from neighboring Nazi Germany for years.

While few of their relatives and guests survived, the lovebirds plotted the escape that saw them survive against all odds.

They escaped the Netherlands in 1942, through France and Spain to Jamaica. Boers enlisted to fight with the Allies, while his wife volunteered to work for the British War Office. Boers participated in the liberation of the Netherlands in 1944 as part of a Dutch brigade that fought embedded within the Canadian army.

The couple returned to the liberated Netherlands. Boers died in 1979 at 69. His widow, Mimi, passed away nine years ago at 90. Her three children now live in Amsterdam and Israel. The Frisian Film Archive learned of the film’s existence after the family offered to give the 16mm footage to the archive on loan.

“For decades we’ve been looking for footage from the Jewish community before the war, and now here it is,” Syds Wiersma, an archivist for the Frisian Film Archive, told the regional broadcaster last week.

The film’s appeal, according to Groeneweg, the resistance museum historian, isn’t just its rarity.

“It offers hope — hope that not all the people in that film died in the camps, that a few managed to escape, after all,” he said.

But for Andre Boers, Mimi and Barend’s middle child, who is living in Israel, the film has a far more personal significance. Before the family found it, he had not seen moving images of many of the relatives featured.

It’s a “highly emotional opportunity to see my grandparents, great-grandmother, uncles, aunties and many others just a few years before most of them were murdered by the Nazis,” he wrote last week on Facebook.

Source

Poles drive message on German death camp culpability

Billboard featuring Auschwitz merged with Hitler hair and mustache taken on road trip across Europe

Aushwitz-copy-e1459578104555A Polish non-government organization has launched an eye-catching campaign aimed at dispelling the common assumption that Nazi-era death camps in Poland were run by Poles.

The use by foreign media of the phrase “Polish concentration camps” has became particularly galling to Polish citizens and the country’s government.

In effort to stamp out the association, the Town and Country Tradition Foundation has mobilized a rolling billboard depicting the Auschwitz death camp merged with Hitler’s signature haircut and mustache together with the slogan, in English, saying “Death Camps Were Nazi German,” Radio Poland reported Thursday.

“The idea of our campaign is simple. We demand the historical truth, we oppose the use of the term ‘Polish concentration camps,’ which is commonly used by Western media,” said Dawid Hallmann of TCTF.

The billboard is to be driven through Germany and Belgium before making its way on to Britain.

Poland was attacked and occupied by Nazi Germany in World War II, losing six million of its citizens, including three million Jews in the Holocaust.

Polish officials routinely request corrections when global media or politicians describe as “Polish” former death camps like Auschwitz set up by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland.

Even if used as a geographical indicator, Warsaw says the term can give the impression that Poland bore responsibility for the Holocaust, whereas it was one of the greatest victims of the slaughter.

Last month Poland published the first online database with the names and other personal details of nearly 10,000 staff who ran the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi German death camp.

The database, which the IPN says contains 9,686 names, “is just the beginning of a wide-ranging project” that will cover the staff of other death and concentration camps that Nazi Germany set up in occupied Poland, Institute of National Remembrance chairman (IPN) Jaroslaw Szarek told reporters in Krakow at the time.

In August 2016 Poland’s rightwing government said it would seek fines or jail terms of up to three years against anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish.

Under the new initiative, a “public attribution to Poland, in violation of the facts, of bearing joint responsibility” for Nazi Germany’s crimes could result in jail time, as well as fines.

Source

When Jewish immigrants were detained, and Jews took to the streets

Immigrants at Ellis Island(JTA) — When Jews joined the protests around the country this weekend against President Trump’s executive order on immigration, they were largely doing so on behalf of Muslim refugees and migrants who found themselves in a legal limbo and barred from entering the United States.

But nearly 100 years ago Jewish protesters gathered to demand the release of fellow Jews, who were caught up in a legal drama eerily similar to the one that has played out in airports and courts since Friday.

On Nov. 15, 1923, 2,000 Jews rallied at the Lower Manhattan headquarters of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society to protest the detention of 3,000 of their relatives at Ellis Island.

They appealed directly to President Calvin Coolidge, a Republican, presumably asking him to ease the strict moratorium on immigration that had been put in place in 1921 under the “Emergency Quota Act” aund re-upped the following year. Anti-immigrant groups had long argued that immigrants from poorer and “backward” regions of southern and eastern Europe were a drain on American resources and brought with them radical ideas like anarchism, communism and socialism. Some labor unions, too, joined the anti-immigrant spirit, arguing that cheap labor would depress wages.

Like Muslim travelers detained at U.S. airports this week or left in limbo in transit countries as a result of Trump’s executive order, Jewish and other immigrants often set sail unaware of changes in the immigration law, or aboard ships whose unscrupulous operators didn’t inform them that there were strict quotas already in place.

According to the JTA story on the 1923 protest — which appeared the next day — leaders of the demonstration “urged that a large delegation be sent to Washington to request that the detained immigrants be admitted. They are planning a protest mass meeting if the Government deports their relatives.”

JTA also printed an appeal that was to be sent to Coolidge, urging the release of the immigrants:

On behalf of the immigrants, blood relatives of citizens and declarants, facing deportation because of the exhaustion of quotas, I appeal to your well-known exemplification of American sense of justice to admit them to this country.

These unfortunates who have given up their all to be reborn to the ideals of liberty and freedom are the innocent victims of circumstances over which they had no control. Humanitarianism prompts the plea for their admission.

On Dec. 3, JTA reported that Secretary of Labor James J. Davis approved the deportation of hundreds of the detained immigrants to Canada. Others were sent to Cherbourg, France, “whence they are returnable to the countries from where they embarked for the United States.” By 1924, with the passage of the fiercely nativist Johnson-Reed Immigration Act, immigration from outside of Western Europe slowed to a trickle.

A month after the protest outside HIAS headquarters, Rabbi Nathan Krass of New York’s Temple Emanu-El gave a fiery sermon, quoted in JTA, railing against the anti-immigrant fervor of the day. “Imagine what would have happened if a committee of Indian immigration officers had stood on Plymouth Rock, and, after admitting ten Pilgrim Fathers, had said, ‘Your quota is full. The rest of you go back to England,’” said Krass. “Yet we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. An American means any one who is born in America, or who, hailing from other lands, takes out citizenship papers and swears allegiance to the Constitution. This recent attempt to delimit Americans on the basis of religion or race is an outrageous insult to the intelligence of people of this land and treachery to the ideals of the founders of this Republic.”

HIAS, meanwhile, continues to assist immigrants, processing more than 4,000 refugee asylum applications annually – most of them for non-Jews, and many of them impacted by last week’s executive order.

(Hat tip to Adam Soclof)

Source

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.”

Source

Long-Lost Plea to FDR Revives Question: How could Europe’s Jews have been Saved?

A ‘60 Minutes’ segment, an archivist, and the enduring legacy of assumptions that there was no way to skirt the law

winton82038Last month, 60 Minutes aired an interview with Sir Nicholas Winton, the London-born son of German Jews who has become known in England as “the British Schindler” for his efforts to rescue hundreds of Czech children, most of them Jews.

In the course of the segment, Winton mentioned that in 1939, he wrote a letter to President Roosevelt, asking the United States to accept some of the children. “But the Americans wouldn’t take any, which was a pity,” Winton told Bob Simon. “We could’ve got a lot more out.”

Neither family members nor scholars who have researched Winton’s story have ever been able to locate a copy of that letter—but after the 60 Minutes segment, a National Archives staff member named David Langbart began digging through the files until he found it. Earlier this week, on the occasion of Winton’s 105th birthday, Langbart presented him with both the original missive and the Roosevelt Administration’s response.

“Perhaps people in America do not realize how little is being done and has been done for refugee children in Czechoslovakia,” Winton wrote. “[T]here are thousands of children, some homeless and starving, mostly without nationality, but they certainly all have one thing in common: there is no future, if they are forced to remain where they are.” Winton went on to describe their destitution, and closed with the question, “Is it possible for anything to be done to help us with this problem in America?”

The answer was a firm “no.” The White House handed the letter off to the State Department, which in turn instructed the U.S. Embassy in London to inform Winton that “the United States Government is unable…to permit immigration in excess of that provided for by existing immigration laws.”

Indeed, 1939 was the one year out of Roosevelt’s 12 in office that he permitted the full use of the immigration quotas for Germany and other European countries with large Jewish populations. But the law was the law; there was no more room. “The United States opened its doors to the extent that the law allowed at the time,” Langbart, the National Archives staffer, told CBS. “I wish it could have been more—but it wasn’t.”

But the truth is, it could easily have been.

***

The very same week that Winton wrote to Roosevelt, the refugee ship St. Louis was making its way across the Atlantic with its 937 German Jewish passengers all dreaming of freedom. Soon they would be refused admission to Cuba and the United States, and forced to return to Europe, where many would later be murdered by the Nazis.

But in 1938, after the Kristallnacht pogroms, the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Lawrence Cramer, backed by the territory’s legislative assembly, publicly offered to accept Jewish refugees fleeing the Third Reich. “The U.S. immigration quotas did not apply to our territory,” Rep. Donna Christensen, a Democrat who currently represents the Virgin Islands, told me last month. “So refugees could have been admitted on a temporary basis, on tourist visas, for as long as they were in danger.”

Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes supported the proposal, but the State Department strongly opposed it. Roosevelt sided with State, vetoing the plan on the grounds that Nazi spies might disguise themselves as Jewish refugees and sneak into the mainland U.S. via the islands. In fact, no cases of Nazis posing as refugees to get into America were ever discovered.

But there were other ways that Jews could have been admitted despite the rigorous quotas. Henry Feingold, a professor emeritus of history at Baruch College and one of the leading experts on the 1930s refugee crisis, noted that the law permitted the non-quota immigration of an unrestricted number of “ministers, their wives, and unmarried children.” The term “ministers” included rabbis. “In other words, quite a few rabbis and their families could have been admitted in 1939 despite the quota being filled that year with regular immigration from Germany and other European countries,” Feingold said.

As it happens, Feingold—then a child—was among the lucky handful who qualified under the immigration quotas and were able to reach the United States. He left Germany with his family just days before Kristallnacht. Most of his extended family stayed behind in Europe, and nearly all of his aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents were killed in the Holocaust.

Stephen Norwood, a professor at the University of Oklahoma who has researched relations between American and German universities in the 1930s, points to two additional categories that could have been used to admit Jews outside the quota system. “A small number of college professors and students were admitted on a non-quota basis, provided an American college hired the professors and contributors, usually from the Jewish community, covered the students’ expenses,” he explained. “But many others could have immigrated to the U.S. within the law, if the administration hadn’t been looking for every possible way to keep immigrants out.”

In his recent book The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower, Norwood noted at least 50 instances in which American colleges offered scholarships to European Jewish refugee students, but the Roosevelt administration blocked their entry. U.S. officials claimed the students could not prove they had a safe address in Europe to which they could later return–and thus constituted a “risk” to become “financially dependent” on the federal government.

Another option for Jewish refugees was British Mandatory Palestine. Ironically, Winton’s letter to FDR was written just day after the British announced their new White Paper policy, shutting off the Holy Land to all but a trickle of Jewish immigration. Could FDR have dissuaded London from taking that step? “England desperately needed American support because it knew war with Germany was likely,” noted Monty Penkower, a professor emeritus of Jewish history at the Machon Lander Graduate Center of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem and the author of the new book Palestine in Turmoil: The Struggle for Sovereignty, 1933-1939. “Had FDR put a little behind-the-scenes pressure on the British to keep Palestine more widely open to Jewish refugees, they might have listened.”

Which brings us back to Winton, whose parents had changed their name from Wertheim and converted to Christianity after arriving in London. A stockbroker by profession, he got into refugee work after the Kristallnacht pogrom, spurred on by friends who shared his outrage over events in Germany. Eventually, he managed to arrange for the transport of 669 Czech children, finding families to take them in. One final group of 250 children were scheduled to depart from Prague on Sept. 1, 1939—but they were trapped when the Germans invaded Poland that day, and all of them were eventually murdered in the Holocaust.

His letter to the president of the United States, written six months earlier, in May 1939, remains a tragic reminder of the desperation not just of Jews trying to flee Hitler, but of those working so hard to save them. And the Roosevelt Administration’s response remains a symbol of a government that looked for every reason to say “no” to Jewish refugees, even when the law itself offered numerous options to save lives by opening the doors just a little.

***

Source

In Trump’s push for ‘America First,’ troubling echoes of anti-Semitic chapter

The president’s rallying cry recalls the 1940s America First Committee, which saw known bigots such as Charles Lindbergh blame the Jews for US involvement in WWII

America-FirstBOSTON — Donald Trump stood on the red and blue draped steps of the US Capitol to give his inauguration address as the 45th President of the United States and declared, “From this day forward it’s going to be only America first.” He then paused and repeated with deliberation those last two words: “America First.”

Cheers rippled through the crowd below.

But the pithy slogan Trump has embraced to define his new foreign policy also served as the rallying cry in what is now considered a dark chapter in American history, when an isolationist movement of the same name blamed American Jews for conspiring to pressure the government to join World War II against the interests of America.

“The concept of standing up for American rights is a legitimate concept, but the words themselves have historical relevance because of what happened in the 1930s and 1940s,” said Kenneth Jacobson, the deputy national director of the Anti-defamation League. Jacobson has been with the ADL for 45 years and serves as something of its resident historian.

“The new president has every right to consider the direction of American policy but it’s better not to use this phrase,” said Jacobson. “Unfortunately, the emotional connections are there.”

The ADL went on record last spring when Trump first brought up the term to remind Americans, most of whom have no living memory of the term or movement, why there is a visceral reaction against it.

The isolationism embraced by some Americans following World War I that helped birth the America First Committee was not unique in American history. Opposition to American involvement in overseas conflict dates to the colonial era and continues to the present day.

Founded by a group of Yale University students in the fall of 1940, the America First Committee arose as the country was steeped in intense dispute over whether to join the British in fighting Nazi Germany. By then Germany had already rolled its way over Poland and into Western Europe including France, Belgium and the Netherlands, and persecution of the Jews had begun with some already being arrested and shipped to concentration camps.

At the time the movement arose, it tapped into the unhappiness many Americans felt about the United States’ entry into World War I.

Professor James Kloppenberg, a professor of American history at Harvard University an author of the recent “Toward Democracy: The Struggle for Self-Rule in European and American Thought,” said that with this discontent came, “a great deal of animosity towards those who were considered to have been war profiteers. And as has been true since the Middle Ages, Jews became targets for their associations with banking and loans.”

What began as an anti-war profiteering movement, he said, “morphed into alliances that were pretty ugly between the Nazi movement and anti-war sentiment.”

Meanwhile, the America First Committee gained in membership and popularity, especially in the Midwest.

As Susan Dunn, a professor of humanities at Williams College and author of “1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler — The Election Amid the Storm” noted in an essay published by CNN, among America First’s executive committee members were initially two powerful men and known anti-Semites — Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, and Avery Brundage.

Ford was responsible for printing and distributing half a million copies of the anti-Semitic propaganda text “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

As chairman of the US Olympic Committee, Brundage prevented two Jews on the 1936 US Olympic team from running in the finals of the 400-meter relay race in Berlin.

Brundage and Ford were later removed from the committee as the movement tried to distance itself from charges of anti-Semitism.

But cementing America First Committee’s anti-Semitic association for the ages was Charles Lindbergh, a member of the executive committee who was prized as the dashing American pilot-turned-national hero, celebrated for making the first solo Transatlantic flight.

Lindbergh had become enamored with Nazi Germany during visits in the late 1930s, even briefly planning to move there. He lobbied the US government to remain neutral, arguing that Germany’s victory in Europe was inevitable.

On September 11, 1941, he made a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, that revealed the extent of his anti-Semitism.

“The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt Administration,” he said. Lindbergh continued that “Instead of agitating for war, Jews in this country should be opposing it in every way, for they will be the first to feel its consequences. Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.”

His comments were widely condemned. Just three months later the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the debate over whether or not to enter the war was over.

Laurel Leff, a professor with a joint appointment in Journalism and Jewish Studies at Northeastern University has written about this period in her book, “Buried by the Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper.”

“To embrace this movement,” she said of Trump’s embrace of the America First slogan, “is either ahistorical or, more frighteningly, is picking up on anti-Semitic sentiment.”

Whether intentional or not, the new president’s continued use of this slogan — and what it represents — remains to be seen.

Source