Category Archive: In Memoriam

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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White House defends omission of Jews from Holocaust statement

The omission drew ire from American Jewish groups.

ShowImageThe Trump administration defended its decision to omit any mention of Jews or antisemitism from its statement marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, noting that Jews were not the only victims of Nazi slaughter.

“Despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered,” Hope Hicks, a communications aide for the president, said in a comment to CNN. In his statement, Donald Trump vowed to stand up against the forces of evil as president.

“It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust,” the US president said in the statement.

“It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.”

The omission drew ire from the Anti-Defamation League, whose CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted that it was “Puzzling and troubling @WhiteHouse #Holocaust- MemorialDaystmt has no mention of Jews. GOP and Dem. presidents have done so in the past.”

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, however, criticized that statement, saying “It does no honor to the millions of Jews murdered in the Holocaust to play politics with their memory.”

Lauder said that any “fair reading” of the White House statement would find that it “appropriately commemorates the suffering and the heroism that mark that dark chapter in modern history.

“There are enough real antisemitism and true threats facing the Jewish people today. Our community gains nothing if we reach a point where manufactured outrages reduce public sensitivity to the real dangers we confront,” Lauder said.

In a interview on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said that the Trump administration “obviously” recognizes and abhors what happened to the Jewish people during the Holocaust.

But “I don’t regret the words” used in the statement, Priebus added.

Tim Kaine, a Democratic senator from Virginia and former vice presidential running mate to Hillary Clinton, said it was “not a coincidence” that Trump’s aides dabbled in “Holocaust denial” on the same day that it issued a “religious test” at America’s borders.

“All of these things are happening together,” Kaine said. “When you have the chief political adviser in the White House, Steve Bannon, who is connected with a news organization that traffics in white supremacy and anti-Semitism, and they put out a Holocaust statement that omits any mention of Jews.”

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Trump’s Holocaust day statement fails to mention Jews or anti-Semitism

President vows to ensure ‘the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good’; ADL chief calls absence of specific Jewish reference ‘puzzling and troubling’

AP_17026679667080-e1485542961947WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump issued a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day Friday in which he vowed to combat the forces of evil, and called to “make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world,” but failed to mention Jews or anti-Semitism.

The absence of any specific mention of Jews or anti-Semitism was highlighted and criticized by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

“It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust,” the president said. “It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.”

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt promptly took to Twitter to exclaim it was “puzzling and troubling” that the 117-word statement did not specifically cite the persecution of the Jewish people that was central, though not exclusive, to the Nazi genocide.

Trump’s statement, Greenblatt said, “misses that it was six million Jews who perished, not just ‘innocent people.’”

In his statement, Trump vowed to use the power of the presidency to safeguard the world from allowing an atrocity such as the Holocaust to repeat itself.

“In the name of the perished, I pledge to do everything in my power throughout my Presidency, and my life, to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good,” Trump said. “Together, we will make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.”

It is not the first time an international leader has failed to mention Jews while honoring the memory of those murdered by Adolf Hitler’s regime.

Last year, Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau caused a similar reaction when he issued a statement that lacked any reference to Jews or anti-Semitism.

This year, Trudeau avoided making that a tradition. “Today, on the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, we remember the more than six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust and the countless other victims of Nazi brutality,” he said.

Trudeau further pledged to use the day of remembrance to “reaffirm our commitment to stand against anti-Semitism, xenophobia and prejudice in all its forms.”

Trump was among several world leaders who devoted statements in memory of Holocaust victims on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which in 2005 the United Nations set for Jan. 27 — the day in 1945 that the Red Army liberated the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. More than 1 million Jews out of the 6 million murdered in the Holocaust were killed there.

“Tragically, and contrary to our resolve, anti-Semitism continues to thrive,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement made Thursday in New York that was read out the following day at UN headquarters in Geneva. “We are also seeing a deeply troubling rise in extremism, xenophobia, racism and anti-Muslim hatred. Irrationality and intolerance are back.”

In Germany, outgoing Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is to become president this year, noted during a speech the political instability in the world today.

“History should be a lesson, warning and incentive all at the same time,” he said. “There can and should be no end to remembrance.”

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A star-studded ‘Night’ to honor Elie Wiesel in New York

Five-hour January 29 event at Museum of Jewish Heritage will feature diverse community reading of the slim 116-page volume that changed the world

wiesel-FEATUREMillions have read Elie Wiesel’s landmark Holocaust memoir “Night.” When Oprah Winfrey selected it for her book club in 2006, she turned it into an instant bestseller and countless students continue to read it as part of their high school curriculums.

But seldom is the slim volume about the author’s experiences in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald Nazi concentration camps read aloud.

A special event in New York on Sunday marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day (which takes place two days earlier on January 27) with a wide array of artists, actors, writers, community leaders, government officials, students, Holocaust survivors and survivors of other genocides. They will honor the memory of the late Wiesel in a unique community reading of “Night” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust.

Co-presented by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, the reading will take place over five hours in the museum’s Edmond J. Safra Hall. It will be simulcast throughout the museum’s galleries and streamed via the internet to online viewers around the world. On-stage participants will take turns reading at least one page from the 116-page work. Most of the readers will read in English, and some will read parts of the text in Yiddish and French, in a nod to the languages in which “Night” was published before its translation to English and some 30 other languages.

Abraham H. Foxman, director of the Center for the Study of Antisemitism at the Museum of Jewish Heritage and former Anti-Defamation League national director, was instrumental in organizing the event honoring Wiesel, who died last July 2 aged 87.

Foxman told The Times of Israel he was overwhelmed by the uniformly positive response from the invited readers, as well as public demand to attend. The 1,000 allotted spaces are filled, and there is a waiting list of those still hoping to have a chance to personally hear a portion of the reading.

Foxman said it was evident from the start that “Night” would be the central element for the program marking the first International Holocaust Remembrance Day since Wiesel’s passing.

“Elie’s greatest impact on the universe was the testimony of ‘Night.’ It was obvious that we would use this as a vehicle. What Elie did was take a Jewish tragedy and place it on the world stage. He transposed Jewish pain to a universal scale. ‘Night’ is the most- read Holocaust-related book, or perhaps second only to ‘The Diary of Anne Frank,’” Foxman said.

Folksbiene associate artistic director Motl Didner said there was a strong connection between Wiesel and Yiddish culture. Wiesel attended numerous Folksbiene productions, and the theater staged a special tribute to him in 2010. On a more intimate level, Wiesel was a familiar presence in Folksbiene artistic director Zalmen Mlotek’s life as he grew up, as the Nobel Laureate was friendly with Mlotek’s parents, Yiddish Forverts editor Yosl Mlotek and Yiddish song expert Chana Mlotek.

“The Folksbiene has been a home for the survivor community for the 70 years since the end of the Holocaust and now serves the second, third and fourth generations,” said Didner.

“Elie Wiesel was a great inspiration to our community. Yiddish was his native language. It was the language in which he began his writing career. He even sang in Yiddish. It was only fitting that with his passing, especially given our new partnership with the Museum of Jewish Heritage, that we honor his memory by reading his most influential work,” Didner said.

Some of the readers participating in Sunday’s event knew Wiesel personally, while others never had the chance.

“I never had the pleasure and honor of meeting Mr. Wiesel, but I wish I had. So participating feels like a way of finally coming together,” said Tony, Oscar and Golden Globe-winning actor Joel Grey.

“Like most people, I too was devastated, and devastated by recollections of the Holocaust to this day,” said Grey, best known for his role as the Master of Ceremonies in both the stage and film versions of “Cabaret.”

Broadway actress Tovah Feldshuh, whom younger audiences will recognize as the overbearing mother in the current hit TV series “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” knew and loved Wiesel. Her recollections of Wiesel as a man of moral and social courage, and also someone who always put concern for others first, inspired her to participate.

Feldshuh recalls how immediately after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Wiesel “held my face in his hands and said, ‘Tovah, how are you?’… that was his moment. The world was focused on him and he was so cellularly empathic that his first thoughts were naturally, effortlessly about ‘the other’ — in this case, it was lucky, lucky ‘I.’”

Sex therapist and media personality Dr. Ruth Westheimer also has fond memories of Wiesel, whom she called “a very important person in my life.” Westheimer praised Wiesel for everything he did for Jews and non-Jews alike, especially those who lived through the Nazi era.

As Westheimer reads her portion of “Night,” she will think of her friend Wiesel and miss him. She’ll especially miss the way he would greet her.

“I have met him many, many times, and I always got a kiss. What I miss most about him is his wonderful smile and the kiss on my cheek,” she shared.

The list of readers is crammed with famous New Yorkers from many different professional fields, from violinist Itzhak Perlman to New York Police Department commissioner James O’Neill to Ms. Magazine co-founder Letty Cottin Pogrebin. Israel will be represented by Ambassador Dani Dayan, Consul General of Israel in New York.

At the end of the five hours, members of the Wiesel family concluded the reading.

Wiesel’s son Elisha Wiesel told The Times of Israel that he is pleased with how the Museum of Jewish Heritage and Folksbiene conceived of the event.

”I think my father would have appreciated the respect with which the Museum of Jewish Heritage is approaching the event. No musical interludes, no speeches, no performances – just the reading. Some messages are too important to dilute,” he said.

Although the community reading was planned to coincide with a day memorializing past tragedy, its resonance with current events is at the forefront of the younger Wiesel’s mind.

“Listeners to this particular reading of ‘Night’ need only walk a few blocks to the site of the 9/11 Memorial to be reminded that hatred and murderous intent are unfortunately alive and well today,” said Wiesel.

“There are still political and religious leaders who irresponsibly defame the ‘other’ and seek to divide us along our fault lines: religion, skin color, nationality, class, gender, sexual preference, and political affiliation,” he said.

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Running for the past, athletes trek to Holocaust race in Rome

With 80-year-old Holocaust survivor and Munich Olympian Shaul Ladany, the Run for Mem took participants past historical Nazi persecution sights throughout the city

29On October 16, 1943, 45-year-old Settimio Calò left his wife Clelia and their nine children comfortably asleep in their apartment when he snuck out at dawn, hoping he would be able to buy some cigarettes — a rare treat in Nazi-occupied Rome.

When he got home a few hours later, he found the place in Via del Portico D’Ottavia, the heart of the former Jewish Ghetto, completely empty. The Nazis had raided the neighborhood and rounded up over 1,000 Jews. Of them, only 15 men and one woman survived Auschwitz. All Calò’s children, including little Samuele, just a few months old, were murdered.

“Today many people have forgotten about the Holocaust. The number of survivors was already small immediately after it, and 72 years later very few can still tell their stories firsthand. This is why doing it when I have the opportunity is an imperative for me,” Holocaust survivor and Israeli racewalker Shaul Ladany says in a phone conversation with The Times of Israel.

Ahead of International Holocaust Memorial Day, Ladany — who was at the 1972 Munich Olympics and survived the horrifying terror attack on the Israeli delegation — was the guest of honor at an event in Rome aimed at promoting Holocaust remembrance and the awareness of its importance.

“Run for Mem,” a non-competitive road race past sites related to the history of the Holocaust in the Italian capital, took place on Sunday, January 22.

Via del Portico D’Ottavia, where the Calò family was arrested along with so many others, and which today remains at the heart of the Jewish life in the city, was the epicenter of the race. The little square behind the Great Synagogue named after the date of the Nazi raid, Largo 16 Ottobre 1943, served as the start and end point.

About 1,500 people took part in the initiative, which was organized by the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, with support of Maccabi Italia (a branch of the renowned international Jewish sports organization) and the Rome Marathon.

“This year we chose a new, maybe even brave way to mark Holocaust Memorial Day — a sporting event,” President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities Noemi Di Segni said, opening the race.

“People happen to run every day, but today we have to take with us the milestones of our history and remember that the path ahead of us starts from the one influenced by past events. Sometimes people fall and are hurt. They have made us fall, they have hurt us, but we have gotten back to our feet and we have started again, as individuals, as a people, as a community, as Italians, as Europeans,” she concluded.

“Run for Mem” also received the support of over two dozen Jewish, civil, government and sports organizations, including the World Jewish Congress, the European Jewish Congress as well as Prime Minister of Italy Paolo Gentiloni.

Among those who attended were members of the Italian government, undersecretary for European Affairs Sandro Gozi, Italian runner Franca Fiacconi, Imam Yahya Pallavicini and Israeli ambassador to Rome Ofer Sachs.

The high interest for the event especially moved Ladany.

“I must say that I was really pleased to be invited to this event and impressed by the work done by the organizers, including the fact that there were so many journalists and so much interest around it. A lecture could have never drawn as much attention,” Ladany points out.

The 80-year-old racewalker opted for the longest route of 10 kilometers (6 miles), finding some similarities with the Jerusalem Marathon.

“The Jerusalem Marathon, with so many ups and downs, is hard, but the landscapes are wonderful. Same here in Rome. Amazing views, the Colosseum, the Forum, but a tough one, especially because the stone-paved streets were far from being smooth,” he said.

Ladany, who is a professor emeritus of industrial engineering at Ben-Gurion University, also recalled a time in Israel when there were no marathons at all.

“Today there are several, with thousands of participants. When they held the very first one from Hadera to Zichron Yaakov as an Olympic trial in 1956, there were maybe 10 or 12 participants, myself included. Shortly after, they started to organize racewalks. I have been racewalking ever since,” he said.

The two routes offered by “Run for Mem” (the shorter of which was 3.5 kilometers) took the runners around the city, passing by streets and buildings which witnessed the Nazi cruelty, as well as sites that speak about the courage of those who risked their lives to help people in need.

Participants, who all wore t-shirts bearing the slogan “Race for Remembrance, Looking Ahead,” ran by the Regina Coeli prison on the Tiber river, where Jews and political prisoners were detained.

They also passed by the building on Via Urbana where Father Pietro Pappagallo lived. The hero had helped victims of the persecution and resistance fighters until he was arrested and killed by the Nazis in the infamous Ardeatine Caves massacre of 1944.

The longer route passed by the building in Via Tasso that served as SS headquarters and which today houses the Museum of the Liberation.

The shorter one cut through the small Tiberina island, where physician Giovanni Borromeo hid hundreds of Jews from the Nazis. Many of them were diagnosed with the fictitious “K. disease,” which kept German soldiers, afraid of contracting contagious diseases, at bay. Borromeo was recognized as a Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 2004.

“The sites featured in this road-race symbolize the history of the persecution, devoting attention also to what happened to Roma people, political opponents and members of the gay community,” commented Maccabi Italia president Vittorio Pavoncello, speaking to Sky News Italy.

The “Run for Mem” itinerary also included the Via degli Zingari, where a plaque commemorates the oppression of the Roma people.

Speaking from his hotel in Rome, Ladany, who was sent to Bergen Belsen with his family as an 8 year old, explains how being a survivor has influenced his life.

“It shaped me to be ambitious, to set high goals. Out of the first eight years of school, I only attended four, in four different languages. Therefore, my first goal was to graduate high school. Then it was to become an officer in the Israeli army, to get a degree, a second degree, a PhD, a position as a lecturer, professor, tenured professor. And simultaneously, to become an Israeli champion, set a world record, take part in my first Olympic Games, and then in my second,” he said passionately.

His second Olympic competition was in Munich, where 11 Israeli athletes were killed by the Palestinian terror group Black September. Ladany managed to get out of the building.

“Munich was just yet another situation where I found myself in mortal danger and I survived,” he explained. “I think that another consequence of my experiences during the Holocaust, when I lost 28 members of my immediate family, is that I am not afraid of anything.

“This does not mean I am not cautious, but I’m not afraid to die. For example, when the Six Day War broke out, I was studying in the United States. I came back at my own expense to volunteer in the army, and not because I like the military life. I felt it was my duty to defend my country.”

Asked what role sports and athletes can or should play in influencing the world, he explained that there are those who like to speak up, and those who don’t.

“When asked, I personally always expressed my opinion, even if it meant going against the mainstream view,” he said, remembering how after the massacre at Munich, he opposed the withdrawal of the team because he felt it would give the terrorists what they wanted.

“I also think it was right that the Olympics went on. When Baron de Coubertin started the modern Olympic Games, he had in mind the ancient ones which marked a moment of truce between the different Greek city-states. Nowadays, many things have changed. There is the doping, the money… However, this should not change,” Ladany says.

At the end of the “Run for Mem” all participants crossed the finish line together. What better could embody the idea so dear to de Coubertin that what counts is not winning, but participating, than a Race for Remembrance?

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Global initiatives virtually commemorate the Holocaust — in a very real way

Meaningful social media campaigns by Israel’s Yad Vashem and the World Jewish Congress make history and remembrance accessible to all ages

World-ort-CROPIt is remarkable to feel a connection with someone you’ve only met online. Even more so when he has been dead for the past 75 years. And yet, a random matching program on Yad Vashem’s IRemember Wall connects between a Facebook user and victim of the Holocaust in a deeply personal way.

For this writer, the name Chaim Gindel was drawn from the museum’s Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names. He was born to David and Leja in Ołyka, Poland, in 1928. He was a 14-year-old student when he was murdered in the Shoah. His cause of death is unknown.

The too-short story is recounted on a Page of Testimony that was submitted in 1997 by a surviving cousin in Woodmere, New York. If interested, that handwritten page can be viewed, as well as the names of his siblings who also perished in the Holocaust.

Somehow, after pairing with this once anonymous stranger, the concept of the “6 million” is less about a quantifiable number and more a short hand for a collective of individual humans.

“Many, if not most people, don’t have a particular person or name that they know and commemorate,” said Dana Porath, Yad Vashem’s Internet Department Director.

Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, is one of several museums and institutions tapping into the potential of online presence and social media campaigns to raise awareness among an audience that increasingly has little first-person contact with the horrors of the Holocaust.

“We realized in the last couple of years, particularly in social media, that people want to do something more participatory. It’s fine to read, learn and explore, but with the opportunity to engage with a particular topic or issue, people really want to do something,” said Porath.

Porath, who was a Jewish educator for 15 years in North America before moving to Israel, began working at Yad Vashem in 1994 and joined the fledgling internet department in 1999. Today, the museum’s online presence is robust and growing.

“In 1999 I don’t know that we really had any expectations, we couldn’t envision what could happen and what the possibilities were,” said Porath. In addition to the myriad of educational materials, the museum has presented some 150 curated online exhibitions — currently “Last Letters From the Holocaust: 1941” — and dozens of social media projects.

Five years ago, Yad Vashem began the IRemember Wall project in which participants are linked with specific names of victims. The algorithm is purposefully random, because, said Porath, “Every victim deserves to be remembered.”

The project is held only once a year for International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Said Porath, it becomes “a collective experience” that combines the wall and the comments it garners. She said she expects to reach at least 3,000 participants this year.

“The possibilities created by technology have allowed us to reach out and engage in ways we couldn’t imagine,” said Porath.

Prompting the next generation’s memory

Leading up to International Holocaust Remembrance Day, some 250,000 posted on social media using the hashtag, “#WeRemember” — from New York Senator Chuck Schumer to Dr. Ruth Westheimer to French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy. Some 120 million were reached in the World Jewish Congress campaign, according to a spokesperson. The international organization represents Jewish communities in 100 countries.

“The goal is to reach those who don’t know much about the Holocaust, or who might be susceptible to those who deny it, and to remind the world that such horrors could happen again,” said World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer.

Singer said that through the tools of social media, WJC hopes to engage the youth, “because, soon, it will be their responsibility to tell the story and ensure that humanity never forget.”

The project was adopted by Jewish schools around the world, with many pupils creating short films that were posted and shared widely.

Stefan Bialoguski, the public relations officer for World ORT, said that well over 1,000, “perhaps in the thousands,” of students in schools and colleges across the former Soviet Union, Israel and Europe took part. World ORT claims to be the largest global Jewish education and vocational training NGO.

“The energy which World ORT students have devoted to the #WeRemember project should reassure us that not only has the history of the Holocaust been passed on intact to a new generation, despite the worst attempts of deniers, but also that our children are unbowed by the weight of what happened to our people within living memory,” Bialoguski told The Times of Israel.

A 3D virtual ‘eyewitness to history’

It is this same impulse to preserve historical continuity in an era of fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors that has propelled another unusual project, the New Dimensions in Testimony by the USC Shoah Foundation. Using some 50 cameras at once, a dozen Holocaust survivors have individually been filmed giving 10-25 hours of testimony in an effort to create a 3D virtual “eyewitness to history.”

Set to launch in two museums this year, New Dimensions was in beta stage for some five years and had a 2015 trial run at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, with the first completed interactive testimony of Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter of Toronto.

In addition to recounting the horrors of the Holocaust, the interactive hologram survivor can be asked questions, prompted to sing songs and tell of life before the tragedy. For many who wouldn’t dare ask personal questions for fear of insulting, interacting with this artificial intelligence can be freeing.

According to project literature, a survey of the Illinois pilot found over 95 percent of visitors felt the technology “enhanced their ability to connect” with Gutter’s story. Additionally, 68% of students reported “above average critical thinking ability after the interaction.”

“Everything is now in post-production to meet expected deployment in 2017,” state project materials and the project should open at the first two confirmed museums: the Illinois Holocaust Museum and in Terre Haute, Indiana, the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

In an era of technological leaps and bounds, the ability to engage a new audience is vastly magnified and the impulse to ride social media buzz is strong.

To capture the world’s attention, said Yad Vashem’s Porath, her team strives to make the commemoration of the Jewish victims and their life before the Holocaust accessible through contemporary issues such as the Olympics or International Women’s Day.

“We are always trying to have meaningful, relevant and respectful content,” said Porath. “But to make the Holocaust respectful in 140 characters — that’s a challenge.”

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