Category Archive: Jerusalem Post

HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS MORE LIKELY TO DEVELOP DEMENTIA – NEW STUDY

The findings add to an ongoing debate about the psychological effects of trauma.

BY SONIA EPSTEIN
Holocaust survivors more likely to develop dementia – new study

Polish-born Holocaust survivor Meyer Hack shows his prisoner number tattooed on his arm during a news conference at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem June 15, 2009.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The findings, recently published in The Journal of Traumatic Stress by Dr. Arad Kodesh, Prof. Itzhak Levav and Prof. Stephen Levine, add to an ongoing debate about the psychological effects of extreme adversity.

Some scientists hypothesize that those who experience horrific events may develop mechanisms that make them resistant to neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia, which is characterized by a decline in cognitive ability and a decrease in daily activity. Others argue, however, that the risk of developing these diseases may increase with exposure to trauma, Levine explained.

The University of Haifa researchers found that 16.5%  of those who were exposed to the Holocaust – more than 10,000 participants, or about one-fifth of the total study pool – contracted dementia, compared with a rate of 9.3% among the other participants.

The results of the study are therefore consistent with the hypothesis that exposure to the trauma of genocide increases vulnerability to the risk of dementia later in life.

The researchers analyzed registry data on 51,752 Israeli residents who were born between 1901 and 1945 and who did not have a history of dementia during the period 2002 and 2012, but who were still alive in 2012. They then reexamined whether those people developed the disease between January 2013 and October 2017.

The researchers classified participants by their exposure to the Holocaust based on government recognition and assigned hazard ratios from Cox proportional hazards-regression models to quantify risk of dementia, with adjustments made for demographic factors such as sex and age.

“The study findings are clinically significant in terms of the long-term identification of dementia among Holocaust survivors, and they may also be relevant regarding crimes against humanity in general,” Levine said. “The findings highlight the need for careful monitoring of cognitive decline in risk populations that experienced extreme and protracted trauma in general, and Holocaust survivors in particular.”

WHO BOYCOTTED THE NAZIS AND WHO DIDN’T?

As a precedent for using boycotting as a political tool, Omar’s resolution points out, “Americans of conscience… boycott[ed] Nazi Germany from March 1933 to October 1941.

BY RAFAEL MEDOFF
AMERICANS PROTESTING against trade with the Nazis before World War II.

AMERICANS PROTESTING against trade with the Nazis before World War II.. (photo credit: US HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM)

Leaving aside the obvious fallacy of Omar’s comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany, her resolution casts an unexpected spotlight on a little-known chapter in American history that deserves more attention: the nationwide boycott of German goods in the 1930s.

As a precedent for using boycotting as a political tool, Omar’s resolution points out, “Americans of conscience… boycott[ed] Nazi Germany from March 1933 to October 1941 in response to the dehumanization of the Jewish people in the lead-up to the Holocaust.”

As soon as the Nazis rose to power in early 1933, German Jews were barred from numerous professions, subjected to severe discrimination and targeted by mob violence.

One of America’s foremost Jewish leaders of the time, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, reported receiving letters from Germany telling of “tortures, the cutting of Hackenkreuze [swastikas] into the flesh of Jews, imprisonment, death, and [Ku Klux Klan-style] night visits and night rides from which Jews never return…. It is hell, truly worse than hell.”

In response, American Jews boycotted German goods. Picket lines were set up in front of stores such as Macy’s and Gimbel’s that imported products from Nazi Germany. Doctors and pharmacists were encouraged to turn to non-German alternatives to German-made medicines. Athletes who qualified for the upcoming Olympic Games in Berlin were urged to stay home.

Jewish organizations were not alone in this effort. US Socialist Party leader Norman Thomas joined the picketing outside Macy’s. The American Federation of Labor actively assisted the boycott. New York City’s Republican mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, canceled a contract for German steel that was supposed to be used to build the Triboro Bridge. Gallup polls found most Americans in sympathy with the boycott.

Some prominent Americans, however, opposed boycotting the Nazis. The opposition cut across party lines – it came not just from conservative isolationists (who feared boycotting would drag America into a foreign war), but from prominent liberal figures as well.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s pre-World War II policy was to maintain trade and diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany. FDR’s secretary of state, Cordell Hull, said the administration opposed any “racial or political boycott” of Germany.

The Roosevelt administration went so far as to help the Hitler regime elude the boycott. The Treasury Department permitted the Nazis to forego the usual “Made in Germany” label and instead mark goods as having been made in a particular city or region, which many consumers would not recognize. US officials also looked the other way when the print on German labels was illegible, or when they were attached in a way that made them inaccessible.

SOME LIBERAL academics supported the boycott. Others not only opposed the boycott, but personally violated it by visiting Germany in the 1930s and maintaining student exchange programs with German universities that were totally controlled by the Hitler regime. The sordid details are recounted in Prof. Stephen Norwood’s study, The Third Reich and the Ivory Tower.

Smith College president William Neilson, a longtime NAACP board member, visited Nazi Germany in 1933 and found “no cases of mistreatment” of Jewish citizens. Barnard College dean Virginia Gildersleeve, a staunch Roosevelt supporter, announced after touring Germany in 1935 that Hitler’s desire to acquire “new land” was “legitimate,” and that the sharp reduction in the admission of Jews and women to German universities was justified.

Pacifists such as Vassar College president Henry MacCraken saw the boycott as a step toward war, and in 1934, organized a tour of Nazi Germany for college students and professors. Footage of the trip was used for a Nazi propaganda film called Germany Today, which was shown in the United States in an effort to soften Hitler’s image.

Another prominent pacifist, Bryn Mawr professor Henry Cadbury, denounced the boycott as “simply war without bloodshed.” He admonished American Jews to “display good will instead of hatred” toward Hitler, claiming, “By hating him and trying to fight him, you will only help make him worse in his attack on the Jews.”

The boycott controversy roiled the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, a leading left-of-center activist group. Its mostly-Jewish Brooklyn chapter asked the group’s national leadership to endorse the boycott. The request was rebuffed. WILPF leaders said they resented the notion of “separating the Jewish question from the larger minority problems.” One WILPF leader confided to a colleague, “For the first time in my life I am beginning to feel a little antisemitic.” Many members of the Brooklyn branch, and nearly the entire Bronx chapter, resigned in protest over the boycott issue.

Although the boycott fell short of its goal of driving Hitler from power, its impact was evident from the significant decline in German exports and the repeated complaints by German officials to the US ambassador in Berlin about the damage the boycott was doing to their economy.

The story of the anti-Nazi boycott movement in America is a reminder that courage and cowardice may be found on both sides of the political aisle. When it came to boycotting Hitler there were “Americans of conscience” in both camps, but unfortunately, not enough them where it could have made the most difference – in the White House.

The writer is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, and the author of The Jews Should Keep Quiet: President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, and the Holocaust, forthcoming from The Jewish Publication Society in 2019.

FORMER SS OFFICER ON TRIAL FOR HOLOCAUST DENIAL, HATE SPEECH

Karl Munter, 96, a former SS war criminal who served under the commander who ordered the massacre in Ascq on Apr. 1-2, 1944, is being prosecuted.

BY JERUSALEM POST STAFF
Former Nazi SS war criminal Karl Munter interviewed on German TV.

Former Nazi SS war criminal Karl Munter interviewed on German TV. . (photo credit: screenshot)

A former SS soldier might spend his 100th birthday in jail if he is convicted of Holocaust denial and hate speech, according to a report published this week by Algemeiner. Karl Munter, 96, a former SS war criminal who served under the commander who ordered the massacre in Ascq on Apr. 1-2, 1944, is being prosecuted for remarks he made to journalists from the German network ARD in which he claimed that less than 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust and that the SS murdering French civilians was justified.

 

According to Algemeiner, Munter made the comments to undercover journalists on camera in November 2018. He was at a meeting of neo-Nazis.

Munter told reporters that 6 million Jews could not have been murdered because “there weren’t that many Jews in our country!”
When ARD asked him if he regretted the murder of 86 French civilians in the village of Ascq in 1944, he answered that the victims have “brought their fate on themselves.”
Munter and his commander, Obersturmführer Walter Hauck, were sentenced to death after the war by the French military court but were later pardoned.
Since the war, according to Algemeiner, Munter has continued his neo-Nazi activities.
If convicted, Munter would serve a maximum sentence of five years.

HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR BUYS HOSPITAL BED FOR OLDEST LIVING RIGHTEOUS AMONG NATIONS

Krystyna Danko, who is now deaf and blind, is among the oldest rescuers still alive.

BY CNAAN LIPHSHIZ/JTA
Holocaust survivor buys hospital bed for oldest living Righteous Among Nations

From the Depths founder Jonny Daniels sits with the oldest living Righteous Among the Nations Krystyna Dańko on her 102nd birthday. (photo credit: FROM THE DEPTHS)

Krystyna Danko, who is now deaf and blind, is believed to be the oldest Righteous Among the Nations still living.

Joe Erlichster, 75, on Friday said it was “part of our duty as Jews to recognize what some brave souls in Poland and elsewhere did” during World War II.

Before World War II, Danko was an orphan who  was taken in a Jewish family named Kokoszko in Otwock near Warsaw. During the war, Danko almost single-handedly rescued all four members of the family, her case file says.

Danko was in 1998 conferred that title Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Israel’s authority for commemorating the Holocaust. Unusually, Yad Vashem’s website characterizes her efforts as “incredible.”

Jonny Daniels, founder of the From the Depths Holocaust commemoration group, spoke with Danko’s family earlier this week, who told him she’s in need of a bed they cannot afford.

Daniels began a crowd-funding campaign that reached Erlichster, who gave his donation in memory of the Kulinski family. That non-Jewish family saved Erlichster’s own family in Otwock. Other donors included Greg Rodin from Canada.

The bed arrived at Danko’s Warsaw apartment on Thursday.

ANTISEMITIC HUMOR: A CLOAKED VILLAIN

When venerated media outlets like ‘The Harvard Lampoon’ casually publish an image of a bikini-clad Anne Frank, is it more than just ‘poor judgment?’

BY REBECCA ARATEN
Antisemitic humor: A cloaked villain

THE HISTORIC ‘Castle’ that is home base for ‘Lampoon’ members (at Cambridge’s 44 Bow Street) sits directly across from the Harvard Hillel buildings.. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

When an image of Anne Frank wearing a bikini circulated around the Harvard University campus in May, many Jewish students were shocked and disgusted, viewing the incident as the epitome of bad taste and insensitivity. That the image was not funny, most people could agree on. That it was a crude appropriation of a young girl’s body was evident to most (except, I suppose, its creator).

That it should not have been published was not heavily disputed. But was it antisemitic? That’s where you have to initiate a baffling investigation: a research project into the origins of jokes that offend Jews. Are they born from a seething hatred toward all Jews? From a blithe ignorance that repudiates any sort of accountability? From the poison of antisemitism that slips through a human’s veins, unawares? From some complicated combination of all of these? Sometimes there is no way to know.

The Anne Frank episode shows how difficult it is for Jews to know where they stand when their identity is on the line. Across college campuses, this murky line between ill-will and ignorance has plunged many Jewish students and leaders into confusion, as they wonder which jokes directed at them qualify as antisemitic, and how they should respond.

The Harvard Lampoon, a social and satire organization, published the Anne Frank image in the spring issue of its humor magazine, with the caption “Gone Before Her Time: Virtual Aging Technology Shows Us What Anne Frank Would Have Looked Like If She Hadn’t Died.” Beneath the photoshopped photograph were the words: “Add this to your list of reasons the Holocaust sucked.” The corner of the photoshopped photograph contained the author’s initials: CdLLdr.

The author of the piece, whose full name is Cristóbal De Losada López de Romaña, presumably published in the hopes of provoking laughs. What he provoked instead was a strong backlash against his piece and against the Lampoon’s choice of material.

“I’m appalled that such an unfunny, hateful, ignorant, pedophiliac, and dehumanizing image could be published,” wrote Harvard student Paulette Schuster. “I cannot fathom the thought process where CdLLdr (very inconspicuous by the way) thought it would be remotely funny to put the head of a 15-year-old Holocaust victim on the body of a swimsuit model.

Leaders of Jewish organizations on campus had their say, too. “We are profoundly disappointed in the poor judgment that was used when deciding to create and publish this image,” Harvard Chabad student leaders wrote in an emailed statement.
The Lampoon’s next-door neighbors were disturbed by the caricature as well, to say the least. The castle that is home base for Lampoon members sits directly across the street from the Harvard Hillel buildings, so closely adjacent that party music from the Lampoon drifts through the Hillel windows on some Friday evenings. The sounds of a particularly robust Kabbalat Shabbat might penetrate the Lampoon’s brick walls, too.

“Let me share here what I have written to our neighbors just across Mount Auburn Street,” wrote Harvard Hillel director Rabbi Jonah Steinberg in an email to Hillel affiliates. He found the Lampoon photo to be concerning, because it carried on the Nazi propaganda’s legacy of dehumanizing Jews. “By producing and spreading such an image, you effectively join yourselves to the obscenity of the Nazis themselves and carry it forward,” he wrote. “It is an image one can imagine Julius Streicher, publisher of Der Stürmer, producing and celebrating.”

Danu Mudannayake, who will be a senior at Harvard this fall, circulated a Change.org petition that said the Lampoon’s “antisemitic content [was] a logical outgrowth of a corrupt internal culture where members exercise infinite freedom at the harm of everyone else.”

IMAGE FROM an 1886 ‘Lampoon.’ (Credit: Courtesy)

IMAGE FROM an 1886 ‘Lampoon.’ (Credit: Courtesy)

The Lampoon publicly apologized for its actions, making sure to “affirm and emphasize that the Lampoon condemns any and all forms of antisemitism.” A Lampoon co-president also sent a personal email to the members of the Hillel steering committee, apologizing for allowing publication of the photoshopped image.

Perhaps a few students upheld the Lampoon’s freedom of speech and argued for their right to make fun of all religious and ethnic groups and their histories. But most students wondered about what amount of naiveté factored into the image’s publication, and what amount of animosity. Was the Lampoon staff simply blind to the implications of their actions? Was the true light of “veritas” merely hidden from them in their quest to be “funny”?

Jacob Schwartz, a senior at Harvard, indicated that it was more than that. “Although I try to judge favorably, and part of me wants to chalk this up to ignorance, this is beyond me,” he wrote on Facebook. “The people who created this photo clearly knew enough about the Holocaust to understand on a basic level the tragedy that the Jewish people endured. And yet they decided that this was not only passable but funny. The audacity and complete inhumanity of this edition of The Harvard Lampoon is beyond me.”

But Schwartz still didn’t think the image itself crossed the line of antisemitism. “I don’t think the Lampoon is antisemitic. I don’t even think what they posted was intended to be antisemitic,” he said. “I think they were trying to make a joke. It was not funny, for not only antisemitic reasons but a number of reasons.” He mentioned that the Lampoon had reached out to Jewish communal leadership to see how the magazine could remedy its mistakes.

The New England Anti-Defamation League seems to recognize the complicated interplay between ignorance and antisemitism, stating not that the image was antisemitic, but rather that it could add fuel to the fires of antisemitism. “Trivializing #genocide plays into the hands of #antisemites & Holocaust deniers,” it tweeted.

Steinberg pointed out that he did not believe that the Lampoon staff sat around planning to create something antisemitic. “I very seriously doubt that any person or group of people sat right across from our building, our Hillel building, over at the Lampoon, sort of rubbing their hands together and saying, ‘Let’s figure out how we can be antisemitic,’” he said. He maintained that the Lampoon’s depiction of Anne Frank showed a type of obsession with victimization. “Now whether that is inherently antisemitic or not, it is very upsetting when it is directed in the Jewish direction,” he acknowledged.

THE SAME month that Harvard students were navigating the bounds between antisemitism and indifferent distastefulness, students at Stanford University were embroiled in their own disagreement about whether some political satire was antisemitic, and whether Jewish students should be insulted by such contents.

The political cartoons in question were creations of Eli Valley, a Jewish writer and artist whose controversial illustrations have confronted Zionism and right-wing politics, often by comparing current events to the Holocaust. One of his cartoons portrays a woman and her child being separated by ICE agents, with a caption that berates those who refuse to use Holocaust analogies. While the young girl cries “MOMMA,” her mother responds, “Hush child, and be careful with your Holocaust analogies, lest you cheapen the sanctity of the Shoah!”

The Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) group at Stanford invited Valley to speak as part of its Palestinian Awareness Week, and plastered some of his cartoons around campus in order to advertise the event. One cartoon depicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu making statements such as, “We can finally throw the droves of Arabs into the Mediterranean and build Jewish-only skyscrapers on the hilltops of Ramallah.”

New flyers appeared around campus, with images from Der Stürmer juxtaposed against Valley’s cartoons and a caption that read, “Spot the difference.” A member of the Stanford College Republicans was responsible for the new flyers, which members from both the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and the Jewish Student Association (JSA) board condemned for containing despicable imagery.

SJP issued an apology for posting the Eli Valley cartoons without providing the reader with any background, yet both it and the JVP still maintained that the flyers were not antisemitic.

ARVARD HILLEL director Rabbi Jonah Steinberg noted in an email to Hillel affiliates, ‘It is an image one can imagine Julius Streicher, publisher of [notoriously antisemitic Nazi-era weekly] “Der Stürmer,” producing and celebrating.’ (Credit: Courtesy)

ARVARD HILLEL director Rabbi Jonah Steinberg noted in an email to Hillel affiliates, ‘It is an image one can imagine Julius Streicher, publisher of [notoriously antisemitic Nazi-era weekly] “Der Stürmer,” producing and celebrating.’ (Credit: Courtesy)

“We maintain that it is absurd to call Eli Valley’s art, or Eli Valley himself, antisemitic,” wrote Emily Wilder and Esther Tsvayg, co-presidents of JVP at Stanford, in an op-ed for the Stanford Daily student newspaper. They maintained that Valley’s work has been an outlet of political expression for many American Jews and that his art “engages deeply with Jewish texts, history, culture and experience.”

The JSA board at Stanford disagreed with this approach and wrote in a public statement, “Although Valley’s intent may be to produce scathing political commentary, his work extends beyond politics and into outright hostility toward the Jewish community.”
Whereas JVP saw Valley’s references to Jewish history as a source of “meaning,” JSA found them to be offensive and harmful. “His work crosses the line from pointed political criticism to offensive denigration of Jews,” they wrote at the time. “Sometimes, he even evokes the blood libel and other antisemitic depictions that have been used for centuries to justify hatred of and violence toward millions of Jews.”

To the JSA board, Valley’s artwork “normalizes damaging stereotypes” and must be viewed in the context of a long history of violence against Jews.

Ben Simon, a Stanford sophomore at the time, commented on the tension the cartoons created for Jewish students. “A lot of stuff borders on antisemitism,” he said. He mentioned that he, along with other Jewish students on campus, particularly the more politically conservative ones, “felt very attacked.”

MILES AWAY from both Harvard and Stanford, the City University of New York’s Baruch College has been home to a number of instances in which certain tropes and stereotypes have reared their ugly heads in the guise of humor, resulting in a number of incidents that have concerned Jewish students and professors.

Ilya Bratman, a professor at Baruch and director of the Hillel there, has witnessed a number of remarks and incidents on campus which were intended to be humorous, yet ventured into antisemitic territory.

These encroachments into antisemitic domain take place against a backdrop of recurring antisemitic incidents at Baruch. A swastika drawn on the Hillel building and in a bathroom there have acquainted students with some of the more blatant strains of antisemitism.

Still, Bratman said that comments by professors are more of a burden to Jews on campus than the recurring Nazi symbols. “The bigger problems are the things that happen from the faculty and from within the classroom,” he said. “Professors are emboldened and say wildly inappropriate things, and sometimes for the sake of humor or to make a point.”

Recently, a professor made a remark in a “humorous” but “very degrading way,” in which she referred to Jews in Crown Heights as “those who are able to get away with crime.” The idea behind the comment, as Bratman explained, was that Jewish people were all buddies with the cops and were therefore able to get away with any criminal actions, in contrast with their black neighbors.

A student came forward about this incident and was rewarded with an in-class apology from her professor. But many students are afraid of aggravating their professors, who are in positions of power over them and have sway over their classroom success. “They say, ‘What am I going to do? How am I going to fight?’ So they decide not to fight it. They decide to let it go,” Bratman said.
In his role as professor, Bratman has heard a number of students make remarks that he felt were “very much antisemitic.” “They have no idea what they’re saying,” he said. He expected that many of the tropes which his students brought up had simply become an “accepted form of discourse.”

At one point, in the context of a historical discussion about the Ku Klux Klan and black Klansmen, one of Bratman’s students claimed that the KKK was partnered with American Jews. The students in his class then entered a conversation about how that would have been possible, and whether or not a Jew would have been able to hide himself among the other Klansmen. Bratman recounts one student insisted that a Jew would have been able to conceal his identity, saying, “Oh he’s white, you know, he pretended.” Another student asserted that this would not have been possible because ‘“You can tell a Jew from other people.’” And how would that have been possible? “All Jews have big noses.”

“I recognized how little they understood,” Bratman said. He mentioned that these students attend university in New York City, a place of much diversity, where they must have had some sort of interaction with Jews. “It was very disgusting to see how little and how unconnected these American New Yorkers [were], who lived in New York and see Jews every day,” he said.

Comments such as these may stem from a variety of places, according to Bratman, some from malicious antisemitism and some more from a genuine lack of understanding about what crosses the line. “It’s a mixture, and just all of it intertwined,” he said.

He noted that some antisemitic themes have entered common discourse, and that he has seen students laugh at Jewish comedians who have made references to tropes about Jewish money. Bratman explained that because Jews themselves are able to laugh about the stereotypes, non-Jewish students believe they “must be true,” and they proceed to laugh at them.
Bratman said that humor has become a survival mechanism for Jews who make jokes in order to make light of situations in which they have found themselves. “I think we tend to laugh at ourselves in order to survive,” he explained. “We can laugh because this cannot be a not-laughable matter. This has got to be from God, therefore we can laugh at it.”

This lighthearted approach to life is one that leads to an ironic setup, in which everybody laughs at the Jews. “We live in a world that’s also crazy and wild. It’s the world of paradox where we can laugh at ourselves. The world can laugh at us. We allow it and laugh with the world.”

SO WHAT can Jews do when faced with humor that bothers or baffles them? According to many, educate.

Bratman used his classroom as a platform to test this approach. One day he wrote on the board, “Why do people hate the Jews?” He told his students to write a paper on the topic. When he read the responses, he was met with a slew of tropes: Jews were insular, they were capitalist and they were poor; they were pretentious and they were treasonous; they were gentrifiers and they were hungry for discounts.

Bratman showed his students the flaw in their logic. “Do you see all these things that are on the board that we’re putting up? They’re like opposites,” he explained to his students. All Jews cannot be both rich and poor, both capitalist and communist, both insular and influential, he said.

Others also touted the importance of educating people to prevent them from making incursions into antisemitism. In the case of the Lampoon, Schwartz recommended making an effort to engage people with Jewish history. “I’ve urged them to take Holocaust education courses, to present Holocaust education courses, and also to meet with the survivors so they understand what they did wrong.”

Rabbi Steinberg emphasized that education about the Holocaust must be prioritized at universities, in a way that it currently is not. “You would think in a place like Harvard that it’s all about education, the obvious answer of ‘educate, educate, educate’ would already be taken care of,” he said. “But the truth is, if you take a look at the Harvard curriculum, there is not all that much teaching on the Holocaust, and I think Harvard could stand to have better education.”

Teaching students that they need to stand up when they see something problematic is also an important element in this type of education. “There was a failure to respond to a sense that something was wrong with that image,” Steinberg said. One of the editors, who is a Jewish student, told Steinberg that he was uncomfortable with the image, and that he could tell that a number of other Lampoon members were feeling similarly. But none of them spoke up. When Steinberg heard this story, he shot a look at the student editor. “I know that’s how bad things happen.” He said the student admitted that was the case.

Steinberg is convinced that some dialogue and personal interactions could help students recover from incidents of insensitivity. The irony of Hillel’s juxtaposition to the Lampoon did not escape him. He recommended that Lampoon staff members connect with Hillel student leaders. “The more we know each other as human beings, the less likely we are to dehumanize one another,” he said. “And I think the failure in that depiction that the Lampoon published was a failure of compassion, which is in a sense of humanity. And the only antidote to that I know of is to know each other as human beings.”

AI TO PRESERVE HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS STORIES LONG BEYOND THEIR YEARS

“With antisemitism on the rise, it’s crucial we keep the haunting memories and lessons of the Holocaust alive to ensure what our people endured is never forgotten,” said Professor Dina Porat.

BY BRADLEY LEVIN
Holocaust survivor Edward Mosberg and granddaughter light a memorial torch at the Yom Hashoah ceremo

Holocaust survivor Edward Mosberg and granddaughter light a memorial torch at the Yom Hashoah ceremony in Auschwitz-Birkenau on the March of the Living.. (photo credit: YOSSI ZELIGER)

In a time where first-hand accounts of the Holocaust are disappearing and antisemitism is increasing, remembrance of the event that wiped out around six million Jews is getting an important new spark of life in the form of artificial intelligence (AI).

At American Jewish University (AJU) in Los Angeles, a five day Hackathon (June 30 – July 4) involving 170 Jewish-American and Israeli-American teens – and teens from Israel – was held to create new ways to keep stories of the Holocaust alive, according to a press release by the Israeli American Council (IAC).

This year’s annual IAC Hackathon saw teens meet with Holocaust survivors to learn their stories, and then develop solutions in teams to make those stories highly accessible and meaningful to the public. It was the first Hackathon to approach Holocaust remembrance efforts through development of AI technology.

The Hackathon brought in volunteer executives from across America, who lent their expertise, knowledge, and experience to the teens.

The teens developed both online and offline products, but none were more impressive than the winning team, ConneXt, who invented an app with a multitude of attributes. The app includes tabs called Journey, Chat, Bios, and Share; these would allow users to form strong connections with personal stories from the Holocaust. The Journey tab gives users the option to select the age, origin, and path of a survivor. Through the Chat feature, users could message the Holocaust survivor they choose; users would receive AI-crafted responses based on programming associated with that specific survivor. This type of AI response would allow the survivor’s story to live on long after they pass. The app’s Share tab would serve as a basis for a petition to change Holocaust education standards – teaching the event is currently only required in six US states. The change would make Holocaust education mandatory in all 50.

According to a survey conducted by Schoen Consulting for the Claims Conference on Holocaust memory, 66% of millennials have never heard of Auschwitz.

Tel Aviv University Professor Dina Porat, who served as a judge at the Hackathon’s demo day, relayed a message that affirmed the importance of the new AI tech, “With antisemitism on the rise, it’s crucial we keep the haunting memories and lessons of the Holocaust alive to ensure what our people endured is never forgotten.”

FAILURE OF EVIAN CONFERENCE REMEMBERED, 81 YEARS LATER

Meant to help Jews fleeing Nazi persecution, the conference remains a bitter indictment of the world community

BY ILANIT CHERNICK
Failure of Evian Conference remembered, 81 years later

evian conference 248 88. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Eighty-one years ago, on the cusp of World War II, then-US president Franklin D. Roosevelt convened the Evian Conference in France in a bid to deal with mass Jewish immigration from Europe in the face of antisemitism and hatred.

The conference took place between July 6 and July 14, 1938, several months after Nazi Germany annexed Austria in March 1938, and in both countries the Nuremberg Laws were in full swing, leaving Jews, especially in Germany and Austria, with two choices: to flee or stay and face continued persecution.

The question at the time was, where could they escape to?

Roosevelt invited representatives from 32 countries, including the US, the UK, France, Canada, six small European democratic nations, several Latin American countries, as well as Australia, and New Zealand.

“When he proposed the conference, the president made it clear that no country would be forced to change its immigration quotas, but would instead be asked to volunteer changes,” an information pamphlet on Yad Vashem’s website explained.

As the conference wore on, the reality set in: no country was willing to open its doors to protect the Jews, each coming up with different excuses as to why they are unable to change their policy.

BRAIN STRUCTURE CHANGE IN HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS HEREDITARY, STUDY FINDS

The study, presented at the European Academy of Neurology Congress on Sunday, compared the brain function of 28 survivors with the one of people whose family had not been involved in the Holocaust.

BY ROSSELLA TERCATIN
Brain structure change in Holocaust survivors hereditary, study finds

Young survivors of Auschwitz await the arrival of their Soviet liberators on January 7, 1945. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Experiencing the Holocaust might have affected survivors’ brain structure, creating a change that was passed on to their children, a study has shown.

According to research presented at the fifth European Academy of Neurology Congress in Oslo on Sunday, the horrific ordeals of the death camps left a mark on the survivors’ brain structure, specifically in the form of gray matter reduction affecting the parts of their brain responsible for stress response, memory, motivation, emotion, learning and behavior.

The study, called “Life-long effects of extreme stress on brain structures – a Holocaust survivor MRI study,” compared the brain function of 28 Holocaust survivors with the brain function of 28 people whose family had not been involved in the Holocaust utilizing MRI scanning.

As explained in a statement by the European Academy of Neurology, survivors showed a significantly decreased volume of gray matter in the brain compared with controls of a similar age who had not been directly exposed via personal or family history to the Holocaust.

The average age of the participants in the study was between 79 and 80.

The study also found that the reduction in the gray matter was more pronounced in those individuals who survived the Holocaust as children (age 12 and below). The researchers said that this finding might be explained by a higher vulnerability to a stressful environment of the developing brain in childhood.

The scientists also detected a similar reduction of gray matter in areas of the brain associated with post-traumatic stress disorder in combat veterans and those suffering early-life stress experience. However, compared to those suffering from other forms of PTSD, survivors presented a higher level of stress but also higher levels of post-traumatic growth, calling themselves generally satisfied with their life after the war.

“After more than 70 years, the impact of surviving the Holocaust on brain function is significant,” Prof. Ivan Rektor, a neurologist from Brno, Czech Republic, and one of the authors of the study, explained.

“We revealed substantial differences in the brain structures involved in the processing of emotion, memory and social cognition, in a higher level of stress but also of post-traumatic growth between Holocaust survivors and controls,” he added. “Early results show this is also the case in children of survivors too.”

The study is not the first that identifies epigenetic changes in the children of those who experienced severe trauma.

In October 2018, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study on “the Intergenerational transmission of paternal trauma among US Civil War ex-POWs,” showing that children and grandchildren of survivors of Confederate prisoners of war camps during the US Civil War were impacted by their fathers’ experiences.