Category Archive: Nazis/Nazism

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.

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NY commuters clean Nazi graffiti off subway car with hand sanitizer

nyc-subway(JTA) — Commuters on a New York City subway used hand sanitizer to clean away swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti drawn in permanent marker on the train’s maps, advertisements and windows.

The Manhattan subway riders discovered the graffiti on Saturday night.

“The train was silent as everyone stared at each other, uncomfortable and unsure what to do,” one of the commuters, Gregory Locke, wrote in a post on Facebook. “One guy got up and said, ‘Hand sanitizer gets rid of Sharpie. We need alcohol.’ He found some tissues and got to work.”

Locke’s post continued: “I’ve never seen so many people simultaneously reach into their bags and pockets looking for tissues and Purell. Within about two minutes, all the Nazi symbolism was gone.”

“Nazi symbolism. On a public train. In New York City. In 2017,” he wrote.

At least one of the messages said “Jews belong in the oven,” according to the New York Daily News.

Locke disputed one of his fellow travelers, who said while they were cleaning, “I guess this is Trump’s America.”

He responded in his post: “No sir, it’s not. Not tonight and not ever. Not as long as stubborn New Yorkers have anything to say about it.”

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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.

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Where 500 children ‘disappeared’ from Nazi clutches, a new Dutch Shoah museum emerges

Taking shape in the heart of Amsterdam’s old Jewish district, a former teachers college to be a testament to the 102,000 Dutch Jews murdered in the Holocaust

20170115_110328-e1485948365264AMSTERDAM — A former teachers’ college where more than 500 Jewish children were saved during the Holocaust is being transformed into the Netherlands’ first full-fledged Shoah museum.

Already operating since last May without a website or much publicity, the emerging National Holocaust Museum will fill a three-story brick building in Amsterdam’s former Jewish neighborhood, close to other sites tied to the Shoah. For now, only parts of the ground-level are open, including a small auditorium and reading room. According to plans, the museum will be completed by 2020 at a cost of $24 million.

“We aim to forge connections between people from different backgrounds by presenting our collective history as a pillar of today’s democratic society and our sense of justice,” according to a statement posted inside the entrance.

More than 102,000 Dutch Jews were killed by the Nazis, with 30,000 Jews living in the Netherlands today. The ease with which Dutch Jews were isolated and deported during the war continues to haunt witnesses, and the Dutch lost a larger percentage of their Jewish population than any country apart from Poland.

“In the years ahead, a permanent exhibition will be developed that tells the story of the persecution and genocide of the Jews by the Nazis, the events leading up to it, and the complex consequences,” according to the museum.

Those “complex consequences” could include the treatment of Jews who returned from Nazi camps. Notoriously, government and church authorities were often unwilling to reunite hidden Jewish children with their parents. In those early post-war years, the first edifice that survivors felt compelled to build in Amsterdam was a literal expression of “gratitude” toward Dutch society, as opposed to a memorial for murdered loved ones.

So far, the Holocaust museum steers clear of politics by focusing on personal stories. In one room, photographs of children are paired with objects they once enjoyed, including a violin, diary and table games. The floor and podiums are made of unfinished wood, evoking young lives cut short.

Few artifacts tell as compelling a story as the ordinary-looking building itself, where Dutch and Jewish resisters operated a bold rescue scheme beneath the gaze of their oppressors.

When 500 children ‘disappeared’

The location of the teacher training college made the rescue operation possible. Now home to the National Holocaust Museum, the college was directly across the street from the Hollandsche Schouwburg, once a popular Yiddish theater. Two years into their occupation of Amsterdam, the Nazis converted the theater into a holding pen for Jews en route to deportation.

Beginning in July of 1942, thousands of Dutch Jews were incarcerated in the gutted theater on their way to the transit camp Westerbork. Because the Nazis could not tolerate the crying of infants and children, the decision was made to house young ones across the street in a creche, or nursery, that — fortuitously — shared a courtyard with the teacher training college.

The covert operation was directed by Walter Süskind, a German Jew appointed by the Jewish Council to run operations at the facility. As the list master, Süskind recorded the name of every Jew brought into the theater, including the deportees’ children taken across the street.

After confirming that a particular child’s parents were willing to send him or her into hiding, Süskind eliminated that child’s name from Nazi records. Next, staff of the nursery took these “disappeared” children through a courtyard and into the Reformed Teacher Training College. Inside the school, heroic director Johan van Hulst and student volunteers smuggled the children into hiding with Dutch families.

According to survivors, the “forgotten hero” Süskind managed to befriend the SS officer in charge of deportations, whom Süskind kept supplied with schnapps and cigars. Also known as “the Dutch Schindler,” Süskind was eventually deported along with his family, and he perished during a death march in Poland. However, the rescue operation he led — through which 500 adults were also sent into hiding — was never uncovered by the Nazis.

In addition to the courtyard route, older escapees made clever use of the street tram as it stopped between the theater and college. With trolley cars blocking their view, German sentries at the theater were unable to see the college entrance, allowing people to exit and follow alongside the tram.

The former Jewish district will also soon witness ground-breaking on a long-anticipated Memorial of Names. Designed by Daniel Libeskind, the edifice will include the names of 102,000 Dutch Jews murdered in the Shoah, as well as 220 Roma and Sinti victims. Names will be laser-etched onto bricks along with dates of birth and death. From above, the structure will spell the Hebrew word Lizkor, “in memory of.”

Both the National Holocaust Museum and planned Memorial of Names are part of the 2013-inaugurated Jewish Cultural Quarter, where visitors can purchase one ticket to tour sites including the Jewish Historical Museum, Portuguese Synagogue, and Hollandsche Schouwburg, now a memorial with a small but impressive exhibit on the fate of Amsterdam’s Jews.

Whereas the Jewish cultural quarter’s restored synagogues shed light on the heyday of Jewish Amsterdam, the beta-version Holocaust museum and adjacent Hollandsche Schouwburg recall the near-elimination of Dutch Jewry, still a polarizing topic in the Netherlands.

“The two locations together represent the story of the Holocaust: the [former theater] is a place of deportation, collaboration and remembrance of the dead, [and] the college is a place where authentic human courage and selflessness were reflected,” according to the museum, which hopes to be “a beacon for the future.”

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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.

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Jewish aide wrote White House Holocaust statement — report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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The Trump Administration’s Holocaust without Jews

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

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

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

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

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