Category Archive: Tablet

A Conversation With Selfhelp, a Non-Profit Dedicated to Helping Holocaust Survivors

In honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day: Remembering and serving the 43,000 survivors living in the New York area

In honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, Tablet’s podcast, Unorthodox, spoke with Sandy Myers and Desiree Nazarian of Selfhelp, a New York based non-profit dedicated to “maintaining the independence and dignity of seniors and at risk population through a range or housing, home health care, and social services.”
The organization was founded in 1936 under the name “Selfhelp for German Refugees” by a group of recently arrived German refugees in New York, with the mission of offering support to others who had been forced to flee. Providing services to survivors continues to be at the forefront of Selfhelp’s mission.

Who is eligible for services? And how is a survivor defined? Beyond those who survived concentration camps, the term survivor extends to anyone who disguised their Jewish identity, fled their home, went into hiding during the period of the war, or experienced persecution because of their Jewish heritage. Even those in utero until 1945 qualify as survivors.

Now located in 27 sites in Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Nassau County, 25 percent of Selfhelp’s services go to to assisting the 43,000 survivors currently living in New York. A staggering 50 percent of these survivors are living at or below the federal poverty line. The Russian speaking population has faced severe difficulty, with 80 percent living at or below federal poverty line. The Russian population has faced challenges not only due to aging and lingering physical trauma, but lack of steady employment and negotiating language barriers.

Last year, 970 survivors approached Selfhelp, and in 2018 Selfhelp expects to surpass that number as word travels and survivors continue to come forward as they realize their eligibility.

In addition to more practical services, Selfhelp offers community programming like Coffee Houses where survivors can meet locally for refreshments and dancing. Another facet of the community programming is The Witness Theater Program, which pairs survivors with high school students to share their stories and memories, culminating in a performance during Yom Hashoah.

Selfhelp’s training for home aide workers is unique, with an emphasis placed on sensitivity for survivor’s past trauma. For example, home aide workers enter a home knowing loud noises or barking dog could be particularly disturbing for a survivor.

How to Help:

1. Identifying survivors. The definition of a survivor is broad, and does not just extend to individuals who were in concentration camps.

2. Consider your immediate network. Think about your parents, your grandparents and stories you might have heard about WWII. Is there anyone who could be eligible? Be aware that people might not want to talk about their past, so even knowing what countries people in your community were living might help assessing their eligibility for Selfhelp.

3. Get the word out. Find Selfhelp on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter and encourage those you know to spread the word that resources exist in New York.

4. If you’re a second or third generation survivor and want to get involved, go on the website or connect on social media to speak with someone about how to help.

5. This is the last generation of survivors and time is of the essence. The needs of survivors are growing more intense and costly and there are ways to make sure people are connected and able to live in an environment where they can thrive.

If you know a survivor, visit their website or call 212-971-7795. And for those outside of New York, you can contact your local Jewish Family Services or a local federation chapter for assistance.


Is Ukraine’s Holocaust Memorial at Babi Yar in Trouble?

Symbolic commemoration of a massacre is subsumed in national politics

Babi Yar, a patchwork of ravines outside Kyiv where 33,771 Jews were executed by firing squads on Sept. 29-30, 1941, is the most potent symbol of the “Holocaust by bullets” in the Nazi-occupied Soviet territories. Yet more than 75 years after the murder of 1.5 million Ukrainian Jews—a quarter of all Holocaust victims and more than half of all Jews murdered in the Holocaust in the USSR—Babi Yar remains an orphan among the sites of global memory of the Holocaust.

Today the place is no longer empty of monuments, as it was in 1961 when Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote his eponymous poem, which brought the name to the world’s attention. At least a dozen monuments to various groups that died here pepper the site, including memorials to Jews, Ukrainian nationalists, children, and Roma. Yet none of these captures more than a slice of the events that unfolded here. Nor do they capture the significance of the much larger events of which the murders at Babi Yar played a part. While at least two attempts have been made to build a Babi Yar memorial in independent Ukraine, both failed.

The Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center (BYHMC), the latest such attempt, promises to be a landmark event in the field of Holocaust commemoration: In the entire post-Soviet space, there isn’t a single museum specifically dedicated to the unique way in which the Holocaust unfolded in Soviet territories. The center, which aims to open in 2021, promises to combine a state-of-the-art museum with a permanent exhibit, outdoor space for reflection, an educational program, a traveling exhibit, and an archive and research center. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko is said to have played a critical role in providing initial support for the project and allocating a plot of land for the center. At the launch event in 2016, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that he was proud as an ethnic Ukrainian and citizen of Ukraine to have worked with other Ukrainians to initiate the creation of the center. The project’s founders and major funders—Mikhail Fridman, German Khan, Pavel Fuks, and Victor Pinchuk—are well-known figures in the world of Jewish philanthropy. Work on the center to date has earned praise from senior figures at Washington’s Holocaust Memorial Museum and Warsaw’s POLIN Museum, and the total financial commitment to the center to date is estimated at $100 million.

Natan Sharansky, who chairs BYMHC’s supervisory board and who grew up in Donetsk in Ukraine, told me: “In just about every place where I spent my childhood, there were tens of thousands who had been killed—thrown down the mines, walled up in the shafts. As children, we played right there. Yet we, who only just a few years before that had lost so many loved ones in those very places, knew nothing about it.”

Yet some in Ukraine question whether there is a need for a Holocaust memorial at Babi Yar, and not a few of the politically charged arguments that opponents are employing seem to be aimed squarely at making it go away.


The BYHMC was launched in September 2016 during the 75th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre with the explicit goal of building a Holocaust memorial at the site of the Babi Yar. Several critical milestones have been achieved, including securing a plot of land from the Kyiv municipality and obtaining clearances from international halachic authorities that the site can be built on. (Jewish law prohibits construction over human remains.) Competitions for architectural rendering and design of the center are being organized. The next major milestone will occur this fall, when the memorial’s academic council, which includes some of the world’s best-known scholars of the Holocaust, plans to present its historical narrative (anticipated to weigh in at 500 pages) for public discussion and feedback. In addition to driving tourism, hosting a major Holocaust memorial would help Ukraine take its place in the European community of memory and thus create another significant link between the country and the European space.

Yet opposition to the Babi Yar museum is not inconsequential. One of the central arguments against the BYHMC first surfaced in a public letter signed by a group of Ukrainian historians in March of 2017: “We consider it a mistake to associate Babi Yar only with the history of the Holocaust while ignoring other victims and other dramatic moments of its history,” they wrote. “This approach would only exacerbate the war of memories that has for many years been going on in the territory of Babi Yar.”

This proposed decoupling of Babi Yar from the Holocaust sounds odd—as if someone tried to decouple Auschwitz and the Holocaust. In the Ukrainian context, it comes across as a throwback to Soviet times: For decades the Soviets denied the sui generisnature of the Holocaust, using the phrase “peaceful Soviet citizens” to refer to the murdered Jews. In the history of Holocaust commemoration, the honoring of multiple groups is hardly a unique challenge: Auschwitz, among others, has addressed this issue successfully. BYHMC plans to do so as well – a fact that was confirmed to me in conversations with both the founders and the scholars engaged in the project.

Yet, it is specifically the genocide of the Jews that makes these sites noteworthy and links them together into a single transnational constellation symbolizing one of the worst crimes in human history. For while many different groups suffered at the hands of the Germans and their collaborators during wartime, only Jews were singled out for genocide. In the Soviet territories, including Ukraine, they very nearly succeeded: 97 percent of Ukrainian Jews who remained under the occupation were murdered. For a memorial at Babi Yar to diminish the significance of these facts would be historically false and morally wrong.

The argument against establishing a special connection between Babi Yar and the Holocaust illustrates a line of thinking that is part and parcel of a particular view of history that has taken hold in Ukraine, as well as in other Communist countries, which posits an equivalence between crimes committed by Nazi Germany and those committed by Communists. Proponents of this view assert that yes, Nazi crimes against the Jews were terrible, but Communist crimes against other ethnic groups were as bad or worse. One product, or goal, of this equivalence, is to rehabilitate members of Ukraine’s wartime nationalist movements, most notably the OUN, many of whose members fought for Ukraine’s independence but frequently participated in violence against Jews and other ethnic groups alongside or in competition with the Nazis.

The argument for downplaying Nazi crimes while honoring OUN is centered in the Ukrainian Institute for National Remembrance (UINP), a controversial government agency. Proponents of this tendency argue that Ukraine needs nationalist heroes as symbols to foster patriotism, strengthen Ukrainian national identity, and build national unity. Today, some of the memorials to be found in Babi Yar are to the very nationalists who explicitly supported German anti-Semitic policies. It is also feared that discussion of local collaboration in the Holocaust—a topic that is impossible to avoid in a fact-based conversation about Holocaust in Ukraine—might undermine Ukrainians’ pride in their nation and give a black eye to the country’s image in the West. Some object to the negatively connoted term “collaboration” entirely, pointing out that many Ukrainians viewed Germans as liberators from the hated Soviet power.

When I asked Mikhail Fridman, one of the project’s founders, about this, he said: “There is no question, the Holocaust was organized by Germans but executed to a considerable degree with participation from locals. Having said this, the fact that Ukrainians and whoever else took part in the executions is not an accusation against the whole nation. Because along with those who took part in the repression, there were righteous who took part in the saving of Jews.”

It is a fact that the forgetting that enveloped the Holocaust in Soviet times similarly destroyed the memory of Ukraine’s righteous. The heroism of those who risked their lives to help Jews in this part of the world, where the occupation was so brutal, was incomparably greater than in some other places. Yet this facet of the Ukrainian experience often gets short shrift precisely because so much of the world’s attention has been diverted to Ukraine’s national silence around collaboration.

Ukraine’s fear that an open discussion about this issue would fuel anti-Ukraine propaganda by the Kremlin may also be misplaced. Kiril Feferman, an Israeli historian from Ariel University, emphasized to me that in the history of the Holocaust “there are no people who’ve been one hundred percent pure.” Andrii Rukkas, a historian from Kyiv’s Taras Shevchenko National University who is part of the BYHMC’s academic team, put it this way: “An honest and open conversation, but one that is based on facts and documents, is absolutely necessary. … We can’t live in the atmosphere of half-truth. It’s part of becoming a mature nation.”

Unsurprisingly, some critics have sought to strengthen their case against the memorial by focusing on the backgrounds of the three of the project’s four founders—Mikhail Fridman, German Khan, and Pavel Fuks. While all three men are Jewish and were born and raised in Ukraine, they made most of their wealth in Russia—a fact that may raise some eyebrows. (The fourth major donor is Victor Pinchuk, whose identity is firmly Ukrainian and doesn’t cause any questioning.) Yet none of the three men is new to philanthropy inside Ukraine. Fridman, who grew up in Lviv, is the founder of the massively popular annual jazz festival there. Fuks’ philanthropic contributions to his native city of Kharkiv earned him the designation of Honorary Citizen. Khan, who was born in Kyiv, is one of the co-founders of Genesis Philanthropy, which has sponsored numerous projects on the Holocaust and Jewish identity in the former Soviet states, including Ukraine.

The personal family connections of all four men to the Holocaust are an important motivating factor behind funding the project. Fridman’s eight great-grandparents and one of his grandfathers were killed by the Nazis. Khan has at least seven and possibly as many as 13 family members who were murdered at Babi Yar. In the view of Paul Shapiro, director for international relations at Washington’s Holocaust Museum, there is no evidence that the founders have any other goal in mind but to construct a successful Holocaust memorial at the site of Babi Yar. The only way to do, he said, is to adhere to a historical record. Khan confirmed to me that this is precisely the goal. “The purpose of this project is to be maximally removed from every kind of political influences and convey the historical truth of these events that took place then,” he explained.


Yet there are signs that the ambition to create a memorial free of political influences and devoted to historical truth may be running into trouble. Over the last few months, an additional Babi Yar project has arisen, driven by Josef Zissels, a well-known Ukrainian-Jewish anti-Soviet dissident. The museum he is proposing is explicitly not a Holocaust memorial. It is, rather, a museum of the history of the Babi Yar, in which executions of the Jew would be presented as a part of its larger history of violence.

There is also a new commission in place under the auspices of President Poroshenko, which, Mr. Zissels told me, he and his organization lobbied the government to establish. Its raison d’être is to coordinate the work of these two projects plus the additional project, which proposes to improve the landscape of the site and to turn it into a space of reflection. (This project is championed by the Canadian philanthropic group Ukrainian-Jewish Encounter.)

In a free and democratic Ukraine, it is certainly possible for three projects to co-exist, and this is precisely how BYHMC’s leadership is choosing to look at it. Mark Siwiec, the project’s CEO, told me: “We support others, with the hope that others support us.”

Yet only one of these projects is explicitly about commemorating the Holocaust, and this is what makes it of concern beyond Ukraine. The Holocaust was a transnational crime. And far from being of significance only to the Jewish people, it has long become a universal symbol that stands for the worst crime humanity can commit against its own.

The world has been waiting for a Holocaust memorial at Babi Yar for nearly 80 years. Ukraine should not let this opportunity slip away.


Was Nazi Germany Made in America?

A new history argues convincingly that Hitler’s policies were inspired by institutionalized racism and common-law pragmatism in the United States

On July 26, 1935, about a thousand anti-Nazi demonstrators attacked the SS Bremen, a sleek, state-of-the-art German ocean liner that had docked in New York. The protesters succeeded in tearing the swastika flag off the ship and throwing it into the Hudson River. It was the climax to a long, hot New York summer of street fighting between pro-Nazis and anti-Nazis.

Five of the rioters in the Bremen incident were arrested, but when they appeared before Judge Louis Brodsky in September of 1935 something remarkable happened: Brodsky dismissed all charges, arguing that the swastika was “a black flag of piracy” that deserved to be destroyed, the emblem of “a revolt against civilization … an atavistic throwback to pre-medieval, if not barbaric, social and political conditions.”

The law behind Brodsky’s brave proclamation was questionable, and it wasn’t long before FDR’s Justice Department apologized to Germany for the judge’s decision. Hitler praised the Roosevelt administration for disavowing Brodsky’s ruling. But the Jewish Brodsky’s acquittal of the anti-Nazi vandals still became a cause celèbre for Hitler’s party. The Nuremberg Laws of September 1935, which imposed harsh restrictions on German Jews, were, so the Nazis claimed, a “reply” to Brodsky’s “insult.”

James Q. Whitman dedicates his new book Hitler’s American Model “to the ghost of Louis B. Brodsky.” But Whitman disagrees with Brodsky’s claim that the Nazism of the mid-1930s was a throwback to the Middle Ages. Whitman shows that the Nuremberg Laws, instead of being a barbarous anomaly, were in part modeled on then-current American race law. The Nazi regime saw itself at the cutting edge of racial legislation, and America was their inspiration. “Nazi lawyers regarded America, not without reason, as the innovative world leader in the creation of racist law,” Whitman remarks. In the 1930s, the American South and Nazi Germany were the world’s most straightforwardly racist regimes, proud of the way they had deprived blacks and Jews, respectively, of their civil rights.

Scholars have long known that the American eugenics movement inspired the Nazis; now Whitman adds the influence of America’s immigration policy and its laws about race. Today, Whitman’s idea that Nazism looked to America for inspiration is liable to throw us into a moral panic. But there’s another side to the story, and in the Trump era, especially, we can benefit from taking a hard look at it. Our president was elected in part because he capitalized on an America-first nationalism that hunts ruthlessly for external and internal enemies. In this view, rootless cosmopolitans, immigrants, and the lawless inner cities constantly threaten the real America.

Historians have downplayed the connection between Nazi race law and America because America was mainly interested in denying full citizenship rights to blacks rather than Jews. But Whitman’s adroit scholarly detective work has proved that in the mid-’30s Nazi jurists and politicians turned again and again to the way the United States had deprived African-Americans of the right to vote and to marry whites. They were fascinated by the way the United States had turned millions of people into second-class citizens.

Strange as it may seem to us, the Nazis saw America as a beacon for the white race, a Nordic racial empire that had conquered a vast amount of Lebensraum. One German scholar, Wahrhold Drascher, in his book The Supremacy of the White Race (1936), saw the founding of America as a “fateful turning point” in the rise of the Aryans. Without America, Drascher wrote, “a conscious unity of the white race would never have emerged.” Rasse and Raum—race and living space—were for Nazis the keywords behind America’s triumph in the world, according to historian Detlef Junker. Hitler admired the American commitment to racial purity, praising the anti-Indian campaigns that had “gunned down the millions of Redskins to a few hundred thousand.”

In the 1930s the American South and Nazi Germany were the world’s most straightforwardly racist regimes, proud of the way they had deprived blacks and Jews, respectively, of their civil rights.

Hitler was not wrong to look to America for innovations in racism. “Early 20th-century America was the global leader in race law,” Whitman writes, more so even than South Africa. Spain’s New World Empire had pioneered laws tying citizenship to blood, but the United States developed racial legislation far more advanced than that of the Spaniards. For nearly a century African-American slavery was a monumental stain on Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and its claim that “all men are created equal.” The Naturalization Act of 1790 stated that “any alien, being a free white person” could become an American—the Nazis noted with approval that this was an unusual case of racial restriction on citizenship. California barred Chinese immigration in the 1870s; the whole country followed suit in 1882.

World War I gave an added impetus to the focus of racialist doctrines on immigration and immigrants. The Asiatic Barred Zone Act of 1917 banned Asian immigrants along with homosexuals, anarchists, and “idiots.” And the Quota Law of 1921 favored Northern European immigrants over Italians and Jews, who were mostly barred from immigrating. Hitler praised American immigration restrictions in Mein Kampf: The future German dictator lamented the fact that being born in a country made one a citizen, so that “a Negro who previously lived in the German protectorates and now resides in Germany can thus beget a ‘German citizen.’ ” Hitler added that “there is currently one state in which one can observe at least weak beginnings of a better conception … the American Union,” which “simply excludes the immigration of certain races.” America, Hitler concluded, because of its race-based laws, had a more truly völkisch idea of the state than Germany did.

In the area of racial restrictions on marriage, America stood alone as a pioneer. The American idea that racially mixed marriage is a crime had a strong impact on the Nuremberg Laws. In the 1930s nearly 30 American states had anti-miscegenation laws on the books, in some cases barring Asians as well as African-Americans from marrying whites. The Nazis eagerly copied American laws against miscegenation. The Nuremberg Laws, following the American model, outlawed marriages between Jews and non-Jews.

In one respect American race law proved too harsh for the Nazis. In America, the “one drop” rule reigned: Often, you were counted as black if you had as little as one-sixteenth Negro blood. But the Nazi hardliners’ proposal to define Germans with one Jewish grandparent as Jews did not get approved at Nuremberg. Instead, quarter- and even half-Jews were treated with relative leniency. Mischlinge, half Jews, could be counted as Aryans, unless they were religiously observant or married to a Jew.

The American treatment of voting rights was also crucial to the Nazi platform. Hitler aimed to turn German Jews into resident noncitizens who would lack the vote as well as other rights. In Mein Kampf he proposed a tripartite division between Staatsbürger (citizens), Staatsangehörige (nationals) and Ausländer (foreigners). The United States already had such a division when it came to certain ethnic groups, notably African-Americans, most of whom could not vote in the South. White Southerners saw blacks the way Nazis saw Jews, as, in Whitman’s words, an “ ‘alien race’ of invaders that threatened to get ‘the upper hand.’ ” The Nazi jurist Heinrich Krieger in a 1934 article was particularly excited that the U.S. deprived not just blacks but also Chinese of voting rights. Detlef Sahm, another legal scholar, applauded the denial of the vote to American Indians, and noted that under U.S. law Filipinos, like the Chinese, were noncitizen nationals.

‘How Race Questions Arise.’ A map of the 48 states showing ‘Statutory Restrictions on Negro Rights,’ which appeared in the Nazi propaganda magazine Neues Volk in 1936. (Courtesy of University of Michigan Library, appearing in James Q. Whitman’s Hitler’s American Model

The Nazis were not just enthusiastic about the content of American race law, they also embraced its common-law basis. Erich Kaufmann, a right-wing German Jewish professor of law who survived the war years in hiding, praised in 1908 the way that American legal decisions, with their “wealth of life and immediacy,” as opposed to the rigid civil-law code that guided German jurisprudence, responded to “the living legal intuitions of the American people.” Thirty years later Kaufmann’s hint would be picked up by Nazis who saw common law, which embodies the powerful intuitions of the people, as a way to legislate racial prejudices. True, they conceded, there was no firm biological definition of Jewishness, but the people’s anti-Semitic instincts were nevertheless correct. Roland Freisler, one of the most radical and pitiless of Nazi jurists, wrote:

I believe that every judge would reckon the Jews among the coloreds, even though they look outwardly white. … Therefore I am of the opinion that we can proceed with the same primitivity that is used by these American states. A state even simply says: ‘colored people.’ Such a procedure would be crude, but it would suffice.

Freisler liked American common-law racism, with (in Whitman’s words) “its easygoing, open-ended, know-it-when-I-see-it way with the law.” Scientific definitions of race were not needed; popular bias was more than enough to go on. The American experience spoke volumes: Jim Crow racism was legal realism, rooted in the feelings of the people.

Other Nazi jurists, like Bernhard Lösener, made the case against a common-law approach. They complained that individual judges could not be allowed to make judgments based on racial hunches when they had no scientific way of determining what was Jewish. “Vague sentiments of Jew hatred” were not sufficient, Lösener insisted, making the case that anti-Semitism needed a sound basis in racial “science.” Lösener stood for one side of Nazi ideology, the emphasis on the hard, scientific facts of race and peoplehood; the other side was the improvising of new rules to further German power. Improvisation won out: lack of clarity about who counted as Jewish allowed the Nazis during the war both to employ Mischlinge and to murder them if necessary.

The Nazis were aware that America was run on egalitarian, liberal principles. But, they pointed out, we made race-based exceptions to our ideal. America showed, in the words of law professor Herbert Kier, that “the elemental force of the necessity of segregating humans according to their racial descent makes itself felt even where a political ideology stands in the way.” Hitler celebrated America in Mein Kampf for its gospel of social mobility, on the grounds that Nazism was an equal opportunity project for Aryans. Until the very late ’30s, FDR’s New Deal was popular among Nazis: The president, they said, had assumed dictatorial powers in order to further the prospects of all white Americans, while leaving segregation in place in the South.

In his concluding pages, Whitman suggests that the Nazis’ approval of American legal culture is worth pondering. The American taste for common law, usually seen as a sign of our pragmatic, flexible approach to legal decision-making, can also enshrine popular prejudices. Popular moods like the urge to get tough on crime, or on illegal immigrants, can carry the seeds of authoritarian fanaticism.


The Best WWII Children’s Museum You’ve Never Heard Of

Amsterdam’s Dutch Resistance Museum Junior offers spectacular interactive education

My family spent Thanksgiving in Amsterdam. We stayed in the Jordaan neighborhood, two blocks from Otto Frank’s old warehouse. Every night, we went to sleep to the sound of ringing church bells. Anne Frank used to listen to them, too. (On July 11, 1942, she wrote in her diary: “Father, Mother and Margot still can’t get used to the chiming of the Westertoren clock, which tells us the time every quarter of an hour. Not me, I liked it from the start; it sounds so reassuring, especially at night.”) Of course we took the Anne Frank House tour. Of course it was powerful. I’d last visited in the early ’90s; since then the museum has been thoughtfully expandedand renovated. My older daughter, Josie, 16, found the visit particularly potent, though she and I both made a quiet snorting noise when the tour concluded with a quote from bestselling young-adult novelist John Green.

To our surprise, however, a different museum wound up being even more powerful for both my daughters. The Verzetsmuseum, aka the Dutch Resistance Museum, has a large section aimed entirely at kids. If you’re visiting with your family, skip the main exhibit, dedicated to the Netherlands’ experience during the war, and go straight to Dutch Resistance Museum Junior, further back in the building. It is practically a Ph.D.-level course in effective museum design for kids—interactive without being infantilizing, engaging without being pandering, thoughtful about how young kids experience narrative, reflective about how much historical scariness young museumgoers can be expected to handle. Maxine, 13, was spellbound. As we left, after two hours that positively flew by, Josie gave it the highest rating an ironic hipster teen can give: “Mom. That museum was fire.”

You can get a sense of the space on the museum website. A large central area paneled with textured murals and filled with models of tree stumps, munitions crates, and suitcases (some of which actually open into plush upholstered chairs) introduces us to four kids: Eva, Jan, Nelly, and Henk. We see videos of each kid; a headset lets you hear them tell their own stories in the language of your choice. Eva is a Jewish girl whose family has fled Austria for (presumed) safety in Amsterdam. Jan is a minister’s son whose father preaches opposition to the Nazis. Nelly is the daughter of a small-town mayor in the southwest Netherlands, a fervent member of the Dutch Nazi party. Henk lives in Haarlem, loves his little toy soldiers, and sees war as a thrilling adventure—he’s giddily delighted every time the Germans open fire on British planes overhead because afterward he finds bits of shrapnel, bullets, and broken glass to add to his collection. (“I don’t think Henk is very smart,” Maxie confided.) Gradually, like the other children, Henk begins to understand the magnitude of war.

From the center room, you can follow each young narrator’s story through a warren of other little rooms—bedrooms, dining rooms, train cars—all filled with audio and video recordings, furniture, and screens you can touch to answer questions about what you’d do in each child’s situation. As you weave through each kid’s wartime story, examining their toys and hats and posters, watching clever bits of animation showing their day-to-day lives, you also move through four different experiences of resistance, oppression, and collaboration.

Eva, for example, tells us she lives around the corner from Anne Frank. She really likes Anne’s cat Moortje, but finds Anne (“a popular girl”) shallow and annoying. “She and her friends were always giggling about boys…I thought it was stupid,” she says dismissively. Both my daughters burst into shocked giggles at that; who’d ever expect to hear criticism of such an icon?

As the Nazi hold on the Netherlands tightens, we experience it through each kid’s lens. Eva is sad because isn’t allowed to go see Snow White; Jews can’t go to the movies anymore. Her beloved big brother Heinz draws her a picture of Snow White on the blackout paper covering the windows. Winter coats hang on hooks, each with a yellow star saying “Jood” stitched on it. There’s a café window with a small sign in the corner: “Verboden Voor Juden.” When the family has to go into hiding—Vati and Heinz in Soesdjik, Mutti and Eva in Amsterdam—we see a video of Eva’s hands making shadow animals on the ceiling, her idle fantasies of being able to ride a bike again (flowers bloom around the bike as she imagines it) and getting to dance like Shirley Temple, which she’s no longer allowed to do because she can’t make noise. “BORING!” the wall text huffs. We see sad-looking paintings by Heinz, poems, postcards. We hear bits of radio broadcasts. A righteous gentile hides Eva and her mom in a small space behind a false wall with a hatch next to the toilet—it’s even more stark-looking than the bookcase that swung out to reveal steps to the Franks’ Secret Annex.

Eventually, all four family members are captured and sent to Auschwitz. A video impressionistically shows us the cattle-car journey and Eva’s newly tattooed arm.

Among the four kids’ stories in the museum, Eva’s is the most tragic. Not everyone in her family survives. Nevertheless, her experience is presented in a way that’s manageable for children. I was endlessly admiring of this museum’s balancing act. Parents still may have to do some explaining, especially to younger kids (and I don’t think kids younger than 8 or 9 are emotionally ready for this experience at all), but the storytelling is developmentally appropriate for most kids older than 9. Regular readers know how critical I am of most Holocaust narratives for kids; this one really is spectacularly done.

At the end, you come out into a big open room—called Liberation—and are confronted with big photographic portraits of Eva, Jan, Nelly, and Henk as elderly folks. (Until the final room, I hadn’t been positive that the four were real people.) All had survived. I gasped, and tears came to my eyes. Something about suddenly seeing them as wrinkly old folks, with kind bubbe-and-zayde-like faces, when we’d only ever known them as children, felt at once jarring and consoling.

All four took different lessons from the war. An interactive display lets you watch snippets of interviews with them as adults on topics such as prejudice, dictatorship, the meaning of freedom. You can also write your own thoughts about war and intolerance on bits of paper all over the walls. (I took a picture of a carefully printed, blue-penciled note, in little-kid writing, the vowels dotted with circles. It read, “Hitler Is Gewoon Stom Dom”—“Hitler is just stupid” in Dutch. Beneath it was the word “Hitler” in a circle, crossed out, and a picture of a hand pointing thumbs-down. Take that, Hitler.

What I found most striking in that last room: Nelly never feels bad for her leadership in the Youth Storm movement or for her father’s role in the Dutch Nazi party. She sees herself as a victim, dwelling on being called “Nazi scum” by her classmates and being forced to flee to Germany with her family as the British and American armies approach the Netherlands. Eventually, she and her family are held accountable for their actions…but at no point does Nelly take responsibility. Even as an 86-year-old, she insists she had no idea what was happening to the Jews and doesn’t feel guilty about her family’s wartime activities. What did she learn from her experiences? “You shouldn’t tease others because they are different,” she says in an interview as a grownup. “I personally experienced what it is like to be different and I would not wish that on anyone else.” She sounds like today’s parade of racists and homophobes: “What about the prejudice I experience as a conservative? What about respecting my values?” I loved that the museum presented her perspective without comment or censure. It felt like a sophisticated, non-pandering choice that gave parents plenty of room for discussion with their kids.

The Dutch Resistance Museum proved a wonderful counterpoint to Anne Frank House. As Jews, we all know Anne’s saga. She’s one girl, but also larger than life. To pair her story with those of four other real people, unknowns, people who didn’t become fodder for John Green novels and Halloween costumes and Japanese mangamakes for a more layered, nuanced museum-going experience.


Israeli Holocaust Survivor Leaves Millions to Her Neighbor, a Non-Jewish Immigrant

Abandoned by her family, the elderly woman found friendship and comfort in the family next door

Last month, an 80-year-old Israeli Holocaust survivor passed away in Haifa. When her will was read, her family was shocked to learn that the woman, who requested to remain anonymous, left her considerable fortune, as well as her apartment and her reparation payments, to her next door neighbor, a non-Jewish immigrant to Israel.

“For many long years,” she wrote in her will, “since approximately 2000, the neighbor in question was the closest person to me and the one who supported me and helped me as if he were my son. I love him with all my heart. My own family, on the other hand, including my daughter, both my sons, and my grandchildren, have abandoned me and had little to do with me. I haven’t seen them since making Aliyah in 1971, and therefore I’ve decided not to leave them anything.”

Anticipating possible legal challenges to her will, she had a geriatric psychiatrist examine her two months before her passing, to determine that she was of sound mind. Regardless, her family, which lives in Canada, has already announced it intends to contest the will.

“Once a year, on her birthday, her family would send her a postcard,” the woman’s lawyer told the Israeli press. “That postcard was the extent of her family life. I didn’t know her personally, but I can understand the great pain caused to her and her desire not to leave them anything, even if they’re her blood. The person who was her real family all these years was her neighbor.”