Daily Briefing : The Holocaust Still Stymies Understanding (June 7, 2019)

Discussing peace: Anwar Saddat, Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
An Auschwitz Exhibition Fails the Jews: Edward Rothstein, Wall St. Journal, May 11, 2019
The War Between Polish Nationalism and Holocaust History: Jonathan Brent, Tablet, Apr. 12, 2019
Sins of the Fathers:  Machla Abramovitz, Mishpacha Magazine, Sept. 24, 2015

Not So Reluctant: Menachem Begin and the Israel-Egypt Peace Negotiations:  Ziv Rubinovitz and Gerald Steinberg, Fathom Journal, June 2019______________________________________________________

An Auschwitz Exhibition Fails the Jews
Edward Rothstein
Wall St. Journal, May 11, 2019

The epigraph that opens the immense, wrenching, yet problematic exhibition at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, “Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away.,” cites the Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi. “It happened; therefore, it can happen again,” he declares. “It can happen everywhere,” he concludes.

That sentiment has become so widely embraced it is even used to define a purpose of Holocaust museums: as warning beacons. Yet the idea is extraordinarily peculiar. Here is an event scarred by singularity—the attempt to eradicate a people that numbered in the millions, living in more than a dozen countries in the world’s most politically sophisticated continent, who were executed with meticulous, obsessive brutality in the midst of a world war. After three-quarters of a century, it still stymies efforts at understanding.

Somehow, though, that singularity inspires insistence on the opposite, as if the Holocaust were simply the result of fascism or racism or intolerance. The Holocaust’s presumed repeatability—if not imminence—strips it of particularity and diminishes it by turning it into an ever-ready analogy.

Such risks are present in this exhibition as well. But so remarkable are the artifacts here—more than 700 objects and 400 photographs from over 20 sources, most notably Poland’s Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum—that doubts and queries are postponed as we become submerged in the Nazi netherworld.

Many artifacts are from Auschwitz itself: a three-level bunk bed that was once crammed head-to-toe with prisoners; a 66-gallon cauldron that heated thin soup for 200 (ration: one liter of turnip soup per person per day); letters desperately tossed from trains bound for death camps; a child’s shoe with a sock tucked inside as anticipating a quick return that never took place. Such artifacts make this exhibition unmissable.

The exhibition’s unlikely origins were in an idea by Luis Ferreiro, the director of Musealia, a Spanish company that created a successful touring exhibition about the Titanic. A collaboration began with the Auschwitz museum to create a for-profit exhibition. Its curators include the Auschwitz historian Robert Jan van Pelt and the Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum, among others; some modifications were made for New York. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

The War Between Polish Nationalism and Holocaust History
Jonathan Brent
Tablet, Apr. 12, 2019

“Can somebody please explain this to me? Polish protesters in Federal Plaza [New York City],” Sandi Bachom, a documentary filmmaker asked on Instagram, on March 31, 2019. The same may well have been asked in Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Hartford, and “in several places around the world,” where similar protests were held by a multitude of loosely affiliated Polish American organizations, including the Committee to Protect the Katyn Monument and Other Historical Objects (New Jersey); the Polish American Strategic Initiative Związek Żołnierzy Narodowych Sił Zbrojnych (Chicago); the Polish Heritage Council of North America Inc. (New York); and the Polish American Congress of Southern California (California). The question posed by Bachom in New York, which could have been about any of the demonstrations that took place that day, was more pointed than simple curiosity: These were not routine political gatherings but demonstrations aimed at rewriting the history of the Holocaust that featured open displays of anti-Semitism in major American cities.

Ostensibly, the protests were directed against Senate Bill 447, the so-called Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (Just) Act, signed into law by President Trump in May 2018, which provides congressional oversight over restitution of Jewish property stolen in the Holocaust. In New York, however, it was evident that the protest was aimed as much against Jews and Jewish suffering in the Holocaust as against the new law itself. Antisemitic posters, antisemitic gestures and antisemitic slogans went hand in hand with a defense of the dignity and honor of Poland. As the artist Molly Crabapple, who witnessed the protest in Foley Square and chronicled it on her Twitter account, told Tablet, it seemed “ridiculous to use antisemitic slogans to counter the accusation of antisemitism.”

For many Poles, however, Polish national identity is intimately tied to the narrative of Polish victimhood in World War II and its aftermath. Efforts to qualify or question this narrative are often met with furious rejection and counteraccusations. The organizations responsible for the protests on March 31 who appeared to be animated by these narratives of Polish identity, also suggest a larger network behind them that both affirms and informs the coordinated efforts to expunge the historical record of Polish participation in the Holocaust. The protesters seek thereby to ensure that Poland remains an unblemished victim of both Nazi and Soviet aggression, the “Christ of Nations.”  
Demonstrating the Jews’ culpability in their own slaughter and providing the pseudohistorical basis for Polish antisemitism are two key elements of the strategy for preserving this narrative. Texts written by Jews are taken out of context and then cited as evidence to indict Jewish leadership in the Holocaust, the behavior of the so-called Jewish police, and the tragic choiceless choices often made by parents facing extermination. A pamphlet listing such works was given out at the March 31 demonstration, apparently meant to show that even Jewish writers have concluded the Jews are at fault for their own fate. The list includes Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, which is described as telling the truth about “the disgrace of Jewish elites,” but paradoxically it also cites Hermann (sic) Kruk’s The Last Days of the Jerusalem of Lithuania, which tells the tragic and heroic story of the Vilna Ghetto.  Page 1 of the pamphlet contains the header: “Jewish Testimony saying the truth about themselves and Poles”; and at the bottom of Page 4 are the words: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:31-32.” … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Sins of the Fathers  
Machla Abramovitz
Mishpacha Magazine, Sept. 24, 2015
In 2003, when Hans-Jurgen Brennecke was 57 years old, he discovered a cache of letters that shocked him to the core.

In those faded lines, there were indications that his father Hans, a Hamburg policeman, was not as innocent of war crimes as he had once thought. “What I was told was that my father was responsible for helping Germans build air raid shelters,” he says. That, though, was only partially true. The letters revealed that his father was a member of extreme right-wing groups and, by all indications, contributed heavily to the Nazi war effort. While he was not murdering innocents in the East, in his letters he admits to interrogating prisoners and learning how to use a machine gun — a skill that directly connected him to the SS. There was no question where his sympathies lay. “Tonight, I heard their stories [soldiers who returned from the East]. They were great,” he wrote.

Brennecke will never know the ultimate extent of his father’s culpability: Those dark secrets died with his mother. And in not knowing he joins rank with the majority of children of perpetrators who discover the truth only after their parents are gone. But, unlike some, Brennecke refused to mitigate his father’s crimes. Instead, he began to research the role of the Hamburg police during the war to confront the sorry reality head-on. He came to understand that Nazism represented a worldview that was integral to his father’s very identity — and one that he never completely shed. This helped Hans-Jurgen understand why his father took his own life when his son was just eight years old. Shortly before his suicide, the elder Brennecke wrote: “The “national” man is no longer required.”

“Knowing this part of him saddens and angers me,” says Brennecke, a social worker in Lüneburg, near Hamburg in northern Germany. “What a waste of a very brilliant man. In every other way, he was a kind, intelligent, gifted person who wasted his life by dedicating it to absolute evil.” A contradiction? Not really. “People like my father saw the world in black and white terms. Germans were white, while Jews and everyone else were black, so they had to be annihilated. They saw themselves as crusaders out to save the world. Even today, there are others, not just in Germany, who say that Mr. Hitler was right.”

That cache of letters altered the trajectory of Brennecke’s life. He began connecting with other children of perpetrators through organizations like the History Workshop, a collective that facilitates the writing of local histories. “I wanted to understand those times and to work with people from other countries who also wanted to understand them, in order to help determine how we, as a society, should be dealing with this knowledge today. We must always remember what happened, so that we can learn.”

Reparations have been paid, speeches of “never again” have been delivered, pledges of friendship have been deposited. Yet, Brennecke and other children of former Nazis attest, something is amiss in German society. For all the chest-thumping and government-mandated classes on the Holocaust, for all the memorials that dot the modern German state, the fact remains that thousands of Nazi war criminals lived out their days in total peace never having to answer for their crimes. Brennecke and others like him, though, are making a valiant effort to keep Germany’s war conduct fresh by digging deep into Germany’s past and exposing inconvenient truths. They have become the unlikeliest of crusaders, the children, and grandchildren of Nazi perpetrators, working arm in arm with the sons and daughters of their Jewish victims, as the candle flickers low on the last survivors of the Nazi Holocaust. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Not So Reluctant: Menachem Begin and the Israel-Egypt Peace Negotiations
Ziv Rubinovitz and Gerald Steinberg
Fathom Journal, June 2019

The Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement of 1979 remains a unique accomplishment, not only in the otherwise bleak landscape of the Middle East, but throughout the world. Forty years after the leaders of Israel and Egypt, with the support of the US, signed the treaty, its terms continue to serve as the basis for stability and cooperation between the two nations. Prime Minister Menachem Begin and President Anwar Sadat achieved what many thought was impossible. Building on limited disengagement agreements following the 1973 Yom Kippur war, they overcame mutual suspicions and internal opposition.

In order to learn and build on the lessons from this successful example of international conflict resolution, it is important to examine and understand the details, and to distinguish between the record, as reflected in the available documentation, and the less substantiated and second-hand accounts.

In particular, the recent release of official Israeli documents, including transcripts of meetings during the Camp David summit of September 1978, as well as official diplomatic cables, and the internal assessments made throughout the process provide important new insights. Through these documents, we can gain a much sharper understanding of, and insight into, the perspectives and considerations of Begin, who, in contrast to other central actors – Americans, other Israelis, and, to a lesser extent, Egyptians – did not publish a memoir or provide extensive interviews.

On many of the key issues, the Israeli documents reinforce the existing analysis. The background of the very costly 1973 Yom Kippur war, which ended with a ‘mutually hurting stalemate,’ triggered the search for a solution which would meet the core interests of Egypt and Israel and prevent another and probably more destructive round of warfare. The two limited disengagement agreements in 1974 and 1975 were also important confidence-building measures and were followed by various signals from Sadat to Israeli leaders regarding additional steps.

The Israeli elections that took place in May 1977, and the political ‘earthquake’ in which the Likud took power, headed by Begin, was a major turning point. As the documents illustrate, from his first day in office, Begin gave the highest priority to the possibility of reaching a peace agreement with Egypt. He immediately familiarised himself with the issues and understood that Sadat sought to recover the Sinai Peninsula, and Egyptian pride, both lost in the 1967 Six-Day War, but without risking another war. His decision to appoint Moshe Dayan as foreign minister, despite Dayan’s membership in opposing political parties, was also closely linked to this objective.

Indeed, Begin’s words and actions throughout the process highlight the emphasis he placed on reaching an agreement, in sharp contrast to the distorted images in some of the existing analyses, particularly from US President Jimmy Carter, that portray the Israeli prime minister as a ‘reluctant peacemaker’, a ‘right-wing ideologue’ or, after the Camp David accords, as having ‘buyers’ remorse’, as Ambassador Sam Lewis suggested. A number of these distortions are repeated by Carter’s Middle East advisor, William Quandt in his recent article in the Cairo Review of Global Affairs, (‘Reflections on Camp David at 40’, December 2018). … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]


On Topic Links
The “New Germany” and the Kippah:  Rabbi Benjamin Blech, Aish.com, May 27, 2019 — On 1 September 1941, on the initiative of Reich Minister Joseph Goebbels, the German Interior Ministry issued an order that from 19 September 1941, all the Jews of the Reich and the Protectorate aged six and older were required to wear the Jewish star (“Judenstern”).
One Of Last Surviving Heroes Of Sobibor Uprising Passes Away At 96:  Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News, June 3, 2019 — Semyon Rosenfeld, who took part in the 1943 prisoner revolt at the Sobibor death camp, died Monday at age 96 in the Israeli old age home where he had lived for the last 20 years.
Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism: The Duck Test:  David Collier, Jewish Press, March 3, 2019 –Is it antisemitism or anti-Zionism?
Amid Apologies, PM Should Celebrate Good:  Rex Murphy, National Post, June 1, 2019 —  Our Prime Minister has shown a capacity, surpassing eagerness and tending  towards habit, to provide an autopsy on all the sins of Canada perpetrated before his reign (which appears to be the definitional limit), and having unearthed and highlighted them, to make public apology on behalf of every other Canadian for the flaws, mischiefs, perceived crimes and follies of our ancestors.