Tag: Yad Vashem


Distortion of the Holocaust Mars Another Holocaust Remembrance Day: Manfred Gerstenfeld, Algemeiner, Jan. 24, 2019 — Many people equate Holocaust distortion exclusively with its denial and minimization.

To Combat Holocaust Ignorance, We Must Empower Teachers: Naomi Azrieli, Globe & Mail, Jan. 24, 2018— On Jan. 27, the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau…

Canary in the Mine: Yad Vashem’s Holocaust-Awareness Programs Tackle 21st-Century Anti-Semitism: Deborah Fineblum, JNS, Jan. 8, 2019— It’s American teachers like Lori Fulton who, with their commitment to Holocaust education, are poised to be potent forces for holding back the current tidal wave of anti-Semitism for the next generation.

Making It: Lee Smith, Tablet, Jan. 16, 2019— The most famous first line in 20th-century American literature set in Kings County, New York, must be incomprehensible to many current residents of that highly literary territory.

On Topic Links

Holocaust Survivor’s Book a Story of Perseverance: Joel Goldenberg, The Suburban, May 2, 2018

20% of Canadian Young Adults Say Never Heard of the Holocaust: Ilanit Chernick, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 24, 2019

Hitler Book Maps ‘Final Solution in Canada,’ Library and Archives Canada Curator Says: CBC, Jan. 23, 2019

Top Nazi Hunter Blasts Visiting Ukraine Leader for Ignoring Holocaust Complicity: Raphael Ahren, Times of Israel, Jan. 24, 2019




Manfred Gerstenfeld

Algemeiner, Jan. 24, 2019

Many people equate Holocaust distortion exclusively with its denial and minimization. This is incorrect. The latter two examples are only one category of Holocaust distortion — and they aren’t even the most abusive. Indeed, Holocaust inversion is worse, because it claims that Israel behaves toward the Palestinians the same way that the Nazis did towards the Jews.

There are also a variety of other categories of Holocaust distortion that can only be mentioned briefly here. Holocaust justification refers to the claim that Jews were the cause of their enemies’ antisemitism, and bore responsibility for their own murder. Blaming Jews for the hatred against them is a common antisemitic theme to this day.

Another important distortion category is Holocaust deflection, which admits that the Holocaust happened, but denies the complicity or responsibility of specific groups or individuals. In this way, blame for the Holocaust can be placed on others. One example is Austria, which for many years portrayed itself as the first victim of the Nazis, while in reality it was a major Holocaust perpetrator.

Holocaust whitewashing consists of many techniques and requires profound understanding. It aims at cleansing individuals, groups of people, or nations from blame without necessarily accusing others. For decades in West Germany, false claims were made that the Wehrmacht — the German army — did not participate in the atrocities that took place. But at the end of the last century, the claims about the Wehrmacht’s involvement in mass killings of Jews became irrefutable. Understanding whitewashing techniques of the Holocaust is important because they relate to many contemporary whitewashing techniques of antisemitism. A well-known case concerns the British Labour party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Another Holocaust distortion category — de-Judaization — has several variants. For instance, one can broaden the term Holocaust in order to include people other than Jews who were murdered, but not part of the genocide. A second type of de-Judaization is to avoid or minimize to a large extent the Jewish character of the victims. A major example of the de-Judaization of the Holocaust is the way in which Anne Frank’s life has been presented over the decades. In many places, she became a universal icon, and her Jewish identity was minimized.

The distortion category of Holocaust equivalence manifests itself in a number of ways. For example, pre-war and wartime Holocaust equivalence consists of claims that Germany did not do anything different from what other nations had done earlier. Post-war Holocaust equivalence alleges that certain actions or attitudes of others since the end of World War II are the same as those of the Germans during the war. This includes claims of the double genocide, which refers to the supposed symmetry between Nazi and communist crimes.

Holocaust trivialization is partly a tool for some ideologically or politically-motivated activists to metaphorically compare phenomena that they oppose to the industrial scale of the extermination of the Jews. Frequent examples are the “animal Holocaust,” referring to the mass slaughter of animals. Another is the “abortion Holocaust.” A very different type of trivialization happens in commercial activities. For instance, one sometimes finds images of Hitler used to promote companies or products.

Yet another category of distortion is the obliteration of Holocaust memories. This has many aspects. One facet is the destroying or besmirching of memorials. Another is disrupting memorial ceremonies. The Muslim Council of Britain tried to void the content of Holocaust ceremonies. In 2005, this organization wrote to a British minister that it would not attend the commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz unless it included the “Holocaust” of the Palestinians. Sunday, January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On that occasion, we should also focus our attention on the many categories of Holocaust distortion.




Naomi Azrieli

Globe & Mail, Jan. 24, 2018

On Jan. 27, the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, individuals throughout the world will commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day – reflecting on the six million Jewish people killed during the Holocaust, as well as the millions of other victims of Nazi atrocities.

But the disturbing results from a new study show that reflecting once or twice a year is simply not enough. The report, conducted by Schoen Consulting on behalf of The Azrieli Foundation in partnership with the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, exposed critical gaps when it comes to Holocaust awareness and knowledge among Canadian adults.

When we probed beyond baseline knowledge – such as familiarity with the term “the Holocaust,” ability to identify Adolf Hitler as the leader of the Nazi Party responsible for initiating the Second World War and the Holocaust, and the awareness that Germany was a country where the Holocaust began – our findings uncovered a fundamental lack of detailed knowledge.

Among all those surveyed, more than half of Canadian adults (54 per cent) did not know that six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. These numbers are worse among millennials: 62 per cent were ignorant of the fact. Ninety per cent of Poland’s Jewish population was murdered during the Holocaust; the killing centres of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chelmno, Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor were all located there. Yet fewer than half of Canadians surveyed (43 per cent) could identify Poland as a country in which the Holocaust occurred.

Too many Canadians are also worryingly unaware of our country’s own Holocaust legacy. Indeed, only 19 per cent of those surveyed knew that Canada employed a “none is too many” stance toward Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis. Almost one-third of those surveyed (32 per cent) believed that Canada had an open-border policy at that time. If we want our next generation to successfully uphold a tolerant, thoughtful and democratic society, it is our duty to ensure that they know our history, even when it is problematic and seemingly unaligned with what we as a country stand for today.

Our survey shows clearly and unambiguously that the more Canadians know about the Holocaust, the less likely they are to think that neo-Nazi beliefs and actions are acceptable. Among those respondents with knowledge of the Holocaust, only 4 per cent believe that neo-Nazi beliefs are acceptable. Conversely, 16 per cent of those who never heard of the Holocaust say it is acceptable to hold neo-Nazi beliefs.

The consequences of this ignorance are alarming. The number of anti-Semitic incidents has ballooned: In 2018, Canada saw a record number of incidents of harassment, vandalism and violence against its Jewish population. It suggests that, even though the two pillars of Holocaust remembrance are “Never Forget” and “Never Again,” it appears that many of us Canadians have forgotten – or perhaps, never knew. And Canada is not alone. These findings are consistent with those found in another Schoen study on Holocaust awareness and knowledge in the United States. Conducted last year on behalf of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the report found that when Americans are educated about the Holocaust in a meaningful way, the percentage of people holding neo-Nazi views drops dramatically to a potentially negligible number.

What both studies show is that a broad-scale strategy to optimize Holocaust education at the high-school level can fundamentally combat the increase in neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism we are seeing. Currently, each province sets its own school curriculum. They can include study of the Holocaust in courses such as history, social studies, modern history and Canadian law. Then it is up to each individual teacher to decide how they want to teach the Holocaust. But it’s clear this laissez-faire approach is not working. Every province needs to ensure that the Holocaust is included in their curriculum in a comprehensive way. Critically, teachers must be supported by receiving sufficient training, strategies and resources so that they have an appropriate comfort level and knowledge in teaching this sensitive material.

The survey showed overwhelming support for Holocaust education. Eighty-two per cent of Canadian adults believe all students should learn about the Holocaust in school, and 85 per cent say it is important to keep teaching about the Holocaust.

In a way, the declining level of personal connection to the Holocaust isn’t surprising. The population of first-person survivors and witnesses to the atrocities is dwindling, and 69 per cent do not know or know of a Holocaust survivor. As time inexorably passes, a comprehensive and compulsory Holocaust education curriculum in each province is needed more than ever.

By meaningfully supporting Holocaust education, we can do our part in reducing ongoing anti-Semitism, eliminating neo-Nazism and increasing respect for diversity. As Canadians come together to commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz, we cannot allow the Holocaust to be forgotten. We owe that to the men and women who survived, as well as to the millions who perished – and, crucially, to future generations.





Deborah Fineblum

JNS, Jan. 8, 2019

It’s American teachers like Lori Fulton who, with their commitment to Holocaust education, are poised to be potent forces for holding back the current tidal wave of anti-Semitism for the next generation. Many of the tools for empowering Fulton and thousands of other teachers in striving to accomplish this Herculean task come from a hillside in Jerusalem, thousands of miles from her classroom in Mattawan, Mich.

Fulton, a high school English teacher who discovered the Holocaust as a teen when she happened upon The Diary of Anne Frank in her local library, spent two weeks last summer at Yad Vashem: the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. That’s where, together with dozens of other teachers, she learned how to bring these terror-filled years alive for her students. “I thought I knew about the Holocaust, but I realized I was missing something,” she says. “Sure, we can read Wiesel’s Night and watch ‘The Pianist,’ but only when you have the human stories—what it was really like to live through that hell—does everything change.”

Not only does Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies host 7,000 teachers annually in its Jerusalem center, but its programs train thousands more in 50 countries. And it provides a full menu of online teacher resources, including survivor testimonies, photos, rare film footage and lesson plans in 20 languages, destined for classrooms around the globe, in addition to resources for adults.

These offerings could not be more timely, given the uptick in anti-Semitism in Europe (where recent studies report a widespread increase in anti-Semitic behavior) and around the world. It’s coming from the right and increasingly, the experts say, from the left as well, marked by the demonization of Israel on many campuses and in the media, its fires fanned online by Holocaust-denial websites, and on Facebook and other social media.

In light of 21st-century anti-Semitism, the Holocaust is humanity’s canary in the mine. Its lesson: The unimaginable horror born when “garden variety” anti-Semitism is permitted to fester, turning murderous while the world’s global powers turn a deaf ear to 6 million screams. And that puts Fulton and thousands of other teachers on the front line, armed with an arsenal of weapons, much of it supplied by Yad Vashem, where, since its creation by order of the Knesset in 1953, every day is Holocaust Awareness Day.

The 1 million visitors each year who move through the powerful Moshe Safdie-designed structure—that seemingly threatens to close in on the viewer, conveying the feeling of being hunted down and even trapped—may not realize that the adjacent school is a veritable beehive of activity.

In the last two decades, 50,000 teachers from 12,000 schools have returned home inspired and ready to share what they’ve learned with their peers, impacting more than 5 million students over the years. Fulton, for one, is organizing a Holocaust-education training symposium in March for 50 teachers from across Michigan, each one destined to influence hundreds or thousands of students through the course of a career. “Our job is to tell the historical truth based on documentation,” says Avner Shalev, who for a quarter-century has been Yad Vashem’s chairman. “And the most important thing we do here is train teachers.”

“My students have no clue what Yad Vashem is, but after hearing survivor testimony and reading about their lives and the world they lived in, each one is going to own someone’s story,” says Fulton. “There’s nothing like looking over my football player with tears in his eyes watching ‘Schindler’s List.’ I told my principal that this is important enough to devote a semester to, and you know what? He agreed.”

Braxton French says learning about the Holocaust in Fulton’s class changed the way he sees the world. “We read books and watched videos, and we visited a survivor. I don’t know what it’s like to be in her situation, but it’s crazy to think about how this could have happened,” he says. “I’m a Christian, but when my friends say history isn’t important, I say, ‘Yes, it is’ or ‘It could happen again.’ ” One of the tools Fulton and her fellows use is “Echoes and Reflections: Teaching the Holocaust, Inspiring the Classroom,” a curriculum Yad Vashem created in partnership with the Anti-Defamation League and the USC Shoah Foundation, with the North American teacher in mind.

“We’re helping teachers convey the important truth that the Holocaust is both an historical event and the result of human factors—something that can happen anywhere and anytime,” says project director Sheryl Ochayon. To get this key message across, the course introduces such foundational concepts as stereotypes, propaganda, dehumanization, hate crimes and anti-Semitism, along with the deadly Nazi ideology, and the real-life stories of survivors and heroes like Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.

“We also invite them to look carefully at the role of the bystander in anti-Semitism and other forms of hate, and in the unit on contemporary anti-Semitism, at their own culture for signs of these things. Stereotypes like ‘Jew you down,’ when they see what it really means, they won’t be as likely to perpetuate it. Something they will take with them when they get to campus or out in the world.” (To learn more about the program, teachers are invited to visit echoesandreflections.org). “The net is where we all look now for information,” says Futon. “But when my students go online to research Holocaust topics, they find lots of sites saying it never happened.”

When they return to class thoroughly confused, Fulton says, “Yes, there are Holocaust-deniers, and there are people who think the world is flat. You have to be careful who and what you believe. And when they ask why the Poles didn’t realize what was going on, I say, ‘Of course, they knew: The stink of burning bodies 24-7, the ashes, the trains full of people.” And that, she says, leads naturally to a discussion of the “innocent” bystander…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]





Lee Smith

Tablet, Jan. 16, 2019

The most famous first line in 20th-century American literature set in Kings County, New York, must be incomprehensible to many current residents of that highly literary territory. “One of the longest journeys in the world,” writes Norman Podhoretz in the opening of his 1967 autobiography, Making It, “is the journey from Brooklyn to Manhattan.”

Podhoretz was of course speaking figuratively, referring to cultural and class differences separating the two boroughs that were infinitely wider than the East River. Today’s Brooklyn is different—apartment hunters are likely to find it less expensive to live off Park Avenue than in Williamsburg, Cobble Hill, or Fort Greene, where rents have soared due to the constant influx of tech-savvy millennials.

But back in the day, the price you paid to get from a working-class Jewish enclave in Brownsville to Columbia University and then the literary salons of the Upper West Side was constant re-invention, repeatedly shuffling off old selves and girding on new ones. That journey, as well as Podhoretz’s political transformations, from liberal to leftist to conservative, maps the last six decades of American society and culture and the Jewish community, and where and how they intersect. Today, he turns 89.

We’ve met several times over the last few years, first at lunch close to his home on the Upper East Side. “Here’s where Madonna lives,” he told me on the sidewalk, pointing to a large fortress-like structure, as if to note how the neighborhood of white-shoe lawyers and Wall Street financiers had morphed into something from Page Six.

I wanted to speak with Podhoretz for the same reason I’ve read and reread his work over the years—especially, in addition to Making It, Why We Were in Vietnam, The Bloody Crossroads: Where Literature and Politics Meet, and his two other autobiographies, Breaking Ranks and Ex-Friends. He seemed to me to hold the keys to the vault that contains the blueprint for how we as Americans, how I as an individual, got here, and where we’re going.

He’s taken up the struggle between liberal and conservative politics that re-generates our public life, and tells the truth about the drives of the ethnic New York through which much of the country passed before fanning out to fill and build America. Maybe most importantly to me, it’s because his political and cultural sensibility is shaped by his experience of literature. He takes texts, from the Bible to the modern novel, seriously. It’s easy to forget that the writer perhaps best known for his essay “My Negro Problem and Ours” and one of the intellectual fathers of neoconservatism, especially in foreign policy, studied with Lionel Trilling and F.R. Leavis, two of the greatest literary critics of the 20th century. He wanted to be a poet. Making It is a song of self filtered through a Brooklyn idiom: Here’s who I am—take it or leave it.

We spoke most recently on the phone after I visited him last year in his apartment on the Upper East Side shortly after the New York Review Books re-issued Making It in their classics imprint. He greeted me at the door with his wife, the writer Midge Decter, and daughter Ruthie Blum, an Israeli-American journalist. Their other children are Naomi Decter, the late Rachel Abrams, and son, John, editor of Commentary magazine. Norman edited the magazine from 1960-1995, leading it through at least two political and cultural transformations, first taking it from liberal to leftist and then swinging it back the other way to conservatism…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]


CIJR Wishes All Our Friends and Supporters: Shabbat Shalom!



On Topic Links

Hillel Neuer Visits Hezbollah Terror Tunnels Ahead of UNSC Meeting: Breaking Israel News, Dec. 19, 2018—UN Watch’s Director Hillel Neuer visits Hezbollah terror tunnels crossing over the Israel-Lebanon border.

Ex-Government Agent Discusses Using AI to Battle Hezbollah Rockets: Yonah Jeremy Bob, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 20, 2018—Amit Meltzer is not only a former chief technology officer for a key Israeli government agency and a top cyber security consultant, he is also a master strategist.

Israeli Official Briefs Italian MPs on Hezbollah, Iran: Eldad Beck, Israel Hayom, Dec. 20, 2018—Head of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs tells Italian parliament session on Middle East that Hezbollah is helping Iran export the Islamic revolution across the region, disputing Italian MPs’ claim that Hezbollah operatives are not terrorists.

What Real Border Security Looks Like: Bret Stephens, New York Times, Jan. 10, 2019—What I saw on Wednesday while traveling along the Blue Line was … a fence. A fence studded with sensors, to be sure, but by no means an imposing one. As the accompanying photos show, here is what a long stretch of the border between two sworn enemies looks like.

Rob Coles: Constructing Memory: Architectural Narratives of Holocaust Museums (book review)

Stephanie Shosh Rotem: Constructing Memory: Architectural Narratives of Holocaust Museums (New York: Peter Lang Publishers, 2013)

How do we remember the Holocaust? What role do museums play in constructing a collective memory of the Holocaust? Almost seventy years after the end of the Second World War, the need to commemorate the victims has not diminished. Indeed, it is more important than ever as the number of survivors decreases, and the link with first-hand knowledge of the event is lost. Inevitably, it will become the responsibility of Holocaust museums to commemorate and educate future generations.

Stephanie Shosh Rotem’s Constructing Memory analyzes the architecture of Holocaust museums in Israel, the U.S., and Europe, and explains how architecture often conveys important, symbolic messages. Unlike traditional museums, whose main function is the storage and display of valuable and historically important objects, the objects exhibited in Holocaust museums often have little monetary value, because Holocaust victims were looted of these possessions. The symbolic, abstract effect of architecture is, therefore, intensified, and adds to the didactic role of the institutions. 

As Shosh Rotem explains, the symbolic message of Holocaust museum architecture is often political or ideological, and varies depending on the nation. Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust Museum of Israel, is a key site of commemoration of the genocide of European Jews. It disseminates a Zionist message symbolically through its design. Moshe Safdie, the architect of the rebuilt Yad Vashem (2005), designed the site to emphasize the rebirth of the Jewish people in Israel after the horrors of the Second World War. Visits typically begin in the dimly lit underground section of the building, symbolizing the darkness of the Nazi period, and emerge in a light-filled room dominated by panoramic views of Jerusalem’s hills. Contrasting elements of darkness and light are, therefore, used for dramatic and symbolic effect.

The real strength of the book is in the author’s comparison of the diversity of Holocaust museums. European Holocaust museums in particular have several, often conflicting, political messages at the heart of their designs. Although the theme of the Berlin Jewish Museum, for example, was meant to be Jewish history, the public perceived it as a Holocaust museum, mainly because of its design. Originally built in 1933, but badly damaged during the Berlin Kristallnacht of 1938, the museum reopened in 1997, but with no collection on display.  For three years visitors walked through an empty museum, a so-called memory void that was interpreted as a powerful symbol of the destruction of Berlin’s Jewish community.   

The Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest is briefly discussed, but the book omits mention of the persistent problem of antisemitism still facing Hungarian Jews. News reports consistently mention antisemitic events in the nation: from the far-right Jobbik party, Hungary’s third-largest political party, which is considered by Jewish groups to be a neo-Nazi organization, to the desecration of Jewish cemeteries. The book should have focused on the role of Budapest’s Holocaust Memorial Center to inform its visitors of this alarming trend. As the Holocaust increasingly becomes part of our collective memory, it is imperative that future Holocaust Museums also inform visitors about the reality of the Shoah and all its geographical sectors, and about the ongoing dangers of antisemitism. 


(Rob Coles is CIJR’s Publications Chairman)



Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest known survivor of the Holocaust, celebrated her 108th birthday in London on November 25. A native of Prague and professional pianist in her mid-teens, Mrs. Herz-Sommer, her husband and young son were sent to the Nazi show camp at Terezin in 1943, where she played more than 150 concerts as Jews were sent to their deaths and for visitors from the Red Cross.

Mrs. Herz-Sommer’s husband did not survive the war, but their son, Raphael, who also took part in performances at Terezin, did. Alice swam daily until the age of 97, and continues to play her piano every day. (JTA, November 27.)

Robert Rozett

Jerusalem Post, December 6, 2011

On December 8, 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941—(is) a date which will live in infamy.” Of course he was talking about the Japanese surprise attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, the attack that catapulted the United States into the Second World War 70 years ago.…

As momentous as the attack on Pearl Harbor was, December 7, 1941 was also the date of another event of no less consequence for mankind. The first transports set out for the first extermination camp, Chelmno, which began its murderous operations the following day, December 8. Over the course of the next three-and-a-half years, the Nazis would murder some three million Jews in a handful of extermination camps, most infamous among them Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Another three million Jews were murdered in a wide variety of venues, first and foremost in the killing fields of Eastern Europe by shooting—a process that had actually begun several months before Chelmno went into operation. December 7, however, marks the start of the unprecedented industrialized mass murder of innocent human beings at a complex designed solely for that purpose.

The American entry into the war is really the beginning of America embracing its role as a great world power. It is true that Nazi Germany was defeated primarily on the ground by Soviet forces in a long, drawn out and extremely deadly war.… Nevertheless, America’s role in the defeat of Nazi Germany was crucial. To a very large degree, it was American supplies that allowed the Soviets to fight for four long years, and certainly after the D-Day invasion of June 1944, the American fighting man made a considerable contribution to the fall of Nazi Germany. The reluctant entry of the Americans into the war on December 7, 1941, to say the least, greatly hastened the destruction of Hitler’s regime.

Significantly, another outcome of the attack at Pearl Harbor was the dawn of the age of nuclear weapons. The first nuclear weapon was not deployed against Nazi Germany, rather the Americans deployed it against Japan in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.… In its wake, the world now would face issues of nuclear arms proliferation and escalation, nuclear arms deterrence, and still true today, the very real fear that such weapons in the wrong hands could wreak new and unimaginable destruction.…

The start of systematic industrialized mass murder in Chelmno is less well known, but has no less importance for mankind. In the Chelmno extermination camp the Nazis murdered over 150,000 people, almost all of them Jews. The murder method was asphyxiation in gas vans—group after group, after group. As is now well known, before being murdered in the extermination camps, Jews were shorn of their hair, fleeced of their valuables and robbed of their clothing and any other possessions they had brought with them.…

The idea that in the name of an ideology a regime could plan and carry out the despoliation and murder of an entire people, using the most modern means available and doing so in a “rational,” “dispassionate” way, continues to reverberate profoundly.…

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the advent of murder in the first extermination camp, Chelmno, are historical signposts that need to be marked and remembered. The first for its great impact on the course of human affairs and role in the ultimate defeat of the consummate evil embodied by the Nazis, and the latter as a ghastly warning of what can happen when barbarians, imbued with an ideology of hate, have the unfettered freedom to act. After 70 years, the significance and caveat of December 7 remain as compelling as ever.

(The writer is director of the Yad Vashem Libraries.)

Timothy W. Ryback

NY Times, December 7, 2011

On Thursday, a Manhattan auction house will be accepting bids on one of the more disturbing books to come onto the U.S. antiquarian book market in some time: Adolf Hitler’s personal copy of a city-by-city, state-by-state guide to the location of America’s Jewish population.

The book includes detailed data on towns like Peabody and Brookline, Massachusetts, the boroughs of New York City, as well as the farther-flung population clusters in states like Arizona, Arkansas, Minnesota and California. It also provides details of several hundred Jewish organizations, including B’nai B’rith and the Anti-Defamation League, along with names of key individuals and their addresses. In light of the Holocaust, it is a disquieting compendium.

The 137-page report, “Statistik, Presse und Organisationen des Judentums in den Vereinigten Staaten und Kanada” (Statistics, Media, and Organizations of Jewry in the United States and Canada), was compiled in 1944 by Heinz Kloss, a German linguist who specialized in minorities and visited the United States in the early 1930s. Like many Nazi-era publications, the Kloss report, printed on cheap, highly acidic paper, is brittle and chipping. The cover, which bears a diagonal warning “For Official Use Only,” has become detached. On the verso is a bookplate with a stylized eagle perched on an oak branch clutching a laurel-wreathed swastika in its talons. It is framed, in bold-face type, “Ex Libris Adolf Hitler.”

The Hitler book was among the thousands taken by American G.I.’s from the Nazi leader’s alpine retreat outside Berchtesgaden in the spring of 1945. Most have ended up in attics, basements and bookshelves across America. One of the more notable examples I have seen is Hitler’s personal copy of Shakespeare’s collected works, 10 volumes bound in fine Moroccan leather with a swastika and the letters AH embossed on the spine.…

The Kloss report is being sold by Kestenbaum & Co., a Manhattan auction house that specializes, according to its Web page, in “fine Judaica” and “rare kosher and vintage wines.” The owner, Daniel Kestenbaum, observes that he would normally not auction a Hitler book, or any other object from the Nazi era for that matter, unless it related somehow to “the Jewish experience.…” He has estimated the sales price between $3,000 and $5,000. “I have been in this business since 1986. If I haven’t seen it before, it is rare.”

The price is rather high for a Hitler book. Most such volumes go for a few hundred dollars. But this particular volume, given its provenance and disturbing historical resonances, may be worth the price. The book underscores with stark statistical data how assiduous the Nazis were, even as late as 1944, in pursuing their goal of world domination as well as their designs for extending the geographic compass of the “final solution.” That such a volume found its way into Hitler’s personal library is as understandable as it is chilling.

“When a person gives they have to take,” Hitler once said. “And I take what I need from books.” Hitler was an obsessive reader from childhood, and his understanding of America was shaped in great part by his readings, in his youth, of the cowboy-and-Indian stories of the adventure novelist Karl May, and later in life of the anti-Semitic writings of Henry Ford. Hitler kept copies of Ford’s “The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem” on a table outside his office and included it in a list of books “every National Socialist should know.…”

The Kloss report is a fitting addition to Hitler’s American reading list, but this particular book comes with a double-barbed moral hitch. What kind of price tag belongs on a book that would have, but for the defeat of the Nazis, provided a blueprint for the horrific consequences of similar data-collecting efforts across Europe? More problematic still, who would want to own such a book that was almost certainly perused and quite likely studied by Hitler during one of the ritual nocturnal reading sessions, usually with a cup of tea, in his upstairs study at the Berghof?

It would be best if the Kloss report were acquired by an individual or institution willing to donate it to a public collection, ideally, the Rare Books and Manuscripts Division at the Library of Congress. There it could join 1,200 other surviving volumes from Hitler’s private library and not only be readily accessible to scholars and historians but also occupy appropriate shelf space with an equally sinister companion book from Hitler’s private book collection, a 1925 German translation of Madison Grant’s “The Passing of the Great Race,” bearing a personal inscription to Hitler.

(Timothy W. Rybackis author of “Hitler’s Private Library:
The Books That Shaped His Life.)

Ian Lovett

NY Times, November 16, 2011

Since Steven Spielberg established the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation in 1994, the organization has devoted itself exclusively to the memory of Holocaust survivors. Its archives house more than 50,000 video interviews, in 32 languages, with survivors from 56 countries—the largest such collection in the world.

But in a dramatic expansion of its mission, the foundation is now incorporating testimonies from mass atrocities other than the Holocaust into its archives. Five survivors of the Rwandan genocide are learning the organization’s archiving methods at the Shoah Foundation Institute, part of an effort to add at least 1,000 interviews with Rwandans to the foundation’s archives.… And the foundation will soon begin adding testimonies about other mass killings, including those of Armenians and Cambodians.…

With the broadened scope…the foundation has stepped into a contentious and continuing debate about the historical uniqueness of the Holocaust. Some historians are concerned that the voices of Holocaust survivors could be lost in a deluge of voices from survivors of all sorts of conflicts, its significance and singularity diminished. Menachem Z. Rosensaft, a vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants who also teaches about law and genocide at Columbia Law School, said that one of the responsibilities descendants of survivors have is to maintain “the integrity of memory.”

“I think it is extremely important to record and preserve the first-person accounts of all genocides,” Mr. Rosensaft said. “My concern would be that we not blur the individual experiences of survivors of the Holocaust, or survivors of Rwanda, into one large blur. Every genocide is a separate act, and must be remembered and chronicled as such.”

The Shoah Foundation was born from Mr. Spielberg’s experience making “Schindler’s List,” his 1993 Academy Award-winning film about the Holocaust. Nearly 50 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, Mr. Spielberg felt an urgent need to preserve remembrances of the Holocaust before survivors died.

In 2000, after the lion’s share of the 50,000 interviews with Holocaust survivors had been conducted, the foundation’s leaders began to turn their attention toward teaching lessons from the Holocaust to younger generations. Members of the foundation’s board of councilors said the addition of testimonies about other genocides was a natural next step and something Mr. Spielberg had always intended, which his spokesman confirmed. (Mr. Spielberg no longer runs the foundation…but he still has an advisory role and is consulted for all major decisions by the foundation.).…

Some historians argue that the Holocaust—in which the Nazis slaughtered 6 million Jews, many in gas chambers designed specifically for that purpose—was the only genocide in history, the only systematic effort to wipe an entire race of people from the earth. In Rwanda, around 800,000 people were killed during a few bloody months in 1994, many of them with weapons like machetes. Steven T. Katz, a professor of Judaic studies at Boston University, calls the killings in Rwanda “mass murder,” not genocide. And while Professor Katz, too, supports scholarly efforts to document all cases of mass atrocities, he said the drift toward studying the Holocaust primarily alongside these other mass murders risks misunderstanding the Nazis’ attempt to eradicate the Jews from Europe as just one case of mass murder among many. “With certain kinds of events, one needs to be able to say, this is new, or singular, or unprecedented,” he said.…

Jordana Horn

Forward, December 8, 2011

‘Buried Prayers,” directed by Steven Meyer, stretches the definitions of Holocaust-related cinema by examining not only what happened on the unholy ground of the World War II death camp Majdanek, but also what happened underneath it.

In the spring of 1943, survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto were sent to Majdanek just outside Lublin, Poland, and were forced to wait in a field for days. During that time, realizing that they were to be killed, many families secretly buried their few personal possessions in the dirt beneath them.

Based on witness testimony, the film documents a team of archaeologists and survivors…returning to Majdanek in 2005 to unearth what was hidden more than 60 years ago. The particular survivors featured in the film were teenagers at Majdanek in 1943 who, after the war, moved to Melbourne, Australia. Their English stumbles past the dual impediments of thick accents, both Eastern European and Australian, making an odd-sounding mix for an American audience, but their stories transcend the thickets of their vowels.

Adam Frydman recalled having seen families bury the treasures they hoped could be used as currency to keep them alive. In the film, he speaks of his own time at Majdanek in similar terms: “It’s better to bury it and forget about the whole thing.” But Frydman, sensing that he was approaching the end of his life, told investigators working with the filmmakers, that he had seen people in the Majdanek midfield—an open field where people were forced to wait for their fates for days at a time—hiding personal items.

Frydman supposed, and the film concurs in this analysis, that such efforts were a final act of defiance by people who refused to give their last remaining valuables to the Nazis. Liberating the objects, then, the film convincingly argues, will be a redemption of sorts for the dead. “They said, ‘Let it rot in the ground—the bastards won’t get it,’” recalled survivor David Prince, a trustee of the Melbourne Jewish Holocaust Centre. “It was meant to be found by people exactly like us.”

Tessie Jacob and Ella Prince, along with Frydman, accompany the archaeological crew to Majdanek, recounting the horrors of their past along the way. The film delicately exposes the terror, bitter sadness and fear involved in this difficult journey for the survivors. The camera hangs back and observes people with a sidelong glance rather than a direct scrutiny, and in doing so sensitively avoids a voyeurism of their unspeakable grief.…

At one poignant moment, the 80-year-old Jacob—in the trappings of adulthood, with a red coat and red earrings, but with the unguarded vulnerability of the child she once was—speaks to her parents, who were killed at Majdanek: “I came to apologize. You told me to save yourself. I couldn’t have saved you. I was the baby, and I could not.”

By the time the archaeologists dig up the field and, in two days alone, find more than 80 pieces of jewelry, coins and other keepsakes, it is clear that they find only remnants of the true treasures: those who were murdered in the gas chambers of Majdanek. Though some of these remnants have monetary value—the film points out the precious stones, for example, found in some buried jewelry—we come to realize that their value as links to the past is priceless.

This little film says more implicitly than it does explicitly, and that is its greatest strength. It is humble in that it does not overstep its boundaries and try to tell the story of the Holocaust; rather, it shows the evidence of a simple and singular act of rebellion with a sensitive treatment of the past and present. The archaeologists’—and, for that matter, the film’s—act of excavation, becomes, in its own turn, an act of defiance. And defiance of the murderers will continue, as the producers of the film are currently looking for high school and college students to do more excavations at Majdanek this summer. Nothing is truly gone, the film makes clear, if there are still those who are willing to look for it.

Joel Greenberg

Washington Post, December 9, 2011

The elderly men and women trickled in one by one, carrying physical scraps of memory: yellowing letters and postcards, old photos, personal belongings and frayed documents left behind by relatives who lived through the Holocaust.

At tables set up in a senior citizens home in [Netanya, Israel], the visitors talked as interviewers listened and took notes. The stories swirled through the room—told in Hebrew, Russian and Yiddish, conjuring up the painful past as pictures and papers were carefully passed back and forth, examined, read and registered.

The scene unfolded at a collection day organized this week by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial center, as part of a national campaign to find and preserve materials from that period that are scattered in homes across the country. Since its launch in April, the project, called “Gathering the Fragments,” has accumulated more than 33,000 items, including diaries, art works, personal belongings, letters and photographs.

Israel has the largest population of Holocaust survivors of any country—some 200,000—and organizers say they are in a race against time to locate the items while aging survivors can still tell the stories behind them. “We consider this as a last-minute rescue operation, to pass on the story to the next generation,” said Haim Gertner, the archives director of Yad Vashem.

While many items from the Holocaust years have been discarded over time by people unaware of their significance, the campaign is an opportunity to recover materials that have been saved by survivors and their children, Gertner said. To preserve what remains, the items brought to collection points across Israel are examined on site by a team of Yad Vashem staff and volunteers who interview the donors, evaluate the materials and scan them for digital documentation. They are then added to the Yad Vashem collection in Jerusalem, conserved, catalogued and made digitally accessible. Organizers say items of special interest could be considered for public display.

On Monday in Netanya, Mendel Roizman, an 82-year-old immigrant from the former Soviet Union, handed over two items left by his father, who was sent to a labor camp in Nazi-occupied Ukraine in 1943 and survived the war. They were a Yom Kippur prayer book and phylacteries, the small leather boxes containing parchment strips of Hebrew scripture worn by Jewish men during morning worship. “I kept these for years and brought them to Israel, and I want them preserved for the next generations…” Roizman said in Russian, his words translated by the Yad Vashem interviewer, who examined the items with gloved hands.

Yisrael Zvi Halevy, a 61-year-old school principal, produced a letter sent by his father in 1945 to a sister in Jerusalem informing her that he had survived the Dachau concentration camp in Germany. Halevy said he could not part with the letter, written from a hospital days after the camp’s liberation, but he was happy to have it scanned for the Yad Vashem archives.…

Sara Peled, 65, a retired teacher, grew tearful after handing over a sheaf of family papers, including her father’s report cards from a Jewish school in Poland—Hebrew documents that testified to the vibrant Jewish life in the country before the war. Peled’s father immigrated to British-ruled Palestine before the Nazi invasion of Poland, but the rest of her relatives who stayed behind perished in death camps, and she brought albums filled with their pictures. “I feel like I’m giving up part of me,” she said, “but I discussed it with my children, and it’s better that it be preserved for generations to come.”

Natan Rom, 82, who escaped the Nazi occupation of Poland and, after a tortuous journey through the Soviet Union and Iran, reached Palestine with other orphaned children in 1943, handed over an autograph book signed by fellow child refugees. “I’m leaving the most precious thing I have,” he said, “but it shows that this once happened.”

Gertner, the Yad Vashem archivist, said that donors described a sense of closure and even relief at having unburdened themselves of items that evoked painful memories, but he said they also voiced confidence that the objects were in safe hands. With its vast Holocaust database, library and research tools, Yad Vashem could enhance the understanding of these materials, he said. “These items connect us with the stories of individuals,” he said. “Through our documentation, we can link them to the bigger story and give them meaning.”