Courage of the Spirit tells of one man’s struggle under the Nazis. Many books have been written of the spiritual heroism of the Jewish people as they rebuilt their lives after the devastation wrought by Hitler’s attempt to wipe out every last Jew. “Courage of the Spirit” is such a book. It portrays the spiritual struggle of one man during the first half of the twentieth century—the author’s father, Rabbi Dr. William Weinberg, who survived under Nazi and Communist tyranny to become the first State Rabbi of the community of Holocaust survivors in the German State of Hesse. This book stands out because the author was told those stories of heroism firsthand by family members. [Read more…]
We at The Philadelphia Jewish Voice are profoundly saddened by the recent death of Elie Wiesel. Although Wiesel experienced the worst of mankind during the Holocaust, he transformed his experience into something extraordinary: He became, as President Obama said, “one of the great moral voices of our time, and in many ways, the conscience of the world.” [Read more…]
Editor’s Note: The NFTY-EIE High School in Israel is an accredited semester or summer-long program for Reform Jewish high school students in grades 10-12. EIE offers an opportunity to be immersed in the richness of the land, culture, people and history of Israel, while earning high school and college credit. Part of the Union for Reform Judaism family of camps and programs in North America and Israel, NFTY-EIE is based at Kibbutz Tzuba, approximately 15 minutes outside of Jerusalem. With very small class sizes, students take advanced Jewish History and Hebrew classes and their regular general studies courses to fulfill their home high schools’ requirements. There are numerous week-long trips, including a trip to Poland to study the Holocaust and a week in Gadna (a simulated Israeli army training experience).
— by Amber Soffer, EIE participant 2016
I came to EIE with my own thoughts, ideas, and values, and I had never thought to question them. However, the main thing I learned on EIE is to question everything. Nothing is as simple as we think. This goes for something as intense as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to something as simple as ripping toilet paper on Shabbat. One of the main focuses of our Jewish history class is talking about the meaning of Am Yisrael (people of Israel). This is quite a loaded topic, because there are so many different ways to be Jewish. For example, some people consider one to only be Jewish if one’s mother is Jewish. As a Reform Jew, I do not believe that. I’m still trying to figure out what makes one a Jew: something I had never thought to question before EIE.
Along with many of the cool aspects of the program, one of the best is learning something in the exact place where it happened.For example, if we were learning about the Bar Kochba revolts, we explored the tunnels in which they hid. Being immersed in Israeli culture and society allowed me to absorb so much of it. I picked up Hebrew phrases, and am now able to follow conversations in Hebrew: something I had never thought possible.
I learned that in Israeli society, it is customary to only know how to be aggressive. On the first day of Jewish history class our teacher told us, “There is no passive-aggressive in Israel, only aggressive.” But, even after the Israelis are done yelling at each other, they just go back to normal conversation.
On a personal growth level, I learned how to live away from home, advocate for myself, and be a part of a most amazing community. All of these skills and experiences will stay with me for the rest of my life.
It is almost impossible to pick just one experience that was my favorite. There are so many different categories to “favorite”. There is favorite in the sense I learned the most, had the most fun, and the most important experience to me. My favorite thing that I learned was Hebrew. I had the most fun trying to use my Hebrew to bargain with shop owners, order pizza, and ask for directions. It was the most exciting feel that I not only could say what I want, but understand their reply, too. On EIE, the fun basically never stops because you are always surrounded by your best friends. But, if I had to pick only one favorite experience, it would be Yam L’Yam. This was our Sea to Sea hike (from the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean Sea). This was filled with new experiences for me and finishing the five day hike was so satisfying. My favorite aspects of Yam L’Yam were sleeping under the stars, adventuring through the different terrains of Israel, and taking in the amazing views and scenery that were around every corner. My most important experience was our trip to Poland. Although it was very sad, it compares to the Muslim obligation to have to go to Mecca once in their life. I feel as though every Jewish person should go to Poland and see the horrible sights in remembrance of WW2. Each concentration camp, ghetto, and other place where the Jewish people were oppressed provided a sense of reality for the entirety of the Holocaust.
As much as people say that you will change over this experience, I feel like it is hard to see it in yourself, especially while you are still in Israel. Once home, I am sure that I will be aware of the little differences in myself more. However, one of the things I outright is the way I view my Judaism. In Israel, it is so easy to lead a Jewish life, because you are always surrounded by the little things. But, back in America these little things will cease to surround me at all times. I want to keep the little things around me, so being Jewish is not a conscious choice I sometimes make, but always envelops me. Also, I feel as though I am way more of an independent person, and I can tackle almost any challenge after being here. I know at home I will not struggle with the trivial issues, like too much homework anymore, because here I had double as long of a day with the same amount of homework; yet, I learned to successfully deal with it here. Since being here, I feel as though when I return home it will be my duty to correctly be able to answer people’s question about Israel. And when they see something in the news and ask me about it because they know I am Jewish, I will be able to explain to them what happened and why. I hope this ends up turning into Israel advocacy, and help people be more educated about Israel. The biggest change I will make is adapt myself to fit the Israeli style of living by making the most of each moment. Israelis definitely know how to live life to the fullest, and I hope to bring that change home with me as well.
For more information about NFTY-EIE, please to go its website, www.nftyeie.org
Izak Szewelewicz was born in the displaced persons camp at Bergen-Belsen, Germany shortly after World War II. This was a tumultuous time in Europe, with masses of people who had lost their family members and homes scrambling to start over.
Izak has no memories of his early years in the camp. He was sent to Israel for adoption in 1948, at the age of three, and raised by his adopting family. Izak’s biological mother, Aida, had meanwhile immigrated to Canada, and she later found and contacted Izak when he was an adolescent. They met several times and kept in touch, but she always refused to speak about the identity or fate of Izak’s father or anyone else from the family. [Read more…]
In the new book, Fever at Dawn, a fictionalized account of his parents’ courtship, the Hungarian film director Péter Gárdos writes that after surviving the worst of the Nazi death camps, Lili Reich wanted to convert out of Judaism (as if it would have mattered to the Nazis). Her suitor, Miklós Gárdos, was an atheist anyway, so he sought out a Catholic priest in a remote little church to do so. They had started out as pen pals, after Miklós sought out all the Hungarian women recuperating in Sweden, under age 30.
Rabbi Emil Kronheim heard about their intent, through the letters of Lili’s friend, and he arrived to stop them with a creative offer: he would marry them under a chuppah in a synagogue in Stockholm. He’ll foot the bill for the ceremony, the clothes, and a reception for their friends. He even promised the Red Cross would be obligated to provide them with a room of their own afterwards. They accepted.
I believe the facts are all true, but the conversations are re-created from their diaries. A delightful story and an unique take on the Holocaust memoirs.
At a Holocaust education program, students at Benjamin Franklin High School (BFHS) learned about the life of Leon Bass, Ph.D., an African American soldier of the Second World War who witnessed the horrors of Buchenwald concentration camp. This program was sponsored by Fegelson-Young-Feinberg Post #697 of the Jewish War Veterans.
Bass was born in Philadelphia on January 23, 1925, and his father was a Pullman porter. In World War II, Bass was an Army soldier in the all-black 183rd Engineer Combat Battalion. He arrived at Buchenwald in April 1945, only one day after the camp had been liberated.
Brian Camper, climate and culture manager for BFHS, shared Bass’s description of the camp with the students: “Those who survived the camp reeked of burnt human flesh and torture chambers, and [were] still covered with blood.”
After being discharged as a sergeant, Bass returned to Philadelphia and graduated from West Chester University. He became a teacher at BFHS, and eventually became the school’s principal. He also earned a doctorate in education from Temple University. In his later years, he wrote the book Good Enough: One Man’s Memoir of the Price of a Dream.
Bass also spoke publicly about what he saw of the camps as a liberator. “Up until his death,” said Camper, “Dr. Bass continued to speak out,” regularly attending Holocaust memorial events honoring survivors and liberators. In addition, Bass was featured in the TV documentary film Liberators: Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II.
Delia Bass Dandridge, Bass’ daughter, also spoke about her father. She explained that he was inspired to speak out about what he had seen at Buchenwald after hearing a Holocaust survivor tell her story to the students while he was principal at BFHS. “He knew then,” said Dandridge, “that he had his own story to tell, and he went around the country for thirty-plus years doing just that.”
“My father had a great strength,” she said, “and a great sense of humor and humility. He grew up in a very difficult time in our country, but he had parents who constantly told him he was ‘good enough.’ He passed this message on to his children, his grandchildren, his students, and to all those who needed to hear it.”
Pennsylvania State Senator Larry Farnese spoke next, saying, “As a friend, neighbor, husband, and brother, Dr. Bass was a lot like many of us here today. As a leader and a difference maker, he was like very few others.”
Farnese also explained that when Bass helped to liberate Buchenwald, “he did so as a member of the ‘other Army,’ the segregated Army.”
In his tribute to Bass, Don Cave, an aide to State Senator Anthony Williams, mentioned the recent presidential debates:
Think about the climate today in America. Think about the craziness: you hear about divisiveness; you hear about racial overtones…. We’re all in this thing together, and when one 19-year-old man with a rifle went overseas to Germany, to fight for a country that didn’t give him rights, understand that. What kind of a man… would pick up a gun and go fight for rights he didn’t have? Yet [when] he saw the humanity in these other people who were going through these crazy evil situations, he saw himself in them.
You cannot sit still and wait while you see another race or another group of people being dismantled and destroyed, because, guess what, when they’re done with that group, they’re coming for you. That’s what we mean: We are all in this together.
Cave challenged the students, “Do you have the heart to be like Dr. Bass, and go outside of yourself?”
Ronit Treatman, past president of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice, and granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, asked, “How likely do you think it is, for a little girl from Israel to get to meet the American soldier who liberated her grandfather?”
I’ll tell you, it’s not very likely, but it happened to me. My grandmother survived Auschwitz; my grandfather was one of the people that Dr. Bass liberated from Buchenwald, and I grew up with them. I grew up in that community of survivors.
One of the things Treatman came across living among Holocaust survivors was “how grateful they were to the soldiers who saved them,” she said:
I was growing up during the Cold War. My grandmother was liberated by Russian soldiers, and my grandfather was liberated by Americans, and they were grateful to both of them. I really appreciated the opportunity to tell [Bass] what he meant to us. We got a chance to talk, and it was so interesting; I didn’t know the American Army was segregated at that time.
Treatman respected Bass even more due to his service at the corps of engineers:
I also was a soldier; I served in the Israeli army, and I can tell you, that even in 1986, my friends who served as army engineers had a very dangerous job. They’re the guys who take apart land mines, and most of my friends who served [as engineers] were missing at least one finger. When Leon Bass told me that’s what he did, I looked at his hands, and all the fingers were there. He was very good.
One thing Bass and Treatman’s family shared “was the silence,” she said:
Growing up, we never talked about the war… Then, if you wanted to talk about it, you were walking on egg shells, because you knew if you asked the wrong thing, it would be very upsetting, and the next thing I knew was my grandmother [would] be swallowing Valium.
Bass became a pacifist after the war, Treatman said, “and I’m not sure I would be a pacifist, learning about what life was like here, and I come from a family of fighters. I don’t know what you may think the Holocaust survivors were like.” Members of Treatman’s family fought in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the Republic, and one of her grandfathers fought the British in pre-Independence Palestine.
Peter Nelson, director of the New York office of Facing History and Ourselves, a program dedicated to teaching about racism and discrimination, spoke of Bass’ experience in the Second World War:
He was told he wasn’t good enough to go into a restaurant with fellow soldiers, he wasn’t good enough to be in certain barracks, he wasn’t good enough to walk on the street, and the truth was, he wasn’t ‘good enough.’ He was great enough.
Mary Johnson, senior historian for Facing History and Ourselves, said that Bass “made the connection [between] what he had witnessed in Europe and what was happening in this country, with segregation, and the importance of the Civil Rights Movement. He always made that connection because so much of what transformed soldiers that were in Europe was finding out what happens if you allow that kind of discrimination and hatred to occur.”
Anthony Luker, representing Congressman Brendan F. Boyle, presented a congressional citation form to Delia Bass-Dandridge, honoring Bass for his service in the Army and for his Holocaust education work.
Danny Goldsmith, a survivor of the Holocaust, told the story, with pictures, of his family in Belgium during the Holocaust and World War II.
Event photos are courtesy of John O. Mason.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf hosted the annual “Civic Commemoration of the Holocaust” ceremony in the Governor’s Reception Room on Monday, April 20.
Michael Sand, chairman of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalitions’ committee which helped plan the event, had assembled several Holocaust survivors and children of survivors from Harrisburg and York to be present to light candles in memory of the six million who had perished. Lt. Governor Michael Stack was also one of the speakers.
There was standing-room only, with almost all of Governor Wolf’s Cabinet officials attending, including, among others, Leslie Richards, Secretary of Transportation, and Kathy Manderino, Secretary of Labor. Dozens of members of the House of Representatives and Senate were also in attendance, including Senators Andy Dinniman and Daylin Leach, and Representatives Tim Briggs, Frank Dermody, and Dan Frankel, who presented the House resolution in observance of the Holocaust Remembrance Day.
— by Art Shostak
If asked at World War II’s outset in 1939 what was its least likely outcome, Nazi overlords would have undoubtedly named their own military defeat.
Since Hitler’s democratic takeover in 1933 Germany had developed the strongest military force the modern world had ever known. Its standing army appeared indomitable. Its “death head” storm troopers (SS) seemed overwhelming. And its fervently admired leader appeared invincible.
Pressed in 1939 to name the least likely development the Nazi overlords would probably have named resistance from European Jews, as they were despised as cringing, defeated, and passive sub-humans (untermensch). Resistance would have required virtues Nazi ideology said sub-humans did not possess: bravery, compassion, empathy, and nobility. [Read more…]
— by Deanne Scherlis Comer
No time is better than the present to truly remember the history and events of the Holocaust, with the world-wide terrorist assault on civilized values, which threaten the very fabric of humanity.
No time is better than now to add substance to the rhetoric of the United Nations General Assembly resolution of 2005 on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, set to coincide with the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, to teach our future generations about the unprecedented issues inherent in this genocide, which are universal in scope and transcend all lines of race, religion or ethnic background.In earlier years, within public school districts throughout Pennsylvania, the teaching of the Holocaust was just an abbreviated anecdote in lessons about World World II. As scholarly research unearthed more information, and delved more deeply into its relevance, increasing interest was spawned.
However, the formulation of concrete curricula was sporadic, as funding was often limited due to other priorities.
Some, like the school district of Philadelphia and the Catholic Archdiocese, managed to collaboratively develop a premier guide of innovative and successful curriculum, entitled “Abraham, Our Brother in Faith.”
Others took leadership 25 years ago and formed the Pennsylvania Holocaust Education Council, comprised of a committed group of volunteer educators who served as a broker for the Pennsylvania State Department of Education. With a limited budget, the Council initiated teacher training and provided resources, until the funding was curtailed a few years ago due to state budgetary constraints.
Without financial assistance, many districts could not provide the resources needed to prioritize the development of Holocaust curricula, giving impetus to the urgency that teaching the history and events of the Holocaust needed to be addressed at the state level in a more comprehensive way.
Several Pennsylvania grassroots religious, educational and communal organizations and individuals, working with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and committed legislators, led the way to the historic Holocaust and Genocide Bill signed into law by Governor Corbett in June 2014.
Pennsylvania will now require all school districts to initiate the teaching of the Holocaust, genocide and human rights violations for the forthcoming 2015/2016 school year.
To further this goal, the exploration of curriculum options will be discussed at a state-wide conference in March, co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania State Assembly and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Abington Schools Set an Example
The Abington School District, since 1980 (around the time of the establishment of the National Days of Remembrance of the Holocaust and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum), acted with great foresight in understanding that the lessons of the Holocaust needed more than a few brief lines in its social studies books. I served as chairperson of the Abington School District Holocaust Curriculum Committee for many years as we worked to ensure that a mandated guide be developed.
Lessons for middle-grade students explored recurrent themes of prejudice and racism, and the history of anti-Semitism, as well as connections to contemporary issues. Teacher training and developmentally appropriate materials provided support.
Today, the Abington School District has continued its commitment of providing quality Holocaust education to its students, integrating the subject matter within new technology, adding appropriate new resources and updating its teachers’ data base of knowledge.
Recently, the district formed a partnership with the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center, founded by survivor, Jacob Riz, 53 years ago in his home, and now located at the Klein JCC in Northeast Philadelphia. Its educational outreach programs have reached 38,000 students throughout the Delaware Valley, and presently will present more than 300 programs, as well as sponsor communal educational events.
For Abington, the collaboration provides many resources such as educational materials, artifacts and speakers from the museum’s Speakers’ Bureau of Survivors, Liberators and Resistors for the district’s assembly programs. Additionally, it utilizes the museum’s teacher trainers to assure that the district maintains its high standards of teacher preparedness.
A Continuing Legacy of Action
Many still ask, “Why is the study of the Holocaust still relevant?”
The diminishing of the group of eyewitnesses, the lack of knowledge among younger generations, the rantings of deniers and the horrific terrorism events of the past weeks and years around the globe, including rampant acts of anti-Semitism, make such teaching an imperative.
As the grandmother to young adult grandchildren who now walk the stepping stones of the 21st Century with its daunting challenges, I ask myself, “Is there still reason to hope for a better future for them and all humanity?”
When that happens, I think of a young sixth-grade teacher from Abington. After teaching a lesson about hidden children during the Holocaust, she cried:
I will never forget learning about this when I was a sixth-grade student. And now, I am imparting this knowledge to my students. I am helping them to see how they can make a difference with this knowledge and their individual responses.
I cried too, overjoyed that Holocaust Remembrance is not just rhetoric, but a continuing legacy of action.
Deanne Scherlis Comer is an educational consultant at the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center, and the producer and writer of the documentary series, Voices of Holocaust History. She can be contacted at email@example.com
— by Ryan Greiss
Fifteen Auschwitz survivors, between the ages 80 and 94, returned this morning to the infamous camp, some for the first time, ahead of tomorrow’s 70th anniversary celebration of its liberation.
One American survivor who returned the death camp for the first time, Johnny Pekats (80) shared his experience:
When I arrived in Poland, the tall trees made me immediately anxious. They reminded me of my arrival to Auschwitz — the same day my mother and little sister were gassed. For years I refused to return to this horrible place, but I finally decided to come back with my son. I wanted to say Kaddish with him there.
This is my first and last visit to Auschwitz and my message for the word is that it’s not enough just to remember; we have to make sure that this never happens again.
More than 100 Auschwitz survivors from at least 19 countries have arrived in Poland today as part of the World Jewish Congress’ delegation to participate in the upcoming ceremony and events. Joining the survivors on their visit was the president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder, who, organized the delegation along with the USC Shoah Foundation.
Lauder said that the survivors showed great courage in participating in the delegation:
For some of them, this was the first time they returned to the place of their nightmares. Each survivor is a living testament to the triumph of good over evil, of life over death, and they are my heroes.