Honoring Liberators


Veterans and former prisoners of war. Photo: Richard Chaitt.

A vanishing breed who refuse to allow their memories to die.

It is not often that one gets to see and honor a true hero in person let alone dozens of them.   But that is exactly what an audience of 325, including 75 students from the Hebrew High schools of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El, Adath Israel and Har Zion, experienced firsthand on Sunday at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood in a moving program to honor Concentration Camp Liberators, POWs, and veterans from the U.S. Military, IDF and Russian Army.  The program was the brainchild of Ed “The Sage” Snyder of TBH-BE, and co-sponsored with the Israel Advocacy Committee and Men’s Club.   It was an incredible and moving program, that recognized the service and heroism of thirty men and women who have served defending liberty and freedom. But unfortunately, the liberators who are in the mid 80s-90s  are an all too-fast vanishing breed who will no longer be around to testify in person as to the atrocities they witnessed.

More after the jump.


Veterans: (left to right) Paul Seres (Ebensee; liberator of Mauthausen); Sidney Parmet (POW at Stalag 7B, from 45th Division); Arthur Seltzer; Frank Hartzell (11th Armored Div.; liberator of Mauthausen); Alexandra Bucharova (Russian Army, 16th Army, liberator of Majdanek). Photo: Richard Chaitt.

The program began with welcoming remarks and greetings from Lou Balcher of the Israel Consul General’s Office.   Ed Snyder then introduced the program, and deliberately and overtly focusing his attention on the student section of the audience, our future leaders, so they could see and connect for themselves with the Holocaust and its horrors — and the brave men and women who served to defeat them. Ed  then called the names of the veterans in attendance, starting with the liberators from the U.S,. Military: Arthur Seltzer, George Gunning, Arthur Goldstein, Frank Hartzell, Paul Seres, Morton Horrow, Marvin Davidow; Alexandra Bochova, a woman liberator from the Russian army; and POWs Stanley Malamut and Sydney Parmet. A member of the Catholic War Veterans was also in attendance to show solidarity. All other veterans in attendance from the various services were also recognized and all stood at their seats.  Some came in with walkers, but all stood up. The audience was clearly moved by their presence.

Ed then introduced the guest speaker, Arthur Seltzer of Cherry Hill, whose Jewish War Veterans post, he boasted, was the largest in the country.  Ed read a partial list of service medals Mr. Seltzer was awarded, which included the Bronze Star, and the list was astounding.  Mr. Seltzer then took to the podium, wearing his JWV cap and medals, and recounted how as an 18-year-old after graduating Olney High School, he was drafted as a communications specialist, and in 1943 transported to England via the ship Queen Elizabeth. He described in vivid detail training for D-Day landing, and showed a dollar bill that had the signatures of 36 members of his squadron before the landing. He was weighed down with 70 pounds of communications equipment on his back and was essentially dumped over the side of the transport boat at Omaha Beach, fighting his way up, thousands of men and bodies strewn everywhere, very much like it was depicted in the movie Saving Private Ryan. He was in the 3rd-4th wave; in the 1st-2nd wave there were 60-80% wounded/killed.  According to Mr. Seltzer, General Eisenhower had virtually no “Plan B” in case the invasion was thwarted.  He then described how they were successful in beating back the Germans who were shooting down at them from the bluffs.

Photograph taken May 6, 1945, the day after the official liberation of the Mauthausen main camp. Prisoners surround an M8 Greyhound armored car. Previous day’s liberation reenacted for photographers at the request of Gene. Eisenhower. The Nazi eagle over the gate had already been removed by the prisoners and the  banner put up by the Spanish political prisoners reads “The Spanish Anti-Fascists Salute the Liberating Forces.”

He operated communications equipment from a trailer with officers, and they fought their way through France, Ardennes Forrest and the Battle of the Bulge.  He was with the 7th Armored Division and they liberated the 101st.  They got marching orders that if they came to POW camp to get the US soldiers out, virtually at all costs.

On April 28, 1945, he arrived in Munich, and headed towards Dachau, a town eight miles outside the city.  The war was coming to an end. His division, 20th Armored, was to go to the Elbe River to meet up with the Russian Army.  The transport driver told them they were coming up to a POW camp, but then he was told to look more closely, and through binoculars he saw the inmates were not wearing army uniforms as POWs customarily did, but rather black and white pajama-like outfits. Up until that time, he said that the word “Concentration Camp” never came up, they did not hear of one, not know what one was.  They cut the chain link fence to the camp, and they saw “a sight you could not believe someone could do this to another person.”  There was a sign that said “work makes you free” in “German. He was only 20 years old and clearly not prepared for it. The smell, the stench: “can’t describe how bad the odor was.” Then he saw smoke coming out of a smoke- stack that was hidden by trees, and thought it was a factory. Instead, he learned later that it was the crematorium that was still burning and hot.  Mr. Seltzer then turned to the students and said that he hoped that when they graduated college that they vote to make sure that people in Washington make sure this never happens again, as it is now also happening in Africa.  

Nazi eagle being pulled down by Mauthausen survivors, May 6, 1945

He he never spoke about all this when he returned from the war, and never intended to. However, when his granddaughter was in 5th grade and had a homework assignment about the Holocaust, which is mandatory education in New Jersey- which he stated he hoped would be in the entire country- and volunteered him to speak to her class, he could not disappoint her, and has been now speaking ever since.  He lamented that all too many people say this never happened.

He continued with the story, about how they stopped the inmates from attacking the six Germans who were left to guard the camp.  They did kill the vicious, trained tokill German police dog, however.  Those six guards were taken captive and heavily interrogated.

His job in the signal corps was to take photos of the camp, which he did personally, and on orders from General Eisenhower who said to take as many photos to document it as he could because people will never believe it happened.  What he saw and witnessed firsthand was mind-numbing: ashes from the crematorium that were still warm, mass graves and pits with bodies and bulldozers, starving inmates, many like walking skeletons, in thin pajamas or naked.  Soldiers instinctively gave their K-rations to the prisoners, who could not handle it and got violently ill. They liberated 3700 prisoners.

He then showed some of the photos he took, warning in advance that they were graphic, and if the audience  wanted to turn away they could. No one did. The photos showed many of the scenes common to those seen in Yad Vashem, the U.S. Holocaust Museum and other museums and exhibits-only these were taken by him personally.  

One thing a liberator does, he said, was to try to find someone he liberated.  He then related how his niece found a survivor in Ohio who he had liberated, and it turned out to be a boy who was 14 at the time and was pictured in one of his photographs.  They had a very long, engaging talk.   He ended his presentation by saying that he hopes his story will never be forgotten.  

The Collaborative Hebrew High School of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El and Adath Israel then presented Mr. Seltzer with a special certificate for his service.

He took some questions from the audience.  He said that being a Jew in the units he served in was not an impediment, no one felt they could not take orders from him- he was in charge of 24 soldiers, and he told them if anyone felt so, they could take it up with his commanders; no one did.  He said he also felt that many of the non-Jewish soldiers took what they saw at Dachau very hard, could not believe that follow Christians could do such things.  Many in the audience stayed for a long time afterward speaking with the liberators and veterans.      

Step Up For Israel: September 25 at Temple Beth Hillel Beth El

— by Lee Bender

This Sunday, September 25 at 10:00 am, the Israel Action Committee at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El is co-sponsoring with Sabra Hadassah the showing of the first of 4-part mini-series course from Jerusalem Online University (the
folks who produced the film Crossing the Line: The Intifada Comes to Campus) called Step Up for Israel. The first film, which we will be showing on Sept 25 is entitled, Creation of a State.  This is very timely, given what is happening in the United Nations this week.

This course will be very informative, professional and educational.  Please come and bring your friends. Cost is only $5.00 and includes bagels and coffee. The next program, entitled, “Israel and the West” will be presented on Sunday October 30.  

Where You Stand and What You Hear

Thoughts Regarding Israel AdvocacyI have just returned from the Policy Conference of AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee). This year’s convention was particularly exciting and provocative. Beyond the speakers of notoriety and prominence, however, I left the conference with a clearer and deeper sense of what it means to support and advocate for Israel. Indeed, that is the explicit mission of AIPAC.  Simply put, AIPAC is about knowing where you stand.

[Read more…]

The Jewish People’s 3000-Year Presence in Palestine


Lee Bender and Jerome R. Verlin

— by Steve Feldman

Two of the most malignant lies promulgated about Israel and the Jewish people are the invectives “occupier” and “colonialist.” Separately and in tandem, our enemies use them as weapons to delegitimize us.

But one local man, fed up with the anti-Jewish mythology, has written the verbal equivalent of a sledgehammer to smash these attacks. Author Jerome R. Verlin’s Israel 3000: The Jewish People’s 3000 Year Presence in Palestine is now in its second edition, and Verlin discussed the book‘s key points at a recent Temple Beth Hillel/Beth El Israel Advocacy Group breakfast.

More after the jump.
Both Israel’s enemies and those ignorant of the facts claim that Jews have been in the land for a mere 63 years — since David Ben-Gurion read Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Others use 1897 — the year of First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland — as the purported beginning point of the Jewish presence in Eretz Yisrael to depict the Jews as an ersatz indigenous people.

Then there are those who acknowledge that Jews began living in the land more than 3,000 years ago but were exiled and claim Jews were devoid from the area following the Roman conquest.

But Verlin, using historical, archaeological, and other data, plus the conclusions of noted past experts and observations of travelers to the Holy Land, to document that yes, Jews began living in the territory thousands of years ago, and despite the slaughters, name permutations and repeated conquests, Jews have consistently and continuously lived in Israel.

“The truth of the matter is, we didn’t go away,” Verlin noted, after it went from being called Israel and Judea to “Palestine.”

Yet figures from President Jimmy Carter and Mahmoud Abbas to The New York Times ignore all of the evidence, according to Verlin, to erase or weaken the legitimate Jewish claim to the land.

Verlin went through the history of the settlement of the land from the biblical period to today, explaining the many times control of the region changed hands from the Jews, Babylonians, Persians, Jews, Romans, Greeks and Byzantines, various Middle Eastern groups, crusaders, more Arabs and Turks, the British and finally the Jewish People. All along the way he documented that through it all, Jews were the lone constant.

Meanwhile, there is no evidence to support the claims that the land belonged to the Palestinian-Arabs or that the Muslims pre-dated the Jewish presence there. Also, the people who today call themselves “Palestinians” are not related at all to those Middle Eastern peoples who had temporary sway over the region in different periods, Verlin said. Therefore, previous or theoretical land concessions Israel or the Jewish people have made or will be asked to make should never be referred to as “giving back” territory, he stressed.

“Jews” and or “Judea” or “Israel” turn up in artifacts, the Bible, accounts of wars, chronicles of pilgrims and official records and censuses. Verlin offered numerous examples that none but the irrational could dispute in their totality.

Further, since the mid-19th Century, Verlin noted, Jews once again were the majority in our holiest city: Jerusalem.

“We have to make the case to the world,” Verlin stressed, because our adversaries would like public opinion to shift away from the Jews and Israel in favor of the false Arab and Muslim narratives. If most people viewed the Jews as interlopers or a people who have displaced the native “Palestinians,” it would endanger Israel’s very existence and give credence to Arab and Muslim claims that Jews stole “their” land or that Israel was “created” only as a refuge for Holocaust survivors.

“Each of us has to do what each of us can,” said Verlin, to dispel the lies and myths to solidify the Jewish right to the land. “Either we disappear or we stand up for ourselves,” he added, stressing: “We have to be [on the] offensive, not just defensive.”

It might be awkward for Israel’s advocates to walk around with sledgehammers, but Verlin’s paperback will go a long way in countering the libels and slanders that we are the new kids on the Middle Eastern block.

Trivedi and Gerlach Speak On Wide Range of Issues

Publisher Dan Loeb speaks with Congressman Jim GerlachDr. Daniel Loeb

Every election year since 2006, Temple Beth Hillel Beth El’s Israel Advocacy Committee, Men’s Club and Sisterhood invite the Congressional Candidates for Pennsylvania’s 6th district  to speak to the community, and this year was no exception. Incumbant Republican Congressman Jim Gerlach was followed by his Democratic challenger Dr. Manan Trivedi as they both addressed the crowd and took questions on a wide range of issues.

As was the case in the first debate between Gerlach and Trivedi, there was a small incident before the beginning of the event as the Gerlach campaign asked that the event not be filmed, and all recording equipment was removed. The second debate was televised and can be seen on the PCN website. This forum was not a debate format as the candidates appeared sequentially.

Israel


Both candidates spoke passionately of their support for the Jewish State. As a decorated veteran Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy, Trivedi said

“I was ready to die for Israel because that is what allies do for each other.”

Both candidates were pessimistic about the current peace negotiations. Gerlach said he “saw no signs of a breakthrough there”. Trivedi blamed the Palestinian leadership “We need someone who can come to the negotiating table without preconditions.” Gerlach cited “Gaza’s extreme poverty and lack of educational opportunities which fosters hatred of Israel.” He added that the neighboring Arab countries could do something about the situation in Gaza but they are not interested.

More after the jump.
Trivedi cautioned that we should let Israel take the lead in the peace process. The United States he said “can facilitate, but should not take over” or “draw borderlines”, adding that he was “still waiting for a Palestinian Authority which can deliver on its promises.”  

Trivedi spoke of his Indian heritage which gives him reason to be vigilant yet optimistic. His family and friends who were affected by the terrorist attack last year in Mumbai remind him of the danger posed by terrorist groups like al Qaeda and Hamas who Trivedi insisted we “cannot negotiate with”. Yet he also recalled lessons from his parents’ hometown in India.  Ahmedabad was a city plagued by rioting between its Hindi and Muslim communities following the independence and partition of India in 1947, but the Indian government seeded economic development, and once everyone was more secure financially, suddenly they were less concerned with religious differences with their neighbors.

Gerlach responded to a hypothetical situation proposed by Steve Feldman (Director of the ZOA in Philadelphia) in which the administration were to impose a particular peace proposal by a fixed deadline. “Israel needs to make its own determination of what is a good agreement that it can sign on to. If Obama moves beyond that we can use the appropriations process – the power of the purse.”

Gerlach concluded

“There is strong bipartisan support for the State of Israel, and I imagine this will continue.”

Iran

Both candidates praised the recently passed Iran sanctions. Gerlach was disappointed that Obama has not yet employed the full range of sanctions available. Trivedi concurred. He saw the Iranian sanctions were having a real effect, but he said we need to implement all of the available the sanctions as quickly as possible since “centrifuges do not wait for negotiations.” A questioner asked how he would respond to military action by Israel and Iran. Trivedi said all options have to be on the table including the military option, adding that

“The only thing worse than the military option is a nuclear Iran.”

Afghanistan

The former Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev recently warned that winning a war in Afghanistan is impossible. Gerlach was asked how he would vote on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. Gerlach said “I would have to vote ‘no’ because I want to hear from General [David] Petraeus” who is reviewing the United States’ strategy in the region. Gerlach doubted whether Hamid Karzai’s government could stand long without our support.

Trivedi disagreed with Obama’s “surge” of 30,000 additional troops in Afghanistan. “I do not think they will cure the ills of Afghanistan.” Trivedi added that he does not trust the Karzai government, and he lamented Obama’s failure to address the opium problem in his “surge speech” since the opium drug trade is endemic to many of the problems in Afghanistan and has corrupted the Karzai administration. Trivedi observed from his experience in Iraq:

“The Military has smart power: nurses, engineers, …

“We can facilitate nation building but we can not impose democracy. It has to well up from within.”

Party Loyalty and Extremism

Both candidates tried to distance themselves from the leadership of their parties.

Manan Trivedi said he did not support Obama’s support of Human Rights initiatives in Israel, applying the Nuclear Non-proliferation ban to Israel or Biden’s insistence of a housing freeze in Jerusalem. Trivedi criticized the implementation of the stimulus bill, disagreed with the surge in Afghanistan and felt that the health reform bill did not address costs.

Trivedi concluded

I will take a good idea whether it comes from a tea party supporter or a left-winger or anything in between. We need a new breed of leaders who have no political chips to cash in.


Matt Hirsch asked Gerlach if there were any issues on which he disagreed with Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner. He cited several votes where he opposed the Bush administration: Overriding Bush’s veto of S-CHIP and supporting stem cell research. In fact, during Gerlach’s first three terms he built a moderate record by voting strategically: voting with his party when his vote was needed and voting with his moderate district when it was not. In this Congress, the Republicans have insisted of party discipline in order to avoid giving a hint of bipartisanship to legislation passed by the Democrats. Accordingly, the Philadelphia Jewish Voice followed up and asked for a more recent example where Gerlach opposed his leadership in the last two years. Gerlach said he supported his leadership on all of the major pieces of legislation: namely in opposing the stimulus package, health-insurance reform and cap-and-trade energy policy. Indeed Gerlach has been much more consistent lately in voting with his leadership though he did vote last July to extend unemployment benefits opposed by the Republican leadership.

Gerlach was also asked to comment on the impact of the tea party movement. Gerlach cited several local tea party groups who he said were “very engaged”. He praised them for “stepping up as citizens” and said “this is a good thing”.

Neither candidate eluded to alleged excesses in the tea party such as racism, rejection of principals such as civil rights or the Separation of Church and State, violence against Lauren Valle in Tennessee and the “citizens arrest” of a reporter in Alaska.

Tax Cuts

The 2001 and 2003 Bush taxes cuts expire at the end of this year. Unless Congress takes action during the lame-duck session or takes retroactive action next year, tax rates will revert to the levels they were at during the Reagan and Clinton administrations. For the richest Americans this would raise their marginal tax rate from 35.0% to 39.6%.

Jim Gerlach said that he along with the entire Republican caucus and “about 50 moderate Democrats” in the House of Representatives favor making the Bush tax cuts permanent. He doubted whether Pelosi would have the political strength to address this issue during the lame-duck session following the upcoming mid-term election. Gerlach also wanted to address the Alternative Minimum Tax which was never indexed and is catching more and more middle-class Americans.

Gerlach’s campaign was distributing “fact sheets” at the synagogue claiming that “Manan Trivedi opposes extending tax relief which will result in the largest tax increase in American history, roughly $2,000 per Pennsylvania family,” but in reality Trivedi  “supports extending tax cuts for all but the über-wealthy.” Trevedi said we needed to return to the old rates only for the portion of taxable income exceeding $250,000 per year. Keeping those tax breaks would cost Americans 700 billion dollars which Trivedi said “we cannot afford.” Economists have observed that tax breaks focused on the richest 2% of Americans “will not stimulate the economy” since “we have a demand side problem not a supply side problem.”

Spending

The Federal Budget for the new fiscal year has not yet been passed so the government is acting under a Continuing Resolution until December 3. Gerlach doubted the new budget would be passed in the lame-duck session but was confident that another Continuing Resolution would be passed to avoid a government shutdown before the new Congress could act on the budget in January.


Gerlach said “the current deficit spending is 20% of gross domestic production whereas historical it has been around 18 to 19%.” In reality, the deficit was 9.91% at the end of last year and it will grow to 10.64% based on the proposed budget which is less than the figure Jim Gerlach cited but still well above deficits seen since the end of World War II.

To solve this problem, Gerlach intends to draw on his experience as a State legislator where the budget had to be balanced. “Only the Federal government does not have a balanced budget requirement”. Calling the current situation “unsustainable”, Gerlach called for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the United States Constitution with exception in times of war or other national emergency similar to that proposed in during the Lyndon B. Johnson Administration. Similar amendments failed to pass the House by the required two-thirds majority in 1982, 1997 and 2005. Once the amendment passes Congress, it would then have to be ratified by 38 states before going into effect.

Gerlach was asked specifically what he would cut in order to balance the budget since entitlements, the military and interest make up 84% of the budget. Gerlach said that all areas of spending have to be under consideration including Medicare and Social Security. Gerlach also pledged to look at defense spending as well.

Manan Trivedi countered that “we need to cut spending, but we need to do it with a surgical knife, not a sledgehammer.”

From Trivedi’s experience in the military, he agrees with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that we need to be more efficient and eliminate unneeded weapon systems. In Iraq, Trivedi saw contractors paid five times more to do half of the work of an enlisted serviceman.

Trivedi called Washington DC an “evidence-free zone” suggesting that by observation we can fund best-practices and drive costs down for a wide range of government programs.

Trivedi sees getting the economy back on track as critical to reestablishing fiscal discipline. Trivedi’s jobs plan will eliminate the 260 billion dollar loophole for companies that ship job oversees.  His jobs plan features tax incentives for small businesses which he called “the motor of our economy.”

Trivedi emphasized stimulating sectors of the economy which have a ripple effect and will provide long-term benefits for the economy. One example was the clean energy economy. Trivedi said we should work on smart grid, wind turbine and solar power technologies. “We are not doing the things the Chinese are doing, and they are going to be the leaders” in green technology and not us if we do not step up to the plate. Similarly, Trivedi wants to invest in infrastructure such as tunnels, roads and light rail here in the Sixth Congressional District and around the country in order to provide jobs right now and continue to create jobs in the future.

Health Care

Gerlach was asked if he would defund the Health-Insurance Reform which he voted against. He said he favored repealing the bill and replacing it with a new one without the “onerous new taxes.” (Gerlach did not explain how he would overcome the anticipated Presidential veto in order to repeal the bill.) Gerlach emphasized buying insurance across state-lines and working on tort reform as a way to drive down costs. He would also work to slow down and delay implementation of certain provision of the Health-Insurance Reform Bill. He did not expect an immediate solution, and expects this to remain an issue for next several administrations.

Trivedi looked at ease on the subject of Health Care and spoke with expertise not only as a battalion surgeon and as a primary care physician, but also as an expert on Health Policy. He received a Masters degree from UCLA in Health Policy and went on to serve as health policy advisor to the Navy Surgeon General and was an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences.

Gerlach’s handout claimed Trivedi supported a “socialized single-payer medicine scheme.” However, Trivedi denied the allegation.

Trivedi said the Health-Insurance Reform bill was not perfect: it did not address costs and it was too long, but he would have voted for it because it was a step in the right direction. He compared it to other pieces of landmark legislation (such as civil rights legislation which still left many people unable to vote). These bills aspire to historic change but need to be improved over time.

Trivedi rejected repealing the bill as a step in the wrong direction.

“It would cost millions of dollars when we need to balance the budget. This would reintroduce insurance companies into the doctor-patient relationship. This would eliminate guaranteed coverage for those with preexisting conditions.”

Trivedi gave one of his own patients as an example who was unable to obtain coverage even though she was cancer-free because her medical files mentioned the word “cancer”.

To contain costs, Trivedi said we need evidence-based health policy to help drive down costs since “30% of medical treatment makes no difference in outcomes.”

Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El’s Rabbi Neil Cooper asked Manan Trivedi about coverage for mental health. Trivedi answered that “mental health is part and parcel of health care.” He lamented that mental health care has been unfairly stigmatized for generations and as a result post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had not been treated as pro-actively as it should. During his work with the Navy’s Surgeon General, Trivedi drew on his own experience with combat medicine to become one of the early researchers to investigate the unique mental health issues affecting our troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Israel Action Committee chairman Lee Bender concluded the event by urging everyone to get out and vote next Tuesday.