Obama Talks to Jews

It’s okay to disagree with President Obama’s statements or policies. I disagree with some of them too. But too often, we base our opinion on statements or policies falsely attributed to President Obama. That’s why it’s so important to read for ourselves what President Obama actually says, in context, rather than relying on what we are told the president said by people who have an ax to grind (or, for that matter, by people who support the president).

Yesterday, Jeff Goldberg published an interview with President Obama covering the war against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, the nuclear deal with Iran, his relationship with Israel and the Jewish people. If you’re concerned about those issues, read the interview.

Two parts leaped out at me. The first was Goldberg’s statement that “As I listened to Obama speak about Israel, I felt as if I had participated in discussions like this dozens of times, but mainly with rabbis.”

The second was President Obama’s statement that “There’s a direct line between supporting the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and to feel safe and free of discrimination and persecution, and the right of African Americans to vote and have equal protection under the law. These things are indivisible in my mind.”

When you look at the world that way, how can you not be pro-Israel? No wonder President Obama’s list of pro-Israel accomplishments is so long.

Video Clip of the Week.

This morning, in honor of National Jewish American Heritage Month, President Obama spoke at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C. If this isn’t pro-Israel, I don’t know what is. If this doesn’t make you feel good, I don’t know what will.

I strongly recommend that you watch it if you have time, but if you don’t, rather than rely on those who will take bits and pieces out of context, at least read the transcript below and decide for yourself what you think of today’s speech.

Remarks by the President on Jewish American Heritage Month
Adas Israel Congregation, Washington, D.C.

I want to thank Rabbi Steinlauf for the very kind introduction. And to all the members of the congregation, thank you so much for such an extraordinary and warm welcome.

I want to thank a couple of outstanding members of Congress who are here. Senator Michael Bennet — where did Michael Bennet go? There he is. And Representative Sandy Levin, who is here. I want to thank our special envoy to combat anti-Semitism, Ira Forman, for his important work. There he is. But as I said, most of all I want to thank the entire congregation of Adas Israel for having me here today.

Earlier this week, I was actually interviewed by one of your members, Jeff Goldberg. And Jeff reminded me that he once called me “the first Jewish President.” Now, since some people still seem to be wondering about my faith — — I should make clear this was an honorary title. But I was flattered.

And as an honorary member of the tribe, not to mention somebody who’s hosted seven White House Seders and been advised by — and been advised by two Jewish chiefs of staff, I can also proudly say that I’m getting a little bit of the hang of the lingo. But I will not use any of the Yiddish-isms that Rahm Emanuel taught me because — I want to be invited back. Let’s just say he had some creative new synonyms for “Shalom.”

Now, I wanted to come here to celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month because this congregation, like so many around the country, helps us to tell the American story. And back in 1876, when President Grant helped dedicate Adas Israel, he became the first sitting President in history to attend a synagogue service. And at the time, it was an extraordinarily symbolic gesture — not just for America, but for the world.

And think about the landscape of Jewish history. Tomorrow night, the holiday of Shavuot marks the moment that Moses received the Torah at Mount Sinai, the first link in a chain of tradition that stretches back thousands of years, and a foundation stone for our civilization. Yet for most of those years, Jews were persecuted — not embraced — by those in power. Many of your ancestors came here fleeing that persecution.
The United States could have been merely another destination in that ongoing diaspora. But those who came here found that America was more than just a country. America was an idea. America stood for something. As George Washington wrote to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island: The United States “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

It’s important for us to acknowledge that too often in our history we fell short of those lofty ideals — in the legal subjugation of African Americans, through slavery and Jim Crow; the treatment of Native Americans. And far too often, American Jews faced the scourge of anti-Semitism here at home. But our founding documents gave us a North Star, our Bill of Rights; our system of government gave us a capacity for change. And where other nations actively and legally might persecute or discriminate against those of different faiths, this nation was called upon to see all of us as equal before the eyes of the law. When other countries treated their own citizens as “wretched refuse,” we lifted up our lamp beside the golden door and welcomed them in. Our country is immeasurably stronger because we did.

From Einstein to Brandeis, from Jonas Salk to Betty Friedan, American Jews have made contributions to this country that have shaped it in every aspect. And as a community, American Jews have helped make our union more perfect. The story of Exodus inspired oppressed people around the world in their own struggles for civil rights. From the founding members of the NAACP to a freedom summer in Mississippi, from women’s rights to gay rights to workers’ rights, Jews took the heart of Biblical edict that we must not oppress a stranger, having been strangers once ourselves.

Earlier this year, when we marked the 50th anniversary of the march in Selma, we remembered the iconic images of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching with Dr. King, praying with his feet. To some, it must have seemed strange that a rabbi from Warsaw would take such great risks to stand with a Baptist preacher from Atlanta. But Heschel explained that their cause was one and the same. In his essay, “No Religion is an Island,” he wrote, “We must choose between interfaith and inter-nihilism.” Between a shared hope that says together we can shape a brighter future, or a shared cynicism that says our world is simply beyond repair.

So the heritage we celebrate this month is a testament to the power of hope. Me standing here before you, all of you in this incredible congregation is a testament to the power of hope. It’s a rebuke to cynicism. It’s a rebuke to nihilism. And it inspires us to have faith that our future, like our past, will be shaped by the values that we share. At home, those values compel us to work to keep alive the American Dream of opportunity for all. It means that we care about issues that affect all children, not just our own; that we’re prepared to invest in early childhood education; that we are concerned about making college affordable; that we want to create communities where if you’re willing to work hard, you can get ahead the way so many who fled and arrived on these shores were able to get ahead. Around the world, those values compel us to redouble our efforts to protect our planet and to protect the human rights of all who share this planet.

It’s particularly important to remember now, given the tumult that is taking place in so many corners of the globe, in one of the world’s most dangerous neighborhoods, those shared values compel us to reaffirm that our enduring friendship with the people of Israel and our unbreakable bonds with the state of Israel — that those bonds, that friendship cannot be broken. Those values compel us to say that our commitment to Israel’s security — and my commitment to Israel’s security — is and always will be unshakable.

And I’ve said this before: It would be a moral failing on the part of the U.S. government and the American people, it would be a moral failing on my part if we did not stand up firmly, steadfastly not just on behalf of Israel’s right to exist, but its right to thrive and prosper. Because it would ignore the history that brought the state of Israel about. It would ignore the struggle that’s taken place through millennia to try to affirm the kinds of values that say everybody has a place, everybody has rights, everybody is a child of God.

As many of you know, I’ve visited the houses hit by rocket fire in Sderot. I’ve been to Yad Vashem and made that solemn vow: “Never forget. Never again.” When someone threatens Israel’s citizens or its very right to exist, Israelis necessarily that seriously. And so do I. Today, the military and intelligence cooperation between our two countries is stronger than ever. Our support of the Iron Dome’s rocket system has saved Israeli lives. And I can say that no U.S. President, no administration has done more to ensure that Israel can protect itself than this one.

As part of that commitment, there’s something else that the United States and Israel agrees on: Iran must not, under any circumstances, be allowed to get a nuclear weapon. Now, there’s a debate about how to achieve that — and that’s a healthy debate. I’m not going to use my remaining time to go too deep into policy — although for those of you who are interested — we have a lot of material out there. But I do want everybody to just remember a few key things.

The deal that we already reached with Iran has already halted or rolled back parts of Iran’s nuclear program. Now we’re seeking a comprehensive solution. I will not accept a bad deal. As I pointed out in my most recent article with Jeff Goldberg, this deal will have my name on it, so nobody has a bigger personal stake in making sure that it delivers on its promise. I want a good deal.

I’m interested in a deal that blocks every single one of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon — every single path. A deal that imposes unprecedented inspections on all elements of Iran’s nuclear program, so that they can’t cheat; and if they try to cheat, we will immediately know about it and sanctions snap back on. A deal that endures beyond a decade; that addresses this challenge for the long term. In other words, a deal that makes the world and the region — including Israel — more secure. That’s how I define a good deal.

I can’t stand here today and guarantee an agreement will be reached. We’re hopeful. We’re working hard. But nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. And I’ve made clear that when it comes to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, all options are and will remain on the table.

Moreover, even if we do get a good deal, there remains the broader issue of Iran’s support for terrorism and regional destabilization, and ugly threats against Israel. And that’s why our strategic partnership with Israel will remain, no matter what happens in the days and years ahead. And that’s why the people of Israel must always know America has its back, and America will always have its back.

Now, that does not mean that there will not be, or should not be, periodic disagreements between our two governments. There will be disagreements on tactics when it comes to how to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and that is entirely appropriate and should be fully aired. Because the stakes are sufficiently high that anything that’s proposed has to be subjected to scrutiny — and I welcome that scrutiny.

But there are also going to be some disagreements rooted in shared history that go beyond tactics, that are rooted in how we might remain true to our shared values. I came to know Israel as a young man through these incredible images of kibbutzim, and Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir, and Israel overcoming incredible odds in the ’67 war. The notion of pioneers who set out not only to safeguard a nation, but to remake the world. Not only to make the desert bloom, but to allow their values to flourish; to ensure that the best of Judaism would thrive. And those values in many ways came to be my own values. They believed the story of their people gave them a unique perspective among the nations of the world, a unique moral authority and responsibility that comes from having once been a stranger yourself.

And to a young man like me, grappling with his own identity, recognizing the scars of race here in this nation, inspired by the civil rights struggle, the idea that you could be grounded in your history, as Israel was, but not be trapped by it, to be able to repair the world — that idea was liberating. The example of Israel and its values was inspiring.

So when I hear some people say that disagreements over policy belie a general lack of support of Israel, I must object, and I object forcefully. For us to paper over difficult questions, particularly about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or about settlement policy, that’s not a true measure of friendship.

Before I came out here, the Rabbi showed me the room that’s been built to promote scholarship and dialogue, and to be able to find how we make our shared values live. And the reason you have that room is because applying those values to our lives is often hard, and it involves difficult choices. That’s why we study. That’s why it’s not just a formula. And that’s what we have to do as nations as well as individuals. We have to grapple and struggle with how do we apply the values that we care about to this very challenging and dangerous world.

And it is precisely because I care so deeply about the state of Israel — it’s precisely because, yes, I have high expectations for Israel the same way I have high expectations for the United States of America — that I feel a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I think will lead to long-term security and to the preservation of a true democracy in the Jewish homeland. And I believe that’s two states for two peoples, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people on their land, as well.

Now, I want to emphasize — that’s not easy. The Palestinians are not the easiest of partners. The neighborhood is dangerous. And we cannot expect Israel to take existential risks with their security so that any deal that takes place has to take into account the genuine dangers of terrorism and hostility.

But it is worthwhile for us to keep up the prospect, the possibility of bridging divides and being just, and looking squarely at what’s possible but also necessary in order for Israel to be the type of nation that it was intended to be in its earliest founding.

And that same sense of shared values also compel me to speak out — compel all of us to speak out — against the scourge of anti-Semitism wherever it exists. I want to be clear that, to me, all these things are connected. The rights I insist upon and now fight for, for all people here in the United States compels me then to stand up for Israel and look out for the rights of the Jewish people. And the rights of the Jewish people then compel me to think about a Palestinian child in Ramallah that feels trapped without opportunity. That’s what Jewish values teach me. That’s what the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches me. These things are connected.

And in recent years, we’ve seen a deeply disturbing rise in anti-Semitism in parts of the world where it would have seemed unthinkable just a few years or decades ago. This is not some passing fad; these aren’t just isolated phenomenon. And we know from our history they cannot be ignored. Anti-Semitism is, and always will be, a threat to broader human values to which we all must aspire. And when we allow anti-Semitism to take root, then our souls are destroyed, and it will spread.

And that’s why, tonight, for the first time ever, congregations around the world are celebrating a Solidarity Shabbat. It’s a chance for leaders to publicly stand against anti-Semitism and bigotry in all of its forms. And I’m proud to be a part of this movement, and I’m proud that six ambassadors from Europe are joining us today. And their presence here — our presence together — is a reminder that we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Our traditions, our history, can help us chart a better course as long as we are mindful of that history and those traditions, and we are vigilant in speaking out and standing up against what is wrong. It’s not always easy, I think, to speak out against what is wrong, even for good people.

So I want to close with the story of one more of the many rabbis who came to Selma 50 years ago. A few days after David Teitelbaum arrived to join the protests, he and a colleague were thrown in jail. And they spent a Friday night in custody, singing Adon Olam to the tune of “We Shall Overcome.” And that in and of itself is a profound statement of faith and hope. But what’s wonderful is, is that out of respect many of their fellow protesters began wearing what they called “freedom caps” — yarmulkes — as they marched.

And the day after they were released from prison, Rabbi Teitelbaum watched Dr. King lead a prayer meeting before crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And Dr. King said, “We are like the children of Israel, marching from slavery to freedom.”

That’s what happens when we’re true to our values. It’s not just good for us, but it brings the community together. Tikkun Olam — it brings the community together and it helps repair the world. It bridges differences that once looked unbridgeable. It creates a future for our children that once seemed unattainable. This congregation — Jewish American life is a testimony to the capacity to make our values live. But it requires courage. It requires strength. It requires that we speak the truth not just when it’s easy, but when it’s hard.

So may we always remember that our shared heritage makes us stronger, that our roots are intertwined. May we always choose faith over nihilism, and courage over despair, and hope over cynicism and fear. As we walk our own leg of a timeless, sacred march, may we always stand together, here at home and around the world.

Thank you. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. Thank you.

Canadian PM Harper Banned From Visiting Dome of the Rock


Harper praying near the Western Wall.

The visit of the Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, to the Dome of the Rock, was called off after Harper was told that his Jewish guards would not be allowed to enter the area.

Yesterday, Harper visited the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, and stopped to place a note in the wall as he took a moment of silent introspection.

B’nai Brith Canada’s CEO, Frank Dimant, said that his organization has “raised this issue with Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom.”

Equal access must be given to Jewish worshipers wishing to ascend the Temple Mount. This incident serves as a stark reminder of the religious discrimination going on at the hands of the Islamic Waqf responsible for administering the site.

Harper’s visit to Yad Vashem after the jump.
Harper also made a solemn visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, where he paid respects to the 6 million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis during the Second World War.

Dimant, who is the son of survivors from Auschwitz and Dachau, said that visiting the museum “undoubtedly reinforced Mr. Harper’s pride and understanding, not only about what Israel has achieved in the shadow of the horrors of the Holocaust, but how the Canadian government made terrible mistakes in the 1930s.”

Obama: With a Strong Israel, Holocaust will Never Happen Again

President Barack Obama finished his visit to Israel today and moved over to Jordan. The departure ceremony was shortened due to hard weather conditions and included handshakes only. Prior to his departure, the President visited Holocaust Museum Yad VaShem today. Below are his remarks:

“Unto them I will give my house and within my walls a memorial and a name… an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.”

President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Chairman Shalev, Rabbi Lau — thank you for sharing this house, this memorial, with me today. And thank you to the people of Israel for preserving the names of the millions taken from us, of blessed memory — names that shall never be forgotten.

Continued after the jump.
This is my second visit to this living memorial. Since then, I’ve walked among the barbed wire and guard towers of Buchenwald. Rabbi Lau told me of his time there, and we reminisced about our good friend, Elie Wiesel, and the memories that he shared with me. I have stood in the old Warsaw ghetto, with survivors who would not go quietly. But nothing equals the wrenching power of this sacred place, where the totality of the Shoah is told.  We could come here a thousand times, and each time our hearts would break.

For here we see the depravity to which man can sink; the barbarism that unfolds when we begin to see our fellow human beings as somehow less than us, less worthy of dignity and of life. We see how evil can, for a moment in time, triumph when good people do nothing, and how silence abetted a crime unique in human history.

Here we see their faces and we hear their voices. We look upon the objects of their lives — the art that they created, the prayer books that they carried. We see that even as they had hate etched into their arms, they were not numbers. They were men and women and children — so many children — sent to their deaths because of who they were, how they prayed, or who they loved.

And yet, here, alongside man’s capacity for evil, we also are reminded of man’s capacity for good — the rescuers, the Righteous Among the Nations who refused to be bystanders. And in their noble acts of courage, we see how this place, this accounting of horror, is, in the end, a source of hope.

For here we learn that we are never powerless. In our lives we always have choices. To succumb to our worst instincts or to summon the better angels of our nature. To be indifferent to suffering to wherever it may be, whoever it may be visited upon, or to display the empathy that is at the core of our humanity. We have the choice to acquiesce to evil or make real our solemn vow — “never again.” We have the choice to ignore what happens to others, or to act on behalf of others and to continually examine in ourselves whatever dark places there may be that might lead to such actions or inactions. This is our obligation — not simply to bear witness, but to act.

For us, in our time, this means confronting bigotry and hatred in all of its forms, racism, especially anti-Semitism. None of that has a place in the civilized world — not in the classrooms of children; not in the corridors of power. And let us never forget the link between the two. For our sons and daughters are not born to hate, they are taught to hate. So let us fill their young hearts with the same understanding and compassion that we hope others have for them.  

Here we hope. Because after you walk through these halls, after you pass through the darkness, there is light — a glorious view of the Jerusalem Forest, with the sun shining over the historic homeland of the Jewish people; a fulfillment of the prophecy: “you shall live again… upon your own soil.” Here, on your ancient land, let it be said for all the world to hear: The State of Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust. But with the survival of a strong Jewish State of Israel, such a Holocaust will never happen again.

Here we pray that we all can be better; that we can all grow, like the sapling near the Children’s Memorial — a sapling from a chestnut tree that Anne Frank could see from her window. The last time she described it in her diary, she wrote: “Our chestnut tree is in full bloom. It’s covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year.” That’s a reminder of who we can be.  But we have to work for it. We have to work for it here in Israel. We have to work for it in America. We have to work for it around the world — to tend the light and the brightness as opposed to our worst instincts.

So may God bless the memory of the millions. May their souls be bound up in the bond of eternal life. And may each spring bring a full bloom even more beautiful than the last.  

Gen. Dempsey in Israel: “America is Your Partner”

— by David Streeter

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey visited Israel to conduct high level meetings regarding the Iranian threat. The New York Times reported on Dempsey’s trip:

The meetings were closed and their contents were not revealed. But General Dempsey, on his first visit to Israel as military chief, was quoted in brief remarks released by the office of Israel’s defense minister as saying, ‘We have many interests in common in the region in this very dynamic time, and the more we can continue to engage each other, the better off we’ll all be.’…

General Dempsey began his visit here with an intimate dinner on Thursday evening at a restaurant in Jaffa with his counterpart, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Israel’s military chief of staff. The men were joined by their wives. Early Friday, General Dempsey was greeted at Israeli military headquarters in Tel Aviv with an honor guard and held meetings with General Gantz and other senior commanders.

The top generals ‘discussed military-to-military relations, the new U.S. defense strategy, budget and economic issues and regional security challenges,’ Col. Dave Lapan, the Special Assistant for Public Affairs in the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a statement.

Other meetings were held with Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Barak and Israel’s president, Shimon Peres. General Dempsey also visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, where he wrote in the visitors’ book, ‘We are committed to ensuring that such a human tragedy never happens again.’ He departed Israel before the onset of the Sabbath at sundown on Friday.

Each of the meetings ‘reinforced the deep and special relationship shared by Israel and the U.S.,’ Colonel Lapan said, and ‘served to advance a common understanding of the regional security environment.’…

Mr. Peres told General Dempsey on Friday that ‘Even today in a very complicated situation we can find a common ground. We have profound trust in your democratic system and your armed forces.’ General Dempsey assured Mr. Peres that ‘America is your partner and we are honored to have you as a partner in that regard.’

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States Military, General Martin E. Dempsey, visited Israel On January 19th — 20th, 2012. This was General’s Dempsey’s first visit to Israel, and he was hosted by the IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz.
During his visit, General Dempsey held a private meeting with Lieutenant General Gantz, as well as a briefing with senior commanders of the General Staff, focusing on cooperation between the two militaries, as well as mutual security challenges. During his visit, General Dempsey also met with the Minister of Defense, Mr. Ehud Barak, with the Prime Minister, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, and with the President, Mr. Shimon Peres.

General Dempsey was welcomed to the IDF General Headquarters in Camp Rabin (the Kirya) by an IDF honor guard of soldiers and to the sounds of the national anthems of Israel and the United States of America. General Dempsey also visited the Yad VaShem Holocaust Memorial Museum, where he was very moved by the exhibition.

In brief remarks after the tour, Dempsey noted the significance of the date — 70 years to the day of the infamous Wannsee Conference held in that Berlin suburb on Jan. 20, 1942. It was at that meeting that senior officials of the Nazi regime discussed their “Final solution to the Jewish problem.”

“We are committed to ensuring that such a human tragedy never happens again,” Dempsey wrote in the museum’s visitor’s book.

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.