Posts Tagged Holocaust

Why are you missing out?

What does the bar-headed goose have to teach us about striking spiritual balance in our lives?  Is the separation of church and state really as fundamental to the constitution as everyone thinks it is?  When is stress really a good thing?

If you’ve been following my new blog, you know the answers.

imagesBut for some reason, the majority of you who follow this blog have not switched over to my main blog yonasongoldson.com.

If you’ve enjoyed my articles up to now, why miss out by not updating your subscription?  Just click on the link and look for the “follow” button, then add in your email as you did when you began following Torah Ideals.  Alternatively, send me an email and I’ll sign you up myself.  You can reach me at yonasongoldson [at] gmail.com.

I look forward to hearing from you.

 

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Visionaries and Ideology: a study in contrasts

imagesWho knew a trip to New York could be so emotional?

I didn’t want to go in the first place. As my 92-year-old student likes to quote: Travelling is for peasants.

But my wife convinced me with simple arithmetic. Four tickets to bring three kids and son-in-law home or two tickets to visit them. No-brainer.

So I went grudgingly, confirming in the end the truism that some of life’s most profound moments come not only unexpected but against our will.

Our first stop was the 9/11 museum. I marveled at the artistic vision that had conceived the memorial pools, the water channeling down in rivulets that mirrored the face of the fallen towers, the continuous downward rush balanced by the redemptive feeling of water — the source of life — returning to the heart of the world. Here there was solace, closure, and consolation.

But a very different feeling accosted me inside. Almost upon entering the doors a single word brandished itself across my mind’s eye: Holocaust.

Let me explain.
Read the whole article here.

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Irena Sendler: Profile in Courage and Conscience

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller, the Germany clergyman who authored these words, was one of the few who did speak out against Adolph Hitler in the early days of the Nazi party.  While the majority of Germans traded conscience for convenience by closing their eyes to the atrocities perpetrated upon their own countrymen, his solitary cry for reason still echoes amidst the silence.

For his troubles, Martin Niemöller was arrested in 1937 and eventually interred in Sachsenhausen and Dachau until his eventual liberation in 1945.  He lived until 1984, a voice of penance among the German people.

Among lesser known heroes is Irena Sendler, who risked her life to save some 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto between 1942 and 1943.  Working secretly as a member of Żegota, the Council for Jewish Aid, and using her position as an administrator for the Warsaw Social Welfare Department, Irena first tried to divert food, clothing, and medicine to Jews in the Ghetto, subsequently going door to door offering Jewish parents a chance to save their children’s lives.

“In my dreams,” she said, “I still hear the cries when they left their parents.”

One by one, Irena smuggled the children out in ambulances, gunnysacks, and body bags, finding families of Polish gentiles willing to take them in.  She recorded the name of every child and hid her lists in jars she buried in a neighbor’s yard.  After the war, she dug up the names and attempted to reunite the children with their families, most of whom had perished in the death camps.

On October 20, 1943, Irena was arrested by the Gestapo, who broke her legs and feet trying to force from her the names of the families who harbored the Jewish children.  Refusing to divulge her secrets, Irena eventually escaped imprisonment and lived out the remainder of the war in hiding.

In 1965, Yad Vashem recognized Irena as one of the Polish Righteous Among the Nations.  In 2007, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.  The prize was awarded that year to Al Gore for his movie on global warming.

Few people had heard of Irena Sendler until 1999, when a high school history teacher in Kansas came across a passing reference to her in U. S. News and World Report.  Three students began a research project that culminated in their award-winning play, Life in a Jar, which has since been performed hundreds of times across North America and Europe.

Authentic heroism arises from intolerance for evil, from an unwillingness to stand idly by in the face of injustice no matter how improbable the odds and no matter how dire the consequences.  Like Moses, who struck down the Egyptian he found beating an innocent Jew, a person of conscience may at any moment find himself facing a critical decision between common sense and common decency, where action appears pointless but where inaction amounts to an alliance with evil.  A true hero is one who recognizes that such a choice is no choice at all.

“I could have done more,” Irena said. “This regret will follow me to my death.”

Sources:  The Irena Sendler Project and the Jewish Virtual Library

For more information about other unsung heroes, visit the Lowell Milken Center.

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Holocaust Memorial Day

The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews.

Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem. Russia did it, Poland and Czechoslovakia did it, Turkey threw out a million Greeks, and Algeria a million Frenchman. Indonesia threw out heaven knows how many Chinese-and no one says a word about refugees.

But in the case of Israel the displaced Arabs have become eternal refugees. Everyone insists that Israel must take back every single Arab. Arnold Toynbee calls the displacement of the Arabs an atrocity greater than any committed by the Nazis. Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious it must sue for peace .

Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world. Other nations when they are defeated survive and recover but should Israel be defeated it would be destroyed. Had Nasser triumphed last June [1967] he would have wiped Israel off the map, and no one would have lifted a finger to save the Jews. No commitment to the Jews by any government, including our own, is worth the paper it is written on .

There is a cry of outrage all over the world when people die in Vietnam or when two Blacks are executed in Rhodesia. But when Hitler slaughtered Jews no one remonstrated with him. The Swedes, who are ready to break off diplomatic relations with America because of what we do in Vietnam, did not let out a peep when Hitler was slaughtering Jews. They sent Hitler choice iron ore, and ball bearings, and serviced his troop trains to Norway.

The Jews are alone in the world. If Israel survives, it will be solely because of Jewish efforts. And Jewish resources. Yet at this moment Israel is our only reliable and unconditional ally. We can rely more on Israel than Israel can rely on us. And one has only to imagine what would have happened last summer [1967] had the Arabs and their Russian backers won the war to realize how vital the survival of Israel is to America and the West in general.

I have a premonition that will not leave me; as it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us.

Should Israel perish the holocaust will be upon us.

This was written in 1968 by Eric Hoffer, a non-Jewish, self educated, blue collar, working class longshoreman whose writings continue to offer a unique perspective unrestrained by the popular beliefs of academia.  By the time of his death in 1983, Mr. Hoffer had written ten books and a newspaper column and had received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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Obama and the End of Evil

In his anticipated speech of 4 June at Cairo University, President Barack Obama affirmed the fact and the horror of the Holocaust before an audience whose nation and whose people have created a cottage industry around Holocaust denial.

“Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.”

Well done.

The president then went on – predictably, and of political necessity – to acknowledge the plight of the Palestinian people.

“On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they’ve endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation.”

This was to be expected.  However, this observer is not the first to note a subtle yet glaring inaccuracy in the president’s remarks:  The seemingly innocuous phrase on the other hand implies equivalence, the same kind of moral equivalence that has been eroding our political and social values for decades.  And, ironically, the source of which can be traced to the Holocaust itself.

But first the facts.               

In 1937, the British Peel Commission devised the first plan for the partition of Palestine. Although its terms would have granted Israel much less than its 1948 borders, the Jews accepted its terms. Arabs leaders rejected it out of hand.

In 1939, the British White Paper limited Jewish immigration to Palestine to 15,000 per year and that, after 5 years, granted absolute autonomy over the region to Arab authority. The Jews, albeit under protest, accepted its terms. Arab leaders rejected it out of hand.

In 1947, when the United Nations recognized the formation of the modern State of Israel, the Jews begged their Arab neighbors to remain in the country and live along side them as friends. The Mufti of Jerusalem, who had allied himself closely with Hitler during the Second World War, urged all Israeli Arabs to flee the country so that the Arab countries would be unhindered in their campaign to drive the Jews into the sea. More than two-thirds of Arab “refugees” fled Israel without ever seeing an Israeli soldier.

Those same displaced Arabs, and their children and grandchildren, have continued to live as refugees scattered among the Arab nations, the only displaced people ever to be denied repatriation by countries of their own ethnicity.  In 1960, King Hussein of Jordan remarked that “Arab leaders have approached the Palestine problem in an irresponsible manner…. they have used the Palestine people for selfish political purposes. This is ridiculous and, I could say, even criminal.”

Equally ridiculous, and equally criminal, to equate the displacement of a people – originally by its own choice and perpetuated for political gain by its own leaders – with the massacre of millions of innocents as part of the attempted genocide of an entire nation.

The tragic irony here is how the Holocaust has made every crime, every distortion, and every deviation of the last half-century diminish to insignificance by way of comparison.  Such bedrock values as “right to life” and the established definition of marriage inevitably lost their sanctity in a world that could stand by and allow such an atrocity.  The work ethic and individual responsibility lost their value in a world in which the living could be dispatched with such mechanical efficiency.  Personal dignity and modesty lost their meaning in a world where human beings could be so piteously degraded.

And in the most perverse twist of all, as if trying to restore some semblence of moral direction to a morally challenged world, the Holocaust has become synonmous with every perceived evil, whereby practioners of every political and ideological platform will be condemned as Nazis by their opposite numbers, further diminishing the horrors of Aushwitz and Birkenau in a generation that already teeters on the brink of forgetfulness.

When every crime becomes an atrocity, when any policial position is made equal to Naziism, then the Holocaust loses all its meaning and its deniers have truly won.  There is much evil in the world, and President Obama will not bring about its end either by allowing some evils to pale in comparison to others or by inflating every evil to the level of genocide.

If the leader of the free world demonstrates an inability or unwillingness to evaluate every incidence of evil according to its true value, how can we expect the rest of the world to do any better?

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Rabbi Blech articulates how writers of fiction have an obligation to accurately represent reality lest, as in this case, readers and viewers who may never have any other exposure to the Holocaust come away with the perverse misperception that mankind’s greatest crimes really weren’t so bad.

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