Category Archives: Holocaust

No, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Did Not Sin Against The Memory Of The Holocaust

We do no favors to the memory of the Holocaust when, for political  purposes, we unfairly accuse people of dishonoring it.

Whatever one may think of incoming Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she did not compare the victims of the Holocaust with the migrants at the southern border.  A piece I wrote on the issue is at the Forward, here.

Poland Isn’t Denmark

 Poland has a point.

The country’s legislature passed a controversial bill last week aimed at quashing the use of the phrase “Polish death camps” for Nazi extermination enterprises built and operated by the Third Reich across Poland. The bill, which Polish President Andrzej Duda later signed into law, also bans referring to “the Polish Nation” as “responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes,” on penalty of fines or a maximum three-year jail term.

Poland was indeed an occupied country during that dark time. In addition to murdering 3,000,000 Jews, the Germans also killed between two and three million non-Jewish Polish civilians.

More than 6,700 Poles, moreover – more than citizens of any other nationality – have been honored as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem for their bravery in resisting the Nazis.

So one can understand how using “Polish” as the adjective modifying “death camps” might rankle Poles today. “Nazi death camps in Poland” is a more accurate description of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor.

But Poland, all said and done, was not Denmark. The Danes, whose country was also occupied by the Nazis, famously refused to give up their Jews to the Nazis. When, in 1941, Danish authorities were told by their German overlords that a roundup of the country’s Jews was imminent, they immediately informed the Jewish community and, with the help of the citizenry, hid many Jews and spirited many more to safety in Sweden.

By contrast, and with all due and richly deserved recognition of the risky heroism of thousands of Poles during World War II, Jew-hatred was no German import to their land.

Religion-based anti-Semitism was entrenched in Polish society well before the Nazis invaded Poland. There were blood libels and widespread promotion of the stereotype of Jews as disloyal and worse. By 1939, hostility towards Jews was a mainstay of the country’s popular right-wing political forces.

My father, a”h, recalled being warned by his parents in their Polish town of Ruzhan to not venture outside around Pesach-time. Church sermons, he wrote in his memoir, “spurred our Gentile neighbors to try to kill Jews.” He and his siblings would peek through the window to see angry townspeople marching with banners, looking for victims.

Polish-born historian Jan Grabowski notes that approximately 250,000 Jews fled the liquidated ghettos in 1942 and 1943, yet only 35,000 survived the war.  His conclusion: more than 200,000 Polish Jews were betrayed by their countrymen to the Germans or the Polish police beholden to them.

“We will under no circumstances,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in reaction to the new Polish law, “accept any attempt to rewrite history.”

Yad Vashem decried the legislation too, as did a U.S. Congressional taskforce on combatting anti-Semitism, which said that the law “could have a chilling effect on dialogue, scholarship, and accountability in Poland about the Holocaust.”

Polish leaders and media expressed dismay over the Israeli and American reaction. Poles, understandably, don’t like to be tarred with the brush of anti-Semitism, neither in their past nor in their present.

A 2017 survey by the Polish Center for Research on Prejudice showed that more than 55 percent of Poles were “annoyed” by talk of Polish participation in crimes against Jews.

Telling, though, were some expressions of that dismay and annoyance.

Like those on a program that aired last week on a mainstream Polish television channel, TVP2.

The program was hosted by Marcin Jerzy Wolski, and his guest was Polish commentator and author Rafal Aleksander Ziemkiewicz. Shortly before the program, Mr. Ziemkiewicz posted a thought on social media:

“For many years I have convinced my people that we must support Israel. Today, because of a few scabby or greedy people, I feel like an idiot.” “Scab” is a Polish slur for “Jew.”

The posting was later deleted, but first thoughts are often the most revealing ones.

Then, on the program itself, Mr. Ziemkiewicz offered further wisdom.

“If we look at the percentage of involvement of countries that took part,” he suggested, “Jews also were part of their own destruction.”

Mr. Wolski emphatically agreed. “Using this terminology, linguistically,” he offered, “we could say these were not German or Polish camps, but were Jewish camps. After all, who dealt with the crematoria?”

Got that? Since Jews were forced on penalty of death to burn their relatives’ remains, their prisons were “Jewish death camps.”

It has to make one think. What in the world could so pervert a human mind to equate collaborators with victims? To compare those abetting evil with those who suffered its horrible designs?

Only one answer readily comes to mind.

© 2018 Hamodia

Statement of Agudath Israel of America on Polish Holocaust Law

February 2, 2018

 

Statement of Agudath Israel of America on Polish Holocaust Law

 

The thousands of Polish citizens who courageously hid and aided Jews during the Holocaust are legend, and deserving of the deepest admiration.

But, according to eyewitnesses and historians, many thousands of Jews who fled liquidated ghettos in 1942 – 1943 were handed over by other Polish citizens to the Germans or those beholden to them.

To attempt to legislate a ban on speaking that truth is a betrayal, too, of those victims of the Nazis, and of history itself.

# # #

 

Remarkable Bordering on Incredible

Senator Orrin G. Hatch’s announcement of his retirement at the end of the year brought me back to the summer of 1995. That’s when I returned to my family’s former home of Providence, Rhode Island to visit, for the last time, the Utah senator’s former speechwriter, one of the most fascinating people I have had the fortune of knowing.

A scion of the Zhviller Chassidic dynasty, Rabbi Baruch Korff lay on his deathbed.

It was back in the 1970s that the erudite, eloquent Rabbi Korff worked without fanfare for Senator Hatch. To this day, the Mormon lawmaker, whose affinity for the Jewish people and Israel is legend, wears a “mezuzah” necklace given him, I believe, by Rabbi Korff.

Rabbi Korff was best known to the American public as “Nixon’s rabbi” – a title given him by President Richard Nixon himself, with whom Rabbi Korff developed a deep personal relationship. It is widely believed that the rabbi had an influence on Nixon’s strong support for Israel and on efforts to allow Soviet Jews to emigrate.

When the Watergate scandal broke in 1973, Rabbi Korff staunchly defended Mr. Nixon, founding the National Citizens Committee for Fairness for the Presidency. He admitted that Nixon had “misused his power” and that Watergate was “wrong,” but felt that the president hadn’t committed any crime and deserved to remain in office.

But Rabbi Korff’s early years were even more remarkable, bordering on incredible.

In 1919, a pogrom was launched by Christian residents of his birthplace, the Ukrainian city of Novograd Volynsk. Jewish homes were ransacked and Jews killed where they were found. Five-year-old Baruch’s mother Gittel fled with him and three of his siblings.

The little boy watched in horror as a rioter ripped his mother’s earrings from her ears and then murdered her. Writing 75 years later, Rabbi Korff averred that he had branded himself a coward for being too frightened to protect his mother. “My life ever since,” he wrote, “has been a quest for redemption from that charge.”

The activist life he lived reflected that quest.

In 1926, the surviving family members immigrated to the United States but, after becoming bar mitzvah, Baruch journeyed to Poland, where he studied in yeshivos in Korets and then Warsaw. Upon his return to the U.S., he attended Yeshiva Rav Yitzchak Elchanan, where he received semichah.

During World War II, Rabbi Korff, who had become an adviser to the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the U.S. and Canada, and to the U.S. War Refugee Board, petitioned European dignitaries, U.S. congressmen and Supreme Court justices on behalf of Jews in Europe. He even held clandestine negotiations with representatives of Gestapo head Heinrich Himmler, ym”s, about the purchase of Jews from Germany.

One of his wilder exploits took place in 1947, when, working with the militant Lehi group (derisively called the Stern Gang), he plotted to set off bombs in London (placed and timed to prevent human casualties) in protest of British policy in Palestine, and to drop leaflets over the city from a plane.

The leaflets began: “TO THE PEOPLE OF ENGLAND! To the people whose government proclaimed ‘Peace in our time’: This is a warning! Your government had dipped His Majesty’s Crown in Jewish blood and polished it with Arab oil…” The pilot he engaged in Paris, however, tipped off authorities and Rabbi Korff was arrested. After a 17-day hunger strike, he was released, and charges against him were dropped.

After the war ended, Rabbi Korff continued his work on behalf of fellow Jews, presenting a petition with more than 500,000 signatures to the U.S. government, urging that Hungarian Jews be permitted to enter Palestine.

Eventually, he served as a congregational rabbi in several New England cities, and as a chaplain for the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health. I met him in his retirement, when he employed me to edit one of several books he had written about his experiences.

During that final Providence visit, he lay in bed holding a morphine pump, but was still engaged with the few of us who had gathered to pay our respects. I remember him asking us to sing Adon Olam, and we obliged.

And I remember, too, a phone call he took from Eretz Yisrael, from someone clearly distraught at the rabbi’s dire situation. When the choleh hung up, he explained that the caller was a kollel man whom he had been helping support for a number of years.

So Senator Hatch’s announcement brought me to the brink of a thought that I often think, about how astounding were the lives of some who preceded us.

© 2018 Hamodia

Window on the Warped

Interested in making a quick $14.88? Well, you might want to consider writing a racist or anti-Semitic article and submitting it to “The Daily Stormer,” one of the more famous neo-Nazi websites that sprout like noxious mushrooms on the internet.

The strange remittance amount the publication, run by a deceptively baby-faced man named Andrew Anglin, offers writers is intended to honor the 14 words of the far right slogan “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”; and the initials of “Heil Hitler” – “h” being the eighth letter of the alphabet. Those neo-Nazis are just so clever.

The site takes its name from the infamous Holocaust-era “Der Stürmer” weekly tabloid published by the notorious Julius Streicher, ym”sh, who was convicted for “crimes against humanity” in the 1946 Nuremberg Trials and hanged at Nuremberg in 1946.

Streicher’s putrid product was read by millions in wartime Germany, and regularly offered up things like a close-up of the deformed face of a man wearing a Jewish cap above the legend “The Scum of Humanity: This Jew says that he is a member of G-d’s chosen people”; a cartoon of a vampire bat with a grotesquely exaggerated nose and Jewish star on its chest; and another of a Jewish butcher sneakily dropping a rat into his meat grinder. He propagated the myth that Jews killed German young people for their blood, and advocated for the annihilation of all Jews.

Streicher famously cried out “Purim Feast 1946!” before the trap door opened beneath him on that Hoshana Rabbah. Having been apprehended serendipitously by a Jewish soldier after the war ended, in his final moment he apparently sensed something deep.

The late Nazi’s new American imitator is more subtle than his predecessor, but not by much.

The Daily Stormer’s stylebook was recently made public by a reporter, and it presents a wondrous window on warped wits.

The 17-page guide starkly states the site’s ultimate goal: “to spread the message of nationalism and anti-Semitism to the masses.” No obfuscation there.

In addition to assorted grammar and spelling rules, the guide helpfully provides long lists of offensive terms to use in the place of “Jews,” “blacks,” “Muslims,” “Hispanics” and “women.”

Still, “the tone of articles on the site,” the guide advises, “should be light,” since “most people are not comfortable with material that comes across as vitriolic, raging, non-ironic hatred. The unindoctrinated should not be able to tell if we are joking or not.”

Joking, though, Mr. Anglin is not. He states that, all kidding aside, he seriously would like to “gas Jews” – though he replaces that last word with a slur.

Astute observers of the modern (or, for that matter, not-so-modern) world have long suspected that a strange rule was being observed, one that The Daily Stormer guide declares outright: “Always Blame the Jews for Everything…As Hitler says, people will become confused and disheartened if they feel there are multiple enemies. As such, all enemies should be combined into one enemy, which is the Jews.”

“This is pretty much objectively true anyway,” the guide takes pains to add, “but we want to leave out any and all nuance.” Nuance, to be sure, isn’t much evident on the site.

“There should be a conscious agenda to dehumanize the enemy,” the document continues, “to the point where people are ready to laugh at their deaths.” Then, to simplify things for readers overly challenged by that sentence, the document boils it down: “Dehumanizing is extremely important.”

And the dehumanized, while they include other groups, must above all be “the Jews.”

“What should be completely avoided,” the guide cautions, “is the sometimes mentioned idea that ‘even if we got rid of the Jews we would still have all these other problems.’ The Jews should always be the beginning and the end of every problem, from poverty to poor family dynamics to war to the destruction of the rainforest.”

Didn’t know rainforest destruction was our doing? Welcome to the twisted world of The Daily Stormer.

Mr. Anglin claims that his site’s popularity is soaring, despite numerous internet domains’ refusals to host it. (He has reportedly moved it to the “dark web,” a part of the internet favored by the worst sort of criminal elements and accessible only with special software.)

We’re well accustomed to witnessing more “refined” forms of Jew-resentment, often cloaked in leftist “social activism,” anti-Israel rhetoric and United Nations votes.  It’s more rare to see the workings of entirely self-aware, unabashed anti-Semites.

But they’re out there, and their malice confirms the Torah’s predictions about Klal Yisrael’s galus and, ultimately, of our uniqueness.

© 2017 Hamodia

An Impossible Pretzel

Some people, it seems, like some dogs with teeth planted firmly in mailmen’s legs, just can’t let go.

Take Peter Beinart.

I have no problem with the columnist and former The New Republic editor’s expressing liberal Zionist views, much as I may disagree with some of them. There is room in this world for different perspectives.

Nor am I particularly vexed by his longtime opposition to President Trump; the president has certainly left himself open to criticism on many occasions. Mr. Beinart’s past insinuation that the president harbors tolerance for anti-Semitism was a silly and unfounded charge, but there are always plenty of those to go around.

What’s more troublesome is the columnist’s refusal to give Mr. Trump credit when it is due, like after the president’s speech last week at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

Speaking to a crowd of several hundred at the museum, and belying once and for all accusations of his insensitivity toward the Jewish people, the president spoke of how “the Nazis massacred six million Jews,” how “two out of every three Jews in Europe were murdered in the genocide.”

Addressing survivors present, he said, “You witnessed evil, and what you saw is beyond… any description,” and asserted that, through their testimony, they “fulfill the righteous duty to… engrave into the world’s memory the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people.”

He also spoke of Israel as “an eternal monument to the undying strength of the Jewish people.” And he deemed Holocaust denial “one of many forms of dangerous anti-Semitism that continues all around the world,” concluding with the words: “So today we mourn. We remember. We pray. And we pledge: Never again.”

Enter Peter Beinart. Well, not into the museum, but into the pages of the Forward, where he cited Mr. Trump’s recounting of the story of Gerda Weissman, who, in 1945, as an emaciated 21-year-old veteran of Nazi work camps and a death march, was liberated, and elated to see a car sporting not a swastika but an American star. Her liberator turned out to be a Jewish American lieutenant, Kurt Klein, and they eventually became husband and wife.

Mr. Beinart reflects on “how [Mr. Trump’s] views might have affected people like Gerda Klein had he been president back then.” The original “America Firsters,” war-era isolationists, he contends, “shared a mentality” with the president – to protect the United States’ “shores and its people” and to “not squander money and might safeguarding foreigners in distant lands.”

“It is this mentality,” he asserts, “that earlier this year led Trump to propose a budget that cuts U.S. funding for the United Nations in half,” which could bring about “the breakdown of the international humanitarian system as we know it.”

The postwar Displaced Persons Camps, Mr. Beinart goes on to remind us, were administered by a U.N. commission, and paid for largely by the U.S. President Trump, he confidently states, “would likely have seen it as a prime example of other countries ripping America off,” and would “surely have disapproved,” in 1946, when anti-Semitic pogroms in Poland “sent tens of thousands of Jews streaming across the border into U.S.-administered DP camps in Germany,” of allowing any of them onto our shores.

Because Mr. Trump is president, Mr. Beinart concludes, “the Gerda Kleins of today are unlikely to see America’s symbols the way she did.”

One needn’t be a proponent of a Mexican wall to recognize that there is no comparison between, on the one hand, caring for people who narrowly escaped a multi-national genocidal effort only to face murderous pogroms, and, on the other, welcoming every foreigner seeking to improve his economic welfare.

Nor need one like Mr. Trump’s immigration ban to understand that, justified or not, the fear of terrorists infiltrating our country is somewhat more plausible today than it was regarding Jews in 1946.

Mr. Beinart, though, insists on twisting Mr. Trump’s sentiments into an impossible pretzel, into something cynical and hypocritical.

“He praises Holocaust survivors today,” the columnist writes about the president, “because it’s politically expedient. But his actions desecrate their memory. Had he more shame, he would not have spoken at the Holocaust Memorial Museum at all.”

But Mr. Trump, Mr. Beinart surely knows, isn’t currently running for office. And if there’s one thing most everyone agrees about, it’s that he expresses things bluntly, as he believes them to be. Had Peter Beinart more shame, he would not have written his article at all.

© 2017 Hamodia

Loss and Legacy

Like so many of his generation in Europe, he had an all too short childhood.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, when he was 14, he found himself, along with his family and others from the small Polish shtetl of Ruzhan, fleeing the Nazi invaders with only what they could carry on their backs. Soon enough, the refugees were apprehended and locked in a shul, with a neighboring home set ablaze and the flames growing closer. The din, he recalled, was deafening. People were shouting out the Shema with all their might, crying bitterly, saying Viduy. Then they were suddenly, miraculously saved before the flames reached the shul, by, they suspected, Eliyahu Hanavi, in the guise of a high-ranking German officer.

Then, in a miracle of will, the boy decided to leave his parents to journey to Bialystok, to join the Novardoker yeshivah, a dream he had been promised, before the war, he would be able to fulfill.

The yeshivah, though, wasn’t there anymore, and so the boy jumped onto a train to Vilna, where many Polish yeshivos had relocated. Lithuania was still independent.

It wasn’t long, though, before the Soviets took over, and he and his chaverim and rebbe were sent to Siberia, where they spent the war years, enduring long 40 degrees below zero winters.

He once came close to death there. One of the other young men even trudged for kilometers through the snow on a mission, the trudger thought, to bury the boy, who was rumored to have succumbed.

At war’s end, the group made its way to Germany, were smuggled into Berlin’s American sector and set up a yeshivah in a town called Salzheim. Eventually, the boy, now a young man, was able to sail to America, where he married a respected Baltimore Rav’s daughter, who taught him English and helped him pursue his career, first as a rebbe in Baltimore’sYeshivas Chofetz Chaim and then as a shul Rav, a position he held for some 60 years. They had three children.

He was my father, hareni kapporas mishkavo. And his actual kevurah did not happen until more than 70 years had passed since that day his friend expected to inter him. It took place just before the start of Chanukah.

For all who knew and loved my father – and it is a very large group – his petirah was a wrenching personal loss. But it represented a tragedy for Klal Yisrael, too, and not just in the sense that an oved Hashem and marbitz Torah left this world.

It was a national tragedy for another reason, too, because, among all the many men and women whose lives my father touched and who came to the shivah house or called or emailed their nechamos – a group that included an astonishingly diverse spectrum of Yidden, from talmidei chachamim to the not-yet-frum – not a single one was from my father’s European chevrah.

That dearth, of course, was not unexpected. But it was an unhappy reminder, all the same, that the generation that witnessed the Jewish Europe that once was, and the horror and hashgacha of the Holocaust years, the generation that was our living link to that place and those days, is ebbing.

The only member, in fact, of my father’s Novardok chaburah in Siberia still alive is Reb Herschel Nudel, may he have a refuah shleimah, the man who endured that long, frigid walk to “bury” my father so many decades ago. Considering his astounding chessed, his arichas yamim, isn’t surprising.

And yet, the scene at my father’s levayah that most vividly remains with me was when the announcement was made that grandsons and great-grandsons of the niftar should come forward to carry the aron to begin its journey to the beis olam, where my mother, grandmother, uncles and aunts, my Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman, and my rebbe, Rav Yaakov Weinberg, zecher kulam livrachah, all lie, awaiting techiyas hameisim.

Those summoned came forth, but it took a while before the aron could be lifted. Not that it was heavy. My father wasn’t a physically large man. But it was a challenge for the many young men, all yirei Shamayim, who had heeded the call to find an empty spot to put their hands.

It was an aron, not a shulchan. But the words “Banecha kish’silei zeisim saviv lishulchanecha,” “Your sons, like olive shoots, all around your table” (Tehillim 128:3), even at that agonizing moment, rang like a melodic bell in my mind.

© Hamodia 2017

A Window into the Past

It’s barely visible. Taped to the inside of the front bay window of a neat, modest house on a nondescript street in Toronto is a photocopy of a spoon.

The window, off the living room, is dominated by two large, healthy banana plants that have thrived there for many years. But if you look closely at the window of the house near Eglington Avenue, where my dear in-laws live, you’ll see the reproduction of the spoon, and might wonder why it’s there.

The answer to that question has to do with my father-in-law, Reb Yisroel Yitzchok Cohen, may he be well, an alumnus of a number of World War II concentration camps. And with Chanukah, too.

The spoon that was photocopied was one of the items he smuggled out of Auschwitz, when the Nazis moved him into “Camp Number Eight” – a quarantine camp, for those suspected of carrying typhus.

There were no labor details in that new camp, but the inmates were ordered to help in its construction, which was still underway. Having had some experience in the Lodz ghetto as a mechanic, my father-in-law helped the electrical technician install the camp’s lighting.

With his new access to tools, he brought his spoon to work and filed down its handle, making it into a sharp knife, which he used both to eat his soup ration and to cut the chunk of bread he and others were allotted and had to cut evenly to apportion it fairly. My father-in-law became the go-to person to wield his spoon-knife to help avoid disputes and maintain relative peace among the prisoners.

When winter came, he was transferred to “Camp Number Four” in Kaufering, a camp more similar to Auschwitz. Despite the terrible hardships the prisoners suffered daily, however, my father-in-law, a Gerer chassid, and other G-d-fearing Jews in the camp tried whenever possible to do what mitzvos they could, despite all the dangers that involved.

My father-in-law always kept mental track of the calendar, and he knew when Chanukah had arrived. During a few minutes’ rest break, he and a group of inmates began to reminisce about how, back home before the war, their fathers would light their menorahs with such fervor and joy. They remembered how they could never get their fill of watching the flames sparkling like stars, and basked in their warm, special glow.

And they spoke of the war of the Chashmonaim against their Seleucid Greek tormentors, who were intent on erasing Judaism from Jewish hearts. And how Hashem helped them resist and rout their enemy, enabling Jews to freely observe the Torah and mitzvos once again.

If only, they mused, if only they could light Chanukah candles.

One prisoner said he had a small bit of margarine he had saved from his daily ration. That could serve as our oil. And wicks? They began to unravel threads from our uniforms…

But a menorah. They needed a menorah.

My father-in-law took out his spoon.  Within moments, the small group was lighting their Chanukah lichteleh, reciting the brachos of “Lehadlik ner”, She’asa nissim” and “Shehecheyanu.” The prisoners all stood there transfixed, immersed in their thoughts… of Chanukahs gone by.

The small flame kindled in them, too, a glimmer of hope. As they recited She’asa nissim, the bracha about the miracles Hashem had performed for our forefathers “in those days”, but also “at this time,” they understood that the only thing that could save them would be a miracle. A “nes gadol,” in fact.

Non-religious Jews, too, stood nearby and watched the luminous moment in the darkness of their concentration camp lives. Who knows what difference it may have made in their own lives.

My father-in-law today, along with his eishes chayil, are filled with gratitude for his having been graced with a personal miracle and surviving those days – a harrowing story in itself, which he chronicled in his ArtScroll/Mesorah book “Destined to Survive.”

And they thank Hashem for the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren He has granted them, kein yirbu, committed to lives of Torah and mitzvos.

A more elaborate menorah than a spoon is placed at their window each Chanukah. But the spoon, or at least a photographic reproduction of it, always shares the window space, a reminder of a Chanukah many years ago in a very different place.

And, somehow, the large, thriving plants that frame the window seem appropriate too.

© 2016 Hamodia

Unrighteous Indignation

And here, all this time, we thought Auschwitz was a Polish death camp.

It was, of course, at least in the sense that it was a place in Poland where upward of a million souls, the vast majority of them Jewish, perished at the hands of ruthless, evil murderers.

The camp, though, was built and operated by Germans, a fact that has brought Polish authorities to protest when the camp is labeled “Polish.”

In 2012, for instance, President Obama raised hackles when, awarding a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom to a Polish resistance fighter, he referred to a “Polish death camp.”  He later apologized, saying he should have used the term “Nazi death camp in German-occupied Poland.”

Earlier this month, the Polish government approved a new bill mandating fines and even, in some cases, prison terms of up to three years for anyone who uses phrases like “Polish death camps” to refer to Nazi camps on Polish soil.

While threatening penalties for using a particular phrase is an act of dubious wisdom or worth, the Polish protesters have history on their side… at least with regard to who owned and operated the death camps on Polish soil. Germans, not Poles, ran Auschwitz, Treblinka and other death camps, where more than three million Jews died; Poland was an occupied country at the time.

But the indignation isn’t righteous.  At least not unless it includes an important caveat; an admission that many Poles themselves were no mere bystanders to the Holocaust.

Some Polish officials are trying to obscure that truth.  “It wasn’t our mothers, nor our fathers, who are responsible for the crimes of the Holocaust, which were committed by German and Nazi criminals on occupied Polish territory,” asserts Zbignew Ziobro, the Polish justice minister.

But the justice minister does truth an injustice.  In implementing their genocidal program, German forces drew upon all-too-eager-to-help Polish police forces and railroad personnel, who guarded ghettos and helped deport Jews to the killing centers. Individual Poles often pitched in, identifying and hunting down Jews in hiding and then actively participated in the plunder of Jewish property.

In his book “The Coming of the Holocaust: From Antisemitism to Genocide,” University of California, Santa Cruz Professor Peter Kenez described Poles of German ethnicity as “welcome[ing] the [Nazi] conquerors with enthusiasm.”

Nor were ethnic Poles unhappy at the prospect of helping the invaders rid their country of Jews.

History Professor Jan T. Gross, who was born in Poland to a Polish mother and Jewish father, published “Neighbors” in 2001, in which he documented that atrocities long blamed on Nazi officials were in fact carried out by local Polish civilians.

Like the massacre of the Jews of Jedwabne in July 1941. Mere weeks after Nazi forces gained control of the town, its Polish mayor, Marian Karolak, and local Nazi officials gave orders to round up the town’s Jews – both long-term residents as well as Jews who were sheltering there. Some Jews were hunted down and gleefully killed by the town’s residents with clubs, axes and knives. Most were herded into a barn, emptied out for the purpose and set afire, killing all inside.

There were also Poles, of course, who helped Jews, even risking their own lives to do so. Yad Vashem has recognized more than 6,000 of them as “Righteous Among the Nations” for rescuing Jews, more than from any other country.

But the norm, sadly, was that Polish citizens were more likely than not to turn against their Jewish neighbors when circumstances permitted.  There are numerous personal accounts of such hatred leading to murder.  It lasted throughout the war, and beyond it.

The Polish town of Kielce was home to about 24,000 Jews before World War II, and the number swelled considerably during the war, as German officials forced Jews from other towns and countries to enter the ghetto established there.  By August 1944, all but a few hundred Jews who were kept alive as slave workers there had been murdered.

You may know the rest of the story. After the war, about 150 Jewish survivors returned to Kielce. Slowly, they began to rebuild their lives, establishing a shul and an orphanage. On July 4, 1946, the town’s non-Jewish inhabitants started a blood libel, falsely accusing the Jews of kidnapping a Christian child. A mob descended on the Jews and, as police and soldiers stood by and watched, the local Poles viciously murdered 42 innocent Jewish Holocaust survivors and injured scores more.

If you drive down Bathurst Street in Toronto, you might notice a shul called Kielcer Congregation, presumably established by survivors of the war and pogrom, or by others in their memory.

And if you drive about a mile south, you’ll reach Eglinton Avenue, off of which my dear in-laws live.  My father-in-law, Reb Yisroel Yitzchok Cohen, may he be well, is an alumnus of a number of concentration camps, including the Polish – sorry, “German on occupied Polish territory” – one called Auschwitz.  At war’s end, he emerged, barely, and managed to find his way back to his Polish hometown of Lodz.  He had heard that his younger sister Mirel (whose memory is carried in the second name of my wife), had also survived the war and had returned there.

He discovered that Mirel had indeed reached Lodz.  And that one day soon after their arrival, she and several other girls had visited the local Jewish cemetery to find the graves of relatives who had died in the Lodz ghetto.  The girls split up and made up to meet at the cemetery entrance.  All did, except for Mirel.  Having survived the war and made her way “home,” she had been murdered by an unknown assailant among the graves.

Before that was known, the other girls went to the police to report the missing person.  The response they received was, “What is your worry?  So there will be one Jewess less in Poland.”

© 2016 Hamodia

The Professor Stumbles

You just can’t, as they say, make this stuff up.

A performer recently made news by implying that 1) Holocaust denier David Irving deserves reconsideration, and 2) that the earth is flat.

The entertainer didn’t offer those two wise thoughts as part of a comedy routine, but in a serious, assertive manner, using the medium of “rap” – a genre that some people consider music (count me among the deniers there).

“Stalin was way worse than Hitler,” the fellow also declared.  “That’s why the POTUS gotta wear a kippah.”  POTUS, of course, in secret service-speak, means “president of the United States” and kippah means… well, you know.  If you’re looking for logic, even of the paranoid variety, you might wish to look elsewhere.

Someone else also recently made news about his own Holocaust views. That would be Professor Yair Auron, an Israeli historian several million light years removed, culturally, from the flat-earth rapper.  In a way, though, Mr. Auron is the more hazardous of the two.

The professor is upset at the Israeli educational system for teaching that the Nazis’ determination to destroy every vestige of the Jewish people is something uniquely Jewish.

He accuses Holocaust educators of repressing or minimizing the suffering of others targeted by the Nazis, and is upset that other mass murders are not placed on a plane with the Nazis’ attempted destruction of Klal Yisrael.

“It must be asked,” he said recently, “if, in Israel in 2016, instead of also shaping Holocaust commemoration through humanist and democratic values… [is] fostering racism and xenophobia… Ignoring the non-Jewish victims is perhaps the most concrete manifestation of this trend.”

No one, of course, denies that the Nazis killed thousands of Communists, mentally disabled, Gypsies, criminals and others.  Nor that mass slaughters of human beings were committed by Stalin in the Soviet Union, by Pol Pot in Cambodia, by the Turks against the Armenians and by the Hutu tribe against the Tutsi and moderate Hutus in Rwanda.  And those outrages all deserve to be remembered.

But to contend that it’s somehow wrong to stress the singular hatred Hitler, ym”s, had for Jews, and his determination to destroy our people in toto is to reveal the deepest of delusions.  And fostering that delusion is a Holocaust revision of its own.

Determination to create a world that would be Judenrein – free of Jews – was the Nazis’ first and foremost goal.  They may have had no compunctions about killing others they felt were detrimental to the Third Reich – political opponents, the non-productive, those they deemed “asocial.”  But they didn’t seek a Gypsyrein world or a disabledrein one.  The Nazi quest was to clear the world, not just Germany, of Jews; and it was a deep and abiding obsession, a psychopathy clothed in philosophical/theological garb.

Hitler revealed as much in Mein Kampf, where he wrote: “If… the Jew is victorious over the other peoples of the world, his crown will be the funeral wreath of humanity and this planet will, as it did thousands of years ago, move through the ether devoid of men…”

Even as he and his companion were about to commit suicide, on April 29, 1945, at 4 a.m. the fading führer issued a statement declaring “Above all, I charge the leadership of the nation and their followers with… merciless resistance against the universal poisoners of all peoples, international Jewry.”

Scholar Steven I. Katz put it succinctly: “The Holocaust is phenomenologically unique by virtue of the fact that never before has a state set out, as a matter of intentional principle and actualized policy, to annihilate physically every man, woman, and child belonging to a specific group.”

Or, as the philosopher Emil Fackenheim wrote, “The extermination of the Jews had no political or economic justification. It was not a means to any end; it was an end in itself.”

And there’s something more, too, a context that makes the Nazis’ Jew-hatred singularly significant.  Here, perhaps, a non-historian may have said it best, and only last week.

Awarding a posthumous honor to Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds, an American serviceman who protected Jewish captives in a German POW camp, the aforementioned POTUS recalled Mr. Edmonds’ words to the camp’s commander, who had ordered Jewish prisoners to come forward: “We are all Jews.”

“We are all Jews,” explained Mr. Obama, “because anti-Semitism is a distillation, an expression of an evil that runs through so much of human history, and if we do not answer that, we do not answer any other form of evil.”

Gut gezokt.  Hear it well, Professor Auron.

© 2016 Hamodia