Category Archives: Holocaust

The Nazis Knew

A dear friend who had a secular upbringing and maintains an irreligious outlook took issue, gently, if a bit cynically, with something I had written for Aish.com, a website that reaches out to a broad swath of Jewish readers.

The article was about R’ Yosef Friedenson, a”h, the longtime editor of Dos Yiddishe Vort, the Yiddish-language periodical published for many years by Agudath Israel of America. “Mr.” Friedenson, as he preferred to be called, survived the Holocaust and was a keen historian, meticulous journalist, eloquent speaker – and one of the nicest people I have ever met. I had the pleasure of his company for some twenty years in the Agudah national offices in Manhattan.

In my tribute to R’ Yosef, I included a story from his recent, posthumously published collection of memories, “Faith Amid the Flames” (Artscroll/Mesorah).

At the start of World War II, when Poland had been overrun by the Nazis, ym”s, Mr. Friedenson was a 17-year-old living with his family in Lodz. One day, two German soldiers burst into the family’s apartment.

At one point, they demanded the teenager identify the stately tomes on the bookshelf.

He had no reason to lie. “The Talmud,” he answered.

“At the mention of that word, they became like mad dogs,” Mr. Friedenson recalled many decades later. “They threw the holy books on the floor and trampled them, ripping them to shreds with their heavy boots.”

And when they had left, the young Yosef asked his father why the Nazis had responded so viciously.

“They don’t hate us as a people,” was the response. “They hate us because of our holy books. What is written in them is a contradiction to all they stand for, to their outlook and corrupt mentality.”

My friend was suitably impressed with my description of Mr. Friedenson. “Nice memory,” he e-mailed me, “of what sounds like a remarkable man.”

But, he continued, “I’ll take a pass, out of respect, as to the assertion that the Nazis hated Jews because of the content of books the former almost certainly never read.”

My friend found it hard to imagine that the Nazis’ hatred was qualitatively different from the antipathy of various ethnic or national groups toward others. His materialistic outlook attributed no specialness to our mesorah and, hence, no rationale for how a movement based on power and paganism might find Torah a mortal threat to its success.

I can’t prove otherwise to him, but shared something to buttress Mr. Friedenson’s father’s observation, a memorandum discovered by the noted Holocaust historian Moshe Prager, a”h.

It was sent on October 25, 1940 by the chief of the German occupation power, I.A. Eckhardt, to the local Nazi district governors in occupied Poland. In it, he instructs German officials to refuse exit visas to “Ostjuden,” Jews from Eastern Europe.

Eckhardt explains that these Jews, as “Rabbiner un Talmudlehrer,” Rabbis and Talmud scholars, would, if allowed to emigrate, foster “die geistige erneuerung,” spiritual revival, of the Jewish people in other places.

So it seems that it wasn’t just Jews whom the Nazis hated, but Judaism. In fact, writing in 1930, Alfred Rosenberg, Hitler’s chief ideologue, denounced “the honorless character of the Jew” – his take on the idea of personal conscience and devotion to the Creator – as “embodied in the Talmud and in Shulchan-Aruch.”

The “spiritual renewal” that the Nazi memo author so feared, baruch Hashem, despite the best evil efforts of the movement he championed, has in fact come to pass.

Torah-committed Jewish survivors helped rejuvenate Jewish life on these and other shores, rebuilding Jewish communal and educational institutions and fostering shemiras hamitzvos and, yes, Talmud study, in new lands. The scope and enthusiasm of the Siyum HaShas is powerful evidence of that.

Daf Yomi, of course, was introduced by Rav Meir Shapiro in 1923. It isn’t known how many attended the first or second Siyum HaShas. But, amazingly, right after the Holocaust, in 1945, thousands of Jews in Eretz Yisrael, the Feldafing Dispaced Persons camp and New York united to mark the third Siyum HaShas.

The 1968 Siyum at the Bais Yaakov of Borough Park drew 300 people; by 1975, at the 7th Siyum, five thousand celebrants gathered at the Manhattan Center; and, at that gathering, the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah permanently dedicated the Siyum HaShas to the memory of the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust.

The 1990 Siyum filled Madison Square Garden’s 20,000 seats. In 1997, the Siyum required both Madison Square Garden and the similar-sized Nassau Coliseum.

In 2012, the 12th Siyum Hashas filled MetLife Stadium with close to a hundred thousand Jews – joined at a distance in countless other locales by thousands of others.

The Talmud and its lehrers had emerged victorious.

Ironies abound on the path to that victory. Perhaps none, though, as astonishing as the format of a new publication of “Mein Kampf” in its original German, the first edition of Hitler’s rambling, anti-Semitic imaginings to be produced in Germany since the end of World War II.

Intended for scholars and libraries, it is heavily annotated to provide the elements of the screed with their necessary context.

The critical notes, however, are not presented in a traditional manner. The academic team that prepared the edition decided for some reason to instead “encircle” Hitler’s words with the deconstructing annotations.

Dan Michman, head of international research at Yad Vashem museum in Israel, described how, as a result, the pages would appear.

They will, he said, “look like the Talmud.”

© 2019 Hamodia (in shortened form)

Love, Hate and the Holocaust

Considering that a survey last year revealed that 31 percent of Americans, and 41 percent of millennials, believe that two million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and that 41 percent of Americans, and 66 percent of millennials, cannot say what Auschwitz was, a large and impressive Holocaust exhibit would seem to merit only praise.

And praise the “Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away” exhibit currently at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan has garnered in abundance. It has received massive news coverage in both print and electronic media.

First shown in Madrid, where it drew some 600,000 visitors, the exhibit will be in New York into January before moving on.

Among many writers who experienced the exhibit and wrote movingly about its power was reporter and author Ralph Blumenthal.  In the New York Times, he vividly described the artifacts that are included in the exhibit, which includes many items the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland lent for a fee to the Spanish company Musealia, the for-profit organizer of the exhibition.

Mr. Blumenthal wrote that the museum, within sight of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, had to alter its floor plan to make room for large-scale displays like a reconstructed barracks. Outside the museum’s front door, there is a Deutsche Reichsbahn railway cattle car parked on the sidewalk, placed there by a crane.

Inside, among the 700 objects and 400 photographs and drawings from Auschwitz, are concrete posts and barbed wire that were once part of the camp’s electrified perimeter, prisoners’ uniforms, three-tier bunks where ill and starving prisoners slept two or more to a billet, and, “particularly chilling,” an adjustable steel chaise for medical experiments on human beings.

There is a rake for ashes and there are heavy iron crematory latches, fabricated by the manufacturer Topf & Sons There is a fake showerhead used to persuade doomed victims of the Nazis, ym”s, that they were entering a bathhouse, not a death chamber about to be filled with the lethal gas Zyklon B.

And personal items, like a child’s shoe with a sock stuffed inside it.

“Who puts a sock in his shoe?” asks Mr. Blumenthal.  “Someone,” he explains poignantly, “who expects to retrieve it.”

Another essayist, this one less impressed by the exhibit – at least in one respect –is novelist and professor Dara Horn, who teaches Hebrew and Yiddish literature.

Writing in The Atlantic, Ms. Horn approached the exhibit carrying in her mind the recent memory of a swastika that had been drawn on a desk in her children’s New Jersey public middle school and the appearance of six more of the Nazi symbols in an adjacent town. “Not a big deal,” she writes. But the scrawlings provided a personal context for her rumination on her museum visit.

In her essay, titled “Auschwitz Is Not a Metaphor: The new exhibition at the Museum of Jewish Heritage gets everything right – and fixes nothing,” she recalls her visit to Auschwitz as a teenager participating in the March of the Living, and reflects on Holocaust museums, which she characterizes as promoting the idea that “People would come to these museums and learn what the world had done to the Jews, where hatred can lead. They would then stop hating Jews.”

And the current exhibit, she notes, ends with a similar banality. At the end of the tour, she reports, “onscreen survivors talk in a loop about how people need to love one another.”

To do justice to Ms. Horn’s reaction would require me to reproduce her essay in full.  But a snippet: “In Yiddish, speaking only to other Jews, survivors talk about their murdered families, about their destroyed centuries-old communities… Love rarely comes up; why would it? But it comes up here, in this for-profit exhibition. Here is the ultimate message, the final solution.”

Ouch.

“That the Holocaust drives home the importance of love,” she writes further, “is an idea, like the idea that Holocaust education prevents anti-Semitism, that seems entirely unobjectionable. It is entirely objectionable.”

Those sentences alone would make the essay worth reading.  And the writer’s perceptivity is even more in evidence when she writes:

“The Holocaust didn’t happen because of a lack of love. It happened because entire societies abdicated responsibility for their own problems, and instead blamed them on the people who represented –have always represented, since they first introduced the idea of commandedness to the world – the thing they were most afraid of: responsibility.”

Har Sinai is called that, Rav Chisda and Rabbah bar Rav Huna explain, because it is the mountain from which sinah, hatred, descended to the nations of the world. (Shabbos 89a).  One understanding of that statement is precisely what Ms. Horn contends. Although her essay appeared the week before Shavuos, she didn’t intend it to have a Yom Tov theme.

But in fact it did.

© 2019 Hamodia

All The Days of Your Life

I often feel terribly pampered. Especially when I think of my parents’ generation.

At the age when my father, z”l, and several others from the Novardok Yeshiva in Vilna were captured for being Polish bnei yeshivah and banished by the Soviets to Siberia, I was being captured by a teacher for some prank and banished to the principal’s office. When he was trying to avoid working on Shabbos as his taskmasters demanded, I was busy trying to avoid the homework my teachers demanded.

When he was moser nefesh finding opportunities to study Torah while working in the frozen taiga, my mesirus nefesh consisted of getting out of bed early in the morning for davening. Where he struggled to survive, my only struggle was with the mundane challenges of adolescence. Pondering our respective age-tagged challenges has lent me perspective.

And so, while I help prepare the house for Pesach, pausing to rest each year a bit more frequently than the previous one, thoughts of my father’s first Pesach in Siberia arrive in my head.

In his slim memoir, “Fire, Ice, Air,” he describes how Pesach was on the minds of the young men and their Rebbi, Rav Leib Nekritz, zt”l, as soon as they arrived in Siberia in the summer of 1941. While laboring in the fields, they pocketed a few wheat kernels here and there, later placing them in a special bag, which they carefully hid. This was, of course, against the rules and dangerous. But the Communist credo, after all, was “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” and so they were really only being good Marxists. They had needs, after all, like matzah shemurah.

Toward the end of the frigid winter, they retrieved their stash and ground the wheat into coarse, dark flour.

They then dismantled a clock and fitted its gears to a whittled piece of wood, fashioning an approximation of the cleated rolling pin traditionally used to perforate matzos to ensure their thorough baking. In the middle of the night, the exiles came together in a hut with an oven, which they fired up for two hours to make it kosher l’Pesach before baking their matzos.

And on Pesach night they fulfilled, to the extent they could, the mitzvah of achilas matzah.

Perspective is provided me too by the wartime Pesach experience of, l’havdil bein chaim l’chaim, my wife’s father, Reb Yisroel Yitzchok Cohen, may he be well. In his own memoir, “Destined to Survive,” he describes how, in the Dachau satellite camp where he was interned, there was no way to procure matzah. All the same, he was determined to have the Pesach he could. In the dark of the barracks on the leil shimurim, he suggested to a friend that they recite parts of the Haggadah they knew by heart.

As they quietly chanted Mah Nishtanah, other inmates protested. “What are you crazy Chassidim doing?” they asked. “Do you have matzos, do you have wine and food for a Seder? Sheer stupidity!”

My shver responded that he and his friend were fulfilling a mitzvah d’Oraysa – and that no one could know if their “Seder” is less meritorious in the eyes of Heaven than those of Jews in places of freedom and plenty.

We in such places can glean much from the Pesachim of those two members – and so many other men and women – of the Jewish “greatest generation.”

A passuk cited in the Haggadah elicited a novel thought from Rav Avrohom, the first Rebbe of Slonim. The Torah commands us to eat matzah on Pesach, “so that you remember the day of your leaving Mitzrayim all the days of your life.”

Commented the Slonimer Rebbe: “When recounting Yetzias Mitzrayim, one should remember, too, ‘all the days’ of his own life – the miracles and wonders that Hashem performed for him throughout…”

Those who, baruch Hashem, emerged from the Holocaust and merited to see children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, naturally do that. But the rest of us, too, have experienced our own “miracles and wonders.” We may not recognize all of the Divine guidance and chassadim with which we were blessed. But that reflects only our obliviousness. At the Seder, when we recount Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s kindnesses to our ancestors, it is a time, too, to look back at our own personal histories and appreciate the personal gifts we’ve been given.

And should that prove a challenge, we might begin by reflecting on what some Jews a bit older than we had to endure not so very long ago.

© 2019 Hamodia

Polar Vort

“Not as cold as Siberia.”

That’s what my father, a”h, would say with a laugh if I complained over the phone about the frigid weather in Providence, where my family lived in the 1980s. And indeed it never was that cold. In the work camp east of Irkutsk where he and a small group of Novardok talmidim and their rebbe, Rav Yehudah Leib Nekritz, zt”l, had been exiled by the Soviets, winter temperatures could reach minus-40 Celsius.

When I was transcribing the memoir I convinced my father to write, some ten years ago, I asked my wife to check what that would be in Fahrenheit, the system we in the U.S. use. I imagined it was somewhere around zero, when, after a few minutes, my ears, and even gloved fingers, lose all feeling.

After some research, she reported back: “That’s where both scales converge. Minus forty Celsius is minus forty Fahrenheit.”

I write as the edges of the polar vortex have chilled the air outside to single digits (as I set out for Shacharis this morning, the thermometer read zero), and 27 below was what my friends and nieces and nephews in Chicago were enduring.

As you read this, the weather will have warmed. But unless you live in Australia (where it was recently 99 degrees Fahrenheit), you will recall last week’s deep freeze with a shiver.

Arctic blasts always recall to me not only my father’s droll comment but the experience that qualified him to make it.

The ten young men – boys would better have described them; my father was all of 16 – and Rav Nekritz, his wife and their two daughters reached the work camp at the end of July, 1941. They thought the Siberian summer was insufferable, with its hordes of stinging gnats and mosquitoes (though my father, always seeing the good, remembered beautiful butterflies too). And, as the exiles felled trees and harvested potatoes and onions, the brown bears in the forest were also on their minds.

But when the first winter arrived, well before Rosh Hashanah, the new arrivals discovered what “Siberia” conjures in most minds.

When I picture the Jews whom the Soviets forced to work outdoors in horrific cold, I can never avoid thinking about what I was doing at 16 years of age, when my biggest challenges were things like being unprepared, through every fault of my own, for a bechinah or math test. The contrast is always, pun intended, chilling.

In keeping with the Novardok derech, the yeshiva bachurim would try to find a few minutes to spend isolated in a far corner of a field, or among the trees of the forest, to think about who they were, who they should be, and how best to journey from the one to the other.

My esteemed friend Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, who has written about Novardok and the Siberian chaburah, has recounted how a non-Jewish resident of the work camp once asked Rav Nekritz why he thought that a respected rabbi and teacher of Torah like him had been reduced to the life of manual labor in the Siberian wastelands.

His response was: “So you and your friends would see that there is a G-d in the world.”

Novardoker that he was, he then added, perhaps to himself as well: “And so that we, too, would see that there is a G-d in the world.” And indeed, Hashem protected the group; all its members survived the war to rebuild their lives and establish families.

Rav Nekritz also once shared a thought with the young exiles.

“The Amora Rav Yitzchak Nafcha,” he pointed out, “was a blacksmith, a lowly job.”

“When we picture a blacksmith,” he continued, “we imagine someone with grossly muscular arms and an unrefined soul. Yet Rav Yitzchak Nafcha was an illustrious chacham, possessed of no less holiness and refinement than any sage whose good fortune was to spend his days in the beis medrash

“Yes, our situation here is very different from what it was in yeshivah. But we can strengthen ourselves so that our surroundings and labors do not negatively affect us. One can be a woodchopper and simultaneously develop an exalted, refined soul, as exalted and refined as that of anyone who spends his entire days in deep introspection. Hatchets and saws need not leave their marks on our neshamos.”

It’s a message not bound to any time and place. For those of us today who are no longer ensconced in yeshivah or seminary, it’s as important to hear as it was for the Novardokers in Siberia.

© 2019 Hamodia

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