Local Survivor Ruth Weiner Speaks at WNE University

The Holocaust How Did It Happen?

From Western New England University. See the original post here.

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2019 – 9:30 AM

Western New England University students got a lesson in one of the darkest chapters of human history, as Holocaust survivor Ruth Weiner spoke on campus Tuesday, February 19.

A native of Vienna, Weiner described witnessing the annexation of Austria by Germany’s Third Reich and experiencing the horrors of rising Anti-Semitism firsthand. As a child, she lived through the burning of synagogues and the destruction of Jewish businesses during Kristallnacht, and would eventually escape Austria on the Kindertransport, arriving in England at the outbreak of World War II.

As a prelude to Weiner’s talk, Western New England alumna Amanda Poris ’16 recounted her recent trip to Poland, including visits to historic sites including Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp. Pianist Larry Picard and cellist John Hanifin lent their talents to the program, playing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” and the “Theme from Schindler’s List” by John Williams.

Weiner’s appearance was sponsored by Western New England University’s Office of Spiritual Life and The Holocaust Education Resource and Outreach Center.

CPTV’s Home Movies: Elizabeth Deutsch

Take a look at this wonderful short episode focusing on Fairfield-based Holocaust survivor, Betty Deutsch. An active speaker in the state of Connecticut since 1980, Voices of Hope honored Betty with the Chesed Award for her incredible acts of loving kindness.

Click here to see this episode of Home Movies from CPTV!

ADL: Why We Need Legislation to Ensure the Holocaust is Taught in Schools

Originally published February 21, 2019 at www.adl.org. Find the original post here.

Holocaust Education

One would think that teaching the lessons of the Holocaust in schools would be a given in the United States. After all, it is an essential component in learning about world history, the rise of fascism, World War II, and genocide, all of which are already part of any respectable high school history curriculum.

But recent incidents of students appropriating and abusing Holocaust imagery have served as a reminder and a wake-up call for the need to teach the universal lessons of the Holocaust to help ensure that the next generation is getting the fullest understanding possible of the implications of the Nazi genocide of six million Jews and millions of others in Europe.

Last November, a shocking photo surfaced of at least 60 high school boys in Baraboo, Wisconsin making Nazi salutes on the steps of a local courthouse before their high school junior prom. At a time of rising hate crimes and anti-Semitic incidents, these boys’ thoughtless, nonchalant gesture reminded us not to be complacent about the need to teach the universal lessons of the Holocaust, and the consequences of bigotry and hate. And a recent national survey revealed that Americans are forgetting – or never knew — basic facts about the Holocaust.

To date, only 11 states across the country currently have laws mandating Holocaust education; other states recommend inclusion of Holocaust education themes in the curriculum. Unfortunately, every law is different.

The most comprehensive state laws provide funding and age-appropriate educational resources, specifically defining the time parameters of the Holocaust and the targets of the Nazis genocidal policies.  The best state laws would provide guidance on how instruction about the Holocaust can be integrated within state mandates for history, social studies, and other language arts courses.

Fortunately, there is new energy now behind federal and state initiatives to promote Holocaust education.

At the federal level, longtime Holocaust education champion Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) recently introduced the Never Again Education Act, legislation which would create a new grant program at the U.S. Department of Education to provide teachers across the U.S. with the necessary resources to teach about the Holocaust in their classrooms. 

The legislation is designed to assist teachers with overcoming the many obstacles teachers face when teaching the Holocaust, including a lack of awareness of where to find resources; a lack of funding to take advantage of these resources and training programs; and a lack of knowledge for how to incorporate the subject into their curricula.

ADL supports this bipartisan legislation because we believe strongly that learning about the Holocaust and lessons of unchecked anti-Semitism and racism is one of the best ways to fight prejudice and discrimination, and to help ensure that genocide and such atrocities never happen again.

By encouraging curriculum experts at the Department of Education to work with private Holocaust education centers and other experts, this bill provides an innovative forum for competitive grants, regional workshops, valuable training programs, curriculum and other resources.

Here’s three reasons why teaching about the Holocaust provides an opportunity for teachers to elevate a number of important learning objectives:

  1. Respect for Differences: The Holocaust began because average German citizens had anti-Semitism reinforced in their homes, religious institutions and broader society. They were taught that one group of people were worth less than others.  This hateful and false lesson enabled the average German citizen – and many of their fellow Europeans – to see Jews as not worthy of living among them as Jews, then as not worthy to live among them, and finally as not worthy to live at all. 
  2. Understanding Where Prejudice Can Lead: Teaching the Holocaust can help students learn about the underlying ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping.  The Holocaust is a dramatic warning about the capacity of human beings, who, when prodded and backed by state power, are capable of the murder of millions of innocent people. The murder of six million Jews — including 1.5 million children – and millions of others by their fellow Europeans was possible only because many millions of other people accepted narratives of hate about other people, ignored their desperate pleas for help, and, in some cases, were actively complicit in their torture and murder.
  3. The Fragility of Democracy: It has been said that the Holocaust began not with gas chambers, but with words. Studying the Holocaust also has the potential to teach us how precious and how fragile democracy can be. The Nazis had to first destroy democratic values and civil rights before they could legally discriminate, demonize, dehumanize, and then murder 6 million human beings based on the fiction of race superiority and the use of racial hatred.  The Holocaust is a case study in how much the life of a democracy depends on its citizens and their willingness to stand up to anti-democratic forces. 

To complement Holocaust education laws for schools, we should work to ensure that Holocaust education is being offered in our communities, too.   To that end, ADL offers several educational programs to teach about the Holocaust. 

ADL’s flagship Holocaust education program, Echoes and Reflections, has taught hundreds of thousands of middle and high school students around the United States about the Holocaust. Another ADL program, Bearing Witness, has trained over 2000 Catholic school educators across the country, equipping these educators with tools and techniques to teach about the Holocaust. 

In addition, using the lens of the Holocaust, in partnership with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, ADL developed Law Enforcement and Society: Lessons from the Holocaust, a core values training program for law enforcement authorities.  After a docent-led tour of the Museum, police participants look at law enforcement’s role – active and passive – in failing to uphold democratic principles and in propagating atrocities in Nazi Germany during the 1930s and 1940s. 

Since its establishment in 1999 in Washington, D.C., more than 130,000 law enforcement officers have participated in LEAS trainings.  Now, every new FBI Special Agent goes through this training, which has also become standard protocol for several major metropolitan police forces, the Department of Homeland Security and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“Learning about the Holocaust is one of the best ways to fight prejudice and discrimination,” – Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO, Anti-Defamation League.

Researchers unlock the mystery of Polish diplomats who rescued Jews

Link to the original Jewish Telegraphic Agency article: Researchers unlock the mystery of Polish diplomats who rescued Jews

AMSTERDAM (JTA) – Growing up, Heidi Fishman knew that she was alive thanks to her grandfather’s Paraguayan passport.

A Jewish author from Vermont, she was told as a little girl that Heinz Lichtenstern’s passport was the only reason that her maternal grandparents and mother managed to avoid being sent to a Nazi death camp in occupied Europe.

But only long after his death did Fishman, 56, begin to wonder how the passport got to her grandfather, a Germany-born Jew with no known ties Paraguay.

“I never knew where the passport came from,” she said earlier this month at a lecture about her family’s survival story. “I just accepted the story from my mom: We had a Paraguayan passport. But where did it come from?”

This question last year led Fishman and others to lift from the shadows one of the most remarkable and large-scale Holocaust operations of its kind.

Partly thanks to the power of social networks, she learned last year that the passport was one of thousands of forgeries that a group of six Poles in Switzerland had risked their lives to prepare and distribute. Hundreds of recipients used the life-saving documents to escape genocide in Nazi-occupied Europe.

Known as the Bernese Group, the group operated in such secrecy that their actions remained undocumented for decades after the Holocaust. Yet they left enough evidence behind to allow researchers to compile a very detailed understanding of their efforts, according to Jeffrey Cymbler, a New York lawyer who has spent decades putting together a puzzle that was completed last year.

The six Bernese Group members “never told anyone about what they had done,” Cymbler said. “For decades, we knew only half the story.”

The full story, put together by Cymbler and a research team with help from the Polish government, involves four Polish diplomats in exile in Bern, Switzerland. They had conspired to make fake South American passports for Jews in Poland and beyond, and then delivered the documents, with help from two Polish Jews, to close to hundreds of recipients.

For the conspirators, the operation required bribing South American diplomats at the risk of being deported and handed over to the Nazis by the Swiss authorities — who were on to the rescuers’ game and not happy about it.

Cymbler has known since the 1980s about attempts to give Paraguayan passports to Jews from his family’s ancestral town of Bedzin in Poland. But he had no evidence of anyone using such passports to survive the Holocaust, said Cymbler, a genealogist and founder of the Bedzin-Sosnowiec-Zawiercie Area Research Society.

Jeffrey cymbler examining documents tied to the Bernese Group in Switzerland in 2017. Courtesy of Jeffrey Cymbler

Jeffrey Cymbler examining documents tied to the Bernese Group in Switzerland in 2017. (Courtesy of Cymbler)

That changed last year, when he found on Facebook descendants of people like Fishman, who were actually saved thanks to the passports.

“Up to that point, I had basically thought the passports arrived too late to help anybody escape,” said Cymbler. His own great uncle tried to obtain a Paraguayan passport but perished with his family during the liquidation in 1943 of the Bedzin ghetto.

As evidence of the Bernese Group emerged, in declassified Swiss archives and elsewhere, the Polish embassy in Switzerland under Ambassador Jakub Kumoch set up a small research team. For  the first time it documented how the passports were produced, delivered and used to save people from right under the noses of the Nazi occupation forces and Swiss authorities.

The forgeries were made on genuine blank passport pages purchased illegally by the Bernese Group from diplomats like Paraguayan honorary consul Rudolf Hügli. Each blank passport cost hundreds of dollars, paid by the recipients. The Bernese Group, however, did not make any money off of the effort, Cymbler’s research showed.

A key Bernese Group member in this stage of the process was Konstanty Rokicki, a Polish vice consul in Bern, who was not Jewish. He filled out recipients’ details and forged other parts of the fake passports.

Rokicki had three Polish diplomat co-conspirators: Ambassador to Switzerland Aleksander Ładoś, his deputy Stefan Ryniewicz and attache Juliusz Kühl, who was the only Jewish diplomat in the group.

The diplomats obtained the names and at least some of the money for buying the blank passports from two Polish Jews living in Switzerland: Abraham Silberschein, a World Jewish Congress representative, and Chaim Yisroel Eiss, a Zurich-based businessman and activist for the haredi group Agudat Israel.

Contact with recipients was conducted by Alfred Schwarzbaum, a Jewish rescue activist from Bedzin who had managed to flee to nominally neutral Switzerland in 1940. Eiss, Silberschein and Schwarzbaum had the passports smuggled to recipients.

“Schwarzbaum, who helped the Bernese Group, used coded letters to run an important part of the passport forgery factory right under the German censorship’s nose,” Cymbler said.

One letter, written by Cymbler’s great uncle to Schwarzbaum, feigned familiarity to him in order to send him passport photos without raising the suspicion of German censors, who would open and read all correspondence to and from the Bedzin ghetto.

“Dear Alf, how are your wife and kids? All is well with us, we’re well, working. To remember us, we’re sending you our photographs,” read the letter. The prints had on the back the names of the people pictured.

In some letters, recipients used Yiddish words to secretly keep the Bernese Group abreast of developments inside the ghetto.

“Uncle Geirush is coming this week,” one letter read, using the word for deportation. “We are awaiting the imminent arrival of our friend Malachamavet,” another read, meaning “the angel of death.”

For Cymbler’s great uncle, his wife and their two children, the passports came too late. They were killed during a deportation to Auschwitz. But hundreds used the passports either to escape the Nazi occupation or obtain foreign prisoner-of-war status that kept them out of the death camps.

Newly-declassified files from Schwarzbaum’s interrogation by Swiss police indicate that they had the Bernese Group firmly in their sights. All of its members has been detained for questioning at some point, raising the prospect of their deportation to occupied Poland by the Swiss, who were neutral but anxious not to anger the Germans.

The Bernese Group had gradually undertaken providing passports from additional South American states beyond just Paraguay to Jews in occupied Netherlands and even Germany itself. They were the center of an international conspiracy which the Germans would no doubt have crushed with the full force of the ruthless Gestapo secret police.

Any member of the Bernese Group sent back to occupied Poland would have almost certainly been executed, merely for being either Jewish or associated with the Polish government in exile, whose headquarters in London continued the struggle against the Nazi Germany.

The risk required such secrecy that many recipients of Bernese Group passports had no idea who made them, or even that they were fake.

This was certainly the case in the family of Heidi Fishman’s mother, Ruth. Deported in 1944 from Amsterdam to the Theresienstadt Ghetto with her father and mother, the family was withdrawn from death camp transports after showing a copy of their Paraguayan passport.

Before obtaining the exemption, Ruth’s father embraced her and wept in front of her for the first time in her life, in what he thought was a last goodbye, Heidi Fishman said.

The current Polish embassy’s interest in the case coincides with a broader effort by Poland to highlight the efforts of Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust. Critics of that effort say it is whitewashing the actions of Poles who betrayed Jews to the Nazis or killed them.

The debate on Polish complicity — which was exacerbated by the passing last year of a law making it a crime to blame the Polish nation for Nazi crimes – was raging as Cymbler, Fishman and others were discovering the truth about the Bernese Group, Fishman said.

She said that at first she was “uncomfortable” working with officials representing Poland’s right-wing government, which some critics accuse of Holocaust revisionism.

“I didn’t want to be used as a puppet, as a Jew who says Poles did only nice things during the Holocaust,” she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. But so far, she added, “I have seen no attempt to use the Bernese Group story to push any narrative.”

Cymbler, the Jewish lawyer from New York who started researching the Bernese Group in the 1980s, says he does not think of his discoveries in the context of the current debate at all.

“It’s simply a question of learning the truth,” he said.

Although the Polish government in exile knew about the Bernese Group’s actions and endorsed it, Cymbler said, “This is not a story about any Polish government. It’s a story about six Polish citizens, three of them Jews. It was about human beings trying to save other human beings: Jewish ones, not necessarily Polish, throughout Nazi Germany.”

Kumoch, the current ambassador to Poland, has a different view. Whatever his wartime predecessor, Aleksander Ładoś, did, Kumoch said, “he did in the name of the Polish State. The State that fought the Nazis and tried to rescue its Jewish citizens.”