Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel (Boston U. Hon.’74) Honored with Bust in Washington National Cathedral

Image of late BU professor and Holocaust chronicler
to be dedicated October 12 in Human Rights Porch

The late Holocaust chronicler Elie Wiesel (Hon.’74) is the first Jewish person to receive an honorary bust at Washington National Cathedral’s Human Rights Porch. Photo courtesy of Washington National Cathedral

BU Today September 25, 2021 By Rich Barlow

The Nazis couldn’t kill Elie Wiesel at Auschwitz or Buchenwald. Having survived childhood imprisonment in the death camps, he made sure their horrors would be remembered in many of his 57 books (notably the memoir Nightand his almost 40 years of teaching at BU.

Some five years after his death at 87, Wiesel (Hon.’74), who chronicled the worst of humanity, has joined some of the best. His soulful-eyed face, in stone, now gazes from a corner 10 feet up in an alcove of human rights heroes at Washington National Cathedral.

The bust of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner makes Wiesel the first modern Jewish person memorialized in the Episcopal basilica’s Human Rights Porch. He’s in august company. The Porch’s other corners are anchored by busts of Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, and civil rights martyr Jonathan Myrick Daniels, an unarmed Episcopal seminarian shot dead in Alabama in 1965 while defending a Black teenager. Elsewhere in the alcove, statues remember the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Salvadoran Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero, and Bishop John Walker, the first Black bishop of D.C.’s Episcopalians.

Wiesel taught at BU for almost four decades before retiring. He died in 2016. Photo by Vernon Doucette

Wiesel was a College of Arts & Sciences professor of philosophy and religion, and one of only two professors to hold the University’s Andew W. Mellon Professorship in the Humanities (Ibram Kendi is the other). Night’s 100-plus pages searingly detail his Holocaust nightmare, from the guilt he experienced over resenting his father’s growing incapacitation to the latter’s fatal beating as his young son cowered in a bunk above.

“His is a powerful voice against the danger of indifference,” says the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of the Cathedral, in explaining the decision to install Wiesel’s likeness. “Whenever we overlook the suffering of others because it’s too hard or inconvenient, he reminds us that we not only deny their humanity, but our own. His life is a testament to the power and importance of vigilance to protect any and all threats to human dignity.”

“We are immensely proud,” says Michael Zank, director of BU’s Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies and a CAS professor of religion. “We are also moved by the fact that this is happening now, when acts of antisemitism are on the rise both in the United States and abroad. That Wiesel is placed in the company of Rosa Parks, Oscar Romero, and Mother Teresa means that he is recognized as a voice of conscience.

“This is especially important at a time when the struggle for human rights inspires young people more than ever before.”

“Anti-Semitism is one of the world’s oldest and most insidious evils, and Professor Wiesel’s life and work call on each of us to vigilantly work against it,” Hollerith says. “We may never rid the world of anti-Semitism, but we in the church have a special calling to ensure it never again results in the horrors that Professor Wiesel endured.”

Artist Chas Fagan (right) works with stone carver Sean Callahan on his sculpture of Wiesel, to be dedicated October 12. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

The bust of Wiesel is the product of two years’ work. Cathedral stone carver Sean Callahan says Wiesel’s image was sculpted by North Carolinian Charles Fagan, who had also sculpted the other corner busts in the Human Rights Porch. Callahan did the actual stone carving of Wiesel with help from Joe Alonso, the Cathedral’s head stonemason.

Wiesel’s stone visage was created using medieval techniques. “The easy, modern way to depict Elie Wiesel might be a precast concrete sculpture,” Callahan says. “Some elements of the process would be the same, but the result would be fairly generic. We use a whole series of hand-carving techniques—chisels, mallets, and any number of tools—to carve the figures directly into the stone of the Cathedral.

“The result is something permanent and one-of-a-kind. Cathedrals were built to last for generations, and the methods are passed down from one generation to the next. This sort of art can’t be mass-produced,” Callahan says, “and shouldn’t be.”

Getting Wiesel’s expression right—“serious, but not too serious, hopeful, but realistic”—was a challenge, he confesses: “Older faces like his have a lot of crags and lines from years of struggle; each of those features takes time to get just right. A younger person with fewer wrinkles and creases can come together more quickly.

“The eyes are the most important part of the sculpture, and it takes a lot of time and skill to make sure the expression captures what you’re looking for,” Callahan says. That’s particularly the case when this set of eyes witnessed horrors that, mercifully, few people ever have to behold. “They say that eyes are the windows to the soul, and that’s especially true when you’re carving a face into stone.” 

A dedication of the bust is planned for October 12 in cooperation with the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

“Professor Wiesel survived the worst that humanity could offer,” Hollerith says, “but he also continually points us to the best of humanity.”


August 10, 2022 at 6:13 pm Leave a comment

Hitler’s Generals, Washingtn Post

Dear Friends,

During August, we always remember our Aunt Elsbeth whose birth date is August 25, 1916, therefore the Washington Post article below is of particular relevance. She was a prisoner in Auschwitz Block 10 where, in her late 20’s, she was experimented on and sterilized, leaving her unable to ever have children.

As an ever-present central figure in our lives, she taught so many lessons about how to face the darkness of Nazi evil, the horrors of Hitler’s world and the infliction of suffering and murder on millions of innocent men, women and children. We are forever grateful for all she gave us during her life and now.

Best wishes,. 

Harriet and Bill

Trump wanted ‘loyal’ generals like Hitler’s — who often tried to kill him

By Gillian Brockell Washington Post August 9, 2022

Nazi leader Adolf Hitler with Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in 1942. (German Federal Archive)

Former president Donald Trump has proved time and again that he is no student of history, despite citing the past with the regularity of a thunderstorm on a summer afternoon.

The latest example comes from the New Yorker, which has published an excerpt from Peter Baker and Susan Glasser’s upcoming book, “The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021,” focused on Trump’s troubles with the military men in his administration whom he once referred to as “mygenerals.”

At one point, according to the book, he complained to his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, a former Marine general, asking why he and others couldn’t be “totally loyal” to him, like the “German generals in World War II.”

Presidential Records Act scandals, from Nixon’s tapes to Trump’s ‘burn bags’

“You do know that they tried to kill Hitler three times and almost pulled it off?” Kelly allegedly responded.

So were Adolf Hitler’s generals yes men? Or did they really plot to assassinate him three times and get close once?

In total, there were at least 42 plots to assassinate Hitler, according to historian Roger Moorhouse in his book “Killing Hitler: The Plots, the Assassins, and the Dictator Who Cheated Death.” Of those, at least 10 attempts involved German generals.

One of the earliest came in 1938, before World War II even began. A handful of generals led by Hans Oster conspired with government ministers and diplomats to overthrow Hitler, and kill him if necessary, believing he was about to thrust Germany into a massive war it could not win. The plot fell apart when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain negotiated a peace treaty, heading off the immediate threat of war. Most of the generals involved quietly joined the German resistance; Oster was executed by the Nazis in 1945.

Hitler shot himself 75 years ago, ending an era of war, genocide and destruction

Gen. Hubert Lanz developed another plot in 1943. When Hitler arrived for a scheduled visit to the eastern front in Ukraine, Lanz and other officers planned to surround Hitler and his security with tanks and, if they resisted arrest, blow them to bits. Hitler ruined the plan by visiting a different spot than they had expected. Lanz was later convicted of war crimes at Nuremberg.

Maj. Gen. Henning von Tresckow organized a number of assassination attempts, including a bomb in a suitcase on Hitler’s plane, which failed to detonate when it froze in the cargo hold, and a bomb timed to go off during Hitler’s appearance at an armory, foiled when he raced through the building before the timer expired.

President Donald Trump and Chief of Staff John F. Kelly attend a meeting at the Oval Office in February 2018. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The best-known plot — probably the “almost pulled it off” to which Kelly was referring — was the 20 July Plot, sometimes erroneously called Operation Valkyrie, which was the name of the continuity-of-government plan that Tresckow and his conspirators wanted to use to take over after they killed Hitler. Col. Claus von Stauffenberg — played by Tom Cruise in the 2008 film “Valkyrie” — placed a bomb in a suitcase close to Hitler in a conference room at his Wolf’s Lair retreat. Stauffenberg was driving away when he heard the bomb go off and presumed Hitler dead.

He wasn’t. An aide had moved the briefcase before it blew up, and Hitler was protected from the blast by a table leg. Four others died, and many more were injured. If the plotters had hoped to decapitate the Nazis, the attempt had the opposite effect: Hitler’s doctor recalled him saying over and over, “I am invulnerable. I am immortal,” according to Moorhouse.

Nazi military officials in 1944 inspect damage from the bomb used in the unsuccessful 20 July Plot to assassinate Hitler. (German Federal Archive)

In the following days, Tresckow killed himself, Stauffenberg died by firing squad, and thousands of alleged conspirators were rounded up, tortured and executed — including a raft of generals. Even Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, a national hero and talented commander, was caught up in the dragnet and forced to kill himself.

The next year, as the Allied forces closed in, Hitler — who had survived dozens of attempts on his life — died by suicide.

Letters found in an attic reveal eerie similarities between Adolf Hitler and his father

Historians are split on to what degree, if any, the generals plotting against him were motivated by a desire to stop Nazi atrocities such as the Holocaust. Many were aware of atrocities for years before they began to plot against Hitler and did nothing. Some may have been motivated more by the Nazis pushing aristocrats out of government than by high-minded ideals like democracy or human rights. Even the generals who wanted to kill Hitler to end the war planned to claim in their surrender terms much of the territory Germany had taken during the Nazi regime.

Like Trump, Kelly has previously been criticized for his questionable takes on history. In 2017, he told Fox News host Laura Ingraham that the Civil War was caused by “the lack of an ability to compromise” and that Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was “an honorable man,” views popular among the now-discredited “Lost Cause” hagiography to which many students in the 20th century were subjected.

Hitler’s generals are, by and large, not held up as principled heroes or honorable men, not even the ones who plotted to kill him. They are remembered as the men who stood by while Hitler murdered millions.


August 10, 2022 at 11:53 am Leave a comment

A Jewish girl disguises herself as a Christian to evade the Holocaust in ‘My Name Is Sara’

“My Name is Sara” follows the young Sara as she and her brother, Moishe, flee the Nazis in 1942.

The Jerusalem Post By ANDREW LAPIN/JTA Published: JULY 15, 2022 Updated: JULY 19, 2022

Polish actress Zuzanna Surowy in “My Name Is Sara.”
(photo credit: Strand Releasing via JTA)

(JTA) – Sara Góralnik Shapiro survived the Holocaust by disguising herself as a Christian and working for a family of Ukrainian farmers. She then went on to live a long and prosperous life as a member of Detroit’s Jewish community.

Her story is incredible on its own merits, and it’s hardly surprising that someone might one day want to make a film about it. “My Name Is Sara,” the latest dramatic production by the USC Shoah Foundation, is now seeing a nationwide rollout three years after it was made.

The foundation has recently broadened its mandate from backing documentary works about the Holocaust to dramatizations, including the recent HBO film “The Survivor.” “My Name is Sara” follows the young Sara (first-time Polish actor Zuzanna Surowy) as she and her brother, Moishe, flee the Nazis in 1942, the rest of their family having already been slaughtered. At Moishe’s suggestion, the two split up and Sara, under a fake name, throws herself at the mercy of a farming couple. She wards off their immediate suspicions that she is a Jew by successfully performing the sign of the cross; later, for her first meal under their roof, she enthusiastically eats a plate of pork.

Her ruse an early success, Sara and her story quickly fade into the background as the domestic drama of the farmers (played by Michalina Olszanska and Eryk Lubos) takes center stage. In addition to marital problems, they’re also struggling to make ends meet as they are harassed and intimidated by both Soviet “liberators” and violent Jewish partisans, with Nazis also glimpsed from time to time. It’s a thread of potential interest to budding historians curious about how Eastern Europe’s non-Jewish working class fared under World War II’s occupying forces, but less relevant when it comes to understanding Jewish survival.

Director Steven Oritt, a documentarian making his dramatic-feature debut, and screenwriter David Himmelstein, whose previous credits include Sidney Lumet’s “Power,” sprinkle in moments in which Sara’s true identity threatens to be exposed. At one point, she’s overheard reciting the Shema prayer to herself in a nightmare; at another, the family pushes her to dress up as a “Jew” for their holiday party, and she dons an antisemitic hook-nosed mask and payot (sidelocks worn by many Orthodox men) as the others dance and sing around her. Surowy reacts to these moments with a sort of wide-eyed blankness, a baseline level of existential terror that never truly fades.

Polish born Mordechai Fox, an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor, wears a yellow Star of David on his jacket during a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day (credit: REUTERS)

Hundreds of Holocaust movies have already been made, and many of them have gone deeper in exploring the inner lives of their characters than “My Name is Sara” does. The new film shows the character struggling with the external pressures of hiding her identity, but does little to unpack what it must have been like for her to obscure her Judaism for an extended period of time as a way of surviving the genocide of the Jewish people.

One scene hints at what such an exploration could have looked like, as Sara encounters another lost Jewish girl and teaches her how to recite the Hail Mary, a central Catholic prayer, as a way of evading detection. By the end of the film, Sara has reclaimed both her name and Judaism — hers being one of the very few Holocaust stories with a happy ending.

“My Name Is Sara” is now playing at New York’s Quad Cinema and opens later this summer in LA, San Francisco, Miami, Detroit and Cincinnati.

Source: ‘My name is Sara’: How a Jewish girl hid as a Christian in the Holocaust – The Jerusalem Post (

July 19, 2022 at 9:27 am Leave a comment

Holocaust survivors mark 80 years since mass Paris roundup


A memorial is pictured near a train car symbolizing the Drancy camp, at the Shoah memorial Tuesday, July 12, 2022 in Drancy, outside Paris. The Paris mayor and head of the French Holocaust Memorial will mark the 80th anniversary of the round-up of the Vel d’Hiv, the biggest Nazi roundup of Jews in France, visiting the site used as an internment camp during World War II for tens of thousands of people who were then sent on to Auschwitz and other death camps. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron decried his Nazi-collaborator predecessors and rising antisemitism, vigorously vowing to stamp out Holocaust denial as he paid homage Sunday to thousands of French children sent to death camps 80 years ago for one reason alone: because they were Jewish.

Family by family, house by house, French police rounded up 13,000 people on two terrifying days in July 1942, wresting children from their mothers’ arms and dispatching everyone to Nazi death camps. France honored those victims this weekend, as it tries to keep their memory alive.

For the dwindling number of survivors of France’s wartime crimes, a series of commemoration ceremonies Sunday were especially important. At a time of rising antisemitism and far-right discourse sugarcoating France’s role in the Holocaust, they worry that history’s lessons are being forgotten.

A week of ceremonies marking 80 years since the Vel d’Hiv police roundup on July 16-17, 1942 culminated Sunday with an event led by Macron, who pledged that wouldn’t happen ever again.

“We will continue to teach against ignorance. We will continue to cry out against indifference,” Macron said. “And we will fight, I promise you, at every dawn, because France’s story is written by a combat of resistance and justice that will never be extinguished.”

He denounced former French leaders for their roles in the Holocaust and the Vel d’Hiv raids, among the most shameful acts undertaken by France during World War II.

Over those two days, police herded 13,152 people — including 4,115 children — into the Winter Velodrome of Paris, known as the Vel d’Hiv, before they were sent on to Nazi camps. It was the biggest such roundup in Western Europe. The children were separated from their families; very few survived.

In public testimonies over the past week, survivor Rachel Jedinak described a middle-of-the-night knock on the door, and being marched through the streets of Paris and herded into the velodrome in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.

She recalled her desperate mother shouting at police. Some French neighbors informed on Jews, others wept as they watched them being corralled like livestock.

Chantal Blaszka’s aunts and uncle were among the children rounded up: 6-year-old Simon, 9-year-old Berthe, 15-year-old Suzanne. Their names are now engraved on a monument at a garden where the velodrome once stood, along with some 4,000 other children targeted in the raids. Photos of the children hang from tree trunks, the result of years of painstaking research to identify and honor the long-anonymous victims.

Of the children deported from the Vel d’Hiv 80 years ago, only six survived.

“Can you imagine?” Blaszka asked, pointing at the names and shaking her head. “Can you imagine?”

Serge Klarsfeld, a renowned Nazi hunter whose father was deported to Auschwitz, spoke Saturday in the garden, calling it an “earth-shaking testimony to the horrors lived by Jewish families.” Klarsfeld, 86, stressed the urgency of passing on memories as more of the war’s witnesses pass on.

On Sunday, Macron visited a site in Pithiviers south of Paris where police sent families after the Vel d’Hiv roundup, before sending them onto the Nazi camps. A new memorial site honoring the deportees was inaugurated, including a plaque that reads: “Let us never forget.”

The president urged vigilance: “We are not finished with antisemitism, and we must lucidly face that fact.”

“It is showing itself on the walls of our cities” when they are vandalized with swastikas, he continued. “It is infiltrating social networks … it inserts itself into debates on some TV shows. It shows itself in the complacency of certain political forces. It is prospering also through a new form of historic revisionism, even negationism.”

Another ceremony was held at the Shoah Memorial in the Paris suburb of Drancy, home to a transit center that was central to French Jews’ deadly journey to Nazi camps. Most of the 76,000 Jews deported from France under the collaborationist Vichy government passed through the Drancy camp.

The Drancy Shoah memorial actively documents the Holocaust, especially for younger generations. This work is especially important at a time when Jewish communities are increasingly worried about rising antisemitism in Europe. France’s Interior Ministry has reported a rise in antisemitic acts in France over recent years, and said that while racist and anti-religious acts overall are increasing, Jews are disproportionately targeted.

Anxiety has worsened for some since the far-right National Rally party made a surprising electoral breakthrough last month, winning a record 89 seats in France’s National Assembly. Party co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen has been convicted of racism and downplaying the Holocaust. His daughter Marine, who now leads the party, has distanced herself from her father’s positions, but the party’s past still raises concerns for many Jews.

During the campaign for this year’s French presidential election, far-right candidate and pundit Eric Zemmour propagated the false claim that Adolf Hitler’s Vichy collaborators safeguarded France’s Jews.

It took France’s leadership 50 years after World War II to officially acknowledge the state’s involvement in the Holocaust, when then-President Jacques Chirac apologized for the French authorities’ role in the Vel d’Hiv raids.

“The policy, from 1942 onward, was to organize the murder of the Jews of Europe and therefore to organize the deportation of the Jews of France,” said Jacques Fredj, director of the Paris Shoah Memorial. “Most of the time, the decisions were made by the Nazis … but the management was French.”

Macro spelled it out clearly Sunday: “Let us repeat here with force, whether self-styled revisionist commentators like it or not.”

None of France’s Vichy wartime leaders, he said, “wanted to save Jews.”


Le Deley reported from Drancy, France. Boubkar Benzebat in Pithiviers, France and Masha Macpherson in Paris contributed.


July 19, 2022 at 9:13 am Leave a comment

What Hate Can Do: inside a devastating new exhibition on the Holocaust

At the Museum of Jewish Heritage, an expansive new exhibition traces back the story of Jewish life before, during and after a horrifying period

The Guardian By Jordan Hoffman July 16, 2022

Dokad Nas Pedza? (Where Are They Sending Us) by Feliks Puterman Photograph: Gift of David and Janet Rogowsky. Museum of Jewish Heritag

One enters The Holocaust: What Hate Can Do, the updated core exhibit at New York City’s Museum of Jewish Heritage, through a dark corridor. Yiddish and Hebrew songs are piped in as well-lit photographs and bright video screens show moments of domestic life from across the Jewish diaspora from decades ago. Families from Germany, Poland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Greece, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere are engaged in activities lively and mundane. Then, on the wall, in print too big to ignore, the punchline: “Many of these Jews were murdered by April 1943.”

“That was my idea,” Professor Judy Tydor Baumel-Schwartz, one of the primary historian-curators of the exhibit, tells me via a Zoom interview. “They wanted a map or something, and I said ‘no, we need something that hits you!’”

For Baumel-Schwartz, who has been teaching the Holocaust for 40 years, it’s also personal. “That regal-looking woman standing on a rug in front of a house? That’s my great-grandmother. And when my great-grandfather was deported from Romania to Transnistria they wouldn’t let him get his coat, so he grabbed that rug … which eventually went to my grandmother’s baby sister, and now it’s in room eight of this exhibit.”

How else to grapple with something as massive as the Holocaust than with specifics? Indeed, the show, which takes up 12,000 ft over two floors in a modern building near Manhattan’s Battery Park, runs with an unusual narrative. This first tunnel dumps you directly into the nadir of Spring 1943.

We’re reminded of the revolt and destruction of the Warsaw ghetto, the largest in Europe; we see a stone from the newly expanded crematoria of Auschwitz, the death factory responsible for killing 1 million Jews and 100,000 other victims; there are personal effects (a bland-looking towel like you’d get today at a motel) that once belonged to Jews sent from Vilnius to die by gunfire at the Ponary Massacre; and, finally, images from the Bermuda Conference, where US and UK delegates met to discuss what to do about the Jews facing genocide in Europe. (The answer, essentially, was to table for further discussion.)

Yellow Star from the baby carriage of Zonko Rechnitzer Photograph: Gift of Diane and Bill Stern, Scarsdale, New York. Museum of Jewish Heritage

“So once you know who these people are,” Baumel-Schwartz guides me, “the next obvious question is ‘why did everyone hate them?’ [The Holocaust] was not a train going off the tracks from 1933 to 1945. It was a train making noises for hundreds of years.”

This leads to a vast gallery packed with relics of Jew-hatred through the ages.

A timeline begins with the First Holy Crusades, details the 1194 Blood Libel in Norwich, explains British expulsion in 1290, and digs into the Alhambra Decree in 1492. Under glass is a note from King Ferdinand of Spain to a local governor offering instruction on what do with property seized from the Jews they hadf just kicked out of the country. (It wasn’t making charitable contributions, I can assure you.)

There are covers from the hoax text The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in multiple languages, and as modernity creeps in, there are artifacts concerning Henry Ford, Father Charles Coughlin (“kind of like an old podcaster,” a rather astute parent told a teen as I eavesdropped) and a staggering birthday gift given to Herman Göring from Reinhard Heydrich: a 1551 proclamation requiring Jews to wear “a yellow badge to distinguish themselves from gentle society”.

Ticket for an Anti-Hitler Demonstration in New York City. Photograph: Gift of the Tanenbaum family in memory of David and Rose Tanenbaum. Museum of Jewish Heritage

In the same display case are a pipe and beer stein of the era, with cartoonish renderings of shifty, dirty Jews. “This is antisemitism,” Professor Baumel-Schwartz says. “It’s not a meeting where you hear about how awful the Jews are. It’s a little object someone drinks their beer from at the end of the night from the time he’s 16. ‘This is what a Jew is,’ he thinks, ‘this disgusting thing!’”

Next comes the Nazi rise to power and the Nuremberg laws, and the response from occupied countries when their Jews found themselves facing restrictions and, eventually, deportation. (No nation, with the exception of Denmark, can hold their heads up too high here.)

The Holocaust is so enormous of a story that, again, the specifics linger. I was drawn to two small footnotes, because they touched on my experience. One was how a small-but-significant number of Jews emigrated to Shanghai, as no visa was needed there (my father has a letter from the camps where his grandfather floated this as an idea, before he was killed at Auschwitz), and another was learning about a German-language cinema in New York City, where I live, that showed Nazi propaganda as late as 1941. (It’s a Dunkin’ Donuts now.)

Professor Baumel-Schwartz points out a simple bowl that a family of Libyan Jews (part of a community originally from Gibraltar that was deported to Italy) used in a circumcision ceremony at the Bergen-Belsen camp. “The Holocaust was not just Yiddish-speaking European Jews. There were Ladino speakers, Arabic speakers, it depended on the luck of where you were living at the time.”

Enamel Bowl belonging to Burbea Family Photograph: Gift of Judith Tydor Baumel-Schwartz in Memory of the Burbea Family. Museum of Jewish Heritage

When one rides the escalator to the second floor, that’s where the mechanics of mass murder – from the genteel drawing rooms at the Wannsee Conference to the selection outside the gas chambers – are revealed.

I found myself newly frustrated at how the United States and United Kingdom were fully aware of what was going on (see the Karski Report, see the Riegner Telegram) and basically shrugged. American and British newspaper headlines get some prime, large font wall space; people knew what was happening.

After the war, the US allows more immigrants in, the United Nations is formed, and hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors find refuge in the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people, and create the State of Israel.

No matter where you stand on this last issue, I think everyone can agree that it hasn’t gone smoothly. Professor Baumel-Schwartz assures me that the particulars of pulling off a major museum show like this meant reducing initial designs in anticipation of a planned expansion. “A third floor,” she says, “will continue that conversation, and also discuss more contemporary antisemitism, which is, unfortunately, very relevant.”

Suggesting that someone should go to a Holocaust museum of their own free will is strange. One usually goes out of guilt, and this exhibit can’t really be considered fun. But it is thorough and clear and does the stated goal of explaining, as best as anything possibly could, just how this atrocity happened. Importantly, and without handholding, a thoughtful person begins considering current events, current prejudices, and questions if one is doing enough to stand for righteousness. In that regard, a visit is essential.

July 18, 2022 at 12:54 pm Leave a comment

Stories That Teach Us What Is Possible For Ordinary People

Dear Friends,

We remember those heroes that made an enormous difference in saving lives by sharing this very special inspiring article. They answered the call to action and their lives became unforgettable teaching stories.

All good wishes,

Harriet and Bill

How 9 Ordinary People Became Heroes During The Holocaust — And Risked Everything To Save Jewish Lives

By Kaleena Fraga | Checked By Jaclyn Anglis
ATI    September 1, 2021

From the “Japanese Schindler” to members of the Dutch resistance, these incredible stories of Holocaust heroes prove that not everyone was just following orders.

The horrors of the Holocaust are well known. But the genocide led by Nazi Germany — which killed six million Jews and millions of other people during World War II — also contained moments of quiet bravery.

In the darkest days of the war, ordinary people across Europe bravely stepped up to save Jewish people — often risking their own lives in the process. Some of these heroes used their position of power to help people. For example, Paul Grüninger used his role as a Swiss border commander to usher thousands of Jewish refugees to safety in Switzerland.

But other heroes — such as watchmaker Corrie ten Boom or office assistant Miep Gies — worked jobs that weren’t considered nearly as powerful. And yet, they still risked being executed by the Nazis to help Jews.

These are nine stories of heroism during the Holocaust.

1. Corrie Ten Boom: The Dutch Watchmaker Who Saved 800 Jews

Yad Vashem/The World Holocaust Remembrance Center
Corrie ten Boom showing the “hiding place” that her family used to conceal Jewish refugees.

Until the outbreak of World War II, Corrie ten Boom had led a quiet life. Born into a Christian family in the Dutch city of Haarlem, ten Boom grew up in a small apartment above her father’s watch shop. As an adult, she followed in his footsteps to become the first licensed female Dutch watchmaker.

But everything changed in May 1940 when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. Ten Boom watched in horror and disbelief as her Jewish friends, neighbors, and customers started to disappear.

“At any minute there might be a rap on this door,” she wrote in her memoir, The Hiding Place, about a visit to see Jewish friends. “These children, this mother and father, might be ordered to the back of a truck.”

As the situation grew dire, ten Boom and her family decided to help Jewish people who were fleeing the Nazis. So they constructed a secret hiding place in ten Boom’s bedroom. There, until 1944, the ten Booms sheltered some 800 Jewish refugees until they could be transported away to safety.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The Nazis swiftly deported Dutch Jews from the Netherlands, leading high-ranking Nazi Adolf Eichmann to say: “In the beginning you could say that the trains from the Netherlands were really rolling; it was quite wonderful.”

But in February 1944, the ten Booms were found out. The Gestapo, tipped off by an informant, raided the home and arrested Corrie, her sister Betsie, and their elderly father Casper. Though the Gestapo searched the house, they did not find the last group of refugees who were hiding in the secret room.

Casper, Betsie, and Corrie ten Boom were thrown in prison. Casper, then 84 years old, died after just 10 days behind bars. And Corrie and Betsie were soon sent to concentration camps. Though Betsie fell ill at a camp and died, Corrie was released at the end of 1944 due to a clerical error. Corrie later found out that she had narrowly avoided death — as the other women in her age group were sent to the gas chambers shortly after she left.

She returned to the Netherlands, where she set up a rehabilitation center for concentration camp survivors. Ten Boom, inspired by her sister’s dying words about the power of God, spent the rest of her life preaching forgiveness.

Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel, later recognized Casper, Betsie, and Corrie ten Boom as “Righteous Among the Nations,” an honor given to non-Jewish heroes of the Holocaust.

To Read About:

2. Miep Gies: The Woman Who Hid Anne Frank And Saved Her Diary, CLICK HERE

3. Paul Grüninger: The Swiss Border Commander Who Falsified Documents To Save Jews, CLICK HERE

4. Nicholas Winton: The British Stockbroker Who Saved Hundreds Of Children From The Nazis, CLICK HERE

5. Irena Sendler: The Polish Humanitarian Who Helped Save 2,500 Children, CLICK HERE

6. Oskar Schindler: The Complicated Businessman Behind Schindler’s List, CLICK HERE

7. Gustav Schröder: The German Sea Captain Of The “Voyage Of The Damned,” CLICK HERE

8. Chiune Sugihara: The Japanese Diplomat Turned Holocaust Hero, CLICK HERE

9. The Doctors At Fatebenefratelli Hospital Who Invented “Syndrome K,” CLICK HERE

May 30, 2022 at 9:43 am Leave a comment

A Time for Activism for Gun Safety

Dear Friends,

We are left transformed by the shocking events in Uvalde, Texas; yet another mass shooting. Again, a punch in the gut with the associative anguish, grief and frustration.

Interestingly, recently we received a notice regarding a conference (SEE BELOW). It reminded us of our Aunt Elsbeth’s response, immediately after she was freed from Auschwitz, where she was sterilized, as part of the medical experiments done in Block 10. While waiting in Amsterdam, for a ship to take her to New York, she wrote an 18-page summary of the Hell she went through. The plan was to share it with her family, The New York Times and magazines, etc. Eventually, it was picked up, in part, in the book, “Buried by The Times.” published in 2005.

Similarly, each of us is called to protest what has resulted in murdered children and adults because of easy gun access. We hope you feel moved to do something, anything that will contribute to pushing back against “Business as usual,” in order to make all people much more safe, wherever they are.

Harriet and Bill

Invitation to the 4th international conference Medical Review Auschwitz: Medicine Behind the Barbed Wire

We would like to invite you to the 4th international conference Medical Review Auschwitz: Medicine Behind the Barbed Wire, which will take place on 19-21 September 2022 in Kraków, Poland.

After a one-year break (in 2020) and the 2021 conference taking place in the virtual space, the decisions forced upon us by the COVID-19 pandemic, this year we will meet again at the on-the-site event in Kraków. This is the place where the original journal Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim (Medical Review – Auschwitz) was conceived and had its first issue published in 1961, marking the start of pioneering research and academic discussion on the medical, social, and bioethical consequences and lessons of the Holocaust, concentration camp history, Nazi German occupation, and the Second World War in general.

Additionally, year 2022 marks the fifth anniversary of launching the Medical Review Auschwitz project, which includes the conference as well as revisiting the articles from Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim through its translation into English, making its invaluable scientific content available to the global audience in an open-access format (see

The conference is organised by the Polish Institute for Evidence-Based Medicine, the Kraków Medical Society, and the medical publisher Medycyna Praktyczna, in collaboration with the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, Department of Bioethics and the Holocaust, the International Chair in Bioethics, the Maimonides Institute for Medicine, Ethics and the Holocaust, the Harvard Medical School Center for Bioethics, the University of Colorado Center for Bioethics and Humanities, the Jagiellonian University, the St. Maximilian Center in Harmęże, and the Polish Association for Spiritual Care in Medicine, under auspices of the American College of Physicians.

The aim of the conference is to educate the world’s medical community about the violations of medical ethics during the Second World War, with special focus on the behaviour of physicians and other medical professionals in Nazi medical institutions and concentration camps or other places of imprisonment, and the ethical implications of Nazi medicine for contemporary medical practice and healthcare policy.

Conference participants will also have the opportunity to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum (including places not accessible to the general public). We hope that this conference will make a significant contribution to further the understanding of the dark history of Nazi medicine in Nazi German concentration camps and help the international community draw a lesson for future generations.

We look forward to seeing you in Kraków in September 2022.

Piotr Gajewski MD PhD FACP
Chair of the Organising Committee

May 28, 2022 at 12:50 pm Leave a comment

Washington Post – Insightful and Impactful

Dear Friends,

Many important insights and perhaps new facts for your consideration.

Thank you for your time and attention to our work.

Harriet and Bill

David Strathairn speaks for a Holocaust hero. It’s
time to listen.

The actor portrays Polish resistance fighter Jan Karski’s struggle to convince the Allies of the Holocaust’s enormity

By Peter Marks

Washington Post      May 19, 2022

David Strathairn in “Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski.” (Rich Hein) (Rich Hein)

For nearly seven years, actor David Strathairn has committed himself to telling the story of Jan Karski, a World War II hero who, for decades after the war, refused to tell it himself. A diplomat recruited as a messenger for the Polish underground, Karski remained traumatized for the rest of his life by his inability to convince the Allies of the magnitude of the Holocaust atrocities he had witnessed.

Strathairn has been waging a campaign to illuminate Karski’s courageous acts from the stage in “Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski,” a show first developed at Georgetown University that has since toured and now returns to the campus. The production has become a mission for Strathairn, who has often appeared in serious plays but made his name in prestige movies such as “Good Night, and Good Luck,” for which he received an Oscar nomination, and the more recent “Nomadland.”

It’s a project with deep roots at Georgetown. The script was written by Derek Goldman, chairman of the university’s department of performing arts, with his former student Clark Young, and it’s about a resistance figure who would come to Georgetown and teach government and international affairs for the next four decades. Such was the significance of Karski’s efforts on behalf of European Jewry that in 1982, Yad Vashem, the memorial to Holocaust victims in Jerusalem, named him one of the Righteous Among the Nations — the honor bestowed on non-Jews who helped save Jews from Nazi atrocities.

You sense in conversation and performance the degree to which Strathairn has committed himself to Karski. Over the 90 minutes of the play, directed by Goldman, the 73-year-old actor goes through a physically demanding regimen, dramatizing, for instance, Karski’s escape from Gestapo captivity. During a recent performance, after leaping off a table onstage at Georgetown’s Gonda Theatre, he rose from the floor with a fresh wound on his arm. You could safely say that he has given his own blood to this endeavor.

“The more time I spend with him, his legacy continues to amplify,” Strathairn said in a Zoom interview. “And not only as a teacher but more as an exemplary figure, for the kind of courage it took, the self-sacrifice it took — twice, even three times potentially dying on his journey. And all these things I think need to be kept alive, especially in a world today where, in the tsunami of information, people can be drowned. He was there, he saw it, and therefore it was the truth.”

David Strathairn in “Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski.” (Teresa Castracane)

That truth is the crux of “Remember This,” a piece that has evolved meaningfully since I first saw an early version of it at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan in 2015, when it was called “My Report to the World.” Its extraneous devices, including a multipurpose Greek chorus, have been stripped away, allowing its strongest elements — Strathairn and his moving narration — to tell the harrowing story. Karski was recruited by the resistance to survey the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto, visit a death camp set up by the Nazis in Poland and travel with the news to London and Washington. “Remember This” — which was presented in D.C. last fall by the Shakespeare Theatre Company — recounts how he attempted to rally Allied officials, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, only to encounter doubt and buck-passing.

Karski’s anguish was such that he didn’t speak of his wartime experiences until French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann came to Georgetown to interview him for “Shoah,” his nine-hour 1985 Holocaust documentary. A moment of Lanzmann’s footage, in which Karski breaks down and walks off camera, attests to the level to which Karski was haunted. All of this became material for a course, “Bearing Witness: The Legacy of Jan Karski Today,” that Goldman has offered at Georgetown several times. Strathairn has been a featured player in the curriculum, taking up Goldman’s invitations to discuss his work on the show.

“We have a large group of graduate and undergraduate students who have been deeply engaged in the play, thinking about why Karski matters to young people now,” Goldman said. “The questions of the U.S.’s involvement are deeply resonant. It’s one of those pieces that gets more relevant — and oh my God, now it’s thunderously relevant.”

It takes no effort to recognize the contemporary relevance in the story of an Eastern European man who testifies to atrocities committed by a foreign invader based on what he has seen with his own eyes. That Poland has offered itself up as a primary haven for Ukrainian refugees only magnifies the moral parallels.

“There it is — it’s happening in the now,” Strathairn said. “You know, people in Poland have been saying: ’1939. 2022. Blitzkrieg. Invasion of Ukraine.’ There’s a case to be made for the twinning of these events. And to have someone like Karski, to have an awareness of what this man went through, if you can somehow carry a little bit of that into your daily experiences, then it may just help you contextualize not only your emotions but also what’s happening on the street and in the world.”

The play will continue to have a life after Georgetown: It will travel to Bilbao, Spain, early next month to be performed for the Wellbeing Summit for Social Change, a gathering of government and business leaders and social-change advocates. And plans are being finalized, Goldman said, for an off-Broadway run in the fall.

“Even seven years since we started this, a whole other generation of students and young people who we’re bringing this to may not have ever even known about Jan Karski, even at Georgetown University,” Strathairn said. “It’s very, very emotional. And its application to now is undeniable.”


May 28, 2022 at 9:28 am Leave a comment

Remarkable Smithsonian Magazine 5/10/22 Article

Dear Friends,
This is an important contribution by Smithsoniam Magazine. You may agree, it is worthy of sharing with your mailing lists given this time of the immense crisis of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Interestingly, Harriet’s paternal and maternal grandparents fled Romania, Russia and Ukraine in the early 20th cebtury. Thus, she has a particular connection to the current situation. Simarily, Bill’s family is from Bavaria, which is where he was born.
Best wishes,

Harriet and Bill

At a Former Concentration Camp, Holocaust Survivors Draw Parallels Between Nazi and Russian Rhetoric

Speakers at a ceremony marking the liberation of Flossenbürg condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claims of demilitarizing and de-Nazifying Ukraine

Visitors lay wreaths at the “Square of Nations,” a memorial site at the former Flossenbürg concentration camp’s crematorium, on April 24, 2022. Ferdinand Kauppert

Smitmsonian Magazine      May 10, 2022

By Carrie Hagen

“From prejudice to hatred to violence to murder, the paths are very short,” said Karl Freller, director of the Bavarian Memorial Foundation, to an audience of more than 500 at the Holocaust memorial site where the Nazi concentration camp Flossenbürg once stood. The crowd, including six survivors of the camp, had gathered in the German state of Bavaria on April 24, the 77th anniversary of the camp’s liberation. During a moment of silence honoring the roughly 30,000 people who died at Flossenbürg, attendees also remembered two Holocaust survivors killed during Russia’s invasion of UkraineBoris Romantschenko and Vanda Semyonovna Obiedkova.

The invasion loomed large over the commemoration—an unsurprising shadow given the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who have sought refuge in Germany since the conflict began, as well as Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin’s distortions of World War II history as a justification for his warmongering. He’s spoken of a quest to “demilitarize and de-Nazify” Ukraine, a country with a Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and a thriving Jewish population of between 49,000 and 400,000(Ukraine’s last census took place in 2001, meaning more recent exact figures are hard to come by.) Zelenskyy, for his part, has refuted these claims by drawing parallels between Putin and Adolf Hitler.

The grounds of the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial Site © Flossenbürg Memorial / Photo by Rainer Viertlböck

In Putin’s version of events, any attempt to assert Ukrainian sovereignty is a Nazi one, a continuation of the 20th-century battle between Russia and Ukrainian nationalists, some of whom allied themselves with Nazi invaders during the war in a bid to gain independence from the Soviet Union. On Monday, as Russia celebrated its triumph over Nazi Germany on so-called Victory Day, Putin reiterated his earlier argumentsdeclaring that Russian soldiers “are fighting for the Motherland, for its future, so that no one forgets the lessons of World War II, so that there is no place in the world for torturers, death squads and Nazis.”

Reflecting on the links between the Russia-Ukraine war and the Holocaust during last month’s commemoration at Flossenbürg, Rachel Salamander, an editor and publisher who was born in a displaced persons camp in 1949, said, “For almost a decade, until the start of industrial mass murder, propaganda had fooled the population into believing that Jews weren’t human, so that they consequently had to be exterminated.” Today, she added, “we hear that Ukrainians are neo-Nazis and fascists who must be destroyed. The deadly method is depriving people of their humanity, depriving them of their legitimacy in order to justify genocide.”

To stop this “deadly method,” German culture minister Claudia Roth challenged the audience to assume a greater responsibility in remembrance culture by personalizing survivors’ memories. “What do we mean,” she asked, “when we swear to each other that what happened may never happen again?”

Soviet soldiers in 1941 Public domain via Library of Congress

Germany’s culture of remembrance, which has long centered on survivor narratives and oral histories, faces a near-future without any living witnesses to the genocide. Flossenbürg and Dachau, whose sites are now overseen by the Bavarian Memorial Foundation, represented two of the nearly two dozen concentration camps designated for the mass murder, forced labor and detention of Jews and other marginalized groups during World War II. (In total, the Nazis operated more than 44,000 camps, subcamps, ghettos and holding centers.) Staff at the memorials have, in recent years, witnessed “numerous instances of instrumentalizing remembrance of Nazi victims for propaganda purposes,” says Christoph Thonfeld, head of the research department at Dachau. In response, staff historians are taking steps to preserve the integrity of these recorded memories from rhetorical manipulation.

Founded on factory grounds in 1933, Dachau was the Nazis’ first concentration camp, beginning as a detention site for political dissenters before evolving into a model for all the camps that followed. New SS camp guards trained at Dachau, which housed an estimated 200,000 prisoners, at least 28,000 of whom died in the camp and its subcamps, between 1933 and 1945.

Since the former camp’s establishment as a memorial site in 1965, Dachau’s exhibitions have focused largely on the fate of those imprisoned there. Plans are underway to permanently incorporate a new show that will examine how SS officers and Nazi prison guards progressed from prejudice to murder, presenting the perspective of the perpetrator for the first time in the memorial’s history.

“On the threshold of an age without contemporary witnesses, the focus is on conveying the history of the concentration camp in a contemporary way,” wrote the site’s director, Gabriele Hammerman, in a 2021 article. An upcoming renovation will “fundamentally change” Dachau by opening up spaces previously inaccessible to the public, including an administrative building where camp commandant Theodor Eicke capitalized on anti-Semitic and xenophobic thinking as he trained facilitators of the Nazis’ terror regime. Currently owned by the Bavarian state police, the commandant’s office building is scheduled to become part of the Dachau memorial as early as 2025.

The commandant’s office building (in the top right corner) and workshop appear in this photograph of Nazi leaders, including Heinrich Himmler, visiting Dachau in January 1936. Archive of Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site

The renovation will also open other spaces never before toured by the public, including a bowling alley and a beer cellar—social rooms integral to the commandant’s philosophy. “Eicke combined exerting discipline and breaking of personalities of SS members with a strong sense of camaraderie and paternalism,” Thonfeld explains. The inclusion of these spaces, he continues, will help visitors see how a “racist, elite organization” formed its self-image.

Exploring such stories “allows us to go beyond mere externalizing of the SS as ‘evil other,’ which is morally desirable but doesn’t help with the still-necessary societal confrontation with Nazi cries,” says Thonfeld. Recognizing all humans’ capacity for evil is a goal similarly embraced by Roth, the culture minister, who argued in her speech at Flossenbürg that “man and beast are inseparable. The beast did not assume human form in the Nazi concentration camps. It lurks in people. It lurks in us.”

Speaking with Smithsonian, Roth says, “Trying to understand what made human beings do evil” is one way to “open the door to history [and] try to communicate things that are difficult to explain.” Confronting the past, she continues, is a way of strengthening democracy: “Putin pretends to ‘de-Nazify’ Ukraine. This propaganda is absurd, especially regarding its history. Ukraine is defending her liberty and democracy.”

Flossenbürg, located about 130 miles northwest of Dachau, opened in May 1938 in a remote area known for its granite quarries. Between 1938 and 1945, the Nazis imprisoned around 97,000 people from 47 countries at the camp. Harsh conditions, including forced labor at the quarries, which supplied stone for Nazi architectural projects, resulted in the deaths of an estimated 30,000 prisoners across Flossenbürg and its subcamps.

In April 1945, as the United States Army advanced into northern Bavaria, SS officers at the main Flossenbürg camp rushed to erase evidence of their operations, mainly by forcing over 9,300 prisoners south toward Dachau on open freight cars and death marches. When the 90th Infantry Division liberated the camp on April 23, just 1,500 prisoners remained. As in other camps across Germany, American soldiers forced civilians to bury the camp’s dead and confront their own complicity in allowing the Holocaust to happen.

German civilians transport corpses out of Flossenbürg after the camp’s liberation by American forces. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Though Flossenbürg held one of the first concentration camp memorials in Europe—displaced Poles inaugurated a “Valley of Death” honoring Polish and German clergy victims near the former crematorium on May 25, 1947—authorities only acknowledged the site’s Nazi history decades later. According to the memorial’s website, the 1950s saw Germany “repress[ing] recent history in favor of the integration of persons with a Nazi past.” As the Cold War continued, many of the horrors of the Holocaust were dismissed by locals, overlooked due to Germans’ shame over their tacit approval of or outright participation in the atrocities. It was only in the late 1960s and 1970s, as a new generation came of age, that West Germany began confronting its not-so-distant history.

On the other side of the Berlin Wall, in East Germany and the rest of the U.S.S.R., officials ignored Eastern European Holocaust victims’ faith in favor of presenting a broader narrative of the Nazis’ racially motivated genocide of ethnic Slavs. This conflation of the Holocaust and the Nazis’ targeting of Slavs is a key element of the Russian myth of the Great Patriotic War, a nationalist reading of World War II that paints the conflict as a clash in which righteous Soviets rescued humanity from the evils of fascism.

“[W]hen you create this narrative of glory against ‘fascism’ and victory, of pretty much saving the world actually, then these other events [like the Holocaust] don’t seem so relevant anymore,” Simon Lewis, a cultural historian at the University of Bremen’s Institute for European Studies in Germany, told Smithsonianlast year. “…They’re a bit of a nuisance to the master narrative of they, the Nazis, being the bad guys, and [us] defeating them.”

Barracks at Flossenbürg Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

At Flossenbürg specifically, the erasure of the Holocaust is best represented by the construction of a housing development on the former camp grounds. As recently as the 1970s, locals advertised the town that lent the camp its name as a leisure destination, referring to the actual camp grounds as a place of “shared history for all war dead.” In 1995, a permanent exhibition finally replaced a small memorial plaque at the site.

Jörg Skriebeleit, who has served as the Flossenbürg site’s director for the past 25 years, says locals didn’t put up much resistance when the memorial opened this initial exhibition. In 2007, however, his team received pushback after debuting a second permanent exhibition that presented the region’s response to the camp’s history. The culmination of a four-year research project, the show reflects decades of local dismissiveness to the concentration camp’s history, as well as the silence that greeted and enabled Nazi activities. It juxtaposes the camp’s past with an account of the town’s history as a quarry site, residents’ response to Nazi ideology, their interactions with American troops and their later marketing of Flossenbürg as a location separated from the horrors of the Holocaust.

A quarry at Flossenbürg Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Skriebeleit deems the display a “revolutionary” risk because it not only presented history through survivors’ memories but also underscored the “deformation and formation of memory and place” that existed in the surrounding region. Without addressing this culture of silence, the director says, his team wouldn’t be presenting an accurate history. In addition to preserving the camp’s landmarks, he sees his job as “opening spaces [where] people [can] look with different perspectives on what happened.”

On July 14, Berlin-based South African artist Talya Lubinsky will open a three-month exhibition at Flossenbürg titled “Feldspar, Quartz and Glimmer.” A sculptural work will symbolically connect the granite quarries to the building of the town, the propaganda of the Nazis and the misery of the prisoners who died while lifting rock after rock. Nearby, Lubinsky plans to construct an installation in front of a defacedmural depicting concentration camp prisoners laboring in a bucolic countryside setting, their once-smiling faces now obscured.

The effect, says Skriebeleit, “will show things hidden in plain sight” and reflect how “history is used and misused for different arguments.”

In the two-month period between February 24, when Russia invaded Ukraine, and the April 24 commemoration at Flossenbürg, a registered 390,000 Ukrainian immigrants fled to Germany. Erwin Farkas and Martin Hecht, two of the six survivors who attended the anniversary event, recalled when an earlier wave of violence—their deportation by the Nazis—forced them from their childhood homes. (Though their wartime experiences followed similar trajectories, the pair only met after the war, at a displaced persons camp.)

Speaking to high school students the day after the commemoration, Farkas and Hecht described unsanitary conditions in ghettos and train cars, where mothers protected babies from suffocation; surviving selections when their parents did not; and marching with frozen feet from camp to camp before arriving at Flossenbürg in early 1945. Toward the end of the war, the men survived the final death march to Dachau, a train transport targeted by American aircraft hunting for Nazis, and an SS shooting massacre at a train station. Finally, they saw U.S. Army tanks coming over a hill as Nazi guards fled and American troops threw chocolate bars to the starving prisoners.

Erwin Farkas (right) and his friend Diana Morris-Bauer on the former prisoner roll call grounds at Flossenbürg Ferdinand Kauppert

Soldiers led Farkas, then 16, and Hecht, 13, to a monastery in the town of Markt Indersdorf near Dachau, where they lived at Kloster Indersdorf, an orphanage established by the United Nations as the first displaced persons camp dedicated to children. After the commemoration, Farkas and Hecht traveled to this monastery with Anna Andlauer, a local retired educator and historian who has spent nearly 20 years finding and reuniting survivors of the refuge, which today houses a public school.

“I was allowed back in here to be human,” Hecht, now 91, told local reporter Christiane Breitenberger. “Before, I wasn’t human. [The Nazis] made me a number.”

Both Hecht and Farkas credit Andlauer with bringing them back to Kloster Indersdorf and encouraging them to articulate their memories. Pre-pandemic, anywhere between 10 to 16 survivors would attend the displaced persons camp’s frequent reunions. This year, only two showed up.

Erwin Farkas speaks to students at the former Kloster Indersdorf. Ferdinand Kauppert

Recognizing that they are among the last survivors of the Holocaust, both men say that those who heed their stories must tell them “when we can’t anymore.”

After meeting with students, they walked a Path of Remembrance, a mile-long history walk designed by Andlauer that uses storytelling boards and QR codes to link observers with archival clips that tell the story of Kloster Indersdorf and its survivors.

“It’s a starting point for research,” Andlauer says. “We can only talk about what the survivors told us. We can retell their stories. And we are responsible for doing so.”

Prisoners at Dachau greet their Allied liberators from behind a barbed-wire fence. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Carrie Hagen|READ MORE

Carrie Hagen is a writer based in Philadelphia. She is the author of We Is Got Him: The Kidnapping that Changed America, and is writing The Vigilance Committee, the narrative of antebellum Philadelphia’s interracial abolitionists.


May 14, 2022 at 5:52 pm Leave a comment

A World War II Story, Past Meets Present

ELIE WIESEL: “This is what we must do—not to sleep well when people suffer anywhere in the world. Not to sleep well when someone’s persecuted. Not to sleep well when people are hungry all over here or there. Not to sleep well when there are people sick and nobody is there to help them. Not to sleep well when anyone somewhere needs you.”

Dear Friends,

As our government responds, on extraordinary levels, to the crisis and people of Ukraine, this inspiring 4/29 story from the Washington Post, stands out as one more example of big heartedness, courage, caring and spiritual strength during World War II. We think you will agree, when ordinary people chose to fight the evil of the Nazis by saving lives and not being indifferent, it can be one of those teaching stories that has many lessons for all of us.

Best wishes,

Harriet and Bill

A Greek family saved them from Nazis. Now, they found how to thank them.

Without them, my family wouldn’t have survived the war,’ said Josephine Velelli Becker, who lives in Maryland

By Sydney Page             Washington Post            April 29, 2022

Angela Kanaras, left, and her grandson, Vasilios Kanaras, with Josephine Velelli Becker. (Family photo)

She was just 6 years old then, but even now, at 85, memories of when the Michalos family hid her from the Nazis are etched in Josephine Velelli Becker’s mind.

Nearly 60,000 Greek Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. The Velelli family was spared — a miracle owed, in large part, to Elias Michalos, a gracious non-Jewish man who invited them to hide in his family’s small cottage in the tiny mountain village of Michaleika.

“Without them, my family wouldn’t have survived the war,” said Velelli Becker, who is from Patras, a city about 130 miles from Athens.

Her father, Emmanuel Velelli, had done business with Elias Michalos, and they became friendly. In 1943, when Germany occupied Greece, Michalos bravely offered to shelter the Velelli family — a kindness that came with tremendous risks.

Josephine Velelli Becker, age 6, seated behind an unnamed young girl, with Greek soldiers before Germany occupied Greece during World War II. (Family photo)

Velelli Becker and eight family members — including her parents, sister, three uncles and grandparents — hid from the Nazis in Michalos’s two-room cottage, which was originally intended to house employees and had no running water or bathroom.

Although the Velelli family spent each night sleeping fearfully on the floor for more than a year, they felt lucky. They were filled with gratitude for Michalos, who put himself and his family in grave danger to protect them.

Shortly after the war, both families emigrated to Baltimore, and they still live in the area today. On numerous occasions, Emmanuel Velelli tried to pay Elias Michalos for all he did, but Michalos refused to take his money.

Finally, though, nearly eight decades later, the Velellis were presented with a meaningful opportunity to thank them.

They pooled their funds to help Vasilios Kanaras, Michalos’s grandson, open a new restaurant. His previous eatery, the Crabby Greek in Towson, Md., was forced to shutter amid the pandemic.

“I lost my restaurant because of covid,” Kanaras explained, adding that the Crabby Greek was in an office building, and with widespread remote work, customers dwindled drastically. “The money was gone.”

Black woman named high school valedictorian 38 years after snub

On one of their usual catch-up calls, 84-year-old Angela Kanaras — who is Vasilios Kanaras’s mother, and the late Elias Michalos’s daughter — told Velelli Becker about her son’s struggles.

Angela Kanaras, left, and Josephine Velelli Becker at Vasilios Kanaras’s restaurant, the New Southern Kitchen, in Cockeysville, Md. (Family photo)

When Velelli Becker’s children heard about the Michalos family’s financial plight, they knew what they wanted to do.

“We wanted to give back,” said Velelli Becker’s daughter, Yvonne Fishbein, who sent an email in January to her extended family, soliciting support. “We all got together and helped. Everyone pitched in what they could.”

“Their whole family just started pouring money in,” Vasilios Kanaras said. With their help, “I didn’t have to worry.”

Their generosity was much appreciated, though it was not at all expected.

“I was overwhelmed,” Angela Kanaras said. “I couldn’t believe that they would do that.”

In total, the Velellis contributed more than $10,000 to help Kanaras get his latest venture, the New Southern Kitchen in Cockeysville, Md., up and running. The money went toward electrical repairs, food and other supplies. By early February, the restaurant was open for business.

Not only did the Velellis feel indebted to the Michaloses for what they did 80 years ago, but to this day the families remain close.

Over the years, they have been present at each other’s milestone events, never missing a christening, bar mitzvah or wedding. They have also celebrated Thanksgivings together.

“They are the most wonderful people,” said Velelli Becker, who moved to the United States with her family in 1956.

When they first arrived in Baltimore, they heard the Michaloses were living there too, but they didn’t have an address or phone number to contact them. So they left a letter for them at a Greek grocery store near Lexington Market, thinking the Michaloses would probably shop there.

“We saw each other again and have been friends for 80 years,” said Angela Kanaras, who spoke of her late parents’ unwavering kindness and acceptance of others.

The Velelli and Michalos families during one of their first outings together in Baltimore. From left: Rachel Velelli Glaser, Elaine Michalos, Josephine Velelli Becker, Regina Velelli Frances, Angela Michalos Kanaras and Isaac Yohanas. (Family photo)

“My mother and father were very good people,” she said, adding that her family also sheltered several British intelligence agents during the war.

The family’s heroic defiance did not come without consequences, though. In early 1944, when the Nazis invaded Michaleika, they caught wind of Michalos’s efforts to hide the agents and they burned down his house. At that point, the Michalos family moved into the tiny cottage with the Velellis, and the two families lived there together 

The Velelli children played with the Michalos children, while the men chopped wood and cautiously bartered for food, and the women took care of the cooking and cleaning. Angela Kanaras said she and her family never bought into the Nazi falsehood of superiority by race, ethnicity or religion.

 Members of the Velelli and Michalos families in 1956, shortly after they reunited in Baltimore. (Family photo)

Once the Nazis left Greece in October 1944 and the Velellis were finally free, they went back to Patras. The Michaloses moved there, too, and started a trucking business, before relocating to Baltimore in 1951.

In the early 1980s, the Velelli family submitted the story of their friendship to Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to Holocaust victims. The Michalos family was designated as “Righteous Among the Nations” — an honorific for non-Jews who risked their own lives to rescue Jews from the Nazis. In 1984, the family was honored at a Holocaust memorial ceremony in Baltimore.

Yvonne Fishbein’s son, Joshua Fishbein, a composer, also sought to memorialize his family’s profound connection with the Michaloses — in the form of a song. He recently composed “Out of the Ashes of Holocaust,” which is performed by the Washington Master Chorale, and captures the bravery and hospitality of the Michalos family.

If her parents were still alive, they “would have been very proud” of how the families’ support of one another has persisted, Angela Kanaras said. “It’s up to the younger generations to continue this friendship.”

Their bond, she added, is stronger than ever.

“All of these years, they’ve always said that if it wasn’t for my family, they wouldn’t be here,” Angela Kanaras said of the Velellis. “Now, if it wasn’t for them, my son wouldn’t have a business. So, it all came around.”


May 1, 2022 at 4:02 pm Leave a comment

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