Sam Goldberg – Today is his Yartzheit (Anniversary of his Death) GUEST BLOGGER – SHLOMO GOLDBERG

(Picture on left:  Esther and Sam Goldberg.  Picture on Right: Sam Goldberg)

Dear Reader:  Today is My father-in-law, Sam Goldberg’s Yartzheit – anniversary of his death.  Shlomo, my husband, spoke these words this past Shabbat at Minyan Ohr Chadash.  

In Man’s Search For MeaningViktor Frankl emphasizes the importance of good posture in surviving the Nazi concentration camps. If the guard saw slouching, signaling weakness, the prisoner was beaten, weakening him further, and then she was killed   In the body of this book, Frankl also deals with moral posture, doing the right thing regardless of the circumstances.

This week’s Torah Portion – Nitzvavim, contains the phrase:

28 The secret things belong unto the LORD our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

The Torah Portion makes me confront the difference between hidden and the revealed and the obvious; the knowable and the unknowable, the unexamined and the explored.  The revealed things, the public things, require a code of behavior, require that I and others act in a predictable manner.  The secret things are between a person and God, or left to God alone.  How could it be otherwise? What are these secret things? Some are knowledge that is not yet acquired.  Knowledge that we do not (yet) have ways to know, missing techniques. Ideas that are not yet elucidated by science. Some secret things may be unknowable (Heisenberg uncertainty), knowledge may not apply to them. God knows! Some are truths that we are trying to hide. The money or the feelings, that we are trying to hide from others.  The feelings that we are trying to hide from ourselves.

Some of the secrets are ideas that we don’t want to examine.  God decides on their state of revelation. We are often forced to look at these secrets by circumstances.  The verse quoted above says that these are ours.

This week was the birthday of my father-in law, Irwin L Treiger. There was no one more upright than he.  I am honored to have merited marrying his daughter.  Irwin Treiger remained standing through all temptations, always maintaining honesty and fairness.  He made the covenant of his ancestors his priority, supporting Jewish education and Israel

Next week [today] is the yahrzeit (anniversary of death) of my father, Sam Goldberg, who survived the Treblinka death camp.  My first memories of my father include seeing him in the bloody butcher’s apron.  Much later, I understand some of the secret of its symbolism.

This is the Shabbat before the yahrzeit of my father (z”l).  I chant the haftorah.  The haftorah comes from Isiah, never easy to grasp. It includes a section from chapter 63 that deals with bloody garments.  A hero emerges, but his clothes are sullied. He has survived alone, relying on himself.  This is my father.

When my father was in Treblinka, in the deepest aloneness, he washed clothes.  Each group was separate.  The clothes of the Germans had no visible stains, but the blood stains, the chimutz, in them could never be removed.  The Ukrainian henchmen’s uniforms showed the blood of their cruelty.  The victim’s gore clung to these raiment’s, the barbarity was evident. The clothes of the Jews, whose blood was spilled like sewage, had to be washed separately, to be recycled for the beneficiaries of the death machine.  My father survived through these bloody clothes.  The blood on the butchers’ apron was a symbol.

These stories that my father told covered more secrets than they revealed – day to day choices, questions of will and honor and survival. These secrets are for God, I have enough with the revealed.

When I was a boy, in part because of his reluctance to talk about the details of this place ( a place dubbed by Vasilly Grossman “Hell”), I feared that he had done terrible things in exchange for his survival. After I organized a meeting of the Treblinka survivors in Israel, I learned that my father was perfectly upright. He had kept his deal with God in the most trying of circumstances.  He had kept the agreement alluded to in the Torah Portion, the deal with those present today and those that are not present; a deal made before he was born and a deal that I try to keep.  He had chosen life.

Shlomo Zelig Goldberg


DP Camp - Sam and Shaya


Gombin – It’s Poetry and Ethnography.

Mordechai pic clouds and sailboats

[photo by Mordechai Treiger – Seattle, Washington – September 13, 2017]


On the green grass,

behind the high mountain,

my sister Chaneh wanders around.

I call her in the nights –

sister mine, come!

She does not answer,

the chestnut trees rustle.

On a cool cloud,

in a blue ship,

my sister Chaneh sails around.

I cali [stet] her in the days –

sister mine, wait!

She does not answer –

and sails away.

But often the mirror weeps.

I look deeply into it.

into the sad eyes

of my sister Chaneh.

Her hair is gray now.

No, that is ash,

white, gray ash

of my sister Chaneh.

Written by Rajzel Zychlinsky, Translated by Bella Szwarcman-Czarnota.[1]


Rajzel Zychlinsky, the author of this poem, was born in Gombin, Poland in 1910 to Mordechai and Dwora.   Mordechai was a gravedigger.  You might imagine that it was hard to support a large family on a gravedigger’s salary, so Mordechai emigrated to America and traveled back and forth to visit.  Dwora didn’t want to move the children to America because she was afraid they would abandon their Judaism. Mordechai died in 1928 in Chicago, never learning the fate of his family during the Holocaust.

Rajzel began to write poetry in 1927 or 1928.  Many of her poems were published in the Yiddish newspaper, Folkscajtung.   Her first volume of poetry was published by Jewish PEN-Club and was titled Lider.   She moved to Warsaw and worked as a bank clerk,  where she met her husband, Isaak Kanter.  They survived the war in the USSR, first in Lviv, then at Isaak’s parents in Kolomyia and later in Kazan.  After the war, they moved back to Poland, living in a Displaced Persons’ Camp in Lower Silesia.  It was there that Rajzel learned that most of her family was murdered in Chelmno and Treblinka.[2]  She and her husband emigrated to America, where she studied literature, English literature, biology and philosophy.  Before she died in 2001, she published four more volumes of poetry.[3]

Gombin[5] is a Polish town, 112 kilometers northwest of Warsaw.  The first traces of Jewish life arose there in the 16th century.  Jews, who were craftsmen and merchants, settled there.  In 1710 they built a wooden synagogue “with a sculpted Ark and Polish crowned eagles on the candle holders inside.”[6]  The synagogue was burned down by the Nazis in 1939.   Over 2,000 Gombin Jews died in the Holocaust, with only 130 surviving.[7]  Besides Rejzl, another of Gombin’s Jews to survive was Adam Czyzewski’s grandmother.  I know Adam because his son, Aleksander, went to the Northwest Yeshiva High School with my son Jack.  When the war broke out, Adam’s grandmother found refuge in a Catholic Convent and was hidden there during the war.

Adam is currently the director of the State Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw.  Ethnography is the study of peoples and cultures.  At the museum, he created an exhibit about the Gombin Jewish community, including a 3D replica of the Gombin synagogue, as well as a sukkah and beautiful pieces of Judaica.  I had the honor to see this exhibit when I was in Poland this past April.  As Adam wrote, what now seems like a natural part of the museum and Poland’s history, “would not have been so obvious a few years ago.”[8]

Adam organized a conference on Jewish ethnography in Warsaw in September of 2015. A thick book was published in connection with the conference called: The New Ethnography: Jewish Ethnography and Folkloristics in Poland Before 1945.  It includes academic articles about Jewish ethnography and about Gombin.  For example, Rabbi Michael Shudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, wrote a piece about Rabbi Avraham Gombiner, more commonly known as the Magen Avraham. The Magen Avraham wrote one of the major commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch – the Code of Jewish Law.   The Mogen Avraham (1637-1683) was born in Gombin.[9]  Another beautiful piece, written by Adam Czyzewski, details the project to reconstruct the model of the Synagogue in Gombin. [10]  The New Ethnography also includes an article about Rejzl Zychlinsky and many of her poems are published here.   I was deeply moved.


We go on living on the earth

That has taken our blood to quench its thirst.

There is a green spring coming –

Our bones have been ground up into ash;

We go on living, a few left to say Kaddish.

We eat the bread of the wheat fields,

Drink from a well these days.

The sun is very kind now –

She touches us with her rays.

We pass, leading our children by the hand –

wrecked homes, wrecked walls that mournfully


We pass dead islands of dead childhood years.

Free as a bird the wind careers.

We go on living. The snow begins to fall.

We meet white trees, yes, we see them one and all.

Eyes dark, we drink the dusk; and without words

We speak – to little gray birds.


Buy, buy dear neighbors,

buy this piece of earth.


You will build yourselves a house here,

dig a well,

and under the window a garden will bloom,

no ghost will come to haunt your place.

My mother won’t return from the gas chamber,

nor will her grandchildren appear.

Nor will I ever again be here

with my tear.

I only take a stone –

It used to feel my mother’s feet

In foreign, wanderer nights

it may pillow me asleep.

Thank you, Adam for sharing this with me.

[1] Published in The New Ethnography, Adam Czyzewski, Publisher and Project Director, 7/2015/08/2016.

[2] Id. at 144.

[3] Silent Door; Autumn squares; November sun; & New poems. Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Currently called Gabin.

[6] Szwarmcman-Czarnota, Bella, Rajzel From Gombin.  On Rajzel Zychlinsky’s Poetry, in The New Ethnography at 139-140.

[7] Id. at 141.

[8] Id. at 14.

[9][9] Id. at 131 – 137.

[10] Id. at 162-171.


Shaya 8.27.17

Shaya Schloss is Sam Goldberg’s first cousin.  Their mothers were sisters – Faiga and Miriam Mishler.  The Mishler sisters grew up in Jasienitz, Poland, 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from Bagatele, Sam’s place of birth.

Faiga married Zelig Goldberg and moved to Bagatele.  Miriam married Yankev (Jacob) Schloss and made their home in Jasienitz.  The Schloss family ran a general store out of their home.  Shaya was the third of four Schloss children born to Yankev and Miriam.

From time to time, the Goldberg family visited the Schloss family, especially around Chanukah.  They would travel by horse and buggy.  And sometimes the children would visit the other’s family during summer holiday.  Shaya remembers visiting the Goldbergs during his summer vacations.

Shaya's family with Sam

This picture was taken in 1934 when Sam was visiting the Schloss family.  Shaya recalls that this was taken just before his family was forced to move from Jasienitz because of the antisemitism that made their life impossible. The Poles were boycotting their store.  Sam had come from Bagatele to help them move.  Shown in the picture are (left to right): back row: Yitzkak Schloss, Poja Schloss, Sam Goldberg; second row: Shaina Rochel Mishler (Miriam and Faiga’s mother), Miriam Mishler Schloss, Yankev Schloss; Bottom row: Shaya Schloss and Clara Schloss.  They called their grandmother Sheina Lechel, because she ran after them with a spoon.  Lechel is Yiddish for spoon.   Sheina Rochel died one week before Hitler invaded Poland.  She lived with the Schloss family in Ostrow.  She went out to feed the chickens, came back inside and told her daughter she wasn’t feeling well.  She went to bed and had a heart attack, dying a few hours later.  She was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Ostrow.   Of the others in the picture, only Sam and Shaya survived the Holocaust.

I had the pleasure last Sunday of spending the afternoon with Shaya and his two sons, Jack and Bruce, in Monsey, New York.  We had much to discuss about the old days and about their families today.  Here is a picture of the four of us.  From left to right:  Bruce Schloss, me, Shaya Schloss, Jack Schloss.

Shaya, Bruce and Jack 8.27.17

After the war, Shaya and his wife Faiga, made their way to Föhrenwald where they found Sam, Esther and baby Fay.  In the DP camp, there were professional photographers who took photos.  Shaya shared some of the photos from that time.  They are amazing.  Here are a few:

DP Camp - Sam, Eshter and Fay - close up

Sam, Esther and Fay.

DP Camp - Sam and Shaya

Sam and Shaya.

Top 2 – Fay; Bottom – Esther, Sam and Fay.

My blog posts have been sparse because I am working hard on the book.   I will let you all know as I progress towards publication.   It was a special treat to spend time with Shaya, Bruce and Jack.  I am grateful for the time we spent together.



Occupy Wall Street protest

Charlottesville, Virginia.



Columns of white men carrying flaming torches marched through the streets of Charlottesville screaming “Jews will not replace us.”  “Blood and soil.” “White lives matter.”  Skirmishes with people protesting the march occurred, but nothing spiraled out of control.


A Vice reporter, Elle Reeve, interviewed Christopher Cantwell a leader of the Unite the Right – a white nationalist speaker, with others from his group gathered to watch.  

“How did you get to the “racial stuff”? she asked.

“It was when Trayvon Martin happened and Michael Brown and Tamir Rice,” Cantwell said.   “Every case some little black asshole acting like a savage gets himself in trouble, shockingly enough. . . . Of course we are capable of violence.  I am trying to make myself more capable of violence.  I am here to spread ideas, talk, in the hope that somebody more capable will come along and do that.  Somebody like Donald Trump who does doesn’t give his daughter to a Jew.”

“So, like Donald Trump, but more racist,” Reeve said.

“Ya – a lot more racists,” Cantwell continued.  “I don’t think you could feel about race the way I do and watch that Kushner bastard walk around with that beautiful girl.”

Reeves reported that the Unite the Right group stated that they came to protest the removal of the statute of Robert E. Lee, but really they were there to show that “they are real, not just an internet meme” Reeves explained.  “That they can organize in a physical space.”  

The Unite the Right rally was told to move to a different park and Robert Ray, a “reporter” for the Daily Stormer (which tried to find on line but seems to be shut down), stated that they had to move because “the city is run by Jewish communists and criminal niggers.” 

The governor declared a state of emergency, thus making all assembly unlawful.  Matthew Heimbach, the founder of the Nationalist Front, a neo-Nazi group, was quick to tell Reeve that the “radical left” could not beat them, so they had to turn to the state for help.  “If that does not show,” he continued, “that the radical left, the corporations, the State are all on the same Jewish side, a moment like this proves it.” 

The video taken by the Vice reporters shifts to a large protest – 1:40 in the afternoon – near Emancipation Park.  Hundreds of people, protesting the “Unite the Right” rally, are seen marching through the street with signs that say “Defend our Rights” and shouting – “Whose streets? Our streets.”

Out of nowhere, a gray car appears speeding down the street and drives directly into another car that then pushes the car in front of it into a large crowd of people.  People fly into the air and fall to the ground.  The gray car, shoves into reverse and speeds back down the street – away.  A hit and run.

Cries, blood and people lying on the ground fill the street.  One person is attempting CPR on a victim.  People are helping each other to stand and some are being carried to ambulances.   As we know, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, was killed by the car and dozens were injured. 

The Vice video can be seen here:

After Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor, Majdanek, Chelmno, Auschwitz/Birkenau, to hear these white racists spew this Hitlerite hate and state that violence against those that are different is your right and you hope it happens, sticks a knife in my soul.   We are a mere 78 years past the destructive hatred of the Third Reich.  Now Hitler and the Reich are these peoples’ heroes and role models.  We cannot allow it.  We must stand with the people of Charlottesville and the people who stood up to them six days ago.  Each of us must raise our voice..





Guest Blogger – Linda Elman Seattle group meets Eugenuisz and Alina Stys

Eugenuisz and Alina - from Linda Elman

Eugenuisz and Alina Stys.

DEAR READER:  Meet guest blogger – Linda Lawson Elman.  Linda is my cousin on my father’s side.  In June, she went to Poland with a trip organized by the Seattle Holocaust Center for Humanity and led by my friend and superhero, Joanna Millick. Linda wrote this as a Facebook post and I asked if I could reprint it as a guest blogger.  I have done some footnote annotations.

Welcome Linda to – soyouwanttowriteaholocaustbook!


June 27, 2017

Today, as expected was a long day. We left the hotel at 8 am for the long ride to Treblinka. This place of horror was set in beautiful surroundings. We found the same last year at Mauthausen and the Hartheim institute. Our guide was the Director of the museum, who kept emphasizing that he was only giving us scientific facts. While it was clear he understood English, he didn’t feel comfortable speaking it, leaving Joanna, our wonderful guide from Seattle to translate. We started with the museum, a short film, and then walked from the museum parking lot up to where the gas chambers had been located.

Started as a penal camp, Treblinka became a death camp.[1] Bodies were then burned on grills made of railroad tracks. set over a deep pit that contained the fire.[2] After the Treblinka Uprising in 1943, the camp was destroyed and wild flowers were strewn to conceal what had been there.[3]

The camp is now a memorial. Artistically designed, the site reflects what was there. Rail road ties are set along the area leading from the parking lot to the gas chambers. Large upright stones represent the barbed wire fence. The platform where the victims were unloaded is partway up the hill. From there they were herded through a narrow path lined with tree branches to the gas chambers, forced to undress quickly, and sent to their death. Just before you get to the site of where the gas chamber had been, there is a collection of tombstones with the names of all the Polish cities from which Jews had been killed. There is a large monument at the site of the gas chambers which looks like a huge tombstone. The top is carved and to me looked like struggle. The back has a menorah carved at the top. Behind the monument was a huge rectangular pit filled with jagged basalt to represent the crematoria. There were lots of additional tombstones set behind and off to the side of the monument. Some 800,000 people, mostly Jews, were killed at Treblinka.

From Treblinka we ride to the town of Stoczek to meet Eugenuisz and Alina Stys. Eugenuisz’s mother and aunt helped my cousin Karen Treiger’s mother and father-in-law, Sam and Esther Goldberg, survive during the war.  Eugenuisz was a child at the time and often carried food to Sam and Esther in a dog food bowl to disguise his mission. Our guide, Joanna Millick helped Karen find the family. Given some sketchy information and then some Polish letters between members of the Stys family and Esther, the internet, and international calling, Joanna tracked down Eugenuisz’s nephew Grzegorz Maleszewski, and the rest is history.

Grzegorz met us on the road and directed our bus to their home. We all sat in the living room and were able to ask Eugenuisz and Alina questions.  Eugenuisz did not consider himself a hero–that he attributed to his parents, but he was proud of what they had done. Given how close the houses are in this little cluster of homes, it is amazing that Sam and Esther’s location could be kept secret.  We are probably the last group the family will meet with since their neighbors are giving them grief because they think they are profiting from their story. Grzegorz too is proud of his uncle and grandparents. Karen is writing a book about their family story, and I join Eugenuisz, Grzegorz, Alicia, Joanna, and others in wanting to read it.

From there we went to Tykocin (not far from Bialystok). At one point Tykocin was a major center for Polish Jews. Located on a river which went all the way to Gdansk, it was a major trading center. In August 1941The Jews of Tykocin were ordered into the town center, marched (or driven if too young or infirm) to the woods, thrown into pits 5 meters deep, and systematically shot.

The beautiful synagogue is one of the few left standing anywhere in Poland.  The original has been restored, not reconstructed. The walls are covered with prayers carefully lettered so that you didn’t have to have a prayer book to pray. Our guide, Adam Radowski has clearly studied the history of the Jews in Tykocin, and written a small book with the story. The town is now a tourist attraction, and some. 80,000 visitors come to the synagogue each year. Although no Jews live there, they have a kosher butcher shop and restaurant to serve their many visitors. We walked to the cemetery which is a remnant of it once was. The remaining stones are buried in tall grass and weeds and worn down to be unreadable. No one has stepped up to take responsibility for it. From the cemetery we bussed out to the woods and walked through the gnats and mosquitoes to the mass graves. After time to reflect, we lit candles, recited Kaddish, and headed back to the bus.

After a return trip that included chips, pretzels, beer, Tatanka (Buffalo vodka and apple juice) our most nutritious dinner yet–okay, I skipped the beer–we got back to the hotel around 9. If we were tired, imagine how tired Joanna must be. She translated each of our guides today (along with taking care of everything else.)

This was just one day of our intense and educational trip with the Holocaust Center.  Thank you to all who made it possible.

Linda Lawson Elman (guest blogger — front row, first on left – wearing black; Grzegorz Maleszewski and Joanna Millick – on right side, back row – standing)

Linda Elman group

[1] The Treblinka penal camp was a labor camp.  It was in operation before the death camp and was in a different location.  The death camp began to be built in June of 1942 – it was intended from the beginning as a death camp.

[2] The burning of corpses at Treblinka did not occur until early in 1943 after Heinrich Himmler visited.  Before that (beginning in July 1942), the bodies were buried in huge pits.  Himmler ordered that all bodies be exhumed and burned and all future victims of the gas chambers be burned.


[3] The Treblinka uprising was in August of 1943.  The camp continued to function until November when it was destroyed.



November 1938.

Kristallnacht – the Night of the Broken Glass – was a pogrom against the Jews of Germany in which synagogues were destroyed, Jews were killed, injured, and sent to concentration camps.  Kristallnacht was not, however, one night of broken glass, but three days of broken glass.   David Cesarni’s Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1939, provides an analysis of this pogrom and the fateful conference held in its aftermath.

What the pretense for starting the pogrom?

In October of 1938, the Polish government announced its intention to bar any Polish citizen residing abroad from ever reentering the country unless he or she applied for and obtained a passport revalidation by November 1.  This had to happen on Polish territory.  Well, there were many Polish Jews who were living in Germany.  So, Germany, knowing that it wanted to somehow expel these Polish Jews from its land, rounded them up and delivered them to the Polish border.  This way, they could get their passports revalidated and keep open the possibility of later expulsion from Germany.  Poles refused to let these Jews into Poland to revalidate their passports and many languished on the border.

Among the deportees were the parents of Herschel Grynszpan, a young Jew living illegally with relatives in Paris.  Herschel was angry at the treatment his parents received and he took revenge by walking in the German embassy in Paris on November 7, 1938 and shooting the third secretary, a young diplomat named Ernst vom Rath.  Von Rath died the next day, which was the anniversary of the Beer Hall Putch – Hitler’s 1923 coup attempt.

Goebbels used the death of vom Rath to inflame the German people against the Jews.  He exhorted the people, as an act of self-defense, to revenge vom Rath’s death – against the Jews.  Beginning with November 9 and lasting until November 11, a “spontaneous demonstrations” took place.  I would call it a pogrom.

“That night fires were ignited all over Germany, and the shattered plate glass that was to give the pogrom its name littered the streets of German towns and cities.  Synagogues and Jewish institutions were burned to the ground.   Over 7000 Jewish businesses were destroyed and killed nearly 100 people.” (Dawidowicz, War Against the Jews at 136)

As the Jewish community picked up the pieces of their destroyed infrastructure and egos, the Nazis were busy planning to further destroy the body and soul of the Jews of Germany.  On November 12th, just one day after the streets quieted, Hermann Göring, the second most powerful man in Germany, called a meeting of approximately 100 people – all the major players in Germany’s economic and domestic affairs to discuss the “Jewish question.”

Göring began:

“I have had enough of demonstrations! They don’t harm the Jew, but me, who is the ultimate authority for co-ordinating the German economy . . . It’s insane to clean out and burn a Jewish warehouse then have a German insurance company make good the loss.   . .  the fundamental idea in this programme [sic] of the elimination of the Jew from the German economy is first, the Jew being ejected from the economy transfers his property to the State.’”[1]

Göring continued, that although the Jews were to be deprived of their livelihoods. they would not benefit directly from the sale of their property: “they would be compensated with bonds that would generate enough income for them to live off.”[2]

During a four-hour meeting, this group of esteemed Nazis agreed to forbid Jews’ entry to cinemas, theaters, and concerts.  Resorts, beaches, woods or parks would be off limits to Jews.  They could only rest on park benches marked for Jews.  Jewish children would no longer be allowed to attend state schools.[3]

Officials of the German insurance industry attended this meeting. They were concerned about paying out claims for all the lost and destroyed Jewish property from Kristallnacht.  On the one hand, they did not want to pay the claims of these Jewish property owners.  On the other hand, if they did not pay the claims, their reputation in the world economy would be tarnished.  “It was eventually agreed,” states Cesarani, “that the claims would be met, but the payments would never reach the German Jewish claimant.  As Reinhard Heydrich put it, ‘That way we’ll save face.’”[4]

After several hours of debate and discussion, Heydrich felt that the conversations were drawing to a close. So, he spoke up: “‘In spite of the elimination of the Jews from economic life, the main problem, namely to kick the Jew out of Germany, remains.  May I make a few proposals to that effect?’”[5]  He recommended that a Vienna-type emigration system be put in place that would send 8,000 – 10,000 Jews out of the country each year for the next ten years.  For the remaining Jews in Germany, would be impoverished and isolated to keep them out of “normal German routine of life.”[6] Undeterred by the realization that this would lead to overcrowding and mass starvation of Jews, the group agreed that driving licenses of Jews should be confiscated and car ownership prohibited.  Further, Jews should not be allowed into spas or resorts and should be restricted to “Jewish-only” health services.[7]

During the closing moments of the meeting, Göring obtained agreement from all present that the Jews should be fined for the damage caused during Kristallnacht.  They would be fined one billion marks, “as punishment for their abominable crimes.”[8]

Goering finished with a doozie:

“Incidentally, I’d like to say again that I would not like to be a Jew in Germany.”[9]


[1] Cesarani, David. Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1949 at 203.

[2] Id. at 203-204.

[3] Id. at 204.

[4] Id. at 205.

[5] Id. at 206.

[6] Id. at 207.

[7] Id. at 207.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.



     Crimes Against Humanity


Both legal concepts were born at Nuremberg during the prosecution of Nazi criminals.  I read East West Street: The Origins of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity,” by Phillippe Sands, and learned this fact and more.

OK, let’s start with the difference between these two legal terms.

Crimes Against Humanity is “the killing of individuals, if part of a systematic plan.”

Genocide is “killing of the many with the intention of destroying the group of which they were a part.”

“For a prosecutor today,” Sands explains, “the difference between the two was largely the question of establishing intent: to prove genocide, you needed to show that the act of killing was motivated by an intent to destroy the group, whereas for crimes against humanity no such intent had to be shown.”[1]

Before and during the Nuremberg trials, there was an undeclared war between Hersch Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin over which legal term would win out.

Hersch Lauterpacht, a professor of international law at Cambridge University, was a scholar who advocated the creation of an International Bill of Rights for the Individual. He called for “governments to embrace the ‘revolutionary immensity’ of a new international law that would protect the fundamental rights of man.”[2]  He coined the term – “crimes against humanity’.  He was on the British prosecution team at Nuremberg and was successful in getting this crime listed in Article 6 of the Nuremberg Charter, which was used to prosecute 24 German defendants.

Lauterpacht was aware of the Lemkin’s concept of Genocide, but felt that this misplaces the focus.  If genocide is a crime, it will reinforce negative feelings towards both the perpetrators and the victims, creating an “us” versus “them” scenario.  By pitting groups against each other, it will make reconciliation difficult and exacerbate the negative situation.[3]  Better to focus on the human rights of individuals, Lauterpacht felt, and not pit groups against each other.

Rafael Lemkin, a lawyer, who fled Poland in 1939, settling in America, worked with the American prosecution team.  But Lemkin was not invited to be in the group of lawyers that tried the case in Nuremberg.  Lemkin was disappointed that genocide was not included in Article 6 of the Nuremberg Charter.  But he tried in myriad ways to slip genocide into the proceedings.  His main success was that genocide was included in count 3 of the crimes – under “war crimes.” So, both crimes against humanity and genocide were included in the trial, but genocide did not gain traction during the proceedings and was not in the judgment issued at the end of the trial.  Lemkin was devastated.

In contrast, “crimes against humanity got a central place in the judgment and for the first time in history, were recognized to be an established part of international law.  The courtroom listened in silence to the narrative: murder, ill-treatment, pillage, slave labor, persecutions, all giving rise to international criminality.”[4]

But all was not lost for Lemkin.  In December of 1946, after the trial was over, the United Nations General Assembly passed two resolutions.  First, Resolution 95, the General Assembly affirmed that “crimes against humanity” were part of international law.  But second, Resolution 96 was adopted, overruling Nuremberg and affirming that genocide is “a crime under international law.”[5]  Lemkin had done it.   The General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, “the first human rights treaty of the modern era.”[6]

The author of the book, Phillipe Sands, is a barrister of international law and someone who prosecutes both genocide and crimes against humanity.  He was surprised to learn that both Lemkin (born 1900) and Lauterpacht (born 1897) were raised in Lvov (also known as Lemberg).  Both great legal minds came from the same city and attended the same university.  He was especially interested because his own grandfather, Leon Buchholz, was also born in Lvov in 1904.

The book traces the lives of these three men – Lauterpacht, Lemberg and Sand’s grandfather Leon, searching for truths that are buried in the dust of history.   He weaves these stories in an artful narrative of the lives of three men from Lvov.  His search for facts about his grandfather reminded me of my own journey into the lives of Sam and Esther.  As an attorney, I found the lesson on Nuremberg and the development of modern international laws of human rights to be fascinating.

Sands fundamentally agrees with Lauterpacht that prosecuting the crime of genocide, which emphasized the group, pits “us” against “them” and is not the best way to heal our fractured world.   But he accepts that fact that humans are born into groups and as the biologist Edward O. Wilson wrote: “group-versus-group was a principal driving force that made us what we are.”[7]  “It seems,” Sands continues, “that a basic element of human nature is that ‘people feel compelled to belong to groups and, having joined, consider them superior to competing groups.’”[8]

In this “us versus them” world, we each must work hard to find each person’s humanity and respect each as being created in the image of God.  Yes, we are members of groups, but we are also members of the biggest group – the human race.



[1] Sands, Phillippe, East West Street: On the Origins of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity” at 11.

[2] Id. at 104.

[3] See id. at 365.

[4] Id. at 351.

[5] Id. at 361.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at 365.

[8] Id.