Anti-Semitism; Anti-semitism; Anti-Semitism; Antisemitism; antisemitism How to Spell it?

ANTISEMITISM HERE AND NOW LIPSTADT

Antisemetic acts in the United States increased 57% from 2016 to 2017 (ADL).   I have no doubt when the numbers come in 2018, that it will be a record-breaking year.  The ADL Center on Extremism reported a 182% increase in white-supremacist propaganda, including the distribution of racist, antisemetic and Islamophobic fliers, stickers, banners and posters in 2018.  And then there was Pittsburg. And now we get news that Mercer Island High School students posted pictures with a heil Hitler salute on social media.

Am I worried about the increase in antisemetic actions in our own country and around the world?  Yes, I am.  And after reading Deborah Lipstadt’s new book – ANTISEMITISM: HERE AND NOW – I am more worried and upset about the state of the world we inhabit.

But let’s set that worry aside for a moment and ask – how shall we spell the word?

When working on My Soul is Filled with Joy: A Holocaust Story, I researched the issue and decided to spell it “antisemitism” – no hyphen and no capital.  I explain my choice in endnote #27.   Using a hyphen implies that there is something called “Semitism” in the world.  But alas, there is not and Wilhelm Marr, a German journalist who popularized the term in the late nineteenth century – did not include a hyphen.

So, it was with satisfaction that I read Dr. Lipstadt’s four-page explanation of why she spells it the same way – “antisemitism” – no capital, no hyphen.   It will be no surprise to learn that Dr. Lipstadt delves deeper into the issue than my note #27.

She explains that there is no such thing as a Semetic people.  The word was coined in 1781 to refer to a group of languages that have similarities (Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, Amharic, ancient Akkadian, and Ugaritic) (Lipstadt, 23).  When Marr coined the German word – Antisemitismus – he meant Jew Hatred.    “According to Marr,” Lipstadt explains, “Jews were dangerous because their goal was ‘to harm Germanic identity’ and to destroy ‘the Germanic.’ Nothing could alter their foreign-ness, including changing their religion.  . . . Seeking a word that had a racial and ‘scientific’ connotation rather than a religious one, he chose ‘Antisemitismus’ (capitalized because all nouns are capitalized in German).  For him and the legions of people who adopted this word, it means one thing and one thing only: hating members of the Jewish ‘race.’ (In one of those bitter ironies, at the end of his life Marr recanted his antisemitic accusations and, in a final essay entitled ‘Testament of an Antisemite,’ acknowledged that the faults he attributed to the Jews were, in fact, the result of the Industrial Revolution and the political debate of the times.  His remorse notwithstanding, the damage had already been done.)” (Lipstadt, 24).

Some have argued that a person belonging to a nation or group speaking a Semitic language can’t be an antisemite.  Dr. Lipstadt begs to differ.  She explains that the intent of the word is “Jew Hatred.”   “It does not mean,” Lipstadt writes, “hostility towards a nonexistent thing called ‘Semitism.’  When Marr coined the word, he was most definitely not referring to people who spoke Arabic, Aramaic, Amharic, Akkadian, or Ugaritic.” (Lispstadt, 24-25)   Dr. Lipstadt conveys that when the word appeared in English in 1893, it showed up with a hyphen.  However, she points out that in French and Spanish, there is no hyphen and the word is all lowercase – antisemitisme and antisemitismo.

Dr. Lipstadt concludes that she chose to make the “a” at the beginning of the word small because antisemitism is “an illogical, delusional passion full of self-contradictions and absurd contentions.  It doesn’t deserve the dignity of capitalization, which in English is reserved for proper names.” (Lipstadt, 25)

So “antisemitism” it shall be.

Note to friends at Microsoft – tell the Word team to change the program, so the word is properly spelled as “antisemitism.”  Thanks.

 

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Seattle’s Chinese Riots of 1880’s – All Too Familiar

seattle map

 

Treacherous almond-eyed sons of Confucius; Chattering, round-mouthed lepers; Yellow rascals who have infested our Western country; Rat-eating Chinamen – these are labels slapped on the Chinese in Seattle in the 1880’s.

Sound familiar? – feels like the description of the Jews in Germany in 1930’s and 1940’s – vermin, dirty, subhuman, Bolsheviks who are trying to take over the world.  It is scary to think that these same tactics are used over and over again throughout history to create in-groups and out-groups, validating hate, prejudice and mob-action – expulsion, even murder – against an unprotected minority.

Seattle’s Chinese were brought to our shores to build the railroads, the completion of which ensured that Seattle would become the metropolis it is today.  Before these Chinese men turned into lepers and rascals, they were heralded as hard working and brave “Johns” (name given to all Chinamen in the Pacific NW).  But once the railroads were built, they flooded into the cities and the mood changed.  The Chinese were willing to take menial jobs at lower wages than the white men.  And soon economic competition gave rise to increased prejudice and hatred.

The backlash against the Chinese was so fierce that Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which halted all immigration of Chinese laborers.  But how to deal with the many Chinese already on our shores?   Seattle’s working men wanted them expelled – asap.  “Radicals advocated direct action,” recalls Murray Morgan in his timeless history of Seattle, Skid Road.  They wanted to “load the Chinese onto a ships or boxcars [ yes, boxcars] and ship them away; the conservatives sought suasion – ‘talk the Chinese into going home.’ In Seattle only the Methodist Episcopal Ministers’ Association had the temerity to go on record as believing the entire anti-Chinese movement was ‘cruel, brutal, un-American, and un-Christian.’” (Morgan, 90-91)

Is this bothering you yet?   I hope so!

Violence against the Chinese began in the small towns and rural areas of Washington.  The Chinese moved into the cities, believing that the police and the rule of law would protect them from harm.  Such was not to be.

History repeats itself – in the mid-1930’s many Jews from the countryside moved into the cities because of increased antisemitism.  For example, Krakow’s Jewish population rose from 55,000 to 70,000 in the last 1930’s because of an influx of Jews from the countryside who felt it would be safer to live in the cities.  And Shaya Schloss’s (Sam’s cousin) family moved to the city of Ostrow from their country town because their small grocery store was boycotted by the local Poles and the antisemitism was unbearable.

Back to Seattle – the anti-Chinese movement found their hero in Dan Cronin, who arrived in Seattle wearing the mantle of organizer for the Knights of Labor.   He created a secret group called the Committee of Nine and held a large meeting in Yesler Hall on September 28, 1885, with delegates from eight communities and seven labor unions.  These “delegates” demanded the Chinese leave by November 1, 1885, claiming that many were in the Washington Territory illegally.

While some Chinese, frightened for their lives, left before the November 1 deadline, many did not.  On November 3rd, a mob of anti-Chinese white men gather in Tacoma.  They went to every shanty and home where Chinese people  were living and forced them out of their homes, down to the waterfront and into boxcars [!!] on a ship.  The ship sailed and dropped these men in Portland.

There were some voices of reason and moderation.  For example, Judge Thomas Burke, “perhaps the best lawyer in Washington Territory” (Murray, 95), made a powerful speech against the actions of the anti-Chinese mob.  “The people of this city,” Burke declared, “are called upon to decide whether this shall be brought about in a lawful and orderly manner or by defiantly trampling on the laws, treaties, and Constitution of our country.” (Murray, 96)

An uneasy truce lasted until January 1886. It was then that the Territorial legislature acted.  While a law designed to keep “Orientals” from securing employment failed to pass, a law forbidding Chinese to own real property was enacted [really – so familiar].  Then the “Order Committees” got busy.  They went door to door and told the Chinese residents that their building was condemned, and they “encouraged” them to board the Queen of the Pacific, ready to sail to San Francisco.  With hundreds of white men out on the street, waiting to pounce, the Chinese had no real choice.  “Once the Chinese had agreed [to board the ship] . . .,” Murray explains, “they would ‘help out the heathens.’ The mob would rush in, carry out all the household goods and pile them in wagons, and hustle the Chinese off to the ocean dock.” (Murray, 100)

Three hundred and fifty Chinese were hauled down to the docks.  But there was a problem.  The captain of the ship wanted $7.00 per person to transport them to San Francisco.  Not many could afford the payment.   The white men were able to collect $650 by passing the hat, to pay for an additional 86 passengers.

After some legal wrangling and negotiations, a hundred and eighty-five Chinese sailed away from Seattle’s shores.   But because just under 200 remained, a riot ensued, recalling all the old western movies we have seen – complete with lots of shooting and a “battle” between the anti-Chinese and the U.S. militia.  Governor Squire declared martial law (confirmed by President Roosevelt the next day) and had the militia escort the remaining Chinese back to their homes.

Not feeling the love, most of the remaining Chinese men left the next week.  Martial law was lifted on February 22, though the troops remained, ending a sad and violent chapter for Seattle and humankind.   After all, there is nothing like a bit of violence to get the “unwanted” and “undesirables” to leave.   After the violent outbreak in Germany in November of 1938, that we know as Kristallnacht, more than 115,000 German Jews left the country – exactly what the Nazis wanted – for the vermin Jews to leave their country.

As I learned of this sorry piece of Seattle’s history, I was yet again reminded that when threatened, many of us lose our moral compasses and allow fear to rule.   Reading about the “Chinese Riots” opened my eyes to my own city’s dark history.  My great-great-grandparents, Paul and Jenny Singerman lived in Seattle during these years.  I hope that they sided with Judge Burke and kept their moral compass pointing north, but I don’t know.

Postscript to “Chinese Riots”:

“Eventually, Congress ‘out of humane consideration and without reference to the question of liability,’” Murray explains, “appropriated $276,619.15 as full indemnity for the losses and injuries sustained by Chinese subjects at the hands of American citizens in the agitation on the West Coast.  The money was paid to the Chinese government.”  (Murray, 107)

OY!

 

NYHS MAKES DREAMS COME TRUE, EVEN IN POLAND

NYHS-logo-lions-banner

“Mom,” can I invite my two new classmates for Shabbat dinner this week?” my son Jack (then age 16) asked me sometime in in the fall of 2006.  “They are new in town.”

“Of course,” I said. “Always happy to have your friends.”

That Friday, all was ready – the kids were showered and dressed, the food cooked and warming, the table, dressed in white, adorned with our finest china with two Challot hidden beneath a colorful cloth.  I lit the Shabbat candles, covered my eyes, waved my hands around them three times as if my fingers were magic wands, and poof, Shabbat arrived.  I took a deep, long breath and greeted my four children with a hearty – “good Shabbes.”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” Jack mentions, “my friends that are coming for dinner are from Poland.  Their English is not so great.”

The “Polish boys” arrive at our doorstep – shy and awkward.  Jack – neither shy nor awkward, introduces them –

“Mom, these are the Zhezevskys,” Jack announces.  “They are here from Poland.  We have trouble remembering both names, so we call them the Zhezevskys.”

Well, I asked their real names and learned that they are Aleksander Czyzewski and Joseph Lang and they came to Seattle from their home in Warsaw to attend the Northwest Yeshiva High School.

Ok, I think, it’s a bit strange to come to Seattle for high school from Warsaw, but, going with the flow, I welcomed them to our table and tried to make them feel at home.  I learned that they attended the Jewish middle school in Warsaw and wanted to continue their Jewish education into high school, but there was no such option in Warsaw.  The Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, called his friend in Seattle, Rivy Poupko Kletenik (my dear friend) and asked her if she would help in bringing two Polish boys to Settle to attend our Jewish high school.

“Absolutely,” was Rivy’s immediate response.

 

[Photos: Rabbi Michael Schudrich; Rivy Poupko Kletenik]

Arrangements were made, plane tickets were bought and here they were, struggling to learn geometry, chemistry and Talmud – in English.  Joseph Lang, stayed in Seattle for two years and then returned home, while Aleksander stuck it out until graduation.  We were thrilled to welcome them both to our Shabbat table many more times.

Fast forward to 2015, I called Jack, who was living in Boston:

“Jack,” I ask, “where does Czyzewski live?  We are going to Poland in June and I would love to see him.”

“I am not exactly sure,” he responds, “I heard he was back in Warsaw.  Message him through Facebook.”

In 2015 I was still a newbie when it came to “messaging on Facebook,” but I thought I can figure this out.  Indeed, I found Aleksander Czyzewski on Facebook and sent him a message.  On December 7, 2015, I typed:

Hi Aleksander,

This is Karen Treiger – Jack Goldberg’s mom – from Seattle.

I hear that you are back living in Warsaw.  Shlomo, Ether (our youngest) and I are coming to Warsaw on June 17th. We were wondering if we could see you when we are there. We are coming to visit the towns where Shlomo’s parents lived before the war. We will be in Warsaw from Friday, the 17th until the following Wednesday.

Hope to see you.    Karen Treiger

I was shocked when, the very next day, I got a message back – it worked!

Dear Mrs. Treiger,

It is very nice to hear from you.  I remember my time in Settle very well, especially visits at your home.  I just finished my studies in Israel and came back to Poland. I am working on my thesis and looking for a job.  I am not sure if I will be in Poland in June since I do not know where I will be working.  But please keep in touch because even if I will not be in Poland, my father or some friends of mine can take you around.  If you can send me a list of places you want to visit, I would be able to help you with arrangements and plans.

Hag Sameach.

Sincerely, Aleksander Czyzewski

20160620_131313

[Photo: Jack Goldberg and Aleksander Czyzewski in Warsaw, June 2016]

Well, this was the beginning of a connection of Einstein’in proportions (reference is to last chapter of My Soul is Filled with Joy).  We spent time with Aleks, and since all four of our children ended up with us in Warsaw, it felt like a family reunion.  He explained that he was working as a translator for law firms.  We had the pleasure of meeting Aleks’ parents, Adam and Elżbieta and though language might have been a barrier, it was not, and we quickly felt like old friends.  Over dinner at one of Warsaw’s kosher restaurants, they told us their families’ stories of Jewish secrets in post-war, communist Poland.  Vowing to stay in touch, we said our goodbyes.

20160620_213954

[Photo:  Shlomo Goldberg; Adam Czyzewski;   Elżbieta Czyzewska; Aleksander Czyzewski, Jack Goldberg; Karen Treiger – Warsaw, June 2016]

Ten months later, in April 2017, I was back in Warsaw, with my youngest daughter, Esther.  We were there to see the Styś family members and sadly, to pay our last respects at the gravesides of both Jan and Janina, who we had met the previous June.  Aleksander Czyzewski served as our travel partner and translator for our expedition to Stare Lipki to visit Eugenius and Alina Styś.

“So, when will the book be published already?”  Alina Styś asked impatiently as we sat in their now familiar small living room.

“I am not sure, but I am working hard on it,” I responded.  “I have a dream, that once it is published in English, I will find a Polish translator and get it published so I can come back and give you a book that you can read yourself.”

“That sounds great,” they both said, “hurry up!”

At the end of our visit to Stare Lipki, we drove back to Warsaw where we were looking forward to spending time with Aleks and his parents.  Alek’s father, Adam gave us a private tour of the National Museum of Ethnography in Warsaw, of which he is the director.  Our plan was, after visiting the museum, to go out to dinner.  But alas, Warsaw’s Kosher restaurants did not cooperate with our plan and they were closed.  So, Esther, Aleks, Adam, Elżbieta and I sat in the Museum office, ate granola bars and talked yet again about their families and what it means to be a Polish Jews living in Warsaw in 2017.

Adam and Elżbieta were both very proud of the beautiful exhibit in the museum dedicated to the life of Jews in pre-war Gombin, Poland, where Adam’s family was originally from.  Adam had worked hard to make the exhibit a reality.  Further, the 2016 annual conference in the Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw coincided with the focus of the publication of “New Ethnography: Jewish Ethnography and Folklorists in Poland before 1945.”  Adam was the “editor and project director” of this impressive 600-page book with a collection of essays and pictures.  They gave me a copy of this three-and-a-half-pound book to bring home with me.  I hoped it would not put my suitcase over the pound limit!   Beaming with pride, Adam explained that Elżbieta runs a small publishing company and she published the book.   Wow, a true family endeavor.

Ethnography book

Back to Seattle I sat at my desk and wrote and re-wrote.  My Soul is Filled with Joy: A Holocaust Story was completed and published in September of 2018.  I am happy to report that the book includes the poignant and meaningful stories of Adam, Elżbieta and Aleks.

As soon as the book was finished, my brain began to churn with a passion.  How can I get this book translated into Polish and published quickly – while Eugenius and Alina are still alive?   I did some research and spoke to several people about how best to make this happen.  Then I remembered – Aleks is working as a translator.

Back to the computer – on October 12, 2108, I wrote:

“Hi Aleks,

I hope you are doing well.

My book is out in the world and I want to send you a copy.  You are in it as are your parents! . . .

I know you do legal translations – would your skill translate to a book like mine?  . . .

If not, do you know any translators who work on books who you think are good.

Thanks.  Shabbat shalom.    Karen”

On October 20, 2018, I received the following:

“I would love to translate Your book. Not only because this book is of a great interest to me but also this kind of translation is my favorite. Usually I translate corporate letters/e-mails/documents. . ..

My mother does publishing but she has almost none with distribution but will be able to find you someone trusted. Once we get your book in hard copy and Word my mother can list cost of: preparing book for printing or if you want a new design different from original, there will be additional cost and finally printing.

Best Wishes from me and my parents.”

How about that – the Czyzewski family comes to the rescue.   Aleks will translate, Elżbieta will publish and Adam may jump into the fray to help with editing the Polish manuscript.  A Czyzewski family package deal.  Amazing.  The goal is to have the finished product by June of 2019.  I will be going to Poland for the launch and will be speaking about the book at the POLIN Museum in Warsaw and at the Krakow Jewish Festival.  But best of all, I hope to hand My Soul is Filled with Joy in Polish to Eugeniusz and Alina Styś.

ALL this started thanks to the Northwest Yeshiva High School, Rabbi Michael Schudrich and Rivy Poupko Kletenik.  When NYHS opened as a Jewish High School in 1974, in the basement of the Seattle Hebrew Academy, its name was Yeshivat Ohr Hatzafon (Yeshiva of the Northern Light).  Well, this northern light, let’s call it the north star, led me and my family to the Czyzewski family in Warsaw, Poland.  Now, together, we will bring Sam, Esther, and our own stories to Poland, back to where the story began 80 years ago.

You gotta love it!

 

INTERNATIONAL HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY – WHAT DOES FASHION HAVE TO DO WITH IT?

connection event

This morning, Jewish women of Seattle gathered at a beautiful event at the Westin Hotel to discuss Jewish giving and Jewish fashion.   It happens to also be International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I was honored to give the Dvar Torah – words of Torah – at the event.

Below are my remarks:

Slavery in Egypt, hard labor, Moses and the burning bush, blood, frogs, hail, wild beasts, columns of Hebrews leaving Egypt as free people, laden with gifts from their slave-masters.  The Torah’s vivid descriptions, read over these past few weeks, help us feel the suffering and the terror of the Hebrew slaves.  Now, they are free – Imagine the elation – that lasts . . . for a few moments – until they reach the Yam Suf – the Sea of Reeds. The promised land is on the other side.   But how to cross over – and now the Egyptians are chasing after them with chariots and horses, ready to capture the newly freed slaves – it wouldn’t be much of a contest.

Then, as the midrash describes, Nachshon Ben Aminadav – steps into the water- either he believes that G-d will make a miracle – he had seen plenty – or he figures better to drown in the sea than to die by the Egyptian sword.  Miraculously, the sea splits – and the Hebrews cross on dry land.  As they reach the other side – alive – Moses and Miriam lead the people in songs of praise.  They keep traveling – all the way to Mt. Sinai – where, as we just read in Synagogue yesterday, these battered slaves hear the voice of G-d in the form of the first two of the Ten Commandments, thus giving birth to our people – Am Yisroel – the nation of Israel – the Jewish people.

As we stand here today, in 2019, we still tell this story – as we reread these Torah portions and, every year, as we celebrate Passover.  It is our story.  We teach it to our children and we say over and over – Zecher l’yitziyat Mitzrayim – a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt.

It was on Passover as this story was retold around our table with the wine stains and the crumbs of Matza all over the beautiful cloth, that my father-in-law Sam Goldberg would tell of his personal Egypt – where he was a slave – the Treblinka Death Camp – where 870,000 people were murdered in Nazi gas chambers – and only approx. 65 survived to tell about it.  Sam was a slave there for 13 long, hellish months, watching train load after train load after train load arrive and then 90 minutes later – 90 minutes later  – the human beings were turned to lifeless corpses.  At the Seder, Sam would tell of his escape from Treblinka during a prisoner uprising on August 2, 1943.  How they set fire to the camp and blew a hole in the barbed wire fence.  The prisoners ran out – as fast as they could, dodging the bullets raining down on them from the Ukrainian guards in the watchtowers. Sam managed to run through that hole in the fence and he kept running.

But like the Hebrews so many thousands of years ago – Sam, with his first taste of freedom, ran smack into a body of water – the Bug River.  What was he to do?– the Germans and Ukrainians were chasing after him – and he didn’t know how to swim.   But he felt he had no choice – he would rather drown in the river than be captured by the Nazis.  He jumped in – and the next thing he knew – he woke up on the shore – alive.  He got up, shook off the water – and kept running.  He ran another 10 miles until he ended up in the forest – desperately looking for a place to hide. 

It was there in that patch of Polish forest that he met Esther Wisznia.  She had been hiding there for a year already – with the help of two Christian families, named Stys.   Esther couldn’t believe that someone had escaped from Treblinka.  She took him to her angel – Helena Stys – and begged her to allow them to hide in her barn during the massive search that was underway.  

Remarkably, Helena said yes.  Remarkable because it was very dangerous to hide Jews in Poland – a capital offense.   But hide they did – in fact, Sam stayed and hid with Esther for another year until they were liberated by the Soviet army in July of 1944.  Sam and Esther were married a few months later – emigrated to NY in 1949 and gave birth to my husband, Shlomo, two years later. 

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day – an opportunity to pause and remember the catastrophe that befell the Jewish people.  As we allow the Shoah to penetrate our minds and our souls, we can view the blessings of our lives through a new prism.  It was only 75 years ago that my mother-in-law Esther and our other Jewish sisters wore lice-covered rags.  They could only dream of beautiful clothes as those that Maskit has created. And that these Maskit designs come from the Jewish State of Israel – amazing!

If Esther were alive today, first she would say – eat!

Then, she would say – if you encounter hardships your life – do the best you can, shake it off and keep running. Run for your life.  Appreciate each day you are alive.  Appreciate your closet full of clothes.  Appreciate that you have a Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle that has the vision to bring our community together – as a strong, proud group of Jewish women.  We have so much to be thankful for. 

Zachor – let us always remember and be grateful. 

Yad Vashem sculpture

 

 

 

 

AUDIO BOOK & POD CAST

Cheryl Stern and me

I am so excited to share the news (if you have not already heard) that the audio version of My Soul is Filled With Joy: A Holocaust Story has been released.

It is narrated by actress Cheryl Stern (picture above).   You may recognize Ms. Stern from her role as Ida, in the award-winning show, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Benjamin’s mother).   Cheryl and her husband Tom, who produced the audio book created an astonishing listening experience.  The book opens and closes with Shlomo’s song and the song appears in the book, at the moment we sing it to the Stys family.    The audio book is on Audible and can be obtained on Audible’s website on Amazon.  If you know people who listen to books, please recommend this audio book. 

An “Audible Sample” of the book is available at: https://www.amazon.com/…/dp/B07MMYRTHC/ref=tmm_aud_swatch_0…

 

PODCAST RELEAED:

Another audio experience is the release of a 30 minute podcast for Limmud Seattle – an extraordinary Jewish Festival that happened yesterday!     Tamar Libicki interviewed me and it was released a few weeks ago.  You can listen here:

 

 

 

The Holocaust is “Still Happening”

Recording Song - David Lang Studio - Fun

[photo:  The Goldbergs recording He’elita for the audio book-Aug. 2018]

 

“Yeah, it makes you realize that the Holocaust wasn’t something that simply happened, but is an event that’s still happening.” (The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, by Daniel Mendelsohn, 289)

How can the Holocaust be “still happening”?  It’s an event that took place 75 years ago.  It’s over and done with – leave it to the history books.

I cannot.  The Holocaust, for me, is alive and is “still happening.”  It’s still happening because Sam and Esther’s stories echo in my thoughts daily.

I am not alone.  There is a world of people who feel the pulse of the Holocaust in their 2019 lives.   Some have walked through the looking glass to examine their own souls in the context of a Holocaust survivor or victim’s story.   One can never go back to the “old ways” after stepping through that glass. Reality and self-understanding are spun anew.  It’s a spiritual journey into the dark matter of the world and a deep dive into one’s own soul.  But we are in the good company.

The quote at the top is from Daniel Mendelsohn’s book –The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, published in 2006, in which he tells of his quest to discover what happened to his great Uncle Shmiel Jager, his wife and four daughters.   They were murdered by the Nazis, but Mendelsohn was obsessed with finding out how, when and where.  His journey took him across continents and like me, discovered people he could never have imagined would enter his life.  These six Mendelsohn relatives are gone, but through his book and his exploration, they are now part of the landscape of his life and the lives of his other family members.

Each searcher’s journey has a different focus, a different twist.  One such Holocaust exploration looks at the murders of family members through a journey to thirty-five Holocaust memorials, all around the world.  Victor Ripp, in Hell’s Traces: One Murdered, Two Families, Thirty-Five Holocaust Memorials, published in 2017, focuses on the death of a three-year-old boy, Aleksander Ripp, who was murdered in Auschwitz.   “What had once happened was history,” Ripp states, [b]ut it was a history that, the memorial insisted, still intruded on the present” (Ripp, 30).

Yes, Holocaust memory insists on intruding on the present, on our lives as we live our mundane existence of daily, weekly and monthly schedules. Holocaust memory brings a new way to live, to live with open hearted gratitude for my mundane existence.

I have often opined that the number six million is too big to understand and far too big to have meaning in our contemporary lives.  “One six followed by a string of zeros.  How did you feel something as flat as a number,” askes Noah Lederman in his memoir A World Erased: A Grandson’s Search for His Family’s Holocaust Secrets, published in 2017, “The number was spoken and written so often that it grew into something emotionless and digestible, a textbook statistic served up like one historical corpse.  We hardly even glanced at death tolls from the Crusades and the Inquisitions. What would happen when the liberation of the camps reached it century anniversary? How would future generations react to six million and the Holocaust?” (Lederman 55-56)

This is the six-million-dollar question – how will future generations react to Holocaust stories.  I go to sleep asking this question.  I believe that telling the stories as Lederman, Mendelsohn, Ripp (and now me), and others are telling it – brings the stories of one, two, three, six of the victims of Nazi Germany, whether they survived or were murdered in Europe, into focus for those willing to read, to listen and to feel it deeply.

This is really happening.   People are telling the stories of their family or people that they know in the most personal way – by opening up and exposing their own vulnerability.   Louise Steinman, a granddaughter of survivors went on a week-long Bearing Witness Retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau, which brought together people of many religions to meditate, share, cry and experience each other’s pain at this most painful place on earth.  After this experience, she traveled many times to different parts of Poland seeking her grandparent’s stories and reconciliation with the Poles.  In her book, The Crooked Mirror: A Memoir of Polish-Jewish Reconciliation, she tells that someone once asked her what “kind of book about Poland” was she writing?  “Was it . . .  Poland in the past?  Contemporary Poland?   I thought for a minute, . . . The Poland in my head.” (Steinman, 211)

The past two decades have seen the publication of books, like My Soul is Filled with Joy, in which the authors open their lives and their minds to the victims’ or survivors’ stories, brining it into the 21st century.  “As the writers of this generation begin to tell these stories from their own vantage,” Ruth Franklin states in A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction, published in 2011, “they have turned Jewish literary tradition inside out. And in doing so, they demonstrate that the stories of the Holocaust remain tellable.” (Frankel 238)

Yes, we must tell the stories in a way that our children and grandchildren can welcome them into their lives – Zachor

KURT FRANZ – THE LALKA – what ever happened to him?

Lalka Yad Vashem

“What happened to Kurt Franz – the Lalka of Treblinka – after the war?”

I have been asked this by numerous readers of my book.  I didn’t exactly know.  I knew that after Treblinka shut down, he went to Trieste, Italy and later was tried for war crimes.  But I didn’t know much more.

Here is what I have found out:

After the Treblinka uprising, the Commandant of Treblinka, Franz Stangl was fired (are we surprised?) and the Lalka took over as Commandant.  The Lalka forced the remaining Jewish prisoners and those who had been recaptured after the uprising to dismantle the entire camp and make it look like there was no Death Camp  – just a nice farm.  All remaining Jews were murdered at the end of this dismantling project, sometime in November 1943.  After Treblinka was razed to the ground, the Lalka was sent to Sobibor and from there on to Trieste in northern Italy.

It was in Trieste that he joined his SS buddies: Odilo Globocnik, the head of Operation Reinhardt; Christian Wirth, one of the doctors at the T-4 Euthanasia Program and Commandant of Belzec; Franz Stangl, the previous Commandant of Treblinka; and Erwin Lambert, the architect of the T4 Euthanasia Program and Operation Reinhardt.  They were in charge of rounding up the partisans and the Jews.  Their job was to either murder them or send them to camps such as Auschwitz, Ravensbrook or Bergen-Belsen.

See blog post:  Italy the Perfect Vacation Spot, written April 14, 2017.

https://soyouwanttowriteaholocaustbook.wordpress.com/2017/04/14/italy-the-perfect-vacation-spot/

In May of 1945, the Lalka was arrested in Austria by the Americans.  He somehow escaped and fled to Germany.  He was later re-arrested in Germany, again by the Americans.   But – get this – he was released.  [That is crazy.]  Apparently, his actions at T-4 Euthanasia Program and at the Death Camps were not known.  He went back to Dusseldorf and worked there as a construction worker and a chef (pre-war profession).

In December of 1959, he was arrested again – on “suspicion” that he was involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Wonder what gave them that idea?

He was tried in Dusseldorf in 1965. Sam Goldberg was flown from New York to Washington, D.C. to give a deposition for the trail.  The whole family went.  Shlomo informed me that it was his first time on an airplane; he was 14.

On September 3, 1965, the Lalka was sentenced to life in prison for “participating in at least 900,000 murders.”[1]

He was released from prison in 1993 for ill health and died in an old age home in Wuppertal, just outside of Dusseldorf on July 4, 1998 at the age of 84.

July 4, 1998 – 54 days after our daughter Esther was born and named for her grandmother Esther Wisznia Goldberg – best revenge ever.

 

 

Sources:

Chris Webb and Michal Chocolaty, The Treblinka Death Camp: History, Biographies, Remembrance, 321-323.

WIKIPEDIA – HISTORY OF JEWS IN ITALY

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Jews_in_Italy#Jews_during_the_Fascist_era

Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team: THE DESTRUCTION OF THE JEWS OF ITALY

http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/nazioccupation/italianjews.html

US Holocaust Memorial Museum – Holocaust Encyclopedia: The Holocaust in Italy.

https://www.ushmm.org/learn/mapping-initiatives/geographies-of-the-holocaust/the-holocaust-in-italy

 

 

[1] Webb, Chris & Chocolaty, Michal, The Treblinka Death Camp: History, Biographies, Remembrance, 323,