(photo by Alexander Vorontsov via Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum)
More than 100 Auschwitz survivors from at least 17 countries will travel to Poland to participate in the observance of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz on Jan. 27, on the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The official event will be organized by Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and the International Auschwitz Council. World Jewish Congress and USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education will be among the organizations supporting this commemorative event.
The main commemoration will take place in front of the Death Gate at Birkenau. The ceremony will be under the high patronage of Poland’s President Bronislaw Komorowski. Countries from around the world will be sending official delegations, some of which will include Auschwitz survivors.
“This anniversary is crucial because it may be the last major one marked by survivors. We are truly honored that so many of them, despite their age, have agreed to make this trip,” said Ronald S. Lauder, president of World Jewish Congress. “Few moments in the drama that was World War II are more etched in our collective memory than the day Red Army troops came upon, perhaps, the greatest evil of our time.”
“We have to say it clearly: it is the last big anniversary that we can commemorate with a significant group of survivors,” said Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywinski, director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. “Until now, it has been them who taught us how to look at the tragedy of the victims of the Third Reich and the total destruction of the world of European Jews. Their voices became the most important warning against the human capacity for extreme humiliation, contempt and genocide.”
“On this special day, we want to show the survivors and the whole world that we, the postwar generation, have matured to our own responsibility for remembrance,” Marek Zajac, secretary of the International Auschwitz Council, added.
Lauder praised the efforts to preserve the site where at least 1.1 million people, most of them Jews, were murdered within less than five years. “Twenty-five years ago, when I saw the stunning truth of Auschwitz for the first time, every part of the former camp was disintegrating. Now, after a monumental effort, it has been preserved for future generations, and that is important in an age of Holocaust deniers.”
Twenty years ago, Lauder, along with Kalman Sultanik and Ernie Michel, raised $40 million from 19 countries in order to ensure that what remained in Auschwitz-Birkenau forever be preserved and bear witness for future generations. Lauder also financed the creation of the conservation laboratory at the Auschwitz Memorial, which preserves every shoe, every document, and every building that remains at the site.
The financing of the long-term preservation is continued by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. It was created in 2009 to collect €120 million ($151 million US) for the perpetual capital that will finance conservation work and preservation of all authentic remains of the former Auschwitz camp. To date, 32 countries have contributed more than €102 million ($128 million US). The foundation has started the 18 Pillars of Memory campaign to raise the remaining €18 million and it hopes to be able to announce the completion of the project on the day of the 70th anniversary of liberation.
Ahead of the event, World Jewish Congress has located Auschwitz survivors from at least 17 countries who are able to travel to Poland, especially from countries from which Jews were deported to Auschwitz during the war and from countries where significant numbers of survivors settled after the Shoah.
With the help of archivists from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, USC Shoah Foundation has identified the children from the historic photo seen above, taken by Red Army photographer Alexander Vorontsov who, in 1945, documented the liberation of the death camp. The surviving children are now between the ages of 81 and 86 and have been also invited to participate in the official commemoration.
“Faced as we are with the loss of living witnesses,” said Stephen Smith, USC Shoah Foundation executive director, “it is imperative we honor them and take their stories with us into the future so those who come after us will have no excuse to let such atrocities happen again. Survivors speak not only for themselves, but for the millions whose voices were violently silenced.”
Bassem Eid, a Palestinian human rights activist, has launched a campaign against the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), tasked with providing “assistance and protection” for five million Palestinian refugees around the world. In Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, UNRWA provides food, other aid and runs schools.
Eid said a recent study by well-known Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki shows that 70 percent of Palestinian refugees are seeking financial compensation rather than the “right of return” to their former homes in what is today Israel. He said that UNRWA, however, has an interest in perpetuating the right of return, in part, to justify its large budgets. These assertions are part of Eid’s blistering attack on UNRWA, which operates with a $1.2 billion budget from donor countries, including the United States.
“Palestinians in refugee camps are suffering, while UNRWA is gaining power and money,” Eid, who grew up in the Shuafat refugee camp in Jerusalem, told a small group of journalists. “In Gaza, you hear more and more voices saying that UNRWA is responsible for delaying the reconstruction of Gaza” after the heavy fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza last summer.
In an article in the Jerusalem Post earlier this month, Eid called for a five-point program to reform UNRWA including a call for an audit of all funds allocated to UNRWA and a demand that the organization dismiss employees affiliated with Hamas, which controls Gaza.
“Hamas has never denied that the majority of UNRWA employees are affiliated with Hamas and coordinate with the organization,” Eid said.
During the past summer’s fighting in Gaza, Israel accused UNRWA of allowing Hamas to use its schools to fire rockets at southern Israel, a charge UNRWA denied. Later, UNRWA found rockets in two empty schools and issued a strong condemnation.
Rabbi Susan Talve at an NAACP march in Ferguson, Mo., with recent bar mitzvah boy Terel Wooten Jr. (photo by Philip Deitch)
Though the relationship has at times been conflicted, throughout the 20th century, particularly in the 1950s and ’60s, the alliance between Jews and African-Americans was strong. This alliance was evident in the Jewish role in the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909, and in Jewish leaders joining black leaders to push through the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of the 1960s.
At the height of the Civil Rights era, Jewish figures projected spiritual meaning on to the struggle for social justice. After marching alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1965 march on Selma, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was quoted as saying, “I felt my feet were praying.” Jack Greenberg, former director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defence Fund, likened his early days arguing civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court to being in synagogue.
While demographics and history have played out differently in Canada, from the 1950s to the early 2000s, Canadian Jewish Congress engaged in dialogue with other groups representing minorities, including the Jamaican Canadian Association and the Urban Alliance on Race Relations.
Now, some argue these ties have dissipated and that North American Jews no longer have the same appetite for social justice or feel the same level of kinship with other minority groups.
Yavilah McCoy, the African-American Jewish founder of Ayecha, a nonprofit that advocates for Jews of color in the United States, wrote in Tikkun magazine last January about what appeared to her to be “a great silence among many of the white Jewish social activists I know,” in the wake of the 2012 killing of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida and the acquittal of his killer.
Bernie Farber, a social activist and former head of CJC, said Canadian Jews have strayed from their duty to support other minority groups. “Working with the Canadian black community was once part and parcel of what we believed was necessary to create a climate of tolerance,” he said. “Somehow, we’ve slipped away from that.”
In light of the August killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., and of the grand jury’s decision last month not to indict him, as well as the recent decision to not indict a white police officer for the choke-hold death of Eric Garner, a black man from Staten Island, as North American Jews, we might ask ourselves, do we have an obligation to fight for the rights of marginalized groups around us? If not, why not?
The weakened coalition between blacks and Jews can, McCoy argued, be partially attributed to the Black Power movement of the late ’60s, which saw black activists shift from King’s racially integrated approach to an ethos of “self-determination, self-defence tactics and racial pride.”
Though this was “crucial to the evolution of black consciousness and identity in America,” it left many Jewish activists “with little input in the black community, and an anti-racism movement that seemed to be moving on without them.”
She also cites dwindling antisemitism in the United States, compared to sustained anti-black racism, and the growing class division between Jews and African-Americans as additional factors.
Farber said that in his opinion the gulf between Jews and blacks resulted not from class disparity, but from North American Jews – particularly Canadian Jews – becoming more inwardly focused, fixated on self-preservation.
About a decade ago, he said, angst about Israel caused Canadian Jews to place their focus on Israel advocacy, downplaying associations with groups of color.
“Canadian Jews have become more parochial,” he said. “Issues of social justice have taken second position…. But by giving up on the social justice agenda, we do ourselves an incredible amount of harm … we’ve lost a lot of who we were.”
In Canada, the Jewish response to Ferguson has been fairly quiet, but some leaders are voicing concern.
“The killing of Michael Brown should deeply disturb us and offend our sense of Jewish moral values,” said Rabbi Aaron Levy of the Toronto congregation Makom. “There’s a strong history of part of the Jewish community identifying with the political left. Where that has gone is a good question.”
Avrum Rosensweig, president of Ve’ahavta, said the “deep scars between the white and black communities” in the United States are “deeply troubling.”
“We see that in Canada with our aboriginal community…. Like Michael Brown, they are seemingly invisible, judged differently because of the color of their skin.”
While Jews on both sides of the border may be less involved in activism, there are certainly exceptions: some American Jewish groups have thrown their support behind demonstrators in Ferguson. In October, nearly 30 rabbis from across the country joined 200 interfaith clergy in peaceful demonstrations, asking police to repent.
The New York-based group Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), which coordinated protest groups after Martin’s killing, is running a campaign for greater police accountability.
T’ruah, a multi-denominational network of rabbis and Jewish communities that works for human rights in North America and Israel, has expressed staunch solidarity with the Ferguson protesters and is in the midst of launching a prison reform campaign.
“Torah teaches us we shouldn’t stand idly by the suffering of our neighbors,” said Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, T’ruah’s director of programs. “Policing and mass incarceration disproportionately affect this one part of our population, and we feel obligated to speak out.”
Rabbi Susan Talve of the Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis, near Ferguson, has long worked to alleviate racism and poverty, developing relationships with African-American and Muslim groups.
A fixture at the Ferguson protests, Talve laments that the Jewish community has become less engaged in social justice. “We’ve gotten pretty complacent in America, as white people,” she said, “but [events in Ferguson] have been a real wake-up call to the Jewish community to stand up for people who don’t have a voice…. That’s certainly what Torah calls us to do.”
Rabbi Michael Adam Latz, senior rabbi at Minneapolis’ progressive Shir Tikvah Congregation, said he, too, felt compelled to protest in Ferguson. “It wasn’t too long ago that it was Jews getting beaten in the streets. I think that we who have suffered have the obligation to stand with people who continue to suffer.”
– For more national Jewish news, visit cjnews.com.
President Reuven Rivlin Rivlin addresses the Nov. 30 ceremony at his residence marking the first Day of the Expulsion and Deportation of Jews from Arab Lands and Iran. (photo by GPO/Mark Neiman)
It may have been 47 years ago but Yossef Carasso remembers every detail of the night that he was taken to an Egyptian police station from his home in the city of Tanta, near Cairo. It was the first night of the 1967 war.
“We were the only Jewish family still left in Tanta and, at 10 p.m., there was a knock on the door,” said Carasso. “The policeman told my father, ‘We’re looking for your son and son-in-law.’ They took us to a police station and left us there all night.”
Carasso, who was not accused of any crime, was among 400 Jews who were imprisoned in Egypt at the start of the war when Egypt, along with Syria and Jordan, attacked Israel. For six months, he said, his parents didn’t know if he was still alive. Finally, he was allowed to write to them. Two years later, he was released and, the next day, he and his family left Egypt, originally for France and then for Israel. According to Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), almost 120,000 Jews left Egypt in the 1950s and ’60s. There are only a few dozen Jews left in Egypt today.
Last week, Carasso attended a ceremony at Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s residence, designating Nov. 30 as the national day of commemoration of the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands and Iran. According to the United Nations, about 850,000 Jews left their homes in Arab countries; and 750,000 Palestinians became refugees with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. The largest number of Arab Jews came from Morocco, Algeria and Iraq. Today, half of all Israelis have roots in Arab countries.
On Dec. 3, World Jewish Congress co-hosted in New York with other Jewish organizations The Untold Story of 850,000 Refugees. More than 400 people attended the event that came on the heels of the first official commemoration in Israel of the suffering of Jews who were expelled or forced to leave Arab and other Muslim countries in the wake of the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948.
Israel’s United Nations Ambassador Ron Prosor opened the evening, calling on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to work for the establishment of a documentation and research centre dedicated to Jewish refugees from Arab countries. WJC President Ronald Lauder spoke, as did Malcolm Hoenlein of Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Dudu Tassa and the Al-Kuwaitis performed; Rabbi Elie Abadie of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries and Nelly Shiloh of the Permanent Mission of Israel to the UN presented a selection from Iraqi-born Israeli writer Eli Amir’s novel The Dove Flyer; a portion of the movie Farewell Baghdad was screened; and remarks were also heard from Cynthia Shamash, whose memoir recalling her family’s escape from Baghdad when she was a child will be published next year.
The Hon. Lynne Yelich, Canada’s minister of state (foreign affairs and consular), right, with two fellow panelists, moderator Melissa Eddy, New York Times correspondent in Berlin, and Miroslav Lajcák, deputy prime minister and minister of foreign and European affairs, Slovak Republic. (photo from Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada)
On Nov. 13, the Hon. Lynne Yelich, Canada’s minister of state (foreign affairs and consular), concluded her participation at the High-Level Commemorative Event and Civil Society Forum on the 10th Anniversary of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE’s) Berlin Conference on Antisemitism.
The Berlin Declaration was proclaimed 10 years ago; it spelled out a series of commitments for OSCE member states, including Canada. Canada is deeply engaged in the fight against antisemitism, both at home and abroad, and remains committed to enhancing Holocaust education, remembrance and research.
Yelich participated in a panel that reviewed efforts over the past 10 years in addressing antisemitism throughout the OSCE. The panel analyzed ways that member states can counter contemporary antisemitism and discussed recommendations put forward by civil society groups.
Yelich reiterated that Canada encourages all states to take a similar, zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism. “As we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Berlin Declaration on antisemitism, we must acknowledge that antisemitism continues to be a sad reality,” she said.
The complete address delivered by Yelich at the conference, as it was written, follows:
It is both a pleasure and a privilege to represent Canada at this important event in Berlin today and to reflect upon what has been achieved in fighting antisemitism throughout the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe over the past 10 years.
As a matter of priority and principle, Canada supports efforts to combat all forms of racism and discrimination. However, the Government of Canada understands that hatred can manifest itself in specific ways requiring specific responses.
We recognize that antisemitism constitutes a unique form of racism, whose extreme manifestations have led to some of the darkest hours in the history of mankind. As Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said, antisemitism is “a pernicious evil that must be exposed, confronted and repudiated whenever and wherever it appears, an evil so profound that it is ultimately a threat to us all.”
As we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Berlin Declaration on antisemitism, we must acknowledge that antisemitism continues to be a sad reality.
Our Nationally Standardized Data Collection Strategy on Hate-Motivated Crime indicates that Jews are the most likely religious group to be targeted for hate crimes, even though Jews constitute less than one percent of the Canadian population.
Too often, not enough is done to ensure our societies, and especially our younger generations, remember the lessons of the Holocaust.
On April 23, 2013, the Government of Canada announced that a site had been selected in our capital city of Ottawa to build Canada’s National Holocaust Monument. This monument, to be inaugurated in fall 2015, will encourage people to reflect upon the events of the Holocaust, remember the victims and pay tribute to the survivors. It will also encourage people to reflect on the responsibilities each of us has to protect human rights and dignity.
In the same spirit of education, reflection and prevention, the recently opened Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, Man., houses a permanent exhibition devoted to the Holocaust.
With respect to law enforcement and protection, the Canadian government continues to develop its systems for collecting data on hate crime. Combined with law enforcement training, these systems allow the authorities to better address violence against groups at risk, including the Jewish community.
In this context, to help protect communities against hate-motivated crimes, we created a program called Communities at Risk: Security Infrastructure Program. Renewed in February 2013, this program allows not-for-profit organizations to apply for funding to allay the costs of security infrastructure improvements for places of worship and community centres vulnerable to hate-motivated crime.
Canada is also at the forefront of the fight against antisemitism on the international stage.
In November 2010, Canada hosted the second Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism Conference. Parliamentarians from around the world came together to develop mechanisms to combat antisemitism and address antisemitic propaganda in the media and on the Internet.
By unanimous consent, parliamentarians issued the Ottawa Protocol on Combating Antisemitism, which seeks commitments from governments to collect and report data on hate crimes, including antisemitism; to monitor and share best practices; to propose a common working definition of antisemitism; and to engage further with the United Nations on this issue.
Through our Office of Religious Freedom, established within Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada and headed by Andrew Bennett, Canada works internationally to combat antisemitism and other forms of intolerance on the basis of religion or belief, including by supporting projects implemented by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.
The Government of Canada also recognizes the scourge of the “new” antisemitism. This sometimes-violent movement, which often portrays itself as anti-Zionism, rejects the right of the Jewish people to a homeland. We made our stand clear when Canada – the first country to do so – decided to withdraw from the United Nations Durban Review Conference because of profound concerns about the manifestations of antisemitism that had marred the first Durban Conference, as well as the participation of such overtly antisemitic regimes as Iran in the planning of the review conference.
As we collectively seek ways to improve our response to antisemitism, Canada encourages all states to take a similar, zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism. This can include supporting the principles of the Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust, the London Declaration on Combating Antisemitism and the Ottawa Protocol; further developing data collection systems on hate crimes; and fully implementing the provisions of the 2004 OSCE Berlin Declaration on antisemitism.
While observing his elderly father, Yonatan Manor, a chemical engineer from Haifa, decided to create a shoe to help prevent falls, an all too common danger faced by the elderly.
Manor’s father was often losing his balance when trying to go backwards, using his four-legged walker. “One Saturday morning, I was sitting at breakfast with my wife and told her I wished I had an idea to prevent him from falling,” said Manor. “It was like a joke, as I know mechanics and it’s not simple to build a machine strong enough to balance a person.”
Manor recalled, “My father would stand on his heels and then I’d have to push him forward, back to a balanced position.” Considering what type of shoe could help solve the problem, Manor said, “If the shoe was moving backward, it would do the same thing,” meaning it would restore a person’s balanced position. Manor went on to build a pre-prototype, a mechanical tool with a small motor and batteries, which he inserted into a shoe.
“This makes it so you can’t lose balance in the backward direction,” said the inventor. “You lean backward and then you find you’re standing straight again, and the shoe doesn’t have to move much, only the [length] of the heel. It’s only five centimetres, enough to do the job. It doesn’t push you, give the feeling of something moving under the leg or give the feeling that you may lose balance.”
Manor said the shoe, which has been dubbed the “B-Shoe,” is designed for walking around at home. When an elder does venture out, someone else should still provide some accompaniment.
When Manor reached the point when he knew he needed some business support to get his invention to the market, he turned to Abraham Stamper, a friend and retired scientist. Stamper became the chief executive officer of B-Shoe Technologies Ltd., established in 2011.
Manor and Stamper were able to develop a business plan and a working prototype with the initial money they raised. They also had the help of the government agency overseeing the high-tech industry for their efforts in the field.
“We’re in the phase of looking for funds for the investment of this next stage … developing the product ready for mass production,” said Manor. “Right now, it is just a generic prototype. Once we have the funds, it will likely take about 18 months to get it to market.”
When it came to developing the B-Shoe, Manor said the electronic and structural aspects were fairly straightforward. “The electro-mechanical solution is a bit smart and difficult,” said Manor. “We need to do it in low volume and low weight. The electro-mechanical mechanism was the main development obstacle.”
As far as retail cost, Manor anticipates the shoe will be within the range of other high-end tailor-made comfort or orthopedic shoes, which is about $500 to $1,000 US per pair (which will be available at a store from a distributor).
“We believe people who begin feeling like they’re losing balance or who’ve already fallen or suffered a near-fall will ask their GP or neurologist what to do and how to protect themselves,” said Manor. “Our vision is that medical professionals will then point the patient to the B-Shoe. Right now, people are most often recommended to use a walker or cane – but many people refuse to do so. The B-Shoe will be the better alternative.
“The shoe’s innovation isn’t about the shoe itself, but the fall-prevention mechanism, which can be embedded into the sole of any conventional flat walking shoe – so there will be a wide variety of shoes for both men and women.
“B-Shoe’s project addresses an annual global market of about 14 billion U.S. dollars.”
Dr. Stephen Rabinovitch, professor and Canada Research Chair at Simon Fraser University in the department of biomedical physiology and kinesiology and the School of Engineering Science, is well-versed on falls and balance in older adults.
After having reviewed the information on the B-Shoe website, Rabinovitch said, “It’s an interesting concept, but is in [a] very early stage of development and evaluation. We don’t know anything yet on its effectiveness in improving balance and mobility and preventing falls in older adults. Right now, the B-Shoe device focuses only on preventing backward falls, but falls occur in different directions.”
According to Rabinovitch, falls are the number one cause of injuries in seniors, including 95 percent of hip fractures and 60 percent of traumatic brain injuries. “So, even a moderate reduction in falls would carry significant social and economic benefits,” he said.
“Falls are challenging to prevent, as there are a wide range of risk factors, such as reductions in physical and cognitive function, diseases, use of psychoactive medications, reductions in sensory function and muscle weakness.
“It’s often difficult to think about prevention until falls start occurring, but it’s important for people to exercise throughout their lifespan, and to focus on both their strength (through resistance training) and their agility and balance (through walking, hiking and approaches like Tai Chi). A current buzz phrase is ‘exercise is medicine,’ which is certainly appropriate with regard to mobility and falls.”
In late August, a $250 million fund for Jewish child survivors of the Holocaust was established. (photo from Memorial de la Shoah, Paris, via claimscon.org/2014/09/child-survivors)
On Wednesday, Aug. 27, a symposium was held at the Centrum Judaicum in Berlin. The topic was Lost Childhood, referring to the impact of the Shoah on Jewish children who survived and continue to live with its consequences to this day. The audience was comprised of German government officials, members of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, and child survivors of the Holocaust.
Among those present were members of the negotiating committee, including Ambassador Colette Avital from Israel, Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat from the United States, Roman Kent, treasurer of the Claims Conference, and Greg Schneider, who serves as executive vice-president of the Claims Conference. From Germany, representative Rüdiger Mahlo and deputy director of negotiations Konrad Matschke were in attendance, as was Stefanie Seltzer, president of the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Descendants, and Max Arpels Lezer, its European representative.
A variety of speakers, from historians to psychiatrists, politicians to psychoanalysts, participated in order to press the case for restitution to previously overlooked Jewish children, now aging in trying circumstances connected directly to their early childhood deprivations and traumas. The negotiations following the symposium took place on Aug. 28, and resulted in the recognition of child survivors as a distinct entity deserving of restitution. Mahlo noted, “German politics has been made aware of the particular fate of the child survivors and its negotiations with the German government, the Claims Conference succeeded in establishing a Child Survivor Fund. With this, the loss of childhood is recognized for the first time as a case of damage.”
A fund of $250 million was established for Jewish child survivors worldwide. My address, entitled The Continuing Struggle to Survive After Survival, follows:
I stand before you keenly aware that I am here only because of a narrow escape from those who sought to murder me. As a Jewish child born in 1940 in The Hague, Holland, my family was ordered to report on Aug. 19, 1942, for “resettlement to the east.” That meant being assembled at Westerbork and, from there, deported primarily to Auschwitz or Sobibor.
My mother and I would have been killed shortly after arrival. Mothers with babies were doomed. One hundred and eight thousand Dutch Jews were sent to the factories of death. About 5,500 returned.
I stand before you keenly aware that I am in Berlin, the city in which were conceived the most grotesque crimes in human history. It was here that the minds of well-educated and presumably civilized Germans formulated plans for the annihilation of Europe’s Jews: men, women and children. And, by war’s end, in German occupied countries, 93 percent of Jewish children had been murdered.
I survived in the care of my Dutch Christian rescuers, Albert and Violette Munnik and their daughter, Nora, who I shall visit in The Hague in two weeks. Nora is 83 years old, nearly the age of Anne Frank had she lived. But the Frank family was betrayed and deported on the last train to leave Holland, on Sept. 3, 1944, destination Auschwitz.
And I stand before you also aware of the great strides that Germany has made to preserve this history and to remember not only what it has done but to teach this history to succeeding generations, indeed, to the world.
For those who pose the question concerning whether there are long-term consequences, a story. One day, my mother, in her mid-80s, suddenly apologized for giving me away into hiding. I was stunned. I told her she had been heroic; there was nothing to apologize for. Her response, “When I left you, you tried to follow me pulling a little suitcase, and I looked into your eyes and knew you would never forgive me.”
And it is true. She was so smart. She knew that having saved my life through her uncommon courage that I would nevertheless be unable to truly forgive her for abandoning me. A child cannot comprehend the reasons for such a rejection. That, we learn only as adults. We live with such complexities, we Holocaust children.
What was done to us involved not only physical annihilation. Those who survived also experienced the touch of death, the murder of the soul. My parents, who miraculously survived in frightening circumstances, never recovered. How could they?
In 1945, my father learned that his parents and two sisters were dead; my mother was informed that her parents, two brothers and little sister were dead. And so, there were three of us. Only the son of one of my father’s sisters survived also.
We spent those postwar years in shock. While Dutch citizens resumed their lives, traumatized by years of occupation but largely intact, Dutch Jews were shattered. I saw them. They came to our home, some with whip lashes on their backs. I heard them describe the horrors of the camps, the smell of the crematoria. It was too much for a little boy aged 5 or 6. And you may ask, even today, were there consequences and did they last all these years? The answer is, “What was done to us, never, ever left us. The Shoah envelops us like a shroud. But we put it aside so that we can function as if normal.”
For children under the age of 16 in 1945, there was little help. Most surviving children were orphaned and housed in orphanages or shelters such as Ecouis in France, where 426 boys from Buchenwald were looked after by the OSE [Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants]. And yes, of these boys told by a psychiatrist or psychologist that they would never recover, the majority led productive lives, even attained great achievements. They included Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, a chief rabbi of Israel, George Goldbloom, a U.S. businessman, and Kalman Kalikstein, a physicist who worked with Einstein.
But who can say that they recovered from the Shoah? Elie Wiesel, who devotes his life to healing, injustice and Holocaust remembrance and education? Rabbi Lau, who is now the director of Yad Vashem, Jerusalem’s Holocaust Remembrance Authority? Their lives remain rooted in Holocaust memories. The Holocaust’s imprint was too traumatic to overcome, too painful for healing, and medical professionals shied away from us in the postwar years. There was no help.
Think of it. Before the war, every psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and psychologist focused on the traumas visited upon a child in the developmental years. Anna Freud discussed the vulnerability of a child’s ego. One symptom, and therapists recommended years of individual or play group therapy to heal children suffering from anxieties. But postwar, where was this legion of therapists? They were nowhere to be seen. They were not prepared to deal with us, we were the carriers of traumas too great to confront.
We left for Canada in 1951 and I set about becoming a normal Canadian. With after-school jobs and summer work, I put myself through medical school, then psychiatry in Philadelphia and Stanford, and became professor of child psychiatry at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.
In the 1970s, Holocaust survivors brought me their children and I worked with Holocaust survivor families struggling with overwhelming memories, some of which complicated the lives of the entire family. I helped some of the adults fill out restitution forms. A particularly poor and troubled survivor patient who had worked in the mines as a slave laborer, and who lost eight brothers and sisters, was awarded $1,300. I was furious upon hearing this. He saw it differently: “They acknowledged my suffering. They owned up to what they did to me.” I learned from him that reparation is not just about money, it is also about justice.
I soon discovered that Holocaust survivors who sought restitution were, in many instances, directed toward German psychiatrists for evaluation. Can you imagine it?
One child taken by her mother in an effort to obtain some financial help faced a particularly gruff doctor who yelled at her in German. This particular child, who, when hidden with a Polish family, had sat in total silence under a dining table at which German soldiers had a meal. Had she spoken, moved or coughed, her death was inevitable. And, years later, she endured this harsh treatment from a German physician. Dr. Kurt Eissler, in his powerful article “Perverted Psychiatry” in the American Journal of Psychiatry (1967), cites instances of reparations exams performed by appointed German psychiatrists:
“A Jewish woman aged 23 years lost her father and two younger sisters upon arrival in Auschwitz. She went through four concentration camps in which she often had to collect corpses. Amongst her complaints during examination were lack of initiative, difficulty in concentrating, poor memory and hypermnestic preoccupation with traumatic events. The psychiatrist’s diagnosis was ‘anxiety neurosis, unconnected with the persecution.’
“A woman was interviewed whose parents, brother, three sisters with their children, husband and 8-year-old daughter had been killed during the course of the persecutions. She herself spent years in a ghetto and in several concentration camps and had frequently been beaten to unconsciousness. She complained of depression, anxiety, phobia, feelings of guilt. The doctor denied any connection between these symptoms and the experience of persecution. He included in his report, ‘despite such grave experiences, of which no one is spared, most people continue their lives and have no chronic depressions.’”
It may stretch belief, but these psychiatrists frequently attributed the excruciating symptoms of atrocity to the patient’s prewar personality or to that of their upbringing.
It is no wonder that children who survived the Shoah all but disappeared into their own lives. The few who tried to talk were told that, as children, they had no memories and, therefore, did not suffer; or, if it looked like they were suffering, were told to forget it and get on with their lives. The comparative few who applied for compensation were humiliated and shamed again.
I got on with my life. My Holocaust preoccupations never stopped. I did not let on. But, when I presented myself for a Dutch restitution program to personally experience the process, the examiner, a pleasant lady representing the Netherlands, asked me why I thought I should seek compensation. After all, her Dutch husband had been a child during the war and he did not need any help. She did not even recognize that her non-Jewish husband suffered neither loss of family nor required hiding, at risk of discovery and death. Yes, he was hungry also.
As protocol dictated, she referred me for a psychological interview. I felt confident. After all, I was a 60-year-old professor of psychiatry, successful in my career and with a lovely family. I was asked the reason for my assessment and then I cried for two hours. I remained in therapy for five years.
I became deeply involved in the self-discovery of child survivors and our emergence as a distinct group of Holocaust survivors that culminated in the 1991 Hidden Child Conference in New York. From 1982, I worked with Prof. Sarah Moskovitz, author of Love Despite Hate, concerning 24 child survivors found in Terezin and brought to England for their recovery, and followed up by her nearly 40 years later. In 1982-83, I helped found the Los Angeles Child Survivor group and we began to write about child Holocaust survivors and their coping skills and adaptation.
In the course of that work, we defined child survivors generally as those children who were aged 16 and under by 1945, and we also examined restitution issues concerning children.
In 1998, Sarah and I coordinated a survey of child survivors to inquire about their experiences for war-related consequences. One thousand questionnaires were sent out. At that time, child survivors were aged mid-50s to mid-60s and were asked, “As you look back on your life, how do you think you were affected by your Holocaust experiences in childhood, physically, socially, emotionally, educationally and economically?” Six hundred and sixty-four child survivors responded.
The general findings revealed a staggering number of separations from parents with three-quarters of fathers and two-thirds of mothers never returning. More than half of respondents lost both parents.
Three-quarters of the child survivors in this survey reported themselves to have suffered serious to severe lifelong effects emotionally as a result of their traumatic past.
With respect to restitution, there were at that time, six main road blocks to obtaining restitution.
Missed deadlines: Many children did not know how to make claims. Nor did they know if their families had property or insurance. Children placed in adoptive or foster homes were not in touch with the community. They were taught not to think of themselves as survivors. When they did, it was too late to apply. According to our survey, over half never applied or had applied and been rejected. One third of those who applied received a one-time lump sum payment, one half of them less than $700 US.
Documentation requirements: In most cases, young children had neither the knowledge nor resources to obtain proof of country of origin, birth certificates, death certificates or names of witnesses. As one respondent stated, “First they killed my family and now they want proof that they existed.”
Time requirements for those in hiding or in ghettos: In order to qualify, a child was required to have been in closed hiding (confined) for 18 months. “Open” hiding (able to be outside) did not warrant restitution – as if these children had not also suffered loss of home, family, identity and religion, leaving them with feelings of abandonment, identity confusion and loyalty conflicts. A 1987 study by Moskovitz had also revealed that over one half of child survivors in hiding were harshly treated, beaten, and one in five were sexually abused.
Time requirements for six months in concentration camp: In Treblinka and Majdanek, young children were unlikely to live more than one day. In Auschwitz, the majority of adults lived no longer than three months. It raises the question, “How many days in Auschwitz are required for the experience to have left its mark on a child?”
The means test: One’s economic status was required to be at poverty level, precisely the persons who cannot afford legal advice or the resources to pursue rightful compensation. Even today, the annual net income for residents of Canada to meet the income eligibility requirement for a monthly pension is $29,103.
Requirement to be interviewed by German psychiatrists: Under certain circumstances, such as continuation of pension, an interview is arranged with a German psychiatrist rather than simply a board-certified psychiatric practitioner. This raises a single question: Where any Jewish child survived the Nazi occupation, what could possibly be grounds for discontinuing a pension? Each and every child has suffered enormous losses, profound disruptions, fear and malnourishment, and lifelong consequences.
To summarize, in our survey, child survivors reported themselves, despite personal successes and achievements, as seriously and permanently affected to this day: emotionally, 81 percent; socially, 69 percent; educationally, 66 percent; physically, 67 percent; economically, 65 percent.
We are 15 years beyond our 1999 survey and child survivors are now aged mid-70s to mid-80s. And, for many, the war’s memories are returning to cripple them once again. For those persons who have had reasonably normal lives, childhood recollections are a nostalgic review of mostly cherished memories. For child Holocaust survivors, it is a trip back into bottomless despair.
It should be noted that in Los Angeles this year there is a shortfall of $1.1 million for the care of Holocaust survivors. This is being raised by the local Jewish community. A typical account follows:
“I am a 78-year-old survivor of the Holocaust. I was a child during the Nazi occupation and I was hidden in the countryside by a Christian farm family. Both of my parents perished in German concentration camps. I immigrated to the United States in the early 1950s.
“I live on a limited income. I receive $800 in monthly income from social security and a $1,100 monthly pension from Holland. I rent a small apartment on the west side of Los Angeles that costs $1,180 per month. I have a lot of medical bills related to hearing loss, arthritis and psychiatric care relating to chronic depression.
“Last year, I was granted about $4,800 from the Holocaust Survivors in Urgent Need Fund. This was a life saver for me. I used the funds to cover dental work and bills relating to my apartment. I am feeling much better and able to eat and chew without pain.”
I suggest you view those who express need with compassion. Do not humiliate them with seeking proof beyond establishing they lived under the Nazi domination and survived. And do what is right and just to ensure their remaining years are dignified.
Remember that it is not only about establishing a degree of
financial security. It is also about assuring a measure of justice. And justice demands an official acknowledgement by responsible governments, particularly those that collaborated in the murders of my people.
It is growing late in the day. Our sun is setting.
With its Centre for Bedouin Studies and Development, Israel’s Ben-Gurion University (BGU) encourages Bedouin students to enrol at the Negev university by providing financial assistance and programming aimed at retention and academic success. One of the first students to go through the BGU program is Dr. Rania Okby, who is currently doing a fellowship in advanced obstetrics in Toronto.
At the young age of six, Okby, who was born in Be’er Sheva, decided she wanted to become a pediatrician, because, she said, “I really loved my pediatrician. I never had any problems going there when I was a kid, and I kind of wanted to be like her.”
Okby’s parents divorced when her father expressed his desire to marry another woman. “Polygamy is a common practice in the Bedouin community,” she told the Independent. “About 30 percent of Bedouin women are in a polygamy system. My mom didn’t agree to that. She said, ‘OK, whatever, you want to get married? OK. But, I’m going to leave the house.’ She left the house with six kids – four girls and two boys.”
Okby, while in high school, spent one day a week at BGU, part of the university’s recruitment programs for Bedouin high school students. One such program, Seeds of Medicine, helps identify the best students, those who have a chance to be accepted into medical school.
“We were two female students who did very well in the project,” said Okby. “We went through interviews like other candidates for medical school. And, that’s how I became a medical student.”
In her first year in medical school, Okby had the opportunity to help deliver a baby. “I remember how it felt to be part of giving birth, dealing with birth and helping women … so, I fell in love with obstetrics and gynecology … and that’s how I decided to do that,” she said.
As it happened, Okby went on to become the first female Bedouin doctor in the world.
“My whole family was proud I was accepted,” she said. “They saw how hard I worked. I studied in high school five days a week and then I went another day to study in the university. And, you know what? On the seventh day, I would volunteer on a few projects.”
Financing was not an issue, as BGU covered expenses and the university is supporting Okby while she is doing her fellowship in Toronto.
“Being at the university at large, the fact that there’s more and more Bedouins going to BGU – especially girls – because of the Centre for Bedouin Studies, connects the Jewish community with the Bedouin community in an interesting way,” said the doctor.
The way Okby sees it, “If you’re more exposed to different people or cultures, you understand that they are human beings, just like you. It doesn’t matter if they’re Jewish, right? So, being exposed to one another at the university, for sure, makes it better. And the more educated people are, the more they will hopefully accept one another.
“There are many friendships between Arabs, Bedouins and Jews. It’s normal, because if you’re in contact with people, you become more comfortable with them. There’s a lot of Jews who volunteer in the Bedouin community, and there are some Bedouin who volunteer in the Jewish community – not necessarily in their own community.”
What is paramount in Okby’s mind is, “Education, education, education. To become equal, we have to first become empowered. Bedouins suffer from very low social economic, education and health status … everything is lower. So, to become equal, we have to be empowered.”
Life in Toronto
During the first two months Okby was living in Toronto, a friend stayed with her, and the doctor’s mom also joined her during the second month. Since September, Okby has been living on her own, along with her two daughters, in an area referred to as “the Kibbutz.”
According to Okby, “There are about 35-40 families, Israeli families, in the area, and 97 percent of them are Jewish. Most of them are doctors who came to do their clinical fellowships, but some of them are post-doc. We live in the same area and most of our kids go to the same school, so the older kids help the new kids adapt to school.”
Okby’s youngest daughter just started Grade 1, and the parents had a party for all their kids who were starting first grade.
“Now, during Sukkot, everyone is celebrating,” said the doctor. “On exchange day, everyone who has things they don’t need brings them, and everyone picks what they need. We support each other, help each other, do trips and Friday night dinners together.”
Understanding the issues
Bedouins make up 25 percent of the Negev population. But, Okby said, “In labor and delivery, we’re about 55 percent, because we give birth to a lot of kids (the average is six to seven kids), we suffer from a lot of gynecological problems, we have a high rate of relative marriages and we have a high rate of malformation.
“We have three times the rate of neonatal deaths compared to the Jewish population. Forty percent of that is due to malformation, which is a result of relative marriages. Bedouin women [also] suffer from postpartum depression – 30 percent compared to 10 percent in Jewish society.
“It’s similar to the indigenous people here, in Canada. We have many of the same problems as the aboriginals.” This is one factor Okby plans to focus on when she returns to Israel. “The university is very interested in the issue, too,” said the doctor. “Maybe we’ll have a minorities health department or something like that to research it further, to make the situation even better for those kids and mothers.”
An Eli Chissick-designed mirror, which will exclusively be available from SwitzerCultCreative in November. (photo from SwitzerCultCreative)
You could say Renee Switzer got her love of the furniture business from her grandfather, who arrived in Canada from Poland in 1920 and opened a second-hand furniture store in Calgary. The tradition continued when her father entered the industry, too, with a company specializing in the manufacture of antique reproductions. Switzer worked in the family business until it was sold in 2010. A year later, she launched SwitzerCultCreative, motivated by a desire to create opportunities for Canadian designers.
“I love the furniture industry and the people involved in it, and I wanted to maintain the contacts I’d developed over the years,” she told the Jewish Independent. “After I moved from Vancouver to the Sunshine Coast in 2006, I discovered there’s a tremendous amount of homegrown talent that’s hidden away and needed to be developed and promoted, so that’s what I decided to do.”
Switzer builds and maintains business relationships between furniture designers, the craftsmen who create those designs and the clients who purchase the finished product. Her focus is modern, luxurious and sustainable 21st-century designs and her emphasis is on knowing every detail about the products she represents. That includes how pieces are made and finished, what materials are used, who creates and builds those pieces and why they are environmentally sustainable.
Among the collections she promotes is the Coupland Collection by Canadian novelist Douglas Coupland, the Baumhaus Collection by Jess and Nicolas Meyer, the Barter Collection from Kenneth Torrance and the AHRPA Collection created by Umberto Asnago, an Italian furniture designer.
More recently, Switzer was also determined to find an Israeli designer whose work would fit in with the collections she already promotes. “I really believed it was important to try and do something to counteract all the anti-Israel boycotts going on right now, boycotts that are nonsense,” the Roberts Creek resident said.
In an effort to find the right fit, Switzer began reaching out to organizations in Israel, making inquiries about different designers. When she saw the work of Eli Chissick, its high quality and focus on sustainability resonated with her immediately. “His pieces are unique and made primarily from salvaged woods,” she said of the 30-something award-winning designer. “He’s interested in sustainability and, though it’s hard to reduce the carbon footprint of a designer based in Tel Aviv, we are able to do that by making his pieces in North America.”
Chissick is a designer, artist and carpenter who is passionate about environmental sustainability. His latest series of recycled art is called “Wood-Con-Fusion” and each piece within the series began its life as an off-cut on the floor of a carpentry studio, destined for the scrap heap. “Eli is able to see the potential in the most unassuming pieces of fibreboard, veneer and Formica, and nothing goes to waste as he collects and sorts these pieces and presses them into sheets, which he uses to create unique pieces of furniture,” Switzer explained.
Two of Chissick’s designs are presently being manufactured in Vancouver and will be ready in November, licensed exclusively to SwitzerCultCreative. His five-foot mirror will sell for $2,800 and Switzer is confident it will quickly find a home.
Her buyers are primarily interior designers and architects for residential and hospitality projects all over North America through sales representatives with whom she has exclusive relationships and who believe in the products she represents. With no physical showroom in Vancouver, most of Switzer’s pieces are exhibited on her website, switzercultcreative.com. Her company also sponsors an annual design competition for students, where the winner has their design built and marketed for a year by SwitzerCultCreative. “Our aim is to promote unknown talent by providing a launching point for new designers to build their own brands,” said Switzer.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond, B.C. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
Demonstrators protest the New York Metropolitan Opera’s production of The Death of Klinghoffer on Monday. (photo by Amelia Katzen via jns.org)
Several hundred protesters gathered at New York’s Lincoln Centre on Monday to protest the opening night of the New York Metropolitan Opera’s production of The Death of Klinghoffer.
The opera depicts a 1985 cruise ship hijacking by members of the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) and the killing of disabled Jewish-American passenger Leon Klinghoffer. Critics of the 1991 John Adams opera say that it promotes antisemitism and glorifies terrorism.
At the rally, protesters held signs reading “Klinghoffer Opera: Propaganda Masquerading as Art” and “The Met Opera Glorifies Terrorism.”
High-ranking New York politicians – including former New York governor George Pataki, former U.S. attorney general Michael Mukasey, U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind – joined the protesters.
Additionally, several Jewish and Christian organizations, such as the Zionist Organization of America, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, the Catholic League and the Christians’ Israel Public Action Campaign, co-sponsored and attended the rally.
The protesters read a letter that was written by Judea Pearl, the father of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal journalist who was executed by terrorists in 2002. “We do not stage operas for rapists and we do not compose symphonies for penetrating the minds of ISIS (Islamic State) executioners,” the letter reads.
“This antisemitic opera viciously falsifies history to malign and incite hatred against Israel and the Jewish people. The opera is a disgrace and should be canceled immediately,” said Morton Klein, national president of the ZOA, in a statement.