Christopher Lamb 07-29-2016

Image via REUTERS / Kacper Pempel / RNS

Pope Francis on July 29 paid a silent visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp where he spent intense moments in prayer, embraced Holocaust survivors, and met those who risked their lives to help Jews persecuted by the Nazis.

But while Francis made no speeches during his time at the notorious camp, where more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, died during World War II, he left a simple written plea in the guest book: “Lord, have mercy on your people! Lord, forgiveness for so much cruelty!”

Eric Clayton 07-13-2016

Image via Maryland National Guard / flickr.com

I remember talking to my mom on my walk into work not long after the death of Freddie Gray. She had been watching the news and was wondering what my sense of things was on the ground.

“Are there protests?” she asked. “Are people upset?”

REUTERS / Kai Pfaffenbach / RNS

President Barack Obama with Elie Wiesel in 2009. Photo via REUTERS / Kai Pfaffenbach / RNS

Elie Wiesel’s death is inspiring an outpouring of grief and gratitude from leaders in the religious and political worlds, and ordinary people alike.

Reinhold Hanning flanked by lawyers. Image via REUTERS/Bernd Thissen/Pool/RNS

A 94-year-old former SS guard at Auschwitz was convicted in a German court of complicity in the murder of 170,000 people at the Nazi death camp and sentenced to five years in jail, according to media reports.

The verdict in the case against Reinhold Hanning was announced June 17 by the judge presiding over what is likely Germany’s last Holocaust trials, Reuters reported. Hanning, who could have faced a 15-year sentence, will remain free pending any appeals.

the Web Editors 06-10-2016

In Anne Frank, the world remembers a light of courage, even hope — a girl who lived and loved and laughed in the face of immense terror.

President Obama with Steven Spielberg and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer. Image via REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/RNS

President Obama warned of growing anti-Semitism in the United States and the world as he honored two Americans and two Poles who helped save Jewish lives during World War II.

“Here, tonight, we must confront the reality that around the world, anti-Semitism is on the rise. We cannot deny it,” Obama said at a Holocaust remembrance ceremony at the Israeli embassy Jan. 27. He cited Jews fleeing European cities; attacks on Jewish centers in Mumbai, India and Overland Park, Kan.; and swastikas on college campuses.

Kim Hjelmgaard 01-27-2016

Auschwitz-Birkenau near Oswiecim, Poland. Image via REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/RNS

Jan. 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the date the United Nations has chosen to commemorate victims of the Holocaust during World War II. Six million Jews were murdered by Germany’s Nazi regime, along with 5 million non-Jews who were killed. The anniversary, marked each year since 2005, falls on the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland by the Russian army in 1945. One million people died there.

Tad Taube Tad Taube 04-27-2015
Photo via REUTERS / Amir Cohen

An Armenian woman lights a candle in remembrance of the Armenian genocide. Photo via REUTERS / Amir Cohen

One hundred years ago — April 1915 — as World War I raged across Europe, the government of the Ottoman Empire attacked its Armenian citizens. Over the next several years, it is estimated that as many as 1.5 million Armenians died. Able-bodied men were murdered or enslaved as forced labor in the army, and hundreds of thousands of women, children, the infirm, and the elderly were marched into the Syrian desert to face death.

Supported by the Young Turks, an ultranationalist party that approved systematic deportation, abduction, torture, massacre, and the expropriation of Armenian wealth, the German-allied Ottoman government used the excuse of war to initiate the forcible removal of Armenians from Armenia and Anatolia where they had lived for centuries.

The targeting and mass murder of Armenians has been termed a genocide.

Although racial, ethnic, and religious wars have killed millions over the centuries, genocide is a unique byproduct of the 20th century. It requires both a rabid nationalism and the capacity of a central authority to organize and implement a sustained and systematic program of targeted mass destruction. Not until the 20th century had governments the necessary technologies, resources, and means to ally their historical ethnic, religious, or racist hatreds with radical nationalism to end the collective existence of a people.

The Armenian genocide was recognized and deplored around the world, even as modern Turkey resists the “genocide” label. American diplomats, Russians, Arabs, and German officers stationed in Ottoman lands witnessed the slaughter and alerted the wider world. In May 1915, Great Britain, France, and Russia vowed to hold the Turks personally responsible for their crimes. Relief efforts to save the “starving Armenians” were widespread.

Jeffrey Salkin 04-23-2015
Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Joshua Roberts / RNS

FBI Director James B. Comey. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Joshua Roberts / RNS

The director of the FBI stepped in it.

Or did he?

Last week, James B. Comey delivered a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in which he said the murderers and accomplices of Germany, Poland, and Hungary “convinced themselves it was the right thing to do, the thing they had to do. That’s what people do. And that should truly frighten us.”

The Polish government was not happy. President Bronislaw Komorowski castigated Comey for his “ignorance, lack of historical knowledge, and possibly large personal aversion” toward Poles. And, as a gesture of goodwill, Comey has apologized.

Let’s be clear here. Comey was not accusing the nation of Poland of being complicit in the Holocaust. For all intents and purposes Poland as a nation temporarily ceased to exist during World War II.

But Poles, Hungarians, Germans, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Croats, Estonians, Dutch, Latvians — who can deny that so many of them were willing conspirators with the Nazis in the roundup of Jews and the wholesale destruction of European Jewish life?

Here is how Komorowski could have responded:

“Poland suffered terribly during World War II. We were invaded by both the Soviet Union and Germany. The Nazis intended to turn our people into a permanent underclass of slaves. If you have read William Styron’s book Sophie’s Choiceor if you have seen the movie, then you know that the Nazis kidnapped Polish children and raised them as their own. Auschwitz was a killing field for the Poles, no less than for the Jews.

Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Baz Ratner / RNS

Ultra-orthodox Jews visit Yad Vashem’s Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Baz Ratner / RNS

As Israelis mark Holocaust Memorial Day on April 15, a study by researchers at Bar-Ilan University has found that the adult children of Holocaust survivors are more fearful than their mainstream peers about the threat of Iran developing a nuclear weapon.

Given that many studies over the decades have found that children of Holocaust survivors are deeply affected by their parents’ traumatic experiences, Amit Shrira, the study’s author, set out to discover whether these second-generation survivors were more anxious over a potential Iranian bomb than others of their generation. His study was published in Psychological Trauma, a journal of the American Psychological Association.

Shrira compared the feelings of 63 children of Holocaust survivors whose parents lived under a Nazi or pro-Nazi regime to those of 43 children whose parents either fled to unoccupied countries or immigrated to Israel.

The study found that second-generation survivors “exhibit greater preoccupation with the Iranian nuclear threat” than the comparison group.

Noam E. Marans 03-04-2014

Marc Chagall with Solitude, 1933. Private collection. ©Archives Marc et Ida Chagall, Paris. Courtesy: The Jewish Museum. Via RNS

Novelist Chaim Potok captured the strain of transition from religious traditionalism to artistic expression in the fictional character Asher Lev. Asher, a young painter prodigy and son of a Hasidic luminary, is drawn to a Brooklyn museum where he surreptitiously views crucifixions and nudes. He then goes on to paint such scenes.

Asher’s mother tries to understand her son’s artistic longings, yet says in exasperation, “Your painting. It’s taken us to Jesus. And to the way they paint women. Painting is for goyim, Asher. Jews don’t draw and paint.”

Asher responds, “Chagall is a Jew,” but his mother cuts him off.

“Religious Jews, Asher. Torah Jews. Such Jews don’t draw and paint.”

Returning from a trip to Europe, Asher’s father sees the crucifixion drawings. In a rage, he asks his son if he knows “how much Jewish blood had been spilled because of that man?”

Jeffrey Weiss 01-31-2014

A boy cleans the street after Kristallnacht in November 1938. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain. Via RNS

Demonstrating that a truly ill wind blows no good, The Wall Street Journal proved this week that Holocaust education programs deserve society’s continued support.

The evidence started with a letter to the editor from venture capitalist Tom Perkins under the headline “Progressive Kristallnacht Coming?” He wrote: “I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich.’”

A few days later, the editorial board of the Journal backed Perkins for what may have been the most-read letter to the editor in the paper’s history.

Tom Ehrich 01-29-2014

A group of Jews are taken prisoner during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of April 1943. Religion News Service File Photo.

Venture capitalist Tom Perkins took a beating by his former employer for likening today’s class warfare to the Holocaust, with the mega-wealthy 1 percent as victims of “Nazi” repression.

In what The Wall Street Journal obediently termed a “Progressive Kristallnacht,” the grand old man of Silicon Valley said those who criticize wealth inequality are like Nazis pursuing “class demonization.”

The firm he founded, known as Kleiner Perkins, immediately disavowed the 82-year-old Perkins, saying, “We were shocked by his views expressed today in the WSJ and do not agree.”

Jon Stewart at the 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards on September 20, 2009. Photo via RNS/courtesy Shutterstock

Yoo-hoo! Sarah Silverman, Jon Stewart, Larry David! No matter how unreligious you comics may be, American Jews seem proud to claim you.

Well, mostly. You know the joke: Two Jews, three opinions…

But seriously: A sweeping new survey from the Pew Research Center, “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” finds humor is one of the main qualities that four in 10 of the nation’s 5.3 million religious and cultural Jews say is essential to their Jewish identity. The survey was released Tuesday.

Shoshana Colmer smiles after winning the ‘Miss Holocaust Survivor Beauty Contest

Shoshana Colmer smiles after winning the ‘Miss Holocaust Survivor Beauty Contest’ in Haifa. Photo via RNS/EPA/Jim Hollander

The 18 beauty pageant finalists on stage at Haifa’s basketball stadium wear lovely gowns, their jewelry glitters, and their hair is thick with hairspray.

Unlike typical beauty contestants, the Israeli women standing before a crowd of 2,000 are ages 70 to 94. And all of them experienced the Holocaust.

Gareth Higgins 08-02-2013

When we experience movies like memories, we meditate rather than consume, and do what Pascal suggested was the antidote to all the problems in the world: sitting still for 10 minutes and thinking.

Richard S. Ehrlich 07-16-2013
Photo courtesy RNS/wiesenthal.com.

Thailand’s most prestigious university apologizes for offensive "congratulations" banner. Photo courtesy RNS/wiesenthal.com.

Thailand’s most prestigious university apologized to the Simon Wiesenthal Center on Monday for allowing its campus to hang a huge, hand-painted “Congratulations” banner illustrated with Captain America, Batman, and other comic superheroes, topped by Adolf Hitler giving a Nazi victory salute.

The apology came three days after the Simon Wiesenthal Center published on its website a photograph of a female student in a university graduation gown posing in front of the larger-than-life banner with her arm outstretched in a Sieg Heil salute.

“Hitler as a superhero?” asked Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Simon Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean, in a statement posted on July 12.

Photo courtesy Matt Dean of Matt Dean Photography

Holocaust survivor Norman Frajman. Photo courtesy Matt Dean of Matt Dean Photography

WASHINGTON — The adult survivors of the Holocaust are mostly gone now, and those who survived as children — and were old enough at the time to remember their ordeals — are now in their 70s and 80s.

It won’t be long before no eyewitnesses remain.

That’s why, as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum marks its 20th anniversary today (April 29) with more than 750 survivors, museum officials are calling it one the last large gatherings of those who managed to escape Hitler’s death machine.

For those who have dedicated themselves to teaching future generations about the Holocaust and its victims, the demise of the survivors means looking backward in a different way — a way that no longer includes people looking others straight in the face and recounting what they saw and what they lived.

Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus lived a comfortable life in 1930s Philadelphia. Photo courtesy RNS.

Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus lived a comfortable life in 1930s Philadelphia, where he made a good living as a lawyer, and she kept a stylish house.


They were secular Jews who sent their children to a Quaker school, and unlikely candidates for the mission they assigned themselves. Gilbert revealed the plan to his wife as he was shaving in the bathroom, so their young son and daughter would not hear.

He wanted to go to Vienna and save 50 Jewish children from the Nazis.

Duane Shank 09-12-2012

When and how one may draw general conclusions from particular evidence is a frequently debated question. One example is museums – do historical museums exist to preserve the evidence and artifacts of a particular experience, or should they attempt to draw generalized lessons from that experience? A thoughtful piece by Edward Rothstein in the New York Times examines how Holocaust museums in Israel are being retooled to educate on what are seen as the “universal lessons.” 

Rothstein takes issue, arguing that this

“leaves Holocaust museums intellectually orphaned. What “lessons” are we supposed to take away? The impulse has been to generalize, to say that a Holocaust museum can’t be “just” about the murder of Jews during World War II.

“Why? Is there a problem, say, with an American slavery museum being “just” about American slavery? Why should Holocaust museums deal with notions of tolerance or racism in general, or even genocide in general? Why do we think that the proper lesson comes from generalizing rather than comprehending the particular? The moment we generalize, we strip away details: we lose information and create equivalences that may be fallacious.”

I’m inclined to agree. Some events in history deserve to be remembered and pondered in their own right, not simply as things from which to draw general lessons.