Holocaust

Image via RNS/Reuters/Max Rossi

During our nearly 40 years of friendship, I led several interreligious missions with Keeler, including meetings with then-Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. We co-led trips to Israel, including a visit to a civilian bomb shelter, and a poignant painful pilgrimage to the infamous death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Sometimes public figures can seem distant and impersonal, but that was never the case with the always gracious and welcoming Keeler.

Image via Gage Skidmore/flickr.com

A decade ago, a critic accused me of writing a book about a “nonexistent” threat from the religious right. One reviewer called my work a “paranoid rant,” while another detractor wrote my “alarmist” views were “exaggerated and implausible.”

In The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right’s Plans For The Rest Of Us, published in 2006, I had warned that a well-financed and highly organized group of religious and political leaders was seeking to impose their narrow extremist beliefs and harsh public policies on the United States, even as our nation’s population was increasingly multireligious, multiethnic, and multiracial.

Image via RNS/Reuters/Amit Dave

In one weekend, the swastika appeared in public places in three U.S. cities — HoustonChicago, and New York. The sight was so offensive, average New Yorkers pulled out hand sanitizer and tissues to wipe the graffiti from the walls of the subway where it had been scrawled.

“Within about two minutes, all the Nazi symbolism was gone,” one subway rider who was there said. He added, “Everyone kind of just did their jobs of being decent human beings.”

Image via Creative Commons/Dragan Tatic

As the only female Yazidi in the Iraqi Parliament, Dakhil fought tirelessly for international assistance to stop the violence, including sexual slavery, targeting her beleaguered people.

Now she has been awarded the Lantos Human Rights Prize in Washington, D.C. But she is unlikely to make the ceremony on Feb. 8, since President Donald Trump banned all travelers from Iraq.

Anne Colamosca 10-27-2016

IN THE EARLY 1940s, Raoul Wallenberg was a slight, balding young man living modestly in Stockholm. He worked for a trading company that imported Hungarian poultry to Sweden. Wallenberg’s colleagues were mainly Hungarian Jews.

He had trained in the U.S. to be an architect. But on his return to Sweden, Wallenberg discovered that he didn’t have the engineering courses required to be hired in his homeland. His other career alternative, banking, also eluded him. The extended Wallenberg family owned one of Sweden’s most prosperous banks, Stockholms Enskilda Bank. But they found Wallenberg to be overly talkative, too artistically inclined, and having a penchant for drama that did not signal, for them, the makings of a top-drawer Swedish banker. So Wallenberg fell into depression, feeling that he was a failure, now known to his family disparagingly as “the grocer.”

Yet this unfulfilled young man would become, virtually overnight, one of the great heroes of World War II.

Veteran Swedish journalist Ingrid Carlberg has written a remarkable, nuanced, 600-page biography featuring extensive original research and new material: Raoul Wallenberg: The Heroic Life and Mysterious Disappearance of the Man Who Saved Thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust. The English translation of this award-winning work was released earlier this year.

When the Germans sent 500 Norwegians to Auschwitz in late 1942, the outraged Swedish government, which had remained neutral, declared that Sweden would accept any Jew who could make it to the Swedish border. They also decided to set up a special humanitarian aid mission in Budapest to help Hungarian Jews being annihilated by Hitler’s troops. A colleague at the trading company immediately recommended Wallenberg to the Swedish Foreign Mission to head the new mission.

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 7-13-2016

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 6-10-2016

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 1-27-2016

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.

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 4-23-2015
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 3-04-2014

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 1-31-2014

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 1-29-2014

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.

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