Holocaust

An Abyss of Historical Ignorance

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.

Winning and Whining Are Insufferable

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.”

Being Jewish Means Being Funny, and That’s No Joke

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.

Beauty and Pain Take Center Stage in Holocaust Pageant

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.

Meditating on Memory

CINEMA IS poetry, not prose, and so looking for “realism” in movies is an ambiguous task. Perhaps the better comparison would be with memory, for the way we experience the past might feel a little bit like a film unspooling in a low-lit room, the images urging themselves onto a wall with frayed paper, red-hued, with the sound fading as I get older. Like the opening of the film of Carl Sagan’s novel Contact in reverse, in which all the radio signals that have ever been broadcast speak their way into deep space, the further away I get from a memory, the more like an old movie it seems.

The role that cinema plays in memorializing the past is unparalleled—for both the way we experience memory and the memories themselves are uniquely bound up in each other—Casablanca or There’s Something About Mary alike may remind us of past loves, and perhaps also of the time and place we saw those movies, and watching either of them again enables us to re-experience the very emotions we may have first experienced by watching it. 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. At the cinema we take a walk in our minds and, through an art form that is usually less controllable than reading or listening, we are taken somewhere new.

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Thai University Apologizes for Banner Featuring Adolf Hitler

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.

As Holocaust Museum Turns 20, Ranks of Survivors Dwindle

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.

HBO Documents Unlikely Saviors of 50 Holocaust Children

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.

From Particular to General

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.

Why Would Jews Vandalize a Holocaust Memorial?

The news that Israel’s memorial to Holocaust victims had been grafittied in early June with bitterly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements was shocking.

More shocking still was the news that the three men arrested for the crime are Jewish.

How could Jews desecrate the memories of millions of fellow Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis?

The religious identities of the culprits -- however surprising to many who read of their arrests last Tuesday (June 26) -- did not surprise many Israelis, however. They know that a number of ultra-Orthodox Jews, for religious reasons, believe the State of Israel should not yet exist.

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