A Yizkor for a Child of the Holocaust

 

The traditional Jewish morning blessing includes gratitude to God, not only for all that we have for ourselves, but also what we must do for others. Likewise, the holy Yom Kippur service involves not only what we must atone for ourselves, but also our duty to remember those who have passed. In addition to beloved family members we have lost, we recall the blessed memory of the six million souls of the House of Israel who perished during the Holocaust. What set this tragedy apart from those before it was that the Nazi perpetrators specifically targeted children. One-fourth of those slaughtered, strangled, and burned in the Shoah were children.

Through the Adopt-a-Kaddish Project, I was able to “adopt” one of these children. Michel Neumann was born on September 15, 1931, Paris, France, the child of Samuel and Suzanne Neumann. Little else is known about him. Michel Deported with Transport 69 from Drancy Camp, France, to Auschwitz-Birkenau on March 7, 1944, where he perished.

In bearing witness to the Holocaust, one guards against anti-Semitism and—by extension—all forms of bigotry and intolerance.

May he rest in peace, and may his short life be a blessing.

 

 

Children Around the World Confront Climate Change

 

With the 31st anniversary of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child less than two months away, UNICEF produced an extraordinary video in which nine young climate activists spoke out on climate change.

“Can you tell me, in your own words, how you see the climate crisis affecting your country? What do you see is happening?” The following nine courageous children give their obseravations:

  • Greta Thunberg, Sweden
  • Alexandria Villasenor, USA
  • Catarina Lorenzo, Brazil
  • Carlos Manuel, Palau
  • Timoci Naulusala, Fiji
  • Iris Duquesn, France
  • Raina Ivanova, Germany
  • Raslene Jbali, Tunisia
  • Ridhima Pandey, India

The children speak of cyclones, forest fires, droughts and floods, hot summers and quickly melting snows. They speak of lost memories, stolen childhoods. Seeing these cataclysmic events, these teens were compelled to take action. Agile social media users, the children saw that it isn’t just their homes being destroyed. Severe climate events have been impacting communities around the world. “I just wanted to contribute and help out,” And who inspired them? Greta Thunberg. “She’s not afraid to speak up for what she believes.”

children climate change

“I couldn’t understand why everyone else was just continuing like before,” says Greta, “not doing anything, not caring about this.”

The nine children speak of adults not taking them seriously, much as they are not taking climate change seriously. Adults need to know the climate science.

Yet, they are in solidarity with young activists around the world. After all, they say, we all live on the same planet.

“The climate crisis is a child rights crisis.

According to the C.R.C., “…the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community.”

Specifically, Article 6 declares that the signatories (1) “recognize that every child has the inherent right to life” and (2) “shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.”

They are fighting to make the world a livable place not just for themselves, but for all people.

 

Another Loss Beyond Numbers

It wasn’t even four months ago, when the New York Times devoted its entire first page, and another four pages beyond that, to the terrible milestone of 100,000 deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19.

On September 21, the newspaper spoke of “A Nation’s Anguish as Deaths Near 200,000.” Also on the front page, just beneath that headline, on the left-hand side, is the horrifying figure of almost 1 million deaths from the pandemic worldwide.

Yet, with the sad news of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and all the political posturing in its wake, the doubling of May’s number seems almost banal. And the nation seems even more divided than just a few days ago, something few thought possible. Maybe, we need a figure like 250,000—a quarter million—will garner more attention? Are we seeing a nationwide lack of empathy? Meanwhile, the looming ecological crisis, as documented in the most recent National Climate Assessment and the extraordinary images of the wildfires in the West and hurricanes in the South, receive scant attention.

For now, 20,000 flags wave mournfully on the Mall in Washington, DC. The Covid Memorial Project is the group that spearheaded the effort. The hashtag #COVIDMemorialProject has been trending on Twitter. These deaths are not just in the “blue states.”

What we desperately need is an inspirational message, and we have one from the American Conference of Cantors, with their beautiful rendition of Stand Strong. “If you see me and I see you/For who we are/Then we’ll get through.” We need it… more than ever.

The American Conference of Cantors: Stand Strong from American Conference of Cantors on Vimeo.

 

Let the American Voters Speak: Defer Voting on SCOTUS Replacement

The white facade of the Supreme Court glows against a deep blue evening sky.
The United States Supreme Court at dusk. Photo by Joe Ravi, in the public domain

 

The best way to honor the legacy of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is to be an active participant in our great democracy. It is our duty to let our elected Senate representatives know of our wishes. In addition, we need to appeal to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to follow his own words and defer any confirmation to the Supreme Court until after Inauguration Day, January 20, 2021Please feel free to use my writing as a template; however, you should change some of the wording. This will ensure more effective communication by reducing the appearance of a form letter.

Dear Senator __________,

“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” As we mourn the death and celebrate the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already stated he will introduce a nominee for confirmation to replace her. The President has expressed the same sentiments. Mr. McConnell set a precedent in 2016 when he refused to even consider a Senate vote on President Barack’s nominee for the Court, Judge Merrick Garland. He said, “The American people are perfectly capable of having their say on this issue, so let’s give them a voice. Let’s let the American people decide.”

The American people have a right to have their democratic say in who should nominate the next Supreme Court Justice. In the words of the Southern Poverty Law Center, “Justice Ginsburg’s legacy is one of principled defiance. In shows of great strength, she made immense strides toward equal protection for everyone and pushed the nation to protect voting rights and our freedom to make decisions about our own bodies.” The N.A.A.C.P. points out that Judge Bader Ginsburg was only the second civil  rights lawyer to serve on the Supreme Court. Two of the current president’s choices, Judge Amy Coney Barrett and Judge Barbara Lagoa, though they are highly accomplished and intelligent individuals, do not share this commitment to civil rights. Americans will select the presidential candidate they feel best would work for all people of the country.

Therefore, I urge you to use your full powers of public office to have the Senate delay voting on any nominated replacement for Justice Bader Ginsburg until after January 2021.

Follow-Up: Senator Cory Booker Responds

Contact Senator Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader

Dear Senator McConnell,

“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” As we mourn the death and celebrate the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, you stated your intention to introduce a nominee for confirmation to replace her. The President has expressed the same sentiments. Yet, in 2016, after the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, you set a precedent in declining a Senate chamber vote on President Barack’s nominee for the Court, Judge Merrick Garland. At that time, you said, “The American people are perfectly capable of having their say on this issue, so let’s give them a voice. Let’s let the American people decide.”

So, by your words, the American people have a right to have their democratic say in who should nominate the next Supreme Court Justice. In considering Judge Bader Ginsburg’s legacy, she was only the second civil  rights attorney to serve on the Supreme Court. Two of President Trump’s choices, Judge Amy Coney Barrett and Judge Barbara Lagoa, do not share this commitment to civil rights, even given that they are highly accomplished and intelligent individuals. Americans will select the presidential candidate they feel best would work for all people of the country.

Therefore, I urge you to use your full powers as Senate Majority Leader to defer voting on any nominated replacement for Justice Bader Ginsburg until after January 2021, when the American people have made their democratic choice for president known.

Only the Holiest Die on the High Holy Days

 

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg official portrait 2016
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020)

 

L’eyla l’yeyla, and so we rise. When we recite the Mourner’s Kaddish, we say the phrase once. But on the High Holy Days, we say it twice. We rise higher.

It is said that only the holiest of souls die on the High Holy Days. And Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a very holy soul.

Or, said Dana Milbank of the Washington Post: “You don’t have to be a Jew, or a believer, to see the symbolism—the loss of this great woman at the very moment that, in the Jewish tradition, God begins the renewal of the world—to know that there is powerful, spiritual meaning here that should call us all to reflection on the meaning of Ginsburg’s life.”

In the Jewish mystical tradition, it is said that at all times there are 36 extra righteous people in the world. Without these Tzadikim Nistarim, humanity would cease to exist. Janusz Korczak may have been one of these righteous souls. And almost surely was Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

No. No. No.

“No, not RBG,” said Ibram Kenhi, author of How to Be an Antiracist. “What a colossal loss. What a lioness. She taught us all how to fight, how to fight cancer, how to fight for justice, how to fight for our lives.”

Like John Lewis, Justice Ginsburg fought the good fight. She got into good trouble. “The increasingly full use of the talent of all of this Nation’s people holds large promise for the future, but we could not have come to this point—and I surely would not be in this room today—without the determined efforts of men and women who kept dreams of equal citizenship alive in days when few would listen.”

“Yet what greater defeat could we suffer than to come to resemble the forces we oppose in their disrespect for human dignity?”

She blessed us, our nation with her courage. Now, all good people of conscience, people of compassion stand on the shoulders of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. We have a lot to do.

Thank You, Shanghai!

Shanghai Jewish refugees
This monument in Shanghai commemorates the Jewish community in that city.

America First! Those words rang loud during the interwar period (1918-1939). They clang yet again from the White House. Emphasizing isolationism and nationalism, the slogan calls out against immigration. Just before World War II and during the war, this policy took a tragic turn for Europe’s Jews in Nazi-occupied areas. At that time, the U.S. was not alone. Fortunately, one community took action. Shanghai opened its doors, when everyone else closed them. The other major place that took in Jewish refugees is the Dominican Republic.

Feng Shan Ho Holocaust Shanghai Refugees

Previously in this space, we discussed Dr. Feng Shan Ho, “The Angel of Vienna,” Consul General of China in Vienna (1938-1940). Started saving Jews May 9, 1938, when the Saint Louis was turned away. Nearly all the ship’s 937 passengers perished in Nazi death camps.

Harbor from the Holocaust Can Be Streamed on PBS

On Tuesday, September 8, PBS stations across the U.S. will air Harbor from the Holocaust, which pays tribute to both the city of Shanghai and Dr. Ho. For the New York City Metro Area, it can be viewed online through October 6, 2020.

  

Just in! Watch the Three-Part Documentary, Survival in Shanghai, Free

The 2018 Sino Media Group three-part documentary, Survival in Shanghai, is now available to view free on YouTube!

Survival in Shanghai, Episode 1: Escape to Shanghai

Survival in Shanghai, Episode 2: Surviving in Shanghai

Survival in Shanghai, Episode 3: Life and Death in the Ghetto

Three girls in the Shanghai Ghetto during the Japanese Occupation

The Miracle of Shanghai

The event is remembered today as “The Miracle of Shanghai.” A fair amount of the Hongkou District remains. There is the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, located at the site of the Ohel Moshe Synagogue, one of only two Jewish houses of worship remaining in Shanghai. Furthermore, a memorial to the Jewish refugees was constructed in 2014, which includes a wall inscribed with the names of more than 13,000 of these persons.

On February 18, 1943, the Imperial Japanese Army forced the Jews to relocate in the so-called International Settlement, better known as the Shanghai Ghetto. The occupying Japanese modeled their effort after the Holocaust Ghettos in Polish and other European cities. As many as 30 residents lived in each of the small, squalid apartments. However, the local Shanghai residents treated the Jewish refugees with kindness. The Shanghai Ghetto was liberated on September 3, 1945, after Japan surrendered to the United States.

Jews who read the Torah, the five books of Moses, regularly are familiar with its many exhortations to treat the stranger with kindness. After all, they were once strangers in the land of Egypt. “We live in an age now, where there people that need to escape their countries because of the horrors that are going on.” says Doris Fogel in the film. “It breaks my heart to see people trying to come to our country, which is plentiful, being turned away. This never happened to us when we went to Shanghai. Shanghai opened her arms to us.”

Although all the surviving Jews in Shanghai left the city at the end of World War II, emigrating to Austria, the United States, Australia, and other countries, they and their grateful survivors—along with the Israeli government—will always remember Feng Shan Ho and the Chinese city that offered them refuge.

“Finally, you are also able to leave, even as long and far as you reach your homeland, which is unknown to most of you,” said Shanghai-born Sonja Mühlberger in Ark Shanghai—A History of Jewish Refugees in Shanghai. “However, you must never forget Shanghai.”

For further information

Eber, I. (2020). Voices from Shanghai: Jewish Exiles in Wartime China (Illustrated Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ember, Carol R.; Ember, Melvin; Skoggard, Ian A., eds. (2005). Encyclopedia of Diasporas: Immigrant and Refugee Cultures Around the World. Berlin: Springer Science & Business Media. 

Falbaum, B., ed. (2005). Shanghai Remembered: Stories of Jews who Escaped to Shanghai from Nazi Europe. New York: Momentum Books. 

Finnane, A. (1999). Far from Where? Jewish Journeys from Shanghai to Australia. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

Heppner, E.G. (1993). Shanghai Refuge: A Memoir of the World War II Jewish Ghetto. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Hochstadt, S. (2012). Exodus to Shanghai: Stories of Escape from the Third Reich. New York: Palgreve.

__________. (2019). A Century of Jewish Life in Shanghai. Touro: University of Touro Press.

Kaplan, V. (2002). Ten Green Bottles. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Kaufman, J. (2020). The Last Kings of Shanghai. New York: Viking.

Kranzler, D. (1976). Japanese, Nazis & Jews: The Jewish Refugee Community of Shanghai, 1938-1945 New York: Yeshiva University Press.

Krazno, R. (1992). Strangers Always: A Jewish Family in Shanghai. Berkeley, CA: Pacific View Press.

Kurtz, S. & Singer, M. The Gentle Butcher of Hong Kew. s

Marcus, F. (2020). The Boy from Berlin and His Survival in Wartime Shanghai. Independently Published..

Peh-T’i Wei, Betty (1993). Old Shanghai. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ristaino, M.R. (2003).Port of Last Resort: The Diaspora Communities of Shanghai. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Strobin, D. & Wacs I. (2011). An Uncommon Journey: From Vienna to Shanghai to America—A Brother and Sister Escape to Freedom During World War II. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books. Willens, L. (2010). Stateless in Shanghai. Hong Kong: China Economic Review Publishing.

Tobias, S. (1999). Strange Haveh: A Jewish Childhood in Wartime Shanghai. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Hunger in America in the Summer of COVID

Unemployed * Underemployed * Underpaid

COVID19 poverty
This photo by Dorothea Lange shows a Mother and her two children, husband, his brother and brother’s wife shown. Near Klamath Falls, Oregon. The setting is a rural shack community on outskirts of town. Photo via the Library of Congress, in the public domain.

Decimate. The origins of this word go back to the Roman legions, where every tenth man was selected to be killed. According to an article and photo essay in the Friday, September 4, issue of the New York Times, some 30 million Americans in late July did not have enough to eat. That is nearly one-tenth the total U.S. population of 330 million. At times, that number increased to nearly one in eight!

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, New York Times journalists and photographers have been documenting the misery millions of Americans have been suffering, seemingly endless lines of people in cars and on foot.

“Look for the helpers,” Mister Rogers used to say. Alexis Frost Cazimero was always one of those helpers. With COVID-19, however, she now finds herself needing help. Alexis’s job used to provide her family with the security of a middle-class life. Now Alexis’s full-time job is to drive from agency to agency, in search just enough for her family to eat. “Just because I have a car doesn’t mean that I have enough money to buy food,” she says.

A talented photographer, Brenda Ann Kenneally, set out in May, embarking on a 92-day journey from Troy, New York, to San Diego, California. Accompanying her were two photojournalists, Amy Kellner and Rory Walsh. The project appeared first online on September 2, with a preview in Friday’s print edition. The entire Sunday New York Times Magazine was devoted to this monumental work.

Most notable are the children, who feature in most photos. They convey great pain while they seem to also offer hope. What those kids are eating, how they’re living, it is a real indicator of the future. “You can see red or blue states, or left or right, but I don’t think anyone doesn’t come together in agreement that we all want to take care of our kids,” says Brenda.

At several locations, either the child or a parent has a disability, adding to the challenge a family faces.

Sadly, the photos bespeak of a systemic illness of American society, one that goes beyond COVID-19. “What we have in this country largely is a distribution problem of wealth and resources,” says Brenda. “We have enough resources to assist our fellows in ways to create lives of greater possibility, certainly sustainability, and some kind of security. But the wealth is controlled by a very small percentage of individuals, and systems are put in place to perpetuate that. There’s no better example than food.” 

The stories tell of sacrifice by parents and a sense gratitude among the children. “Oh, Mommy, we’re going to have food tonight,” Villa’s children would cry. “We’re not going to go to sleep with no food in our tummy.” Remarkably, among many of the families covered, these parents help one another in a de facto barter economy to provide for their families, as well as to help those even less fortunate, the homeless.

For Brenda, one photo in particular stuck with her. In the foreground, a girl savors a simple homemade soup. In the background, the father who adopted her – now unemployed – works in the kitchen. “I left there feeling that I wanted her voice to be heard. I believe I felt that way because I didn’t see the pathway for that to happen,” she says. “Yet I hoped that her voice could be heard so that she is the new face of our future.”

New Findings Shed Light on the Darkness of the Silence of Pope Pius XII

Jews Holocaust Pius XII
New findings in the Vatican archive reveal the extent to which Pope Pius XII (left) maintained silence regarding the plight of the Italian Jews during the Holocaust. Pope John Paul II (middle) and Francis (right) have made important efforts of reconciliation.

The topic of the reconciliation of the Catholic Church and the Jews is long and complex. Recent popes, among them Francis and John Paul II have made honorable and noteworthy strides in uniting the two faiths. Yet, the role of the Church during World War II and Pope Pius XII remain enshrouded in controversy. In early March 2020, the Washington Post reported that Pope Francis declared he would open up the Vatican archives, which could bring to light new evidence Pope Pius XII’s complicity of silence during the Holocaust, despite Church officials saying otherwise. The question arose during Vatican talks of canonizing Pius XII as a saint, which the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum brought up in 2009. “The Church is not afraid of history,” said Pope Francis.

The first transport of Jews to Auschwitz comprised 997 teenage girls; only a few survived. Yet, it is important to note that, in 1943, a priest in Krakow by the name of Karol Wojtyla saved the lives of several Jewish girls fleeing Auschwitz – at the risk of his own. We know that kind, humble man as Pope John Paul II. There were also other heroic members of the clergy during the War.

The historian David Kertzer, of Brown University, was among the first to enter the Pius archives when they were opened in March 2020. He is the author of The Pope and Mussolini (2014) and The Popes Against the Jews (2001). Back then, Dr. Kertzer knew he was about to embark on a very important journey. “The issues the newly opened archives will shed light on are not only of historical interest. The traumas of the Second World War and of the Holocaust remain very much alive. Holocaust denial might be dismissed as the delirium of a crackpot fringe, but denial of responsibility for the war and for the Holocaust remains widespread in Europe and in the Christian churches,” he said in an important article in The Atlantic.

Dr. Kertzer was particularly interested in the Nazi occupation of Rome’s ancient ghetto on October 16, 1943. The Nazis forced more than 1,000 of the city’s Jews, most of whom were women and children. “The pope could have called publicly for their release. He could have sent a private message to Hitler, pleading on their behalf. He did neither,” said Dr. Kertzer. “The Jews were put on a train that would take them to Auschwitz and to their deaths. What might the Vatican archives tell us about the discussions within the Vatican leading to the Pope’s decision not to intervene?”

On August 29, 2020, NPR aired a piece on Dr. Kertzer’s efforts, especially given the limits the COVID-19 pandemic imposed.

The piece cites Dr. Kertzer’s follow-up in The Atlantic. What he found is devastating. The new documents reveal two Jewish children, Robert and Gérald Finaly, who were secretly baptized, after their parents had been deported to Auschwitz, where they perished. The article details efforts of the Church to ensure “they [the boys] are not prompted to become Jews again.” Furthermore, “The memoranda, steeped in anti-Semitic language, involve discussions at the highest level about whether the pope should lodge a formal protest against the actions of Nazi authorities in Rome.” As for those 1,000 Roman Jews, Dr. Kertzer confirmed that Pius XII “judged it imprudent to raise his voice.” This was even though he was “well aware that a failure to speak out could be seen as an abdication of his moral responsibility.”

The case of Edgardo Mortara, another Jewish child orphaned during the War, illustrates the plight further. On September 21, 1945, Léon Kubowitzki, a Jewish leader, sought the pope’s assurance “that the Jewish orphans of the Holocaust living in Catholic countries be returned to the Jewish community.” A short while later, on March 10, 1946, Isaac Herzog. chief rabbi of Palestine, asked the pope to call on the priests of Europe “to reveal the location of orphaned Jewish children who remained in the hands of Catholic families and institutions.”

Given these findings, the efforts of the Catholic Church to come to terms with its past are heartening. Already, in May 2020, Germany’s council of Catholic bishops in May declared that bishops in their country “made themselves complicit in the war.” And the opening of the Vatican archives can be an important act of healing.

My Bubbe Would Tell Such Colorful Tales!

Treasury of Jewish Stories childrens folktales

The original edition was published 1996. The 2003 edition (right) depicts a more contemporary scene.

 

For students wanting to learn more about Judaism, their own or that of their friends, this book is a great place to start. “Jewish Stories” offers a collection of short stories that represent a sizable cross-section of Jewish life, heritage, history, and religion. Most important, the vast majority of these charming stories are originals, not adaptations. Topics covered include life in the stetl, living responsibly and ethically, the major holidays, wealth in money versus spirit, and living a happy life. Authors range from such great figures as Isaac Bashevis Singer and Lynne Reid Banks to lesser-known writers; nevertheless, each story is told with grace, charm, and wit – exactly what you would expect in a happy Jewish home. Most notable is Singer’s “The Power of Light,” which tells of escaping the hell of the Warsaw Ghetto – with seriousness but never abandoning humor and hope, the two qualities that helped the Jewish people survive more than two millenia of persecution. It’s a warm book, one that children can read and relate to.

The illustrations are engrossing and add to the enjoyment of the book!

 

Reviewed: Adèle Geras (Ed.) and Jane Cope (Illus.), The Kingfisher Treasury of Jewish Stories. (Basingstoke, Hants.: Pan MacMillan – Kingfisher), 1996 & 2003.

ISBN: 978-0753450284 (1996 edition); 9780753456712 (2003 edition)