761 Days at Home in Hiding

Anne_Frank_House_Model_AlexisIsrael

This model shows the annex, where Anne Frank and seven others spent 761 days in hiding. The secret annex could be reached only behind a sliding bookshelf, on the second level, as shown in the center of the model. Photo by Alexisrael, via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

 

“I wander from one room to the next, down the stairs and back up again and feel like a songbird that has had its wings torn off and flies against the bars of its cage in total darkness,” wrote Anne Frank in her diary. Her Sunday, October 29, 1943, continues: “Outside, fresh air and laughter, a voice inside me screams; I don’t even try to answer anymore, I lie down on a divan and sleep in order to shorten the time, the silence,  the terrible fear too, because there is no question of killing them.”

 

For Anne, boredom was not the only challenge she faced. From July 6, 1942, though August 3, 1944, the group faced the ever-present terror of being discovered by the Nazis and deported to the concentration and death camps. “Why do I always think and dream the most awful things and want to scream in terror,” wrote Anne on Dec 29, 1943. A typical day in the annex began at 6:45 a.m. and ended with sundown, when the windows had to be blacked out. Each morning, everyone had to keep quiet until 9:00 a.m., when the workers arrived. Even the slightest sound before then could give them away.

 

Now, in 2020, those of us in hour homes can take an interactive virtual tour of the Anne Frank House. The museum nowadays itself is largely empty of furnishings. The details were reconstructed on a set in 1999.

 

Back in the 1940s, there was no internet, no video calls. There were no movies or TV series to stream. Radio was the family’s connection to the world at large. And radio was very much a luxury then. Before the Franks went into hiding, they were forced to surrender their set. “It’s a pity we have to turn in our big Philips, but when you’re in hiding, you can’t afford to bring the authorities down on your heads,” Anne wrote on June 15, 1943. “Of course, we’ll put the ‘baby’ radio upstairs. What’s a clandestine radio when there are already clandestine Jews and clandestine money?”

 

As we know, Anne had another way to pass the time and create something in the process. “The nicest part is being able to write down all my thoughts and feelings; otherwise, I’d absolutely suffocate,” she wrote on March 16, 1944.

 

On March 28, 1944, Anne found an additional purpose for her diary. While listening to the radio, the people in hiding heard Minister Gerrit Bolkestein’s appeal from London. He urged the Dutch to keep to important documents, so that it would be clear after the war what they all had experienced during the German occupation.

 

“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

 

That entry was on July 15, 1944, barely two weeks before her last, on August 1944.

 

 

 

May We Find Light in Darkness this Passover

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Israel’s Escape from Egypt (illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company)

 

Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former U.K. Chief Rabbi, remarked on how the book of Genesis ends on “almost a serene note.” Then, there was a new Pharaoh, who set into motion oppression against the people of Israel. “But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and the more they spread.” In other words, he said, “The worse things get, the stronger we become.”

So, Rabbi Sacks asks, “What makes this year different from all other years?”

“We have never been more alone because the social distancing and the isolation that we’ve been practicing mean that we are unable to celebrate Pesach the way it should be
celebrated,” he says. “But at the same time, we have never been less alone.”

Most of all, he continues,  “We don’t only recall our suffering. We recall the suffering others.”

HIAS, the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, asks us to imagine Passover by connecting with today’s refugees throughout the world. The organization created a Haggadah to “hold out hope for the day when every person in search of refuge in every corner of the earth can recall a story of freedom, reflect on a journey to security from violence and persecution, and no longer yearn for a safe place to call home,” the more than 70 million displaced people around the world today.

At the end of World War II, surviving Jews were among refugees. She’repith hapletah – the Saved Remnant, the “few who escaped,” they were known. The Final Solution during the Holocaust was supposed to eradicate the Jewish population of Europe, literally roots and all, and it nearly succeeded. In the spring after World War II, in 1946, a group of these displaced persons met in Munich, Germany, to celebrate one of the most poignant and meaningful Passover Seders in history. In normal times, the theme of the holiday is the escaped from servitude and darkness, and looking with hope and deliverance in better times. Of course, this year, those themes would take on added meaning. The Haggadah used at that Seder reflected that in both traditional and novel ways.

A Survivor's Haggadah Passover Pesach Haggadah Shoah Holocaust

A Survivor’s Haggadah. Front Cover, Dustjacket/.
Saul Touster, Ed. Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 2000

Our book actually begins almost exactly a half century later, in the spring of 1996, when a Brandeis University professor named Saul Touster was going through one of his father’s files, when a most unusual booklet fell out. Beneath a simple letter A enclosed in red and blue circles were the words “Passover Service,” with the year 1946.

   This has been reproduced in a beautiful hardcover volume. Within the covers Dr. Touster found pages with Hebrew type surrounded with borders that contained striking images contrasting the symbols of the Holocaust with others of the Promised Land by a Polish survivor named Yosef Dov Scheinson, interspersed with striking woodcuts depicting the toil of enslavement by a Hungarian artist, Miklos Adler, all supplementing the usual visual representation one would expect to find in a Haggadah.

   The high quality of the A Haggadah is fascinating in its own right, but Dr. Touster’s insightful commentary provides an invaluable context, making this excellent volume much more than a coffee table book that is pretty to look at. Much more, it preserves – through retelling – the precious memory of a history that must be told, when Passover was truly a t’shuvah, a redemption, coming home, a passing from darkness to light.

Hagaddah page enslavement Nazi Germany Hitler Egypt Pharaoh Passover Shoah Holocaust

This is one of the woodcuts by Milkos Adler, which the author of the Haggadah, Yosef Dov Sheinson, selected to supplement his own illustrations and writing.

  As we keep each other in mind and work for one another, may there be a glimmer of light in this time of darkness. “Next year, in Jerusalem,” at home with family.

Leah Liwska and a Beautiful Purim Story from Rochester, New York

Group Picture 1929

 

Alex Zapesochny, Publisher of the Rochester Beacon, shared this beautiful story about “discovering” his great aunt, Leah Liwsky. His search led him to the Korczak orphanage in Warsaw, where Leah was one of the students. She is believed to be the third from the left in the second row in this 1929 photo. As Janusz Korczak never abandoned his children, Leah stayed with Korczak, even in the hell that was the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942. So dedicated was she that she made Janusz Korczak’s list of “valuable employees” at the orphanage, in a document dated March 19, 1942. The Jewish people faced a threat, but thanks to Esther, good prevailed. For Purim this year, we get to meet another strong heroine!

 

Leah Liwska - A Purim Story Rochester Beacon

 

Please read the beautiful article here

The Holocaust: A Cry Against the Destruction, the Annihilation – An Album of Paintings and Drawings by Itzchak Belfer

Itzchak Belfer - Holocaust 04

 

Itzchak Belfer - Holocaust 01“I was born into a tragic and stormy period, between the first and second world wars. Those were days of hope followed by nights of disillusionment. I struggled and groped to survive and to keep afloat in the world,” said Itzchak Belfer. Then came his lucky break. Unable to care for the young boy, Itzchak’s mother took him to a “white house in a gray city,” the orphanage of Janusz Korczak. His teachers saw the young boy’s tremendous gift for art and provided him with supplies. His passion for expressing himself through paintings and drawings continue to this very day. Most important, it is through his art that Itzchak observes the mitzvah, sacred commandment, to remember and guard the past.

 

“I have visions of the Holocaust, of the Warsaw Ghetto, before and after the war,” said Itzchak. “Never again will my eyes behold the images of my loved ones. I can still hear the horrific accounts of the Holocaust sounding in my ears to this day, just as I did when I first heard them. I do not forget anything. My thoughts often take me back to that time.”

 

In The Holocaust, Itzchak “has brought forth in his paintings the deepest expression of the torment in which the Jews of Europe found themselves.”

 

This remarkable collection is divided by themes:

  • Remember
  • The Extermination Camps
  • The Rebellion
  • The Ghetto

 

The works are powerful, dark and brooding. The expressions of pain, anguish, and fear are unmistakable. The images are indelible. “We found in [this album] one of the strongest artistic expressions that might assist in our hands…. In the album, there is a cry of man against destruction! Annihilation!” These are the words of Yoseph Arnon, an intimate friend of Janusz Korczak and a witness to the terrible period this book so poignantly portrays.

 

Teaching Respect. Teaching Kindness

Frontline Holocaust Education

 

Judaism. Christianity. Islam. Central to all three Abrahamic faiths is love, especially others. From the book of Exodus: V’ahavta l’reacha kamocha, And you shall love the stranger as yourself.

Congregants of all three faiths have recently been the victims of deadly hate attacks in what was supposed to be their sanctuary. A place of faith, of safety, of love.

Love comes naturally. It is what we are born with. The same can be said of altruism. Hate is something learned. And hate has been on the rise, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Anti Defamation League, and Simon Wiesenthal Center.

An insightful article from PBS Frontline explores how to teach about the evils of anti-Semitism in schools through Holocaust education. Moreover, Holocaust education is about fighting hate directed against all groups.

That piece depicts a project in which saplings from a chestnut tree have been planted at important locations throughout the U.S. And this was not just any tree. The chestnut in question was the one Anne Frank described in her diary as she peered out the window from her place of hiding. “From my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine,” wrote Anne Frank. “As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances might be.”

 

 

With Anti-Semitic Incidents in Schools on the Rise, Teachers Grapple With Holocaust Education

The Fact Is, We Need Nature Much More Than Nature Needs Us

Columbia River Gorge Sunset 07

But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.

When young Pavel Friedman wrote these words from the ghetto of Terezin, in 1942, he saw butterflies and the majesty of even the smallest bits of nature as a symbol of freedom and goodness. Pavel saw the goodness but never saw the freedom.

Of course, we are not being held imprisoned in a ghetto. However, humanity will be imprisoned

 

“The most important thing isn’t necessarily that we’re losing . . . 1 million species — although that’s important, don’t misunderstand me,” Watson said during a teleconference Sunday. “The bigger issue is the way it will affect human well-being, as we’ve said many times — food, water, energy, human health.

“We care about nature, but we care about human well-being,” Watson said. “We need to link it to human well-being; that’s the crucial thing. Otherwise we’re going to look like a bunch of tree-huggers.”

The report has a positive spin, saying that “it is not too late to make a difference.” But that difference requires more than 100 developing and non-

Nations that signed off on the study’s findings acknowledged that opposition from rich people invested in the status quo is expected.

Two Holocaust Museums Rethink Their Missions

At a time when there are increasingly fewer Holocaust survivors and witnesses, the last year has seen a surge in anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and bigotry (such as White Nationalismon the rise. Of even greater concern, these forms of bias and hate are moving from the fringes to the mainstream. The Washington Post recently called on Congress to take action. These worrisome trends have had at least two Holocaust museums re-examine how they present their collections. The first involves a young girl, a name world famous but a history often misunderstood. The second commemorates the ghetto uprising in Korczak’s home of Warsaw.

 

The Anne Frank House, Amsterdam

Although attendance at this Amsterdam landmark has increased sharply over the past seven years, the curators have noticed that many of the younger and foreign visitors have a limited knowledge of the Holocaust and Anne Frank. The challenge, according to and article in the New York Times, is how to make this history relevant to today without trivializing it. The museum has expanded both its exhibition space in an building adjoining the old house and its educational outreach efforts, especially to enable these audiences to experience the what happened in the house. The museum also has traveling exhibitions, such as the new “Let Me Be Myself.” Anne Frank has long been a metaphor for hope and the belief in the inherent goodness of people even in the worst of circumstances.

 

Anne Frank Card Stamps with Korczak

 

Lohamei Hagetaot – Ghetto Fighters House Museum, Israel

In another recent New York Times article, the Ghetto Fighters House Museum, which commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and honors notable people of the city during the Holocaust, including Janusz Korczak. Yad Layeled commemorates the children. According to the article, “…instead of dealing with the Holocaust as a static historical event, and only a Jewish tragedy, the museum is advocating a more dynamic approach with a focus on the moral lessons for all of humanity.”

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