Yom Kippur: back then. there.

On the eve of Yom Kippur I wish to share with you two compelling Yom Kippur memories posted by two survivors in the All Generations newsletter.

Kol Nidre is the iconic prayer recited on the eve of Yom Kippur.


Kol Nidrei in Dachau

By Jack Fuchs

70 years have gone by since the time I was a shadow of my former self in the concentration camp in Dachau, Germany.

And while everything is forgotten nothing loses its present importance. There are smells. There are dates that make me remember and live again those very traumatic, tragic moments. And as Yom Kippur, the most important date of the Jewish calendar, approaches, I come back to that night, when after a journey of labor, dead tired, starving and desperate, somebody remembered that Yom Kippur had just started, and that it begins with the Kol Nidrei prayer.

I admit that even though I didn’t understand the words, I recognized the imploring melody of the prayer. It moved me like it always did, and even more under those circumstances when they sounded deeply sorrowful.

Today like yesterday, I come back to my childhood and my hometown in Poland, when beside my father at the synagogue people asked to be forgiven for “all their sins”. And they pleaded to be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Years went by and I still don’t understand what type of forgiveness we had to ask for, when we were stripped of everything: families, homes, and even our names were changed into numbers, but still there was the ritual of asking for absolution. It seemed that faith or tradition, or maybe both, couldn’t be obliterated. There was, in spite of everything, something that was our own: a prayer as stirring as it was sorrowful.

Years went by. And I still don’t understand what was the purpose of that young man (most of us were young), to risk his life and pass a little book of prayers, hiding it. I still don’t understand how he did it, because the only things we were allowed to keep were our shoes.

Years went by. And I still don’t understand what was the reason of that prayer and today after 70 years I wonder about the meaning of the words I’m writing right now. I’m thinking it could be the same impulse and feeling, as it probably was of that man that didn’t survive.

Years went by and even though I’m a rational man, I don’t find any meaning except religiousness without religion.

Perhaps these words are only useful to repeat once again, that there is nobody, among many families, that remember their names. There is only left one number: 6 million.


A Most Memorable Kol Nidre

By Judy (Weissenberg) Cohen

Practicing Judaism or celebrating any Jewish Holiday was totally forbidden by the Nazis at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

The Nazis knew it would give solace to the prisoners. So we weren’t allowed to mark any Jewish occasion. But this particular year, in 1944, when I was there, one day, some of the older women – and by older I mean they could have been 35 or 40 years old (to a 15 year old anyone who is over 30, looks old) – asked these two specific Kapos (high-ranking prisoners) for permission to do something for Kol Nidre (the Eve of Yom Kippur.)

Most of the Kapos (prisoners with authority)were really brutalized and brutal people but a few of them remained truly kind. We knew these particular two were approachable. One of the kind Kapos, I remember, was a tall, blonde Polish woman, non-Jewish. The other one was a little red-headed, young woman, a Jewish girl from Slovakia.

The women told them that we wanted to do something for Kol Nidre. The little red-headed girl, Cirka (or Cila) I believe was her name, but I am not sure, was simply amazed that anyone still wanted to pray in that hell-hole called, Birkenau.

“You crazy Hungarian Jews” she exclaimed. “You still believe in this? You still want to do this and here?”

Well, we did.

So, we asked for and received, one candle and one siddur (prayer book). We were about 700 women jam-packed in one barrack. Everybody came: the believers, the atheists, the Orthodox women, the agnostics, women of all descriptions and of every background. We were all there.

The two Kapos gave us only ten minutes and they were guarding the two entrances to the barrack to watch out for any SS guard who might happen to come around – unexpectedly.

Then, someone lit this lone candle – and a hush fell over the barrack. I can still see this scene: the woman, sitting with the lit candle, started to read the Kol Nidre passage in the siddur. Incredibly, all of this happened in a place where, we felt, it was appropriate that instead of we asking forgiveness from God, God should be asking for forgiveness from us. And yet, we all wanted to gather around the woman with the lit candle and siddur.

She recited the Kol Nidre very slowly, so that we could repeat the words if we so desired. But we didn’t.

Instead, the women burst out in a cry – in unison. Our prayer was the sound of this incredible cry of hundreds of women. It seemed to give us solace. Remembering Yom Kippur was somehow a reminder of our homes, and families because this was one Holy Day that was observed even in the most assimilated homes.

Something happened to these women. It was almost as if our hearts burst. I never heard either before or since then such a heart rendering sound. Even though no one really believed the prayer would change our situation, that God would suddenly intervene – we weren’t that naïve – but the opportunity to cry and remember together helped us feel better. It reminded us of our former, normal lives; alleviated our utter misery, even for a littlest while, in some inexplicable way.

Even today, many decades later, every time I go to Kol Nidre services, I can’t shake it.

That is the Kol Nidre I always remember.

From Judith (Judy) Weissenberg Cohen, a Survivor in Toronto, Canada.


The Curse of Affluence

What follows is a quote on the cover of the NY times magazine, July 26, 2015


It is part of a lengthy article by Eliza Griswold. When I hear my well – meaning Christian friends, when discussing the Holocaust, say to me that you’ll never be alone, how am I to interpret the title of this article? Christianity is a faith of over a billion people and here are members of the faith looking for help and there is no one there to help them. Here are a few more quotes :

“Christianity was born in the Middle East but with the rise of ISIS and other extremist movements across the region, its very survival there hangs in the balance.”

“What we are living is anarchy, war, death, and the plight of three million refugees. We have been here as an ethnicity for six thousand years and as Christians for 1,700 years.”

This article is a must-read for anyone who cares about the future of Western civilization. The fact is that the Church is sometimes reluctant to criticize persecution of Christians in Muslim countries because there are minority Christians in those countries. This in no way justifies the absence of any attempt to help the persecuted minorities and in fact gives unlimited license to continue with the elimination of Christian presence in those countries.

The question always arises: who is financing those terrorist groups, allowing them to obtain the most advanced weapons, technology, and communications? The source is always the quest for oil among the Western countries, in addition to the Southeast and others.

A recent article by Thomas Friedman in the NYTimes (July 29, 2015) is titled FOR MIDEAST IT’S STILL 1979. It is a very thorough review of the developments in the Middle East from 1979 to the present, and particularly relating to Saudi Arabia. The oil money has affected developments in the Middle East, particularly through that period by allowing the regimes of the oil producing Middle East to finance terrorist groups and also satisfy the demands of the Muslim clergy in preaching the most extreme form of Islam called Vahabism. Here is a quote from the article by Friedman:


“On Tuesday the Middle East Media Research Institute released a translation of a TV interview by the Saudi author Turki al-Hamad about the extremist discourse prevalent in Saudi Arabia. “Who serves as fuel for ISIS?” he asked. “Our own youth. What drives our youth to join ISIS? The prevailing culture, the culture that is planted in people’s minds. It is our youth who carry out bombings. … You can see (in ISIS videos) the volunteers in Syria ripping up their Saudi passports.”

This might in part explain why the number of volunteers from Western countries who reject the affluent way of life follow the most extremist trends in Islam. Some of the funding for the terrorist organizations also comes from trafficking of drugs, because of the demands for drugs from affluent countries. If I was to give a general description of all those above mentioned issues, I would call it the curse of affluence. If these developments will not wake up the Western countries and the others who are likeminded, the future of Western civilization is very troubling indeed, if not hopeless.

Words That Heal and Words That Chill

The ongoing fighting between the Sunnis and Shiites has revealed to those of us in the West a deep rift in the Muslim world that has existed for centuries and has become more violent in recent years.  Who would have predicted only a short time ago that Egypt would emerge as a force for change in the thinking of the Muslim world? President Al Sisi recently stated that America and the West are Egypt’s allies and lectured the Imams to change their sermons which advocate hate and violence. Now comes another voice from an Egyptian historian interviewed on state television. In the interview with an Egyptian journalist who was hostile to the idea of collaboration with Israel, Egyptian historian Maged Farag says “The people were raised on a certain ideology and they refuse to change it. Reality has changed. My enemy today is Gaza, not Israel. That is our enemy.”

Here are some more words that heal:

Iranian professor questions the wisdom of seeking to annihilate Israel:  Outspoken Iranian professor Sadegh Zibakalam proclaimed that due to Iran’s insisting upon annihilating Israel and chanting “death to America”, the country has lost out on good business and economic opportunities. In a speech in the parliament he said, “Who on earth has given Iran this responsibility to annihilate Israel?” When a member of the audience shouted “death to Israel”, the audience booed the unruly audience member.

Now some news items that “chill”:

The following quotes are from an article titled “The Electronic Intifada”, by professor of modern Arab politics Joseph Massad. 

“The Jewish and protestant fight for Zionism has been and remains a fight to grant European Jews more rights than non Jews on a religious, racial and ethnic basis. The superiority would be granted especially vis a vis Palestinian citizens of the Jewish settler colony as well as limiting the rights of the Palestinians in the territories Israel occupied and colonized since 1967 and those it expelled and exiled since 1948outside the borders of their homeland.”

What he writes may sound bizzare, and to most historians, it is. To this “history professor”, the whole history of Palestine prior to 1948 simply does not exist, and reading it you would think the Jews came over with weapons and conquered the territory, ignoring the fact that after the first World War, when the Ottoman Empire lost the war, the League of Nations gave the British government a mandate to create a national home for Jews in their ancestral land without encroaching on the rights of the local population. Subsequently, the United Nations in 1947, recognizing the fact that there are two peoples living on that land, passed a resolution to divide the land between the two populations. The Jews accepted a partition and the neighboring Arab countries rejected it and attacked Israel.

Incidentally, the name Palestinians applied to all those who lived in the land of Palestine (Jews and Arabs included). The fact is that the Jews had no army and those who volunteered came to settle on uninhabitable desert land, land bought from owners who resided outside of the land, and by converting swamps they transformed it into inhabitable land.

In another paragraph titled “Recruiting Jews to kill Palestinians”, Professor Massad claims, “Israel has created a hegemonic racist Jewish culture that has not only dominated Israeli Jewish communities but also Jewish communities in Europe and its settler colonial extensions (In America, Australia, and South Africa)” “The Israeli Colonial Army advertises several programs to accommodate international Jewish volunteers to the oppression of the Palestinians.”

Clearly there are some restrictions because of security concerns, but the fact is that Israeli Arabs are represented in the Israeli parliament and can be found in high positions in the judicial system.

The Israeli population consists of people from over 100 different countries who left by force or by choice and who are now citizens of Israel.  Joseph Massad, professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University in 2009 compared what he called “the Gaza ghetto uprising” to the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising and in 2014 described Israel as “the European Jewish-supremacist settler colony” and the Israeli Defense Forces as “international Zionist Jewish brigades of baby killers”.

Another example of “words that chill” comes in an article published by American Thinker titled “Bonfire of the Vulgarians: Middle East Studies in Decline“. In that 2014 article, another Columbia University Iranian Studies professor Hamid Dabashi proclaims that, “From now on, every time any Israeli, every time any Jew, anywhere in the world, utters the word ‘Auschwitz,’ or the word ‘Holocaust,’ the world will hear ‘Gaza’.”

That such statements are accepted as scholarship demonstrates the decadence of the contemporary academic culture. It is the duty of the readers to share this information with friends and neighbors, with elected officials, state and federal, expressing your displeasure and concern that this information is being passed down to our students out of context. Be not complacent. Complacency leads to complicity.

Two items for the week

In lieu of my blog this week, I am forwarding two items. “The Debate Over Jewish Achievement” by Steven L. Pease, and an article about an anti-semitic preacher who recently spoke at Al-Aksa in Jerusalem. I believe these are two examples of language that heals and language that kills…
A Peek At Item 1:
“Jews have been part of my life in kindergarten, at Harvard Business School, and throughout my professional career. It was from those experiences that I developed the notion that Jews are the world’s most disproportionate high achievers…”
And a Peek at Item 2:
“A Palestinian preacher, speaking at Jerusalem’s central mosque, used the most virulent anti-Semitic slander during a lesson he gave after Friday prayers last week. The exposure of his speech by Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) generated international controversy, and in response, in a subsequent lesson in the mosque this past FridaySheikh Khaled Al-Mughrabi defended and even added to the anti-Semitism he had disseminated…”

In Honor of Those Who Stood Alone

“Stand up for what you believe in even if you are standing alone.”  – Sophia Scholl

A while ago I was invited to present a certificate to the winner of the Waldman International Arts and Writing Competition sponsored by the Holocaust Center of Greater Pittsburgh.  The middle school winner was Andrea Holber, who wrote the words of Sophia Scholl on a paper and fashioned that paper into a rose to create a beautiful work of art.  Sophia Scholl was  a member of an anti-Nazi student organization, The White Rose, and was killed by the Nazi secret police along with her brother and a friend.

As I presented the certificate to Andrea, I turned to the graduating students expressing my hope that the eight years they had spent at the Community Day School had prepared them in their knowledge of Judaism, its virtues and its customs to stand up proud and sometimes alone as they go out into a hostile world.

While I was on the subject, it made me reflect on many others in history who stood up alone: Mordecai Anielewicz, a leader in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising; human rights activist and former Soviet prisoner Natan Sharansky; Nobel Prize winner Andrei Sakharov; Nelson Mandela; the lone student who faced a tank in Tiananmen Square; and the scattered voices of dissent against violence and hatred in the Muslim world. And above all, I recognize the Jewish people who stood alone during the Holocaust and throughout many years in the Diaspora going as far back as the time of the prophets who stood up against the corrupt authorities.

It is astonishing to me that seventy years after the Holocaust we are living in a world where the Jewish State and Jews as a people are facing hatred, demonization, and violent attacks on a daily basis.  When I see who is against us, I am proud being who I am. I pray that we have the strength and the stamina to withstand all of this and am hoping that we will not have to stand alone.

Signals from History


Signals from History

May 31, 1943: A Nazi prison administrator in Minsk, Belarus reports that 516 German and Russian Jews have been killed in late May, their gold crowns and fillings taken from their mouths before their deaths.[1]

June 1-6, 1943: During the liquidation of the ghetto of Sosnowiec, a spirited resistance is led by Zvi Dunski.  Ill-armed Jews fight back as deportations proceed.  The Jewish ghetto at Buczacz, Ukraine is liquidated.  Some Jews resist and escape. [1]

Harvest of Hate

At the present, there is a former S.S. “man” on trial in Germany. His name is Oscar Groening, a 93-year-old former guard and bookkeeper in Auschwitz. He is on trial for 300,000 counts of accessory to murder. He was witnessing the arrival of thousands to Auschwitz, and their selection process. Among them was a mother with an infant. In order to be included in the able-bodied people, she dropped her baby. And this “man” was there, as one of the S.S. trampled the baby until it died (“Holocaust crimes still matter,” Leonid Bershidsky, Pittsburgh Post Gazette 4/24/15). 

Don’t anybody tell me they “understand” how the mother felt. Just as you wouldn’t dare to say you understand when my neighbor, Mrs. Zukerman refused to part with her children during the selection at the liquidation of my hometown ghetto and joined them on the truck leading to their incineration, as did my teacher Mr. Lipschitz (as was witnessed by the able-bodied survivors, and told to me later). 

What leads a being – I hesitate to call it a man, or a person – to thrash an infant to death? All one needs to do is look at the history of hate education in Nazi Germany with the rise of Hitler, where the Jews were portrayed as the enemy of the people, as polluting the German culture, and as a lower race. The Jews were accused of dominating German business, banking, and art. The Jews were 1% of the German population, which was 60, 600, 000. 

Stop. Don’t look for a rationale in hate.

In a similar way, but not to the same degree, the Soviet Union’s young people were indoctrinated to hate the so-called capitalist world and internal enemies. Likewise, China under Mao brainwashed the youth in animosity toward the rest of the world. Currently, North Korean children are being taught hatred of the U.S. in school. 

At the present time, in some circles of the Muslim world, the same hate education is practiced with relation to Jews and the rest of the world. Ironically, some Muslim groups are considered enemies of Islam in these circles.  

Recently, there was a video aired by ISIS showing how a child is trained to behead a traitor. A recent interview on 60 Minutes described children in Gaza, who naturally are traumatized by the events of war, and how they express their feelings through drawings. Among other depictions was a drawing of a suicide bomber’s belt and the desire to be a martyr (). 

I consider the term suicide belt to be a faulted term – you use it to kill others; it is a homicide belt. 

In totality, this is what I call the harvest of hate. Unfortunately, there are some schools in the United States producing the same hateful mindsets, too. 

Hate is used as a vehicle for those who put themselves above the law to poison the minds and attract followers. Jewish law is based on the principle that law is above man, and so is the American judicial system. This stands in the way of those whose ambition is to rule the world. 

Signals from History

Signals from History

An agonizing moment which you will not hear when you read the story about the six million who perished. Based on a report by American reporter Patrick Gordon at Allied liberation of Bergen-Belsen; April 1945: 

“One woman came up to a sodier who was guarding the milk store and doling the milk out to children, and begged for milk for her baby. The man took the baby and saw that it had been dead for days, black in the face and shriveled up. The woman went on begging for milk. So he poured some on the dead lips. The mother then started to croon with joy and carried the baby off in triumph. She stumbled and fell dead in a few yards.” 

Source: The Holocaust Chronicle

On the Eve of Yom Hashoa

Two years ago I wrote this about Yom Hashoa, an article that was also published in the Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh.  This is history: it does not change from year to year.  But I would like to add something this year that I did not say at that time.

I would like to say that the fate of women was worse.  But how does one say “worse” about something that is so unimaginably horrible? Let me tell you a few stories.

Under German occupation, young girls in Poland were forced to become companions of German officers. My friend Sonia was called to the local Kommandant and never returned.  She remained his concubine until she died in the final liquadation of the town of Krasny, not far from my home town of Hordok.  But in that position she was able to pass on information about the plans of the Germans, and to cover for Jews who left the holding pen that was the ghetto by marking them “present” in the nightly roll call.

When selections were made of able-bodied people, mothers were supposed to part from their children because the woman were able-bodied and the children were not. My neighbor Mrs. Zuckerman  refused to part from her children and went with them to their deaths.

Mothers were also forced to silence their infants when hiding out, and some of those children suffocated.  Many women were the subjects of medical experiments for various purposes.

My recent experiences speaking about the Holocaust have made me realize that the piece I wrote in 2013 would not be complete without mentioning the special suffering of women. There have been many atrocities in history. But the victims of the Holocaust were singled out in a massive, intentional, industrial process of extermination as government policy.  They were concentrated, isolated, humiliated, starved, exploited, tortured, and finally killed in a way that has no parallel in modern history.

When the war was over, I dared to dream that this would be the last war.  In my wildest dreams I never could have imagined the levels of viciousness and violence, the deliberate destruction and obscuration of history that we are witnessing today. This makes me hesitant and cautious to use the words “Never again.”