Archive for September, 2021

Today marks a watershed moment in the history of the Holocaust, one I knew little about until my advanced studies.

Over 33,000 people were murdered, by hand, at close range, at the edge of a ravine.

In two days.

Did you learn about this in school? Why was it not widely known? The killers came from all over Germany, ‘ordinary men’, the bulk of whom went on to live out their days unaccountable for their crimes. Perhaps some are still walking among us.

So I’ll share these two posts that came up in my social media feed this morning. The first is from the organization. ‘Yahad – In Unum is the leading research organization investigating the mass executions of more than 2 million Jews and tens of thousands Roma/Gypsy people in Eastern Europe between 1941 and 1944.’ Important, literally groundbreaking work. Check Father out.

The second is from Yad Vashem in Jerusalem (where I studied for three incredible weeks!), Israel’s Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority and World Holocaust Remembrance Center, ‘the ultimate source for Holocaust education, remembrance, documentation, and research. From the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem’s approach incorporates meaningful educational initiatives, groundbreaking research, and inspirational exhibits,’ one of which is in the link.

Study the faces. Never forget.

80 long years have passed since the 29th and 30th September 1941. Commemorating the Babi Yar massacre is not about remembering a number, however great it may be.
It is about remembering that more than 30,000 women, children, men, grandparents were taken from their homes, were forced to move to an unknown destination, a destination that would become their Babi Yar grave, simply because they were born Jewish.

The Ravine at Babi-Yar. September, 1941.

They were shot by German gunmen from all over Germany. And then thousands of neighbors watched, most of them passive, as their Jewish neighbors left the building forever.
80 years have passed. The memory was suppressed during the Soviet era, the bodies were burned by the Germans to erase forever the evidence of the crimes committed.
Finally, a memorial is being built after so many years of absence. It will probably be the first large memorial located near a mass grave.
Mass graves do not usually serve as memorials. The victims are killed, the pits are filled and silence falls.
This memorial is an act of justice for these women, children, adults shot because they were Jews. One by one we find the sacred names of each of them.
Today, over 150 German criminals at Babi Yar have been identified. Tens of thousands of Jewish victims are being identified.
A man-made mass crime machine is made up of human beings. Every German, every Ukrainian is fully responsible for having taken part in the Nazi criminal machine.
Babi Yar also represents a reminder that other mass murders have been perpetrated, by ISIS in broad daylight in Syria, in Iraq, by Boko Haram in Nigeria, by others in the Mail, in Niger.
Babi Yar is also a signal: sooner or later, where you kill, throw bodies into pits, we will come back. The names of the victims will be found and sanctified. The names of the perpetrators will not be drowned in silence.

-Father Patrick Desbois, Yahad – In Unum

Marking 80 years to the Murder of the Jews at Babi Yar >> https://bit.ly/3kGVRSh

On 29-30 September 1941, approximately 33,771 Jewish men, women and children from Kiev and the surrounding areas were murdered at Babi Yar by Einsatzgruppe C soldiers with the assistance of local collaborators. Jews who managed to escape the massacre in September but were discovered in the ensuing months, were also brought to Babi Yar and murdered.

80 photos and stories of the Jews murdered at Babi Yar are now online in a special exhibit just launched on the Yad Vashem website.

The photos were submitted to Yad Vashem together with Pages of Testimony containing the names and brief biographical information of the victims. Each Page is a mute testament to the persecution of an entire Jewish community: Rabbis, teachers and pupils, traders and artisans, philosophers and scientists- and in many cases entire families.

In this moving exhibit we can see the faces and explore the stories of 80 of the Jewish men, women and children who were murdered 80 years ago at a ravine called Babi Yar. Explore the exhibit here >> https://bit.ly/3kGVRSh

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Holocaust survivor Ariela Rojek, right, was 11 years old in 1945 when she and 2,500 other concentration camp prisoners aboard a train near Magdeburg, Germany, were liberated by American forces including 1st Lt. Frank Towers, left with his son Frank Towers Jr., center. “You gave me my second life,” Rojek told Towers Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011, at Hudson Falls High School during an event reuniting soldiers and survivors. Jason McKibben Glens Falls Post Star

It was 12 years ago years ago this evening, we shared a meal on the eve of Shabbat, after watching ourselves on a national broadcast that reached millions. Why does it seem, so long ago?

Maybe because it all seems so unbelievable- that out of the darkness of the past, on a day when the sun dawned clearly and was warming the Earth in its mid-April morning ascent, a low rumble was heard by  hushed and huddled groupings of tormented humanity as they strained to hope for friends amidst their lurking murderers. As the metallic clanking grew louder, over the horizon broke the earthly angels, two Sherman light tanks and an American Jeep with the emblem of the white star. A cry broke out. They realized they were saved, and the American major snapped a photograph at the exact moment the overjoyed survivors realized it.

And out of the past on a warm September day, we brought them all together again. Who would have believed that 62 years later, a high school in a quiet, rural part of the world would  bring the soldier-liberators and the rescued survivors together from the US, Canada, Israel and elsewhere? All because I couldn’t let go of a good narrative history, and pursued the story behind the photographs that proved it really happened?

And think about the risk you run, inviting hundreds of octogenarians to come to a high school for half a week to mingle with thousands of high school and middle schoolers? Talk about sweating bullets. What if they are uncomfortable? Cranky? Complaining? What if the kids I can’t control are rude? And what if one of these “old” folks, who I don’t even know, dies on our watch? I would lie awake at night wondering if I was out of my mind.

But the miracle came to be-for the two dozen or so elders who could come, tears flowed, wine spilled, and our “new grandparents” danced with young teenagers who adored them, but only after the risk was accepted, with the enthusiastic help of Mary Murray, Tara Winchell-Sano, and Lisa Hogan, Rene Roberge and others. Have a look at the videos, and feel the love. We created ripples, and tripped the wires of the cosmos, and the reverberations are still echoing. To date, with Varda Weisskopf’s and Frank Towers’ help, the list is at 275 survivors whom we have found. And how many generations has it effected?

This is the subject of my second book, A TRAIN NEAR MAGDEBURG, the PBS film of which is due out in 2022. In the meantime, I am working on a shorter work of what I have learned in teaching the lessons of the Holocaust. So take a look at the videos, and remember the words of the liberator:

“Here we are! We have arrived!”

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