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Posts Tagged ‘Holocaust denial’

Denial.

“The Holocaust is one of the most well-documented events in human history. And yet some people, driven by hate and antisemitism, try to deny it today.” -UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM

 

denial

ONE STAR! “Another great work from the Holocaust Factory run by zionist [sic] media. Any truth finder should read Breaking the Spell: The Holocaust, Myth & Reality as the beginning step to enlighten themselves!”

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The reviews for the new book are slowly coming in, and above is but one example. It was not unexpected. In fact, the first response I got after the book hit the market was an email at my school from a Holocaust denier, offering me a free book to ‘educate me’. That was very nice.

The fact that they call our American soldier–eyewitnesses liars just blows my mind. Below is the part of the chapter I wrote near the end on my experience with Holocaust deniers.

You can get A Train Near Magdeburg here and decide for yourself. If you read the book, please consider helping me promote the real story, and helping others, with your own review here.

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It comes with the territory.

You’re an emotion [sic] and propaganda-susceptible gullible fool.

You’re ‘teaching history’ and not going into the fraudulently alleged homicidal gas chambers? Or do you subconsciously already know it’s bullshit?

There were NO fake shower rooms disguised as gas chambers. That’s a racist anti-German blood libel. Shame on you. The Bath and Disinfection 1 facility was just that!

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There were no ‘gas chambers’ other than delousing facilities to keep the prisoners healthy. Allied bombing causes [sic] disease and starvation because the camps could no longer be supplied by Germany.

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The ‘6 million’ number is a HUGE exaggeration. Jews use the holocaust [sic] to garner sympathy and provide cover for their war crimes against the Palestinians. We studied this in college.

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It comes with the territory, I suppose, that if you are passionate about teaching the Holocaust and attract high profile attention, the trolls will begin their attempts to worm their way into the narrative. It began immediately after the very first reunion in 2007. I had received hundreds of emails from all over the world in support of my project, but I also got my first taste of this aberrant phenomenon known as Holocaust denial. Three emails, out of over three hundred, spewed forth their hate, with one containing in the subject line: ‘SIX MILLION LIVES=SIX MILLION LIES’.

My knee-jerk reaction was to delete them. But in the years that followed, as my blog built a following, more detailed attacks began; I began to archive them to create lessons for my students on Holocaust denial. One man, or woman—a hallmark of online Holocaust deniers is to hide behind false identities—even built a fictitious ‘news’ website attacking the first reunion, at a URL beginning with ‘blockyourid.com’:

‘Tank Commander Saves Fellow Jews From Gas Chambers’

Who Actually Believes This Garbage?

Izzie Gross, a tank commander, whose Sherman tank faced down a ‘Death Train’, shows up at a local high school with three survivors. Oddly the dates are off, the camps were liberated four months earlier, but who are we to doubt?

Maybe the Nazis were going to break through the Russia[sic] lines, crash in Auschwitz, and gas these poor survivors?

The denier posted false photographs of the liberators and me, claiming that we were all Jewish co-conspirators, when the opposite was true. My students were horrified, though they got a kick out of the photograph of me, which obviously was not me. The website was so bad that it did have a comical element; even commenters in a notorious white supremacist chatroom wondered if the author ‘JudicialInc’ was losing his touch.

Holocaust denial began with the perpetrators, their euphemisms, their secret orders, and their penchant for destroying and trying to hide evidence of their crimes. Even with the film footage of the liberators, or Eisenhower’s admonition to future generations, and the importance of the evidence and testimony presented at the postwar trials, Holocaust denial increases as time passes. And let’s not forget state sponsorship of Holocaust denial in certain quarters of the world.

I remember well one student’s incredulous question, after witnessing survivor testimony, directed at the survivor who had just described his experience. The survivor replied, ‘You see, it is easy for people to deny the Holocaust, because no one can truly grasp its magnitude and scope.’ ‘Unbelievable’ is a word used by liberator and survivor alike. And it will take effort to not allow the memory of the original eyewitnesses to vanish in the rearview mirror of history.

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‘The Dangers of Denial’

If one can deny one of the most well-documented events in human history, what else can one get away with ignoring? Or supporting?

History has proven that when one group is targeted, all people become more vulnerable. In other words, a society that tolerates antisemitism becomes susceptible to other forms of racism, hatred, and oppression. And we are unfortunately facing a world of rising antisemitism.

The internet makes it easier than ever for all sorts of information — and misinformation — to spread freely. So it’s more important than ever to stand up to hate and spread the truth. -UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM

Below is a recent short educational video, produced by the USHMM. Note the photo at the 36 second mark. You know where you saw it first.

Even the Nazis Admitted to the Holocaust

[USHMM video]  [learn more]

‘Hate has power, but the TRUTH has more.’

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Holocaust Survivor Clara Rudnick in her home, Photo Erica Miller 8/31/10

Holocaust Survivor Clara Rudnick in her home, Photo Erica Miller 8/31/10

I have a friend who lost her entire family and just barely survived the Holocaust in her homeland of Lithuania, and elsewhere.

I gave a talk a while back and Clara was there. Here is what I wrote then:

I gave my first talk last night after returning  from an intensive 3 week European study tour. Arriving early to prepare and set up, I looked up and in walked Siobhan, a former student, and her mom, followed a little while by an older woman I was surprised and delighted to see- Mrs. Rudnick, or Clara. She gave me a hug and took off her coat and told me that she had taken a cab to the site of the lecture, and, oh, could I please give her a ride home? I was delighted.

During the lecture I recognized her before the audience, and thanked her for coming out. She told the audience how proud she was to live in the “North Country” of upstate New York. Heck, she’s lived here since 1949, a dozen years before I was born! She was moved to tears, as was Siobhan, who gave her a hug.

During the talk, she nodded her head in agreement to many of my points. Afterwards, she pulled out a piece of paper, a short statement that she had written, explaining that she had been meaning to call me.  You see, she was not the only traveler to Europe this summer. While I was in Poland touring Holocaust related sites, Mrs. Rudnick had returned to Lithuania of her youth.

Not an easy thing, given that

a. Clara is 89 years old;

b. Clara is a Holocaust survivor;

c. Clara lost most of her family to the SS Einsatzgruppen and their Lithuanian collaborators.

She and her late husband Abe were two of only 7000 survivors of the 70,000 Jews of Vilna. I was familiar with a lot of the history, but to understand more of what she had gone through, I looked up the following at the USHMM website:

The Lithuanians carried out violent riots against the Jews both shortly before and immediately after the arrival of German forces. In June and July 1941, detachments of German Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units), together with Lithuanian auxiliaries, began murdering the Jews of Lithuania. By the end of August 1941, most Jews in rural Lithuania had been shot. By November 1941, the Germans also massacred most of the Jews who had been concentrated in ghettos in the larger cities. The surviving 40,000 Jews were concentrated in the Vilna, Kovno, Siauliai, and Svencionys ghettos, and in various labor camps in Lithuania. Living conditions were miserable, with severe food shortages, outbreaks of disease, and overcrowding.

In 1943, the Germans destroyed the Vilna and Svencionys ghettos, and converted the Kovno and Siauliai ghettos into concentration camps. Some 15,000 Lithuanian Jews were deported to labor camps in Latvia and Estonia. About 5,000 Jews were deported to extermination camps in Poland, where they were murdered. Shortly before withdrawing from Lithuania in the fall of 1944, the Germans deported about 10,000 Jews from Kovno and Siauliai to concentration camps in Germany.

Soviet troops reoccupied Lithuania in the summer of 1944. In the previous three years, the Germans had murdered about 90 percent of Lithuanian Jews, one of the highest victim rates in Europe.

Clara was anxious to speak to me. She told me of her trip with her son. Together they returned to Svinsyan, where her parents, two sisters and two brothers lived. To one of my students, a few years back, she told the following story:

On June 21st, 1941, the Nazis came into my town, I lived with my mother and father, two brother and two sisters. In July 4th, they took my oldest brother and burned him alive, with 90 other Jewish teenagers in my town. In the early part of August they came in and took my twin brother, along with another 100 teenagers and dug a big hole and buried them alive. In September they took the whole town about 8,000 people and brought then to where we held our flea markets- this was both of my sisters and my mother- out into the woods where they lined them up and shot them and left them there. This is where my father and I escaped- he knew a lot of men- and we went to farm to farm and hid out until the Nazis would come, and we would leave because if they caught us they would kill us and the people we were staying with, because they were harboring  fugitives.

At the town’s museum, she stopped to ask where the memorial of the murder site, Poligon, could be found. Clara said that they  told her that they did not know where it was, though half the town’s population, many of the families having lived their since the 1300s, had been murdered there.

At the hotel in Vilna she inquired how she could get to Ponary, and was simply told “there is nothing there”. Google Ponary. 110000 relevant results. 70,000 Jews were shot to death there by the Germans and Lithuanians.

Taking the English-speaking bus tour of the Old City of Vilna, the guide described the Philharmonic Hall but did not tell the tourists that this was the entrance to the Vilna Ghetto, where she had been imprisoned until being deported to a slave labor camp and later to a concentration camp. When Clara asked why the guide did not mention this, the guide said that she “did not know.”

Maybe the guide was young and was not taught this history in school. Or maybe it was not important enough to be part of the official program. 90 to 95% of Lithuania’s Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. To one lady on the bus, and her son, it was important. In Clara’s words, “In just three days, I learned that Lithuania has not faced it history of the destruction of its 250,000 Jews”.

Clara is happy that I am keeping the memory alive. She put on her coat and climbed up into my pickup truck without assistance. She chatted all the way home as I tried to navigate to her house in the dark. She thanked me over and over. Not at all. Thank you for coming into my life and making me, and my students, a part of yours.

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Here then, is some welcome news from Europe. But you have to wonder how far it will really go.

“Lithuania pledges to publish names of 1,000 suspected Holocaust perpetrators”

 

Following the publication in Lithuania of a groundbreaking book on local complicity during the Holocaust, a state museum on genocide said it would publish a list of 1,000 suspected perpetrators.

Terese Birute Burauskaite, who heads the Vilnius-based Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania, said her institution would “this year try to publish a book” containing “over 1,000 Lithuanian residents who are connected to the Holocaust,” the news website Delfi.lt reported Tuesday.

Burauskaite made her remarks in an interview on the findings of a book titled “Musiskiai” (“Our Own”) that was released last week. Co-authored by the Israeli Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff and Ruta Vanagaite, a local author who began studying the Holocaust after discovering that members of her own family played a role in the murder of Jews during the genocide, the book focused media attention on the controversial issue of local complicity.

In 2012, the museum gave the government a list containing 2,055 names of supposed perpetrators, Vanagaite said in the Delfi interview last week about her book, but Vilnius neither published it nor made any attempt to investigate the people concerned.

Rimantas Vaitkus, a deputy minister for education, told Delfi: “We do not have such a list,” explaining that compiling one was up to the genocide center. But Burauskaite, the center’s director, said her organization had discussed the list with the government. After studying the list for three years, she said her organization eliminated approximately 1,000 suspects.

According to Zuroff, the list was published in 2012 briefly on the website of the museum but taken offline after 24 hours.

The book by Zuroff, who is the Israel director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Vanagaite chronicles their journeys last summer across Lithuania, where they spoke with people who witnessed locals killing Jews. Its 2,500 copies were sold out within two days of its Jan. 26 publication release.

More than 95 percent of the 220,000 Jews who lived in Lithuania during the Holocaust were murdered, many of them by local Nazis and Nazi collaborators. Some of the perpetrators are celebrated as heroes in Lithuania, where many perceive them as national heroes for their opposition to Russian domination of the country.

“There has been a stubborn reluctance in Lithuania to start the retrospection that went on elsewhere in Europe,” Zuroff said. “There are signs this book is changing that.”

http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Lithuania-pledges-to-publish-names-of-1000-suspected-Holocaust-perpetrators-443624

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Why it's Mr Rozell. Because the internet says it is.

Why it’s Mr Rozell. Because the internet says it is.

You may have seen this article by now. I don’t think that the Common Core is good or bad in and of itself. It’s just that when we forget that true education involves the passing on of the values that make us human beings, we are asking for trouble. And unfortunately in the “Race to the Top”, a lot of the important stuff gets shoved off to the side.

Hard.

I try not to chime in too often when an outrage occurs- I’m not really an outrage bandwagon kind of guy. But you just don’t ask 2000 8th graders to decide if the greatest crime in the history of the world was fact or fiction.

Two thousand.

Eighth grade. Certainly many working at lower than grade level abilities.

Using words like “propaganda” for “monetary gain”, “political scheme” , asking 13 year olds to evaluate the credence of “influencing public emotion” to “gain wealth”. And to go on the internet later to find supporting materials.

 

Well, it IS out there, the sites that will argue that the Holocaust is just  a ploy for sympathy, that it did not really happen, or could not have been as bad as they say. This I know for a fact.  And it’s a little personal.

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In a different way however, I think all the children of the Rialto School District learned one of the most important lessons of their entire lives with this whole episode. Mainly that the adults who are supposedly shepherding them and ushering them into this wonderful world of critical “thinking for yourself” were just plain wrong in their judgment, as Deborah Lipstadt points out below. (Not mention dumb, as the administrators first defended the assignment.)

And like Lipstadt, I, too, have been the target of Holocaust deniers. I used to delete the nasty posts and emails. No more. I have found them to be valuable educational tools and entertaining to boot. But when educators encourage students to question facts, to look at the Holocaust from the deniers’ point of view, then we have a problem.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my own career. But to think that this could pass muster is just plain stupid thinking, and shows how detached from reality so called educators and administrators can be.

And like a mantra, again I post,  the most fundamental learning I have gleaned over the years:

Israeli educational psychologist Haim Ginott writes about a letter that teachers would receive from their principal each year:

I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness: gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot by high school and college graduates.

So, I am suspicious of education.

My request is this:  Help your children become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.

 

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California School Asks 8th Graders To Debate Whether the Holocaust Happened

The assignment materials cited Holocaust deniers, and represent a gross failure of judgment—and historical awareness

By Deborah E. Lipstadt|May 6, 2014

After decades spent in the sewers of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, I don’t horrify easily. But yesterday I learned that a school district in Rialto, California, assigned 2,000 8th-grade students to write an essay on whether or not they believe the Holocaust was “an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme.”

Put simply, this is the greatest victory for Holocaust denial in well over a decade, if not more.

The language of the assignment is worth reading in full:

When tragic events occur in history, there is often debate about their actual existence. For example, some people claim the Holocaust is not an actual event, but instead is a propaganda took that was used for political and monetary gain. You will read and discuss multiple, credible articles on this issue, and write an argumentative essay, based upon cited textual evidence, in which you explain whether or not you believe this was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth. Remember to address counterclaims (rebuttals) to your stated claim.

When you ask a Holocaust denier why Jews would go to such great efforts to create the myth of the Holocaust, nearly all have the same ready answer: Jews have created this myth in order to deviously exercise political power and enrich themselves. They will cite the two things it is commonly said Jews “got” out of the Holocaust—reparations, and the State of Israel. It’s classic anti-Semitism founded on the notion that Jews deviously access power and do virtually anything for monetary gain, an idea that can be traced to the New Testament’s depiction of Jews in relation to the death of Jesus: The Jews sold out the Messiah and caused great grief to billions of his future followers all for a few pieces of silver. (Never mind the fact that everyone in the story is Jewish, with the exception of the Romans—who were the ones who actually did the killing.)

Along with entries on the history of the Holocaust from About.com and the History Channel, they offered the students supporting “material” titled “Is the Holocaust a Hoax?” that was taken from a Christian site. The document cites the execution technology “expert” Fred Leuchter, a leading denier, and presents a “theory” that Anne Frank’s diary was forged. “Israel continues to receive trillions of dollars worldwide as retribution for Holocaust gassings,” the document continues. “Our country has donated more money to Israel than to any other country in the history of the world—over $35 billion per year, everything included. If not for our extravagantly generous gifts to Israel, every family in America could afford a brand new Mercedes Benz.”

Unbelievably, district officials initially defended the assignment. “One of the most important responsibilities for educators is to develop critical thinking skills in students,” one school-board member wrote in an email to the San Bernardino Sun. “Teaching how to come to your own conclusion based on the facts, test your position, be able to articulate that position, then defend your belief with a lucid argument is essential to good citizenship.” Administrators subsequently backtracked and said the assignment would not be repeated. “The Holocaust should be taught in classrooms with sensitivity and profound consideration for the victims who endured the atrocities committed,” spokeswoman Syeda Jafri wrote in a statement to the Sun.

What this assignment shows is that, at best, the teachers and so-called educators who took part in writing this question have been duped into thinking that there is a legitimate debate about whether the Holocaust happened. At worst, they knew better and looked the other way. The Los Angeles chapter of the Anti-Defamation League believes the school district meant no harm. “ADL does not have any evidence that the assignment was given as part of a larger, insidious, agenda,” the group said in a statement yesterday. But truth be told, I would feel much, much better if we discovered that there were Holocaust deniers among the teachers, because then we could attribute this bizarre assignment to simple nefarious motives. But there don’t seem to be, which means these educators are instead profoundly naive and have accepted the view that Holocaust denial is “another” side of the argument and something to be debated. This is the dangerous legacy of a strain of academic thinking that says there are always two sides to every issue, when in fact some things are true, and others are false.

According to the district, the draft documents were distributed to teachers in February, and no one complained. The teachers who created this assignment and the administrators who passed it on helped fulfill exactly what deniers have been trying to achieve for the past 30 years. Before the creation of the Institute for Historical Review—in Newport Beach, California, an hour or from Rialto—in the late 1970s, deniers, who have been around since the end of World War II, were closely associated with neo-Nazis. Their publications were plastered with swastikas and Third Reich imagery. The institute, intent on having denial be taken seriously, shed anything that smacked of sympathy for Hitler and his cohorts. Their aim was to appear as if they were scholars anxious to “revise” any mistakes in history. That’s why they called themselves “revisionists.” In fact, they were nothing more than anti-Semites and neo-Nazis who use Holocaust denial as a tool—which is why I call them “deniers,” and think it’s important others do, too.

These people persist despite the fact that Holocaust denial is a “tissue of lies,” in the words of Cambridge University Professor Richard Evans. In the words of Judge Charles Grey, who presided in my trial against the denier David Irving, deniers “distort,” “pervert,” and “mislead” about the historical record. Their findings are, he insisted, “unjustified,” a “travesty,” and “unreal.”

Despite my personal encounters with the deniers, I remain someone who believes that Jews often overreact to threats of anti-Semitism. For the past decade, I have often stressed the fact that Holocaust denial is not a clear and present danger: There are, today, far more people engaged in study of the Holocaust than those engaged in or attracted to Holocaust denial. To the extent that I worry, my concern—which I laid out as recently as this week, in a speech I gave Monday night at King’s College, Cambridge—has been that that denial is a future danger, one that it might eventually enter the conversation as a legitimate “other side of the conversation” the further away we get from the event itself.

But this episode in California shows that perhaps I’ve been too optimistic. The Rialto school district says it plans to respond by offering sensitivity training and even quoted George Santayana: “Those who cannot learn from history are bound to repeat it.” But these teachers don’t need sensitivity training. Sensitivity is not what was missing here. These teachers were not “insensitive” to the victims of the Shoah or to Jews. They were just wrong. Critical thinking and a basic understanding of what happened in Europe 70 years ago are clearly in very short supply throughout the ranks of teachers and administrators involved in this fiasco. What they really need are history lessons.

http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/171856/california-school-holocaust-denial

You can listen to Dr. Lipstadt here. She’s cool.

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Matthew Rozell, Stephen Barry, National DOR Ceremony, Washington, DC April 2010. This photo was taken the day after the 65th anniversary of Steve's liberation in April 1945. We had just been honored by the director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum before the national ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda.

Matthew Rozell, Stephen Barry, National DOR Ceremony, Washington, DC April 2010. This photo was taken the day after the 65th anniversary of Steve’s liberation in April 1945. We had just been honored by the director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum before the national ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda.

So, the ripples continue. Somebody said it was like pebbles being tossed into the still water. This may sound strange, but I am keenly aware of the cosmic element. We tripped the wires of the cosmos.

~”It’s not for my sake, it’s for the sake of humanity, that they will remember”~

I got a nice email  recently. My friend Steve Barry was honored Tuesday evening at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Steve’s daughters wanted me to know that his family made a donation in his name and set up two fellowships for scholars at the USHMM in the Stephen B. Barry Memorial Fellowship. His girls mentioned me in their speech Tuesday night in Washington. Thanks ladies. You know he was a hero. He reached out and touched an awful lot of students in the short time that we were together.

Steve will be one of the persons who will be featured in my book. Against all the odds he survived the Holocaust and later even went on to become a US Army Ranger in the Korean War! I was pretty close to him. Right now I am wistfully looking at his homemade holiday greeting cards under my desk glass, and to my left, a foot away, are the shelves containing his Holocaust library, which was passed on to me after he passed away. He was so funny, too.  He told me he nearly “choked on my bagel” a few years back when he opened his newspaper in Florida and read about me and the train he had been looking for, for so many years!

I miss the guy. You can read more about him here.

 

Steve's name on the wall of donors, USHMM, unveiled April 29, 2014.

Steve’s name on the wall of donors, USHMM, unveiled April 29, 2014.

The inscription kind of says it all. He uttered these words in my very classroom on a Thursday morning to a film crew from New York City, aimed at the 1500 students that he and the other survivors and American soldier/liberators had come to address. That Friday evening of our big soldier/survivor reunion, we watched it together on national news before our final banquet.

You can see the video at the bottom-he’s the one in the preview addressing the interviewer- but the transcript is below.

ABC WORLD NEWS TONIGHT, FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2009

Diane Sawyer: And finally tonight, our Persons of the Week. It is a story that began almost 65 years ago in the darkest days of World War II. Yet this week, a new chapter unfolded. An unforgettable reunion of Holocaust survivors, and the American troops who freed them, and all made possible by a high school history class.

Matthew Rozell: This is history coming alive.
Veteran 1, entering school with his wife: Here we are, we have arrived!
Matthew Rozell: This is walking, talking, living history. They’re (the students) shaking hands with the past…

Diane Sawyer: It was 2001 when high school history teacher Matt Rozell decided to begin an oral history project. He and his students would just interview family members in the small town of Hudson Falls, New York, to capture fading stories of World War II.
Interviewer (soldier’s daughter): Did you mention the train [to Mr. Rozell] at all before?
Carrol Walsh, former soldier: No I didn’t tell him about the train.

Diane Sawyer: The students unearthed a forgotten crossroads in history. (Gunfire, archival film footage) Near the very end of World War II, April 13th, 1945, the American 30th Infantry Division was pushing its way into central Germany.
Carrol Walsh: We came to a place where there was a long train, of boxcars.

Diane Sawyer: They found a train, holding nearly 2,500 emaciated Jewish prisoners, many just children, being moved from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, to another camp and certain death. Their German guards had just abandoned them, fleeing the Americans.

Carrol Walsh: A feeling of helplessness. What are we going to do with all these people?
Frank Towers, former soldier: We had never ever seen anything so, (pauses) filthy.

Diane Sawyer: The American soldiers fed the prisoners, and brought them to safety.

Stephen Barry: For 42 years I collected anything that I could to try to find any article regarding the train. It just didn’t exist!

Diane Sawyer: But Mr. Rozell’s class put their interviews with veterans up on a website, along with these photographs taken by the American soldiers.

George Gross: Just very courageous people, little girls who with big smiles on their faces, one of them with their arms out, just aware that the Americans are there. [camera pans over 1945 liberation photograph]

Diane Sawyer: Out there on the web, Holocaust survivors all around the world began to notice.

Stephen Barry: I mean, how many people have a picture of their moment of liberation forever? [camera pans over 1945 liberation photograph]

(students and veterans and survivors singing “The Star Spangled Banner”)

Diane Sawyer: A reunion of the survivors and their liberators took place this week at Hudson Falls High School.

Emily Murphy, student: When they speak to us, you can’t say that you feel how they felt. But you get the feeling, you feel like you were there.

Diane Sawyer: In an age where there are still those who deny the Holocaust ever existed, these survivors say they are the living proof.

Stephen Barry: It’s not for my sake, it’s for the sake of humanity, that they will remember.

Diane Sawyer: And so we choose history teacher Matt Rozell, his class, the Holocaust survivors of that train, and the American soldiers who kept them and their story alive. And that is World News for this Friday. I am Diane Sawyer, and from all of us at ABC News, we hope you have a great weekend.

And here is a link to the 2014 United States Days of Remembrance Capitol Ceremony. Steve’s daughters and granddaughters are in the back row!

 

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Holocaust Survivor Clara Rudnick in her home, Photo Erica Miller 8/31/10

Holocaust Survivor Clara Rudnick in her home, Photo Erica Miller 8/31/10

I gave my first talk last night after returning this summer from an intensive 3 week European study tour. Arriving early to prepare and set up, I looked up and in walked Siobhan, a former student, and her mom, followed a little while by an older woman I was surprised and delighted to see- Mrs. Rudnick, or Clara. She gave me a hug and took off her coat and told me that she had taken a cab to the site of the lecture, and, oh, could I please give her a ride home? I was delighted.

During the lecture I recognized her before the audience, and thanked her for coming out. She told the audience how proud she was to live in the “North Country” of upstate New York. Heck, she’s lived here since 1949, a dozen years before I was born! She was moved to tears, as was Siobhan, who gave her a hug.

During the talk, she nodded her head in agreement to many of my points. Afterwards, she pulled out a piece of paper, a short statement that she had written, explaining that she had been meaning to call me.  You see, she was not the only traveler to Europe this summer. While I was in Poland touring Holocaust related sites, Mrs. Rudnick had returned to Lithuania of her youth.

Not an easy thing, given that

a. Clara is 89 years old;

b. Clara is a Holocaust survivor;

c. Clara lost most of her family to the SS Einsatzgruppen and their Lithuanian collaborators.

She and her late husband Abe were two of only 7000 survivors of the 70,000 Jews of Vilna. I was familiar with a lot of the history, but to understand more of what she had gone through, I looked up the following at the USHMM website:

The Lithuanians carried out violent riots against the Jews both shortly before and immediately after the arrival of German forces. In June and July 1941, detachments of German Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units), together with Lithuanian auxiliaries, began murdering the Jews of Lithuania. By the end of August 1941, most Jews in rural Lithuania had been shot. By November 1941, the Germans also massacred most of the Jews who had been concentrated in ghettos in the larger cities. The surviving 40,000 Jews were concentrated in the Vilna, Kovno, Siauliai, and Svencionys ghettos, and in various labor camps in Lithuania. Living conditions were miserable, with severe food shortages, outbreaks of disease, and overcrowding.

In 1943, the Germans destroyed the Vilna and Svencionys ghettos, and converted the Kovno and Siauliai ghettos into concentration camps. Some 15,000 Lithuanian Jews were deported to labor camps in Latvia and Estonia. About 5,000 Jews were deported to extermination camps in Poland, where they were murdered. Shortly before withdrawing from Lithuania in the fall of 1944, the Germans deported about 10,000 Jews from Kovno and Siauliai to concentration camps in Germany.

Soviet troops reoccupied Lithuania in the summer of 1944. In the previous three years, the Germans had murdered about 90 percent of Lithuanian Jews, one of the highest victim rates in Europe.

Clara was anxious to speak to me. She told me of her trip with her son. Together they returned to Svinsyan, where her parents, two sisters and two brothers lived. To one of my students, a few years back, she told the following story:

On June 21st, 1941, the Nazis came into my town, I lived with my mother and father, two brother and two sisters. In July 4th, they took my oldest brother and burned him alive, with 90 other Jewish teenagers in my town. In the early part of August they came in and took my twin brother, along with another 100 teenagers and dug a big hole and buried them alive. In September they took the whole town about 8,000 people and brought then to where we held our flea markets- this was both of my sisters and my mother- out into the woods where they lined them up and shot them and left them there. This is where my father and I escaped- he knew a lot of men- and we went to farm to farm and hid out until the Nazis would come, and we would leave because if they caught us they would kill us and the people we were staying with, because they were harboring  fugitives.

At the town’s museum, she stopped to ask where the memorial of the murder site, Poligon, could be found. Clara said that they  told her that they did not know where it was, though half the town’s population, many of the families having lived their since the 1300s, had been murdered there.

At the hotel in Vilna she inquired how she could get to Ponary, and was simply told “there is nothing there”. Google Ponary. 110000 relevant results. 70,000 Jews were shot to death there by the Germans and Lithuanians.

Taking the English speaking bus tour of the Old City of Vilna, the guide described the Philharmonic Hall but did not tell the tourists that this was the entrance to the Vilna Ghetto, where she had been imprisoned until being deported to a slave labor camp and later to a concentration camp. When Clara asked why the guide did not mention this, the guide said that she “did not know.”

Maybe the guide was young and was not taught this history in school. Or maybe it was not important enough to be part of the official program. 90 to 95% of Lithuania’s Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. To one lady on the bus, and her son, it was important. In Clara’s words, “In just three days, I learned that Lithuania has not faced it history of the destruction of its 250,000 Jews”.

Clara is happy that I am keeping the memory alive. She put on her coat and climbed up into my pickup truck without assistance. She chatted all the way home as I tried to navigate to her house in the dark. She thanked me over and over. Not at all. Thank you for coming into my life and making me, and my students, a part of yours.

Here is an informative article which reveals exactly what Clara wanted me to know. Responsibility is not big on the list of Lithuania’s priorities.

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DSC01140One of the things that came up in my talk last night was the question of what does one do in the classroom to use the Holocaust as a jumping point to address current world or national issues. In other words, what is the purpose of teaching the Holocaust?

Another question that always comes up, and came up last night as well, is how can people deny that the Holocaust ever took place?

These are very good questions and ones that I have wrestled with for some time, myself. I guess in formulating my response, I would have to consider my experiences, and relate one to the other.

1. When you really, really study and think about the Holocaust, as I have, the more it becomes clear that the subject is so expansive, there is so much that you do not know. I consider myself fairly well informed and educated on the subject, but as I stated in a previous post, KNOWLEDGE is not the same as UNDERSTANDING. So I guess I will defer to the survivor I know, asked the same question by a student, after giving his testimony to young people: “There will be always be those who deny or minimize the extent of the Holocaust. How can one even begin to understand the magnitude of the crime?”

It IS quite unbelievable, in a sense.

Which begs the question: How could the enormity of this watershed event, the greatest crime committed in the history of the world, happen?

The answer, simple but again in a general sense, too true. Mass ignorance is not an excuse. People knew.

In reality, few people gave a damn. Political leaders had more important priorities. Ordinary people went about their business.

2. Now the extrapolation*. Today in many schools the Holocaust is simplistically packaged up and sold to promote the cause du jour, whatever it may be, from bullying in the schoolyard to consequences of gun control. We boil down the causes to bullying gone wild, or handing over our guns, saying “See? This is what happens”.

Here is the eye opener for many educators out there.

The cause of the Holocaust was not a simple issue of “intolerance”.

Jewish and gentile communities lived side by side and interacted for hundreds of years. Men, women, and little children were not “bullied” to death. They were murdered on an industrial scale.

3. The only lesson I will promote in the classroom is to outline the enormity of the complexity, to go beyond just advocating “tolerance” and “diversity training” to make an attempt of a systematic examination of the abrogation of personal moral responsibility in the face of  an agenda that was made quite clear from the outset.

So what does this look like? Let’s take a quick look.

a. Mein Kampf was published in 1925. And Hitler never killed a single person in anger by his own hand. There is a reason why, in touring our national Holocaust museum, you will find few references in the exhibits to Hitler alone.

b. Mass murder didn’t just “happen”. There were a lot of logistical problems that had to be overcome. Statisticians, bankers, businessmen, engineers and  architects, mechanics and clerks sold the tabulating machines, arranged the train schedules, drew up the gas chambers, tested the crematoria, installed the hardware, and pushed the paper that meant life or death. Teachers taught lessons handed down by the state, doctors and nurses learned how to kill. Lawyers and judges perverted the notion of justice. Town cops and public servants with families back home were drafted into extermination brigades and became murderers of women and children. The few who refused to pull the trigger were not punished severely.

As I was packing up to leave, a doctor friend who attended my talk stopped me and told me that what I was doing was important, if only as a reminder, I suppose. She stated that in a recent public information event on the Affordable Care Act, someone rose and exclaimed with passion that the those without health insurance should be allowed to die. All around her, the statement was greeted with an outpouring of applause.

I’ll refrain from analogies-but, what, then, was it that she took away from the lecture?

Maybe it was the point that there are no simple explanations or lessons, that that there were no monsters, that to label a perpetrator as a monster is to strip him/her of our common link- humanity- which perversely, somehow absolves him, the nonhuman, of responsibility.

Maybe we are not so far removed, after all.

As I was leaving, in a quiet tone, she said:

The veneer is very thin.”

*If you are an educator looking for more guidance, here is a  a short video I made for the teaching of the Holocaust, according to USHMM guidelines.

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eisenhower at ushmmBy BRIDGET MURPHY, Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) — Matthew Nash’s grandfather only mentioned the photographs to him once.

Twenty-five-years later, they are the subject of a new documentary on the Holocaust that Nash spent three years making after finding the pictures his grandfather took while serving as an Army medic in World War II.

Kept hidden from Nash and others in the family, the photos were not something Nash’s grandfather seemed to want to talk about with relatives. But they were something he could never forget.

Nash’s film — “16 Photographs at Ohrdruf” — tells of the first concentration camp that U.S. soldiers liberated in 1945.

The 72-minute film will have its first public screening Thursday evening at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., and also will be shown as part of the Boston International Film Festival on April 16 and the G.I. Film Festival in Washington in May.

The summer he was 12, Nash asked about his grandfather’s World War II service as the two were stacking wood in his grandparents’ barn in East Dorset, Vt.

“As I recall he got really quiet,” said Nash, now a 37-year-old photography professor at Lesley University. “I think he just said, ‘Yeah, we saw some really terrible things. When you get a little older, I’ll show you some pictures and you’ll understand.'”

But Donald Grant Johnson, a former Army lieutenant, died in 1991 without sharing the photos with his grandson. Family members only spoke of the pictures in whispers.

When Nash’s grandmother threatened to destroy them when the subject came up at Thanksgiving dinner in 1995, Nash and his sister felt compelled to secretly sift through their late grandfather’s belongings the following Christmas. That’s when they found an envelope marked “Holocaust” tucked away in a wooden trunk. Inside were a few letters and a series of snapshots of a war horror the 23-year-old Johnson encountered as a soldier in April 1945.

Johnson took most of the photos at Ohrdruf in Germany. Nash believes his grandfather may have treated survivors of the camp, which the Germans had formed as a sub-camp of Buchenwald.

On a personalized sheet of notepaper with “Don Johnson” printed at the top, the 65th Infantry Division Army veteran cataloged the photo collection as best he could.

“Lime Pit — effort to destroy bodies,” reads one handwritten caption. “Griddle used in (vain) attempt to incinerate bodies — note skull bottom center,” reads another. “Small stack of bodies,” says yet another.

Soldiers are on the outskirts of some of Johnson’s shots, standing together to view piles of emaciated and burned corpses. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower wanted many witnesses to the Nazi atrocity so that reports of it couldn’t be dismissed as propaganda.

“He had as many units as possible come and see the camp,” said Geoffrey Megargee, a scholar from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum who appears in Nash’s film.

Johnson likely came to Ohrdruf within a few days of its liberation. He later returned home to become a banker, National Guard soldier, and a volunteer emergency-medical technician.

Some of Johnson’s photos show survivors, including what he described as a survivor being treated by two camp doctors. The skeletal-looking man is lying on a cot, with what appears to be an open wound on his hip, as the men stand beside him. In another, a bare-chested boy of about 14 looks toward the camera, with what appears to be prisoner barracks in the background.

Nash found 19 photos in all and used 16 in his film. His research showed his grandfather may have shot a few of the photos at Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.

The professor also discovered from letters his grandfather packed away with the pictures that he had wanted his photographs to become part of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. He said in one letter that he had visited more than one concentration camp, but Ohrdruf was engraved in his memory.

“I keep the pictures close at hand and have made a point of looking at them frequently,” Johnson wrote. “And, during my years of National Guard service, I made a point of showing them to the personnel, hoping we could prevent any such disasters from happening again.”

Johnson died two years before the museum opened, and before he sent the pictures. Nash has since given the photos to the museum for its archives, and said he’s proud to have done that for his grandfather.

Nash made the documentary with about $5,000 and the help of friends in the film business.

Among film interviewees, Nash talked to veterans who served in the same infantry division as his grandfather, including Boston resident Edwin “Bud” Waite. The 87-year-old was an infantry soldier who wasn’t part of liberating concentration camps, but visited Dachau later. He said he sees value in Nash’s film effort.

“I think it’s very important because the younger people nowadays, they don’t really understand concentration camps back in World War II,” Waite said.

Megargee, who will give a lecture before Thursday’s screening, said Nash’s film opens up a personal window into what the Allies were fighting against in World War II.

“When you can personalize the history, especially for younger kids, it helps to get them interested. It’s one thing to talk about tens of thousands of camps. It’s another thing to bring it down to the level of one American soldier,” he said.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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