Friday, January 26, 2018
Holocaust Facts on International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2018
INTERNATIONAL HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY. Saturday, January 27, is the day in 2018 marked by the United Nations as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Israel has its own commemoration later in the year beginning at sunset on April 11 and ending at nightfall on April 12. The full name of the day commemorating the victims of the Holocaust is “Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah“-- literally the “Day of (Remembrance of) the Holocaust and the Heroism.” It is marked on the 27th day in the month of Nisan -- a week after the seventh day of Passover, and a week before Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers). When the 27th of Nisan falls on a Friday or Sunday, Yom Hashoah is shifted a day to avoid conflicting with Shabbat . The Hebrew calendar is fixed so that the 27th never falls on Shabbat itself. • We outlined earlier this week some of the many worldwide commemorations that have been taking place leading up to Saturday. Today, let us face the facts of the Holocaust, as they are recorded at Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Jerusalem. • • • DAVID BEN-GURION VISITED CONCENTRATION CAMPS. David Ben-Gurion, the primary national founder of the State of Israel and the first Prime Minister of Israel, could be said to have led the first Holocaust Remembrance when he visited Holocaust survivors in Bergen-Belsen, Germany, in October 1945. Bergen-Belsen was opened by the Nazis in April 1943 as a detention camp for foreign citizens intended for exchange with the Allies, from which thousands of Jews were deported to be murdered. In March 1944 the camp became a concentration camp, and until its liberation on April 15, 1945, hundreds of thousands of prisoners had been transferred to the camp, the majority of whom arrived on death marches from Eastern Europe. Approximately 35,000 inmates died in the camp before liberation, from diseases, starvation and the harsh weather. After liberation, about half of the 60,000 liberated inmates perished. • A displaced persons’ camp was established in Bergen-Belsen, in which the liberated inmates carried on widespread cultural, political and social activities. The visit of David Ben-Gurion, at that time chairman of the Jewish Agency for Eretz Israel, to the DP camp in Bergen-Belsen was part of his visit to the concentration and DP camps in the vicinity of Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich, Heidelberg and Hanover, including Dachau and Bergen-Belsen. • In the reports on his visit he wrote : “I saw the furnaces where they incinerated hundreds of thousands and millions of Jews throughout Europe -- from the West, from the East, the South and the North, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, from all of the different ethnic communities and political parties...the few remnants, who were miraculously saved from the gas chambers, the forced labor, the tortures and the sufferings, from the beatings and the humiliation -- in their name I bring to you (in Eretz Israel) blessings of brotherly peace. They charged me with informing you of two requests. The first request : Jewish unity. Together, they died, were tortured and suffered, with no regard to tribe, origin, or political affiliation. The murderers did not distinguish...and the second request : the State of Israel. That is the last will and testament of millions of martyrs who went to their deaths : only because we are a nation lacking a homeland and a country we were murdered, and justice and freedom cannot prevail, unless this historical injustice that has been committed against us has been rectified.” • As Ben-Gurion made his way to the hall, the survivors broke out in a powerful rendition of Hatikva, the Israel national anthem. “Shocked and deeply moved, Ben-Gurion walked through the camps and held long meetings with the refugees who had gathered around. He wanted to know everything : what they had experienced, how they are living, how much food they receive, if they want to make aliyah, if they are willing to put themselves in harm’s way in order to do so.” (Bar Zohar) • The DP camp in Bergen-Belsen was closed in 1951, and the majority of its inhabitants either immigrated to Israel or to other countries outside of Europe. • • • YAD VASHEM EXPLAINS THE FACTS OF THE HOLOCAUST. You can access the factual history of the Holocaust and many other of its aspects by logging on to < yadvashem.org >. Today, to honor those who perished in the Holocaust, and to remind ourselves of its horrors, so great that they are difficult to comprehend and extremely painful to absorb, here are some of the Holocaust facts presented on the Yad Vashem website. • • What were concentration camps? When did they start to function, and what was their purpose? Immediately after they came to power, the Nazis set up camps in which they imprisoned those whom they considered opponents to their regime and treated them with great brutality. As in other dictatorial regimes, these camps were designed to break that opposition and inspire fear among the population in order to ensure that new opposition would not arise. The first concentration camp was established at Dachau on March 23, 1933, just two months after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. Dachau became the training ground for the SS. Its first commandant was Theodor Eicke, whose many precedents for brutality were followed throughout the expanding camp system. Among the major camps established in Greater Germany were Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Neuengamme, Ravensbrueck and Sachsenhausen. At the time of the annexation of Austria and more so during the riot against the Jews of Germany in November 1938 (Kristallnacht), people were no longer imprisoned primarily because of their perceived actions, but they began to be imprisoned for reasons of race. From this point onward, Jews were placed in Nazi camps simply because they were Jews. As the Nazis conquered more and more territory, they expanded the camp system greatly and used it as a tool in their plan for the reordering of European society along racial lines. Forced labor was always a component of the camp universe and as time went on, this component became more and more central to it. In fact, the Nazis did not call all of their camps “concentration camps”; some were designated as labor or hard-labor camps, others as transit camps, and others as exchange camps. Owing to the inhuman labor conditions, cruelty of the camp staff, and horrible physical conditions, many prisoners died in the camps, especially during the war. With the coming of the Final Solution, six extermination camps were also established in which primarily Jewish prisoners were systematically murdered. • • What were the extermination camps? When did they start to function, and what was their purpose? The first camp specifically established as an extermination camp was at Chelmno (Kulmhof), Poland. It began to function on December 8, 1941, when Jews from the surrounding area were brought there. At first, gas vans were used for the murder. Eventually, approximately 320,000 people, mostly Jews, were murdered there. Early in 1942, the Nazis began to build three extermination camps in the framework of Operation (Aktion) Reinhard : Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka. Most of the Jews from Poland were murdered in these camps in 1942 and 1943. All told, about 1.7 million Jews were murdered in the Reinhard camps. Majdanek, which was a concentration-labor camp, also had a killing center and is often cited as an extermination camp. Unlike in the Operation Reinhard camps, many of the victims of Majdanek were not Jews. The most infamous of the extermination camps was established at Auschwitz. It began to function as an extermination camp in the spring of 1942, after larger gas chambers were built in nearby Birkenau (Auschwitz II). Eventually, more than a million Jews and several hundred thousand Poles, Sinti and Roma, and people of various nationalities were murdered there. • • Why didn't more Jews leave Europe before the war began? The most straightforward answer is that they simply had nowhere to go. For the Jews of Europe, as noted in Chaim Weizmann's famous remark, the world was divided into two: places where they could not live and places where they could not go. The restrictive immigration practices of the major overseas countries vis-à-vis Jewish refugees reflected a global climate of economic protectionism tinged with xenophobia and outright anti-Semitism. An international conference on refugees at Evian (France) in July 1938, initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, proved to be a complete fiasco. Except for the Dominican Republic, none of the representatives of the 32 countries invited offered prospective Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria any hope whatsoever. Another explanation is that the intermittent and uneven application of the anti-Semitic pressure during the Nazi regime's first years sent confusing signals to the Jewish victims, lulling their sense of danger and allowing them to believe that the worst had already passed. A panic exodus of Jews from Nazi-dominated Europe ensued only after the spring of 1938, in the wake of the annexation of Austria in March of that year, and intensified after the November pogrom. By that time, Jews were willing to emigrate to any place they could. In the first years of the Nazi regime, most German Jews who emigrated went to neighboring European countries and to Palestine. However, the picture changed considerably after 1936 and especially in 1938. During this period, as immigration of refugees to Palestine and most of the countries of Europe became increasingly difficult, and the circumstances of Jews in Germany deteriorated, Jews became more willing to go to places they considered more remote, especially South America. With the desperate plight of Austrian Jewry after the Nazi annexation of March 1938, and the Kristallnacht pogrom in November that struck the Jews of the entire Reich, the United States and Great Britain relaxed their restrictive practices. In their frantic efforts to break out of the Nazi death trap, the Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria went as far a field as Shanghai, one of the few places that accepted immigrants freely. Others tried to reach Palestine stealthily in order to circumvent British restrictions on Jewish immigration. Emigration of Jews from Germany and Austria in 1933-1939, by destinations : United States 85,000 / Latin America 85,000 / Palestine 60,000 / Shanghai 18,000 / Great Britain 60,000 / Switzerland 12,000 for a Total of 320,000. Some 110,000 Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria escaped to neighboring countries only to fall again into the Nazis' clutches during the war. • • When and how did the Nazis decide to murder the Jews under their control? The exact date of the Nazi policy decision to murder all the Jews is not entirely clear. No written order from Hitler to this effect has been found. Currently there is a consensus among historians, however, that before the outbreak of the war the Nazis did not have a definite plan to murder the Jews of Europe. Rather, the policy that came to be known as the Final Solution, which called for the murder of all Jews, developed during the war itself. At the time of the German conquest of Poland, in the autumn of 1939, the Nazis crossed the line from earlier forms of discrimination to murder. At this point, sporadic mass killings in the Generalgouvernement alone, the area where most Polish Jews were gathered, resulted in the deaths of at least 7,000 in the last months of 1939. With the invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, murderous activities against the Jews were greatly intensified. German armed formations, chief among the special units of the SS known as the Einsatzgruppen, began shooting Jewish males as well as Communist political officers in a mass and systematic fashion. In early July, the “No. 2” man in the SS, Reinhard Heydrich, was made responsible by Hitler's deputy Hermann Goering for a "Final Solution to the Jewish Question in Europe." In mid-August, when the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, visited the newly occupied Soviet areas, it was decided to extend the killing to Jewish women and children. Soon thereafter experiments began on the use of Zyklon-B gas as a means for mass murder. These experiments were conducted in Auschwitz on Soviet prisoners of war. In mid-October the deportation of the Jews from the Reich began, and just a few days later, Jewish emigration from the Reich was forbidden. Also in October, sites were chosen for the extermination camps Chelmno and Belzec. In early December, the first extermination camp, Chelmno, went into operation. There Jews began to be murdered with carbon monoxide gas generated by large diesel engines that pumped gas into gas chambers. On December 12, it is known that Hitler met with some of his intimate circle and told them that the systematic mass murder which had begun in the Soviet Union would be extended to the Jews of Germany, the last group to be included in the plans for murder. From this meeting we know that the decision to include all Jews in the murder was made before December 12 -- most likely during the autumn of 1941. On January 20, 1942, after hundreds of thousands of Jews had already been murdered, Heydrich convened various senior members of the German bureaucracy in what has come to be known as the Wansee Conference to discuss and coordinate the "Final Solution." It is clear from this series of events that Hitler, Goering, Himmler, Heydrich, and other Nazi leaders were closely involved in the decision-making process which led to the mass murder of the Jews. • • What were the largest ghettos, how many Jews were in them, and when were they liquidated? The largest ghetto was in Warsaw, which held up to 480,000 Jews and was liquidated in May 1943, after massive deportations to Treblinka in the summer of 1942 and two uprisings in January and April of 1943. The Lodz ghetto contained 160,000 Jews at its peak. This ghetto was liquidated gradually : in a first wave of deportations to Chelmno between January and May of 1942, many subsequent deportations to Chelmno and other camps, and final liquidation on September 1, 1944. The Lvov ghetto contained nearly 150,000 Jews when established in November 1941; its last few thousand inhabitants were removed in June 1943 after the rest had been deported to their deaths in Belzec and Janowska. The Minsk ghetto held 100,000 Jews from this city and the surrounding towns and villages. The Minsk ghetto was liquidated on October 21, 1943, after most of its Jewish inhabitants had been shot or deported to their deaths in Sobibor. In Vilna, most of the 57,000 Jews who initially inhabited the ghetto were shot to death in the nearby pits of Ponar. In the wake of a failed Vilna ghetto uprising, the last few thousand Jews were sent to camps in Estonia on September 23, 1943. The Bialystok ghetto, which originally contained 50,000 Jews, was liquidated on August 16, 1943, following five days of fighting by the Jewish underground. • • What conditions prevailed in the ghettos? During the Holocaust, ghettos were small and, in most cases, poor areas in cities and towns, to which the Jews were confined and from which non-Jews were generally barred. Many ghettos were surrounded by walls or fences in order to help enforce the Jews' isolation and separation from their neighbors and the outside world. The ghettos were meant to serve as temporary, tightly controlled collection points, where the Jews' labor potential would be exploited until a future German policy led to their removal. Jews in the ghettos were kept under horrendous conditions. The Nazis confiscated nearly all of their belongings and denied them access to most needs of daily life. Severe overcrowding, lack of hygiene, extreme starvation, and denial of basic medicines led to widespread epidemics in many ghettos. The harsh conditions and long hours of forced labor weakened the Jews further. In Warsaw, the largest of the ghettos, approximately 85,000 Jews (about 20 percent of the ghetto population) died from the conditions before the Nazis began to deport them to a death camp. Similar death rates were evident in other ghettos, and even where conditions were somewhat better, they were "narrow as the grave," in the words of one Vilna ghetto diarist, Dr. Lazar Epstein. • • How did Jews cope with conditions in the ghettos? The Jews resorted to legal and “illegal” methods in their attempts to cope with the severe conditions imposed on them in the ghettos. Jewish councils arranged housing, distributed food, and provided social welfare, child care, refugee assistance, and other services -- stretching their very scanty resources beyond the limits of their capabilities. In some ghettos, autonomous social-welfare organizations were created to deal with the same types of needs. Political parties and youth movements organized clandestinely to provide their members with supplementary aid and moral support. Additionally, families and friends tried to help their own. Many Jews in many ghettos, singly and collectively, came to realize that the Nazis had placed them in a trap : If they obeyed the Nazis' rules, they stood to die prematurely of starvation or disease. If they were caught breaking the rules by smuggling food, supplies, and information, they faced certain death. In many instances, Jews chose to become "outlaws" in their struggle to survive. • • In what condition were the Jews in Germany and Poland after the liberation? How did their rehabilitation start? §§ Germany. Immediately after the liberation, there were 50,000–75,000 Jews in the western part of occupied Germany. In the first few weeks after the war, hundreds of displaced-persons camps were set up provisionally in this area for people who did not want to return to their countries of residence, among them many Jews. In August 1945, the Harrison Committee (appointed by President Truman to investigate the plight of the displaced persons) reported to the American Army on the desperate condition of Jews in the displaced-persons camps. As a result of the report, special camps with improved conditions were set up for Jews in the American occupation zone and, some time later, in the British zone as well. The Soviets, for their part, persistently refused to recognize the Jews as a distinct group and did not establish special camps for them. The population of the displaced-persons camps in Germany, in Austria, and also in Italy kept growing, mainly because Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe continued to arrive. At the end of 1946, as a result of a mass flight of Jews from Poland (in the wake of the Kielce pogrom), there were about 15,000 Jews in the British occupation zone, 140,000 in the American occupation zone (mostly in Bavaria), and 1,500 in the French zone. In all, about 700 displaced-persons camps were active; among the best known were Landsberg, Pocking, Feldafing, and Bergen-Belsen. Notwithstanding the survivors' many problems, an intense and active lifestyle came into being in these camps -- an educational and vocational system, cultural creativity, journalism, and even political life. Most Jews in displaced-persons camps in Central Europe left the camps by 1950. Most emigrated to Israel; others emigrated to the United States, Canada, Australia, and other localities. Some stayed in Germany. §§ Poland. About 300,000 Polish Jews [of the 3 million Polish Jews before WWII] survived : 25,000 who survived in Poland, 30,000 who returned from labor camps, and the rest, who repatriated from the Soviet Union. The destruction of Jewish life, the harsh economic situation, and eruptions of anti-Semitism -- peaking in the Kielce pogrom of July 1946 -- caused the majority of Polish Jews to leave this country (clandestinely, for the most part), usually in the direction of Central Europe. Only 50,000 Jews chose to stay in Poland after 1946. Under the Central Committee of the Polish Jews, an effort was made to revive various aspects of Jewish life in Poland. Most attempts to resettle Jews focused on the former German areas that had been annexed to Poland in the west. • • Who are the 'Righteous Among the Nations'? “Righteous Among the Nations” is the official title given to non-Jews who risked their lives in order to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. The deeds of each candidate for the title are reviewed by a special committee at Yad Vashem. In many cases it was ordinary people who saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust. They chose, against all odds, to hide one or more Jews in their home or yard. Often, the rescuer would build a bunker for the Jew, who would stay there for weeks, months, or years, hardly ever seeing the sun. Food was very scarce during the war, and the rescuer would share the few pieces of bread he had with the Jews he was hiding from the Nazis. There are also cases where groups of people, rather than individuals, rescued Jews. In the Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, and France, underground resistance groups helped Jews, mainly by finding them hiding places. In Denmark, ordinary Danes transported 7,000 of the country's 8,000 Jews to Sweden in a fishing-boat operation. In a few instances, highly placed Germans used their position to aid Jews. The most famous of these rescuers is Oskar Schindler, the German businessman who rescued thousands of Jews from the Plaszow camp by employing them in his factory. Diplomats and civil servants have also been recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations.” Some of the better-known ones are Aristides Sousa Mendes (Portugal), Sempo Sugihara (Japan), and Paul Gruninger (Switzerland), all of whom risked their careers to help Jews. But the most famous of the diplomats who rescued Jews is probably Raoul Wallenberg, from Sweden, who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews. Despite his diplomatic immunity, he was arrested by the Soviets after the conquest of Budapest, and apparently died in the Soviet camp system. By the year 2000, over 17,000 men and women had received the honor and title “Righteous Among the Nations.” The many instances of rescue perpetuated by those designated as "Righteous Among the Nations" show that rescue was indeed possible, despite the dangerous circumstances. The recipients of the title not only saved Jewish lives, but help restore our faith in humanity. • • • ANTI-SEMITISM CONTINUES. CBS News has published an article titled "Anti-Semitism : The Longest Hatred." Prejudice against or hatred of Jews -- known as anti-Semitism -- has plagued the world for more than 2,000 years. CBS explains : "Early Christian thought held Jews collectively responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. This religious teaching became embedded in both Catholic and Protestant theology during the first millennium, with terrible consequences for Jews. Following many centuries of persecution and exclusion, the Jewish minority in Europe achieved some rights after the Enlightenment. As Europe became more secular and Jews integrated into mainstream society, political forms of anti-Semitism emerged. Jews were targeted for their ideas and their role in society. In the late nineteenth century, pseudo-scientific theories that legitimized a racial form of anti-Semitism became popular with some intellectuals and political leaders. All of these centuries of hatred were exploited by the Nazis and their allies during World War II, culminating in the Holocaust, the systematic murder of Europe’s Jews." As stated by CBS, there has been an increase in anti-Semitism in recent years in the form of hate speech, violence, and denial and distortion of the Holocaust. These incidents occur everywhere, but especially in the Islamic world and in lands where the Holocaust occurred. CBS reminds us : "In many Middle Eastern countries, anti-Semitism is promoted in state-controlled media and educational systems, and militant groups with political power, such as Hamas, use genocidal language regarding Jews and the State of Israel. The former president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, repeatedly declared the Holocaust a 'myth' and that Israel should be 'wiped off the map.' In Europe, anti-Semitism is increasingly evident among both far-right and far-left political parties. And in the United States, some Jewish students on some college campuses are confronted by anti-Semitic hostility. Violence targeting Jews and Jewish institutions continues around the world. Denial and minimization of the Holocaust, along with other forms of hatred against Jews, is now widespread on the Internet in multiple languages." CBS concludes : "In the aftermath of the moral and societal failures that made the Holocaust possible, confronting anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred is critical." • • • DEAR READERS, there is so much about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism to remember, to be ashamed of, and to fight against. But, there are always stories that bolster our belief in the power of unversal brotherhood. One of these was published in November by JTA. It tells the story of a French Holocaust survivor who donated $1 million for relief programs for US veterans to thank American troops for saving his life during World War II. Bernard Darty, 83, announced in November that he would donate the money to the Wounded Warrior Project and the Services for Armed Forces program of the American Red Cross to help the Vets, especially those affected by the recent devastating hurricanes that hit the United States. JTA tells Darty's story : "Darty's family moved from Poland to France in 1939 to escape the Nazis. In 1942, his father went into hiding, but his mother was arrested during a roundup of Jews and sent to Auschwitz, where she died. For the next two years, he was hidden by families living on the outskirts of Paris, as were his siblings and his future wife, Paulette." Darty wrote in a personal story for Fox News when he announced his donations : "I vividly remember the arrival of the hundreds of thousands of American troops who landed in Normandy to liberate us in June 1944. They were our saviors, doling out packets of sweets to half-starved, war-weary children who had almost given up hope for freedom. The gratitude I feel to these men is beyond words. They freed our country and they saved our lives. Without American troops, my family and I simply would not have existed. I think of that every time I look at our family photos." Darty is a co-founder of the Darty Group, an electrical retailer operating more than 340 stores in several European countries and in the United States. He is retired and lives in Paris, but spends his winters in Miami Beach, Florida. Darty acknowledged that his gift comes more than 70 years after he was rescued : "It's not too late to give back. That's a lesson I hope the next generation recognizes, because its all too easy to let procrastination give way to inaction. But action is what brings hope to those who need it. As I watched news stories this fall of hurricanes, flooding and wildfires striking America, inflicting suffering among civilians and veterans alike, I realized that I still had an important task left to complete in my life. I had not yet given back to the American soldiers who saved my life nearly three-quarters of a century ago."