Category Archives: History

Remembering Jewish Chaplains

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Now I did not know this but if you were to visit Arlington National Cemetery, there are three seperate plaques that are set up to memorialize different religious chaplains that have been killed as a result of their military service. There is one dedicated to chaplains from World War I and the other two are dedicated to Catholic and Protestant chaplains that have died in subsequent wars.

However, between 1943-1974, there were thirteen Jewish chaplains that were killed while in service. But since they weren’t involved in World War I, nor were they Catholic or Protestant, they have been excluded from the memorial. Hopefully, until now.

Congressman Anthony Weiner and Senator Chuck Schumer, both from New York, are sponsoring a bill that would create a fourth plaque to be placed into the cemetery.

But like most things in Congress, bills sound easier to pass than they actually are. While there is bipartisan support for the bill, there is a worry by some supporters that many congressmen are weary about giving official memorials to just anybody.

Nevertheless, organizers of the bill have raised about $50,000 in order to pay for the memorial and have done proper background checks in order to confirm the exact names and correct number of chaplains that need to be honored.

Umm…sometimes things shouldn’t be that complicated. Just make it happen, right?

Posted on May 5, 2011

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Instant March of the Living

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Yesterday was Yom Hashoah. And while our blog had minimal coverage of the day, that doesn’t mean that people around the world weren’t commemorating and remembering the victims of the Holocaust. That includes, of course, all the kids from around the world who converged on Poland this week with the March of the Living to visit the camps before heading to Israel for Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut.

Thanks to YouTube though, we can get a taste of what they experienced yesterday almost instantaneously. The Montreal delegation of the March was very smart to bring along a videographer who has been filming and upload videos and interviews of the kids’ experiences.

Here is their latest video that they filmed while visiting Auschwitz:

Posted on May 3, 2011

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Martin Luther King’s Fake Quote on Osama’s Death

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After the death of Osama bin Laden was announced, this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., began circulating:

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.”

At the Atlantic, Megan McArdle hunted down the source of the quote. Unsurprisingly, it was not Dr. King, but an anonymous Internet opportunist.

It is, however, a really sweet thought. And, though it doesn’t have the ring of Martin Luther King-iness to it, it strikes me as a paraphrase of a great quote from the Book of Proverbs:

Rejoice not when thine enemy fall, and let not thy heart be glad when he stumble.

(Read the Proverb here in its original context, just to make sure I’m not making it up.)

Posted on May 3, 2011

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Testifying for the Holocaust

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Last week, Deborah Lipstadt wrote about eerie anniversaries and Hannah Arendt. Her posts have been appearing as a part of Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.

This blog entry appears during the time that we mark Yom HaShoah.  It is also the time of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.  I am reminded of a small article which appeared on the front page [upper half] of the New York Times on April 22nd 1943.  The article read as follows:

The secret Polish radio appealed for help tonight in a broadcast from Poland and then suddenly the station went dead.  The broadcast as heard here said: The last 35,000 Jews in the Warsaw ghetto have been condemned to execution.  Warsaw is echoing with musketry volleys.

The people are murdered.  Women and children defend themselves with their naked arms.

Save us…

I am also reminded of  some of those who buried the Oyneg Shabbes archival collection which documented the destruction.  [The following material appears in Sam Kassow’s magisterial book, Who Will Write Our History?]  Israel Lichtenstein wrote on the day he buried the archives:

I do not ask for any thanks, for any memorial, for any praise. I only wish to be remembered…. I wish my wife to be remembered, Gele Sekstein. She has worked during the war years with children as an educator and teacher, has prepared stage sets, costumes of children’s theatre… both of us get ready to meet and receive death. I wish my little daughter to be remembered.  Margalit is 20 months old today.  She has fully mastered the Yiddish language and speaks it perfectly… I don’t lament my own life or that of my wife.  I pity only this little nice and talented girl.  She too deserves to be remembered.

With Lichtenstein on that day was Nahum Grzywacz who was  18 years old. When they were burying the archives he heard his parents’ building was being blockaded.  He wrote:

I am going to run to my parents and if they are all right.  I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. Remember my name is Nahum Grzywacz.  [emphasis in original]

Also present was David Graber who was 19. As they buried the archives, Graber wrote:

What we were unable to cry and shriek out the world we buried in the ground. … We shall certainly not live to see it, and therefore I write my last will: May the treasure fall into good hands, may it last into better times, may it alarm and alert the world to what happened… in the twentieth century.  We now died in peace.  We fulfilled our mission.  May history attest for us. [emphasis added]

None of these people seem to contemplate the possibility of survival.  They hungered to be remembered.

May the history we write, read, and remember attest for them.  They have attested for themselves

Deborah Lipstadt’s most recent book, The Eichmann Trial, is now available.

Posted on May 2, 2011

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Liveblogging bin Laden’s Death

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Osama bin Laden is dead. Just to let you know, if you live under a rock or in a Luddite commune or something.

We’ll be writing the most notable pieces of information here. Keep visiting, and let us know in the comments if there’s something we should repost.

* A Twitter user named ReallyVirtual reported on the assault without knowing it. He’s a former IT professional who moved to Abbottabad, Pakistan and opened a coffeehouse. Yesterday he tweeted, “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)” — and we know the rest of the story now.

* J.J. Goldberg from the Forward says: “It feels strange to be celebrating someone’s death.”

* All the pages from today’s news: from the Newseum, of course.

* Rabbi Jason Miller writes that we found out about the assassination on Yom Hashoah — and notes that bin Laden’s assassination might have happened during Passover. (I don’t think it actually did, according to what we know now, but it’s interesting to think about.)

* On Facebook, the wise and sobering Yoni Gordis quotes Proverbs 24: “Do not rejoice at the fall of your enemy.”

Posted on May 2, 2011

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Wise Fridays: Playing Favorites

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wise fridays: sharpen the     reception on  your WiFri

“A man should never single out one of his children for favored treatment, for because of two extra coins’ worth of silk, which Jacob gave to Joseph and not to his other sons, Joseph’s brothers became jealous of him, and one thing led to another until our ancestors became slaves in Egypt.”

Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 10b

Find more Wise Fridays wisdom on MJL.

Posted on April 29, 2011

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Hannah Arendt and the Eichmann Trial

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On Monday, Deborah Lipstadt wrote about eerie anniversaries. She is the author of the new book The Eichmann Trial.

I have spent much of the past few weeks talking about my new book, The Eichmann Trial. I don’t want to make this blog entry about the book. (To be blunt, I’d rather have folks read the book.) But something has struck me in the talks and interviews I have conducted.

For so many people the issue of the Eichmann Trial remains Hannah Arendt. They seem to have a hard time conceiving of the Eichmann trial independent of Arendt’s “analysis.” I am speaking of who abhor what she said as well as of those who espouse her views.

I take a more “middle of the road” or balanced perspective. Let me be explicit (for nuance, you’ll have to read the book. OK, I won’t repeat that again. Twice is certainly enough. Though, please note, I wrote read, not buy). When I speak about Arendt I try to discern where my audience – whether it be one person or a multitude — stands on the issue. I then try to stress the “other” side, i.e. if they hate – and that’s not too strong a term – her words I tell them the affirmative things she had to say about the trial and Israel. If they are enthralled with her views, I point out the glaring historical mistakes on which they are based.

Sometimes that leads to trouble.

At a talk I gave at the Center for Jewish History I assumed that many of the people in the audience were familiar with all the negatives that had been said both by and about Arendt. They knew of her [c]overt antisemitic – if not racist – comments about Israeli society and of her historically inaccurate statements about the Judenrate, the Jewish councils established in the ghettoes by the Nazis.

I, chose, therefore to speak of some of the insights she had and powerful statements she made about the significance of the Holocaust. I wanted to make it clear to them that there are a lot of grays when it comes to Arendt. Sure enough, I received a number of emails and comments accusing me of having “gone soft on Arendt.”

Conversely, when I have spoken with those, whose view of the trial has been completely refracted thorough Arendt, they hear me as critical of her and have also reacted viscerally. They defend her in a knee-jerk fashion and excoriate me for being critical of her.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if people set aside their preconceived conclusions and read what I have to say about her? (Oops, there I go again. Clearly this is the place to end this blog entry.)

Deborah Lipstadt will be blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and Jewish Book Council. Her new book, The Eichmann Trial, is available now.

Posted on April 29, 2011

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April 11th: An Eerie Confluence of Dates

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Deborah Lipstadt’s most recent book, The Eichmann Trial, is now available. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council andMyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

It was the 50th anniversary of the start of the Eichmann Trial and the 11th anniversary of the verdict [judgment] in my libel trial in the UK when David Irving sued me for libel for calling him a Holocaust denier.

More significantly, on April 11th I spoke at the United States State Department to mark the anniversary of the Eichmann trial. In addition to State Department staff members, there were a number of diplomats present [Turkey, Morocco, Ukraine, and Israel among others], as well as friends and colleagues. It was quite meaningful that I was speaking about this seminar act of genocide to an audience composed in part deborah lipstadt eichmannof people who deal with genocide and persecution-related issues. One of the people with whom I spoke has spent years working to rid the world of land mines. Another had been involved in the genocide in Darfur. Another had worked on issues related to the former Yugoslavia. Tragedies all.

There was another factor that made this a meaningful moment. The audience was composed of Federal employees. My book is dedicated to three men who worked for a Federal institution, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. One of them, Special Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns, gave his life for the institution. The quick response by the other two, Special Officer Harry Weeks and Special Officer Jason “Mac” McCuiston, prevented this tragedy from assuming far greater proportions.

I began by taking note of that fact and reading from the dedication. I was surprised by the emotion it evoked, not just from the audience, but from me. Soon it will be two years since the tragedy but the pain of that moment is still palpable.

Deborah Lipstadt’s The Eichmann Trial is now available. Check back all week for her posts on the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

Posted on April 27, 2011

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The Best Thing I Read This Pesach

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If you don’t have enough to do this Passover, let us help — you can read some erotic poetry, learn about a valley of dry bones, and, of course…eat some matzah.

Something else you may want to do is continue to talk about the story of the exodus, and what it means to transition from slavery to freedom.

To that end, I offer you this letter, written by a former slave named Jourdan Anderson in 1865. It’s the most profound and smart reflection on freedom I’ve ever come across, and it’s also hilarious. (And yes, it’s real.) Happy Passover!

Dayton, Ohio, August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P. H. Anderson,

Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter and was glad to find you had not forgotten Jourdan, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Col. Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville hospital, but one of the neighbors told me Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here; I get $25 a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy (the folks here call her Mrs. Anderson), and the children, Milly, Jane and Grundy, go to school and are learning well; the teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday-School, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated; sometimes we overhear others saying, “Them colored people were slaves” down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks, but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Col. Anderson. Many darkies would have been proud, as I used to was, to call you master. Now, if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free-papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department at Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you are sincerely disposed to treat us justly and kindly and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years and Mandy twenty years. At $25 a month for me, and $2 a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to $11,680. Add to this the interest for the time our wages has been kept back and deduct what you paid for our clothing and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams Express, in care of V. Winters, esq, Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night, but in Tennessee there was never any pay day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve and die if it comes to that than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood, the great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

P.S.—Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,

Jourdan Anderson

In case you’re wondering, adjusted for inflation, Anderson is asking his employer for $164,391.

For more about Passover and the civil war see our articles about seders during the civil war and immediately afterward.

Posted on April 22, 2011

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Righting Wrongs

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Ealier this week, Austin Ratner wrote about Hillel sandwiches and patricide, photography, and Audrey Hepburn. His first book, The Jump Artist, is the winner of the 2011 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. He has been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

It goes against my convictions as a novelist to characterize any person as either a demon or a hero; human nature isn’t so simple.  It’s the fascist psyche that adores such black-and-white categories: good or bad, Aryan or Jew, friend or enemy, worthy of life or of extermination.  But even in a psychologically mature piece of fiction, there are protagonists and antagonists and what divides them from one another in The Jump Artist is precisely their degree of maturity of thought—i.e., their ability or inability to think in a nuanced, non-binary way.  Karl Meixner, a fascist, had a lot of trouble thinking that way.  Philippe Halsman’s attorney in the second trial, by contrast, refused to see the world in the polarized terms that would later dominate the politics of Grossdeutschland.

In the first trial, Philippe had been defended by a famous Jewish attorney from Vienna named Richard Pressburger.  The proceedings lasted just three days and presented little evidence against Philippe, but the jury convicted him with just as little deliberation.  “After hardly a half an hour,” a major Vienna paper reported, “the jury foreman pronounces the verdict: the accused is guilty of murder, with nine against three votes.” (Arbeiter Zeitung, “A Wrong Verdict in Innsbruck? A Half-hour Consultation,” December 17, 1928.)  By the second trial on appeal, the Halsman family understood the extent of local prejudices against outsiders.  When the family hired the defense team for the second trial, they sought out local Gentiles to represent Philippe.  The new attorneys were Innsbruckers Paul Mahler and Franz Pessler.

Pessler was born May 13, 1893 in Linz (an Austrian city halfway between Vienna and Salzburg).  Halsman describes Pessler as “a very interesting person, a former Jesuit student,” in a letter dated March 23, 1929.  He was a veteran of the First World War, described as “young, daring” in Die Wahrheit, a Vienna newspaper, on September 20, 1929.  Pessler married a Viennese woman named Martha Lodenbauer, with whom he lived in Innsbruck at 29 Anichstrasse.  According to the records in the Tiroler Landesarchiv (Geschäftszahl TLA-0509/1720-2006), they had no children.

Pessler was deeply committed to the defense of civil liberties even as Austria careened into fascism.  His passion for justice is reflected in his own account of the trials, “Ein Bild des Prozesses” (“A Picture of the Proceedings”), published in a paperback volume called Der Fall Halsmann, issued in 1931 by the Austrian League for Human Rights.  (The Austrian League was a sister organization of theFrench League for the Defense of Human Rights, which had 20 years earlier defended the Jew Alfred Dreyfus following his indictment and false conviction in Paris.)  After the second verdict, Pessler continued to fight on Philippe’s behalf for legal redress, and he took part in the effort to obtain a pardon from Chancellor Johann Schober.

The trials affected him on a personal level, as well.  He writes in Der Fall Halsmann, pp. 90-91:

[Philippe] left prison as a broken man.  His imprisonment has resulted in a lung infirmity.  His engineering studies have been interrupted and subsequently cut off.  Who can right all the wrongs he has suffered?  Even if we succeed in bringing another trial to court, and prove his innocence beyond a doubt, the years of imprisonment and the horrible accusations have taken their toll.

We must learn for the future to be careful with any trial based on circumstantial evidence.  In any such future case we must remember Philipp Halsman.

Philippe, in turn, felt he would never forget his attorney.  In a letter to Ruth Römer dated January 28, 1930, Philippe writes: “[Dr. Pessler] sat down on the table and began to weep…. I will never forget how much [his tears] moved me, and how much I loved him the moment he wiped the table dry.”

After the Anschluss with Germany, Pessler ran afoul of the Nazis; he was sent to the Dachau concentration camp as a political prisoner on May 31, 1938 and was not released until almost a year later, on April 22, 1939.  According to the Tiroler Landesarchiv, he’d been added to the Nazis’ “Schwarzen Liste,” or Black List, because in 1938 he served as public defender for Friedrich Wurnig, an SS officer who was tried for murder; Pessler lost the case and Wurnig was executed.  Shortly after Pessler’s internment at Dachau, his wife moved to Eggenberg.  He survived the war and died in the same year as did his former client Philippe Halsman: 1979.

Austin Ratner‘s first book, The Jump Artist, is now available.

Posted on April 15, 2011

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