News to Make You Frown

Hey look, the New York Times is running two of the most depressing stories I’ve heard in months. And both are tangentially Jewish. Great. Who’s ready to get sad?

The first story is about how testing for breast cancer is prone to error–a piece of especially bad news for Ashkenazi Jewish women, who have a higher risk of getting breast cancer, so are constantly being told to get mammograms. If you have any experience with this–as, sadly, I do–you know that after the mammogram comes the biopsy, where some cells are extracted and you find out if you really have cancer (alas, after the biopsy there is no hotel lobby). Unfortunately, it turns out that reading the results of the biopsy can be very difficult, and in a shocking number of cases women are undergoing surgery and treatment when it later turns out they never had cancer at all. This is bad news for a lot of already freaked out Jewish women. Oy.


As it turns out, diagnosing the earliest stage of breast cancer can be surprisingly difficult, prone to both outright error and case-by-case disagreement over whether a cluster of cells is benign or malignant, according to an examination of breast cancer cases by The New York Times.

There is an increasing recognition of the problems, and the federal government is now financing a nationwide study of variations in breast pathology, based on concerns that 17 percent of D.C.I.S. cases identified by a commonly used needle biopsy may be misdiagnosed. Despite this, there are no mandated diagnostic standards or requirements that pathologists performing the work have any specialized expertise, meaning that the chances of getting an accurate diagnosis vary from hospital to hospital.

Emphasis mine.

The second piece of bad news is that women were much larger players in the atrocities of the Holocaust than was previously known. Men definitely did the lion’s share of the evil work, but an American historian has uncovered evidence that implies that women were much more involved than anyone really thought.


The Nazi killing machine was undoubtedly a male-dominated affair. But according to new research, the participation of German women in the genocide, as perpetrators, accomplices or passive witnesses, was far greater than previously thought.

The researcher, Wendy Lower, an American historian now living in Munich, has drawn attention to the number of seemingly ordinary German women who willingly went out to the Nazi-occupied eastern territories as part of the war effort, to areas where genocide was openly occurring.

“Thousands would be a conservative estimate,” Ms. Lower said in an interview in Jerusalem last week.

I made the mistake of reading this article while eating my lunch. Ugh. Truly horrifying stuff.

[One woman] was married to an SS officer who ran an agricultural estate, complete with a colonial-style manor house and slave laborers, in Galicia, in occupied Poland. She later confessed to having murdered six Jewish children, aged 6 to 12. She came across them while out riding in her carriage. She was the mother of two young children, and was 25 at the time. Near naked, the Jewish children had apparently escaped from a railroad car bound for the Sobibor camp. She took them home, fed them, then led them into the woods and shot them one by one.

She told her interrogators that she had done so, in part, because she wanted to prove herself to the men.

Thankfully, the Times has a sort-of antidote to all this sadness: a cute little story about the restored recordings of a famous early 20th century cantor. The recordings were painstakingly cleaned up by a Hasidic music salesman, and you can hear some of them via the Times site. I’m not a huge fan of cantorial music, but I’m thrilled to have something happy to read about, finally.

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