Wolf Hosts Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony in State Capitol

Governor Tom Wolf (at mcrophone)hosted the annual Civic Commemoration of the Holocaust Ceremony in the Capitol on Monday, April 20, 2015.  Some of the dignitaries who also spoke included (shown here) Pastor Earl L. Harrris, President of the Interdenominationl Ministry Conference, and Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack.   photo by Bonnie Squires

Left to right: Governor Tom Wolf, Pastor Earl L. Harrris, President of the Interdenominationl Ministry Conference, and Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack. Photo by Bonnie Squires.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf  hosted the annual “Civic Commemoration of the Holocaust” ceremony in the Governor’s Reception Room on Monday, April 20.

Michael Sand, chairman of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalitions’ committee which helped plan the event, had assembled several Holocaust survivors and children of survivors from Harrisburg and York to be present to light candles in memory of the six million who had perished.  Lt. Governor Michael Stack was also one of the speakers.

 Before the ceremony began, Governor Tom Wolf greeted (left to right) Bonnie Squires, board president of the PHILADELPHIA JEWISH VOICE;  Laura Adler Princiotta, CEO of SpArc Philadelphia; and Tanya Regli, Executive Director of The Arc of Philadelphia.

Before the ceremony began, Governor Wolf greeted (left to right) Bonnie Squires, board president of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice; Laura Adler Princiotta, CEO of SpArc Philadelphia; and Tanya Regli, Executive Director of The Arc of Philadelphia.

There was standing-room only, with almost all of Governor Wolf’s Cabinet officials attending, including, among others, Leslie Richards, Secretary of Transportation, and Kathy Manderino, Secretary of Labor. Dozens of members of the House of Representatives and Senate were also in attendance, including Senators Andy Dinniman and Daylin Leach, and Representatives Tim Briggs, Frank Dermody, and Dan Frankel, who presented  the House resolution in observance of the Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Stealth Altruism Saved Jews During the Holocaust

— by Art Shostak

If asked at World War II’s outset in 1939 what was its least likely outcome, Nazi overlords would have undoubtedly named their own military defeat.

Photo by Private H. Miller

Photo by Private H. Miller

Since Hitler’s democratic takeover in 1933 Germany had developed the strongest military force the modern world had ever known. Its standing army appeared indomitable. Its “death head” storm troopers (SS) seemed overwhelming. And its fervently admired leader appeared invincible.

Pressed in 1939 to name the least likely development the Nazi overlords would probably have named resistance from European Jews, as they were despised as cringing, defeated, and passive sub-humans (untermensch). Resistance would have required virtues Nazi ideology said sub-humans did not possess: bravery, compassion, empathy, and nobility. [Read more…]

Pennsylvania to Start Teaching the Holocaust Lessons

— by Deanne Scherlis Comer

No time is better than the present to truly remember the history and events of the Holocaust, with the world-wide terrorist assault on civilized values, which threaten the very fabric of humanity.

No time is better than now to add substance to the rhetoric of the United Nations General Assembly resolution of 2005 on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, set to coincide with the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, to teach our future generations about the unprecedented issues inherent in this genocide, which are universal in scope and transcend all lines of race, religion or ethnic background.

Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com.

Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com.

In earlier years, within public school districts throughout Pennsylvania, the teaching of the Holocaust was just an abbreviated anecdote in lessons about World World II. As scholarly research unearthed more information, and delved more deeply into its relevance, increasing interest was spawned.

However, the formulation of concrete curricula was sporadic, as funding was often limited due to other priorities.

Some, like the school district of Philadelphia and the Catholic Archdiocese, managed to collaboratively develop a premier guide of innovative and successful curriculum, entitled “Abraham, Our Brother in Faith.”

Others took leadership 25 years ago and formed the Pennsylvania Holocaust Education Council, comprised of a committed group of volunteer educators who served as a broker for the Pennsylvania State Department of Education. With a limited budget, the Council initiated teacher training and provided resources, until the  funding was curtailed a few years ago due to state budgetary constraints.

Without financial assistance, many districts could not provide the resources needed to prioritize the development of Holocaust curricula, giving impetus to the urgency that teaching the history and events of the Holocaust needed to be addressed at the state level in a more comprehensive way. 

Several Pennsylvania grassroots religious, educational and communal organizations and individuals, working with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and committed legislators, led the way to the historic Holocaust and Genocide Bill signed into law by Governor Corbett in June 2014.

Pennsylvania will now require all school districts to initiate the teaching of the Holocaust, genocide and human rights violations for the forthcoming 2015/2016 school year.

To further this goal, the exploration of curriculum options will be discussed at a state-wide conference in March, co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania State Assembly and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Abington Schools Set an Example

The Abington School District, since 1980 (around the time of the establishment of the National Days of Remembrance of the Holocaust and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum), acted with great foresight in understanding that the lessons of the Holocaust needed more than a few brief lines in its social studies books. I served as chairperson of the Abington School District Holocaust Curriculum Committee for many years as we worked to ensure that a mandated guide be developed.

Lessons for middle-grade students explored recurrent themes of prejudice and racism, and the history of anti-Semitism, as well as connections to contemporary issues. Teacher training and developmentally appropriate materials provided support.


Holocaust survivor lectures at the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Educational Center.

Today, the Abington School District has continued its commitment of providing quality Holocaust education to its students, integrating the subject matter within new technology, adding appropriate new resources and updating its teachers’ data base of knowledge.

Recently, the district formed a partnership with the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center, founded by survivor, Jacob Riz, 53 years ago in his home, and now located at the Klein JCC in Northeast Philadelphia. Its educational outreach programs have reached 38,000 students throughout the Delaware Valley, and presently will present more than 300 programs, as well as sponsor communal educational events.

For Abington, the collaboration provides many resources such as educational materials, artifacts and speakers from the museum’s Speakers’ Bureau of Survivors, Liberators and Resistors for the district’s assembly programs. Additionally, it utilizes the museum’s teacher trainers to assure that the district maintains its high standards of teacher preparedness.

A Continuing Legacy of Action

Many still ask, “Why is the study of the Holocaust still relevant?”

The diminishing of the group of eyewitnesses, the lack of knowledge among younger generations, the rantings of deniers and the horrific terrorism events of the past weeks and years around the globe, including rampant acts of anti-Semitism, make such teaching an imperative.

As the grandmother to young adult grandchildren who now walk the stepping stones of the 21st Century with its daunting challenges, I ask myself, “Is there still reason to hope for a better future for them and all humanity?”

When that happens, I think of a young sixth-grade teacher from Abington. After teaching a lesson about hidden children during the Holocaust, she cried:

I will never forget learning about this when I was a sixth-grade student. And now, I am imparting this knowledge to my students. I am helping them to see how they can make a difference with this knowledge and their individual responses.

I cried too, overjoyed that Holocaust Remembrance is not just rhetoric, but a continuing legacy of action.

Deanne Scherlis Comer is an educational consultant at the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center, and the producer and writer of the documentary series, Voices of Holocaust History. She can be contacted at voicesofholocausthistory@gmail.com

Auschwitz Survivors Return to Camp After 70 Years

— by Ryan Greiss

Fifteen Auschwitz survivors, between the ages 80 and 94, returned this morning to the infamous camp, some for the first time, ahead of tomorrow’s 70th anniversary celebration of its liberation.

One American survivor who returned the death camp for the first time, Johnny Pekats (80) shared his experience:

When I arrived in Poland, the tall trees made me immediately anxious. They reminded me of my arrival to Auschwitz — the same day my mother and little sister were gassed. For years I refused to return to this horrible place, but I finally decided to come back with my son. I wanted to say Kaddish with him there.

This is my first and last visit to Auschwitz and my message for the word is that it’s not enough just to remember; we have to make sure that this never happens again.

70th Anniversary Commemoration of the Liberation of Auschwitz.

Left to right: World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer; Natan Grossman (Germany); Samuel Beller (US); Florence Sprung (US); Manny Buchman (US); Mascha Schainberg (South Africa); Marcel Tuchman (US); Rose Schindler (US); Jonny Pekats (US); Henry Korman (Germany); Ronald Lauder; Mordechai Ronen (Canada); Joseph Madrowitz (US); Edgar Wildfeuer (Argentina).

More than 100 Auschwitz survivors from at least 19 countries have arrived in Poland today as part of the World Jewish Congress’ delegation to participate in the upcoming ceremony and events. Joining the survivors on their visit was the president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder, who, organized the delegation along with the USC Shoah Foundation.

Lauder said that the survivors showed great courage in participating in the delegation:

For some of them, this was the first time they returned to the place of their nightmares. Each survivor is a living testament to the triumph of good over evil, of life over death, and they are my heroes.

Holocaust Is Not a Matter of Opinion

Jews being selected for labor or death in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

— by Yaron Sideman, Consul General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region

Last Monday I participated in the dedication of the Holocaust and Liberators Memorial on the grounds of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. I participated in this emotional ceremony along with Ohio Governor John Kasich, who spearheaded the project and shepherded it until its completion this week.

The Holocaust is not a matter of opinion. It is an undisputable historical fact. Holocaust denial is, therefore, a despicable practice rooted in one of the most ancient and ugly form of hatred — anti-Semitism. The fact that Holocaust deniers these days are not always overt neo-Nazis parading around with swastikas, but rather so-called academics operating within established university settings, only makes it all the more troubling.

More after the jump.
I recently read about an adjunct professor at Temple University in Philadelphia who has questioned the number of Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust.

So-called professors who deny the Holocaust are nothing more than wolves in sheep clothing. Their motivations are anything but academic. On the contrary, they are anti-academic in that they seek to deliberately obstruct and distort objective, historic truths. They are driven by hatred and prejudice. They should be called out for what they are and condemned.  

An Unusual Holocaust Film

— by Ronit Treatman

The life of a Jewish dwarf who miraculously survived the Holocaust is the inspiration for a new motion picture project.

The Lilliput will illustrate how Abraham Kerber was able to defeat the odds of surviving the war by using his weaknesses as strengths. This dark fairy tale, which is being shot in Gabin and Lodz, Poland, promises to be one of the most moving new films being produced about the Holocaust.

American stage, television, and movie actor Mark Povinelli will star as “Umchik,” as Abraham was affectionately called. Povinelli was one of the seven dwarves in Mirror, Mirror, and a regular on the television show Are You There, Chelsea?  

More after the jump.
The film will take us back to Poland in 1938. Umchik survived the war by hiding in tiny places that the Nazis did not think to search. He concealed himself in garbage cans in the rail yards and underground in the sewers.

Umchik was a photographer and an ardent Zionist. His best friend was Esther, a Jewish woman who converted to Christianity to marry a gentile. Her family and community disowned her for making this choice, and Abraham remained her only friend. As the war progressed, Umchik and Esther supported and understood each other as no one else could.

When the war was over, Umchik moved to Israel. He settled in Kiryat Tivon, and worked as a journalist and photographer. He died on April 19, 1978, and was buried in Kiryat Tivon. The names of his relatives who perished in the Holocaust were etched on his tombstone. The final inscription reads, “G-d will avenge their blood.”

The script was written by filmmaker, screenwriter and producer Minna Packer. She is a graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, the Pratt Institute, and a Fullbright scholar at the Lodz Film School. She previously directed and produced the documentary Back to Gombin.

For more information, a preview of the movie, and an opportunity to contribute to this project, go to the film’s website.

Life-Affirming Holocaust Painting Draws Attention in Reading

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

What is your reaction to this Holocaust painting by Juliette Aristides?

Now on display in a one woman show Observations at the Reading Public Museum that continues until September 14, the large canvass titled 1945 (Bendheim Remembrance) attracts rapt and immediate attention. Ownership of the painting quietly changed hands during the opening weekend, shortly after Alison Rotenberg brought her husband Dr. Larry Rotenberg MD, a child survivor of the Holocaust, over to see saying: “We’re buying this.” The Rotenbergs plan to temporarily place the work in their Reading, Pennsylvania home, for depth of contemplation and then move it to a more permanent, public venue.

See their interview following the jump, and see Dr. Rotenberg’s article A Child Survivor/Psychiatrist’s Personal Adaption in the Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry.
How do I know all of this? Full disclosure: Juliette Aristides is my step-daughter, though she was an adult when I married her father, Barry Bub, then a family practitioner in Reading, PA. Juliette was born in South Africa, and while yet in her infancy, immigrated with her parents to Reading, PA. Many family members were murdered in Nazi death camps on both the paternal “Bub” and maternal “Bendheim” sides of her lineage. Her long period of research and work on the canvas was encouraged and funded by a surviving branch of the Bendheim family.

Juliette’s usual theme in her art is “beauty” — making this work all the more significant. When I first saw this painting, it was unframed, leaning against a wall in Juliette’s atelier in Seattle. Tears rushed in as I witnessed this new evolution in Holocaust-related art. Even so, since the painting’s inception I had wondered how this interpretation might affect survivors and their loved ones-both here and overseas.

The couple who will take possession of the painting when the show closes, Alison and Larry Rotenberg were willing to be interviewed for this article. They own several other pieces of her work and have known her since childhood when she was an art student. I ask Alison, a retired realtor in the Reading area, what touches her in the imagery, some aspects are so subtle that they can only be discerned by viewing the 49″×72″ oil on canvas work in person.

“It is evocative of so much. On the right hand side of the painting are the crematoria, the smoke, and perhaps the souls going up. Then the two people–he is looking off to the side with that sort of pained expression, with the striped shirt that was so common in the concentration camps. She is much straighter, looking ahead. She steps out, she’s stepping forward…they’re leaving that all behind and the future is ahead. Or he could be one of the prisons and she could represent the future, for as it is said we can light a candle or curse the darkness. We recently went to the 20th anniversary of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Larry and our second son went to the original gathering in Jerusalem around 1981. There are fewer and fewer people alive to attend these things. This painting, it’s for future remembrance.”

Dr. Larry Rotenberg was born in Romania, where his family was walled into the ghetto that was set up for the Jews of Czernowitz. In the fall of 1941, not yet eight years old, along with his family and 200,000 others he endured a forced march to the Ukraine in mid-winter where his beloved parents would die of the extreme conditions in a village turned-internment camp. His sisters foraged for food until two sisters and Larry were shifted to an orphanage in Bucharest by way of Yasi in 1944. From there the youth made their way to Western Russia, Poland, Sweden, Denmark and finally to Canada in 1948. This data I’ve taken from his published article which is a poignant valuable piece for all who wish more understanding of the beautiful, sustaining, early life family remembrances, experiences, reactions and emotional development of a young Holocaust survivor. During our interview, he indicated first meeting his wife in Vancouver, Canada. Still, it is the painting that he wants to speak about on our call:

“The work has a degree of both dread and grandeur. Dread of what they have left behind and the grandeur of their future. It reminds me of Coleridge’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner:
Like one, that on a lonesome road
doth walk in fear and dread.
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend.
Doth close behind him tread.

It sort of summarizes for me what this couple are trying to do, trying to escape from this frightful scene but they can’t quite do it, although they are going into a hopeful future, they still have to take the weight and heaviness with them spiritually and mentally. They will always carry it with them. What is so amazing is that this painting is such a powerful evocation of the spirit of survival of the Holocaust.”

I ask could this image have been received ten, twenty, thirty years ago? Dr. Rotenberg explains:

“The immediacy of the past was still sufficiently there to keep this from occurring. Well, it is so that what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. In a sense this couple carries with them a hope of humanity, a hope of the world. If you go back to the Talmud it teaches that one who saves a life, saves the whole world. This painting captures aspects of that, too. Each human being contains a world that lives within him or her and dies within him or her. Triumph and tragedy are combined in this picture, evocative of the importance of the singularity of human survival.

If you want to be even more symbolic, it is almost like Adam and Eve have re-emerged from being thrown out into the world and have come through a crisis and through the crisis to somehow survive and yet carry the memory. The painting is complex, offering dozens of layers of meaning. The thing about art is that ultimately you like a piece because it speaks to you. It captured Alison and certainly captures me.”

Our call ends, and so I turn to find that section of the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Colerige, a poem my father had me memorize as a youth. Its fullness capturing the essence of our the feelings they’d presented with such unity of vision:

Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

But soon there breathed a wind on me,
Nor sound nor motion made:
Its path was not upon the sea,
In ripple or in shade.

It raised my hair, it fanned my cheek
Like a meadow-gale of spring-
It mingled strangely with my fears,
Yet it felt like a welcoming.

Swiftly, swiftly flew the ship,
Yet she sailed softly too:
wetly, sweetly blew the breeze-
On me alone it blew.

Observations, the solo exhibition of works by Seattle artist Juliette Aristides continues until September 14 at the Reading Public Museum.

An Unknown Country: Documentary on Ecuador’s Jews

— by Ronit Treatman

Exotic, tropical Ecuador is a paradisaical destination for a romantic vacation. But who knew that it was also a refuge for Jews fleeing the Holocaust? They joined the Sephardic community, which had been there since the beginning of the Spanish colonization.

Emmy award-winning producer and writer Eva Zelig has been producing a new documentary about this community’s story, which is also that of her own family, for the last three years. The project was largely financed by a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter.  

Philly Delegation Participates in Holocaust Remembrance Journey

Photos by Shahar Azran, courtesy of FIDF

— by Jen Glantz

Over 100 prominent Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) lay leaders and supporters from the United States and Panama, including a delegation from Philadelphia, were accompanied by over 50 IDF officers as they toured the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp in Poland as part of the ten-day FIDF “From Holocaust to Independence” journey to Poland and Israel.

The delegation visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp, which was the largest of the Nazi’s Concentration Camps. The delegation also listened to the personal story of a Holocaust survivor from Israel, Asher Aud, in Auschwitz 2-Birkenau, where mass exterminations of Jews took place throughout the war.

More after the jump.
Earlier, The delegation toured the town of Tarnów-Zbylitowska Góra, which was home to thousands of Jews at the onset of World War II, who ultimately faced unspeakable suffering at the hands of the Nazis, and the village of Zbylitowska Góra as well as Buczyna Forest, where many Jews, including over 800 children, were executed and buried by the Nazis.

The delegation also visited the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Krakow, an important district in Jewish history and learned about its significant Jewish community that thrived from the 14th Century until the Holocaust. The delegation toured the Krakow Jewish Ghetto, where Jews were forced to live during the Nazi occupation, and saw the remnants of the Krakow Ghetto Wall. Upon arriving to Poland, the delegation enjoyed a celebratory dinner with the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benjamin Gantz.

The delegation, including FIDF supporter Herbert London and his wife Vicki, near the synagogue

The official military ceremony at the Children’s Grave at Zbylitowska Góra

A group of FIDF delegation participants and IDF soldiers, with FIDF National President, Julian Josephson and FIDF National Director and CEO, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon, at the remnants of the Krakow Ghetto Wall

Left to right: FIDF National Director and CEO, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon, IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benjamin Gantz, and FIDF National President, Julian Josephson in Krakow, Poland