• The Holocaust survivor who coached World Cup star Carli Lloyd

    By Gabe Friedman July 7, 2015 12:01am JTA

    Continue reading
  • Blind Israelis March from Auschwitz and Birkenau with Their Guide Dogs

    Jerusalem Post A 28-minute documentary film, “Blind Love,” recounts a trip in 2013 to Poland of a delegation of six blind Israelis who lead the viewer on a different kind…

    Continue reading
  • Playing Music for the March of the Living, Violinist Yevgeny Kutik Writes About March of the Living

    Last week, at the invitation of International March of the Living (MOTL), I traveled to Poland to perform at the Holocaust memorial ceremony, held in Auschwitz- Birkenau. In addition to playing at the Auschwitz ceremony, I performed at a concert honoring the liberators who were the first to enter concentration camps and discover Nazi atrocities. I also visited sites around Poland, including the mass graves near Tykocin and the Treblinka concentration camp. As I flew back to the USA, I found that I was at a loss for words. Without a doubt, this was one of the most profoundly moving weeks of my life, yet at the same time I didn’t quite know what to say. Tykocin is a small village in northeastern Poland. Around the time of WWII it was inhabited by 1800 Jewish residents. Over the course of two days, as the Nazis came in, nearly all the residents of this village were taken to the nearby forest and executed in waves. Three pits were dug and the residents were forced to stand in them as they were shot one group at a time, each standing upon the bodies of the previously shot group. The Treblinka concentration camp was responsible for the death of over 800,000 Jews. This camp was designed to execute thousands within hours of arrival. Mass graves and several cremation pits, one of which survives today, were used to dispose of the dead bodies. Upon visiting each of these sites and hearing details of the indescribable subhuman perversity shown by the Nazis, I would find myself go through the same pattern of thought and emotion: shock, a passionate anger and frankly, hate, sadness, and grief. And then suddenly, on the day of the Yom Hashoah ceremony at Auschwitz, I began to experience hope. In preparation for the ceremony I arrived early and walked the length of the overwhelmingly enormous field at the Birkenau death camp to get to a makeshift stage at the other end. An eerie silence filled the space as I quietly walked by myself. After a week of seeing the remnants of Holocaust atrocities first-hand, I was beset by sadness and confusion. After warming up, I stood off in the wings getting ready to open the Yom Hashoah ceremony with music. As I waited, I suddenly saw the first of over 10,000 people start marching onto the field of Birkenau; many of them young, together with Holocaust survivors, veterans, VIP’s, Jews, and non-Jews all walking arm in arm down the same path countless numbers walked to their deaths. This was hope in physical form – the future, understanding, love, and a commitment to good. Inspired, I went out on stage. As at Auschwitz, both at Tykocin and Treblinka, I pulled out my violin and played. At Tykocin I stood by one of the mass graves and played Ravel’s Kaddish (Click here –http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCXYPEsDFsQ – to watch performance of Ravel’s Kaddish during the March of the Living.) At Treblinka, I stood by the remaining cremation pit and played Kol Nidre at the site were so many were turned to ash. The sound of music cutting through the quiet, hallowed silence said more than I could ever express with words. (To watch performance of Ravel’s Kaddish at the March of the Living, click here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cd0hCjEs1GI What is there to say? These horrific events happened, and they will forever be burned into our history. All we can do now is always remember what happened and work together to make sure such evil and hate never shows its face again. Never again.

    Continue reading
  • Looking Back at the Holocaust, Through a Child’s Eyes

    New York Times by Isabel Kershner JERUSALEM — Jakov Goldstein survived the Holocaust as a child by hiding alone for two…

    Continue reading
  • At the Jewish Museum of Vienna, Enduring Images of Europe

    By: Sarah Wildman, The New York Times   Erich Lessing is one of the foremost chroniclers of 20th-century Europe, known equally well for photographing politicians like Charles de Gaulle, Eastern…

    Continue reading
  • Tracing Jewish Heritage Along the Danube

    The New York Times  By Lisa Schwarzbaum Like many who share my hair texture and fondness for rugelach, I am the descendant of Jewish forebears who boarded boats in the first half of the 20th century to escape bad times for our people in Central and Eastern Europe. These intrepid emigrants took to the water, settled in America and built a Jewish-American culture of creative assimilation. I owe them my life. Like about a third of the 120 or so fellow travelers with whom I spent seven nights on the Danube River last November, I boarded a boat called the AmaPrima in Budapest to float back to some of the same places so many of those same emigrants were — history has confirmed — lucky to leave behind. I was bound on a Jewish heritage tour, combining two growing travel trends: roots and rivers. In my case, the combination was a special-interest option laid over a popular Danube itinerary that AmaWaterways has been offering since the company entered the river-cruise market in 2002. On the water, we were all in the same boat as it powered from the Hungarian capital of Budapest to Bratislava, Slovakia; Vienna, Linz and Salzburg, all in Austria; and, finally, Regensburg and Nuremberg, in Bavaria, Germany. The AmaPrima cruise ship in Bratislava, Slovakia, top, one of the stops on the Jewish heritage tour along the Danube. Credit Akos Stiller for The New York Times. Each day, we shared the same abundant (nonkosher) meals and modest smartphone- and tablet-photography skills. Each night we repaired to our similar small, sweet, meticulously plumped cabins. (Our vessel could hold a maximum of 164 passengers.) And we all relaxed together each cocktail hour — mostly couples, mostly in their 50s to 70s, and mostly North Americans, along with some stray vacationers from England, Ireland, Australia and China — in the same pleasant lounge, with its big picture windows. Together, we admired the luxe bed linens, the Wi-Fi in every room, the bottomless free glasses of wine, the outdoor hot tub, the on-board gift shop, the minuscule hair salon and gym area, the all-inclusive pricing. But when we stepped onto dry land in a different city each day, with local guides and buses synchronized to meet us, each traveler could choose between a Jewish heritage tour or a more standard city tour. (Independent exploration was also an option.) And we who had booked our trips in honor of our roots would, for a few hours, explore paths haunted by ghosts. We would step into cemeteries with tumbled headstones. We would admire the very few synagogues that remain — so beautiful in Budapest, so stately in Vienna! — and listen to tales of the hundreds more destroyed. We would peer at old photographs and study rescued personal objects confiscated from the disappeared and today reverently displayed in glass cases. Each day we walked the streets of a Jewish heritage now effectively devoid of Jews, and we listened as guides described to us what used to be and is no more, along with tempered reports of precarious Jewish life as it exists today. Then, as darkness set in, we returned to the boat to reunite with fellow passengers who had spent the day on the cruise line’s default tour of gentile European culture. The Chatam Sofer Memorial, formerly the Old Jewish Cemetery, in Bratislava.Credit Akos Stiller for The New York Times. For a week, under the friendly efficiency of the cruise manager, Dragan Reljic, we clinked aperitif glasses of Hungarian, Austrian or German liqueur in friendly toasts to historic beauty, both original and rebuilt following war after war, century after century. Then we freshened up for another dinner banquet, warmed by the pleasurable, high-end comforts of our Danube holiday. This is the only way I can begin this story. The weight of your emotional baggage may vary. Budapest is an eminently logical place to start the search. Draped on both sides of the Danube, the city is home, still, to one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe, shrunken as it is. Not insignificantly, the river is also wide enough — and the docking availability commodious enough — to handle the current explosion in river-cruise tourism. Not for nothing has AmaWaterways increased its fleet to 19 vessels in 2015, while the industry leader, Viking River Cruises, will run 60 river ships with 25 itineraries this year. Along with a handful of others who would become my shipmates, I opted for an organized predeparture extension of two nights in Budapest before we embarked. That way, I could visit the imposing Moorish-style Dohany Street Synagogue, the largest active synagogue in Europe today. (It is, for that matter, the second largest in the world, after Temple Emanu-El in New York City.) As substantial as Dohany Street Synagogue is, though, it paled in emotional resonance compared with the effect of Shoes on the Danube Bank, a memorial by the sculptor Gyula Pauer and the filmmaker Can Togay. This simple, quietly heartbreaking permanent installation of 60 pairs of empty shoes, cast in iron on the Pest side of the Danube embankment, is a memorial to thousands of victims of Hungary’s own fascist Arrow Cross, in 1944-45. Men, women and children were relieved of their footwear, lined up and shot dead so that their bodies would fall into the Danube and wash away. Art puts our feet where they once stood. In the Stadttempel synagogue in Vienna, with the bar mitzvah of Nathan Baranow taking place in November. Credit Akos Stiller for The New York Times.   Click HERE to read the full article. 

    Continue reading
  • March of the Living 2015

    J-Wire 70 years after the end of the Second World War 11,000 participants, both Jews and non-Jews, joined the 27th March of the Living from Auschwitz to Birkenau. Coming from over 45 countries, they took part in the annual march from the gates of Auschwitz to a commemoration ceremony at Birkenau following a week’s preparation in Poland during which they learned the universal lessons of the Holocaust including the importance of fighting hatred, intolerance, racism and fascism. To date over 220,000 young people have taken part in the March of the Living since 1988. This year saw delegations from, among others, the United States, Canada, UK, Mexico, Panama, Greece, Australia, Morocco, France, Austria, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa with each delegation accompanied by a Holocaust survivor who tell their personal story. The March of he Living was attended this year by the Minister of Education and Women’s Affairs of Austria, Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek, and the Ambassador of the United States to the United Nations in Geneva, Ambassador Keith Harper, who lit two of the six torches at the end of the ceremony. The march was opened by the sound of the Shofar and Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, Chairman of the March of the Living, who said, “Let us march against intolerance, against hate and for a better future for all humanity.” His Holiness Pope Francis sent a special message to the March of the Living: “I ask you to convey to the organizers of the March of Living my closeness to them and their mission. All the efforts for fighting in favor of life are praiseworthy and have to be supported without any kind of discrimination. For this reason I am very close to these initiatives, that are not only against death but also against the thousands of discriminatory phobias that enslave and kill. I thank them for all their doings, and pray to the Lord a blessing for them in this struggle for life, equality and dignity. The President of the State of Israel, President Rivlin, also sent this message: “Even though 70 years have passed we did not forget and we will never forget that horrible chapter in the history of mankind. The March of the Living is proof of the everlasting connection between the past and the future. Today, as you all come together and march from Auschwitz to Birkenau, Jews and non-Jews alike you show the world what this connection really means. Young adults walking side by side with the last of the survivors who were here exactly 70 years ago. Bring life into the stories, the stories of those who were murdered for being Jewish, for being different. I turn to you young adults and urge you to cherish this moment. The survivors are now passing to you the torch of life, of belief, of standing strong. Hold this torch high to ensure that even if there are no more survivors living among us their memory will always be part of our life and will never fade away…We build our future with eyes wide open and alert to the threats. Nevertheless the horrors of the past and the threats of the present will not dictate our lives nor shape the lives of our children. We forever work for a better future.” This year, as every year, the March of the Living was led by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Yafo who is himself a child survivor. Rabbi Lau spoke at the main ceremony and said, “We cannot forget and we cannot forgive. We cannot forget because there are expressions of anti-Semitism and hatred which remind us daily, there are expressions of destruction of a state. We cannot forgive because we have no authority to forgive, the victims didn’t give us that mandate. In the death camps there was no discrimination by origin, tribe or opinion when they killed us all because we were Jewish. If we could all die together we must know the secret to live together in peace, unity and brotherhood. We owe our survival to their memory.” Holocaust survivor Sigmund Rolat addressed the students saying: “We have all gathered here to remember. From all sides, we are called upon not to forget. But why should we remember at all? If I had a choice I would prefer NOT to remember. Not to remember the Czestochowa Ghetto where my family and I, then a child, were imprisoned. Not to remember the killings of my father and mother, of my brother and family members, of my Polish nanny Elka who chose to remain in the ghetto because she loved a Jewish child – me. Not to remember the daily humiliation, the routine of murder, the hunger, the cold, and the numbing knowledge that we are powerless and alone. I would prefer not to have these memories – but I do not have the choice. Why then choose memory if you are not forced to? I can think of four reasons. The first is simple solidarity. If you choose my memories, this means that we together are no longer with them alone. Each time we reach out to the legacy of horror, we make a crack in the ghetto wall, a breach in the barbed wire. Not that we can tear them down – it is 70 years too late for that. Walls built with blood and death survive their physical downfall. They need to be pulled down day by day by remembering. The second is simple decency. The Germans had managed not only to murder the six million: they murdered also the memories of them ever having existed. True, the great majority of those then killed would have passed away by now – even had there been no Shoah. But they would have lived on in the memories of their children and friends, in the record of the achievements and even failures of their lives. The Shoah eliminated all that as well. Your remembrance is their only chance. The third reason is simple fear. It is an illusion to believe that Auschwitz can be forgotten simply because the right side won the war. Auschwitz remains with us forever always waiting to be realized again. Do not believe the magic incantation of “Never again”: it HAS happened again. Think of Bosnia, Sudan, Rwanda. In different ways, to different peoples – but it has. The Shoah remains unique in the sense it was unprecedented. But all genocides are tragic in their own ways, and remembering them is the first step to preventing their recurrence. Remembering is, after all, the least we can do. And so we stand here in solidarity, mourning and fear. Our unity is rooted not only in our Jewish peoplehood which we share with those whom we remember today. Their Jewishness was not incidental to their fate: it determined it. But our unity today encompasses all, Jews and non-Jews, who remember, grieve and mourn – and participate in our solidarity. In a world in which once again there are places where it is not safe to be Jewish, today’s meeting assumes an added dimension. For Poland on whose occupied soil the Germans had placed the abomination of Auschwitz is today a place where it is safe to be a Jew. Poland now embraces its small but thriving Jewish community. Our history is cherished in the Polin Museum which has recently opened in Warsaw. And next to the Museum we shall build a monument to those Poles who – like my Elka – risked their lives to save Jews from the chimneys of Auschwitz. From the ghetto walls of Czestochowa. From the Abyss. And our gratitude towards them is the fourth reason to remember. God bless you and your memories.”  

    Continue reading
  • What ISIS Really Wants

    The Atlantic By Graeme Wood  What is the Islamic State? Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors. The group seized Mosul, Iraq, last June, and already rules an area larger than the United Kingdom. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been its leader since May 2010, but until last summer, his most recent known appearance on film was a grainy mug shot from a stay in U.S. captivity at Camp Bucca during the occupation of Iraq. Then, on July 5 of last year, he stepped into the pulpit of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, to deliver a Ramadan sermon as the first caliph in generations—upgrading his resolution from grainy to high-definition, and his position from hunted guerrilla to commander of all Muslims. The inflow of jihadists that followed, from around the world, was unprecedented in its pace and volume, and is continuing. Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world. The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million. We have misunderstood the nature of the Islamic State in at least two ways. First, we tend to see jihadism as monolithic, and to apply the logic of al‑Qaeda to an organization that has decisively eclipsed it. The Islamic State supporters I spoke with still refer to Osama bin Laden as “Sheikh Osama,” a title of honor. But jihadism has evolved since al-Qaeda’s heyday, from about 1998 to 2003, and many jihadists disdain the group’s priorities and current leadership. Bin Laden viewed his terrorism as a prologue to a caliphate he did not expect to see in his lifetime. His organization was flexible, operating as a geographically diffuse network of autonomous cells. The Islamic State, by contrast, requires territory to remain legitimate, and a top-down structure to rule it. (Its bureaucracy is divided into civil and military arms, and its territory into provinces.) We are misled in a second way, by a well-intentioned but dishonest campaign to deny the Islamic State’s medieval religious nature. Peter Bergen, who produced the first interview with bin Laden in 1997, titled his first book Holy War, Inc. in part to acknowledge bin Laden as a creature of the modern secular world. Bin Laden corporatized terror and franchised it out. He requested specific political concessions, such as the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia. His foot soldiers navigated the modern world confidently. On Mohamed Atta’s last full day of life, he shopped at Walmart and ate dinner at Pizza Hut. Click HERE to continue reading.

    Continue reading