Bnei and Bnot Mitzvah and the Quest for Meaning

By Richelle Budd Caplan

Yad Vashem

As a mother, I know first-hand about the special bond between siblings. Although they are ultimately individuals with different personalities, they remain linked in a meaningful way that is often difficult to describe in words – especially when they have developed their own form of communication that others in their orbit are not privy to comprehend.

(Courtesy of Yad Vashem)

Developing meaningful links, whether between siblings or friends, is an important part of childhood and maturation. Over the years, a number of international barmitzvah programs have been initiated in an effort to cultivate meaningful connections among Jewish people. For instance, the well-known Jewish social action project in the 1970s and 1980s to bar/bat mitzvah with your “twin” in the Former Soviet Union. These twinning ceremonies at the time acknowledged that not all Jewish children were free to celebrate their coming of age and raised awareness about the “Jewish refuseniks” behind the Iron Curtain. Some of these Jewish youngsters even wore bracelets engraved with the names of the refuseniks who were in Soviet jails, such as Ida Nudel; Yuli Edelstein; Anatoly Sharansky (who we know as Natan Sharansky) and others. Following the massive exodus of Soviet Jewry approximately thirty years ago, breaking these bracelets had special meaning for those who had bonded with them on their respective wrists.

Yad Vashem has launched a unique twinning bar/bat mitzvah program that has been successful in providing scores of young people with a memorable experience by connecting with Jewish children who were unable to have a bar/bat mitzvah during the Holocaust. Although this twinning program has been successfully undertaken, some families have concerns.

Jalen Schlosberg receives a certificate from Cynthia Wroclawski, Manager of the Shoah Victims’ Names Recovery Project, during his Bar Mitzvah celebration, at the Synagogue in Yad Vashem Jerusalem (Courtesy of Yad Vashem)

Recently a Hebrew school teacher who attended a professional development seminar in Yad Vashem related that one of her pupils who was enrolled in this twinning program wanted to discontinue his participation because his parents were concerned that it was too depressing. In the eyes of his parents, their child’s time would be better spent playing sports. This example is not unique, unfortunately.

On the basis of recent surveys, a significant number of millennials and Gen Z are unable to name a single German Nazi concentration camp or ghetto. This lack of knowledge severs yet another bond between the Jewish people and the younger generations. Yet, despite this concern, and perhaps because of it, some Jewish parents still want their children around bar/bat mitzvah age to learn about the Holocaust.

So how can we convince families that the study of the Holocaust will not traumatize or depress their children? How do we encourage young adults that this subject matter can imbue their lives with meaning, especially by learning about the many stories of courage and sacrifice made by “their people” during the Holocaust?

(Courtesy of Yad Vashem)

Every generation has often modified celebrations of rites of passage in Jewish tradition depending on the circumstances of the given place and time – especially in periods of danger and persecution. Emphasizing how Jewish families sought to celebrate and observe Jewish rituals and holidays, despite great risk, can encourage young people to connect with their history. After all, many Jewish youngsters who lost their families and communities struggled to maintain traditional customs and never had a bar/bat mitzvah ceremony during the Holocaust. In the words of Itzhak Reznik, “My parents were religious, but by the time I turned thirteen, I didn’t know I was supposed to be celebrating. All I wanted to do was survive.”  The lack of food, religious articles, and places of worship made it extremely difficult to celebrate festivals and ceremonies.

(Courtesy of Yad Vashem)

For example, Tomi Reichental was born in 1935 in Piestany, Slovakia. He and his family were sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1944. On 18 December  1944, it was Tomi’s brother’s thirteenth birthday. Tomi remembers that “the small stove in the corner of the room had wood burning in it. Mysteriously, several potatoes appeared which were sliced and put on the stove to bake.” He recalls that a family friend entered the room, carrying a piece of black bread that had been cut in slices, spread with margarine and layered to resemble a cream cake. According to Tomi, their friend saved her rations for at least two days which meant that she went hungry to give some happiness to his family. He states that, “The gloom lifted and celebratory humor ensued with mazel tov wishes, embraces, kisses and well-wishing from friends. This is how my brother crossed from childhood to adulthood.” Tomi, along with his mother, aunt and brother, survived the Holocaust, and moved to Ireland after the war.

A Survivor’s Testimony. Tomi Reichental addressing students about the Holocaust.

Bilha Shefer was born in Germany in 1932, and after Kristallnacht or the Night of Broken Glass in 1938, escaped with her family to the Netherlands, where they were eventually deported to the Westerbork transit camp. From Westerbork, they were sent to Bergen-Belsen and eventually released via a one-time prisoner exchange in which Jews were exchanged for German Templers. 

Upon arriving in Bergen-Belsen, Bilha remembers that her mother gathered the family and pulled out a jar of strawberry jam that she liked. According to Bilha, everyone was surprised by this rare treasure. Bilha’s mother proudly proclaimed: “Mazal Tov – it’s your bat mitzvah, your birthday.”  Bilha’s mother had hidden the jar in her bag throughout their journey in order to celebrate Bilha’s bat mitzvah.

Yosef “Tommy” Lapid‘s bar mitzvah took place during the height of the Nazi occupation of Budapest.

Tommy recalls how a perfume bottle was broken to mark his bar mitzvah, thrown to the ground by his mother in an act of resistance, to preserve the integrity of her family: harkening back to a more refined past and to hold fast to the humanity that had been stripped away from them. Surviving the Shoah with his mother, Tommy would later, following a successful career in journalism, serve as Israel’s Minister of Justice and Deputy Prime Minister. His son, Yair Lapid is today Alternate Prime Minister of Israel and Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Tommy Lapid reporting from the trial of Adolph  Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961

Ultimately, most teenage Holocaust victims never had an opportunity to celebrate their bar/bat mitzvah. Some Holocaust survivors have had special bar mitzvah ceremonies in their golden years at the Western Wall or in neighborhood synagogues as part of their need to find closure and celebrate this rite of passage as part of their Jewish identity.

For example, Yaacov Wexler, a member of Yad Vashem’s staff, had his bar mitzvah in Yad Vashem’s synagogue. Wexler, a baby at the time that he was rescued by Polish Catholic parents, decided to return to the Jewish people over a decade ago and live in Israel. Wexler’s bar mitzvah was celebrated in the presence of another young Polish-Jewish boy who survived the Holocaust – Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council. Bar/bat mitzvah children may be encouraged to learn about the story of Yaacov Wexler, a Holocaust survivor who decided to reconnect to his Jewish roots.

(Courtesy of Yad Vashem)

Robert Powell‘s mother escaped Nazi persecution in Europe, keeping her Jewish identity a secret to her US-born children. At the age of sixty-five, Robert decided to have a bar mitzvah ceremony after he discovered his family roots.  In Robert’s words, my ancestors had a “determination to keep alive our Jewish heritage. Our legacy. Our Jewishness. It only remains for me to honor them by living fully and openly…”

Bar/bat mitzvah programs can provide an opportunity to embark on a personal, meaningful journey. For instance, a few years ago, a Jewish family in the New York area turned to Yad Vashem to mark their daughter’s bat mitzvah by twinning with a Holocaust victim. The bat mitzvah girl requested to know more about her twin’s family. After examining the Pages of Testimony, the family asked Yad Vashem to connect them with the twin’s surviving relatives in Israel. As a result, the two families became close. Since the Israeli family had a son studying in the United States, the bat mitzvah girl invited him to attend her celebration. He did. Entering the event hall, he saw a beautifully framed certificate featuring his aunt’s name. In her speech, the bat mitzvah girl told her guests the story of her adopted twin, and how this Page of Testimony enhanced her bat mitzvah preparations. Through Yad Vashem’s twinning program, this Jewish American family not only fostered a connection with a Holocaust victim but also developed a direct relationship with an Israeli family.

(Courtesy of Yad Vashem)

Yad Vashem hopes that its twinning program will further encourage bar/bat mitzvah aged youths to learn more about the vibrant tapestry of Jewish life before the Holocaust and become inspired by Holocaust survivors’ stories of resilience. This educational process can have a positive impact on bar/bat mitzvah children who are building their “Jewish bedrock”, committing themselves to Jewish continuity and embarking on a life-long quest for meaning.

About the writer:

Richelle Budd Caplan

Living in Israel since 1993, Richelle Budd Caplan is Director of International Relations and Projects of the International School for Holocaust Studies of Yad Vashem. A graduate of Brandeis University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with many articles on Holocaust education widely published, Caplan is an active member of the Israeli delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and has developed Holocaust-related projects with numerous international organizations and institutions.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

May you Live Long and be Prosecuted

At 100, Herbert Wahler has outlived other Germans listed as members of the genocidal Einsatzgruppe C. His age should not shield him from accountability.

(Courtesy of Times of Israel, where article first appeared)

By Efraim Zuroff

This past Friday, Herbert Wahler celebrated his 100th birthday. Quite an achievement for a German, who spent a significant part of World War II serving on the Eastern front in the Ukraine. Yet upon closer examination of Wahler’s service record, it’s not that surprising, since, for a significant part of the conflict, Wahler was not dodging bullets shot at him by Red Army soldiers, but rather contributing to the efforts of Einsatzgruppe C to mass murder innocent Jews and other “enemies of the Reich.”

“No, No, No”. Footage captures the chilling moment when aging suspected Nazi death squad guard Herbert Wahler animatedly denies the claims he was present at a mass execution during WWII in the Ukraine.

Einsatzgruppe C was one of the four special killing squads, labeled A, B, C, and D, the Nazis sent in June 1941, along with the Wehrmacht troops invading the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa, to begin the mass murder of Jews, even before the formal decree of the “Final Solution” was officially adopted at the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942. They spread out over the entire territory, with A responsible for the former Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia; B in charge in Belarus; C active in central Ukraine and D in southern Ukraine. In the course of 1941-1943, these units, which numbered approximately 3,000 men, with assistance from members of the Wehrmacht, German police units, and local collaborators, were responsible for the mass murder by shooting of approximately 2 million persons, among them 1.3 million Jews.

Mass Murder Unearthed. A 1944 file photo of part of the Babi Yar ravine at the outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine where the advancing Red Army unearthed the bodies of 14,000 civilians killed by fleeing Nazis, 1944. Einsatzgruppe C was responsible for one of the most notorious massacres, the shooting of nearly 34,000 at Babi Yar, a ravine northwest of the Ukrainian city of Kiev, on Sept. 29-30, 1941. (AP Photo, file)

Wahler served initially in a Waffen-S.S. unit, which in late July 1941 was assigned to Einsatzgruppen C. The unit went from place to place murdering tens of thousands of innocent civilians, most of whom were Jewish, and by the end of October 1941 had killed an estimated 78,000 people, and carried out the largest mass murder in the history of the Holocaust, the September 29-30 massacre of 33,771 Jews in Babi Yar, a ravine on the outskirts of Kiev.

Walk of Death. Jews on their way out of the city of Kiev to the infamous execution site of Babi Yar outside of Kiev, pass corpses in the street. (Photo: Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives)

Despite the extremely important role played by the Einsatzgruppen in the Holocaust, relatively few of those who carried out the murders were brought to justice. The Americans conducted a trial of 24 of the senior leaders of the units, and two-thirds of the defendants were sentenced to death (14) or life imprisonment (2), but only four men were executed. All the others who were convicted had their sentences reduced. (Four others were tried and executed by other countries.) Only about 100 men were subsequently indicted in West Germany, a few were convicted and given mild sentences, and none were executed.

Evil under the Sun. SS guards are seen here having fun at Sobibor not far from the gas chambers where the incoming Jews were gassed soon after arrival.  Sobibor was an extermination camp rather than a concentration camp  and existed for the sole purpose of murdering Jews.

Given those circumstances, I was expecting that in the wake of the dramatic change a decade ago in German prosecution policy vis-à-vis Nazi war criminals, which made it possible to convict those who served in death camps and/or camps with gas chambers or gas vans, or camps with a high mortality rate, based on service alone (as opposed to the previous requirement of proving a specific crime against a specific victim), it would now be possible to convict people who served in the Einsatzgruppen. In fact, shortly after the Demjanjuk verdict [John Demjanjuk was convicted as an accessory  to the murder of 27,900 Jews at Sobibor], I met in 2011 with the directors of the Central Office for the Clarification of Nazi Crimes (the federal German agency which initiates Nazi war crimes investigations) to discuss the issue, and they confirmed that indeed they had adopted that policy.

Escaped Punishment. Finally some justice – if only a little and too late and even then, not quite! John Demjanjuk, who served as guard at Sobibor, leaves court on 12 May 2011 after being sentenced for involvement in mass murder. However, he appealed, and died at a home for the elderly in  Germany on 17 March 2012, aged 91. As a consequence of his appeal not having been heard, Demjanjuk is still presumed innocent under German law.

That did not happen, however, so three years later, in the fall of 2014, I checked the Wiesenthal Center archives for all the names of people who served in the Einsatzgruppen, for whom we had a date of birth. We had a total of 1,293 names (out of about 2,950) of those who served in A, B, C, or D, of which we had dates of birth for 1,069. Of those, 80 people, 76 men and four women, were born in 1920 or later. On September 1, 2014, I sent that list, which included Herbert Wahler’s name, to the German Justice Minister, Heiko Maas; and the Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maiziere. It took the German authorities 17 months to check the list, which they informed me included three people alive in Germany, all of whom had served in Einsatzgruppe C.

Last Jew Executed. A picture from an Einsatzgruppen soldier’s personal album, labeled on the back as “Last Jew of Vinnitsa”. It shows a member of Einsatzgruppe C just about to shoot a Jewish man kneeling before a filled mass grave in Vinnitsa, Ukraine, in 1941. All 28,000 Jews from Vinnitsa and its surrounding areas were massacred at the time.

I received the news with a mixture of joy and trepidation. Joy that at least three were alive, trepidation that they might not live long enough to be prosecuted – which is why I sometimes find myself praying for the good health of Nazis who might be prosecuted). In the meantime, my fears turned out to be well-founded and Kurt Gosdek and Wilhelm Karl Friedrich Hoffmeister have already died without being brought to justice. Although Wahler has admitted in media interviews that he was in Kiev during the massacre, the prosecutor in Kassel closed his case, probably because Wahler claims that he was a medic, leaving unanswered the question of who it was he was assisting, the perpetrators or the victims.

Killing outside Kiev. A German Einsatzgruppen soldier talks to two unidentified women at the top of the Babi Yar ravine, where more than 33,000 people, mostly Jews, were massacred on September 29 and 30, 1941.

So last Friday, a demonstration was held in front of Wahler’s house in Meslungen by members of the Dokumentartheaters Berlin and the AK Angreifbare Traditionspflege, and members of the Liberal Jewish community in nearby Felsberg to demand that justice be served. My message to them, which was read at the demonstration, was simple:

The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the murderers and their accomplices. And old age should not afford protection for merciless killers.”

Killer of Civilians. Herbert Wahler pictured here in his army uniform served initially in a Waffen-S.S. unit, which in late July 1941 was assigned to Einsatzgruppen C, one of the four special killing squads. The Einsatzgruppen were the Nazis’ opening salvo in the Holocaust – SS units who followed behind the regular army as it pushed into the Soviet Union in 1941, murdering tens of thousands of innocent civilians, most of whom were Jewish.

Herbert Wahler may think that “What has been, has been, it’s over,” as he told the ARD journalists from Kontraste, but as long as any of the men and women from the Einsatzgruppen, death’s head units, and anyone who served in the concentration camps where so many innocent human beings were murdered are alive, they cannot be allowed to live their lives in peace and tranquility. That is a privilege they denied their victims.

They must be held accountable!

Even if they were not officers or did not have high ranks. In death squads and death camps, there is no such thing as “a small cog”. It’s the “small cogs”, who ensured the implementation of the “Final Solution”, and they must be held accountable.”

About the writer:

Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of the Center’s Israel Office and Eastern European Affairs.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Broken Glass, Shattered Lives

Commemorating the shrill sounds 83 years ago that heralded the destruction of European Jewry

By David E. Kaplan

After this, the future is grim; we have nowhere to go; nobody wants us.”

These were the chilling words expressed over the phone by  Germany’s leading Rabbi of the 1930s, Dr. Leo Baeck,  to New York Times Berlin Bureau correspondent, C. Brooks Peters.

It was 9.30am on November 10th, 1938 when Peters was broadcasting live, having just spent nearly “nine horrendous hours” following Nazi stormtroopers. Looking upon an iconic monumental synagogue ablaze, the correspondent so overcome by what he was witnessing predicted “it probably will turn out to be the worst pogrom in Western history.”

How right he was!

Historians view Kristallnacht (9 & 10 November 1938), as a prelude to the Final Solution and the murder of over six million Jews.

If ever there was any false hope that Jews had a future in Europe, that hope was ‘shattered’ on the night of November 9, 1938 to the sounds of breaking glass shattering the air in cities throughout Germany against a flaming backdrop of synagogues and Jewish institutions going up in smoke.

Street Savagery. Germans pass by the broken shop window of a Jewish-owned business that was destroyed during Kristallnacht. (US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park)

It was the prelude to the Jews of Europe going ‘up in smoke’!

By the end of the rampage, gangs of Nazi storm troopers  – aided and abetted by civilians only too eager to join in the carnage – had destroyed 7,000 Jewish businesses, set fire to more than 900 synagogues, killed 91 Jews and deported some 30,000 Jewish men to concentration camps. Nazis and their multitude of willing collaborators, transformed a European landscape rich in culture into one devoid of “culture”. How else could one make sense of European or Western culture when reading an eyewitness report of a U.S official in Leipzig to the State Department describing the atrocities:

 “Having demolished dwellings and hurled most of the moveable effects to the streets, the insatiably sadistic perpetrators threw many of the trembling inmates into a small stream that flows through the zoological park, commanding horrified spectators to spit at them, defile them with mud and jeer at their plight.”

In the wake of the death and destruction, Reich Minister of Propaganda  Joseph Goebbels announced:

 “We shed not a tear for them [the Jews.]”

Descent of a Nation. These were not uniformed Nazis but youths attacking Jewish shops on Kristallnacht. The savage Nazi philosophy has gripped the German nation.

He went on to comment on the destruction of synagogues saying, “They stood in the way long enough. We can use the space made free more usefully than as Jewish fortresses.”

Kristallnacht provided the Nazis with an opportunity to advance their War on the Jews already well on the way. The assassination two days earlier of a German diplomat by a 17-year-old German-born Polish Jew was simply a pretext to unleash the pogrom that would culminate in the Shoah. The history of the Jews over the past 2000 years, reveals no shortage of PRETEXT followed by POGROM!

Targeting Jews. A destroyed Jewish shoe store looted and destroyed in Vienna on November 10, 1938 (Foto: Wiener Library/DöW F. Nr. 6392)

Taking its name from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after the smashed windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings and synagogues, “Kristallnacht” (literally “Crystal Night”)  triggered a barrage – salvo after salvo of regulations and policies aimed mostly at Jews. On November 15th, only 5 days after Kristallnacht, Jewish children were barred from attending school. Within the week, the Nazis had circulated a letter declaring that Jewish businesses could not be reopened unless they were to be managed by non-Jews and shortly afterwards, the Nazis issued the “Decree on Eliminating the Jews from German Economic Life”, which prohibited Jews from selling goods or services anywhere, from engaging in crafts work, from serving as the managers of any firms, and from being members of cooperatives. In addition, the Nazis determined that the Jews should be liable for the damages caused during Kristallnacht. In other words, Jews were responsible for Kristallnacht and hence must pay for it!

Sweep Away. A young man with a broom prepares to clear up the broken window glass from a Jewish shop in Berlin, the day after the “Kristallnacht” rampage. (AP Photo/File)

Reporting on the events of Kristallnacht, the following account by Otto D. Tolischus also of the New York Times was revealing:

A wave of destruction, looting and incendiaries [fires] unparalleled in Germany since the Thirty Years War …..

Beginning systematically in the early morning hours in almost every town and city in the country, the wrecking, looting and burning continued all day. Huge but mostly silent crowds looked on and the police confined themselves to regulating traffic and making wholesale arrests of Jews “for their own protection.”

All day the main shopping districts as well as the side streets of Berlin and innumerable other places resounded to the shattering of shop windows falling to the pavement, the dull thuds of furniture and burning shops and synagogues. Although shop fires were quickly extinguished, synagogue fires were merely kept from spreading to adjoining buildings.”

Front Page Carnage.  Despite large headlines appearing on the front pages of major newspapers concerning the attacks on Jews in Germany known as Kristallnacht, the world mostly ignored and turned their backs on the plight of the Jews.

And how did the world react?

While there was outrage in newspapers around the world,  this did not translate into action. Diplomats failed to send concrete demands or proposals for action to their home governments. “They were waiting and deceptively hoping that they could somehow come to terms with the Nazi regime,” said Hermann Simon who was the director of the Centrum Judaicum for 27 years up until 2015. Simon collected reports written by diplomats from 20 countries who were stationed in Germany in 1938.

To No Avail. Tapping into deep soulful American history of the “Mayflower”, cartoonist Cecil Jensen in the Chicago Daily News for November 23, 1938, pleads for world leaders, following Kristallnacht, to help Europe’s

Despite the reports describing the events as “Cultural barbarism”,  “the response to the reports,” says Simon, “was relatively low.” Typical of this position was when Britain’s Parliament asked Neville Chamberlain to condemn the pogrom. The Prime Minister simply said that newspaper reports were “substantially correct”, adding “deep and widespread sympathy” for those who were “to suffer so severely” for the “senseless crime committed in Paris”, thus buying into the Nazi pretext rather than their policy.

The world’s lame reaction was hardly a surprise as Kristallnacht followed only by a few months after the Évian Conference convened 6–15 July 1938 at Évian-les-Bains, France, to address the problem of German and Austrian Jewish refugees wishing to flee Nazi persecution. Almost all of the 32 countries represented at the Conference agreed that there was a growing German Jewish refugee problem, and expressed sympathy for those persecuted.

However, few offered to extend their quotas or contribute to a practical solution!

In the end, almost no real action resulted from the conference.

The Evian Conference clarified ‘CRYSTAL” clear for the Nazis that although countries may not have approved of their persecution of the Jews, they would not actively take any steps against them, or go out of their way to help the Jews.

Public Humiliation to Mass Murder. Jewish women in Linz, Austria are exhibited in public with a cardboard sign stating ‘I have been excluded from the national community (Volksgemeinschaft)’, during the anti-Jewish pogrom known as Kristallnacht, November 1938. (Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)

The message in July was clear – the Nazis had a free hand to do what it wanted with its Jews.

The result in November was inevitable – Kristallnacht.

With global complicity, the pieces were positioning towards the “Final Solution”.

Thankfully today there is a haven for Jews – an  Israel that heeds warnings and responds. In sharp contrast to the sound of broken glass heard over two days in November 1938 heralding the slaughter to follow, the sound of breaking of glass in Israel today, marks instead the culmination of wedding ceremonies when bridegrooms steps on a glass inside a cloth bag to shatter it.

The result – the Jewish population of Israel is souring nearing seven million.

If the shrill sound of breaking glass once signaled the demise of Jewry, today it joyously presages its flourishing life!

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

En Guard!

Top Chilean newspaper pays tribute to Nazi leader Hermann Göring  –


By David E. Kaplan

As a Jew staring at this full page illustrated article in a South American newspaper one feels compelled to ask:


Not so must why ‘the article’ was written – although that’s a fair question  – but rather why should one of the largest newspapers in Chile publish it?  After all, it was more than just a featured article about a high-profile character from the Second World War but  a tribute, replete with homely photographs to none other than a monster responsible for the death of millions of Jews –  Hitler’s right hand man, Hermann Göring.

Eulogising a Nazi. Part of the 2-page spread in Chili’s largest newspaper El Mercurio on Hermann Göring  on the ‘occasion’ of the 75th anniversary of his death.

What a sad sign of the times! After some eight decades after the Holocaust, antisemitism is being freely expressed publicly and violently. Classic anti-Semitic tropes like “Jews to the gas” and “Hitler should have finished the job” are common in conversation and print.

Add to this toxic amalgam, Jews are being physically attacked and murdered. 

Only this week in France, two men went on trial over the horrific murder in 2018 of an elderly Jewish woman, Mireille Knoll. Having escaped the notorious roundup and deportation of Jews in Paris in 1942, Knoll would  in  2018 be butchered and burned instead at her home in Paris for the same reason – because she was a Jew! One of the accused had been heard “talking about Jews’ money and their wealth” and that he shouted “Allahu Akbar” while stabbing her eleven times before setting her apartment on fire.

Death in Paris. 85-year-old Mireille Knoll survived the Holocaust only to be murdered at home in Paris – only because she was a Jew!

So, instead of boarding a train and ending in the ovens in Auschwitz, she ended up with the same fate at home.  

Again, earlier this year, Kobili Traoré, a Muslim of Malian origin murdered Sarah Halimi, his Jewish neighbour, a 65-year-old, former kindergarten director by throwing her out her from her flat in north-east Paris. While the attack lasted between 20 and 30 minutes with  Traoré chanting verses from the Koran and shouting “Allahu Akbar”  (God is greatest), he escaped a trial because it was said he was high on marijuana. Whether high or not, it was a low point in French justice – when again it comes to Jews.

French Justice! Top French court declined to prosecute Jewish woman’s killer because he was on weed. Sarah Halimi was beaten before she was thrown off her Paris apartment building’s roof in April 2017. (Courtesy of the Halimi family)

Is it any wonder we are hearing so much French these days on the streets of Israel?

The ‘tribute feature’ which appeared on the Oct. 24, 2021, edition of Chile’s El Mercurio newspaper was timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Göring’s death. It read more like celebrating than historically recording the anniversary. Focusing on the Nazi leader’s youth, his military career and close relationship to Adolf Hitler, it read like a eulogy. The full-page illustrative spread on the General’s career included details about his love life, making only a passing mention of his crimes. They were not only “war crimes” but “crimes against humanity”, which he was convicted in Nuremburg and sentenced to death.

It only went to show what El Mercurio thought was of importance or what it felt was of more  – or less – interest to its readers!

Close-Up on a Mass Killer. Details of the Chile’s El Mercurio feature showing Hermann Göring  standing side-by-side with Adolf Hitler followed by accounts of his youth. (Screenshot via JTA)

No lightweight paper, the Santiago edition El Mercurio is considered the country’s newspaper of record and the oldest daily in the Spanish language currently in circulation.

Why would such a newspaper  publish such an article?  Did it feel – in today’s times of spirally global antisemitism – so totally comfortable in doing so? In a statement posted to Twitter, the organisation representing the Jewish Community of Chile called the article “an apology for Nazism” and in case there was no misunderstanding, Germany’s embassy in Santiago went public in expressing it abhorrence. While “it was not customary for the Embassy to comment on newspaper articles”, it felt obliged to tweet that, “…we just want to make it very clear: this man H.Göring committed human rights crimes and was one of the pillars of the Nazi regime. There is no room to justify or minimise, morally or politically, his horrific role during the Nazi regime or the Holocaust.”

Advocate of Hate. Is this a man to eulogise – Hermann Goering, one of the highest-ranking Nazi leaders, second only to Hitler in the party hierarchy?

Compounding its complicity in spreading antisemitism, El Mercurio in a short reply to a letter chastising the piece as a “direct affront” to the victims of the Holocaust, responded that it “deeply regretted” that the piece had been interpreted as such.

How else does El Mercurio – hardly an inexperienced publication founded in 1827 – think it should have been “interpreted”?

Maybe we should have little expectation from this Chilian newspaper when one need look no further than how the Chilian government has behaved in the past vis-à-vis cozying up to Nazis. Remember SS Walter Rauff who was instrumental in the construction and implementation of the mobile gas chambers responsible for killing an estimated 100,000 people during World War II? Later, this Nazi’s wartime experiences included persecuting Jews in Vichy France-controlled Tunisia during 1942 and 1943 and then overseeing Gestapo operations in northwest Italy where he  gained a reputation of ruthlessness for his indiscriminate execution of both Jews and local partisans. After he was arrested in Chile in 1962, he was freed by the country’s Supreme Court and the Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, repeatedly resisted calls from West Germany for Rauff’s extradition. When Rauff died in Chile in 1984, German and Chilean mourners at his funeral gave Nazi salutes and chanted “Heil Hitler”.

From Evading Justice to Evading News Coverage. The crimes for which Hermann Wilhelm Göring was convicted and sentenced to death at Nurenberg (above), were mostly ignored  in the El Mercurio feature spread.

We live in uncertain and unsettling times where today’s global culture is rife with violent bigotry, misguided nationalism and antisemitism. The rhetoric is nothing new – grounded in the attitudes and values from the 1930s and the 1940s in Europe and the United States.

Instead of guarding today against such resuscitated trends, El Mercurio contributes to its lethal longevity.

How easy it is to trivialize the Holocaust to the point of questioning whether it even happened. A recent example reported NBC News is that of a school administrator in Texas, Gina Peddy, who instructed teachers that if they teach a book about the Holocaust, they should “make sure you have one that has opposing, that has other perspectives.”

WHAT? one teacher questioned in disbelief:

How do you oppose the Holocaust?”

Quite easy if you have respected well-established newspapers like Chili’s El Mercurio eulogising monsters like Hermann Göring!

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Revenge for 9/11, like the Holocaust, would be in thriving

By Alex Ryvchin

Republished with kind permission from “The Australian“.

A few weeks before the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945, a group of survivors of the Holocaust met in Bucharest to mark Passover, the Jewish festival of freedom. Among the group was Abba Kovner, who had escaped the Vilna ghetto and led a partisan campaign that struck at the Nazis and their collaborators from the forests of Lithuania.

Kovner was consumed with desire for revenge. “He will repay them for their iniquity and wipe them out for their wickedness,” he told his fellow survivors at the gathering, invoking Psalm 94 and God’s promise to deliver vengeance upon the enemies of Israel.

The Jewish Avengers.  Killer of Jews in their sights, Abba Kovner (back row, center) with members of the Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye (The FPO – Eng: United Partisan Organization) in Vilna, 1940’s.

After the war, Kovner and his comrades, known as the “Avengers”, hatched a series of plots to exact retribution for the murders of their families and the near annihilation of the European Jews.

Most were aborted but the Avengers did succeed in getting their operatives into the kitchen of the Stalag 13 prisoner of war camp at Langwasser near Nuremberg, where Nazi SS, the units responsible for the implementation of the Final Solution, were being held. They planned to poison the bread of the prisoners, but the poison failed to take full effect and not a single SS man died.

The pursuit of revenge after the Holocaust proved futile. How does one even begin to avenge such a crime, really a sequence of millions of individual crimes, including the murders of one million children, carried out by hundreds of thousands of perpetrators across Europe?

It is a cliche to say success is the best revenge, but it is true. The real revenge the Jewish remnants took against those who pursued their obliteration was their survival and the re-establishment of a successful national centre for the Jews in their ancient lands that revived Jewish culture and enhanced Jewish scientific, cultural and scholarly contributions to the world. Kovner would become one of that state’s greatest poets.

Jewish Justice. Abba Kovner testifies at the trial in Jerusalem of Adolf Eichmann.  

For those of us who watched the carnage of 9/11, the desire for revenge was a difficult emotion to suppress. “Revenge is the first law of nature,” Napoleon wrote as a young man. It was certainly just and necessary to find those who masterminded the murders of 2996 people and to incapacitate terrorist organisations that would pursue further attacks. As the Babylonian Talmud teaches, “If someone comes planning to kill you, rise and kill them first.”

But the desire for revenge goes beyond justice or prevention. It aims to redeem those whose lives were taken and to restore their dignity – a noble aspiration, but one that more often than not is unattainable and the pursuit of which can corrode the soul.

The true revenge for 9/11 ought to have come in the form of global unity, comprising people of all faiths who shared a determination to drive fanaticism from our societies. Instead, the 9/11 attacks did what their mastermind had intended. Beyond killing thousands of innocent people, the attacks shook the self-confidence of the West. They divided us into doves and hawks, established fault lines that persist today and caused a collective questioning of our ideals.

Many would conclude that the pillars of our society – enlightenment, rationalism, human freedoms – were void and corrupt, as the al-Qaeda assassins had charged from their caves.

America Attacked. The World Trade Center’s South Tower burst into flames after being hit by United Airlines Flight 175.

September 11 also triggered a dangerous defect in our thinking. Instead of understanding that the terrorists were motivated by a barbarism and blood lust of which mankind had always been capable, we began to believe we had brought this on ourselves.

We assumed rational objections to policy were governing the thoughts of those for whom slaughtering morning commuters and teenage girls at pop concerts constituted success. But rationalism is not universal or innate. It occurs only in those who are raised in its traditions and teachings. And religious extremism does not breed rationalism, it crushes it.

This doomed path of inquiry produced a narrative that Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians and US support for Israel were the root cause of radical Islam’s desire to overthrow the West.

US academics Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer claimed US support for its democratic ally was a predominant source of anti-American terrorism and urged punitive measures against Israel.

Lobbying against Israel. In their book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, John Mearsheimer (left), a political science professor at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt (right), academic dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, assert that America’s “special relationship” with Israel works against its best interests.

High school textbooks in Britain also suggested Israel’s creation was the root cause of Islamist terrorism and the motivation for 9/11. Rather than confronting radical Islam’s fanatical hatred of the Jews and Osama bin Laden’s stated mission to “punish the oppressive Jews and their allies”, such thinking in effect validated their racism and bowed to it.

From blaming the Jew to Blaming the Jewish State. Before being withdrawn, a UK  history textbook was in use by high schools in the country asking how the September 11 terrorist attacks perpetrated by al-Qaeda could be connected to the establishment of the State of Israel.

The wicked sectarianism on display in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon finally made mockery of the view that if only Israel withdrew from the West Bank, al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Jema’ah Islamiyah and the rest would promptly beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

As we all do, I still vividly recall September 11, 2001. I came into my torts law class that morning after watching the second plane destroy the South Tower. Our lecturer announced that class was cancelled. “I’m not going to lecture you about the ‘reasonable person’ test when such unreasonable people exist in the world,” he said. Unreasonable people will continue to exist and inflict misery; the disintegration of Afghanistan and the recent ISIS-inspired stabbing spree in an Auckland supermarket attest to that.

Israel’s Message to Terror. Survive and thrive as emblazoned in modern day Tel Aviv.

But our revenge and our victory lie in the survival of free societies, our reasonable, rational thought, and our unified purpose to uphold precisely that which the terrorists sought to destroy.

About the writer:

Alex Ryvchin is co-chief executive of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and the author of “Zionism: The Concise History“.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)

Poles Apart

Cordial, if never sweet, Polish-Israeli relations have  assuredly soured

By Dr. Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

The restitution of Jewish property in Eastern Europe has never been a topic of any great interest to the wider public, even in Israel, and has very rarely received serious media attention. Until now!

During the past several weeks, a bill passed initially in the Polish Sejm (Parliament) and Senate, and signed into law on August 14 by President Andrzej Duda, has sparked an extremely heated controversy which is seriously  threatening the future of Polish-Israeli relations, which had been quite cordial since Poland’s transition from Communism to Democracy. The law in question does not specifically mention Jews, or the Holocaust, or World War II, but in practical terms makes it almost impossible for Holocaust survivors to be able to reclaim their pre-World War II property or obtain commensurate compensation, even if they have already filed the appropriate claims in a Polish court.

President Duda justified the passage of the bill by pointing to the fact that there had been numerous cases of fictitious claims and that criminals had been able to unjustly obtain property that had never belonged to them, resulting in the ejection of “tens of thousands of people being thrown onto the pavement.” In his words, “re-privatization to restore justice became almost synonymous with injustice and human harm.” In that respect, it is important to mention that the bill was passed by a huge majority in both the Sejm and the Senate, and was fully supported not only by the government coalition, but by the opposition as well. Undoubtedly, part of that support stemmed from economic factors, given the large number of properties owned by Jews in prewar Poland, especially in urban centers.

True Colours Exposed. Polish President Andrzej Duda(left) who signed the law in early August  limiting claims to property seized by the Nazis and later by Poland’s communist government, and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid who rebuked this decision, labeling it as “unethical and antisemitic”.(Getty)

Israeli officials were already aware of the seriously negative implications of the bill for the efforts to achieve restitution (or compensation) for Jewish-owned property before the votes in the Sejm and Senate. Israeli chargé d’affairs Tal Ben-Ari Yaalon gave an impassioned speech to the joint  Senate committees before the vote was taken, in which she emphasized Israel’s obligation to “give a voice to Holocaust survivors and their descendants…who have the right, historically, morally, and legally to present their claims and to receive the compensation they deserve for their property.” Unfortunately, it fell on deaf ears, and the support for the bill was overwhelming, which prompted strong criticism from the U.S. government and international Jewish organizations, but especially from Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. He not only called the bill “unethical and antisemitic”, but also instructed the new Israeli ambassador to Poland to remain in Israel in the meantime, immediately recalled our Chargé d’Affairs, in Warsaw for indefinite consultations, and suggested that the Polish ambassador to Israel remain on vacation in Poland. In his words, “This time should be used to explain to the people of Poland the meaning of the Holocaust to the citizens of Israel, and the extent to which we will refuse to tolerate any contempt for the memory of the Holocaust and its victims.”

Needless to say, Lapid’s harsh attack on the Polish government did not go unanswered. In an obvious response, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pavel Jablonski told journalists this  on August 16 that the government was “reviewing” the trips to Poland of Israeli high school students, approximately 40,000 of whom travel annually to Poland for Holocaust study trips and visits to sites of ghettoes and death camps under the auspices of the Israeli Ministry of Education. Jablonski called the trips “propaganda” – an unequivocal insult to the manner in which Israeli schools teach the Shoah.

No Entry. In retaliation to Israel’s opposition to the bill, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Paweł Jabłoński (above) says his country is weighing the future of Holocaust education trips for Israeli youth to Poland. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

At this point, it is not exactly clear how this crisis in Israeli-Polish relations will be resolved, but in order to understand its roots and causes, we have to return to a somewhat similar, previous dispute between the two countries over a law passed in Poland in 2018, which also aroused considerable anger and indignation in Israel. The so-called “Holocaust bill” criminalized use of the term “Polish death camps”, as well as any attempt to attribute Holocaust crimes to the Polish state. And while the first part of the bill was in fact justified, because it was the Germans who built the death camps in Poland, and the only Poles in death camps (Auschwitz and Majdanek) were inmates not collaborating perpetrators, the second clause was a brazen attempt to whitewash the widespread participation of individual Poles in Holocaust crimes. Negotiations between Polish and Israeli officials and historians led to a very bad compromise signed by former Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart, which was strongly criticized by Yad Vashem, because it appeared to accept the Polish narrative of World War II and the Shoah, which promoted the canard of equivalency between Polish participation in Holocaust crimes and assistance by Poles in rescuing Jews from the Nazis, when in fact the number of Poles guilty of the former, surpassed those who rescued Jews many times over.

Death and Destruction. Whatever became of the property of this group of Polish Jews being led away by German SS soldiers during the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943? Poland passes bill cancelling all claims of ownership of property if 30 years have elapsed since the confiscation. (AP Photo)

Thus the heart of the debate between Poles and Jews over Holocaust-related issues is the false narrative of the events of 1939-1945. The Polish narrative is primarily one of their own undisputed suffering under the Nazis, with little room or empathy for that of their Jewish neighbours and fellow citizens. Poland was one of the most antisemitic countries, if not THE most antisemitic country in Eastern Europe prior to World War II, and the estimated figure by reputable Polish historians, such as Jan Grabowski and Barbara Engelking, of approximately 200,000 Jews murdered directly by Poles, or turned over by Poles to the Nazis to be killed during the Holocaust is a clear manifestation of that animus. The fact that Poland’s suffering under the Nazis has not received the same treatment as that of Jewish Holocaust victims further complicates the situation.

In Jeopardy. Will Poland stop the annual Holocaust education trips of Israeli high schoolers visiting Nazi death camps like the concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau (see above)?

This situation, it must be noted, is not unique to Poland. Practically every post-Communist democracy in Eastern Europe has created a fake narrative of their Holocaust history, primarily to hide the important role played by their nationals in Holocaust crimes, and to promote the canard of equivalency between Nazi and Communist crimes, which they insist constitute genocide. These measures are all being taken  in order to emphasize their suffering under Communism and deflect attention from their Holocaust crimes. While the Nazis were able to enlist helpers in every country which they occupied or with whom they had an alliance, only in Eastern Europe did collaboration with the Nazis include participation in systematic mass murder of Jews. Until now, the policy of the previous Israeli governments was to ignore these lies, in order to maintain friendly relations with the countries of Eastern Europe, although the fake narrative created by these countries was an unforgivable insult to the victims, their families and the entire Jewish people. The new policy by Foreign Minister Lapid is a welcome and necessary change, but ultimately we will have to enter into serious dialogue with our Eastern European friends to convince them that telling the truth about their role in the Holocaust will ultimately be most beneficial to them and their citizens.

About the writer:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Distorting-the-Truth2.jpg

Holocaust historian Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of the Center’s Israel Office and Eastern European Affairs. His most recent book, with Lithuanian author Ruta Vanagaite, is Our People; Discovering Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020) which deals with Holocaust distortion in Lithuania.

For further information on this issue  and on Holocaust distortion in Eastern Europe, please visit and

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Anne Frank and the Dangers of Holocaust Appropriation

By  Rolene Marks

A famous celebrity once remarked that social media is “the toilet of the internet”. Okay, so that person was Lady Gaga but whether or not you are a fan of pop culture or spend some time traversing the nonsense posted on various social media platforms, you have to admit there is great truth in her words.

Some weeks are worse than others and this past week really took the cake. For some reason #AnneFrank was trending and this piqued my curiosity. I almost wish it hadn’t because what I found was nothing short of nauseating.

Anne Frank, age twelve, at her school desk. Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 1941. (Anne Frank Stichting)

During this past year as the world has endured a pandemic that has caused immense pain and loss, the disturbing trend of Holocaust appropriation, which is the re-purposing of imagery, narratives experiences from the Shoah to push another agenda or explain other historical crimes and occurrences has found oxygen.

We are familiar with the images of anti-vaxxers or those fed up with lockdowns marching in cities across the world, wearing the yellow stars that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust, saying that their “human rights” are being eroded. Spoiler alert: sitting on your couch watching copious amounts of Netflix while shopping on Amazon or having the right to choose whether or not you wanted to have a potentially life-saving vaccine is not nearly the same experience as being rounded up, forced into a ghetto, beaten, tortured, starved, worked to death, marched to death, gassed and burned because you are Jewish. THAT is what the yellow star signified.

One of the enduring symbols of the Holocaust is Anne Frank. The story of the Jewish teenager has been immortalized in her diary and has been used as an educational tool and translated into many languages for millions around the world.  Anne Frank has both captivated and broken hearts the world over, and through her words and experiences, we have come to better understand what life under Nazi occupation was like for her and her family, as they went into hiding with several others, in a tiny space, hidden for years by righteous gentiles who risked their lives knowing what the penalty for those they hid, as well as themselves.

History Abused. Dreams of a young girl surviving through the Holocaust are ‘re-purposed’ for the agendas of political activists today. (Photograph from UPI / Corbis-Bettmann)

It was certain death!

The millions of us who have read her story have shared in her daily frustrations, the precocious personality of a typical teenager experiencing the changes and her heartbreaks as well as the very real fear and hurt of being targeted for death for the crime of being a Jew. Anne Frank put a name and a face to the 1 500 000 children murdered in the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people. For many people, Anne Frank put a human face to a catastrophe many viewed in the abstract.

Anne and her sister Margot were sent to Bergen Belsen after their secret annex was discovered. They died of typhus and their bodies thrown into a mass grave. Their father Otto Frank, survived them.

So why was she trending on Twitter?

I have seen many appalling things posted to Twitter but a post from Black Hammer (see below) takes the cake. To date, me and many others have reported it. I am still waiting for it to be removed from Twitter for violating community standards.

Black Hammer describe themselves on Twitter as follows “We are an anticolonial organization dedicated to getting our land back! Join us in making a city with no rent, kkkops, rona or colonizers at http://blackhammer.”

Their litany of tweets features appalling spelling and grammar that is almost as offensive as their ribald antisemitism and flagrant racism; but we cannot dismiss the fact that they opened up a discussion and debate. In the context of having important discussions about race and intolerance, this would have been important but we CANNOT fight racism by promoting antisemitism. The above stated tweet (where do I even begin with all the things that are offensive!) just trotted out every vile, racist tropes that is guaranteed to inflame the masses. And inflame them they did.  J-Twitter (that’s Jewish Twitter) responded in numbers expressing outrage and trying as much as possible to debunk the accusations and were joined by others saying it was offensive BUT is also gave a tailwind to the haters and the conversation spiraled downwards to the point where Anne herself was accused of being a “colonizer” and proceeds from the sale of her book going towards “the funding of the genocide of the Palestinian people.”  There was so much discussion that it resulted in the topic being one of the top trending hashtags for the week – for the wrong reasons.

The gross exploitation and appropriation of the image of Anne Frank to promote a political agenda.

In the oppression Olympics there are no winners. There is a very real danger in ignoring, debasing or appropriating the narrative of another to push an agenda which in this case, feeds into people’s distaste for colonization. For Black Hammer, the facts don’t seem to matter – the only thing that matters is demonizing the one so that they can promote the agenda of the other, often with dangerous and deadly consequences.

The dangers are not restricted to social media and the opinions of the haters. As time marches on, we lose more and more of the witnesses to the Holocaust and so we have to be their voice. At a time when the global conscience on racism is acutely aware of its effects, so we have to ensure that all conversations about hatred include the oldest – antisemitism. Holocaust appropriation cannot be allowed to get a free pass. It is an imperative that we fight it wherever it appears. Failure to do so means that not only is our narrative taken from us but that victims of hatred are once again silenced.

Anne Frank once said, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart”. If only the hope expressed through this remarkable young woman – whose story resonates through the generations in the hope that it would educate people and remind them that we were not just numbers but had names, lives and experiences – would be realized. We have to do better by Anne.

We have to be the voice of people who are really good at heart. 

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

From Bombs to Babies

Israel at 73

By David E. Kaplan

Not sure how the field of psychology would view it but there is something strangely unique in Israel’s character and calendar  that only a split second separates joyful Independence Day  from the sad day that precedes it. Possibly perplexing to non-Israelis – the shift from grief to joy in the space of a heartbeat  – but that is what Israelis do each year. For 24 hours we remember and honour those fallen in defense of the State of Israel as well as victims of terror, and the next 24 hours we celebrate the fruits of that sacrifice – an independent Jewish State after 2000 years of exile and unrelenting persecution. Coming a week after Yom HaShoah where we remember and honour the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, Jews know the PRICE of statehood because  they also understand the NEED for statehood.

If the Jewish partisan and poet Abba Kovner wrote in a pamphlet  in 1942 “Let us not go like lambs to the slaughter!” to inspire his fellow Jews in the Vilnius area to take up arms against their German invaders, then look only to the following year of 1943 and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In the largest single revolt by Jews during World War II, the uprising by a civilian population, untrained and without sophisticated weapons – men women and children – held off the might of the Nazi invader for nearly a month. Very impressive when you compare it was nearly the same length of time as the trained Polish army took to be defeated by the German army – one month!

Lions not Lambs. Abba Kovner (center) with Rozka Korczak-Marla (left) and Vitka Kempner-Kovner after the liberation of the Vilna ghetto(Yad Vashem).

Far from “lambs to the slaughter”, they were heroes to a man, woman and child.

Twenty-four hours preceding Israel’s annual sound of  fireworks is the sound of the siren, when traffic stops and people stop talking in mid-sentence. Life in Israel is frozen for those two minutes encapsuling so many bitter and tragic memories. I for one always think first of the names of those I know who were either killed in uniform or perished in a terrorist attack – I rattle them off in my mind as I stand solemnly, their faces flash by as if flipping over the pages  of a cerebral picture album.

Defiant until Death. No military uniforms or helmets, Jewish fighters in civilian attire, take on the might of the German army during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

According to the Defense Ministry, the country’s total number of people killed in war and terrorist attacks now stands at 23,928 They are not numbers – their names and faces are known throughout the land – each and every one of them!

On the flip side, as we celebrate Israel’s 73rd Independence Day, and reflect  on the loss of 6,000,000 Jews mourned only a week ago on Yom HaShoah, today we can celebrate Israel’s population standing at 9,327,000 million – over a third more than was lost in the Shoah – and growing.

Light unto the Nations. The last public Independence celebrations before Corona, people watch fireworks during a show to mark Israel’s 71st Independence Day in Jerusalem on May 8, 2019.

If on a national note we take pleasure that 167,000 babies have been born over the past year, I take personal pleasure that one of those babies is my grandson. I take further pleasure that another is on the way.

Yes, the country can feel proud of its inventions and innovations from hi-tech to Smart Mobility but this Independence Day, I reflect on our successes in the baby manufacturing business that all Israelis are super active in.

Be Fruitful and Multiply. Israelis delight in fulfilling the divine injunction from Genesis.

What can bring more delight that looking upon these  ‘products’ in nappies under the ‘blue and white’ brand:

“Made in Israel”!

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)

The Hills are Alive

Honouring this week the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators, the writer reflects on a visit to “Yad Vashem” embedded in the hills of bustling Jerusalem

By David E. Kaplan

Let’s begin at the end. What has always fascinated this writer was the reactions of visitors when exiting the main museum and stepping out into the high balcony with the majestic view of the city of Jerusalem.

From Death to Life. Exiting the death factory museum, visitors feast their eyes on the pastoral beauty  of Jerusalem and the visual message that Jewry survived and today thrives.

Looking through the trees and imagining the bustle below of people going about their daily business and contrasting it with the New Holocaust History Museum’s chronicle of death left behind, seldom fails to evoke a visceral response of raw emotion. My non-Jewish friend from London, who had never visited Israel before, simply burst into tears.

You won; they lost,” he uttered tearfully.

He did not have to say more!

The name “Yad Vashem” is taken from a verse in the Book of Isaiah:

  “And to them will I give, in My house and within My walls, a Memorial and a  Name (yad vashem) … an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 56:5).

Symbolic in its naming, “Yad Vashem” conveys the idea of a national depository eternally imbedded into the rock of Israel’s ancestral capital, remembering and honouring the names of Jewish victims who have no one to carry their name after death. The magnitude of human loss was for this writer, best grasped stepping inside the Hall of Names and later the Children’s Memorial.

Cruelty to Creativity. The stark grey angular features of a factory of death museum contrasts with animated beauty of the Jewish People’s eternal capital – Jerusalem.

Hall of Names

Near the end of the ‘journey’ through the museum, one steps onto a platform midway within a sphere. One’s attention is immediately drawn skyward where the ten-meter high ceiling – an upper cone – displays hauntingly 600 photographs of Holocaust victims.

Who were they? What lives did the live?” visitors will silently ask themselves. The questions are rhetorical as the names of too many remain unknown. And then, as if believing some clues to this madness might lie below, one’s eyes are drawn downward where those same victims’ portraits are reflected in water at the base of the lower cone carved out of the mountain’s bedrock. Their faces naturally blurry in the reflection, one engages the collective image of all six million Jewish victims crying out from the watery depths below:

 “Forget us not”.

Although the exhibit represents only a fraction of Europe’s six million Jewish victims, the monumental horror of the Shoah (Holocaust) is evident by two simple movements of the head – above and then below. Visitors are speechless; the most audible sounds are sighs……

Surrounding the platform is the circular repository, housing approximately 2.2 million Pages of Testimony collected to date, with empty spaces for those yet to be submitted. The task ahead of ‘unearthing’ those names still unknown is open-ended…..

If the world  failed to save their lives, future generations can at least try  save their identities…..

Time to Reflect. With the faces of the murdered appearing above and reflected in the water below, the Hall of Names is the Jewish People’s memorial to each and every Jew who perished in the Holocaust – a place where they may be commemorated for generations to come.

Children’s Memorial

No less gut-wrenching in conveying the sheer magnitude of human loss is the visit to the Children’s Memorial, designed by architect Moshe Safdie, who also designed the museum.

Hollowed out from an underground cavern, this unique memorial is a tribute to the approximately 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered in the Shoah.

Entering, one is engulfed by darkness until one turns a corner and then suddenly one is overwhelmed by tiny flames from candles that appear to reach out to eternity. Apparently, it might be one candle that through clever reflection, appears endless. This is the point of the exhibition – that the murder of one child is unbearable to bear and so the candles help try apply the mind to the unthinkable – one and a half million children snuffed out in cold blood!

The names of murdered children, their ages and countries of origin can be heard in the background. The recording takes some three months to list all the murdered children!

One is speechless, the only common outward body expression – tears running down cheeks…

Each Flame One Child. The reflection of a single candle produces the illusion of space, which symbolizes the approximately 1.5 million children and young people who died during the Shoah.  

Like Cattle to the Slaughter

As it hanging in the air, the track and an actual German cattle truck used to transport Jews to their death greets the viewer. Looking at this mechanism for murder, one can imagine how the Jews were ordered to gather like livestock, and to bring with them only a few possessions and then ‘herded’ into these crowded cattle cars without ventilation, water or food. Sealed for days until arriving at the death camps, many perished.

On ‘track’ to  the ‘final solution’, we move to the memorial museum, designed to explore the unthinkable!

Approaching the grey façade of the Museum projects the image of a colossal factory – a factory of death, designed for processing death – a human abattoir. I thought:

 “Well, I came by car and I will leave later.”

There were no such thoughts for the millions who walked along earlier paths, with dogs barking and wondering what that smoke was coming out distant chimneys ahead.

Before one begins the walk along the central 180-meter walkway with exhibition galleries on either side of the prism, the journey begins at the Museum’s entrance, a kaleidoscope of changing visual images on a 13-meter high triangular wall portraying the Jewish world before the Holocaust. Viewers peer through open windows and doors into the lives of Jewish households, synagogues and places of work in cities, towns and shtetls across Europe. With little thought of the brewing storm, they look happy, innocent and unprepared for the cataclysmic crunch when all these windows and doors will close on their lives forever.

Each step forward, is a step into impending doom. The next gallery follows the invasion of Poland and the outbreak of World War II.

Whose Feet did these Belong to?  This says it all as  – a huge cart full of shoes from victims of concentration camps. Their owners unknown, the shoes survive!

The anti-Jewish policies are now played out with harsh violence and a campaign of abuse and restrictive measures intended to undermine the foundations of Polish Jewry.  Jews are ordered to wear the yellow Star of David on their clothes. The badge was not only a symbol of absolute separation from the general population but also a means by which Jews were immediately identified for humiliation and eventual deportation.

Selections from the diary of Dawid Sierakowiak, a youth from Lodz, accompany visitors through this gallery, providing the human perspective of a young person facing personal upheaval. The gallery ends with the uprooting of Jews from the general population and herding them like cattle into Ghettos. 

The ‘Between Walls and Fences’ gallery opens with an area dedicated to the fate of Jews in Western Europe.  Personal stories of families from France and Holland are chosen to illustrate German policies in the conquered lands of Western Europe.

The largest part of this gallery is devoted to providing visitors with a true sense of the Jewish experience in the Ghettos of Eastern Europe. Four Ghettos are selected – Lodz, Warsaw, Kovno and Theresienstadt.

More than a Game. In addition to entertaining the children, this Monopoly game on exhibit at Yad Vashem provided information about ghetto life in Theresienstadt, such as the Ghetto’s prison, barracks, the fort, the warehouse, the kitchen and the deportees’ absorption site. Those who were deported would often leave belongings with friends who remained in the ghetto, and thus, this Monopoly game was passed on until its final home – Yad Vashem.

A Monopoly board, made in Theresienstadt in 1943 forms the center of this Ghetto’s exhibition. The stations in the game were named after the streets and main buildings in the Ghetto.  Using the game board as a base for exploring the Ghetto, visitors can see how the children and the elderly were treated and cared for by their fellow Jews, and how people expressed their feelings through works of art, music, and poetry.

Hunting Season. Jews were the prey for this member of the Einsatzgruppe (mobile killing units) shooting a Jewish mother and her child near Ivangorod, Ukraine.  Open air killings continued in areas of eastern Europe during 1942 and by the spring of 1943, Einstagruppen units A-D had killed over a million persons. (Credit: Jerzy Tomaszewski, Poland)

The “Final Solution”

The next gallery starts with the German offensive into the USSR, marking the start of the implementation of the plan for the mass-murder of the Jews. Visitors track the activities of one killing unit, Einsatzgruppe C that served in Eastern Galicia and the Ukraine where during its first four months of operations, 800 SS soldiers of this unit murdered 75,000 Jews from villages, towns, and cities.  What does this tell you – only 800 soldiers murdered 75,000 Jews? The participation of the local population in mass murder was enormous – not only as passive bystanders but eager voluntary participants.

Illuminating Man’s Inhumanity. Natural light from the roof beams down on the stark grey reality of mass murder of the Jews of Europe.

This gallery too emphasizes the victims’ perspective  –  the voices of the few escapees are heard and seen on screens, alongside rare photographs of the slaughter of Vilna’s Jewish community at Ponary.

In a meeting with members of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, Abba Kovner shows them a poster in which he urges Jew to resist.  It was the first time that Jews were urged to defend themselves against the Nazis with arms. 

The exhibit exposes visitors to the Wannsee Conference, which was convened to discuss the measures and inter-ministerial coordination needed to implement the “Final Solution” to the “Jewish Problem”.  The purpose of the meeting was not to discuss murdering European Jewry – only to consider the means of murder. 

Jewish fate was sealed and final!

On Track to Death. Cattle cars like this original German death transport train car at Yad Vashem were used to transport Jews to concentration camps.

Resistance and Rescue

The authentic Schindler’s List is presented in this gallery, which deals with Jewish resistance, rescue attempts, and the Righteous Among the Nations.

This gallery opens with an attempt to answer the requisite question of what the world knew and when.  It describes how the world was silent in 1942 when the Struma, a decrepit ship carrying 769 refugees on route to Palestine was turned back from the coast of Turkey, towed out to sea without fuel, food or water and torpedoed within hours. All but one refugee drowned.

Throughout the Holocaust, there were expressions of Jewish defiance and this gallery depicts life in the Jewish partisan camps whose members combined fighting the Germans with the rescue of Jewish men, women, and children. 

Righteous Path. The names of the Righteous Among the Nations – non-Jews who risked their lives and the lives of their families to save Jews during the Holocaust – are engraved on the walls of honour.


“What would someone who had no knowledge of the Holocaust feel following a visit to Yad Vashem,”  was a thought that had intrigued me for many years. An opportunity  to answer this thought arose in 2010, when the Chilean miners who had been rescued after spending 69 days trapped in a collapsed Chilean mine were hosted in Israel by the Ministry of Tourism. The writer caught up with the shift manager, 54-year-oldLuis Urzúa – the last miner to be rescued – as he exited the Hall of Names.

Emotionally distraught, he said, “There is one big difference. While we may have shared with the Jews in the concentration camps that feeling of always being close to death, we at least enjoyed one luxury – hope. We knew there were people rooting for us all over the world and working non-stop to save us. The Jews in the Holocaust had no hope. No-one was coming to rescue them.”

This insight is testimony why Jews around the world need a secure State of Israel, so visually reassuring as one exists the death factory of a museum and step onto the balcony and feasts ones eyes through the foliage of forests over undulating Jerusalem hills with Israel’s eternal capital in the background.

One leaves with the message reverberating:

“Never again”

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)

We Remember Them

By  Rolene Marks

Tonight we begin to commemorate Yom Hashoa, Holocaust – Martyrs and Heroes Memorial Day. Every year I feel the weight of this day on my soul. I almost welcome it because  I am appreciative of the solemn weight that this day carries; and it serves as a reminder that I, like millions of others have taken that most important vow – NEVER AGAIN.

This year, the weight seems to be heavier. I don’t know if it is because we are running out of precious time to gather as many stories from survivors as we can or because we have lost so many to the pandemic. I do know that this year it weighs heavier on my heart because I see the tides of antisemitism rising. Europe is especially worrisome.  Acts of violence against Jewish individuals that have even resulted in death; and the shift in realpolitik to the right is extremely alarming.  Antisemitism is on the rise in the USA as well and at least 63% of American Jews has reported experiencing it in some iteration over the last year. I write this in gratitude that I am safe and protected in our beloved State of Israel.

Yom Hashoa, Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes day is that one day a year where we specifically remember Jewish victims of the Holocaust. This is different to the UN’s International Holocaust Memorial Day which rightfully recognizes all victims. On this poignant and sad day we take that moment to stop and stand sentinel for the siren that screams its mournful cry all over our beautiful land and pierces the soul, we dedicate 24 hours to education, to remembrance and to bear witness to the experiences that are almost too painful to bear. But bear them we must because now more than ever, it is our responsibility to tell them to the next generation and those that will follow.

Let us not wait for one day in the year to remember them. While Yom Hashoa is a sacred day, I urge everyone to take up the mantle of remembrance every day. Today’s social media platforms make it possible for us all to continue educating, disseminating the truth and educating future generations who speak a new language – the hashtag. When we pause for remembrance, let us be ever conscious why this is so important.

In the hateful gestures of Nazi salutes and imagery –  we remember them.

In the calls to boycott, divest and sanction Israel – we remember them.

In the calls to question the rights of Jewish people to return to their ancestral homeland – we remember them.

On the train where “next stop Aushwitz” traumatized travelers on their daily commute – we remember them.

In the rallies where screams of “Jews will not replace us” – we remember them.

In the defacing of graves and holy places – we remember them.

In the unmarked graves that are all over Europe – we remember them.

In the fire bombings and defacing of the synagogues – we remember them.

In the calls to register our property or risk being expelled – we remember them.

In the biased, vitriolic media broadcasts – we remember them.

In the attacks on individuals – we remember them.

In the shootings in community centres and synagogues – we remember them.

In the flagrant denial of our lost 6 million – we remember them.

In the loss of lives to terror attacks – we remember them.

In bearing witness to the genocides that have and continue to happen – we remember them.

In the harassment of our students on campuses – we remember them.

In the venom of social media – we remember them.

In the hurt and pain inflicted on any minority community or anyone “different” – we remember them.

In the medieval and modern day blood libels – we remember them.

In the words that built machines of death – we remember them.


In the lighting of memorial candles – we remember them.

In the lowering of our flag – we remember them.

In the mournful cry of the siren – we remember them.


In the birth of new generations – we remember them.

In the celebration of our homecoming from exile – we remember them.

In the singing of Hatikvah – we remember them.

In the greening and building of our start up nation – we remember them.

In the proud winning of sporting medals, Nobel prizes, life-saving NGO’s – we remember them

In the ways we are contributing to a better world – we remember them

In reaching out a lifesaving hand to our enemies – we remember them.

In our defense of our country – we remember them.

In the helping of the vulnerable, the displaced, the oppressed – we remember them.

In protecting their health – we remember them.

In bearing witness – we remember them

In the teaching of the next generation – we remember them.

In our unabashed, joyful, defiant celebration of life – we remember them.

In our cries of Am Yisrael Chai! (The people of Israel live) – we remember them.

In our vow NEVER AGAIN – We remember them.


While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)