WHAT’S NEW IN THE CITY OF DAVID

Step below modern Jerusalem to enter ancient Jerusalem and walk in the footsteps of  the pilgrims

By Jonathan Feldstein

Samuel 2 verse 11 recounts the beginning of the relationship between King David and Bathsheba. Wouldn’t it have been fascinating if, as part of his plan, David sent a letter to Uriah – the husband of Bathsheba – after he left for battle, so as to provide plausible deniability for Uriah being killed so David would be free to pursue the beautiful Bathsheba?  What if that letter was not only never delivered, but if it were found today, complete with King David’s seal, and if it were marked in ancient Hebrew with the phrase “Undeliverable. Return to sender”. Where would David’s letter been returned to?

If such a letter was discovered, it would be just one of numerous archaeological finds in recent decades pointing to the veracity of the Biblical account of King David and the Jewish people’s unbreakable connection to Jerusalem.  Until the City of David was discovered some 150 years ago, and excavations began just a few decades back, people could legitimately point to the lack of actual proof of King David’s existence, undermining the Biblical narrative as speculative.  Since then, the indisputable proof of all the evidence makes it impossible to refute with any integrity, and casts a cloud of dishonesty on those who would still deny David’s existence, establishing his kingdom in Jerusalem, making it the religious center of the Jewish people and remains so to this day 3000 years later.

‘Stairway to Heaven’. The Jerusalem Pilgrim Road – also known as The Stepped Street – was used in the ritual processions ascending from the pool to the Temple, Judaism’s holiest site.

The City of David is exactly where King David’s palace existed.  That’s where his letter to Uriah would have been written, and be returned to. Standing there, reading the account of him first setting sight on Bathsheba bathing, you can imagine exactly where that took place. In recent decades, the archeological evidence unearthed has been extraordinary. It includes something as mundane as an ancient toilet from which scientists have been able to determine what Jerusalem’s residents ate while under siege. It includes the excavation of the Pilgrim’s Road, upon which multitudes of Jewish pilgrims walked as they ascended to the Temple.  These pilgrims – that included ordinary Jews to more famous ones such as Jesus, would make their journeys from all across the Land of Israel to Jerusalem to visit the Temple Mount, significantly on the three major Jewish holidays of Passover, the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth), and the Festival of Weeks (Shavuot). Among the remarkable evidence discovered on the Pilgrim’s Road are first century coins, and a bell from the garment of the High Priest.  But there’s much more.

A Step in the right Direction. A recent analysis of more than 100 coins found beneath the Stepped Street point to the start and completion of its construction under Pontius Pilate, the Roman official who presided over the trial of Jesus and ordered his crucifixion. (photo Jonathan Feldstein)

Recently, I asked Ze’ev Orenstein, director of international affairs for the City of David, “What’s new in the ancient City of David?” As well as talking about the ongoing excavations of the Pilgrims Road – still unopen to the public – he shared some of the fascinating ancient findings recently unearthed. Prior to our conversation, I had a private tour with Shira, an outstanding guide, who brought to life what life was really like  in ancient Jerusalem. This included walking along much of the Pilgrim’s Road which is not yet open to the public, and seeing how the excavations are progressing.

Beneath the Surface.  There is no denying the connection of Jews to Jerusalem observes the writer as he personally witnesses a buried past literally unearthed. (Photo Jonathan Feldstein)

Ze’ev revealed that in addition to the current excavations, plans were announced to excavate the remaining two-thirds of the Pool of Siloam, a Biblical site significant to Christians and Jews. The Pool of Siloam sits at the lower foot of the Pilgrim’s Road and is the place where the pilgrims would participate in a ritual purification before ascending the last stretch of about a half a mile to the Temple itself.

Christians point to the Pool of Siloam as the site at which (according to John 9), Jesus healed a blind man.  Indeed, there is little if anything about the City of David that’s not as significant to Christians as much as it is to Jews. Jesus was a first century Jew and literally walked and worshipped there.  Understanding his life and the centrality of the Temple as part of Jewish Biblical history is significant to understanding the Jewish roots of Christianity.

From Roman Helmets to Hard Hats. 2000 years later, still working on the same street. (Photo Jonathan Feldstein)

Miracles are not uncommon in Jerusalem, but even some seem unbelievable. Ze’ev also shared the ‘miraculous’ way in which the Pilgrim’s Road was only by chance rediscovered during repairs to a burst sewage pipe that had inadvertently covered a series of ancient stone steps that led to the pool of Siloam – and the rest is literally history.

Affirming the veracity of Jerusalem’s Biblical history is not just a matter of affirming one’s faith, although that is very important. Today, when people don’t know history, or know and deliberately revise history to fit their own narrative, the thousands of years evidence from the City of David debunks that. Denial of Biblical history in Jerusalem is particularly egregious because it endeavors to undermine the convictions of the faithful of both Christians and Jews. This tactic by antisemites is to so loudly voice opposition to Israel’s right to exist on the basis that Jews have no historical connection to Israel in general and Jerusalem in particular. Despite the historical evidence refuting this lie, it nevertheless is a narrative frequently promulgated by Palestinian Arabs, notably at the United Nations. Their aim is to try erase the Jewish people from their ancestral homeland.

Jubilation in Jerusalem. An artist’s impression of the Pilgrim’s Road during a Jewish festival. (Photo credit: Kobi Herati, City of David)

In the City of David, it is possible to play a Biblical version of connect the dots. One can see landmarks and artifacts that point to numerous Biblical verses, and to historical records by Josephus and others.

In a few years time, 21st century pilgrims will be able to walk the full length of the Pilgrim’s Road, starting at the Pool of Siloam up to the southern steps of the Temple Mount. While not yet able to purchase the items needed for offerings in the Temple at one of the many shops along the way, they can marvel at the archaeological evidence affirming their Biblical scripture of the precise places where it all took place. What is being unearthed is providing undeniable proof of the Biblical account of King David and the connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem – literally at the feet of everyone.

Dipping into the Bible. Young tourists at a section of the pool of Siloam where Jewish pilgrims in antient times would purify themselves before the final assent to the Temple.

REOPENING AN OLD ROAD

When the Pilgrim Road reopens to the public slated in two years’ time, it will be the first time in two millennia, since the Romans conquered and destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, that this ancient path will be open.  

I want to be there and welcome you to join in that celebration.



The Pool of Siloam (Episode 9) – City of David: Bringing the Bible to Life





About the writer:

Jonathan Feldstein ­­­­- President of the US based non-profit Genesis123 Foundation whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians – is a freelance writer whose articles appear in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Townhall, NorthJersey.com, Algemeiner Jornal, The Jewish Press, major Christian websites and more.






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).

EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT CHANUKAH BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK

By Jonathan Feldstein

Recently, I was asked to teach about Chanukah with a church group in Dallas. I entered the conversation thinking it was really quite straight forward, that most Christians at least in America surrounded by a Judeo-Christian culture, know at least the basics about the holiday.

I began by relating a story about when I did a teaching two years ago with a group of pastors in Africa, who have no interaction with Jews or Jewish culture. One pastor stated excitingly that it seemed like such a great holiday, we should celebrate it more often. I always found that one of the most charming jumping off point for discussion, even with Christians in America who know much more, but typically don’t know as much as one would think.

Chanukah is the celebration of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by Greek enemies of Israel. Rather than destroying the Temple, again, they desecrated it, which left it unfit for ritual use.

The answer to my African pastor friend as to why we don’t celebrate Chanukah more often is because Chanukah is always celebrated on the 25th of the Biblical month of Kislev, the day that the Temple was rededicated, some 2200 years ago.

The restoration of the Temple was made possible by a military victory under the leadership of Judah Maccabi. The name Maccabi has become synonymous with strength and overcoming enemies. It has also been adapted for use in popular culture, among other things the name of a popular musical group and a line of frozen kosher foods in America, as well as the name of one of Israel’s largest health funds.

Most Christians know that Chanukah is an eight-day holiday commemorating the miracle that during the rededication of the Temple enough pure oil was found to light the menorah for one day, but which miraculously lasted for eight days. For eight days we light candles, increasing one candle each night. We eat traditional foods that are fried in oil commemorating the miracle of the oil. Not so healthy but decadent and tasty.

Chanukah is also a musical holiday during which it is customary to sing Psalms 113 to 118, called Hallel, thanking God for the miracles He has performed. There are also many songs celebrating the miraculous victory over Israel‘s enemies.

But even if you were a biblically literate Christian with a deep knowledge of Judaism, how would you know all this about Chanukah since it is not featured prominently in the Bible. For answers to this and other questions delving into the how and why of what we do, I hosted Rabbi Avi Baumol on my Inspiration from Zion podcast.

During my teaching in Dallas, I received questions relating to who lights the candles and why. There were questions relating to the giving of presents as well, with a popular misconception that every family gives every member a present every night. I explained that each family has its tradition.

Also, because Chanukah is not one of the Biblical pilgrimage festivals during which all forms of labor are prohibited as instructed in the Bible, it offers an opportunity for families to have larger social gatherings, employ different traditions. Especially in Israel where it is a public holiday and schools are closed, it’s common for people to travel throughout the country, or even overseas during our popular winter vacation.

I also related how in Israel, weeks and sometimes months before Chanukah, the whole culture begins to focus on the holiday. This includes Chanukah displays in stores, the increasing number of Chanukah delicacies on offer such as latkes and brisket to kugel and jelly doughnuts –  and more. And it’s as mundane as hearing Chanukah songs as background music in malls and other public places, replete with seasonal sales that also employ the holiday themes.  

As much as this was new information for many of the participants, I especially liked engaging them about the place in the New Testament where Chanukah is mentioned. It’s so subtle that if you don’t know what the first century Jewish culture is about, you wouldn’t necessarily know that John 10:22 is talking about Jesus celebrating Chanukah in Jerusalem. But if you don’t know what “the Festival of the dedication” is, you would have no idea that Jesus was in Jerusalem to celebrate the holiday.  

As an Orthodox Jew with less familiarity with the New Testament, this raised many interesting questions which we discussed, but many of which were still unanswered.

Since Chanukah is not a pilgrimage holiday like Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost), Sukkot (Tabernacles) when Jews were expected to worship and bring offerings to the Temple, I asked why Jesus was in Jerusalem anyway.

I wanted to understand why this one reference in all of the New Testament was there to begin with. Was it the only time that Jesus came to Jerusalem for the holiday and if so why and what was going on? Or is there something that was unique about this one particular visit, and it’s assumed that Jesus spent many winters celebrating Chanukah in Jerusalem. Unlike today when one can drive between Nazareth and Jerusalem in under three hours, making a pilgrimage by foot or donkey would take days, and days of planning. Forget the time off work.

While the conversation was going on, one person googled and shared some information which affirmed that it was customary for first century Jews to go to the Temple. After all, the military conquest and rededication of the Temple was relatively modern history to them.

This did not answer my questions, but did affirm something that should not be forgotten and that is that Jesus was a first century Jew, his life and culture were Jewish, and he worshiped in the Temple according to Jewish tradition. In a world where ‘Replacement Theology’ (i.e. that God has rejected the Jews and they are no longer his chosen people) remains widespread, and some try to erase the centrality of Jerusalem to Jews (and therefore Christians), it’s important that we remember this, and that Christians understand that everything Jesus did was essentially Jewish.



About the writer:

Jonathan Feldstein ­­­­- President of the US based non-profit Genesis123 Foundation whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians – is a freelance writer whose articles appear in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Townhall, NorthJersey.com, Algemeiner Jornal, The Jewish Press, major Christian websites and more.





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).

FORGOTTEN HISTORY REMEMBERED

The heroic past shall be ‘unveiled’ at an upcoming ceremony at Johannesburg’s Jewish cemetery illuminating ‘bloodlines’ between South Africa and Israel

By David E. Kaplan

On the 27th November, people of all faiths and races – some wearing medals of battles past – will gather at the South African National Jewish War Memorial at West Park Cemetery in Johannesburg. They will do so to remember those South African soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the world wars of the twentieth century that not only “changed the course of history” but profoundly impacted on the destiny of the Jewish people. The acts of bravery by these soldiers – whether aware at the time or not – contributed to the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in their ancestral homeland in 1948.

Live stream link on Sunday 27/11/22, 10:30 (SA time) – https://www.facebook.com/SAZionistFed/

The drama of three long forgotten and for many never even known events, will be ‘unveiled’ together with the stones embodying their pulsating pasts.

STORY OF A STONE

When only a year ago, students at  UCT ( University of Cape Town) tried to expunge the memory of South Africa’s famed wartime Prime Minister Jan Smuts by defacing and covering his bust with plastic bags and ultimately removing it from the campus as well as renaming the historic men’s residence from Smuts Hall to Upper Campus Residence, the upcoming gathering on the 27 November has a contrary agenda of honouring his memory as it connects with the Jewish people. If UCT students sought to ‘cover’ Smuts’ bust, the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF), JNF (SA), the South African Jewish ex-Service League together with its committee member, Selwyn Rogoff and its former Chairman, Peter Bailey also representing the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee in Israel, have sought to uncover Smuts’ less known past, notably his contribution to the State of Israel.

Century of a Stone. The cornerstone originally unveiled by Prime Minister Smuts in 1922 to be again unveiled by his great-grandson Gareth Shackleford on the 27 November 2022 at West Park Cemetery, Johannesburg.

When it was brought to Bailey and Rogoff’s attention that a cornerstone honouring South African Jews who had fought and died in the Great War that had been unveiled by Prime Minister Smuts in November 1922 at the old Jewish Guild War Memorial Building in downtown Johannesburg had after a century of travels to different locations  resurfaced in the garden of a bowling club, they felt a special memorial event marking the centenary should be held. Bailey felt further that it should include two other monumental contributions of South African soldiers who died in the service of that biblical land that would in time emerge as the state of the Jewish people – Israel. Through this writer’s intervention, he contacted Benji Shulman of the SAZF that set in motion the upcoming event that will have Smuts’ great-grandson, Gareth Shackleford, who will unveil again the cornerstone that his grandfather originally unveiled a century earlier reminding the world of the love Smuts had for the Jewish people and his role in the creation of the Jewish state.

Dead at Delville. Included amongst Jewish South African soldiers killed in WWI was the writer’s grandfather’s brother, Victor Kaplan, who volunteered for overseas service and was killed in the Battle of Delville Wood in 1916. (Family photo)

Too few are aware that when Smuts and Chaim Weizmann met in London during the Great War, the two began a close friendship that lasted for the rest of their lives and greatly influenced events in Palestine. In an essay on Smuts and Weizmann, Richard P. Stevens writes:

perhaps few personal friendships have so influenced the course of political events during the twentieth century as the relationship between General Jan Christiaan Smuts, South Africa’s celebrated prime minister, and Chaim Weizmann, Zionist leader, and Israel’s first president.”

Meeting of Minds. They emerged friends with shared visions – Chaim Weizmann (left) and Jan Smuts, circa 1915 (photo credit: JERUSALEM POST ARCHIVE)

Research reveals that Smuts played a monumental backroom role in the drafting of the Balfour Declaration, providing Weizmann with a direct conduit to the War Cabinet. Another of Smuts’ great-grandsons, Philip Weyers, said of his great-grandfather, who he fondly refers to as “Oubaas” (old boss) that:

he was the anonymous partner to the Balfour Declaration. The spirit and even some of the wording of the Balfour Declaration came from the Oubaas’ mouth. His thoughts and views carried a lot of weight, and is imbedded in that fateful document.

It is little wonder that kibbutz Ramat Yohanan – founded in 1932  – was named in honour of Jan Smuts; ‘Yohanan’ being the Hebrew translation for the Afrikaans ‘Jan’ or English ‘John’, in recognition of his unstinting efforts on behalf of the Jewish people.

LETTER TO LEGEND

However, Israel’s ‘Magna Carta’ – the Balfour Declaration of 1917 – would have meant very little beyond a letter or footnote in history had not the actual ‘feet’ of commonwealth soldiers – including the Cape Corps comprising members of South Africa’s Coloured community – fought valiantly to relieve Palestine of the Ottoman Turks. Some 54 Coloureds  – Christians and Muslims – lost their lives in what became known as the Battle of Megiddo, opening the road for General Allenby’s breakthrough to Damascus. Most important from a Jewish perspective, while it “opened the road” for Allenby, it cleared the region of the occupying Turks, paving the way for a British Mandate and ultimately Jewish statehood in 1948.

Jubilation in Jerusalem. One month after the Balfour Declaration, General Edmund Allenby enters the Old City on the 11 December 1917 to accept the surrender of Jerusalem from the Ottoman Turks. Next battle to follow – Megiddo.

A year following the famous battle, Field Marshal Viscount Allenby, GCB, GCMG had this to say about the men of the 1st Cape Corps:

 “I heard you are creating a Roll of Honour containing Cape Corps names. I had the honour of serving with many of the Cape Corps in Palestine and I should like to add my tribute of appreciation. The record of those of the Cape Corps who fought under my command is one that any troops might envy. Especially on September 19 and 20, 1918, they covered themselves with glory, displaying a bravery and determination that has never been surpassed.”

A descendant of this battle, Cmdr. M. Adeel Carelse MMM (Ret.), whose grandfather Cpl. C. H. Carelse fought bravely at Square Hill and Kh Jibeit that were decisive battles within the larger Battle of Megiddo and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, will unveil on the 27 November a plaque to the Cape Corps. Today in Cape Town’s suburb of Retreat, there is Square Hill School that is named after this famous battle that too few remember or the sacrifices made.  However, these mostly forgotten battles fought in a biblical land, ended Ottoman Turkish rule and led to the eventual establishment of the independent states of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and ISRAEL!

Valiant Fighters. Men of the 1st. Battalion, Cape Corps(160th Brigade, 53 Welsh Division) in Palestine 1918.

WORKED TOGETHER, DIED TOGETHER

The third stone of history to be unturned at the ceremony, will be to remember and honour the 644 black Southern Africans who went down with 140 Yishuv Jews on the SS Erinpura during WWII.

They had all worked together as volunteers on a British labour project in Palestine for the war effort and were together in a convoy in the Mediterranean in May 1943 . The SS Erinpura was carrying more than 1000 troops, including Basuto and Batswanan members of the African Auxiliary Pioneer Corps and Palestinian Jewish soldiers of 462 Transport Company of the British Army when on the evening of 1 May 1943, German bomber aircraft attacked the convoy 30 nautical miles (56 km) north of Benghazi.

They Made History. On parade but soon to be tested in battle are soldiers of the Cape Corp during WW1 who performed so heroically at the Battle of Megiddo in 1918 against the Ottoman Turks.

In one wave of the attacks, a bomb hit the Erinpura in one of her forward holds, causing her to list to starboard and sink within five minutes. The crew of her 12-pounder anti-aircraft gun continued to return fire until she sank with a loss of life of 800 that included the 633 Sotho, 11 Tswana soldiers and 140 Palestinian Jewish soldiers.

Lives lost at Sea. The ‘SS Erinpura Memorial’ on Mount Herzl, Jerusalem is dedicated to the 139 Jewish soldiers of the British Army  462 Moving Unit in British Mandate of Palestine  that lost their lives on the SS Erinpura  that was sunk in an attack  by the Luftwaffe on 1 May 1943.

The monument on Mount Herzl  to the 140 Jewish soldiers who drowned aboard the SS Erinpura is shaped like a ship  with a pool of water representing the sea where on the bottom appear the names of the fallen. Above the pool is a turret adorned with the Hebrew text of Psalm 68, verse 22:

The Lord said, I will bring again from Bashan, I will bring my people again from the depths of the sea.”

Ship of Soldiers. The ill-fated SS. Erinpura that went down with South African and Jewish Palestinian soldiers in WWII.

This did in a sense happen with the emergence five years later  with the gathering of Jews and the established of the Jewish state in 1948.

It is only fitting that  Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa, Eliav Belotsercovsky, will unveil a memorial plaque at the West Park Cemetery ceremony to the tragic loss of life of both the Yishuv Jews and black South Africans who lost their lives together in a cause that others may live.

Entrance to West Park Cemetery, Johannesburg

EPILOGUE

The years have rolled by and like packed away old unread books, heroic lives were lost tucked away in forgotten chapters in recedingly remembered conflicts. The upcoming ceremony on the 27 November 2022  in Johannesburg is designed to address this amnesia and all across the world are invited to attend on ZOOM

https://www.facebook.com/SAZionistFed/

Before all these events played out, the instruction of ‘being careful not to forget’ was already present in Deuteronomy 4:7–9:“Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy son’s sons.





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).

A ROTTEN PAINT JOB  

Poland and Lithuania covering up the complicit cracks of the past

By Stephen Schulman

Seventy seven years have passed since the defeat of Nazi Germany. Memories fade, survivors have passed away together with many of the criminals who remained unexposed and unpunished. Poland and Lithuania today, are in the throes of official movements to renovate and refurbish a new national image and recreate the national narrative. As with any refurbishing, there is much discarding, covering up of the old and adopting of the new and this move ties neatly in with a decidedly revisionist history that has been legislated, seeks to create myths, recraft  a sanitized past and muzzle any historical research that may reveal unpleasant truths.

Determined Duo. Historian Jan Grabowski (left) and sociologist Barbara Engelking who wrote a book about the Holocaust in Poland were taken to court for defamation.

In 2018, Poland’s Senate passed a bill that outlaws blaming the country for any crimes committed during the Holocaust. The bill was proposed by the country’s ruling Law and Justice Party and calls for up to three years in prison or a fine for accusing the Polish state or people of involvement in or responsibility for the Nazi occupation during World War II. Tragically, this blatant attempt to whitewash the past rings hollow in the light of historical facts. Nevertheless, the prevailing winds of nationalism are blowing strong and many Polish historians are loath to tack against the gale lest they find themselves on the shoals of criminal prosecution. Consequently, they now take care to modify their researches. There is a powerful movement to discredit and besmirch Jan Gross and last year, in a decision widely condemned by American and European academics, a Polish court found Jan Grabowski and fellow researcher Barbara Engelking guilty of defaming a small town mayor in their book on the Holocaust.

Poles Apart. While Jews from Poland and abroad gather in 2016 for commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of a massacre of Jews in Jedwabne, Poland, on 10 July 1941, Polish lawmakers in 2018 passed a bill outlawing the blaming of Poles for crimes of the Holocaust committed in Poland. The Jedwabne pogrom was a massacre of Polish Jews by ethnic Poles  in the town of Jedwabne of at least 340 men, women and children, some 300 of whom were locked in a barn and burned alive. The Polish ringleaders decided on it beforehand with Germany’s Gestapo, SS security police or SS intelligence and cooperated with German military police. (AP Photo/Michal Kosc)

The Poles were victims of Russian and German invasion and oppression and paid a heavy price. Nevertheless, there are well documented histories of Poles not only collaborating with the Nazis but also taking their own initiative in the murder of Jews. The pogrom at Jedwabne in 1941 was far from being an isolated incident as a recently published book by Mirosław Tryczyk shockingly sheds light on fifteen other locations. Anna Bikont, a courageous journalist, in revisiting that town sixty years after the slaughter, noted the denial, the amnesia, the obfuscation, the intimidation, the fear of witnesses to speak out and the open threats made to those who wished to acknowledge the town’s guilt.

The annual March of the Living when many groups of all ages from Israel and abroad visit the death camps has been compromised due to the Polish government’s demand that now each one be accompanied by an official guide to provide a governmentally approved narrative. It appears that what comes from the mouths of the regular guides paints an unpleasantly discomforting picture.

Staying on Track. Despite, the controversy surrounding Poland’s 2018 Holocaust bill penalizing mentioning involvement in and by the Polish people/nation/state in Nazi crimes followed with calls from Knesset members to stop the trips by young Israelis to Poland, participants attended the annual “March of the Living” in 2019. ( REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo/File Photo)

The attempts made throughout the years by Holocaust survivors and their descendants for restitution of family property have been fruitless, long obstructed by prevarication in the passing of a bill compensating for property seized by the Nazis and the subsequent Communist regime. In September 2021, however, the government stirred itself enough to pass a law which prevents claimants from challenging administrative decisions older than 30 years, including those issued without legal basis or issued in gross violation of the law. In practice, it will become virtually impossible for all former Polish property owners – including Holocaust survivors and their descendants, many of whom have had claims pending for years to seek redress.

How ironic that the Polish government whilst squelching private compensation claims is now demanding 1.23 trillion Euro in compensation from Germany for the damages caused to the country during the Nazi invasion and occupation. It appears that the 30 year limit for claimants’ restitution does not apply to the government itself. When interests dictate, there is seemingly no time limit!

Moreover, in an act of unprecedented callous cynicism, the government has sought to include in its claims for damages, the towns where pogroms of the Jews were carried out by the local inhabitants. They will no doubt also seek restitution for the barn in Jedwabne where the good townspeople herded in, set on fire and burnt 300 of their Jewish neighbours alive. 

Lithuania, 2022

A nation, said John F. Kennedy in October 1963, just a month before he was assassinated, “reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”

Lithuania today refuses to come to grips with its wartime past and honours people who have a dark past of collaboration and murder. The national establishment is determined to repackage the country’s wartime history of the Nazi occupation as one of victimization, non-collaboration with and complete noninvolvement in the murder of its Jews. Those who have tried to dismantle this edifice of distortion, obfuscation and denial have not only come up against a blank wall but have paid a price.

Grant Cochin, a former South African of Lithuanian descent now living in the USA, in researching his family’s past discovered a great number of relatives who perished in the Holocaust and the names of Lithuanians complicit in their murder who have been elevated to the status of national icons. He has recorded that in the decades seeking redress and uncovering the truth, he has filed between 20 and 30 lawsuits against the Lithuanian government, encountering obstruction, denial, delay and threats of criminal charges. Moreover, he asserts that he has “exposed” virtually every corner of the government, courts, Parliament, public prosecutors, the president and prime minister, all of them involved in the cover-up.

In 2021 an exceptional book was published: The Nazi’s Granddaughter. How I Discovered My Grandfather was a War Criminal by Sylvia Foti. The book details a painful twenty year journey of intellectual honesty and raw courage of an American citizen with strong Lithuanian roots searching for and revealing the truth about her grandfather Jonas Noreika who has been enshrined as a national hero.

Truth Exposed.While accused Nazi collaborator Jonas Noreika (centre) was whitewashed by Lithuania’s Genocide and Resistance Research Center, his granddaughter Silvia Foti (right) says he did his best to help Nazis kill Jews. The relatives of Grant Gochin (left) were among Noreika’s victims.

In June 2018, with supporting evidence from Sylvia Foti, Grant Cochin challenged the Lithuanian Genocide and Resistance Research Center’s denial of Noreika’s war crimes. In spite of the overwhelming evidence, a Vilnius court threw out the case declaring for the government funded Center’s objectivity and veracity plus ordering Cochin to pay all the costs – a decision that he called:

 “The Jew Tax

Those who dare to challenge the official sanitized national narrative have borne the brunt of official opprobrium. Evaldas Balciunas who was the first to disclose Noreika’s past to the English speaking world and Dovid Katz who published his findings have been dismissed from their jobs, harassed by the government, interrogated by the police and declared “enemies of the state“.

Ruta Vanagaita too, has discovered the high cost of intellectual honesty and of voicing her thoughts in public when she questioned the past of a nationally revered hero: anti-Soviet resistance fighter. She not only immediately lost her livelihood when her publisher withdrew all her books from the shops and pulped them but fearing for her safety remained in the shelter of her home, eventually leaving the country for some time. Among the insults showered on her in the street was “pro–Putin Jewish whore” – in Lithuanian eyes, being called Jewish, is an insult in itself! A brave and resolute lady, she has remained undeterred in uncovering the truth about Lithuania’s participation in the Holocaust, leading tours to massacre sites and co-authoring a book with the Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff.

Nasty Neighbours. Dr. Efraim Zuroff  (right) coauthored with the granddaughter of perpetrators, Rūta Vanagaitė (left), the book “Our People” that tackles the sensitive issue of the motivation of thousands of ordinary Lithuanians complicit in the murder of Jewish neighbours.

Lest we forget. A friend of mine, formerly from Lithuania, now also living in Israel, told me the following story about his home town.

One of its residents was a Jew who had fought in WW II. He was a loner who kept to himself. On market day he had bought a live goose, put it in a sack, slung it over his shoulder and started walking home. At the same time, there was a woman whose small child had gone astray and was engaged in searching for him/her.  On seeing the man carrying the sack with the goose flapping around in it, she started screaming that the Jew had kidnapped her child. Old prejudices die hard and it did not take much to set the townspeople off on a Jew hunt. Fortunately, until the furor eventually died down, the local police prevented a pogrom by protecting the homes of the few Jewish residents. My friend as a boy remembers sitting at home, the fear they felt, the anti-Semitic insults and threats shouted by passersby and the stones thrown against their closed shutters.

This near-pogrom took place in September 1958!





A PERSONAL FOOTNOTE 

Immersing oneself in the vast literature of the Holocaust is not only a daunting and an interminable task but also a heartbreaking one as you become overwhelmed by the horror and the immense scope of so many human tragedies. In my reading, over the course of time, while trying not to do injustice to so many other excellent and deserving works, I have attempted to focus on, what I consider relevant books. Below – with no pretensions of being comprehensive – is a short list of selected titles.

Anna Bikont: The Crime and the Silence

Miroslaw Tryczyk (Author), Frank Smulowicz (Translator): The Towns of Death: Pogroms against Jews by Their Neighbors

Saul Friedlander: The Years of Extermination

                            Nazi Germany and the Jews

Sylvia Foti: The Nazi’s Granddaughter

Jan Grabowski: Hunt for the Jews

Ruta Vanagaite and Efraim Zuroff: Our People. Discovering Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust.

Jeffrey Veidlinger: In the Midst of Civilized Europe

Jan T. Gross: Neighbors

Fear

Ernst Klee, Willi Dressen and Volker Reiss (Editors): The Good Old Days. The Holocaust as Seen by its Perpetrators and Bystanders.

Father Patrick Desbois: In Broad Daylight

David I. Kertzer: The Popes against the Jews

                           The Pope at War




About the writer:

Stephen Schulman is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist youth movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. He was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.




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).

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF HERZL

Musings and thoughts from the 125th anniversary of the World Zionist Organisation and Congress recently held in Basel, Switzerland

By Rolene Marks

It doesn’t matter where I am in the world or what I am doing, if I hear the opening strains of Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, my heart swells and my eyes tear up. The feeling of pervasive pride is visceral. It is not just that I am a proud Israel, it is the knowledge that the words have sustained Jews in our darkest times – and also our greatest triumphs. Whether it be the scenes of Jews singing in Bergen-Belsen after liberation or Linoy Ashram standing proudly on the podium as she receives Olympic gold, I get the feels.

So you can imagine what I felt last week in Basel, Switzerland as I joined my WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation) delegation and over a thousand others as we stood in the Stadtcasino, 125 years after the first Zionist Congress and sang the anthem of the country that had been but a dream a century and a quarter before.

Members of WIZO delegation

Over a hundred years ago, when a young journalist called Theodore Herzl, recognising the growing threat of antisemitism and motivated by the sham trial of French Jew, Alfred Dreyfus, wrote an article and then two books called The Jewish State and Altneuland, where he presented his vision of what that would be. Herzl recognised that this state could only manifest in the ancestral and historical homeland of the Jewish people – Eretz Yisrael, then called Palestine. The Romans, seeking to wipe out any reference to Jewish history and culture had named it thus. 

“The Jews who will it shall achieve their State. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and in our own homes peacefully die. The world will be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind,” Herzl said.

Herzl also famously said, “If you will it, it is no dream”. And so they gathered in Basel, laying the foundations of willing a Jewish state. From these seeds would spring forth the World Zionist Organisation, the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency for Israel. Just a couple of years later, the Women’s International Zionist Organisation would be founded. All of these organisations, would help prepare the land and the ingathering of the exiles for what would be the fulfillment of the Zionist dream – a Jewish state.

“Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word- which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly- it would be this: “At Basel, I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. If not in five years, certainly in fifty, everyone will know it,” mused Theodor Herzl.

Dr. Theodor Herzl.

Herzl, like Moses millennia before him, would lead his people to the Promised Land – but never enter it himself. Herzl died on the 3 July 1904, in Edlach, a village inside Reichenau an der Rax, Lower Austria, having been diagnosed with a heart issue earlier in the year, of cardiac sclerosis. A day before his death, he told the Reverend William H. Hechler: “Greet Palestine for me. I gave my heart’s blood for my people.” He certainly did.

Herzl’s vision would come to life with the birth of the modern state of Israel in our ancient, ancestral homeland. The Jewish people had come home.

In Basel some 125 years later we would gather to celebrate this vision and pay homage to the man who inspired hope in so many. And gather we did from the four corners of the world, 1 400 Zionists, representing different communities and ages and holding many different opinions. We were all there – the organisations, the social media personalities, familiar faces, those whose opinions veered to the right, those firmly in the centre and those to the left. In the city that birthed the modern Zionist movement, we debated, argued, agreed and discussed.

A stand out moment for me was the honouring of Druze Sheikh, Mowafaq Tarif and the presence of Emirati Sheikh Ahmed Ubeid Al Mansur.

 WIZO delegates with Sheikh al Mansur

Yaakov Hagoel, the chairperson of the World Zionist Organization, said of Al Mansur, “Herzl never dreamed that the day would come that a brave Arab leader would participate in a Zionist Conference together with thousands of Jews from all over the world whose goal is to strengthen and develop the independent and sovereign state of Israel.”

This gathering in Basel was not just a prime opportunity to pay tribute to Herzl or to discuss the challenges facing the Jewish world like rising antisemitism, the Iranian threat or how we will contribute to the fight against climate change; but also allowed us a moment to stop and take stock and marvel at the miracle that is the embodiment of our dream – the state of Israel.

In the presence of our President, Isaac Herzog, whose own family story is a reflection of Jewish history and First lady, Michal, we took a moment to look back – and forward to the future – of what Israel has achieved in a matter of a few decades. When Herzl envisioned a state that would see “the world be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness and whatever we attempt there for our own benefit would redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind”, I don’t think even his wildest imagination could see what we have achieved.

In that hallowed halls, in the presence of the President and in the company of those who from generation to generation take up that promise to keep building, singing Hatikvah has never sounded so sweet.

 In the footsteps of Herzl on the balcony of Les Trois Rois Hotel

Standing on the balcony of “Les Trois Rois”, where the iconic visionary once stood I contemplated what he must be thinking as he watched on from high in the heavens.

How proud he must be. His will is no longer a dream. It is a reality. And it is ours.



Herzl and I reflect





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).

Celebrating Passover

From a people to a nation we relive the long journey to freedom

By Justin Amler

The greatest story in history is upon once again.

And oh… what a story it is.

It is a story about a people who went from slavery to freedom, from hopelessness to belief, from an uncertain future to one filled with destiny.

It is a story about courage, about faith, about belief and about miracles – one that took the natural order of life and flipped it around.

And even though many others will try to culturally appropriate it, as they do with everything else about us, and claim it’s about all humankind, it was and is and remains a quintessential Jewish story.

For it is our story – perhaps our greatest story – of a time when we grew from a people into a nation.

About 3500 years ago, we were slaves in Egypt, condemned to a life of hardship and bondage, a seemingly bleak existence. And if it wasn’t for the actions of one man, guided by God, the story of the Jewish people might have ended right there.

But it didn’t end.

Instead, it led to the greatest adventure in all of Jewish history – an adventure continuing today.

And through all the wanderings in the desert, the many miracles Hashem performed, the gift of the Ten Commandments, and of course the ultimate return to our land of Israel – where we remain today.

Pesach is a story of such inspiration, because although thousands of years have passed, we continue to celebrate it as if it just happened.

And in a way it did. Because every single moment of every single day, Jews continue to fight for their homeland, their identity, their culture, and their history. And we have to fight, because every single moment of every single day there are those who continue to try take it from us, to uproot us from our land, to appropriate our history as if it’s their own, to rob us of our past, of our stories, of our nationhood and of our identity.

We cannot afford to remain silent.

But the Jews, while few in number, are a strong people whose foundations are built on stronger things than crumbling empires and dusty buildings. Our foundations are built on almost 4000 years of a promise, of a mission, and of a shared destiny among us.

And even though there are some, even among us, who continue to try spread division through arbitrary things like skin colour and food, they will fail in the end, because we, as a people, are far stronger than the petty divisiveness they sow.

When we left Egypt, we were not white or black or brown and we were not Mizrachi or Ashkenazim or any other designated identity that some are overly obsessed about these days.

We were Israelites.

We were Jews.

We were a people forged in the sands of time and held together by a promise of a God we could not see – a promise without an expiry date. A promise that, despite the many differing views among us, has held us together.

 We don’t need to get ‘woke,’ because we’ve been awake for a very long time.

So, on this Pesach and on every other day, let’s celebrate our freedom, our history, our culture and all the things that make us who we are.

In this world in which we are constantly under attack, let’s stand together and keep our Jewish identity alive, for it is one we should all hold onto proudly.



About the writer:

Justin Amler is a noted South African-born, Australia-based writer and commentator on international issues affecting Israel and the Jewish world.






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).

JUDGING BY WHAT HAS HAPPENED

By Adv. Craig Snoyman

With Senate Judiciary Committee  interviewing  Katanji Brown Jackson to be the first black  female justice  on the Supreme Court of America bench, it’s worth remembering that she may be taking  “a Jewish seat”,  that of Stephen Breyer, the judge for whom she once clerked.

Ketanji Brown Jackson set to become the first Black woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The first Jewish judge was appointed in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson. Louis Brandeis, arguably the brightest,  most farseeing, progressive justice of the 20th century, graduated from Harvard at age 20, with the highest marks ever achieved by a student. In an age of  antisemitic resistance, Harvard president A. Lawrence Lowell (who later pushed for quotas on Jewish students) opposed the appointment of its alumni’s most brilliant student as a Supreme Court justice due to his religion.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941), the first Jew to sit on the high court was an enthusiastic supporter of Zionism. Brandeis University in Waltham , Mass., was named after him.
 

His was the first confirmation hearing for a Supreme Court justice. Until that point, the Senate simply voted yay or nay. While he waited 125 days between his nomination on Jan. 28, 1916, and his confirmation on June 1, 1916, the longest wait that anyone had waited until then. This hardly compares to  Republican nominee Janice Rogers Brown, the first black female nominee for the appointment  as Circuit Court of Appeal, whose nomination was delayed by two years before the Democrats allowed her to take her position – all due to her conservative judicial outlook.

Harvard president A. Lawrence Lowell pushed for quotas on Jewish students and opposed the appointment of Louis Brandeis  – one of its Harvard’s most brilliant students – as a Supreme Court justice because he was Jewish.

Brandeis, a social justice crusader(sic) and a leading Zionist, predicted the crash of ’29 because he realised that the bankers were taking all of the possible payoffs and none of the risks and predicted that things would go bust.

In 1932, Brandeis was joined by a second Jewish justice, Benjamin Cardozo. Antisemitism was still very much in ‘evidence’ on the  Supreme Court Bench, notably Justice  James Clark McReynolds, who   refused to speak to Brandeis for three years after his confirmation. During Cardozo’s swearing-in, McReynolds read a newspaper muttering:

 “Another one.”

Cardozo was born  to a distinguished Sephardic Jewish family. His father, Albert Cardozo, resigned as a New York State judge under threat of impeachment after he was discovered to have sold preferments to his nephew and to his patron. He only served three years on the Supreme Court bench.

Jewish Justice Benjamin N Cardozo appointment to the supreme Court was met with hostility by sitting Associate judge, JusticeJames Clark McReynolds, who  refused to speak to Brandeis for three years after his confirmation.

With the passing of Cardozo, the baton was handed over to Felix Frankfurter. Frankfurter was the first nominee to appear  at his own confirmation hearing. He adopted the position that his public record spoke for itself and  said it would be inappropriate for him to add or subtract from his lengthy public record. He refused to answer questions.

McReynolds earned another racist footnote by refusing to  attend the swearing-in of  Frankfurter, stating:

 “My God, another Jew on the court!”  

He then joined with fellow justices Pierce Butler and Willis Van Devanter in urging President Herbert Hoover not to “afflict the court with another Jew.”  McReynolds was quoted as saying “Huh, it seems that the only way you can get on the Supreme Court these days is to be either the son of a criminal or a Jew, or both.”

Frankfurter had been an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the prelude to WWII. Although an immigrant himself, he supported Roosevelt’s  recommendations  that no assistance be given to the Jews of Nazi Europe. However, he believed  in cultural assimilation and in a society based on  meritocracy. He believed that talent and  brains were more important  than race, religion, or class. In 1948, he  hired the Court’s first black law clerk, William Coleman Jr, the same year Apartheid became the official policy in South Africa. He almost crossed paths with a future  SCOTUS, Ruth Ginsburg. She was recommended for a clerkship with  him, and for all his belief in meritocracy, Frankfurter said that he wasn’t ready to hire a woman.

Architect of the legal fight for women’s rights in the 1970s, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg subsequently served 27 years on the nation’s highest court.

It was the case of  Baker v Carr,  dealing with the redrawing of electoral districts that saw the end of Frankfurter’s career. He was vehement in his objection to bringing the Court into politics, warning that it would lead the Court  down a dangerous road where the Court could one day be called upon to determine winners and losers in national elections. He was so incensed by the final decision that  he suffered a stroke shortly afterwards, which he blamed on the stress of the  case. This stroke resulted in his retirement. The decision also took its toll  on the other justices, none more so than  Justice Charles Evans Whittaker, who struggled to come to a decision one way or the other. Skipping the final vote, he resigned right after the decision and died soon after.

Even though Frankfurter had married a minister’s daughter, he insisted that his funeral include reciting Kaddish, read by his former law clerk, a practicing, orthodox Jew.

“I came into this world a Jew  … I think it is fitting that I should leave as a Jew.”

This allowed for another Jew to find a judicial place on the bench. In 1962 President John F Kennedy appointed his Secretary of Labour, Arthur Goldberg, to the Supreme Court. A distinguishing feature of his tenure was his writing of the Escobedo v. Illinois  judgment establishing the right of a suspect to have a lawyer present during interrogation – setting out the framework for Miranda and the ”Miranda rights” of an arrested suspect.

Justice of the US Supreme Court and subsequently US Ambassador to the UN, Arthur Goldberg speaking with Golda Meir. (Credit: Moshe Milner, GPO.)

Only three years after his appointment and upon  the death of Adlai Stevenson, President Johnson asked Goldberg to become the United States ambassador to the United Nations. This allowed Johnson to appoint his good friend Abe Fortas to the “Jewish seat”.

Abe Fortas  (right) was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Johnson (left)  on July 28, 1965, to a seat vacated by Justice Arthur Goldberg.  

When Chief Justice Earl Warren announced his resignation effective upon the confirmation of his successor,  the frontrunner was Fortas.  Warren had even arranged for an appointment at the White House for Fortas.  Fortas blew his chances  when he appeared before the Senate judiciary committee –  the first time a sitting Justice had ever done so.  The appearance was a disaster.  The vote for his appointment resulted in a filibuster and Fortis requested that his nomination be withdrawn.  Because of revelations arising from and as a result of the confirmation hearings, Fortas resigned his position on the Supreme Court. 

A second nomination for a Jew to be appointed as the chief justice was contemplated by President Johnson, who by this time was running a lame-duck presidency. He proposed that Goldberg accept the position and asked President Richard Nixon to appoint him. Nixon refused. Goldberg subsequently became the president of the  American Jewish Committee.

With the resignation of  Fortas  came the end of  53 years of a Supreme Court “Jewish seat”.  Not until 1993, with Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, would another Jewish justice be appointed to the court.

Ginsberg is probably the most popular of the recent Supreme Court justices.  Noted for her fiery dissents,  she entered into Pop Culture.  She inspired nail art, Halloween costumes, coffee mugs and even a colouring-in book.  She obtained the ultimate acclaim of the youth by inspiring tattoos and that of the moneyed class by being depicted as a bobble-head doll. Talking heads made her a media icon, spitting out witty insults known as “ginsburns”.  Yet, even with her liberal outlook, her love of opera led to an unlikely friendship with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a noted conservative. The two opera-lovers even donned powdered wigs and wore 18th century costumes to appear in a stage production of ‘Strauss’.

Ginsberg was raised in an Orthodox home and rebelled when she was excluded from the minyan of mourners after the death of her mother.  She said it felt like women didn’t really count in the Jewish world, which went strongly against her world outlook. But she always acknowledged her Jewishness publicly. In her chambers, there was a large silver mezuzah on her doorpost, and hanging on her wall was an artistic  Hebrew-lettered rendition of “Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof “(Justice, justice shall you pursue). 

While on the bench, Ginsberg was joined by Elena Kagan. Kagan is the only Supreme  Court Justice to have argued with  her family  rabbi and come out ahead. Kagan demanded that she have a real bat mitzvah, not just a party. She wanted a religious bat mitzvah, on a Shabbat morning, where she could read from the Torah. Rabbi Riskin, now Chief Rabbi of Efrat, didn’t agree to having Kagan read from the Torah but she did get to read from the Book of Ruth and her ceremony took place on a Friday night.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan

There is, of course, the most famous Supreme Court Justice who never was – Merrick Garland, now United States Attorney General. Nominated by President Obama, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Republican majority refused to conduct the hearings necessary to advance the vote to the Senate at large, and Garland’s nomination expired on January 3, 2017, with the end of the session of Congress, 293 days after it had been submitted to the Senate, handsomely beating the waiting period of Justice Brandeis.

But  my favourite story is about  the retiring Justice Stephen Breyer,  which I recently read in Tablet magazine.

Breyer was  to be attending  a shul service and he was contacted by the rabbi who wanted to give him an Aliyah (the honour accorded to a worshiper of being called up to read an assigned passage from the Torah).  The rabbi asked him for his Hebrew name. He said he wasn’t  sure  and would have to contact his brother to find out what it was.  Breyer then sent a message to the rabbi that his name was Shlomo ben Yitzchak.  At the Shabbat service, the rabbi told him that he had the same name as that of  the foremost commentator on the Bible and Talmud – Rashi.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer holds up a copy of the U.S. Constitution as he announces he his retirement from the bench. (REUTERS)

Sometime later , and while in England,  he was recognised when  attending a Sabbath shul service. The famous judge was  asked if he wanted an Aliyah and what his Hebrew name was.   Breyer, by this time, had forgotten what he had been told was his Hebrew name.  After initially hesitating,  he stated “My name is the same as Rashi” and was called to the Torah.

Over the recent past, it has  become clear, that the Supreme Court has become welcoming for all groups, even if the judiciary hearing proceedings are not. Breyer’s former clerk may take her seat, which has now become a seat for a “black female judge”. It was not long ago, however, that Jews and Blacks fought together against oppression and in furtherance of civil rights. One hopes that this fight will continue on these hallowed benches with the Jewish seats and the Black female seats marching side by side,  pursuing justice.



About the writer:

Craig Snoyman is a practising advocate in South Africa.




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).

PURIM – Averting Catastrophe

As Israel celebrates this week the joyous holiday of Purim which tells of the near-destruction of the Jewish people as plotted by ‘Haman’, the conniving evil adviser to the Persian King Ahasuerus, and as salvation today is sought from the ongoing mass slaughter in Ukraine at the hands of the evil Putin, it is illuminating to return to the Purim of 1953  as told by Dr. Yosef Begun and Larry Pfeffer. Their incisive perspectives first appeared in The Jerusalem Post in 2014. It was a time when after 1948 – the year of Israel’s independence –  that the USSR under Joseph Stalin was getting increasingly antisemitic, when it became clear that Israel would not be turning “red”.

Purim 1953

By Dr. Yosef Begun and Larry Pfeffer

Yosef Begun’s memories from Moscow

Two years after the end of World War II in 1945, I was 15 and started my studies in a technical high-school of the aviation industry. I was lucky since a year later, in 1948, “the years of late Stalinism” began with all kind of discrimination and persecution of Jews. Jewish students were not accepted at our school. 1948 began tragically. I remember well a cold day in January. I was coming home late frozen, looking forward to a hot supper. Right away I see that Mamma is very upset: she is silent with her hands resting in her lap.

What has happened?” I ask.

Mikhoels is dead. It was an automobile accident.” she replied.

I must confess that at that time I didn’t feel anything special. People were perishing every day. During that period I didn’t know who was this famous Yiddish actor and director of the State Jewish Theater and the chairman of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, which was very helpful in the fight against Hitler. In my youth there was no place either for the Yiddish theater or for its great actor Solomon Mikhoels. I was very assimilated, like many others of my generation whom the Soviet regime deprived of Jewish education and Jewish identity. Mamma and some relatives went for the last farewell to the great Jewish actor and director of Yiddish Theater. Before the Bolshevik Revolution, Mamma had a “classical” Jewish girl’s education in the cheder of her shtetl and respected everything Jewish. I was brought up as a Soviet citizen who studied to be an aviation engineer and literally did not know the “difference between Mordechai and Haman”. As a 15-year boy, I had something “more important” to do that day… Till now I feel ashamed for this.

Portrait of a Monster. To the great relief of many, Joseph Stalin  died of a massive heart attack on March 5, 1953. Revered as the man who helped save his nation from Nazi domination, he is no less remembered as the mass murderer of the century, having overseen the deaths of between 8 million and 20 million of his own people.

At the time, we still could not imagine what difficult times were only beginning for us. Soon rumors began to circulate, each more terrifying than the one before. For example, at the great automobile factory Zavod imeni Stalina (Plant of Stalin’s name). in Moscow, they said that “a group of saboteurs” was uncovered, consisting of top engineers, all of whom were Jews. The newspapers wrote about “cosmopolitans” who did not love the Soviet homeland and Russian people and were “kowtowing” before the West. Almost all of the names of such people were Jewish. There were rumors about closing down the Yiddish Theater… At that time we knew nothing about the arrests, torture, trials and execution of Jewish cultural and public figures. There were hints, rumors and much uncertainty which contributed to our sense of fear of what was to come.

Then came January 1953, when there were announcements about the “murderers in white coats”. Once again the Jews. Antisemitic articles appeared in the central newspapers Pravda, Izvestiya, Komsomolskaya Pravda. Therewere caricatures in Krokodil, with exaggerated Jewish noses and sinister faces… The newspapers printed letters from workers demanding that the “Zionist agents” should be rooted out and punished. No one knew who these “Zionist agents” were, but the papers explained that American Jewish organizations were recruiting Soviet Jews in order to harm Soviet people. Every Jew was, therefore, suspect… Many Jewish specialists were fired and rumors also circulated about the imminent deportation of Jews from Moscow. It was said that Jews themselves asked to be sent to distant regions to be saved from the “people’s anger”. Like many others, I thought that the newspapers could not lie… I hated those “Zionists” who were planning to harm our country. Because of them it would be bad for all Jews… Only one hope remained. Our great leader, Comrade Stalin, wouldn’t allow this! He saved us from the fascists and he knows that we love this country. He would determine who were the enemies and saboteurs. And our enemies, not just the Jewish ones, always got what they deserved.

Power of Purim. Bottom left shows Stalin on the bedroom floor of his dacha outside Moscow following his collapse. Beria, secret police chief, is not hiding his joy. The tombstone (bottom right) reveals the Jewish victims of Stalin era state led antisemitism. The gate over the rail tracks is taken from the Vorkuta Gulag camp entrance in the 1930s and says: “Labor in the USSR is a matter of Honor and Glory”. The physicians in front of the Communist hammer and sickle icon are the accused in the infamous Soviet “Doctors’ Plot”. The men with the rifles depict the execution of leading Jewish cultural and political figures in the USSR and Czechoslovakia. The train, the nearby crowd and skull allude to Stalin’s rumored plans to deport Soviet Jewry and the likelihood of large number of potential victims if Stalin had not collapsed on Purim 1953.

Fear was a constant companion of every Jewish family in the Soviet Union. The mass propaganda affected everyone. In January 1953, I was on holiday at a small rest home near Moscow. Those who relaxed there were mostly simple, uneducated, hard workers, who spent their time playing dominoes. However, everyone showed up at a lecture on “the international situation of the USSR.” In fact the hall was full and people were turned away. After the lecturer from the city committee of the Party sounded off about the machinations of “western world reactionaries” and the Soviet struggle for peace, he was peppered with questions about the main topic at the time: “What will we do with those doctors – the murderers in white coats?” Waiving his right arm, the lecturer stated with pathos: “The criminals have confessed. There will be a trial!”

Four days after Purim, when Stalin’s death was announced on March 5, I was already 20 but was terrified. I thought that now, finally, “they” would come after us; there was no longer anyone to protect us… One of the closest men to Stalin and fellow Georgian, Lavrentiy Beria, became Minister of Internal Affairs and on April 4 it was announced that the “case against the doctors” had been fabricated by members of the State Security service, including its Deputy Minister Mikhael Ryumin. All of them had been arrested and quickly executed. Beria himself was arrested, secretly tried and shot.

The Soviet “Haman” and a Pharaoh of our time, who had planned soon after the Holocaust another major program against Jews, collapsed on March 1, 1953. In a symbolic and miraculous way that day coincided with a joyous Jewish holiday and entered Jewish history as “Purim 1953”. 3,000,000 Jews of the Soviet Union and its colonies were saved from the great disaster. One can only surmise what would have happened if Stalin didn’t die just then. The possibilities included mass deportation of the Jews – following the model of Stalin’s murderous wartime deportations of the Chechens and Crimean Tatars. Disagreements among historians about what Stalin had planned continue to this day.

The truth about antisemitic Soviet actions was hidden from the public for many years until the Soviet regime collapsed at the beginning of the 1990-s. Only then did Soviet citizens, including I, become aware of the following.

 In 1948 and 1949, a group of Russian Jewish writers were arrested, among them the most prominent were Peretz Markish, David Hofstein, David Bergelson, Itzik Fefer, Leib Kvitko. Famous actor Benjamin Zuskin, who played leading roles in Mikhoels’ theater, was also arrested. All of them and some other Jewish cultural figures were members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC) during the war. Together with them, some prominent public figures were arrested: Solomon Lozovsky, the former Deputy Foreign Minister, Boris Shimeliovich, the chief doctor of the big Moscow clinic, academic Lina Stern, a specialist of physiology. Altogether there were 14 Jews, defendants in the “JAC trial”. All the accusations were invented – as for example that the leaders of JAC were going to give up the Crimean peninsula to America. The real “crime” of Jewish writers was their activity in Jewish culture.

Savage Stalin. Jewish cultural icons executed – David Bergelson (left), Peretz Markish (centre left), Izi Kharik (centre right – Yiddish poet killed in 1937 during The Great Purge), and Solomon Mikhoels (right).
 

By preserving Yiddishkeit , even at a very low intensity, they were an obstacle to Stalin’s plan to accomplish the Soviet “final solution of Jewish question” by total assimilation of Jews. After three years of interrogations and tortures, all the Jewish defenders – with the exception of academic Lina Stern then 73 – were sentenced to death. On August 12, 1952, they were shot in the Lubyanka KGB dungeon. Many other Jews, mostly Jewish cultural and leading public figures, were arrested and sent for long terms to forced labor camps. Some of these people died under interrogation. In 1949 famous Yiddish writer, Der Nister, was arrested and died in the Gulag in 1950. Yitzhak Nusinov died in prison. Shmuel Persov and Miriam Zheleznov were shot. Solomon Bregman, the deputy minister died in prison in January 1953.

The Night of the Murdered Poets” – Aug 12 1952. The flower of Yiddish literary culture in the Soviet Union, Stalin’s victims- David Bergelson, Peretz Markish, Leib Kvitko, and Solomon Lozovsky. 
Joel Sprayregen, a Chicago attorney and activist, later wrote. “Stalin believed he could crush the Jews of Russia with one stroke of mass murder by destroying their culture and language in the darkness of one Moscow night.

Larry Pfeffer’s memories from Budapest

I was ten-years-old in Budapest when Stalin collapsed and died. I only recall the pervasive sense of mourning in the city. Black flags and black drapes were hanging from the buildings. The newspapers’ front page had a picture of Stalin within a thick black frame. As far as I recall on the eve of Purim 1953, I acted in a Purimshpiel in the Orthodox community complex auditorium. Sundays and afternoons, I attended cheder in that complex since age six. Probably this was one of the few operating cheders left in the Communist empire. Periodically, I saw the principal, Shlomo Grossberg – in fact, like others students, attended his wedding in the Orthodox complex courtyard where the chupah was. Suddenly there were rumors in the “Kazincy” central Orthodox synagogue that Shlomo was arrested by the Hungarian secret police. Grownups didn’t discuss such matters with children. Perhaps they also didn’t know what really happened. I recall Shlomo returning to his position maybe eight to ten months later and his face showed that he went through very difficult times. I recently met him in Israel and learned that he was arrested on Purim 1953 for  a “Zionist” show trial. I didn’t want to ask him how he was treated, because I didn’t want to bring back painful memories.

Even as a child I often heard typical Communist propaganda about “Titoist traitors”, the “imperialists and their lackeys”, and “capitalist warmongers” – especially during the Korean war. In Hungary I was not aware of the scale of the Stalin’s terror against Jews and that it was not limited to the USSR: anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist trials were organized also in the Kremlin’s colonies. Only long after I escaped from Hungary in late 1956, did I become aware of the following events.

State Murder. It was among the most notorious show trials of the 20th century, the prosecution and sentencing to death of  the Jew Rudolf Slánský, Czechoslovakia’s leading communist, who had been arrested in a brutal purge ordered by Stalin and said to have been tortured into a confession. (Photograph: BBC)

On November 20, 1952, Rudolf Slánský, the second most powerful in Czechoslovakia, and thirteen other leading Czechoslovak communists, were arrested and tortured. Two received life sentence and the rest, including Slánský, were shot. Slánský and ten more of the arrested were Jews. The trumped up accusation was being “Titoists” and “spying” for the “Western capitalists and imperialists” – typical of Moscow directed show trials of that time.

Raoul Wallenberg, who did so much for humanity, fell into the hands of the Russians on January 17, 1945 – a day before the Russians drove out the Germans and occupied the Pest side of the city. Wallenberg disappeared into the Russian dungeons and the Gulag. His fate is still unknown. Reliable and highly respected investigators, such as Professor Irwin Cotler (former Canadian Minister of Justice), clearly stated that Wallenberg was probably alive for decades after his abduction.

In 1952/53 a Moscow directed “Wallenberg” and “Zionist” show trial was in preparation in Budapest. Leaders of Hungary’s Jewry: Lajos Stöckler, Miklós Domonkos and Dr. László Benedek were arrested – along with two non-Jews who worked with Wallenberg: Pál Szalai and Károly Szabó. They were tortured to force them to “confess” the “crimes” invented by the “script”, according to which in 1945 they “murdered” Wallenberg in Budapest. (Szalai and Szabó rescued many Jews during the Holocaust. At Wallenberg’s request, Szalai met with German general August Schmidthuber and prevented the murder of Budapest ghetto’s 70,000 inhabitants.) Other Jewish leaders were arrested and accused of “Zionist crimes” and “spying for the “capitalists and imperialists.”

Stalin’s Show Trials.  The purges through the courts came to an end with Stalin’s demise following Purim 1953.

The antisemitic “Doctors’ Plot” and Budapest show trials stopped and the danger to Jews in the Soviet Union and its colonies was prevented by Stalin’s sudden – possibly assisted – collapse on March 1, 1953, which was Purim, and his subsequent death a few days later.

The accused doctors, the accused in Budapest, and probably large number of Jews and others living in Soviet Union and its empire were saved when Stalin collapsed on Purim 1953.





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).

Soul of Salonica

Violent endings and new beginnings are the weave in this tormented tapestry of three great faiths and peoples inhabiting this bewilderingly exotic city

By Alex Rose

Thessaloniki  – also known as Salonica – is today the second largest city in Greece. Once the second largest city in the Byzantine Empire and later the second busiest port in the Ottoman Empire, I was fascinated to read in Lay of the Land,When Jews Thrive, the World Thrives”, that Israel’s 2022 Genesis Price recipient, Dr. Albert Bourla, the CEO of Pfizer, was born and educated in this ageless cultural crossroad.

“The Jerusalem of the Balkans”. According to the 1913 census, the city’s population was 157,889, comprising 61,439 Jews, 39,956 Orthodox Greeks, 45,867 Turks, 6,263 Bulgarians and 4,364 “foreigners.”

For me, it is of particular interest in that my maternal grandmother and a cousin were the only family members to find their way from Salonica to Jerusalem shortly prior to the commencement of WWII.

So they too were spared the horrors that befell the Jewish community there under the Nazis.

Out in Time. The writer’s maternal grandmother Reina Calderone, who left Salonica for Jerusalem shortly before the outbreak of WWII.(Courtesy Alex Rose)

Salonica City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950” by historian  Mark Mazower is described by  the Guardian’s Jan Morris as “A tremendous book about a city unique not just in Europe, but in the entire history of humanity.” The 509 page book consisting of of 23 chapters and includes a number of historical photographs, provides a history of a fascinating, turbulent city and a brilliant guide to Salonica’s rich past.   It unearths the buried past and recounts the haunting story of how the three great faiths – Islam, Christianity and Judaism  – that shared the city were driven apart.

Europe meet the Orient. The history of a bewilderingly exotic city of clashing cultures and peoples, from the glories of Suleiman the Magnificent to its nadir under Nazi occupation.
Salonica is the point where the wonders and horrors of the Orient and Europe have met over the centuries.

Salonika’s  initial character was Byzantine – a synthesis of imperial Rome, the Greek language and Orthodox  Christian faith. Subsequently, the big upheaval was the advance of the Ottoman Turks into the Balkans from Anatolia in the 14th century.

Lost Legacy. Little remains from the 2,000-year presence of Thessaloniki’s Jewish community, though its contribution has been pivotal to the city’s culture, society and economy.

Under the rule of the Ottoman Sultans, one of the most extraordinary and diverse societies in Europe, lived for five centuries amid its minarets and cypresses on the shore of the Aegean, alongside its Roman ruins and Byzantine monasteries. Egyptian merchants and Ukrainian slaves, Spanish-speaking rabbis – refugees from the Iberian Inquisition – and Turkish pashas rubbed shoulders with Orthodox shopkeepers, Sufi dervishes and Albanian brigands.

Thriving Jewish Life. A Jewish family from Thessaloniki, Greece seen in 1917. (Wikimedia Commons)

In essence, it was generally inhabited by people of the three faiths who for the most part lived peacefully.

Flames over Salonica. In 1917, a massive fire roared through the Mediterranean port city of Salonica, Greece, then home to the largest and most dynamic Ladino-speaking Sephardi Jewish community in the world is depicted in this “Study for 1917 Fire —Salonika” (2016) by Harry I. Naar (Courtesy of Naar via JTA)

Mazower describes in Chapter  16 ‘The Great Fire’ of 1917, as “one of the seminal issues.”  He quotes the British journalist and author Collinson Owens:

“……the wailing families, the crash of falling houses as the flames tore along, swept by the wind; and in the narrow streets, a slow moving mass  of pack-donkeys, loaded carts, camels carrying enormous loads; Greek boy scouts [doing excellent work]; soldiers of all nations as yet unorganized to do anything  definite; ancient wooden fire-engines that creaked pathetically as they spat out ineffectual trickles of water; and people carrying beds [hundreds of flock and feather beds], wardrobes, mirrors, pots and pans, sewing  machines [every family made a desperate endeavor to save its sewing machine] and a general collection of rubbish.”

The damage was  almost incomprehensible.

No less than three quarters of the old city had been destroyed, according to an official report. Close to ten thousand buildings were destroyed and over 70,000 people had lost their homes. The Jewish community was worse effected, for the fire had consumed its historic quarters; most of its thirty-seven synagogues were gone, its libraries , schools, club buildings and offices.

Surviving Synagogues. The Yad Lezikaron Synagogue in Thessaloniki commemorating the victims of the Holocaust which the writer’s wife  Renee visited in 2015. Out of 40 synagogues before WWII, only left are the  Monastir and Yad  lazikaron, the last working synagogue, which includes the ‘remains’ from the destroyed synagogues. (Photo Alex Rose)

In Salonica, fires were such a regular occurrence that prayers against them formed part of the local Yom Kippur (holiest day of the year in Judaism) service. This fire dwarfed all previous fires suffered by Salonica as it destroyed the essence of the Ottoman town, and its Jewish core. Out of the ashes, an entirely new town began to emerge, one molded  in the image of the Greek state and its society.

The Shoah

In Chapter 22, Mazower addresses, “Genocide”. On 6 April 1941, German troops  attacked Greece from the north and three days later entered Salonica. The country was partitioned, while Salonica and its region were among  the strategically vital areas which remained  under the control of the German army.  As the resultant death toll rose, fear of famine gripped the population. Emaciated adults were collapsing on the pavements. The wife of the Swiss consul  upon arriving home at the end of 1941, reported:

 “The specter of a contrived  extermination of a whole population cannot be dismissed as a hallucination conjured up by starved stomachs, but rather viewed as a logical appraisal of German  behavior in Greece since the invasion of Russia.”

Around this time, Hitler’s ideological commissar, Alfred Rosenberg was setting up a research center in Frankfurt for the study of world Jewry. When Greece fell , he immediately sent a team to Salonica – “one of the main Jewish centers, as you yourself know”, he told Martin Bormann. In October 1941, Heinrich Himmler warned Hitler that the city’s large Jewish population posed a threat to German security.

Alfred the Monster. Nazi theorist and ideologue Alfred Rosenberg  who played a decisive role in shaping Nazi philosophy and ideology, sent a ‘team” to Salonica.

It came as a shock when on July 8, 1942, the local Wehrmacht commander in Salonica instructed all male Jews aged between 18 and 45 to present themselves for registration. From eight o’clock in the morning, the following Saturday, 9,000 Jewish men stood in lines in Plateia Eleftherias while their names were taken down. The round-up on July 11 helps one to realize how the Final Solution unfolded: not only through instructions from Berlin, but also through the voluntary participation and initiatives of local  authorities.

Something less than 5% of Salonika’s Jewish population escaped deportation compared with perhaps 50% in the Greek capital a year later.

Lost World

In Chapter 3, “The Arrival of the Sephardim”, we read and lament of so much of the Jewish character of the city that was lost.

By1668, the Jews were such an integral part of Salonica that it seemed impossible to imagine they had not always been there.  And indeed there had been Jews in the city before there were any Christians. At the conclusion in the paragraph prior to Chapter 23 – “Aftermath” – we find according to German records, approximately  45,000 people reached Auschwitz  from Salonica and within a few hours of arrival, most of them had been murdered  in the gas chambers.

Hell on Wheels. A railway officer walks in front of a train that was used by the Nazis to carry Jews from Thessaloniki  (Salonica) to Auschwitz during the WWII. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

The tragedy of this transition is captured in Devin E. Naar’s 18 August 2017 article in Times of Israel, ‘A century ago, Jewish Salonica burned’, which he describes in his sad subhead:

“The home to the largest and most dynamic Ladino-speaking Sephardi Jewish community in the world was rebuilt, only to be destroyed anew”

Salonica had suffered from a series of fires in its history, but during the four centuries under the benign rule of the Ottoman Empire, the city’s residents were permitted to rebuild without much state interference. Not so after ‘The Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917’. The Greek government, which had only recently annexed Salonica during the Balkan Wars (1912-13), saw in the fire an opportunity to transform once and for all Jewish and Ottoman Salonica into Greek Thessaloniki.

They Came, They Conquered, They Murdered. Invasion of German army into Greece spelled disaster for most the Jews of Salonica.. (photo credit: YAD VASHEM)

As much as Salonika’s Jewish community rebounded from the fire of 1917, the destruction wrought by the German occupation was insurmountable. Beyond the dispossession, deportation and murder of almost all of Salonika’s Jews by the Nazis, the entire character of the city was irrevocably transformed. Several dozen synagogues, with the exception of one or two, were destroyed by the Nazis and their collaborators; visual traces of the Jewish presence in the built environment were gone.  

A journalist further lamented:

The most important thing that the fire destroyed was the Jewish soul of Salonica. It is a terrible story.”



About the Writer:

Alex Rose was born in South Africa in 1935 and lived there until emigrating to the USA in 1977 where he spent 26 years as an engineering consultant, much of it at Westinghouse. He was also formerly on the Executive of Americans for a Safe Israel and a founding member of CAMERA, New York ( Committee for Accuracy in the Middle East Reporting in America and today one of the largest media monitoring organizations concerned with accuracy and balanced reporting on Israel). In 2003 he and his wife made Aliyah to Israel and presently reside in Ashkelon. His writings appear frequently in Times of Israel – The Blog.





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 Importance of Memory

By Karen Pollock CBE, Chief Executive, Holocaust Educational Trust

Today we mark Holocaust Memorial Day on the 77th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the infamous Nazi concentration and death camp.

On Holocaust Memorial Day, we remember the 6 million Jewish men, women and children who were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. We remember them as the people they were before they were victims – as members of families and communities, as teachers or doctors, people who dreamed of travelling, or playing football for their favourite team. Ordinary people with lives ahead of them

Jewish life before the Holocaust

And we can’t help but remember what happened to them – how they were marked out and identified as Jewish, how they were stripped of their property and their rights, how they were stripped of their citizenship and forced out of their homes. How they were forced into ghettos, and starved and beaten and tortured. And how, eventually, they were taken to ravines and fields and purpose-built death camps across Europe and murdered, in their millions, simply because they were Jewish.

For decades after the war, the human stories of the Holocaust were missing from the public discourse. People knew about the Nazis, they knew about Hitler, they knew that there had been gas chambers. But they didn’t know the human face of those whose lives ended in those gas chambers. The victims were alien, abstract, a homogenous group of 6 million. And they certainly didn’t know the stories of the survivors.

Smiling faces of Jewish kids before the horror was to befall them.

There were lots of reasons – survivors were rebuilding their lives; they did not want to keep reopening their deepest and darkest wounds. And even when survivors did speak, they were met with disbelief, or simply with disinterest. Across the world, countries were rebuilding and trying to move on from the war, and stories of the atrocities faced by survivors were a painful reminder of a past that everyone wanted to forget.

Two of the five girls in this photograph—taken in Humenné, Slovakia, around 1936—are known to have been sent to Auschwitz, Poland, on March 25, 1942, as part of the first official transport of Jews to the death camp. Neither Anna Herskovic (second from left) nor Lea Friedman (fourth from left) survived. (Photo courtesy the Grossman and Gross families)

How times have changed.

There is a lot that paved the way for the change we now see – the televised trial of Eichmann, Schindler’s List in cinemas around the world, survivors gathering in Israel for the first time – and the passage of time. But today, looking back, what I see is the tenacity of survivors who, in their retirement especially, were determined that the world would know what happened to them. In the years since they have been tireless in their efforts to affect change, and to ensure that the horrors of the past would never be forgotten.

Two young Jewish women wearing the yellow star in Paris. Wearing of the star was made compulsory in occupied France in 1942. (PHOTO: KEYSTONE-FRANCE/GAMMA-KEYSTONE VIA GETTY IMAGES)

Today, around the world, communities of all faiths and none, of all backgrounds, in countries who were once occupied by the Nazis and those who were not, will pause for a moment to remember the Holocaust. They will remember the horrors of the past, and they will commit to ensuring its legacy continues. Holocaust Memorial Day has become internationally recognised and integrated into calendars across the globe.

And today those survivors who were not heard for so many years are in the spotlight. Their stories are being told, their voices are being heard, and their legacy is being cemented.

That is not to say that our work is done. Antisemitism continues to be an issue globally. Holocaust distortion continues to grow more prevalent, whether in the rhetoric surrounding the pandemic, in social media ‘jokes’, or in the comparisons of Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto. There is a huge amount of work to be done to ensure that the hatred that led to the Holocaust is understood and addressed, and that the integrity and truth of the past is preserved.

Elie Wiesel once said that to forget the dead is akin to killing them a second time. Today on Holocaust Memorial Day, they are not forgotten.



About the writer:

Karen Pollock CBE, Chief Executive, Holocaust Educational Trust. She started her professional life working for the Parliamentary Committee Against Antisemitism (PCAA), where she became Director. She joined the Holocaust Educational Trust as Communications Director in 1998 and became the Trust’s Chief Executive in 2000. She was a founding Trustee of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and is a member of the Council of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust Council at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. She is a Vice President of the Jewish Leadership Council, a trustee of the Community Security Trust and an Advisor to the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation. In 2012 Karen was awarded an MBE for her services to education in the UK. In 2020, she was awarded a CBE for services to Holocaust education.







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).