Friedman: Why Canadians should be proud of the Holocaust Monument

Rabbi Daniel Friedman is Chair of the National Holocaust Monument Development Council puts the plaque controversy in context:

Last month, Canada unveiled our incredible Holocaust Monument. Let me tell you about my proudest moment that day. It wasn’t when, for the very first time, I walked into the awe-inspiring monument. It wasn’t when, alongside our prime minister, I addressed the nation. And, despite my great reverence for them, it wasn’t when I met the hundreds of inspiring survivors and generous donors.

My proudest moment was watching Justin Trudeau step off stage after his speech. Just then, he noticed a familiar face towards the back of the room, that of Tim Uppal. Uppal is the former MP who introduced the Holocaust Monument bill in Parliament. When Trudeau spotted him, he strode up to the back of the room, grabbed Tim by the hand, and escorted him to the front. At the end of the ceremony, the prime minister turned and gave him a big hug.

That’s the epitome of Canadianism. You see, Tim Uppal was a Conservative MP. Trudeau could have snubbed his former rival and basked all alone in the glory of his government’s day in the sun. But he chose to include him, making sure that he was every much a part of this historic hour.

That’s why Canadians deserve the monument we’ve built together. Many in the world today pay lip service to eradicating hatred and promoting love, respect and tolerance for all humankind. But they never miss an opportunity to attack those who don’t agree with their views, attacks often having little to do with any real matter of substance.

The monument is the product of a partnership between many organizations. Designed by the Lord Cultural Group and Daniel Libeskind, built by the National Capital Commission, facilitated by Canadian Heritage, and overseen by the Monument Development Council, a lot of people have coordinated their efforts to build this piece of our nation.

Along the way we had disagreements. Some bigger, some smaller. Along the way, we made mistakes. Some bigger, some smaller. Along the way we switched governments, which meant a whole host of new players and opinions entering the fray. But we’re Canadians. And we figured it out. We didn’t point fingers. We didn’t politicize things. We were proud of the fact that the Monument bill passed unanimously.

On the big day, we suddenly realized that an egregious error had been made. In amongst the debates over wording and plaque positioning, somehow the one plaque that introduced the others – and made no sense outside the context of the plaques detailing the Nazi genocide of six million Jews along with homosexuals, the disabled and others – ended up mounted all on its own on a separate wall. Visitors to the site were rightly disturbed to encounter this major injustice to the memory of the six million Jews for whom the monument was built. All of the parties involved are deeply remorseful and we apologize unconditionally for the pain we have caused by this oversight.

I want to thank the Trudeau government for acting expeditiously to amend the plaque as soon as the error was brought to its attention. Mistakes happen; most can be fixed quickly and decorously. Without questioning, the government did the right thing, which has been our experience with Trudeau’s government throughout. And that’s why when I saw his interaction with Tim Uppal at the unveiling, my respect for our leader grew ever stronger.  The man is a true Canadian. The man is a mensch.

Canadians don’t look for fights. We seek opportunities to embrace and boost other people who are different from us, whether those differences involve political views, religion or skin colour. The last thing we would want to politicize is the Holocaust.

The National Holocaust Monument was initiated by the Stephen Harper government. It was brought to fruition under the Trudeau government. We live in the most tolerant country in the world, and probably, of all time. Let us never take that blessing for granted. Let us be a little more forgiving of one another. And let us continue to work together, across party lines, ethnic lines and religious lines, to lead the international community, and make this world a better, safer place for all peoples.

Source: Friedman: Why Canadians should be proud of the Holocaust Monument | Ottawa Citizen

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Government hastily removes Holocaust plaque that doesn’t mention Jewish people 

Oops. That should have been caught at the bureaucratic and political levels. Quick corrective action, however.

Any plaque should emphasize the devastating impact on Jews but at the same time should mention that other groups were affected. The US Holocaust Museum notes: “During the era of the Holocaust, German authorities also targeted other groups because of their perceived “racial inferiority”: Roma (Gypsies), the disabled, and some of the Slavic peoples (Poles, Russians, and others). Other groups were persecuted on political, ideological, and behavioral grounds, among them Communists, Socialists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and homosexuals.”

Having visited the Memorial this week, amidst all the scuffle regarding the plaque, it seems no one has read the interpretative panels which, IMO, are excellent both overall as well as having the appropriate emphasis on the impact on Jews as well as other communities:

The federal government has removed a plaque inaugurating Ottawa’s new Holocaust memorial that failed to mention anti-Semitism or Jewish people.

Conservative MP David Sweet raised the issue in question period on Tuesday, asking if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would be correcting this “profoundly obvious omission.

“If we are going to stamp out hatred toward Jews, it is important to get history right,” said Sweet.

The plaque originally commemorated the “millions of men, women and children murdered during the Holocaust” and the survivors who made it to Canada “after one of the darkest chapters in history.”

Heritage Minister Melanie Joly said the plaque has been taken down and will be “replaced with language that reflects the horrors experienced by the Jewish people.”

The monument was inaugurated last Wednesday. Canada had been the only allied power from the Second World War that did not have a national Holocaust monument.

A similar mistake was made by U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this year, although the Liberals’ quick reversal is in contrast to Trump’s response. Administration spokesperson Hope Hicks told CNNthat Jews and anti-Semitism weren’t mentioned in a White House statement for International Holocaust Remembrance Day because “despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered.”

After opening the monument, the Liberals are also expected to apologize for the Canadian government’s 1939 decision to turn away a boat holding 900 Jews seeking asylum from Germany, according to the Canadian Press.

The ship was turned away from Cuba and the United States before a group of Canadians tried to convince then-prime minister Mackenize King’s government to let it dock in Halifax.

About 500 of the ship’s passengers ended up back in Germany, half of whom did not survive the Holocaust.

Source: Government hastily removes Holocaust plaque that doesn’t mention Jewish people | National Post

Marine Le Pen: France ‘not responsible’ for deporting Jews during Holocaust – The Washington Post

Sigh … hope French voters react:

The Velodrome d’Hiver is an eternal stain on French history.

After dark on July 16, 1942, French police rounded up about 13,000 Jews from across occupied Paris and deposited them in the “Vel d’Hiv,” a famous indoor stadium that had hosted the 1924 Summer Olympics and where the likes of Ernest Hemingway would come to enjoy the races. From the stadium, not far from the Eiffel Tower, the vast majority of these interned Jews in 1942 were deported to Auschwitz. Most would never return from that World War II Nazi concentration camp.

The reason the Vel d’Hiv lingers in France’s national memory is that the roundup was carried out by French police — not by the German occupiers.

In a republic devoted to the lofty ideals of equality and universal citizenship — and that had legally emancipated its Jews long before any of its European neighbors — the Vel d’Hiv roundup exposed the deadly hypocrisy of collaboration with the Nazi regime. In 1995, speaking at the site of the stadium, then-President Jacques Chirac put it this way: “France, the homeland of the Enlightenment and of the rights of man, a land of welcome and asylum — France, on that day, committed the irreparable. Breaking its word, it handed those who were under its protection over to their executioners.”

Now enter Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front party, who is making a run for the presidency in the April 23 election.

“I don’t think that France is responsible for the Vel d’Hiv,” she declared Sunday on French television. “I think that in general, more generally, if there were those responsible, it was those who were in power at the time. This is not France.”

In remarks that elicited outrage across the French media, Le Pen went further: “France has been mired in people’s minds for years. In reality, our children are taught that they have every reason to criticize her, to see only the darkest historical aspects.”

“I want them to be proud to be French again.”

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen is among the top contenders in France’s presidential campaign. Here’s what you need to know about her.(Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

Israel condemned Le Pen’s remarks, saying they reflect rising anti-Semitism that, “unfortunately, is once again raising its head.”

Holocaust Organizations, Scholars Slam Possible Defunding of Anti-Semitism Office

Will be surprising if the Trump administration pursues defunding as they should have learned from previous mistakes (i.e., not mentioning Jewish victims of the Holocaust, delayed condemnation of antisemitic acts and hate crimes). But who knows:

As President Donald Trump prepared to enter the White House, reports began to circulate about what his first budget proposal would look like. The day before his inauguration, The Hill reported on plans of the incoming administration to make drastic cuts in government spending, including the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities and reductions in funding and program eliminations within the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Transportation, Justice and State.

Within this last department, Bloomberg reported late last month, the administration was considering whether to eliminate several special envoys, including one on anti-Semitism. On Monday, more than 100 Holocaust organizations, educators and scholars released a statement in response, following similar efforts by the American Jewish Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and U.S. Representative Chris Smith (R-N.J.). William L. Shulman, president of the Association of Holocaust Organizations, tells Newsweek it took the intervening time to put together the statement, edit it and circulate it for signatures.

“We are alarmed by reports that the President plans to defund the US State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, an office that tracks and counteracts anti-Semitism abroad,” the Association of Holocaust Organizations wrote. “We urge the U.S. government to maintain and strengthen the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism and to create a new office to address this urgent issue domestically.

The office in question was created via the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, which expressed “the sense of Congress [that] the United States should continue to support efforts to combat anti-Semitism worldwide through bilateral relationships and interaction with international organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)” and that “the Department of State should thoroughly document acts of anti-Semitism that occur around the world.” The act directed the Secretary of State to establish an Office to Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism, which would be headed by a special envoy, to take on the role of tracking, reporting on and combating anti-Semitism.

“Anti-Semitism is not only a Jewish problem,” Ira Forman, who served as the most recent Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism under former President Barack Obama, is quoted as saying in the release. “Jew-hatred—like other forms of religious and ethnic prejudice—is a threat to the very foundations of liberal democracies.” Speaking to Jewish Insider about the possible defunding, Forman said, “I can’t believe someone at the White House won’t have better sense than to realize that this is a disaster…. This is as bipartisan an issue as you can get, and I just hope folks at the White House come to their senses.”

Source: Holocaust Organizations, Scholars Slam Possible Defunding of Anti-Semitism Office

Warsaw’s Populist Right Whitewashes Holocaust History – The Daily Beast

More disturbing news about Poland:

Katarzyna Wielga-Skolimowska was given 24 hours to clear out her office, until the end of the month to vacate her flat, and is forbidden to talk to the press about any of it.

The elegant redhead, who is credited for her knowledge of architecture and theater, was abruptly fired from her job as director of the Polish cultural institute in Berlin last week. Did her programs have “too much Jewish content,” as Israel’s Haaretz headlined bluntlyThe Forward in the United States made that a question: “Was Polish Culture Institute Director Fired for Too Much ‘Jewish-Themed Content’?”

As various theories circulate in Berlin about why, one thing is clear—that this is the latest attempt of Poland’s radical nationalist government to revamp its image abroad, not least by playing down any Polish role in the Holocaust. A law proposed last summer, for instance, would make it a crime to use the phrase “Polish death camps” for, say, Auschwitz, which was a Nazi death camp in occupied Poland.

“Everything points to the fact that the dismissal [of the Polish Institute Director] was politically motivated,” Berlinische Galerie director Thomas Köhler tells The Daily Beast. “Her contract would have ended next year. This was clearly intended as a punishment—It’s really bad form.”

Together with other leading culture fanatics in the capital, Köhler signed a protest letter that expressed “dismay“ and “irritation“ at the sudden dismissal. Cilly Kugelmann, who directs the Jewish Museum in Berlin, initiated the letter.

Last year, the Polish Institute screened “Ida,” an Oscar-winning Polish film about a Catholic woman who discovers she is the Jewish child of Holocaust victims. But while showing the film may have gone down well in Berlin, it could have been another strike against Wielga-Skolimowska for Warsaw.

Since Poland’s Law and Justice Party won elections in 2015, the Warsaw government has been going to great pains to “recalibrate many of the ways in which Poles think, talk and learn about their own history.” And to some, it looks like Law and Justice wants to whitewash a lot of the country’s history, even the Shoah, by appealing to nationalist pride.

The way in which “Ida” was broadcast on public television in Poland this year has provided one ground for such suspicion. The film that had won best film prize at the Polish Film Academy in 2013 was this time accompanied by a 12-minute clip in which three critics tore into it, warning about supposed historical inaccuracies.

In October, Wielga-Skolimowska received a damning internal evaluation by the newly appointed Polish ambassador to Berlin, Andrzej Przylebski. Among other things, he warned her, “not to overdo the emphasis—particularly in Germany, which should not receive the role of mediator—on the importance of Polish-Jewish dialogue as the main example of intercultural dialogue which takes place in Poland.“

So this week, the left-leaning Berlin paper TAZ chose the provocative title “Warsaw Purges in Berlin” to report on Wielga-Skolimowska’s dismissal. Two other papers followed suit and claimed that Wielga-Skolimowska was fired for over emphasizing Jewish topics. The theme, as noted, was picked up by the Israeli press. And the Polish embassy was not happy. Both the Berliner Zeitung and the Tageszeitung received a letter demanding a correction.

Law and Justice is not generally considered an anti-Semitic party, not least because it is very pro-Israel. And according to political scientist Janusz Bugajski, despite Poland’s shady new attitude to historical accuracy, there is also “sensitivity that Germany is still evading a full accounting of World War II war crimes and that Poles as a nation are depicted as anti-Semites.”

In his evaluation, Ambassador Przylebski also accused Wielga-Skolimowska of having done a bad job inviting guests and choosing topics. “The blind imitation of nihilistic and hedonistic trends does not lead to anything good in terms of civilization.” he wrote, rather mysteriously and apocalyptically. “Poland must resist this.”

Wielga-Skolimowska is the 14th out of 24 Polish Institute directors around the world to be fired this year, and the reasons vary. Vienna was forced to stop working with an Austrian journalist and writer after he criticised “Law and Justice” in his articles. But the director in Madrid already had to go for not focusing enough on Chopin.

“The Polish government is really celebrating national pride now,” Köhler muses, “and you can understand that: the country has a nasty history. But I expect that now they’ll be doing a very conservative backwards program, with uncritical writers, artists, and Chopin evenings. I don’t know if I’ll still feel like going.”

Bugajski, the political scientist, notes that Ambassador Przylebski, at the very least, seems to be “repeating the kind of language that communists used against ‘decadent Western bourgeois art.’  He adds, “It just shows you that politicians should not try to be culture critics.”

Ryerson ‘concerned’ about allegations of anti-Semitism at student union meeting

Worth noting:

Ryerson University has expressed concern about complaints of anti-Semitism that erupted at a student union meeting this week after students made a motion to mark Holocaust education week on campus every year.

“The university is very concerned about allegations at a recent RSU (Ryerson Students’ Union) meeting,” Johanna VanderMaas, manager of public affairs, said in an email Thursday.

“We are committed to providing a civil and safe environment which is free of discrimination, harassment and hate, and is respectful of the rights, responsibilities, well-being and dignity of all of its members.”

VanderMaas confirmed that Ryerson president Mohammed Lachemi had met with Obaid Ullah, head of the student union, to discuss the matter.

Ullah said the student union is also investigating the allegations, which he called disturbing.

Lachemi’s office has also spoken with one of the students who made the claims “to provide support, guidance and to ensure their concerns are heard” and contacted the Jewish student organization Hillel Ryerson, she said.

The alleged incident took place Tuesday evening at an RSU general meeting, during which a student introduced a motion to commemorate Holocaust education week with events to teach and remember the tragedy.

Third-year student Aedan O’Connor, there to support the motion, said she and other students were subject to jeers and snickers when they spoke, which escalated to anti-Semitic comments.

She also accused two groups of orchestrating a spontaneous walkout so quorum would be lost at the meeting, and with it an opportunity to vote on the motion for Holocaust remembrance — which both groups denied.

“Several students left crying and having panic attacks,” said O’Connor, 20, a member of Hillel Ryerson. Some posted their experiences on the RSU and other Facebook pages.

Neither Ullah or Tamara Jones, RSU vice-president of equity, said they heard any derogatory remarks from their positions on stage at the front of the room.

But they said the union is disturbed by the claims. The motion for a week to mark the Holocaust has the support of the board and will likely be approved at the next meeting, said Ullah.

“At the end of the day we have zero tolerance for this,” he said. “We do not tolerate any form of oppression. It’s not fair for these students to feel upset, or negative or hear such negativity on their own campus.”

He said he has met with two Jewish groups, Hillel Ryerson and Students Supporting Israel, and “they’ve been assured they have our support and the university’s support.”

Ullah said the controversy broke out more than three hours into the meeting, after many attending to support earlier motions had left, and attendance was hovering around the required quorum level of 100 people.

When someone proposed the motion regarding Holocaust education week be broadened to a week commemorating all genocides, “it definitely caused a lot of heat in the room,” he said, adding that proposal “was not appropriate.”

News of the allegations quickly spread on social media and sparked condemnation from such groups as B’nai Brith Canada and Hillel Ontario.

Jones said since the meeting, she has heard from half a dozen upset students and expects to hear from more.

“I’m shocked and disheartened that any of this had to happen,” said Jones.

Both groups accused of orchestrating the walkout strongly denied it on Facebook and did not respond to media requests.

“Allegations that we organized or directed the loss of quorum are completely false and hurtful,” said a post from the Ryerson Muslim Students’ Association.

“We strongly believe in free speech, the right for all paying members of the RSU to put forth motions, and the importance of motions being debated and put to a democratic vote.”

A statement from the executive of Students for Justice in Palestine said it supports the call for a week to commemorate the Holocaust at Ryerson and “did not engage in any manner in the ‘planned’ walkout.”

Austria election: Holocaust survivor’s appeal goes viral – BBC News

We neglect these warnings at our peril:

An emotional appeal from a Holocaust survivor has gone viral ahead of Austria’s presidential election.

Gertrude, 89, said Norbert Hofer’s right-wing Freedom Party “brings out the basest in people”, as she urged people to vote for his competitor.

“I have seen this once before… and it hurts and scares me”, she said, referencing anti-Semitism in the 1930s.

She was deported to the Auschwitz death camp with her family aged 16. She was the only one to survive.

Gertrude, known only by her first name, shared the video through Mr Hofer’s rival, Alexander Van der Bellen. It has been viewed almost three million times.

Austria’s presidential vote re-run is on 4 December and the polls indicate the result is too close to call. If Mr Hofer wins, he will become the EU’s first far-right head of state.

His party was founded in 1955 by a former general in the Nazi SS and it is also distinctly anti-immigration.

“That’s what bothers me the most … no respect for others, they bring out the basest of people – not the decent, but the indecent,” Gertrude said in her video.

“And it’s not the first time something like this has happened.”

She compared the rhetoric surrounding immigration to her memories of Jewish people being mocked and laughed at as they cleaned the streets of Vienna in her youth.

“That hurts. I am afraid of that,” she said.

Gertrude also said she was particularly worried by comments from the Freedom Party’s leader.

Heinz-Christian Strache in October spoke of an “uncontrolled influx of migrants alien to our culture who seep into our social welfare system”, adding that “civil war in the medium-term [is] not unlikely”.

Gertrude said she remembered a civil war from when she was seven years old and saw a dead body for the first time – something she said she could never forget.

It is not clear which war she was referring to, but Austria’s February uprising of 1934 was a four-day armed conflict which left several hundred dead.

“A shiver ran down my spine and I thought to myself: this should not even be mentioned, or even thought of,” she said.

“This is probably going to be my last election. I don’t have much time left. But the young ones still have their whole life ahead of them.

“And they have to look after themselves and for a bright future.”

Source: Austria election: Holocaust survivor’s appeal goes viral – BBC News

The danger in Poland’s frontal attack on its Holocaust history: Jan Grabowski

Worrisome:

Last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections in Poland gave power to a right-wing, nationalistic and populist party, called Law and Justice. The ensuing changes on the political scene were nothing short of dramatic—and deeply troubling. Those who thought that the constitution was the supreme law of the land, were in for a nasty surprise: the new Polish government, with the help of the president, immediately started to dismantle and muzzle the Constitutional Court (an equivalent to the Canadian Supreme Court), the only remaining obstacle to its complete control of the state. The court is now paralyzed, and its most important verdicts are simply ignored by the authorities.

Elsewhere, the journalists of the state radio and television have been purged and those less sympathetic to the new regime were fired. Not surprisingly, the European Parliament took a dim view of the dismantling of democracy in one of its member states and repeatedly expressed its deep and growing concern over the situation in Poland.

However, the departure from democratic practices also goes hand in hand with a frontal attack on Polish history. “Who controls the present, controls the past,” wrote George Orwell, and the Polish authorities seem to have taken Orwell’s words to heart.

Earlier this month Zbigniew Ziobro, the Polish minister of justice, introduced new legislation intended to “defend the good name of the Polish nation.” The new set of laws, already approved by the cabinet, would impose prison terms of up to three years on people “who publicly and against the facts, accuse the Polish nation, or the Polish state, [of being] responsible or complicit in Nazi crimes committed by the III German Reich.” In the governmental narrative, the recently approved law is a penalty for those who talk about the “Polish death camps” of the Second World War. In reality, however, the new law, with its ambiguous and imprecise wording, is meant to freeze any debates which might be incompatible with the official, feel-good, version of the country’s own national past.

 This “feel good” narrative, which the new Polish authorities espouse, is, however, based on historical lies and revisionism masquerading as a defence of “the good name of the Polish nation.” Just a few weeks ago Anna Zalewska, the Polish minister of  education, declared herself unable to identify the perpetrators of the notorious 1946 Kielce pogrom. It is a matter of very public record that in 1946, in Kielce, in the center of Poland, one year after the end of the war, an enraged mob, incited by tales of blood libel, murdered close to 50 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust; women, men and children. Unfortunately, the minister was unable to admit that much. “Historians have to study the issue further,” she said, before finally declaring “it was perhaps anti-Semites.”

Her words were echoed Jaroslaw Szarek, the new chief of the Institute of National Remembrance, a state institution that aspires to be the guardian and custodian of Poland’s national memory. He flatly denied Polish involvement in, and responsibility for, the communal genocide in Jedwabne in 1941. Again, it is a matter of historical record that in July 1941 Polish citizens of Jedwabne herded hundreds of their Jewish neighbours into a barn and then set the barn on fire, burning their neighbours alive. The new law will, quite likely, make further debates surrounding these unpleasant events unlikely.

It so happens that the list of “unpleasant” historical themes, which could soon become a topic of interest to the police and to state prosecutors, is long. For instance, in the face of the new legislation, historians who argue that certain segments of Polish society were complicit in the extermination of their Jewish neighbours in the Second World War will now think twice before voicing their opinion. What about those who would like to study the phenomenon of blackmailing of the Jews, known in Polish as shmaltsovnitstvo? What about those who would like to talk about the role of the Polish “blue” police who collaborated with the Germans in the extermination of the Polish Jewry? What about those who want to shed light on the deadly actions of the Polish voluntary firefighters involved in the destruction of Jewish communities? Or on the involvement of so-called “bystanders,” who might have been much more involved in the German policies of extermination than had previously been thought?

Those are but a few of the who questions that have not yet been tackled by historians. Now, it’s the minister of justice and his prosecutors will probably decide what is a historical fact and what is not.

In the light of the clear message sent by the authorities, the new law, which should be adopted by the Polish parliament any day now, becomes a clear and present threat to the liberty of public and scholarly discussions. It is also a dramatic departure from the democratic principles and standards which govern the laws of other members of the European Union. Finally, introducing prison terms for people who dare to tackle some of the most difficult questions of the country’s past puts Poland right next to Turkey, infamous for its laws against “slandering of Turkish identity,” which is a code word for denying the Turkish responsibility for the Armenian genocide.

Unfortunately for Polish authorities—and fortunately for those involved in the study of the past—the history of the Holocaust, which is at stake here, is not the property of the Polish government. The history of the destruction of the European Jewry is, actually, the only universal part of the national history of Poland, one which resonates in the minds and hearts of people around the world. Any attempt to muzzle debate and to stifle academic research into the various aspects of the history of the Shoah can, should and, hopefully, will be seen as a form of Holocaust distortion, or Holocaust denial—something to be vigorously protested by the international community.

Source: The danger in Poland’s frontal attack on its Holocaust history – Macleans.ca

My Parents’ Mixed Messages on the Holocaust – The New York Times

Good long read on the lessons of the Holocaust as told by Jason Staley whose parents escaped. Nicely nuanced:

My parents explained to me that these pasts meant that they were not Holocaust survivors. My mother told me that in her labor camp, they were hungry, they were put to work, but no one was shooting or gassing them. When they went back to Poland, it was hard, and Jews were hated. But this, she explained, was the fate of Jews. Anti-Semitism was a permanent feature of the world, not special to the Holocaust.

My father’s reaction to describing him as a Holocaust survivor was more severe. He angrily questioned my motivations. Was I seeking a special status as a victim? He urged me to reflect about how offensive this is to those who have to actually live under oppression. He argued powerfully against the stance of the victim. It was morally dangerous, he said, using the actions of Israelis and Palestinians toward one another as an example. He was scornful when he saw signs that I was taking the Holocaust to mean that Jews were special. “If the Germans had chosen someone else,” he often said, “we would have been the very best Nazis.”

Most frequently and passionately, he would reprimand me for taking the Holocaust to be about me, or about my family. The Holocaust was about humanity. It was about what we are capable of doing to one another. It could happen again, it could happen here. The Holocaust was about everyone. Helping to prevent such events from occurring required agency and good moral sense, and good moral sense was not consistent with preferring one’s own people.

My mother’s most frequent advice was about knowing when to get out of a dangerous situation. The moment where one must accept that a situation is genuinely dangerous is usually well past the time when one can exit it. Her advice would come out especially during any patriotic moment. She was afraid I would develop an attachment to a country and would not flee early enough.

My mother and father both believed that normal people could do unimaginably terrible things. As a court stenographer in criminal court, my mother witnessed the racial injustice of the American legal system up close. I remember her sometime in the late 1980s saying to me with a rather flat affect, “They are targeting black people in this country.” That didn’t mean she was about to march out on the street in protest of injustice. That would be a completely incorrect interpretation of my mother. My mother believes that injustice is the normal, unchangeable state of things. My mother believes trust is foolishness. She thinks it is not only naïve to live as if justice were an attainable ideal; it is self-destructive. My mother believes they will kill you if they can.

My father was always critical of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians, convinced that the establishment of the state of Israel was implicated in the horrors of colonialism. He was equally abhorrent of Palestinian violence toward Israeli citizens. I grew up hearing other American Jews speak of Palestinians in pre-genocidal ways; that Palestinians have always wanted to kill the Jews, and must therefore be kept locked away and controlled. Regular exposure to such talk has made me permanently afraid for the safety of the Palestinian people. Comparisons between Israeli treatment of Palestinians and Nazi treatment of Jews are absurd. But my background has made me sensitive to the grimmest of even remote future possibilities. I have exactly the same reactions when I hear such rhetoric directed against Israeli citizens.

I am a philosopher. My calling, at its very basic level, obligates me to question the beliefs with which I was raised. But on this topic — how to live — I was given two answers. Which view do evidence and reason command?

I accept the legacy of my father. But it is impossible for me to shut out my mother’s concerns. Maybe the reality is that all groups are at war for power, and that to adopt an ethic of common humanity is a grave disadvantage. Maybe we should do what we can, but prioritize the safety of our families.

History speaks strongly on my mother’s side. So does my anecdotal evidence. I am white Jewish-American; my sons and wife are black Americans. I cannot retreat from my commitment to these groups. Being interested in the equal dignity of other groups is an additional burden.

It takes work to feel the suffering of Palestinians when I hear of the anger they bear toward my fellow Jews, even though I recognize its clearly justifiable source. It takes much more work to feel the suffering of poor white Americans when I hear it coupled with a thoroughly unjustifiable racism directed against my children. Is it work that I should be doing? Or should I be doing the work of attending primarily to the flourishing of mychildren?

A world in which this ideal is realized is no doubt far-off. The temptation to surrender it is strong. But history has provided us with too many events that show how important it is not to be complicit in making it unattainable.

Source: My Parents’ Mixed Messages on the Holocaust – The New York Times

The Devouring: It’s time to recognize Roma genocide

Gina Csanyi-Robah, Robert Eisenberg and Vahan Kololian on the Roma:

A slaughter that in many ways paralleled both the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire in 1915-16 as well as the Jewish Holocaust. August 2 is the official date designated by the worldwide Roma community to commemorate the Devouring. So why have so few people heard of it?

Unlike Jewish history and what has become the best recorded genocide of the modern era, the Devouring is still little known. While the history of the Roma genocide has been passed on orally through the generations, only recently has there been a movement to record this tragic history. Following the war the Roma community was so devastated it took 60 years to rebuild.

As a result, estimates of the number of Roma killed by the Nazis vary significantly, ranging between 250,000 and 1.5 million. Dr. Ian Hancock of the University of Texas, a world renowned expert on the Roma genocide suggests “… of the estimated 20,000 Romanies in Germany in 1939, fully three quarters had been murdered by 1945. Of the 11,200 in Austria, a half were murdered. Of the 50,000 in Poland, 35,000. In Croatia, Estonia, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Luxembourg, almost the entire Romani populations were eradicated.”

And there are many more in the field of genocide studies who have supported Dr. Hancock’s theory. Indeed, it is telling that the only country at this point that has recognized the Devouring as a legitimate genocide is Germany.

Like Eastern European Jews, they were designated as Untermenschen, unworthy of life. Along with the Jews, they were rounded up from their nomadic villages and thrown onto cattle cars destined for death camps. Indeed, it is said that Roma and Jews walked hand in hand into the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

The designation of genocide has always been emotionally charged. Motivated by both the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust, international legalist Raphael Lemkin coined the term to give specific meaning to the systemic and systematic murder of an entire people. Today, the United Nations genocide convention, which has universal acceptance, defines it as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

If denoting genocide is emotionally charged, its political ramifications can be even greater. The Armenian community struggled long and hard to have Canada finally recognize their tragedy. Threatened economic and diplomatic repercussions from Turkey – which has steadfastly refused to accept the slaughter – were lodged with Canadian authorities when it discussed recognition in Parliament. Nonetheless in 2004, the Parliament of Canada began the process that was completed two years later by the Harper government with full recognition.

The Roma community in Canada, indeed worldwide, has neither the clout in government nor the institutional presence necessary to convince governments to recognize the Devouring. Sadly, global systemic discrimination was also a key factor for ignoring their history. Indeed, to this day the Roma, especially in Eastern Europe, remain persecuted targets of neo-Nazi and other extreme right-wing groups. However, time has certainly come for this recognition.

We lost Elie Wiesel last month, a Nobel laureate and a chronicler of the Holocaust. Mr. Wiesel once wisely noted: “Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”

Source: The Devouring: It’s time to recognize Roma genocide – The Globe and Mail