Remembering the Jewish Victims on International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Well of course, you might say – isn’t remembering the Jewish victims, what the whole point of the day is?  Apparently not. Below is President Trump’s statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day:

“It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust. It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.”

“Yet, we know that in the darkest hours of humanity, light shines the brightest.‎ As we remember those who died, we are deeply grateful to those who risked their lives to save the innocent.

“In the name of the perished, I pledge to do everything in my power throughout my Presidency, and my life, to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good. Together, we will make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.”1

Now what he said – sounds like an acknowledgement of the horror that was the Holocaust – but why not say who the main victims were – Jews?  As usual in politics – everything is clear as mud. Now before we get our knickers more in a knot, who wrote the statement?  Oey, you won’t believe it. Boris Epshteyn, himself not only a Jewish, Russian refugee, but he’s a descendent of Holocaust survivors.2 Were Mr. Epshteyn’s words changed? We’ll never know.  What is clear is that by leaving out mentioning that Jews were the primary victims – well, it’s insulting and dismissive.

I would strongly disagree with the insensitive White House press secretary, Sean Spicer who referred to the strong Jewish protests over the omissions as “pathetic” and “nitpicking.”3 He needs to go back and read his history about the treatment of the Jews. Maybe then his lightbulb will go on, or not. Hmm, what’s missing here?  Empathy and understanding for the Jewish people comes to my mind – how about you?

Reading the words again, “we will make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world” – what?  What alternate Universe is this?  Have I watched one too many Star Trek reruns with my family?

On this of all days, the President issued the ban on refugees.  I can’t help but think of the Jewish refugees who were turned away from the United States during WWII only to be killed in concentration camps.

So in their honor – who were the victims of the Holocaust and how did they die?  Yes, we all should know these things but in today’s world – distortion is king. For several years now, Palestinian student activists on U.S. college campuses have demonstrated in an offensive and egregious fashion. They accused Israel of being an apartheid state.  They’ve called Zionists Nazis and accused Israel of Palestinian genocide.4 Add the ever-present Holocaust deniers, and the history of the inhumane slaughter of the Jewish people – even their attempted extermination, is challenged.

Deborah Lipstadt, the famous historian who won the court battle against Holocaust denier David Irving has accused President Trump’s “innermost circle” of being guilty of “soft Holocaust denial” and the “de-Judaization” of the Holocaust.  Her reference was to Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist who boasted about his work at Breitbart where he created a platform for the alt-right.4   She warned alt-right groups with benign names like the National Policy Institute, now appearing in the news as commentators, might potentially normalize their views. She believes this is dangerous.5

During the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi German killing machine and its collaborators murdered about six million Jews.6  

Recently, I celebrated my birthday.  I can’t help but think of the innocent millions who never again would celebrate with their families and friends this simple pleasure. What inventions would never help the world, nor books be written?

It was an industry created to annihilate the Jewish people from existence on this earth.  There were extermination factories treating humans like parts in machines piling up shoes, hair, clothes and emaciated dead bodies – shoveled into blazing crematoriums.  Fellow Jews were cruelly forced to work in these murder camps doing the work processing their brethren – lest they become one of the dead.

The victims included 1.5 million children and represented about two-thirds of the nine million Jews who had resided in Europe. There were another five million non-Jewish Nazi mass murder victims, bringing the total to about 11 million. The murders took place throughout Nazi Germany, German-occupied territories, and territories held by allies of Nazi Germany.7

The date for the International Holocaust Remembrance day was chosen because on January 27, 1945, Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration and death camp, was liberated by the Red Army.We took the picture at the top of this blog when our family was in Israel at Yad Vashem – the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.  This picture is at the memorial honoring the death camp victims.

One commemoration held was at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.  Mark L. Tykocinski, the provost and dean of the Sidney Kimmel Medical College spoke.  He is the son of two Holocaust survivors.  He provided interesting statistics about differences between the fates of Italy’s Jews and the other countries.  “80% of the Italian Jews survived WWII- that is of the 45,000 counted in Mussolini’s census of 1938, about 8,000 died in Nazi camps, about 7,000 managed to flee, and about 30,000 lived in hiding before being liberated by the Allied troops.”9

“That compares to 9% of prewar Poland’s 3.3 million Jews surviving, 16% in Romania, 15% in Lithuania and so on.”  The differences were due to “individual acts of bravery by individuals isolated from each other who made this incredible difference.”10

Another colleague from the university, Professor Sal Mangione, who teaches humanities, and is also a pulmonologist, provided insight from his extensive research on what makes people do the right thing.

His findings might surprise you. It was not the highly regarded professions like doctors who saved people – it was the rule breakers.  In his research, the rescuers he studied were social outsiders, saw the world in grays, were independent-minded in terms of religion and politics and enjoyed disregarding rules and authority.  What would have been his colleagues – the doctors, he lamented, are intolerant of ambiguity, usually conservative and less empathetic as a result of medical training. He said, “90% of medical professionals in Germany were involved in some way in human experimentation during WWII.11 We were the most Nazified profession in the Third Reich,” he said.

May Their Memories be for a Blessing. Amen.

Another day of the new presidency, another list of controversies.  Whatever side of the aisle you are on – you have to admit, he really knows how to shake it up.  Between the Women’s March on Washington, and the 673 related Sister Marches throughout the United States and internationally, with nearly five million marchers – he’s got our attention.12

February 2-4, 2017 in Washington is an event called SISTER GIANT which was founded by Marianne Williamson in 2010.  The purpose as stated by their website is that “the Conference will bring together an illuminating mix of thinkers, gathering to consider the state of our country on both spiritual and political levels. We will incubate ideas and contribute to plans by which each of us, particularly now, can help move America in a more enlightened direction.  It’s a blend of spirituality and politics – something dearly needed in our current atmosphere.

One of my favorite teachers, Jean Houston, will be on hand and Bernie Sanders is one of the Keynote speakers.  So if you can, go – I’m sure it will be a thought-provoking and inspiring event.

I can’t help but be reminded of the Peanuts character Pig Pen when I think of the current political climate.  It seems as more and more ugliness and filth is kicked up into the air – it’s harder to see the light. We’ll just have to get out bigger scrub brushes and clean up all of the dirt…

I invite you to Join Me on My Journey…