instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

We Are 1

A Family of the ...

 A Blog on the Parallels Between Refugees Now

and During World War II

WeAre1: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité et Rosh Hashanah 1944

In late August 1944, Company C of the Medical Gas Treatment Batallion and the 8th Field Hospital of the United States Army were in Northern France. The fighting had diminished in Brittany and the frontline began to move east. While awaiting their orders, some Company C medical officers took a few days off and visited newly-liberated Mont Saint Michel. My father was among them.

The strange, sometimes inaccessible little island, which had been a strategic fortification for hundreds of years, owed its safety to extreme tides. At low tide, pilgrims had walked 600 meters out from the coast amid the constant danger of quicksand. High tide could drown or strand assailants. For 1,200 years, the island successfully resisted threats of occupation. Until the Nazis besieged it.

As the American officers explored the island's ramparts, the French Second Armored Division was battling the Nazis for Paris. On August 25, the French liberated the City of Light.

Company C was ordered to join the Headquarters Detachment of the Batallion at Le Bourget Airport just north of Paris, 322 kilometers away. Cheering Frenchmen welcomed Company C when it arrived. Despite enemy robot bombs and fields thick with mud, Company C set up a tent hospital. It was ready to receive patients on September 5. The 8thField Hospital staff arrived on September 7.

The wounds soldiers endured were more severe than in Normandy and required a great deal of surgery, so more surgical teams were called in. Soon the casualties became too numerous for Company C to handle, so the Batallion's four other companies joined it. Doctors in two tented operating rooms performed surgeries around the clock. The units evacuated 2,424 wounded to the United Kingdom, 1,303 wounded to General Hospitals in the immediate zone, and 550 patients to General Hospitals in and around Paris.

By mid-September, the Companies needed rest and everyone got passes to Paris even though the city was still off-limits to most G.I.s. My father was twice blessed; the Army offered every Jewish officer and G.I. a three-day furlough so that they could attend Rosh Hashanah services on Sunday, September 17. It was the first Rosh Hashanah to be openly celebrated after four years of the German occupation.

My father probably attended services at the Grand Synagogue, also known as the Rothschild Synagogue and the largest Jewish house of worship in France. About 100 Jews of all ages gathered outside as trucks of Jewish soldiers arrived from all over France. The congregants cheered wildly and greeted the men with tears, hugs, and kisses. An elderly woman grabbed the hand of a G.I. while reaching with her other hand into her jacket pocket. She withdrew a yellow star, ripped it up, and said in Yiddish, "Das iz vos ir hot getan far aundz! (This is what you have done for us!)" Tears ran down the G.I.'s face. No doubt my father's eyes would have welled up, too, and he would have thought of his parents and brother, who he had last seen five years ago when he left Lwów.

Fatigued from living in tents and tending the wounded for months, my father spent the next two days in Paris relaxing in cafés, meeting women, and going to the opera. What jubilation to be in this city again, not as the fugitive he had been in March, 1939, but as an American.

Post a comment

WeAre1: A Family of the Overrun on the Run

The attic window of my grandfather's house in Lwów, where he and 11 other men hid. It was so crowded that they alternated standing and sleeping, like today's detained children in facilties near our southern border.
My mother at age 13 in 1938. She is standing in front of a fountain in Kraków's Planty, a park that rings the Old Town.

Eighty years ago today the Germans invaded Poland. My mother, Irena Goldberger, was a teenager in Kraków. Here is her recollection of that moment, recorded in 1987 when she was 63, by the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University:
"I was in my bed in Kraków and suddenly there were the sounds of bombs. That was at dawn.
My father was a military man during the WW I and a hero and while the radio said those were maneuvers, he said, 'Oh no, those are German planes and the war is––it's outbreak of war.' We had mobilization few days before. And around the 20th of August, my mother came back from the mountains and did not allow me to go visit my friend to her estate in Silesia, which is further west from Kraków, because she said, 'On the boundary there are German soldiers with swastikas all over. The war is impending.'
I remember out of the corner of my eye to see a plane diving in and I heard the shots. At the time, the biggest fear was that of the poisonous gas, which in retrospect seems absolutely ludicrous.
We left Kraków three days later, with my parents, his two sisters and my uncles. My mother's sister and another aunt left few days before that to the center of Poland, which they thought would be safer.
We had knapsacks. We closed the doors. My father said, 'We will take the silver.' So we took the silver. I had a sense of adventure. I was 14-and-a-half years old…"

I do not know how my father remembered that day. He was in Mexico, unable to communicate with his parents and younger brother, who were in Lwów, Poland.

Post a comment

WeAre1: Using the Jewish Vote

Earlier this month, Trump asked Netanyahu to block visits to Israel of two Muslim congresswomen. The following week, he said, "Any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty." Then he quoted on Twitter a conservative radio host who claimed that Trump is the greatest president in the history of the world for Jews and for Israel.


A few days later, Trump doubled down with this clarification about exactly to whom Jewish Democrats are disloyal: "You vote for a Democrat, you're being very disloyal to Jewish people, and you're being very disloyal to Israel," he told reporters, "and only weak people would say anything other than that." Regarding his rabid trade war with China, Trump claimed he is "the chosen one" because no one else has had the courage to raise tariffs. I suppose he wanted to send a subliminal message that he identifies with "the chosen people." 

Trump's comments and actions are attempts to use not only Jews, but also right-wing Evangelicals who support Israel, for political gain. (These evangelicals believe that Israeli Jews will war with their neighbors and that the ensuing Armageddon will trigger Christ's Second Coming.) It's about votes, not peace in the Middle East.

Obviously, Trump is trying to turn the Jewish vote Republican. The Jewish vote has been overwhelmingly Democratic for decades and he does not understand why. According to Demenico Montanaro and Tamara Keith of National Public Radio's Morning Edition, Israel is not the determinative factor for most Jews and many do not agree with Republicans' approach to Israel. "Jewish people who vote Democratic care about what Democrats care about—social justice, health care, climate change, the welfare of immigrants and more," say Domenico and Keith. Moreover, Since 1968, Jewish voters have voted on average 71% for Democrats.

Trump is also using Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. In his clumsy attempt to attack them, he also went after Jewish voters. He could have condemned the boycott of Israel that the congresswomen support, and questioned, why, given all the countries worthy of boycotting, these congresswomen and others focus on Israel?

Why do they not boycott Syria for its Civil War, which is responsible for displacing 11 million of its citizens, 5 million of whom have fled the country? And the 371,222 to 570,000 dead members of opposition activist groups? Or how about Myanmar, for murdering 43,000 Rohingya, detaining 135,000 in camps, and for causing 730,000 to flee to Pakistan in 2018? What about China's Uighur Muslims, 1 million of whom have been held for 10 years in detention centers in the province of Xingiang?

Besides the treatment of Palestinians, the congresswomen say they object to generous aid the United States gives Israel––the largest to any nation, at $3.8 billion annually. In mid-August, Omar said, "Denying a visit to duly elected members of Congress is not consistent with being an ally," and hinted that Congress should consider that when allotting aid to Israel every year.

I would accept Omar and Tlaib's objections, had they not also questioned Jewish loyalty. Tlaib said supporters of an anti-boycott of Israel bill "forgot what country they represent."


We're getting that age-old anti-Semitic trope from both sides.

Of course, Hitler spread the myth in 1933 that Germany lost World War I because it had been stabbed in the back by Jews, even though more than 100,000 of them served in the German army. He did so to unify the German-speaking people. Feeling deprived and abused by the restrictions imposed upon them after World War I, they needed scapegoats, just like White Supremacists here do today.

But I say no one is all that pure, and what's so terrible about several loyalties anyway? Human beings are multifaceted creatures and one would hope that we can handle multiple ideas and allegiances simultaneously. But if people really believe we are that limited and must run on one-track fealty, why does no one accuse Tlaib, whose parents are Palestinian immigrants, of dual loyalty? Or all Catholics, because they follow the decree of the pope. (When JFK ran in 1960, people worried that the pope would call the shots.)

Another question that should be addressed is, why the boycott now? Israel has received large sums of aid from the U.S. for years and the Palestinian-Israel conflict is as old as Israel. Quoting Stratfor and the Pew Research Center, a recent Congressional Research Service report, "U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel," makes the reason quite clear. U.S. voters who are young, religiously-unaffiliated, American Muslims, and liberal appear to hold more critical views of the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinians. "As a result, American public attitudes toward Israel's government are growing more polarized," the report said, "In April 2019, the Pew Research Center released survey results indicating that 'by nearly two-to-one (61% to 32%), Republicans have a favorable view of Israel's government. By contrast, two-thirds of Democrats view Israel's government unfavorably, while just 26% have a favorable opinion.'" Although, that could really be a referendum specifically on Netanyahu's leadership.

So the fight is partially about grabbing those younger, more malleable voters. But the cost is that both Trump and the so-called "progressives" are undermining heretofore bipartisan support for Israel.

Again, that does not go deep enough. Follow the money. What does Israel use all those donated dollars for? For its military. The rationale for the aid is that Israel must rely on better equipment and training to compensate for being much smaller in population size and geographically (there is no room for an army to retreat) than its adversaries. According to the Congressional Research Report, U.S. aid has helped transform Israel's armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated in the world. Today it is a top supplier in arms, exporting missile defense systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, cyber security products, radar, and electronic communication systems. It is dependent on us for fighter jets, but we have purchased protection systems for tanks, helmets for F 35 fighter pilots, and an electronic fence along our border with Mexico. The U.S. benefits, using Israel as a research laboratory.

It's complicated. And there are double standards. What if everyone recognized each other as fellow human beings? Right now, though, we are all at the mercy of the military industrial complex. It shouts louder than human rights.

Post a comment

WeAre1: Gun Control in Weimar Germany and its Influence Today

Mannlicher M1895 rifle, which used a straight-pull action bolt. It was nicknamed the Ruck-Zu(rü)ck, German slang for "back and forth."
A Mannlicher M1895 rifle, which used a straight-pull action bolt. It was nicknamed the Ruck-Zu(rü)ck, German slang for "back and forth."

Like many Americans last weekend, I was horrified and overwhelmed by the simultaneous massacres in Dayton, OH and El Paso, TX. After a few days, though, in keeping with the purpose of this blog, I began to consider parallels with World War II. I googled gun control during the Third Reich. Up popped a book on just that. Written by attorney Stephan P. Halbrook, Guns in the Third Reich: Disarming Jews and 'Enemies of the State,' traces the history of gun registration beginning with Weimar Germany.

Fearing civil war, the Weimar government tried to control violence between the Communists and Nazis. In 1919, after repressing a Communist uprising, the government banned firearms and ordered citizens to surrender them and ammunition, as Halbrook writes. The penalty for not complying: five years in prison and a fine. The next year, the Law on the Disarmament of the People was implemented by house-to-house firearms searches and confiscations.

The government enacted a new firearms law in 1928 that relaxed the previous one, allowing citizens to own guns and carry ammunition if they obtained licenses. Authorities had the power to grant these permits or not. The law also regulated the manufacture and sale of firearms.

Three years later, the government authorized the states within Germany to require gun registration and to confiscate weapons. By 1932, the gun industry was facing collapse, so the government lifted some regulations.

When in 1933 the Nazis came to power, Hitler used the gun registration records to identify and disarm political opponents. That meant mainly Jews. In late 1935, a Gestapo directive stated that "as a rule, we have to assume that firearms in the hands of the Jews represent a considerable danger for the German people." Three years later, Hitler signed a new gun control act that further loosened restrictions, especially for Nazi Party members. Jews, however, were ordered to surrender their weapons to "render them defenseless so that their ill-gotten property could be redistributed as an entitlement to the German people," writes Halbrook. Weeks before Kristallnacht, to foil any opposition the Nazis revoked Jews' gun licenses and searched their homes for weapons.

Halbrook is a pro-gun, Second Amendment attorney who has won three cases he argued before the Supreme Court. He also serves as outside counsel to the National Rifle Association. The Independent Institute, a libertarian think-tank where Halbrook is a research fellow, published his book a year after the Sandy Hook tragedy. Shortly after that attack, Senate Republicans refused to pass a modest, bipartisan bill to expand background checks. In response, President Obama signed 23 executive actions intended to reduce gun violence. Several were designed to buttress the federal background check system by requiring federal agencies to share relevant data.

Halbrook has said that only law-abiding people obeyed Weimar's gun control laws and that the government warned that lists of gun owners could fall into the hands of radicals. Exactly that occurred when the Nazis came to power, he notes. The NRA has been at the forefront of this historical argument since the late 1960s, according to Professor of Law Bernard E. Harcourt. NRA past president Charlton Heston and current president Wayne LaPierre have emphasized a connection between gun registration and the Holocaust. Heston: "Any of the monsters of history—such as Hitler and Stalin––confiscated privately held firearms as their first act." LaPierre: "A people disarmed is a people in danger."

In 1938, Jewish Berliners relinquished 1,700 firearms. Is the NRA trying to tell me that if my great-grandfather Heinrich Finkelstein had owned a gun and refused to obey that new law, he would not have been in danger? That armed, he could have resisted the coming onslaught? That he would not have been on some list? That he would not have had to flee Germany in 1940? I mean, despite having weapons the French Army was unable to defend France.

These statements and other arguments for the right to bear arms and against registration have lost sight of the type of arms the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment. They stated that "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." Muskets were the weapons of the day. In Weimar Germany, the concern was bolt-action rifles and revolvers. The Founders could not have fathomed citizens using on one another assault weapons with easily reloadable magazines. Furthermore, they linked the right to bear arms to a military unit. They said nothing about individual ownership of arms for personal defense, as historian Saul Cornell has noted.

It is a distortion of history to suggest that the Nazis' use of gun control and abuse of gun registries to destroy the Jews are reasons to prevent gun control here. Yet many White Supremacists here today believe that extremist groups want to infringe their Second Amendment rights to disarm and destroy them. One Amazon reviewer of Halbrook's book warned that the Marxist/Socialists "will not rest, and when they finally get a majority in favor of stripping up [sic] of our arms, the time for revolution will be upon us. The Marxist Democrats lust for a disarmed public, and they will not rest until it happens."

But White Supremacists are the very radicals of which most law-abiding Americans are wary. They, themselves, are associated with fascism. At gun shows, you are far more likely to see a swastika and other Nazi paraphernalia, says Harcourt, than at the anti-gun Million Mom March on the Washington Mall.

On the second anniversary of Charlottesville, has anyone rioted shouting "White Supremacists will not replace us?" The parents of the dead children of Sandy Hook do not seek to suppress all gun owners. Congregants of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh are unlikely to burst into gun owners' homes in search of arms and, upon finding them, jail the owners. Nor are worshippers of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine black parishioners were shot and killed in 2015. And the relatives of murdered people of color in El Paso and Dayton…need I go on?

It's obvious that White Supremacists are not the victims here.

Post a comment

WeAre1: On Obsolete Liberal Ideas

"Perhaps he loved the people. Perhaps he loved them, but didn't trust them to think for themselves. Or perhaps he was insatiable and wanted even more power to add to his glory. I don't know. But he envied the dictators and thought that all governments of the people and by the people were soon to perish from the earth."
Katherine Hepburn spoke these words to Spencer Tracy in the 1943 film noir, Keeper of the Flame. Does her description of an authoritarian leader sound familiar?
The last sentence contradicts the concluding phrase of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Dedicating a soldiers cemetery during the Civil War, the 16th president declaired that our nation "shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
In the film, Hepburn plays newly widowed Christine Forrest, who has been entangled in a love-hate relationship with her late husband, Robert Forrest. Tracy plays a ruthless reporter who wants to write a biography about Forrest. When it comes out that Forrest ran a vast, secret organization that planned to turn the country over to fascism, Tracy urges Christine to tell the world. This is the only film directed by George Cukor with an explicit political message. He peppered it with attacks on fascism, criticizing hero worship, the effects of leaders on youth, and official speeches about patriotism. 
Hepburn championed the project and felt it was a way to contribute to the war effort. Despite mixed reviews, the film was a commercial hit, especially in big cities. One historian of film later writing about Hollywood propaganda during the war noted the film's "strong warning to the American people about demagoguery, domestic fascism, and mind control, while praising the virtues of freedom of the press."
How would Keeper of the Flame be received today? What would Fox News pundits say to the film's warning about authoritarian leaders and their fake promises?
Surely Trump would identify with Forrest. And Trump would probably ignore the film's warning or misconstrue it, as he did Putin's statement at the G20 summit that liberal democracies are over. The Russian president essentially stated that liberalism is obsolete, that the "liberal idea" has "outlived its purpose." Trump explained that Putin may feel this way "because he sees what's going on in cities, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, that are governed by liberal administrations." Thus Trump revealed his towering ignorance. Or perhaps he just made up something to remain on Putin's good side. You know, my country for a tower. He certainly confused the liberal idea, which is associated with representative, constitutional democracies, with liberals. Oh, West Coast flakes. Those cosmopolitans believe they are their brothers' keepers.
Thankfully, others are quite clear about Putin's meaning. As President of the European Council Donald Tusk remarked to the BBC, "Whoever claims that liberal democracy is obsolete also claims that freedoms are obsolete, that rule of law is obsolete, and human rights are obsolete." 


WeAre1: Our Brothers' Keepers

Post a comment

WeAre1: On Medical Care at For-profit Detention Centers

The attic window of my grandfather's house in Lwów, where he and 11 other men hid. It was so crowded that they alternated standing and sleeping, like today's detained children in facilties near our southern border.
Between the gabled windows you can see the grid-covered attic window of my grandfather's house. He hid in the attic during part of WWII. Lviv, Ukraine. 

The health consequences to detainees held in facilities near the southern border are horrific, with the most helpless innocents suffering terribly. Confined refugee children in Texas are in such unsanitary conditions that they have developed scabies, shingles, and chickenpox. The overcrowding is so great that they take turns standing for hours so that others can sleep.
My grandfather, Ojzer Fränkel, hid in his tiny attic with 11 other Jewish men during World War II. For almost a year, they slept in shifts, half standing while the others slumbered, but they were grown men with stamina who had learned patience. They chose confinement, having decided that it was the best way to wait out and perhaps survive persecution.
In response to reports of appalling conditions in detention centers, Trump had the gall to tweet that detainees are living better in Border Patrol facilities than they would in their home countries. How would Trump feel if his son Barron got chickenpox while being held in an overcrowded, filthy pen unable to lie down?
If this administration really wanted to deter desperate people from massing at our borders, it would have invested our tax dollars in aid to the countries those people are fleeing. Instead, Trump and his cronies are using the plights of asylum-seekers to line their pockets. These corporatists implement policies to create markets for the companies in which they have, or plan to take, an interest. Then they see to it that those companies get lucrative government contracts. When these officials leave government, they cash in. Look at John Kelly. When he was Head of the Department of Homeland Security, he oversaw the implementation of Trump's vicious immigration policies. Now the former White House Chief of Staff is a board member of the largest U.S. shelter for unaccompanied migrant children. He has to take his cut––on the backs of babes.
Why are there outbreaks of disease? Why are these camps overcrowded? Why are there no beds and not enough soap and toothbrushes? For-profit companies are not motivated to spend money to properly care for detainees. Bottom-line oriented, they skimp to please their investors. You know, it's just business. They don't care that medical neglect or mistreatment can have lifelong, ruinous consequences for detainees.
Here's another personal example. My mother, Irene Goldberger, fell ill when she was working as a slave laborer for the Siemens Corporation in Germany during World War II. She developed a sore throat and saw a village doctor who prescribed medication and rest. But the Siemens factory doctor disagreed with the diagnosis; during his cursory "examination" he found her temperature normal. Well, of course. The medication had by then lowered her temperature. But Siemens had to get the most out of its slaves, so the doctor confiscated my mother's medication and ordered her back to work. She toiled with a fever in that factory for nine months.
After Liberation, a U.S. Army doctor treated her with the then-new drug penicillin. He said she had had strep throat that had turned into rheumatic fever. He was concerned that left untreated for so long, the fever had damaged her heart valves. In fact, that's precisely what happened. Years later, when my mother was treated for breast cancer, chemotherapy had to be cut short because of her weakened heart.
This administration, while enriching itself, is using our tax dollars to trample human rights. Furthermore, it is creating a large population with good reason to retaliate for being mistreated. In their avarice and quest for instant gratification, those in power ignore the long-term consequences to our country. Perhaps those responsible will face trials for crimes against humanity, as did the Nazis in Nuremberg.

Be the first to comment

WeAre1: A Family of Truthtellers

"Get rid of them," Trump said during his press conference with Putin last week at the G20 summit, again showing his disdain for journalists. By now, we expect Trump to disregard the U.S. Constitution, particularly the First Amendment. Though jocular, he revealed his seething and growing  hostility by delivering his comment close to the anniversary of the horrific murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Fearing imprisonment or death after Hitler seized power in 1933, many reputable journalists fled Germany. Publishers replaced them with badly trained and inexperienced amateurs loyal to the Nazi Party, and with skilled journalists willing to collaborate to advance their careers.
At that time, the Nazis controlled less than three percent of Germany's 4,700 papers. After the Nazis outlawed the Communist and Social Democratic parties, the hundreds of newspapers they produced vanished. The state seized printing plants and equipment and gave them to the Nazi Party. All media—radio, press, and newsreels––stoked fears of a Communist uprising masterminded by the Jews. By 1944, only 1,100 newspapers remained, of which the Nazi Party owned one third. The rest could publish material only as directed by Goebbels' Ministry of Propaganda. 
Today we have Trump's darlings––Fox News, Breitbart, and the Sinclair Broadcast Group––to spread propaganda and stoke fears of immigrants of color. Of Sinclair, veteran journalist Dan Rather commented, "News anchors looking into a camera and reading a script handed down by a corporate overlord, words meant to obscure the truth not elucidate it, isn't journalism. It's propaganda. It's Orwellian. A slippery slope to how despots wrest power, silence dissent, and oppress the masses."
Also at that press conference, Trump remarked further that "fake news" is a really great term and stated that Putin does not have that problem, as we do. "We also have," Putin commiserated, "It's the same." Poor, beleaguered authoritarians. The press is supposed to serve them and their aims. Or else. Twenty-six journalists have been murdered under Putin's rule. Because much of what Trump says is projection, I'm almost OK with him labeling any reporting he doesn't like "fake news"––that is what he himself spews––propaganda. I'll never be OK with his statement that journalists are the enemy of the people, although I think that's projection, too.
The Nazis' purpose in controlling the press was, of course, to manipulate the German people. A good example is the propaganda during the battle and after Germany's catastrophic defeat in Stalingrad in February 1943. Hitler ordered the press to refer to the city as a fortress that had to be stormed and to emphasize the bitter struggle and the bravery of German soldiers. As the situation deteriorated, there were headlines like "Hold Fast – To the Last Man," "The Heroes of Stalingrad," and "The Führer Honors the Heroic Band at Stalingrad." The public could read about U-boat victories and Axis solidarity, but there were few details and no maps of the Battle of Stalingrad. As doubts arose, the Propaganda Ministry stated that certain facts had to be concealed to protect the troops at the front. The High Command hid the fact that the Soviets had surrounded Germany's Sixth Army. It never admitted surrender and created the myth that the army had been destroyed and had fought to the last man. You can read more about this in "The Myth of Stalingrad," by Jay W. Baird.

Throughout the battle, Goebbels tried to reassure the nation in several speeches. After the battle was lost, he called for greater sacrifices from civilians, asking mothers, wives, sisters, and children to prepare for "total war" while they had no idea how huge the toll already was. If someone had reported 250,000 casualties and 91,000 captured soldiers, would the Nazis have called that "fake news?"
In the end, the German public was never convinced by the Stalingrad propaganda, yet that is not comforting. People eventually drew their own conclusions, but a great deal of damage happened in the meantime.


Here's a personal example. My mother was working as a slave laborer in Germany when the Soviets defeated the Germans at Stalingrad. She understood this to be a turning point in the war and anticipated that the Soviets would retake Lwów. In that event, the Germans could no longer check her false papers, which were from Lwów, and prove that she was Jewish. She also noticed that the Germans were no longer so sure that they would conquer the world. Little by little they became friendlier, wanting to get on the good side of those they had wronged.


Starved and abused as a slave worker at a produce nursery in Bad Neustadt, it was crucial for my mother to find another job. She felt that otherwise she would not survive with her health intact. Her timing depended on three factors: when the Soviets would march into Lwów, the villagers' growing realization that they might not win the war, and their disapproval of how she was being mistreated; she wanted public opinion on her side.
In January 1944, my mother carefully timed her visit to the Labor Office. There she showed the Kommandant her scarred and blackened hands, stated that nevertheless her employers were dissatisfied with her work, and asked for a transfer to the local Siemens factory. She found out later that people were shot for what she had requested.

Be the first to comment

WeAre1: A Family of Separated Children

Asche Chesed gets it. This in on the synagogue's wall, 100th Street off West End Avenue, NYC.

During last night's Democratic debate, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado said that in Poland during World War II his mother had been separated from her parents. "When I see these kids at the border, I see my mom," the senator said, "I know she sees herself because she was separated from her parents for years during the Holocaust." I see my mom, too.

Suzanne Klejman Bennet was living in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943. One evening, some relatives did not return from work, so her parents decided it was time to get their five-year-old daughter out of the ghetto. They arranged for a Polish policeman to take her to safety. The first night she slept in a cellar on the Aryan side. Eventually, she was taken to someone's  summer cottage 13 miles outside of Warsaw. "When Warsaw burned a year or two later, we could see the red sky," she said.

In December 1941 my mother was also forced to separate from her parents. The family had fled Kraków two years before and was staying in Lwów. The city had been under the Soviets since September 1939, but the Nazis occupied it in June after the non-aggression pact between them and the Soviets fell apart.
That fall, the Nazis announced the formation of the Lwów ghetto. It became very dangerous for young girls, who were being kidnapped and forced to work in brothels. My mother's parents wanted her to return to Western Poland to live with her aunt, a pediatrician named Dr. Augusta Mandel. A special letter from my great-aunt Gusta said my mother was an essential worker whom she needed as a medical assistant.


My mother, who had just turned 17, did not want to go.


A typhoid epidemic was raging and the Nazis forbade anyone, on pain of death, to leave. Nevertheless, my grandparents hoped that before the holiday the Nazis might patrol the roads lest vigilantly. They insisted that my mother board a truck in the middle of the night just before Christmas eve.
The following morning, my mother arrived safely at her aunt's home in Tarnów. She never saw her parents again. For the rest of her life, my mother was haunted by this wrenching experience. These stories of trauma seep into families' DNA.

Post a comment

WeAre1: Those Who Follow the Golden Rule

Recently, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York denounced the Trump administration's policy of separating kids from their parents at our southern border and holding them in migrant detention centers here. The children languish in horrific, over-crowded detention centers and pens that AOC likened to concentration camps.
In response, Republican Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming tweeted, "You demean (the) memory (of 6 million Jews exterminated in the Holocaust) and disgrace yourself with comments like this." Representative Lee Zeldin of New York implored AOC to "stop trying to draw these crayon parallels between POTUS & Hitler!"
Rather than channel their outrage, many people became distracted by definitions of camps and debating a hierarchy of suffering. Meanwhile, the leader of the land of the free is persecuting people of color who are fleeing famine and violence—their own pogroms—in Central and South America.
Whatever happened to the Golden Rule––the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated? The concept dates back to Confucius (551 - 479 BC) and Hillel the Elder, (110 BCE - 10 CE) and is central to the world's major religions. Why then, in this era of religious fervor, is it so hard for people to note that rule and follow it?
Mercifully, my parents were not in concentration camps during World War II. But this month 77 years ago, my mother, her aunt Dr. Augusta Mandel, and her two daughters were forced into a ghetto in Tarnów. Concentrating Jews in walled areas within European cities was the Nazis' prelude to concentration and extermination camps. When the city's Jews and those from surrounding villages were relocated to the ghetto, the population expanded from 26,000 to 40,000. The overcrowding was purposeful—to accelerate suffering and the spread of disease.
The Tarnów ghetto had been created earlier, but the Nazis allowed Jewish doctors to practice outside the ghetto for a year, so my mother and her relatives moved to the ghetto in June 1942.
That month marked the beginning of a wave of German Aktionen against Tarnów's Jews. Drunken, marauding SS men grabbed axes and went door to door to Jewish homes. Jews having papers stamped with a "K," or who did not have papers, were either killed on the spot, or taken to a nearby forest and gunned down.
A few days before, my mother had gone to the Labor Office in the Gestapo headquarters. There she had presented her workcard (as the medical assistant of her aunt) and received a stamp with the initials "SD." My mother thought this just meant that she could remain in Tarnów. She had no idea that it was a stamp of life.
The next Aktion, known as the "Children's Action," occurred on July 24 and 25. Jews were ordered out of their houses and forced to walk barefoot to the market square. On the way, Nazis whipped and beat them with their rifle butts. Some Jews deemed fit for work were captured for the purpose of forced labor. Others were deported to Belzec, the extermination camp. Hundreds of children found in the Jewish homes were escorted to a nearby shed and shot. The Nazis lured others to a school where the children thought they were to be disinfected. In fact, they were thrust into classrooms and locked in while steam spewed from the central heating system. They choked to death.
Today we are learning details of the deplorable conditions endured by Central American children who have been kidnapped by our government. Seven children have died. Countless others are traumatized daily by this outrageous infraction on human rights. All this is paid for with our tax dollars.
How far are today's captive children from experiencing what those Jewish children and my mother, then a teenager, experienced? Why is there not a greater outcry now? Where is the chant, "Not in our name?" When societies ignore the Golden Rule, everybody is doomed.
Clearly Trump does not abide by the Golden Rule because he cannot imagine himself in anyone else's situation. He believes he is exceptional, therefore rules do not apply to him. There is a disconnect between him and anyone unlike his image of himself and so he cannot fathom how he would feel if deprived of a toothbrush, nutritious food, sanitary conditions, had to sleep on the floor in a cage, and on and on. Apparently, his narcissistic affliction is the root of his cruelty.
Is this the way to make America great?
The Nazis were supreme narcissists who discarded the norms of ethical human interaction. But even the Nazis managed to track their victims albeit with ancient IBM technology. The Nazis were able to apply their murderous ideology to Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals because they convinced themselves that their perceived enemies were subhuman. They, too, deserved neither toothbrushes, nor nutritious food, nor sanitary conditions, nor….

Post a comment

WeAre1: Family Statistics

My grandfather, Ojzer Fränkel. He arrived in Palestine without papers because they were on a ship that sank. This is the passport he acquired in August 1944 from the Polish Consulat in Palestine.
My grandfather, Ojzer Fränkel. He arrived in Palestine without papers because they were on a ship that sank. This is the passport he acquired in August 1944 from the Polish Consulat in Palestine.

As Father's Day approaches, I am thinking not only of my dad, but of my grandfather, Ojzer Fränkel. Seventy-five years ago, he stood on a crowded dock in Constanza, Romania, with 1,000 other Jewish refugees from Hungary, Romania, Poland and Slovakia. Among them were 300 orphans. Ojzer was holding a ticket for the Mefkura, a small, rickety, wooden Turkish motor schooner bound for Palestine. Everyone was weary. Mossad agents and the Zionist Organization in Romania had done their best to organize the charter, which included two other ships, the merchant ship Bulbul, and the Morina. Various middlemen, from dockworkers to under-secretaries of the Romanian government, had been paid off. The vessels had been refitted and yet none had sextants. The condition of the Mefkura was so bad that an insurance company consented to cover it only for war risks, not for sea risks. 

Next to my grandfather Ojzer stood a young woman with three children aged about five, seven, and nine. She was talking to her sister and evidently was one ticket short. The mother began to wail. Ojzer, father of three, offered her his ticket. Then somehow he wrangled a spot on the Bulbul, which lead the little flotilla toward the Bosphorus.

At midnight, an unknown vessel asked the Mefkura to halt and identify itself. It proceeded without responding. The vessel fired three times. The last blast split the burning Mefkura in two. Most of the passengers, who were asleep, were trapped in the ship's hold as she sank. Several dozen jumped overboard without lifejackets while the captain and his crew launched the ship's only lifeboat and saved themselves. The attacker machine-gunned the frantic passengers as they struggled in the frigid waters of the Black Sea.

The Bulbul returned to pick up survivors, but it was too late. She saved only 5 people. Five out of 379. 

The next day the Bulbul sailed into the remote port of Igneada, Turkey. From there my grandfather Ojzer and 409 other passengers were transported by ox-cart and then trucks to Istanbul. He arrived in Palestine on August 14, 1944 where he was detained in Camp Atlit, a British-run holding pen for illegal refugees near Haifa.

My grandfather survived the Black Sea crossing by a fluke. He was one of 39,000 Jews to make Aliyah illegally on boats between 1939 and 1944, according to reports on activities presented to the 24th Zionist Congress. The total of those who made Alyah regardless of means of transportation was 69,000. The mother of three and her children were among the 1,393 who drowned, as reported by Dalia Offer in her book, Escaping the Holocaust: Illegal Immigration to the Land of Israel, 1939 - 1944. 

Their fates were the same as thousands of Syrian, Iraqi, and African refugees who recently have tried to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. According to Missing Migrants, a project of the U.N.'s Migration Agency that tracks missing refugees, over 60,000 refugees have perished trying to reach asylum during the last 20 years. Since 2014, the Mediterranean has proved the most dangerous crossing; 8,000 souls were fatally shipwrecked on voyages from North Africa to Europe. The peak was 3,000 in 2016. So far this year, of the 1,055 who fled their countries and died, 540 died in the Mediterranean. That's a little over half. This year's number of refugees is much lower than in the past because European nations have closed their borders, but the percentage of fatalities is higher.

As one third of refugees that arrive in Europe are children, according to The New York TImes, it stands to reason that many of the shipwrecked dead were children and adolescents. There is no reason to believe that the fleeing adults were not upright and altruistic men and women like my grandfather and the mother he tried to help.

Be the first to comment