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We Are 1

A Family of the ...

 A Blog and Vlog

on the Parallels Between Refugees Now

and During World War II

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.

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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….

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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.

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First Lieutenant U.S. Army Medical Corp, David A. Frenkel, M.D.
First Lieutenant U.S. Army Medical Corp,
David A. Frenkel, M.D.

As a First Lieutenant in the U. S. Army Medical Corp, my father was a medical officer in a secret division––the 93rd Medical Gas Treatment Battalion. The Allies, fearing that the Germans would resort to chemical warfare as they had during World War I, created five such battalions. On Friday, June 6, 1944, my father was stationed in Southampton, England, awaiting casualties from the Normandy Invasion.


That evening in Bad Neustadt, a village in Southern Germany, a French POW clandestinely tweaked the antenna of his contraband radio. A mix of crackle and news emanated as the broadcast of Radio London came through. Moments later, he jumped up and ran to the open window of his room, which was across the street from the baracks of the Eastern European slave workers' who toiled in a Siemens factory.

"The Allies landed in Normandy," he yelled. "They were not pushed back into the sea!"

My mother heard him and rushed from her barracks to the fence to ask for details. For the first time, she began to regard her enslavement as temporary.


The day after D-Day, my father's team stood ready to triage the first soldiers wounded on Utah Beach. Commanding officer Colonel Joseph W. Palmer acted as the port evacuation officer. He was charged with removing patients from the Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs) and distributing them to holding units and transit hospitals. As the LSTs arrived at the wharves and landing ramps, doctors boarded them to recheck the triage that LST doctors had done during the return crossing. Teams of company men carried the patients on stretchers and helped the walking wounded to ambulances parked near the ships. The pace was grueling; they removed as many as 175 stretcher cases in less than half an hour. Ambulances shuttled constantly between the docks and hospitals. One medical ambulance company carried 7,000 passengers and drove 240 kilometers. Medical officers, including my dad, worked around the clock, at times handling one casualty per minute throughout the day.

I've written about it all in HOW FAR.

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WeAre1: A Family of Witnesses

Heinz Liepmann

Suppose that, despite our hyper-connected age, you went on a three-month voyage on a vessel unequipped with means of communication—no Internet connection, no phones, no radio. If you had departed any time since the fall of 2016 and returned three months later, would you recognize the country you left behind?
In the early 1930s, the German journalist Heinz Liepmann wrote a book based on just such a premise. The officers and crew of a German trawler depart Hamburg the day after Christmas, 1932. Their ship has no wireless, so when they return in late March, 1933, they do not know that the Nazis have usurped power. The returning men, Socialists and Communists, attempt to come to grips with the reign of terror that Spring—the suspicion, fear, and hate perpetuated by the new regime. Some men are beaten, others jailed, and others are sent to the Wittmoor concentration camp on an island in the Elba River. Only one character escapes, hidden in the hold of American cargo ship. The book, titled Das Vaterland, and when translated into English, Murder Made in Germany: A Story of Present-day Germany, was published as a novel. It was, however, based on fact.
Liepmann's earlier books earned him a place on the Nazis' list of books to be burned. He, himself, was interned it Witmoor in April 1933. He escaped to The Netherlands where Das Vaterland was published later that year. From all over the world spontaneous tributes were sent to Liepmann, including a message from Albert Einstein.
The German government made every effort to suppress the book, instituting libel suits against Liepmann and his publishers in every country where the book appeared. Leipmann won every suit, nevertheless he was imprisoned for several months for having libeled the head of a friendly state.
The words that make Murder Made in Germany relevant to today, are "and his publishers." Our government's  indictment of Julian Assange seeks to punish him for publishing unlawfully obtained information. This has caused resounding outcries from defenders of the First Amendment. "For the first time in the history of our country, the government has brought criminal charges against a publisher for the publication of truthful information," the American Civil Liberties Union warned, "This is an extraordinary escalation of the Trump administration's attacks on journalism, and a direct assault on the First Amendment. It establishes a dangerous precedent that can be used to target all news organizations that hold the government accountable by publishing its secrets."
Liepmann did not publish unlawfully acquired government secrets. He based his story on what he observed and on his own experiences as a Jew. The book's dedication could not have been more blunt: "To the Jews murdered in Hitler's Germany." Yes, in 1933. Their fates were the concern of readers like my mother and her father in 1938. As I wrote in HOW FAR, my mother heeded Liepmann's warning and used it, as she had used books about the fate of Native Americans, to argue that her parents must buy false papers.
An appalling analogy may be made with Trump's America, if we are not careful. Will publishers simply not publish what the government wants to hide? Will whistleblowers just fade away? And will immigrants, our new scapegoats, not bother to tell of injustices because some leader doesn't like what they see?
We already know where that leads.


WeAre1: A Family of Witnesses

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