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Article on Ravensbrück in Revista Hebraica in Portuguese (PDF, 584k)

Germaine Tillion and Geneviève de Gaulle: Two Heroines of French Resistance and Ravensbrück to be Interred in Panthéon

Farewell to Advisory Board Member Dr. Susan Pentlin

"The Invisible Tattoo," by Marisa Fox

In Memory of Marshall Berman, 1940-2013

Mourning the Death of Vladka Meed

Female Perspectives on Ending Sexual Violence: Choosing Peace over Fear

Women Violated in War Denied Memorials, An Essay by Rochelle G. Saidel

Obama Includes Sexual Violence in Remarks at US Holocaust Memorial Museum by Rochelle G. Saidel

A Tribute to Vitke Kempner by Aviva Cantor

Genocides and Gender: The Holocaust and Rwanda

Remembering Dr. Franklin H. Littell

Remembering Richard J. Scheuer

My Swan Song by Judy Weissenberg Cohen, Witness/Survivor

Photo Journal and Report on My First Trip to Poland and Lithuania, May 25 - June 9, 2005

Prof. Clara Ambrus-Bayer Named Righteous Among the Nations

Dr. Stephen Feinstein and Dr. Lon Nuell:
Remember the Women Institute Mourns the Loss of Two Special Colleagues

Germaine Tillion, Heroic Ravensbrück Prisoner Who Documented the Camp
Died in St.-Mande, France at Age 100 on April 19, 2008

Irena Sendler, Rescuer of Jewish Children During the Holocaust
Died in Warsaw at Age 98 on May 12, 2008

A Tribute to Charles R. Allen, Jr.

"Memories" by Robert A. Warren

Summary - "Fiorello's Sister: Gemma La Guardia Gluck" by Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel,
Panel on "La Guardia and the Holocaust" at David Wyman Institute Conference


Mourning the Death of Vladka Meed

Vladka Meed 1921–2012

By Michael Berenbaum

(Originally appeared in The Forward, used with permission of the author)

Vladka Meed, one of the last, if not the last of the leaders of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, died in Phoenix, Arizona on November 21, 2012 just before her 91st birthday.

Born Feyge Peltel in Praga (a district of Warsaw, Poland,) she joined the youth arm of the Jewish Labor Bund at age 14 and was thereafter a Bund activist through the time of the creation of the Warsaw ghetto. She joined the ZOB (Jewish Fighting Organization) when it was formed after the great deportations of the summer of 1942, when more than 265,000 Jews were shipped from Warsaw to their death in Treblinka between July 23 and September 21. Because of her flawless Polish and red hair, Peltel could pass as a non-Jew. She adopted the name Vladka, a name she kept even after liberation. She worked as a courier, smuggling arms into the ghetto and helping children escape out of it.

During the ghetto period, Meed's mother and brother were among those who were deported. They had succumbed to the Nazi deception that bread and marmalade would be given to all those who reported for deportation and because of their hunger, they seemingly allowed themselves to be deceived. She recalled: "There was very little left to fear ... I was depressed and apathetic." However, despair gave way to fierce determination after she heard Abrasha Blum, a member of the Jewish Coordinating Committee that sought to unite the diverse political factions of the ghetto, give a rousing speech calling for armed resistance. Among her most important missions as a courier was to smuggle a map of the death camp of Treblinka out of the ghetto in the hope that solid information about the killing would spur a decisive response in the West.

She brought dynamite into the ghetto, which required not only courage, but also money to "grease" the path in and out. She was to recall that she had known nothing about dynamite and certainly not how dangerous it could be. Ignorance fortified her courage. After the ghetto uprising she continued supplying money and papers for Jews in hiding as she lived on the Aryan side, passing as a non-Jew.

Vladka recalled that she had to be careful that her eyes did not betray her identity. Jews trying to pass as non-Jews often revealed themselves unwittingly by the sadness in their eyes, by seeing things that other Poles had long since ceased to notice. She taught herself to laugh a deep joyous belly laugh that gave off an aura of freedom and nonchalance that no Jew could imagine.

She retained some of the characteristics of a courier throughout her life. She would size up a situation quickly. She could get a person to talk about himself and establish a quick rapport, revealing very little of herself but absorbing all essential information from the other person. She was strong and resolute. She was persistent, even stubborn. She would speak softly but her words carried weight. One seldom said "no" to Vladka and one was often subsequently grateful for the coerced "yes."

In her writings she alludes to the loneliness and pressure of her double life only in passing: "You can be my friend," she said to Benjamin Miedzyrzecki (Meed), who was also passing as an Aryan and who would later become her husband, "because if I don't come back, I want someone to know that I am missing." She married Benjamin Miedzyrzecki formally in 1943. I remember Ben telling the story of their first wartime marriage. Ben and Vladka were seeing each other, staying out late at night and Ben’s mother understood that there were no tomorrows for Warsaw's Jews: one simply could not wait. She took off her wedding ring and told Ben to give it to Vladka. She lifted a glass of water and said "Zol zayn mit mazl," wishing the young couple good luck.

Vladka was one of the first survivors to arrive in the United States in 1946 abroad the Marine Flasher, which became a transport ship for survivors. Meed traveled and spoke widely as a living eyewitness to the Warsaw ghetto uprising. In 1948 she published On Both Sides of the Wall" in Yiddish, one of the earliest accounts of the uprising and still one of the most compelling. The book, long ago translated into English, remains in print 63 years after its publication. With Ben and a group of friends from the 1950s or even earlier and a group that included Jonas Turkow, Alexander Donat, Jack Eisner, Joseph Tekulsky and Anne Celnik and other survivors, she launched the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance Organization in 1962 to commemorate those who had been murdered, and to raise awareness among young people and the wider public about their lives. What began as an annual memorial meeting of a couple of hundred survivors became a world-wide project drawing large audiences to annual events in all fifty states and many countries, and prominent memorial museums in Washington, DC and in many metropolitan centers.

During the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Jerusalem in 1981 and the American Gatherings, in Washington in 1983 and Philadelphia in 1985, Vladka was in charge of the cultural events that celebrated Yiddish culture. Few performers dared turn her down and survivors had tears in their eyes as they enjoyed the culture of the world into which they were born.

Vladka and Ben’s home was a gathering place for Yiddish life. Yiddish poets and resistance fighters would mingle and there always would be Yiddish music. Her Julliard trained daughter Anna would play and sing.Vladka loved to sing. Among her favorite songs were Ikh vil nokh eyn mol zen mayn heym [I would like to see my home one more time]. For her, the Shoah was not only about what the Germans did to the Jews, but about the world that the Jews had created before the Holocaust and even within the ghetto.

When her husband, Benjamin Meed, assumed leadership of the survivor community, Vladka Meed organized a teacher training program, co-sponsored by the Jewish Labor Committee and the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, one of the earliest such programs. It took American teachers from public schools and Christian parochial schools and brought them to Poland and Israel to experience a Seminar on the Holocaust and Resistance -- for Vladka the story of resistance was always essential. For almost 20 years, she unfailingly led the mission each summer, sitting in on each class, herding her adult students on trips throughout Israel and showing them the Warsaw she knew so well.

Meed helped produce a dedicated and informed cadre of teachers throughout the United States. These teachers are to be found throughout the country and still call themselves Vladka’s students. Central to this program were the direct testimonies of survivors, none more impressive than Vladka Meed's.

When she could no longer lead the program, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum stepped in to run it and thus assure its continuity.

She is survived by her two children Anna Scherzer and Steven Meed, both physicians, and their spouses, Dr. Joseph Scherzer, also a physician, and Dr. Rita Meed, a psychologist, five grandchildren Jessica, Jeannine, Michael, Chava and Jonathan.

As a couple Vladka and Ben lived and breathed Holocaust commemoration. They sustained the survivor’s movement and always saw themselves as part of that community. When Ben was organizing the survivors’ organization and Vladka the teachers program, their home and their professional activities were one. They had a deep love forged in danger and disaster and relied on each other. Each made a critical difference in their individual way. They never liked to sit on the dais above their people, but on the floor surrounded by friends and family.

I spoke with their son Steven today. He and Rita are friends of many years. He summed up his parents' lives. "They made a difference and the world is a better place because they walked this earth," he said lovingly, respectfully. "Each made a unique individual contribution to Holocaust remembrance and to survivors and their joint contribution was unequalled."

Additional links
More information about the author.
An essay about Vladka Meed written by Rochelle G. Saidel in 2003 for the Encyclopedia of Jewish Women.


Female Perspectives on Ending Sexual Violence: Choosing Peace over Fear,

Please see this essay by Stephanie Koehler as originally published by WIP.


Women Violated in War Denied Memorials
By Rochelle G. Saidel
WeNews commentator

This essay ran as the lead article in Women's eNews on May 29, 2012.

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)—As a participant at the nongovernmental forum that accompanied the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, I witnessed a delegation of Korean "comfort women" survivors who were trying to call attention to their victimization as sex slaves for the Japanese military during World War II.

By then, they were no longer young and some indeed looked frail, but they made a powerful and striking presence to demand recognition of their history.

In the early 1990s, Kim Hak Soon was the first former "comfort woman" to speak out, at the age of 67, and her testimony inspired other women to do the same. Within one year more than 200 other Korean women who had been enslaved as "comfort women" came forward. They have joined together, supported each other, and shared their experience.

A local monument to these brave women was the subject of a startling May 19 story in The New York Times. The first surprise was my own ignorance of the monument, just across the Hudson River from New York City, in Palisades Park, N.J., where more than half of the population is of Korean descent. Since it’s the only one of its kind in the U.S., it seemed strange that it had not attracted widespread publicity and become a major pilgrimage site for women's advocates.

Shocking Revelations

My surprise turned to shock when I read that two delegations of Japanese officials were pressing for the removal of the memorial from its location in a public park. The incident began on May 1, when a delegation led by New York Consul General Shigeyuki Hiroki came to offer to plant cherry trees and donate books to the public library in exchange for the memorial's removal.

After borough officials rejected this request, on May 6 a delegation led by four members of the Japanese Parliament arrived. They denied that the "comfort women" had ever been forced sex slaves and said that they were paid to come and take care of the troops, according to a statement in the article by Palisades Park Mayor James Rotundo.

The deputy consul general of Japan, Fumio Iwai, said the issue of the "comfort women" is "the subject of continuing discussion 'at a very high level' between the governments of South Korea and Japan."

The interference by Japanese officials has boomeranged. Now, according to the article, more of these small monuments are being planned. New York City Councilman Peter Koo has also proposed renaming a street in Flushing, Queens, in honor of the "comfort women."

Similar Scene

In the film "We Came to Testify," produced by Abigail Disney, shown on PBS and also presented as part of a program in which I participated last week at the New York offices of Women's eNews, a scene reminded me of these Japanese officials. The film portrays a groundbreaking 2001 trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, the Netherlands, at which rape victims from Foca, Bosnia, testified. For the first time in history, three perpetrators were convicted of rape as a crime against humanity.

In one part of the film, some of the victims returned to their hometown after the war and tried to place a plaque at the site of their repeated rapes. They were met by a violent crowd and a large cordon of policemen, all of whom prevented them from accomplishing their mission.

These brave Bosnian women were making an effort to mark the site where the crimes against them had been committed. In the case of the "comfort women," the memorial is a small plaque far from the scene of the crime.

For me, the violent scene in Bosnia and the diplomatic tensions on the outskirts of New York City are about the same thing. In both cases, these women were once considered by their enemies as less than human, or "untermenschen," the word used by the Nazis in similar circumstances during the Holocaust. In these cases and others, the history of women's sexual violation in war is being suppressed, rejected, and denied.

Rochelle G. Saidel is the founder and executive director of Remember the Women Institute, which is currently seeking witnesses to sexual violence during the Holocaust. She is co-editor with Sonja M. Hedgepeth of Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust, and the author of five other books on the Holocaust.

The article is also posted at Women's eNews.


Obama Includes Sexual Violence in Remarks at US Holocaust Memorial Museum by Rochelle G. Saidel

This essay was posted at Women's eNews and Women Under Siege Project on April 27, 2012.

Yesterday, April 23, President Barack Obama delivered an address at a ceremony at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, intended both to commemorate the Holocaust and to outline his administration's efforts to honor the pledge of "never again" by developing a comprehensive strategy to prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities. Regarding sexual violence and genocide, he said: "We're doing more to protect women and girls from the horror of wartime sexual violence." He added that, "for the first time, we explicitly barred entry into the United States of those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity." Such crimes now include rape and sexual violence, according to the United Nations.

Remember the Women Institute, which has been at the forefront of efforts to raise awareness about sexual violence against women during the Holocaust, believes it is significant that President Obama chose this occasion and this location to make his statement about "the horror of wartime sexual violence." Even today, some scholars do not want to acknowledge that various forms of sexual violence occurred during the Holocaust. The shame that sexually violated women feel for their entire lives has silenced many survivors, and the Nazis and their collaborators permanently silenced other victims by murdering them immediately after violating them.

Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust, the groundbreaking anthology that I co-edited along with Sonja M. Hedgepeth (2010, Brandeis University Press/University Press of New England), was the first book to address this issue. It is remarkable that such a book did not appear until 65 years after the end of the Holocaust. The book's sixteen chapters cover different forms of sexual violence from various perspectives, including contributions from an international group of historians, social scientists, literary and film critics, and psychologists. As the chapter authors detail, not only the Nazis and their collaborators, but some Jews, non-Jewish prisoners, rescuers, and even liberators violated Jewish and other women.

As feminist writer and activist Gloria Steinem has stated, "The Holocaust horrors suffered by males and females alike have been rightly memorialized in histories and museums, but the sexual violence suffered by females has rarely been recorded. Perhaps we would have been better able to prevent the rapes in the former Yugoslavia and the Congo if we had not had to wait more than sixty years to hear the truths that are anthologized in Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust. . . . We owe [the editors] and the authors they assembled a debt of gratitude for a well-documented warning that sexual violence is a keystone of genocide." Steinem cites the book as inspiration for Women Under Siege, a new website she created with the Women's Media Center.

While we still need to know more about what President Obama and the United States are specifically doing to "protect women and girls from the horror of wartime sexual violence," we at Remember the Women Institute applaud both his statement and the conscious or unconscious connection that he made between sexual violation during the Holocaust and in more recent genocides.

Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel is founder and executive director of Remember the Women Institute, New York City, which carries out and encourages research and cultural projects that integrate women into history. She is co-editor of Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust, as well as author of The Jewish Women of Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. Her newest book is Mielec, Poland: The Shtetl That Became a Nazi Concentration Camp. For more information, see www.rememberwomen.org.


A Tribute to Vitke Kempner (Kovner) by Aviva Cantor

Vitke Kempner Kovner, who died at age 92 on February 15, 2012, at her Kibbutz in Israel, Ein HaChoresh, was one of the heroes of the Jewish Resistance during the Holocaust: a Vilna ghetto fighter and courier, and partisan in the forests. She committed the first act of sabotage by Jews against the Germans and was the only woman intelligence scout in the Rudnicki Forest, being part of a Jewish group led by poet-partisan Abba Kovner, whom she later married.

Vitke was a 19-year-old university student and activist in Hashomer Hatzair (HH), the Socialist Zionist youth movement, when she escaped the German invasion of Kalisz, her Polish hometown, to Vilna, when it was still a free city. She and the other HH leaders–among them Ruszhka Korczak, her best friend--lived in a kibbutz (commune) then and after the German takeover, following which (September 1941) the Jews were herded into a ghetto and murdered in the woods of Ponar.

After HH leader Kovner issued a "Call for Action" against the Nazis, the ghetto’s political movements united to form the FPO, the United Partisan Organization. Vitke became a courier to underground groups in different cities, alerting them to the genocide and the resistance to it.

In an interview I did with Vitke for Lilith [http://www.lilith.org/] magazine in 1987, she stressed that "the part of the woman was very important during the war, in every place. Most of the men were taken away by the Germans in the beginning and the women have to worry about the children, and making a living." Women also served as the couriers in the Resistance because it was "easier for a woman to go into the streets and to be unrecognized as a Jew, and also the Germans did not suspect a woman could be doing illegal work."

The FPO prepared for a ghetto uprising which, in the end, did not take place; they also engaged in sabotage. After scouting for three nights, Vitke found a site on the tracks of the Vilna-Vileyka rail line over which trains brought equipment to the front, and there she and a comrade placed a bomb at l:30 a.m. on July 8, 1942. They then escaped the scene and "when the train goes over it at 2:00, it explodes and from far away we heard the explosion." To honor Vitke, Hirsh Glik wrote the song, "Shtil di Nacht" (""The night is still and bright with stars….Do you remember how I taught you to hold a gun in your hand?") After the war, the Soviet Union awarded Vitke a medal of valor for the train bombing.

After the liquidation of the ghetto in September, 1943, about 600 to 1,000 Jewish partisans formed four groups in the Rudnicki Forest. Women, she said, constituted 30 to 40 percent of the Jewish partisans. The women wanted to fight, she said, but the men did not want to go out with them, saying "you are a woman, you get upset, you are weak…." But Abba, her group’s commander, “demanded that in every action has to be one woman.” she said. "Ours is the only group where women are very active. It was our wish, we came to fight, not to sit and cook."

Vitke herself commanded a group of five scouts, who looked every day for places to do sabotage, to find out information from the peasants and learn the location of German troops. Against the orders of the non-Jewish partisans, she brought out to the forest several groups of Jews from labor camps set up near Vilna after the ghetto's liquidation.

Vitke also participated with the other FPO partisans in the liberation of Vilna in July, 1944. She arrived in Mandatory Palestine in 1946 and later settled in Ein HaChoresh. She worked as a psychologist. A widow–Abba Kovner died of cancer in 1987--Vitke was survived by their children and grandchildren.



Rwanda Commemoration Panel

Left to right: Jacqueline Murekatete, Yvette Rugasaguhunga, Consolee Nishimwe, moderator Ed Ballen, Alain Rwabunkamba, and Eugenie Mukeshimana.

Genocides and Gender: The Holocaust and Rwanda
by Rochelle G. Saidel

My work on sexual violence against Jewish women during the Holocaust has been broadened by meeting people devoted to divulging similar atrocities in later genocides. For example, I attended the 17th commemoration of the Rwanda genocide, held on April 10, 2011, at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City. Jacqueline Murekatete, a second-year student at the school, organized the event through Miracle Corners of the World, www.miraclecorners.org, a non-profit organization that empowers youth to become leaders of social change.  Jacqueline has been telling her story for some time, in person and on film, often in the company of a Holocaust survivor.

Between April and June 1994, the Hutu majority ethnic group in Rwanda murdered one million Tutsis, a figure that also includes any Hutus who sympathized with them. Listening to the remarks of Eugène-Richard Gasana, the Rwanda Ambassador to the United Nations, I realized that with few changes in his text, he could easily instead be speaking about the Holocaust. The circumstances were different but the results were the same: genocide. "Every year, we rekindle the flame of remembrance for a million souls slain in a hundred days of cruelty and inhumanity," he said. "Every spring, we mourn our loved ones because their memory shall not fall into the darkness of oblivion."

In addition to Jacqueline Murekatete, four other young survivors of the 1994 Rwanda genocide spoke at the commemoration: Eugenie Mukeshimana, Consolee Nishimwe, Yvette Rugasaguhunga, and Alain Rwabunkamba. All of them live with the horrors that they remember, and with the loss of their family members. They are all driven to tell their stories not only to make the world aware of the genocide in Rwanda, but also in an effort to prevent other genocides and mass atrocities. 

For both the Holocaust and for the genocide in Rwanda, as the ambassador stated: "Truth is the best candle to keep alive memory, the best tool to preserve our dignity and the best weapon to fight against genocide denial and ideology." For both the Holocaust and for the genocide in Rwanda, this truth unfortunately includes sexual violence against girls and women.

Mass rapes are an acknowledged part of the Rwanda genocide, and some survivors have been courageous enough to publicly acknowledge their suffering. In the case of the Holocaust, however, for more than sixty years, information about sexual violence against Jewish women was swept under the rug and even denied by some Holocaust scholars. Today we have broken through this silence and denial, with the publication of Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust (Hedgepeth and Saidel, co-editors, Brandeis University Press/University Press of New England, 2010).

There is a connection between what happened to women during the Holocaust and during the genocide in Rwanda. In both situations, sexual violence was used against women (and the men who could not protect them) as a tool of power and humiliation; and the victims were then either murdered or made to feel ashamed. By acknowledging and disclosing what happened during the Holocaust and in Rwanda, perhaps we can contribute to preventing other genocides, with their accompanying rape and sexual violence.


 

Remembering Dr. Franklin H. Littell

Dr. Franklin H. LittellRemember the Women Institute marks with great sadness and admiration the passing of our esteemed friend and colleague, Dr. Franklin H. Littell.

Dr. Littell, 91, widely acknowledged as the father of modern Holocaust studies in America, died on May 23, 2009, at home in Merion Station, Pennsylvania. A Methodist minister, Dr. Littell dedicated his life to Holocaust research. He was Founder in 1970 of the Annual Scholars' Conference on the Holocaust and the German Church Struggle.

Born in Syracuse, NY, Dr. Littell earned his Bachelor's degree from Cornell College in Iowa. He completed his Master's degree at Union Theological Seminary in New York, where he was greatly influenced by Reinhold Niebuhr. Here he recognized the power of evil in world events, especially demonstrated by the Nazis in Europe. He earned his doctorate at Yale University, and spent nearly 10 years in postwar Germany as chief Protestant religious adviser in the U.S. high command. After returning from Germany, Mr. Littell began offering a graduate seminar, the German Church Struggle and the Holocaust, in 1959 at Emory University, the first course of its kind in America. In 1969, after professorships at Emory, the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, and the Chicago Theological Seminary, Dr. Littell joined the Temple University faculty. In 1976, in addition to beginning the doctoral program on Holocaust studies there, he also founded the National Institute on the Holocaust at the university. He retired in 1986, and was then Professor Emeritus.

Dr. Littell was the author of more than two dozen books, the best-known entitled The Crucifixion of the Jews (1975, Harper & Row). This was the first work to explore Christianity in response to the Holocaust. He also wrote more than 1,000 articles, and was working most recently on his memoirs. An activist as well as a writer, he marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights struggle. His research examined individual responsibility in a free society and he sought to encourage interfaith dialogue, especially between Christians and Jews.

President Jimmy Carter named Dr. Littell a founding member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. In 1979, he was the first Christian appointed to the International Governing Board of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Dr. Littell was Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Richard Stockton College, as well as a visiting professor in the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at Hebrew University in Jerusalem for 25 years.

Along with his wife, Dr. Marcia Sachs Littell, Dr. Franklin H. Littell devoted his life to promoting scholarship on the Holocaust and teaching hundreds of students about the subject. While his own subject matter focused on Christianity and the Holocaust, he always encouraged the inclusion of women and the Holocaust as a subject at annual Scholars' Conferences. He also helped to enable Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel's research on Ravensbrück, before the creation of Remember the Women Institute.

Dr. Littell is survived by his wife, Dr. Marcia Sachs Littell, as well as daughters Jeannie Lawrence and Karen and Miriam Littell; son Stephen; stepsons Jonathan Sachs and Robert Sachs Jr.; stepdaughter Jennifer Sachs Dahnert; and 11 grandchildren. A memorial is tentatively planned for October 2009 at the 39th Annual Scholars' Conference. Donations in Dr. Littell's memory may be made to the annual Scholars' Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches, Box 10, Merion Station, Pa. 19066.

May his memory be a blessing.


Remembering Richard J. Scheuer

Richard Scheuer

Courtesy of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

Remember the Women Institute mourns the passing of  Richard J. Scheuer, a loyal supporter and kind, intelligent friend who encouraged our projects both philanthropically and ideologically. A real estate executive and philanthropist, Mr. Scheuer spent his retirement years in Jewish communal affairs, as an active supporter of several Reform institutions, Israeli archeology and The Jewish Museum. He not only generously funded these projects, but was also personally involved in them. He served as chairman of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and The Jewish Museum in New York , was a leader of the effort to expand the Reform movement’s rabbinical school in Jerusalem, and to encourage rabbinical students to spend a year studying in Israel. He was an advocate of women becoming rabbis and cantors, and he was a supporter of a K-12 school that was founded on HUC-JIR’s Jerusalem campus. He deeply believed in and worked for advancing liberal Judaism in a pluralistic Jewish State of Israel. A resident of Larchmont, New York, he also maintained a home in Jerusalem.

Richard Scheuer’s “mission grounded in his passion for biblical history and archaeological research and publication shaped his vision for the expansion of [the HUC-JIR] Jerusalem campus, the growth of [the HUC-JIR] Israeli rabbinical and education programs, and the launching of the Tali school system for pluralistic education in Israel,” according to Rabbi David Ellenson, HUC-JIR president. We emphatically agree with Rabbi Ellison that Mr. Scheuer's “commitment to the State of Israel, and love for the Jewish people as well as his intellectual curiosity, generous spirit and warm and kind heart will endure as an abiding source of inspiration.”

Born in Long Lake, New York, he attended the Fieldston School in the Bronx, and Harvard College. In mid-life he earned a master’s degree in ancient history from New York University. He received honorary doctorate degrees from HUC-JIR and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and was named an Honorary Fellow of Jerusalem by Mayor Teddy Kollek.

An officer in the Army Signal Corps during World War II, he earned a Bronze Star. After the war he joined his father’s real estate firm, and became active in advancing the quality of education in the Reform movement. Interested in archeology, he accompanied Nelson Glueck, president of HUC-JIR from 1947 to 1971, on visits to excavation sites in Israel, and was a major contributor to several archaeological organizations.

Richard Scheuer died on November 7, 2008, at the age of 91, succumbing to heart failure after surgery. He is survived by his wife, Joan Gross Scheuer; two sons, Daniel and Jonathan; a daughter, Marian Scheuer Sofaer; a brother, Steven; a sister, Amy Scheuer Cohen, and 11 grandchildren. May his memory be for a blessing.

MY SWAN SONG by Judy Weissenberg Cohen, Witness/Survivor

(Judy Cohen of Toronto, Canada reports on her mission trip to Berlin and Poland in May 2007, under the auspices of the Canadian Centre For Diversity. She traveled with 63 university students from all over Canada, with diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds.)

BERLIN
We started walking into history in Berlin. Intellectually, and historically, the students really appreciated our journey to start in Berlin and I achieved my long-held conviction that it is important to begin these educational missions about the Holocaust in the country where it all begun, and in chronological order within the time constraint of less than two days. Where to begin?

Bebel Platz, first stop – with the empty library underground, can be viewed through a glass panel on the ground – tells us about the massive book burning of Jewish and non-Jewish authors’ publications that took place in May 1933 – five months after the Nazis came to power.

The Wannsee Conference House Memorial with its elegant dining room and vast photo documentation was one of the "highlights" where the group "met" the educated, gauleiters, high-ranking SS merchants of death, the planners of death camps and gas-chambers for their intended fast and furious mass murder to accomplish what they called the "final solution" of European Jews but also planning the killing of hundreds of thousands of others. The planning of the expulsion and eventual murder, over a lavish dinner, took less than two hours and is richly documented here with a vast array of photos and documents. This was the introduction to the implementation and what the students will witness in Poland

Topography of Terror Walkway on Stresemannstrasse speaks of the extensive terror of the Nazi regime and is located in the area where the terror houses operated.

Architect, Daniel Liebeskind’s Jewish Museum, with its adjacent Holocaust Tower (The Void) and The Garden of Exile and all the rich cultural and historical exhibits was a revelation to all of us about the long, sometimes arduous but illustrious history of German Jews - from the Middle Ages to the Holocaust period and to the present time.

Field of Steles – a Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe (Architect, Peter Eisenman) was our next stop. It is a controversial monument, consists of 2,700 dark gray, concrete slabs – supposedly represents a cornfield or subject to any other interpretation and located in the heart of Berlin.

Underneath these massive slabs of concrete is a most remarkable Documentation/Information Centre, which I cannot praise enough. It is about the victims. It has several rooms. It would take too long to describe them all, so I will do only two. In the Dimension room, on white slabs, placed on the floor, lit from underneath, are engraved the last letters, written by victims to their loved ones left behind and who were quite aware of their impending doom. These are most compelling testimonies.

In the Room of Families there are on display the entire histories, with photos and documents, in lit wall panels, of fifteen families, from different countries, indicating in contrasting colour on adjacent, narrow side panels, who and how many members in the family did not survive. One of these families is about my friend Gabor Hirsch's family from Békéscsaba, Hungary. A fantastic documentation of individual families and their lives and deaths – the way the Holocaust ought to be recorded because the details are most telling.

POLAND
Poland next – to see the end result of all the planning in Wannsee and its successful implementation in Nazi occupied Poland.

Every time I am back in Auschwitz-Birkenau, (this was my 4th and last time for sure) that singular feeling of the past still hunts me – my stomach is in a wrenching knot due to apprehension – but otherwise there is nothing there any more that are so vivid in my memory, the sources of our unbearable existence then - the bare floors to sleep on in the barracks of “Mexico”; the individual kubliks in designated areas, that served as toilets; the muddy zehlappelplatz in pouring rain; the water truck bringing in water once a day over which we fought fiercely till nothing remained in our cups; the brutality of the SS guards, the Kapos and various prisoners in authority, always yelling and screaming, using their short rubber truncheons generously, to prove their worth and the prisoners with their empty gaze, emaciated bodies, wrapped in rags, always fearful of yet another “selection” to be torn from a loved one or, to be gassed.

The students came on this journey to see what cannot be seen any more, to hear what cannot be heard any more and smell the putrid odour of burning, human flesh that evaporated eons ago. We, the witnesses are special interpreters of those terrible times, trying to convey an undeliverable message from the dead to the living, born many decades later - a daunting and near impossible task.

It is absolutely surreal: Auschwitz-Birkenau, the biggest murder factory of the Nazi era is today a tourist attraction. Tourist buses are lining up, the people are pouring out of them, from tiny Japanese ladies with colourful sunbrellas to young Polish students - all are coming (understanding what happened there is another question) and it is so crowded in the museum barracks that we are hurried along much too fast to give space to other groups - not the best teaching tool.

In our group the students were sincerely interested in Holocaust studies, ranging in age 23-30 (and one 49 year old mature), some with Masters Degrees, enrolled in various academic disciplines but history students were in the majority.

I love to be the survivor/interpreter/teacher to such a group. We can discuss issues and historically significant events on a level I prefer to talk. I am reasonably sure that while they were affected emotionally, they will also think about the serious issues long after the "mission" is over. In fact, some of them are in touch with me now, via e-mail, so that teaching and learning continues.

In contrast to Birkenau, the Majdanek death camp is intact –the Nazis didn’t have time to destroy anything – and it is far more telling as to what a Nazi death camp was all about. I had little to add to the obvious “visuals”- the gas chamber, the crematoria ovens and the huge mound of human ash with bits and pieces of bone protruding.

Then came Treblinka. Our Israeli-Polish guide told us that in Poland Treblinka is considered the most dramatic of all camps, a vast cemetery for approximately 800,000 Jews, who were brought there for the sole purpose only to be murdered in a few months, then plowed under and the terrain was given to a Ukrainian farmer who used it for farming, of course – like nothing unusual ever happened there.

Today, all you can see there are thousands of memorial stones and boulders, of various sizes, representing thousands of small and large Jewish communities that were totally obliterated from the map of Poland. There is only one large boulder marked with a name, that of Janusz Korczak, the famous Polish-Jewish pediatrician, teacher, educator and humanitarian - who was murdered there along with 200+ orphaned children from the Warsaw ghetto, his wards in an orphanage. He voluntarily went to his death instead of abandoning the children to face alone their deadly fate.

The other extremely moving experience, even for an emotionally well "armoured" person like me, was the small town of Tycosyn - that has not changed, we were told, since WWII. Historical background: In this small town lived 1,400 Jews, getting along peacefully with their Polish and Ukrainian neighbours for a couple of hundred years.

When Poland was partitioned by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, Tycosyn came under Soviet occupation for almost two years. When, unexpectedly, the Nazis broke the pact and attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, Tycosyn fell and came under Nazi occupation.

After a short period the Nazis told the Jews that they will give them back everything the Soviets took from them and asked them to gather in the town square (where Jews and non-Jews used to sell their farm produce and handicrafts every week). Once, most, but not all Jews gathered, they led them through a beautiful little, dense forest telling them that at the other end they will find their belongings. Once they arrived, they were shot, one by one. Those who hid were found and two days later had the same fate. There are two mass graves there now marked by two memorials - inscribed in Polish and Yiddish. Our group, in May 2007, starting out from the same market square, followed the same route, arm-in-arm, in deadly silence, wrapped in our own thoughts, walked through this beautiful forest to the end where we saw the mass graves. We lit candles in their memory and put stones on the memorials indicating - "you are not forgotten - we remember you." It was a small, immensely intimate mourning and remembering.

With my mind's eye I could see the original "marchers" and wondered whether they sensed that something terrible would happen? On that spot, in that very moment, it occurred to me that there aren't enough candles in the world to mourn those millions of murdered victims and their would-be descendants - had they lived.

Our visits to ancient synagogues and equally ancient cemeteries gave us an inkling of the rich Jewish life that existed in Poland during the inter-war years.

The journey ended with a beautiful dinner and performances by the students – readings, humor, and music.

I believe it was a meaningful and worthwhile mission for all those who participated. Hopefully, along with other educators I disseminated enough information, historical and personal, to create - if nothing more - keen awareness of the legal/political decisions and social processes that led from the first violation of human rights, to the suspension of all rights; from closing down the first Jewish business, to target them all; from uprooting the first Roma family, to murdering tens of thousands of them; from burning books to gassing and burning Jewish women, especially pregnant women, men and children.

I also hope that this awareness will make these students keen monitors of what’s happening in the world today and perhaps some of them will become activists for the betterment of the human condition wherever they happen to live.

We said our good byes with many hugs and the intention of staying in touch. While, most likely this was my last mission, I shall continue my public speaking and teaching through my web site right here in Toronto.

For more information, please see www.womenandtheholocaust.com


PROF. CLARA AMBRUS-BAYER NAMED RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS

         Prof. Clara Ambrus-Bayer, who saved Budapest Jews during the Holocaust, was named a Righteous Among the Nations and honored at the Israel Consulate in New York on August 18, 2006. “Clara is an example of how to behave and do things in the future for all of us,” as her husband of sixty-two years, Dr. Julian Ambrus, stated at the ceremony. Participating in the ceremony were Ambassador Arye Mekel, Consul General of Israel in New York, and Ambassador Gabor Horvath, Consul General of Hungary. Six of Clara's seven children and other family members attended.

Clara Bayer was born in 1924 in Vatican City, Rome, where her father, an architect, was part of the Hungarian diplomatic mission. The family returned to Budapest when Clara was ten. Clara was in her first year of medical school in 1944, when the Nazis began to liquidate the Jews of Hungary. It was at this time that she devised a plan to hide Jews in the textile factory managed by her parents. The factory had been closed during the war because no materials were available, and the family decided to use it to hide Jews and members of the resistance.

Clara developed several elaborate hiding places in the factory attic and basement, and also in the family's home on the premises. Her job was to go to the ghettos and internment camps and to bribe guards to let people out. She then took them to the factory. She also brought people to the home of Julian's uncle, who was an Italian citizen and declared immunity for them.

Clara and her family shared their meager food supply with their hidden guests until the end of the war. Among those she saved was Rabbi Bela Eisenberg, who later became chief rabbi of Vienna. Clara's father was arrested by the Nazis on suspicion of hiding people, because he bought more food than the family would have needed. He was tortured without revealing the situation, returned home, and died soon afterward.

After the war Clara completed her medical studies in Zurich and then worked at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. Later she completed graduate studies at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. At present she is a Professor of Pediatrics and Obstetrics/Gynecology at SUNY Buffalo, New York, and she and her husband are both affiliated with the Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

As her husband Julian explained at the ceremony, Clara's selfless dedication to helping those in need did not end when the Nazis left Budapest and World War II ended. She also helped Hungarian victims of Communism. When a large number of Hungarians escaped in 1956 and came to the United States, they were placed in Camp Kilmer. In order to be released, they needed to have jobs. Clara and Julian were working at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and they found jobs for as many refugees as possible. To overcome some of the refugees' inability to speak English, they even found them jobs taking care of the research chimpanzees.

Clara is also the recipient of the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute's George F. Koepf Award for the Advancement of biomedical Research, and in 2000 she was named Outstanding Medical Woman of the Year at Buffalo General Hospital. The next year she was declared a Foreign Member of the National Academy of Science in Hungary. She was also named by the Pope as a Lady Commander of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.

I had the privilege of attending the moving ceremony honoring Clara, because her friends (and mine), Nathan and Toby Ticktin Back, formerly of Buffalo and now of Jerusalem, asked me to represent them. Nathan, Professor of Pharmacology in the School of Medicine, State University of New York/Buffalo, was a graduate student of Julian Ambrus and joined Clara and Julian as Research Scientist when they took up Senior Research positions at the Roswell Park Memorial Center in Buffalo. He described the couple as “special, caring people and remarkably creative and dedicated scientists,” and his “role models.” Toby, a Hebrew, Judaic and Holocaust studies educator, was the Founder and first Director of the Greater Buffalo Holocaust Research Center, which has the mission to remember the victims, honor the survivors, and educate the community through teacher training, a speakers bureau, and video testimonies of over 140 survivors (documented by Toby).

Although I have been researching and writing about the Holocaust for nearly thirty years, this was the first time that I had the opportunity to be part of a ceremony to name someone Righteous Among the Nations. Prof. Clara Ambrus-Bayer is modest despite her outstanding professional and personal achievements. She is a courageous heroine, who has finally received the recognition she so deserves for saving the lives of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.

By Rochelle G. Saidel.


Dr. Stephen Feinstein and Dr. Lon Nuell:
Remember the Women Institute Mourns the Loss of Two Special Colleagues

March 2008 brought the sad news that Holocaust scholarship lost two men who made important contributions in the field. Both Dr. Stephen Feinstein and Dr. Lon Nuell were specifically interested in art and the Holocaust. Both also always encouraged the work of Remember the Women Institute and believed in the importance of studying the unique experiences of women during the Holocaust.

Stephen Feinstein died on March 4, stricken while giving a speech about the Holocaust at the Sabes Foundation Minneapolis Jewish Film Festival. Suddenly unable to speak, he was rushed to a Minneapolis hospital where he died at age 64. He was the director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and adjunct professor of history at the University of Minnesota.

He had previously taught at other colleges including the University of Wisconsin,  was curator for many art exhibits, and spoke internationally about the Holocaust and genocide. He was responsible for bringing the exhibit, "Deadly Medicine" to the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul.

Although Dr. Feinstein specialized in genocide, he had a magnificent sense of  humor. He could always be counted on to make his colleagues smile or laugh when the subject became too heavy to deal with, while retaining a sense of compassion for the victims of the Holocaust and genocide. The day before his death, colleagues planned to nominate him for the University of Minnesota Outstanding Service Award. Dr. Feinstein leaves behind his wife, Susan, his son, Jeremy, his daughter and son-in-law, Rebecca and Avi Winitzer, and two grandchildren, Sarah and Shammai.

Less than a week after Stephen Feinstein's untimely death, before we had a chance to begin to absorb it, on March 12 Dr. Leon Richard “Lon” Nuell, longtime professor of art at Middle Tennessee State University and a Commissioner on the Tennessee Commission on Holocaust Education, died at the age of 68. He had a massive stroke at Middle Tennessee Medical Center in Murfreesboro while recovering from hip surgery.

Dr. Nuell joined MTSU’s Department of Art in 1971 after earning his Doctorate of Education and Master of Science in art education from the University of Kansas and his Bachelor of Fine Arts in interior design from the Kansas City Art Institute. Prior to joining MTSU’s art faculty, he served as an assistant professor at what is now known as William Woods University in Missouri.

As the co-chair of MTSU's Holocaust Program, Dr. Nuell encouraged and supported including a session on sexual abuse of women during the Holocaust at the university's Fall 2007 Holocaust Studies Conference. This session was organized by Remember the Women Institute. He was appointed to the Tennessee Commission on Holocaust Education in 1990-2003 and presented with the ACLU’s First Amendment Award in 2002, among other honors. He is survived by his wife, Dr. Elizabeth “Christie” Nuell, also an MTSU art professor, and brother David Nuell of California, as well as three sons, Jordan of Minnesota; Isaac, who is a graduate student in Denver; and Aaron, who is a senior majoring in education at MTSU.


Germaine Tillion, Heroic Ravensbrück Prisoner Who Documented the Camp
Died in St.-Mande, France at Age 100 on April 19, 2008

Germaine Tillion
Stephane de Sakutin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Germaine Tillion in 2004, after Germany named her Commander of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic.

Remember the Women Institute honors and remembers French anthropologist and resistance fighter Germaine Tillion, arrested by the Gestapo on August 3, 1942 and incarcerated in Ravensbrück concentration camp. She was a member and leader of the Museum of Man resistance group. At Ravensbrück, where she was forced to build roads, she participated in resistance by such means as teaching history to the other prisoners and secretly keeping track of  their fate.

When the camp was liberated by Soviet soldiers at the end of April 1945, she carried out undeveloped photographs that had been taken with a hidden camera. These photographs included documentation of medical experiments on the legs of Polish inmates. Her book about the camp, Ravensbrück, was translated from French into English and published by Doubleday in the United States in 1975. This was the first book in English to document life at Ravensbrück. In French the book had three versions, with Ms. Tillion augmenting previous information.

Ms. Tillion has been the subject of biographies, exhibitions, conferences and films in France, and was honored at the Ravensbrück memorial in 2007. She was one of the most decorated people in France, with awards including the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, presented to only four other women. President Nicolas Sarkozy sent her a letter expressing “the affection of the entire nation” to mark her 100th birthday.

Born in Allègre, France on May 30, 1907, she studied anthropology at the University of Paris and elsewhere, and in the 1930s she carried out research missions in Algeria. She returned to the subject of Algeria after the war, arguing about France's responsibility not to allow Algeria to sink into poverty. 

 

 


 

Irena Sendler

Irena Sendler, Rescuer of Jewish Children During the Holocaust
Died in Warsaw at Age 98 on May 12, 2008

Remember the Women Institute honors and remembers Irena Sendler, who rescued 2,500 Warsaw Jewish children from deportation to Nazi death camps. In September 1939, when the Nazis invaded Poland, she was a 29-year-old social worker employed by Warsaw's social welfare department. In the fall of 1940, she watched the Nazis lock up 350,000 Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. As conditions there grew more and more critical, Mrs. Sendler joined Zegota, the code name for the Council for Aid to Jews in Occupied Poland. This underground network founded in December 1942 by psychologist Adolf Berman and six other prominent scholars, religious leaders, and social activists forged thousands of birth certificates and other documents to give Jews false identities. Sendler became head of the network's operation to smuggle Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto.

She entered the ghetto with a forged permit, using the code name Jolanta, and organized the effort to sneak the children out to orphanages, convents, and private homes in the Warsaw region. Mrs. Sendler worked with as group of about 30 volunteers, mostly women.  She and Zegota devised several routes for smuggling children out of the ghetto, including sewer pipes and underground passageways. Some escaped through the courthouse, which had entrances on both the ghetto and Aryan sides, and other children were hidden in trunks, suitcases or sacks by a trolley driver and Zegota member. Another supporter, an ambulance driver, kept his dog beside him in the front seat and trained him to bark to camouflage any cries from the hidden babies. For some sixteen months, Sendler persuaded parents and grandparents to hand over their babies and children, giving them a chance to live. Whenever possible, she wrote down the child's Jewish name and new Christian name and new address. She buried these names in jars under an apple tree in a friend's garden, hoping the children could later be located and reunited with their families.

On October 20, 1943, the Gestapo arrested Mrs. Sendler. They had long suspected she was running a smuggling operation, and one of her messengers had been caught and tortured until she gave up Mrs. Sendler's name and home address. The Gestapo interrogated Mrs. Sendler, demanding information about the identities of the other rescuers and the children in hiding. But she refused to talk, even when she was beaten until her legs and feet were broken. She was then taken to Pawiak prison, where she was sentenced to be executed. At the last minute, however, she was rescued. On the day she was to be executed, Zegota bribed a guard, who allowed Mrs. Sendler to escape. The guard subsequently posted her name on public bulletin boards as one of the executed, essentially rendering her invisible to the Nazis. She then went into hiding in Poland until liberation.

After Poland was liberated in January 1945, Mrs. Sendler returned to her friend's garden and dug up the jars. She turned over the rescued children's names to Zegota. However, most of the children had no surviving family. After the war, Mrs. Sendler married, raised two children of her own, and continued her career as a social worker in Warsaw. The beatings she had suffered at the hands of the Gestapo left her permanently disabled.

As Poland was under a communist regime, she did not feel safe speaking about her role in the rescue of Jewish children. In 1965, Mrs. Sendler became one of the first of the so-called Righteous Among the Nations honored by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. Poland’s Communist leaders did not allow her to travel to Israel, and she was presented the award twelve years later.

In March 2000 Mrs. Sendler received a letter from three high school girls in Uniontown, Kansas. Encouraged by their social studies teacher, they had found some scarce information about her and chosen her as the subject of their National History Day project. They wrote to her and received a response three weeks later. They wrote a short play, “Life in a Jar,” and one member of a Kansas City audience was so moved by Irena Sendler's story that he raised money to send the play's three authors to Poland to meet her in May 2001.

In a letter last year to the Polish Senate after her country finally honored her efforts, Mrs. Sendler wrote, “Every child saved with my help and the help of all the wonderful secret messengers, who today are no longer living, is the justification of my existence on this earth, and not a title to glory.”  She was born Irena Krzyzanowska in Otwock, now Poland, on February 15, 1910, and died on May 12, 2008, at age 98 in Warsaw. She is survived by her daughter, Janka, and a granddaughter.

A TV movie by Hallmark about the life of Irena Sendler is being readied for production and will air next season on the CBS network. The movie is drawn from the 2005 book Mother of the Children of the Holocaust: The Irena Sendler Story, written by Anna Mieszkowska.


A TRIBUTE TO CHARLES R. ALLEN, JR.

Charles R. Allen, Jr. in 2001. Photo by Barry Mehler

          Charles (Chuck) R. Allen, Jr. a prolific anti-fascist journalist noted for his dedication to bringing Nazi war criminals to justice, died on September 9, 2004, in Dahlonega, Georgia, it has just been learned. His death was due to complications of a long battle with Alzheimer's disease and he had been living in a nursing home in Georgia for the last years of his life.

             Mr. Allen was always on the side of justice and equality. He won national honors uncovering antisemitism, racism, and fascism, with articles on the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. His articles on Nazi war criminals in America appeared as early as 1963, long before the issue was on the agenda of the United States government or Jewish organizations. He books include: Heusinger of the Fourth Reich (1963), Nazi War Criminals Among Us (1963), and Concentration Camps U.S.A (1968). Beginning in 1978, he collaborated on the Nazi war criminal issue with Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel, Director of Remember the Women Institute. He was responsible for her 1980 invitation to study antisemitism in the German Democratic Republic, at which time she first visited Ravensbrück women's concentration camp.

            Mr. Allen devoted his life to exposing the escape and employment of many Nazi war criminals aided by United States government agencies and other respected organizations such as the Vatican. He was called as a witness for the House Subcommittee on Immigration hearings on the findings of the General Accounting Office, and testified at a July 19, 1978 hearing that 149 accused Nazi war criminals had been employed  by U.S. government intelligence agencies. His legacy on this issue continues today in the struggle between Congress and the CIA over disclosing related government records.

            Mr. Allen’s byline appeared in such newspapers and periodicals as the New York Times, The Nation, Reform Judaism, Jewish Currents, The Churchman, The Jewish Veteran, and Martyrdom and Resistance, and he was a frequent contributor to Associated Press and Jewish Telegraphic Agency international wire services.  He also appeared on such television news shows as “60 Minutes,” “Good Morning America,” and “Nightline.”

            Through the 1950s, Mr. Allen served as the youngest senior editor at The Nation, where he contributed articles on McCarthyism, antisemitism, racism, and other bigotries. During that decade he also wrote articles for more than 200 magazines and newspapers, including The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Statesman, Colliers, The Saturday Evening Post, and Look.

            His investigative writings also resulted in the parole by the State of New Jersey of Clarence Hill, an African-American who had been imprisoned for life for three double murders allegedly committed in the 1930s. After Mr. Allen proved the entire case was a frameup, Mr. Hill was set free in 1961.

            Plagued by his refusal to sign a McCarthyite loyalty oath, he had difficulty finding a job with a major publication. In 1957 he became public relations director of the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers Union (UE). He later was public relations director for Corn Products Corporation International, conducting several détente trade missions to the former Soviet Union. Afterward, as a free-lance journalist, he continued his investigative writing on Nazi war criminals and related subjects into the 1990s.

            Born and raised in a Philadelphia suburb, Mr. Allen could trace his family's arrival in the United States to the seventeenth century. He attended the Episcopal Academy in Philadelphia, received his B.A. from Kenyon College, and did his graduate studies at Columbia University School of Journalism. He excelled at sports both in college and afterward. He served in Army Intelligence as a political analyst and contacts officer, based in Korea.

            Mr. Allen is survived by his son Derek B. Allen of Dahlonega, GA, stepsons Benedict Carton of Washington, DC and Jacob Carton of Seattle, WA, sisters Lois and Vivian, brother Kenneth, and two granddaughters. He is missed by his family, friends, and colleagues, and his deeds and accomplishments should serve as inspiration to everyone who seeks truth and justice. May his memory be for a blessing.

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Cover image of Charlotte, A Holocaust Memoir

MEMORIES
by Robert A. Warren

(Robert A. Warren published Charlotte, based on his discussions with Charlotte Guthmann Operfermann. This essay is taken from his remarks at the 37th Annual Scholars’ Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches, Case-Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, March 12, 2007. For more information, please contact Robert Warren at derick38@comcast.net.)

Charlotte Opfermann was my dear friend and close colleague; most of all, she was my teacher. On November 22, 2004, she died in Houston at age 80 after a short, sudden illness, thereby outliving the Third Reich and the Nazi bastards who wanted her dead by 60 years. I still find the notion that she’s gone shocking. Somehow, I thought she’d manage to live forever.
The book which bears her name was composed in 2006 as my personal farewell to her. Her life is briefly outlined in the book’s Introduction and Aftermath sections. Her central experience as a target of the Nazi’s purported “final solution of the Jewish problem,” the 23 months she spent as an inmate at Theresienstadt, forms the core narrative portion of the book. Although authored by me, it is her voice that resonates off the pages.

This is about an ugly segment of the Holocaust which all too often goes unnoticed in the first-person literature that narrates that desolate era. It falls somewhere between the unseemly sentimentality that, through no fault of the author, all too often attaches to The Diary of Anne Frank and the brutal atrocity of the death camps, so eloquently articulated by such premier survivor-authors as Primo Levi in his two remarkable volumes, Survival in Auschwitz and The Drowned and the Saved, and the equally eloquent and revealing short trilogy by Charlotte Delbo, Auschwitz and After. Here, Charlotte and I write instead about the middle ground occupied, at least temporarily, by so many victims of the Shoah, places where Jews and other unfortunate victims were herded, supposedly for the duration. Some were able to fool themselves into thinking otherwise, but young Charlotte and her companions always knew, even if only in an amorphous manner, that their Nazi masters’ sure and certain expectation was their death. It was Charlotte and her family’s lot to end up in perhaps the most bizarre of all such places, “KZ-Ghetto Theresienstadt” located in what is now the Czech Republic, then a place fancifully named the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Its institutional persona was part concentration camp, part ghetto, and part-time Potemkin facade. It was a passive death camp too, where the fatalities were as real and utterly final as those inflicted in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Claiborn and Belzec, but were here masked as stemming from ‘natural causes,’ e.g., unrelenting starvation, illness, and deprivation.

Atrocity remains the hallmark of the Holocaust, and suffering came in many forms. Of the approximately 140,000 inmates who passed through Theresienstadt from late November 1941 to liberation by the Red Army in May 1945, more than 33,000 died in situ, while most of the remainder, some 88,000, were shipped East, generally to Auschwitz, where all but 3,000 perished. Only about 19,000 survived their Theresienstadt ordeal, barely 13 percent. Even without gas chambers and firing squads, it was a lethal locale by any definition.

Charlotte’s story is about a young woman, just emerging from adolescence, who not only had a good heart, but who also was street-smart, tough-minded, determined, and who harbored a will-to-live at any almost price. With calculation, self-control, a couple of strokes of good luck (generated, in large part, by her own winning personality), and her canny decision to learn Czech and thus alter her German identity sufficient to satisfy the Czechs who largely controlled Theresienstadt internal administration, she achieved a status which escaped almost all of her fellow German inmates: to the extent permissible within the miserable confines of the Ghetto, she became the mistress of her own destiny. Even so, she only marginally subsisted in mundane, mater-of-fact misery and desolation for nearly every day and night of eighteen long months. She was perpetually hungry, malnourished, chronically lethargic and the victim of a baker’s dozen of diseases, everything from scarlet fever to influenza to diphtheria. She and her fellows endured terrible living conditions, particularly during the long, brutally bitter winter of 1944-1945. But she coped. She knew opportunity when she saw it, large or small, and she never failed to seize it. She also learned the bitter lesson of how to become her own best friend; not indifferent to others, but fully aware of and attentive to her own needs. She became a survivor in the very best sense of that word, but at a catastrophic, lifelong cost to herself and her family. She forfeited her capacity to trust, and with that her ability to love. She never savaged anyone to save her own life, but as she repeatedly and ruefully observed to me, for everyone who survived in the camps, someone else almost certainly died in their place. Her own response to that dilemma lies at the core of her story as I have recounted it here on her behalf. Knowledgeable commentators like Lawrence Langer have made a dark art form out of describing the ‘choiceless choices’ that defined one’s existence in the lagers. I believe that Charlotte goes him one better: she speaks of choices which, admittedly made under agonizing circumstances, were nonetheless ‘free’ ones, with wrenching consequences that followed her for the remainder of her life.

This description may make her sound essentially self-serving and manipulative. She was not, of course; only entirely human and candidly willing to admit it. To think otherwise is to inexcusably shift the guilt from the damnable to the damned. But living even in good times comes at considerable expense; except for those survivors among us, no one is in a position to debate how that expense might be calculated within the desperate environment of the Holocaust, trapped in a hellhole like Theresienstadt.

Then there was the other side of Charlotte. Still an emerging adolescent at age 19, she took complete responsibility for tens of dozens of orphaned children, acting as a full-charge caregiver in Youth Barracks L414. If she found ways to influence the system for her own benefit, she found even more sophisticated methods to obtain relief for her kids. She always refused to speculate on how many young lives she served or saved. “Not enough,” was always her unequivocal answer to that question. Still, as her story slowly unfolded for me over four or five years, I captured the portrait of a young woman in an unspeakably ugly place who developed an incredible capacity for what is now called intuitive risk assessment. In a blink, she could calculate whether a hazard was worth any benefit that might attach and then act on her instincts without hesitation. She truly learned how to live by her wits, saving both herself and others in the process.

Outside of my immediate family, Charlotte, even in death, remains one of the most important and beloved people in my life. She also was one of my two best teachers. In her seventies, the final decade, she became an acknowledged teacher, a superb instructor on the highly personal aspects of the Shoah and of the lessons to be learned from her own experiences, having spent 12 full years as a young German Jew caught in the savage desolation of National Socialism. I recommend her book, our book, to those of you who are teachers or who are the colleagues of teachers who are charged with introducing high school students to the unimaginable human tragedy and trauma of the Holocaust, not to mention the other instances of genocide that have followed us from the twentieth century into the new millennium. I hope, indeed I believe that this little book does justice to Charlotte’s considerable capacity as a teacher and her incredibly detailed memory of the events that framed her youth. As is made clear on the copyright page, copies of the book are available to teachers and others in the field at no cost, simply by contacting me at the e-mail address to be found there. Downloadable PDF files are a small miracle in themselves. I hope that even a quick perusal of our little book will persuade you that now there is yet another, easily obtainable and, I hope, easily accessible source to assist you to help your students not lose sight of the most monumentally awful moment in recorded human history.

That, then, is Charlotte Opfermann’s legacy — fashioning a lesson plan for others out of her 23 months at Theresienstadt, an experience that brought with it the very worst and the very best moments of her long life. To understand and appreciate the value of that improbable paradox, you’ll have to read the book.

The book had only a limited print run, so bound copies are at a premium. Mr. Warren will be pleased to make complete e-copies of the book available to anyone who is interested. Anyone wishing a copy should make a request to him at derick38@comcast.net. If you’d care to tell him a bit about yourself and/or your interest in the book, he’d be most interested, but that is not necessary. He will respond promptly to all requests by sending a complete copy of CHARLOTTE, in fully downloadable (and printable, if you so desire) PDF format, by return e-mail. As you will note from the copyright page, he has placed no restrictions on the use or non-commercial reproduction and distribution of the book. He hopes that anyone who wishes to use it in a classroom as supplementary reading will contact him via e-mail. He expects to have at least enough bound copies to supply one to any teacher using it, as well as a brief teacher’s guide, now in preparation, which should be helpful in introducing the book to students.


Summary – Fiorello's Sister: Gemma La Guardia Gluck

by Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel

Panel on “La Guardia and the Holocaust”

David Wyman Institute Conference

Sept. 18, 2005, Fordham University Law School, Manhattan

            Gemma La Guardia Gluck, the sister of New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, was a Jewish political hostage in Ravensbrück women's concentration camp. She wrote a now out-of-print memoir, My Story, edited by S. L. Shneiderman and published in 1961. An American born in New York City in 1881, she was arrested by the Nazis in Budapest (where she was living with her Hungarian Jewish husband) in June 1944, and imprisoned in Ravensbrück. As the sister of La Guardia, Gemma was incarcerated as a potential exchange hostage.

            I am in the process of editing and expanding Gemma's original memoir about her experience in Ravensbrück and its aftermath, and this information is part of the forthcoming book. Gemma's story is also the subject of a chapter of my 2004 book, The Jewish Women of Ravensbrück Concentration Camp (University of Wisconsin Press).  During my research I came across letters between Gemma and Fiorello, as well as letters to VIPs and bank receipts that document how Fiorello helped Gemma--within the limitations he set--after she was released from Ravensbrück.

            Some brief family background, which I will not detail here, explains Gemma and Fiorello's Jewish roots, why Gemma was in Budapest, and how the Nazi occupation affected her and family. In May 1944 there was a search of her Budapest home, and on 7 June 1944 she was arrested and ultimately taken to Ravensbrück, arriving on 30 June 1944.   I summarized her description of entering the camp, her status and duties as a Sonder-Häftling, or special prisoner, and her ability to remember and record the horrors of camp. She discovered just a short time before she was liberated in April 1945  that her daughter Yolanda and grandson Richard were also incarcerated in the camp.

            Gemma was sent from Ravensbrück to Berlin with her daughter and grandson on 15 April, and she witnessed the horrors of Berlin during the week of its liberation by the Soviet troops. After American troops entered Berlin, Gemma was able to get a message to the American authorities, asking them to inform her brother that she was there. La Guardia promised he would do everything he could to bring Gemma and her family to the United States, but that he could not make exceptions and they would have to wait their turn on the immigration quota list.

            Gemma's first documented letter to Fiorello from Berlin on 15 July 1945 asked him to "try to find our husbands and get us soon over to the United States of America." Fiorello used his contacts and entrée at the highest levels to help his sister, while insisting he would not pull any strings to allow her and her family to enter the United States before their turns; he also sent money. On 11 September 1945, Gemma again wrote to her brother, providing a vivid description of how desperate her situation was in Berlin.

                On 31  October 1945, Fiorello answered via the Red Cross.  He expressed his "anxiety" for Gemma's "welfare," but made it clear that he would not use his influence to do anything extraordinary to help her get to the United States. “I will provide for you and do the very best that conditions will permit. You must be patient. . . . You have lost your citizenship, therefore that is something that cannot be remedied....I am trying my best to have you sent either to Sweden or England or Portugal or Italy. There are many insurmountable obstacles. Again, if they do it for one they will have to do it for hundreds of thousands....As to your returning to the United States, I am doing all I can, but I cannot get Yolanda and her child in. You do not want to leave them alone. Unless the law changes, this may continue for sometime. If it can be done, it will be done.”

            Although Fiorello sounds tough in this letter, there is documentation that he used highest level contacts, including General Dwight D. Eisenhower, to see that Gemma and her family were taken care of while they waited for immigration clearance. In May 1946 Gemma and her family moved to Copenhagen to wait until their papers were in order. Gemma regained her citizenship after it was established that her husband was dead. On June 11, 1946, Fiorello sent a letter to the Department of State, with a $20 visa fee and sworn statement supporting the entry of Yolanda Denes and her son Richard, and pledging to take care of them financially. During the time that Gemma was in Copenhagen, Fiorello also spoke to officials on her behalf. 

            On 2 April 1947 Gemma wrote to Fiorello that Yolanda had received her quota number and provisional passport, valid for departure until 1 July 1947. Fiorello then wrote to Gemma on 19 April 1947, with instructions about arrangements and a warning not to seek publicity. On. 1 May 1947, Gemma received a letter from Fiorello that everything was in order; a week later she received notice that passage was available on a ship leaving in two days. Gemma, her daughter, and grandson arrived in New York on 19 May 1947. Again, Fiorello had gone to the top and had arranged for their travel through a personal contact,  Mr. Emmet J. McCormack, treasurer of the Moore-McCormack Lines.

            "It is a bitter thing to have nothing in one's old age," Gemma wrote in her memoir. "One is almost too weary to start a new life." However, despite the loss of her home, husband, and sheltered former life, she was able to overcome despair and move forward at the age of 64. Gemma also had to face another tragic situation soon after arrival. By then, Fiorello was gravely ill with cancer and died in New York City four months later, on 20 September 1947. Gemma continued to live a quiet life, residing in a small apartment with her daughter in a municipal housing project in Queens, New York. On 1 November 1962, a year after her book was published, Gemma died at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens.

            We are left to ponder how Fiorello handled his own family's refugee problem, while he was actively dealing with this issue on a global level. From letters and documentation, it is clear that he did help Gemma, both financially and by pulling very high-level strings. However, he insisted he would only use “normal” legal procedures, and he refused to move his family up on entrance visa lists. Whether he should have or could have done more is an open, subjective, even, ethical question.

The Remember the Women Institute welcomes essays pertaining to women and history for our on-line library. Suggested research topics include:


How the lessons of the Holocaust apply to women in the present and future
The effect of politics on memorialization of women in the Holocaust
Women in Ravensbrück and other Nazi concentration camps
Women in ghettos, resistance, and partisan groups
Relationships between sexism, anti-Semitism, and racism
· Women and genocide
· Women and migration
· Women and immigration
· Women and displacement
· Women in science and technology
· Women in inter-religious dialogue
· Women in religious worship
· Women in Jewish history
· Women in the university
· Marginalized women

Please contact Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel with your inquiries.

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