Thursday, September 10, 2015

That Refugee Crisis and This Refugee Crisis

Op-ed written by Dr. Robert Rozett as seen in the Times of Israel.

In spring 1938, on the heels of five years of persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany that had recently extended to newly annexed Austria, it was clear that Europe, and the world, were in the throes of a severe refugee crisis. The term "refugee crisis" was essentially a euphemism, since it was not an amorphous situation, but rather circumstances resulting directly from masses of Jews fleeing dire Nazi persecution.  Of course this was still nearly three years before systematic mass murder would strike the Jews. And it was still six months before orchestrated massive violence would erupt on November 9th and 10th in the pogrom that came to be known as Kristallnacht. Yet even in spring 1938 Germany's persecution of the Jews was real, humiliating, profoundly painful and much too frequently, violent.

By the start of 1938 roughly one third of the 523,000 Jews residing in Germany proper in 1933 had left, or were on the verge of leaving. In addition, in the newly annexed German territories of Austria, Adolf Eichmann was poised to employ new coercive tactics to expedite the emigration of as many of the roughly 200,000 Jews of Austria as possible. He would be very successful.

In spring 1938, President Roosevelt and his Administration decided to convene a conference to deal, ostensibly, with the problem of Germany's fleeing Jews. Between the 6th and 15th of July, representatives from 32 countries met in the French spa town of Évian-sur-les-Bains.  It became rapidly clear at the time, and even clearer subsequently, that the Evian conference yielded no substantial solutions to the ongoing stream of refugees.  The various countries' emissaries set forth reasons why their nations could do little or nothing more than had already been done to help.  Each emissary voiced hopes that other countries would provide a solution.  In short the Evian conference was a dismal failure, ultimately fortifying the foundations of the Nazis' Final Solution.

"Evian, France, Representatives from various nations, sitting around a table at the Evian Conference."
Courtesy of Yad Vashem Photo Archives
Today Europe and the world face another refugee crisis of great proportions. Today's crisis appears in some ways much greater than that of the 1930s, with more complex and diverse characteristics and causes. It extends beyond several hundreds of thousands of persecuted persons belonging to one ethnic group, in one nation. Now, millions of people in extremis around the world are on the move and seek relief, refuge and a safe future.  It is truly a global problem.

Since 2011 more than 4 million have fled the brutal and bloody multi-sided war in Syria alone, a war that has left an estimated quarter of a million dead.  In Iraq, ISIS has targeted its enemies killing, enslaving, terrorizing and raping large segments of minority groups like the Yazidis, various Christians and those Muslims who do not follow the ISIS line, engendering massive flight.  As of the end of 2014, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 19.5 million people around the world have been driven from their homes because of armed conflict.

When today's refugees reach the shores of Europe or other safe havens, their new hosts are faced with daunting task of trying to accurately determine their status: Who among these unfortunate people is in immediate life threating danger. Whose life is threatened potentially? And who is seeking safety from places where life is "merely" wretched beyond the imagination of comfortable First World citizens? Clearly, weighty considerations, and not a little prejudice and selfishness to boot, preclude better-off countries from dramatically opening their doors wide to all the refugees. Yet, perhaps, we can derive a modicum of wisdom from history to help us grasp and deal sensibly and morally with this tragic, worsening situation.

When the world faced the crisis of Europe's persecuted German and Austrian Jews in the 1930s and might have solved the problem together, it failed miserably because it didn’t really try. It didn’t really want to try.

What is needed today is a new international initiative to aid the refugees - certainly not a sham like the Evian Conference, but a sincere and resolute effort to actually make a practical difference for the miserable millions.  This would go a long way towards the saving of many lives, and would also constitute an important gesture toward making amends for the world's past failures of conscience and action. Clearly many countries together can achieve more than one country acting alone. There are a number of already existing international organizations and agencies that could be part of such an effort, such as the UN, the World Bank, and major relief and charity organizations.   

In acting, we should all be guided by the saying attributed to Rabbi Tarfon in the Pirke Avot (The Sayings of the Fathers), a compilation of ethical teachings by early Jewish sages: "It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it."
It may not be achievable to succor all or even the greater part of the tens of millions who need our help, but that does not mean that organized and concerted efforts should not be made to do whatever can already be done. Those efforts should begin now.

Dr. Robert Rozett is the Director of the Yad Vashem Libraries, author of Conscripted Slaves: Hungarian Jewish Forced Laborers on the Eastern Front, Yad Vashem 2013, and co-editor with Dr. Iael Nidam Orvieto, of a forthcoming anthology of letters written by Holocaust Survivors and Allied soldiers after liberation to be published by Yad Vashem.

Marking the New Year

Ushering in the beginning of the Jewish New Year, a special online exhibition has been uploaded to Yad Vashem's website . "Marking the New Year" features approximately 50 items from Yad Vashem's collections, including greeting cards, documents, religious artifacts and testimonies - all relating to the Jewish New Year. Through these items, Yad Vashem offers a glimpse into some of the ways that Jews marked the High Holidays before, during and immediately after the Holocaust.

One of these special greeting cards comes from the Dasberg family. Simon Dasberg and his wife Isabella (née Franck) lived in Groningen, The Netherlands, where Simon served as the community Rabbi.  They had four children – Fanny (Zipporah), Dina, Samuel and Rafael. 

In 1943, the Dasbergs were deported to Westerbork and from there to the "star camp" in Bergen-Belsen.  Rabbi Dasberg took a Torah scroll with him to the camps, thanks to which he was able to perform the Mitzvah (commandment) of reading from the Torah, and even gave Bar Mitzvah boys the chance to be "called up to the Torah" (the Jewish tradition for boys turning 13).

"This year… I will not tease Rafael".
Rosh Hashanah Card from Samuel Dasberg, 10 years old, Bergen-Belsen 1944

In preparation for Rosh Hashanah 5705 (September 1944), the Dasberg children made "Shana Tova" cards in Bergen-Belsen.  They drew the symbols of the holiday – the Shofar (ram's horn) and the apple dipped in honey, decorated the cards with bright colors, and wished their parents a better year than the one they had just lived through.

Rafael, the youngest, aged 8, wrote in Dutch:

"This year I will be a very good boy, and I will never cry".

"This year I will be a very good boy, and I will never cry".
Rosh Hashanah Card from Rafael Dasberg, 8 years old, Bergen-Belsen 1944
The eldest daughter, Fanny (Zipporah) wrote the following in her card: "We will have a happy and sweet New Year even without apple and honey", and concluded with a prayer: "May peace come quickly in our days, and may we speedily return home with all the family. May you be inscribed for a good year."
"We will have a happy and sweet New Year even without apple and honey". 
Rosh Hashanah Card from Fanny Dasberg, 13 years old, Bergen-Belsen 1944
Tragically, the worst was yet to come.  In the course of the year, conditions in the "star camp" deteriorated, and Rabbi Simon Dasberg, Isabella and their youngest son Rafael perished in the camp.

Fanny, Dina and Samuel survived, and immigrated to Eretz Israel after the war.

Fanny Stahl (née  Dasberg) lives in Kibbutz Ein Hanatziv.  On a Gathering the Fragments collection day in Emek Hama'ayanot, she brought the "Shana Tova" cards that she had preserved from that dark period, and allowed them to be photographed for Yad Vashem Archives.

Even from the depths of despair in the ghettos, Jews hoped and wished for a Happy New Year, "L'Shana Tova Tekatevu", 'May we be inscribed (in the Book of Life) for a good New Year'.   

The exhibit is featured in English, Hebrew and Spanish.


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Daughter of Survivors Learns About the Family She Never Got to Meet

By: Deborah Berman

Monique Keppler, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, recently submitted to Yad Vashem some 400 names of her extended family members who were murdered in the Shoah.  Through extensive genealogical research, Keppler traced her family line back several hundreds of years. However, when it came to the Holocaust period, she did not know much. Her parents rarely spoke about their past or about their family story during those dark days.

Sophia and Joseph Glasbeek
Monique knew that her family were natives of Amsterdam and that the large majority of them were murdered, along with many of the Jews of the city. "My mother passed away never knowing what happened to her family. One night they were herded into a truck and taken to the train station in Amsterdam. Miraculously, Mother was able to hide in the restroom. She stayed there for a long time and when she went back to the platform everyone was gone. Only she and her younger brother, who hid himself on the roof of their house, survived," she stated.
Monique shared her impressions of what has been a profoundly meaningful experience making use of information on Yad Vashem's Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names. She relates the following story about her pregnant Aunt whose baby was born and died in the camps. "It has been a very emotional experience to find the names of these many family members who I never knew, yet feel a connection with. I discovered that Mother's pregnant sister had her baby at Westerbork in June 1943. The next dates for both of them are [listed in] Auschwitz September 1943, on the same day. As I imagined the horror of having a baby in the camp and then being transported to Auschwitz I was filled with grief and sorrow, crying for many days."

The process provided much more than just information for Monique, it granted her a sense of closure and deepened her understanding of her own personal loss, "All my life I wanted to know about my family but my parents didn't speak about it. I was an only child and always hoped for more siblings while growing up. Having filled out more than 400 pages of testimony I am staggered by the extent of my loss. Thinking about what might have been - having a very large family instead of the tiny family we were," Monique explained. Monique was assisted by Ursula Szczepinska, curator of education and director of research at the Florida Holocaust Museum, a dedicated partner of the Shoah Victims' Names Project. 

Pictured, Monique Keppler's family members at the wedding of her Aunt and Uncle Sophia and Joseph Glasbeek in Amsterdam, 1942. All the people in the photograph were murdered during the Shoah.
For more information and assistance contact the Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project: