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Speaker tells ‘human stories’ behind the Holocaust

Sara Losch, director of lifelong learning at Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, recently wrote to congregants that “for years, I’ve heard from adults that they don’t have a legitimate education about the Shoah.”

“Many of us did not learn about it in school,” she added. “Some of us only know what we know from movies or novels.”

To address this need, the synagogue’s Elsie and Howard Kahane Holocaust Education Fund is sponsoring a three-part lecture series, “Why they did what they did: Understanding the human behavior behind the Holocaust,” led by educator Sharon Halper.

The program, employing personal narratives to explore human behavior, community dynamics, and social context, began on Jan. 13 and continues on Jan. 20 and 27.

Halper — who teaches both children and adults and has been a synagogue school director, teacher trainer, writer, and consultant — pointed out that her lecture series derives from her studies with Facing History and Ourselves, a group that “delivers classroom strategies, resources, and lessons that inspire young people to take responsibility for their world,” according to its Website, Facing.org.

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Sharon Halper

At the heart of its work is the resource book “Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior,” from which Halper has drawn her series title.

A child of refugees and survivors, the educator said the topic of the Shoah has always presented “both a particular challenge and a particular desire to convey those aspects of the Holocaust that I find compelling.”

In her talks, which she said “are not linear history and are not devoted just to the Holocaust,” she will review with attendees what the world was like “before, during, and since” the Shoah.

“It’s important to understand what early 20th-century Europe, and the U.S., looked like,” she said. “Why was Hitler elected? We need to understand not just what it was like in the 1920s but in the 1890s. Why was the turf right?”

It is also important to understand how the Jews lived, she said.

“We think of it only as a time of death. But what did it mean to live and to resist?”

Halper pointed out that, in 21st-century terms, “resistance means winning, walking away. What does that mean with respect to those who perished?”

She said she finds it compelling to look at the documents and artifacts that survived the Warsaw Ghetto, where they had “soup kitchens, gardens, and handed out recipes saying what to do with frozen cabbages.”

“What did it mean to live?” she asked, noting that she will look at “human stories.”

Halper said she would begin her first session with a discussion of the eugenics movement and the movement called Social Darwinism.

“Why was the language Hitler spoke not a foreign tongue, even in America?” she asked, noting that the United States at the time was concerned about immigration, “people who didn’t look and sound like us.”

She will move on to discuss issues such as the Armenian genocide, World War I, and Versailles, tackling questions such as “What did Hitler learn from the world around him?”

In addition, she will explore the motivation of rescuers, people who risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis.

In discussing the Warsaw Ghetto, she said, she will make use of the archives of the Oneg Shabbos group of scholars and others, compiled by a social scientist in the ghetto first as resource material and later — when he realized that survival was not possible — as a historical record.

Halper said three boxes, containing thousands of artifacts such as diaries and letters but also things like Purim candy and children’s school schedules, were buried around the ghetto. Two have been unearthed.

The educator, who grew up in Queens, N.Y., and has written curricular materials for the Union of Reform Judaism, said that her parents came to the United States in the late 1930s from Berlin and Vienna, and her stepfather from Russia.

“There are two kinds of families,” she said of Holocaust survivors, “those who spoke and those who were silent. My family was silent. You knew you could not ask.”

The Barnert lecture series is free and open to the public. For further information, call (201) 848-1800 or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 
 

Take the ‘Nazi’ out of Arizona criticism

 

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Hitler exhibit opens in Berlin, to Jewish applause

BERLIN – The image of Hitler is still arresting, 65 years after his suicide and the end of World War II.

Now the German Historical Museum has dedicated an exhibit to the fascination Hitler held for the “Volk,” the ordinary German citizen.

It marks the first time a German museum has ventured into such territory, and the curators say they have taken great care to avoid glorifying the man behind the Third Reich, which in Germany would not only be distasteful but illegal.

Controversial though it is for some, the exhibit has been welcomed by the Central Council of Jews in Germany. The council’s secretary general, Stephan Kramer, said he thought the timing was right, given today’s political climate.

“Especially the lower-middle classes are susceptible to wanting to be led,” he said, and politicians are “instrumentalizing their fears.”

Kramer said the exhibition “is dealing seriously with the issue, and I don’t think there is a danger of any form of glorification.”

“Hitler and the Germans,” which opened Oct. 15 in Berlin and runs through Feb. 6, includes posters, artifacts, and other contemporary propaganda illuminating the complex interaction between the public and their “Führer,” or leader.

Objects are arranged in three chronological and thematic chapters, focusing on the socio-political conditions, forms, and consequences of Hitler’s rise to power. The propaganda messages on display are countered by images that convey the reality of what was happening. Exhibit items were set up in a nearly 1,300-square-yard exhibition hall in ways to discourage neo-Nazis from taking heroic photos of themselves near images of Hitler.

The exhibit opens only days after a new study by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation showed that some 10 percent of Germans still wish they had a Führer to tell them what to do during these hard economic times.

“My idea, my wish, is to explain these historical events so that people know the dangers that are caused by irrational mass movements,” curator Hans-Ulrich Thamer told JTA.

The “fascination [with Hitler] was caused by very modern technical methods, with movies and microphones and so on,” Thamer said. “People at this time thought it was very modern.”

Though it does not focus extensively on the genocide of the Jews, the exhibit “shows the persecution of German and European Jewry as one of the results of the rhetoric and ideology of the ‘Volksgemeinschaft’” — the Nazi concept of a so-called Aryan racial community, Thamer added. A sign reading “Jews are unwelcome in our town” is one of the items on display.

Illustrating the growth of the Führer movement and the Nazi party, posters place Hitler alongside examples of “perfect” German specimens, past and present.

There are also items that were never meant to be seen by the public, such as Hitler’s secret memo regarding the so-called euthanasia program in which physically or mentally disabled citizens, whose lives were deemed unworthy by the state, were murdered in gas chambers.

Hitler, Austrian by birth, started off as an unremarkable soldier in World War II and rose to become the head of the National Socialist Party.

Jailed after his attempted putsch in 1923, he wrote his notorious autobiographical polemic “Mein Kampf” in prison and emerged as a popular figure. He became chancellor in January 1933 and soon amassed dictatorial powers.

Twelve years later, with 6 million European Jews murdered, tens of millions of European and Soviet soldiers slaughtered in battle, and many German cities lying in ruins, Hitler continued his anti-Semitic rants in his last will and testament, charging his followers to resist “the universal poisoners of all peoples, international Jewry.”

Today, the spot above Hitler’s former bunker, where he killed Eva Braun and himself, is marked by a small sign. It’s a few steps from the national Holocaust memorial.

JTA

 
 

Here we go again

Rebecca Kaplan Boroson
Published: 20 January 2011

I learned, close to 6 on Wednesday, too late to rewrite my editorial, that in the House debate over repealing the health-care legislation, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) compared Republican claims about health care to Nazi lies, referred to Hitler’s “big lie,” and even talked about blood libel.

He could simply have said, “They told you there would be death panels, and it was a lie.  They told you illegal immigrants would get coverage under this bill, and it was a lie. 

Don’t believe a word they say, it’s all lies.”

But he went full-out using Holocaust comparisons, which does nothing to soothe our fractious political climate.

This kind of rhetoric is unacceptable and even dangerous, whether it comes from a Republican, Democrat, Tea Partier — or a member of the long-gone Know Nothing Party. In fact, it takes a “Know Nothing” to use it.

RKB

 
 
 
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