By Sheldon Goldberg, Ph.D.

Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazis built more than 20,000 transit, slave labor, and extermination camps throughout Germany and conquered territories. Millions of men, women, and children were imprisoned, and many millions died in them in cruel and inhuman ways. As one American Jewish liberator said, they were stripped “of the dignity of death.”

In “The Liberation of the Camps,” Professor Dan Stone presents a well-documented, but often heart-breaking rendering of what he called the “process of liberation” and the aftermath. Stone presents the reader with five chapters, covering the liberation by the Red Army, by the Western Allies, the chaos that followed the initial liberation, life in the Displaced Persons Camps, and the issues faced by primarily Jewish survivors as they sought to transition into a new life.

One question that has been asked by other reviewers is how does one define liberation? Is it a joyous end to some form of incarceration or occupation? A time for flag waving and parades? Or is it, as in the case of many of those liberated from the concentration camps, a moment of shame for having survived while so many others did not; a moment of loneliness because everyone they knew and loved were murdered; or of wondering where they go now that their life and home no longer exists? For many, the only liberation granted in the days and weeks that followed was death. Being free was not the end of the trauma for many.

Stone writes that liberation was a complex process, and the events that followed were “fundamental to the unfolding of the post-war years in Europe, to the geopolitics of the Cold War” as well as the future of the British Empire as it impacted events in Palestine and the Middle East. These events and subsequent Allied policies also drove many survivors to reject Europe as a home, insisting that only Palestine could provide them a future.

The Red Army was the first to liberate ghettos and death camps in Eastern Europe. However, Stone fails to differentiate between labor camps and extermination camps. Several of the camps, Sobibor, Belzec, and Treblinka were demolished by the SS, even though evidence of what had taken place there remained. The Soviets took care of the survivors for a short time, but primarily used them for propaganda purposes. “Jews were mentioned only in passing” Stone writes, as they had no ideological value. The defeat of the Nazis was simply a victory for international working-class anti-fascism. Several Soviet reporters who attempted to write the truth had their works suppressed and/or destroyed.

While liberation was not an allied goal, their discovery was mostly accidental. French troops were the first of the Western Allies to discover a concentration camp – Natzweiler-Stuthof – in Alsace in November of 1944. It had a small gas chamber but appeared to be an aberration. That perception changed when the Americans found Ordruf in April of 1945. The troops found thousands of corpses everywhere. Despite being surrounded by death since Normandy, the Americans were totally unprepared for what they found. General Eisenhower, who visited the camp a week later, implored London and Washington to take the reports coming out of Germany seriously. As Rafael Medoff, author of “The Jews Should Keep Quiet,” and others have written, London and Washington knew as early as 1942 that Jews were being murdered in the camps.
Within days of discovering Ordruf, many more camps in Germany and Austria were liberated by American, British, and Canadian troops. The liberation of those camps was well documented, but this was primarily due to the much larger numbers of survivors freed and those who had arrived at these camps following forced death marches from camps in the east as the Nazis fled the Soviet advances. Stone does not hide the fact that many SS officers and camp guards who were captured in the camps were then killed by American forces who were appalled by what they had found. The sights, sounds, smells, and emotions experienced by the liberating soldiers stayed with them for many years afterward.

Stone goes to lengths to describe the misunderstandings that took place between the various liberating militaries, the rescue/relief agencies that came to help, and the liberated. Additionally, he describes the unpreparedness of some agencies to deal with what confronted them after their arrival, and the bureaucracy they had to deal with given the war was still ongoing. He also describes the lack of understanding among the military authorities who looked upon the Jewish survivors as no different than the other displaced persons they were now responsible for. This led to animosity between the Jewish survivors and the Allies who were now viewed as their jailers. Stone describes the efforts of the Jewish survivors to move forward with their lives and organize themselves. Having nowhere else to go, they created sports clubs, theater clubs, orchestras, newspapers, schools for children, celebrated marriages and births, and developed groups designed to be kibbutzniks.

Stone also introduces the role of the burgeoning Cold War which made anti-Communism a higher priority than the needs of Holocaust survivors and prevented liberated Jewish survivors from immigrating to Palestine in order to keep the British relationships with the Arabs intact. The book does not discuss the failure of the then anti-Semitic U.S. State Department and the anti-immigration Congress to fill unused German and Austrian immigration quotas which would have allowed Jews to enter the U.S. during and after the war, possibly saving thousands of lives. That said, “The Liberation of the Camps” puts a different perspective on the current understanding of liberation, what it meant to those who were liberated, and how they fared afterward. It sheds a sliver of light on a time that still affects those who lived through it and their families.

Volume 75. Number 3. 2021

By Ben Kane

“Final Account” begins with a quote from Holocaust survivor Primo Levi. The quote does an exceptional job of summarizing the message of the film. “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”

The movie explores the formative years and then the wartime positions held by those interviewed throughout the movie. Many of them were members of the Waffen SS, the military wing of the SS, an organization consisting of the most ardent Nazi fanatics. According to historical records, the military wing of the SS, unsurprisingly, had vast numbers of perpetrators within their ranks. It would be difficult for any member of the Waffen SS to consider themselves innocent, but that does not stop several interviewees from trying.

As the film unfolds, several former Nazi military personnel explain how they do not consider themselves perpetrators. The individuals claim they were “swept up” in a movement and “forced to obey orders.” They said not doing so would put them at risk. It is important to note that there are virtually no instances of a Nazi servicemember being punished for choosing not to partake in genocidal acts. Take the story of the Polish Reserve Police Battalion 101. The individuals in this group were given the chance to opt out of carrying out an act of genocide. Few refused, but those who did were not punished. One former member of the Waffen SS also corroborated the idea of a slim risk of punishment for those who refused, saying that during his time in the SS, as far as he could tell, “nobody walked away.”

There is certainly truth in their arguments of being swept up in the movement. “Final Account” does an excellent job exploring the myriad of ways citizens were brainwashed to hate. The brainwashing started at a very young age and continued ceaselessly through the years. Interviewees explained how as children, they learned the alphabet with horrific caricatures of Jews drawn beside each letter. Anti-Semitic films were shown at even the most remote villages. Marching songs, flashy outfits and rituals, and summer camps, further solidified the Nazi party as the party to join in the eyes of the impressionable youth. They were taught from birth there were those unworthy of life, and by the time a Nazi youth wielded the power of life and death as a soldier, few hesitated in using force to remove from society those they were taught were poisoning it.

Some interviewees claimed that not only did they not partake in genocidal acts, but they didn’t even know they were going on. Others admitted they did not agree with the murders but would have carried them out if asked. Conveniently, and rather miraculously, very few of the interviewed Waffen SS members seemed to be involved firsthand with any genocidal actions. Some interviewees, mostly those working office jobs or who were young members of the women’s organizations, likely didn’t carry out acts of genocide themselves, but they knew about it, and didn’t hesitate to tell that to the filmmakers.

It would be easy to direct attention to the interviewee who said Hitler was not in the wrong. That he still honors Hitler. He is shown, and it is good that he was. He serves as a warning to the viewer that some of those involved in the Holocaust were, up until their dying day, proud of their role in it. That hatred is still within the hearts of many.

But the time was instead better spent with one particularly regretful member of the Waffen SS. The film shows his conversation with a class of students, held where the Wannsee Conference took place. That 1942 conference officially determined the unfortunate fate of European Jewry. Their faces are blurred, and the comments of one young man in particular are hostile and biting. The student says he was surprised that the former SS member was “ashamed to be standing up for the fatherland” and that he “makes it seem like I should be ashamed to be German.” He also says the man “should be more afraid of some Albanian stabbing you than your fellow Germans.”

Following these remarks and others that downplayed the severity of the Holocaust, the interviewee gets emotional. He condemns the student for not showing his face and says “I belonged to a murderous organization. What else was it? We carried out murder to perfection, planned at a table like this over coffee, we decided how women and children would be killed. We cannot be proud of that… do not let yourself be blinded.”

The room fell silent. Silent just long enough for the viewer to find hope. To find hope that those led astray by even the darkest hatred can someday fight for humanity instead of against it.

Volume 75. Number 2. 2021

By Sheldon Goldberg, PhD

Between 1914 and 1918, 100,000 German Jews wore the field grey uniform of the Kaiser’s army to fight for Germany. Eighty-thousand served in combat and 12,000 died during the war. They served as enlisted men and officers and many of them were highly decorated. Three aviators were “Aces” and one, Wilhelm Frankl, received the Pour-le-mérite (Blue Max), which is the equivalent to our Medal of Honor. Many others received the Iron Cross 1st or 2nd class and the Wound Badge. The bonds created in the trenches between them and their Gentile comrades lasted for many years after the war.

Michael Geheran, Deputy Director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the U.S. Military Academy has written more than simply another history book about the Holocaust. Using diaries and letters of Jewish World War I Frontkämpfer, those who served in the front lines, and some who survived the Holocaust, he has constructed a social and psychological study of those veterans and how they lived, thought, and survived until virtually all of them were consumed in the Final Solution.

What Geheran underscores is that despite having lost the war, the Jewish veterans did not return disillusioned by the loss and embittered by the anti-Semitism some found, as is conventionally believed. Many returned with their heads held high, believing what they had done in service to the Fatherland would prove their patriotism and see them fully accepted into German society. They were accepted as full members of many of veterans’ organizations formed after the war. Many of them fought with these organizations, such as the right-wing Stahlhelm, against the communists and other revolutionaries attempting to overthrow the Weimar Republic. Jewish veterans, especially those with combat decorations, were held in high esteem.

As the Nazi hold on Germany increased after 1933 and racial laws were implemented, the respect Jewish veterans earned became a double-edged sword. On one hand, it gave them certain privileges not afforded to Jews who had not served. Ordinary Germans would intervene and chastise German police and even the SS for harassing or arresting veterans, especially those who were wounded. They took no stand when it came to actions taken against the other Jews, especially after Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, in November 1938. On the other hand, resistance and interference from ordinary Germans and, ironically, support for Jewish veterans from highly placed officers in the new German army and government forced the Nazi hierarchy to make compromises that delayed full implementation of the Final Solution. For example, orders were given that exempted decorated and wounded veterans from being transported to the east and death in the concentration camps. This allowed those privileged veterans to maintain their belief that what was happening in Germany would all go away.

However, one by one laws were passed that slowly stripped the veterans of their privileges and reduced them to the level of the other Jews. Then came the establishment of Theresienstadt in 1942 as the destination for decorated and wounded Jewish veterans. Billed as a model ghetto for the privileged veterans, it was a ruse, but one that assured German citizens that the veterans would be in good hands. But it also removed them from society, thus allowing the Final Solution to proceed.

Professor Geheran has written an extremely readable and well-researched book. It makes you proud to read about how these Jewish veterans maintained their sense of honor and military values which allowed them to defy the Nazis in the face of the discriminatory action taken against them. But it’s also sad that so many of those veterans failed to see until it was too late, that under the Nazis, and despite the sacrifices they had made for the Fatherland, they would never be accepted.

Volume 75. Number 1. 2021

By Peter Nickitas, JWV National Judge Advocate

“It Shouldn’t Be This Hard to Serve Your Country” describes the public service of the first Jewish-American Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Dr. David Shulkin. Shulkin served as Undersecretary of the VA from 2015 to 2017 and Secretary from 2017 to 2018. Shulkin served as the first chief medical officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and CEO of New York’s Beth Israel Medical Center before entering public service.

This book makes outstanding reading, as Secretary Shulkin describes his encounters with entrenched officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in his work to bring more accountability, veteran-focused care, accessible service, and timely appointments. His accomplishments included updating electronic health records (EHR) systems and expanding Agent Orange treatment to Blue Water Navy veterans who served on ships off the shore of Vietnam and suffered diseases induced by the Agent Orange clouds that blew offshore. In his words, he found himself with the choice between continued neglect of veterans based on dwindling scientific evidence as veterans died, or the moral choice, and treat Blue Water Navy veterans. He took the moral choice.

He spent a great deal of energy bringing the 2014 Veteran Access, Choice, and Accountability Act up to date in 2017 and 2018, culminating in the Mission Act. At all times, he fought to ensure quality and coordinate the delegation of some care to private providers without eviscerating the core Veterans Affairs budget for VA medical center care. During his time at Secretary, he even saw patients himself at surprise appointments at VA Medical Centers.

Shulkin says his vision for the future of the VA is “a new model of governance, complete with its own board composed of health care experts, veterans, and business leaders. It should remain a government entity but with a structure that allows it to develop strategies free of political influence…. This new governance structure would mean the end of political appointees. People who serve our veterans should be chosen not on the basis of political ideology or their commitment to a particular elected individual but rather because of relevant experience, competence, and commitment to the mission.”

“It Shouldn’t Be This Hard to Serve Your Country” provides an example of a Jewish-American who as the founders of JWV would say, “redeems the good name of the Jew.” Shulkin took the opportunity for service and made the most of it, to show that we Jewish-Americans are capable of fulfilling acts of Torah-Mitzvot and our civic obligations to our nation, our neighbors, and our fellow veterans and servicemembers, with equal fervor and merit.

Volume 74. Number 4. 2020

By Ben Kane
“About Face: Jewish Refugees in the Armed Forces,” is a documentary that tells the stories of Jewish men and women who left their homes and families to flee the persecution of the Nazi government. These immigrants then went on to join the military in their new homes, both to prove they could be good citizens to their new country, and to restore peace to their homelands.

The film begins by describing life for the average Jew under the Nazi regime. The film does an excellent job exploring life before the Holocaust. It shows that the number of dead was massive, but the dead were more than just a number. Those who were left behind were people. People like us, with fears, aspirations, and people who loved them. It explores how neighbors became enemies, and how the state used divisive rhetoric to split the country apart. Its usage of primary source documents including interviews with service members, recorded speeches from Holocaust survivors, as well as an interview with Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum, makes it a solid educational resource.

One anecdote that stands out involves a Jewish family accosted by Nazi brownshirts at a park. The family told the inquiring Nazis they were Jewish, as was required, and so the family was harassed, brought to the Danube, told to face the river, and told that anyone who turned around would be shot. The Nazis then left. This mock execution, understandably, did a fairly good job convincing those caught up in them to leave Germany. But leaving was not so simple.

The film then briefly mentions the prerequisite in some countries that in order to relocate individuals needed a relative to vouch for their character and agree to take them in. Those who tried to leave also faced an exorbitant tax. Fleeing Germany would have meant they had to start life in their homeland nearly destitute. Those who were able to leave had to consider their futures carefully. Many chose to pursue professions that could be useful anywhere, like plumbers, cooks, and carpenters.

In November 1938, Kristallnacht took place, marking a turning point in Nazi policy towards Jews. Previously, the Germans mainly sent political prisoners to concentration camps, but that changed with the arrest and imprisonment of 30,000 Jews during Kristallnacht. Jews could only leave if their families began the paperwork to flee the country, leaving their money, their home, and their former lives behind. Many fled to Israel, then British-owned Palestine, inspired by the possibility of creating their own country.

The documentary mentions the often overlooked, but historically interesting Evian Conference. The Evian Conference was a gathering of the future allied powers to determine which countries would agree to take in more Jewish refugees. Only the Dominican Republic agreed to raise their quota. The governments of the world knew of the plight of the Jews, but virtually none of them cared enough to act in any meaningful way in defense of the oppressed.

War broke out shortly thereafter and prevented many from fleeing the country. Those who fled Germany for a nearby country sometimes found themselves back in the Reich, as their new homes were invaded and captured within a matter of months or a few years.

“About Face” does not shy away from death, nor should it. It shows the corpses in concentration camps and an example of an execution of a group of Jews. It’s not detrimental, but it is something for educators to keep in mind when showing this to their students.

The documentary goes on to explain how immigrants were labeled in their new countries as enemy aliens and possible spies. The United States interned many immigrants, including Jews who fled persecution.

Once the war broke out, immigrants were allowed to enlist. They looked forward to combat, to avenging their homelands, to be placed on the fast track towards citizenship, and to prove to their new homes they would be dedicated to their country. One interviewee made the poignant remark that he joined the fight because he knew someone would take his place if he didn’t sign up, and that person could be married or otherwise important, and could be killed, and so shouldn’t go.

Joining the military did not free Jewish service members from anti-Semitism. Jews were often placed only in certain jobs, and received criticism when they tried to place themselves away from the so-called “Jewish Army”. Interestingly, a Captain who made a disparaging remark to a Jewish immigrant service member apologized for it that same day, a rare occurrence. One commanding officer, unaware of the misery of being a Jew in Germany, pulled aside one of the service members to ask for an honest answer to a “tough” question- “would they be willing to fight against the country of their birth?” The question was answered, to the CO’s surprise, with laughter.

Some immigrant service members were required to change their European identities to prevent needless harm if captured, especially if they were going to be dressed as Germans and sent behind enemy lines. Some would try and hold on to their family heritage in their own ways, but argued little against shedding the things that had and would continue to make them targets of persecution.

Towards the end, “About Face” recounts the heroic amphibious invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, in which Jewish immigrants fought alongside non-Jews, with many dying on the beaches on their way to liberate their homelands. Jewish immigrant service members made good use of their knowledge of the local languages, often providing invaluable information as translators, interrogators, and spies.

Lastly, the film explores the liberation of the concentration camps. Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissman Klein recounts the beautiful moment that unfolded between her and her liberator. Instinctively, she informed her rescuer that she was Jewish, expecting some form of hostility in return. To her surprise, he paused to collect his thoughts, then said “I am too.”

It’s these anecdotes that perfectly relay the crucial role Jewish immigrant service members played during World War II. This documentary can be enjoyed by any WWII buff, and would also serve as a good resource for educators to use to explore the impact of Jewish immigrant service members on the war effort.

“About Face” will be released later this year.

Volume 74. Number 3. 2020

By Sheldon Goldberg, Ph.D.

Since the beginning of time, war has fostered technological innovation and inventions that changed the nature of combat: gunpowder in the ninth century; artillery and firearms in the 13th; the ironclad and the machine gun in the 19th; and the airplane, tank, radar, and atom bomb in the 20th. The marriage of the airplane and radar just prior to the British and U.S. involvement in World War II is the subject of this well-written history by Norman Fine.

This marriage, the result of a small British invention made on the eve of the war, the resonant cavity magnetron, an item so small it can be held in the palm of one’s hand, was the key that unlocked the promise of the primitive radar of the time. The beginnings of radar in Britain go back to 1915 when Robert Watson-Watt, a recent electrical engineering graduate employed by the British Meteorological Office, found a way to use radio waves to detect storms in order to warn pilots of approaching bad weather. His next assignment involved investigating the feasibility of using radio waves to destroy an aircraft in flight, which he found not only impractical but dangerous to the operator, so he proposed focusing on aircraft detection. This led to the development of the “Chain Home” system of radars placed along the English Channel coast of Great Britain and used by the British throughout WWII to give advanced warning of the approach of German aircraft. Fine explains how a series of mishaps on both the German and British side led to the failure of the Germans to figure out how it worked and possibly the RAF’s victory in the Battle of Britain.

Fine’s easy-to-read narrative describes the research in both Great Britain and the United States to seek ways to move to higher frequencies although the American efforts were stymied without the new British invention. Scientists knew that higher frequencies produced a shorter wavelength, thus requiring a smaller antenna and smaller, lighter, and more mobile equipment. Shorter wavelengths also could detect smaller targets with greater detail.

Fine’s story continues on an afternoon in 1939, when two University of Birmingham scientists with no experience in generating high frequency power sketched out a new type of magnetron which would generate microwave frequencies at power levels never seen before. While American systems were limited to 20 watts of power at the 10-centimeter wavelength, tests on the new British magnetron generated 50,000 watts at the same 10-centimeter wavelength.

The Lend-Lease Act, signed in 1941, signaled greater cooperation between the then neutral U.S. and Great Britain. The British, under bombardment and anticipating a Nazi invasion from occupied northern France, decided to disclose to the U.S. a number of their highly secret technological advances, including jet engine technology and the resonant cavity magnetron. From this point on, the author ably describes the testing and development by physicists on both sides of the Atlantic to operationalize this powerful energy source, initially toward the successful detection of German U-boats from the air with 10-centimeter radar and then to develop a three-centimeter radar (H2X) used in United States Army Air Forces B-17 Pathfinders and the 10-centimeter radar (H2S) used by the Royal Air Force. Each could continuously bomb German military and industrial targets day and night regardless of the weather. Fine notes however, that the H2X radar system was used primarily as a backup to visual bombing using the Norden bombsight by the U.S. Army Air Forces. On average, visual bombing was possible only nine days a month at best.

Interspersed throughout the book the author describes the wartime career of his uncle, Stanley Fine. Initially drafted into the Army, he applied for Aviation Cadets and subsequently became a U.S. Army Air Forces navigator. Stanley’s nephew, the author, only serendipitously learned that his uncle was in the very first group of 10 navigators to be formally trained on the newly developed H2X radar system, nicknamed Mickey, and set out to interview him. As a result, the reader gets a first-hand insight into the training of these men and how they ran a radar, or pathfinder mission. The reader also learns of problems the initially uninterested Air Force leadership had in integrating both the men and the system, and the changing combat tactics needed to arrive at a place where they finally recognized the value. Lt. Stanley Fine, who brought the first production model of the H2X to Britain, carried out 32 missions, received two Distinguished Flying Crosses, and a promotion to Captain. He subsequently served as the Special Purpose Mickey Navigator for the 401st Bomb Group until the war in Europe ended.

As a former Vietnam/Cold War era navigator/bombardier, I was fascinated to learn the not well-known history and development of the system that eventually became what I was trained on and used with such precision during my Air Force career. “Blind Bombing” will be just as fascinating to military historians, historians of science and technology, aviation buffs, and those interested in history in general.

Volume 74. Number 3. 2020

By Rebecca Bender
At a 70th anniversary commemoration of the D-Day invasion at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, I read excerpts from a book my father and I wrote together. My father, Kenneth Bender, participated in the D-Day invasion, and received both a Silver Star and Purple Heart during World War II.
“Still” is a book about five generations of my family, the Benders. It covers more than 150 years during which the family migrated from Odessa, Russia, to North Dakota, and eventually Minnesota. Included in the story is my father’s recollections about himself and his war service as just one of more than half a million Jewish servicemen and women in World War II.

Near Cardiff, Wales, June 1944
It was two a.m. when Kenneth heard an unexpected knock on the door of his barracks. “Captain Bender, Sir!” There was some urgency in the messenger’s voice.

Captain Bender had been training in Newry, Northern Ireland, with the two hundred men in his unit for a few months. Company B’s barracks were on the second floor of an old abandoned concrete mill. The men practiced hand-to-hand combat drills in a greyhound dog racing enclosure and hiked up and down Camlough Mountain, where even the big rocks they walked on sank into the boggy ground with just one step. They were continuing their preparation to invade Norway…

Bender’s focus and the focus of the men under his command had been Norway for almost two years… Then the plans abruptly changed… and the entire division had been relocated to Wales. Bender had been told of the new mission — training for an amphibious invasion of Europe to fight the Nazis on the ground. He had been informed of the timetable and the plan to leave for Omaha Beach within the week, but the knock on the door of the barracks woke him with a start. “Captain Bender, Sir!” said the messenger again. “I have a message from headquarters… “Sir, you and all the men in your unit who are Hebrews are supposed to get dressed and come to the officers’ tent in fifteen minutes.”
“Thank you, private,” said Captain Bender.
Bender quickly dressed, grabbed the list of two hundred soldiers under his command, and walked swiftly to the enlisted men’s barracks. He walked in and yelled, “Attention!” The men all stood by their bunks at attention. Captain Bender continued, “I will now call out names of some men, and I want you to get dressed and meet me outside the officers’ tent in ten minutes.” He started calling out the names of the Jewish soldiers. “The rest of you can go back to sleep. That is all.”

Captain Bender went to the officers’ tent and waited outside for his men. Standing in the coolness of the Welsh night, he thought back about telling his family that he knew volunteering as a private in the infantry was the right thing to do, even though he had graduated from law school just two years before and was working as a lawyer in Rapid City. But why were the Jewish soldiers in his unit being singled out…

The Jewish men of his unit had lined up silently behind Captain Bender. The Captain led them into the tent. “Captain Bender reporting, Sir.”
“At ease, men,” said the officer. The officer broke the anxious silence:

Gentlemen, we have been sent by Company Commander, Captain Keith Schmedeman. Captain Schmedeman has learned reliable information from the front lines, in North Africa and Italy, about how Hebrews, people of the Jewish faith, are being treated by the enemy once they are captured. The Axis are not taking the Hebrews as prisoners of war. They are shooting them on the spot. This has come down from high up. If they see that your dog tags have an “H” for Hebrew, they will kill you or torture you until you die.

The Lieutenant here has a machine that can change your dog tags — you can either switch them from H, to P for Protestant or C for Catholic. When you change your dog tags, you will have a better chance of surviving the war. Now, line up behind Captain Bender to get your dog tags changed. Captain Bender, tell the Lieutenant if you want a C or a P on your tags. Once you have completed this process, you are dismissed.

Captain Bender moved up across from the Lieutenant sitting with the machine, who had his hand out to take the Captain’s dog tags. Kenneth’s twenty-eight years of life passed before him, as is supposed to happen when you see a car heading straight towards you on the road. But Kenneth Bender didn’t see headlights. He saw his Grandma Becky’s face — stern, wise, and warm all at once. “You are born a Jew, and you will die a Jew.” He knew what she meant. No matter what happens in between, once you are born as a Jew, you are who you are. You carry the joys and responsibilities of your religion. You carry the history of your people.

Each soldier had two metal tags around his neck, listing next of kin and religion. One of the tags had tape on it, so the enemy could not hear the American soldiers approaching due to the clanging of the two tags. If a soldier was killed, one tag would be removed and the other would remain with the body. …

“P or C ?” The Lieutenant’s words brought him back to the mo¬ment. In the quiet of the tent, Captain Bender felt his words come from deep inside of himself, calm and confident.

“Sir, I will not make the change.” Captain Bender then told the men assembled that they had the option to do as they wished, and he started to walk towards the exit of the tent. That’s when he heard Private Feldman, “Sir, I will not make the change”; then Private First Class Skurmann, “Sir, I will not make the change”; and on and on, like a rolling echo in a tent covered with burlap, that would not naturally lead to the phenomenon of an echo. These were man-made echoes. These were echoes that came from thousands of years of faith.

Volume 74. Number 2. 2020

By Harrison Heller

“How to Fight Anti-Semitism” is a must read. Whether you are Jewish or not, this recounting of anti-Semitism and how to fight back is essential. In today’s America, where we thought anti-Semitism was an afterthought until Charlottesville and Pittsburgh, author Bari Weiss gives a chilling and thought-provoking look at this thought virus.

Before diving in to the book, it’s important to understand the meaning of anti-Semitism. According to Merriam-Webster, anti-Semitism is “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.” This is the correct definition, but in her book, Weiss describes anti-Semitism as “not even a solid idea or singular theory. It is a shape-shifting worldview that slithers away just as you think you have it pinned down and, in so doing, stays several steps ahead of anyone trying to clobber it.” We should also define Judaism. Is Judaism a religion? An ethnicity? A way of life? Weiss says, “Judaism is not merely a religion, and it is not merely an ethnicity. Judaism is a people. More specifically, it is a people with a language, a culture, a literature, and a particular set of ideas, beliefs, texts, and legal practices.”

Many Americans put anti-Semitism and racism in the same basket. Is anti-Semitism the same as racism or is it a subset of racism? In American society, Jews are considered white. However Weiss asks, “Were there laws in Maryland saying that Jews couldn’t hold public office? Yes. Was that the same as human beings in the Old Line State being bought and sold as property? Absolutely not.” She continues, “Are Jews barred from country clubs? Yes. But are Jews singled out and discriminated against, not least by law enforcement, because of an immutable physical characteristic? Most definitely not.” According Weiss, if anti-Semitism is a subset of racism, it whitewashes the Jewish people. The majority of Israel’s Jewish population is of Mizrahi decent (Middle Eastern and North African heritage) and 12-15 percent of America’s Jewish population is comprised of people of color. She explains the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish prejudice. One example she gives is that of a gentile father who prefers his daughter not marry a Jew. This is anti-Jewish prejudice. However, this man does not hold the belief that the Jews hold a secret control over the government. That belief would be anti-Semitic. Weiss closes her definition of anti-Semitism by stating, “In the eyes of the racist, the person of color is inferior. In the eyes of the misogynist, the woman is something less than human. In the eyes of the anti-Semite, the Jew is… everything. He is whatever the anti-Semite needs him to be.”

One area frequently discussed is whether anti-Semitism is unique to the left or to the right. The answer is simple – it has found a home on both extreme ends of the political spectrum.

Weiss notes that on the extreme left, anti-Semitism exploits the moral fear within people. They place sole blame for the continued conflict between Israelis and Palestinians on the Jewish State. This moral fear causes some Jews to downplay their sympathies, or entirely abandon their support for Israel. The Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) Movement, focuses on getting governments around the world pull their support of Israel. The group does not protest Israeli policies, but they wish to isolate and pressure Israel until the Jewish State collapses. Omar Barghouti, co-founder of BDS said, “We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine… [only] a sellout Palestinian would accept a Jewish state in Palestine.” Some far-left groups also use the extreme end of victimhood to shame Jewish business owners and academic leaders of their Jewishness and their support for Israel.

Those on the far-right use tactics such as fear, neo-fascism, and Nazi ideology to instill fear in the community. George Lincoln Rockwell, a U.S. Navy veteran who served during World War II and the Korean War, founded the American Nazi Party in 1959. Inspired by Black Muslims, those on the far-right started to merge religion with white supremacy, and thus gave rise to such Christian Identity groups as The Order and America’s Promise Ministries. Today, these groups have merged and found a home in what is now called “The Alt-Right.” These groups instill fear by promoting the conspiracy theory that the Jews control the government and Hollywood. Far-right white nationalist groups are starting to find homes on college campuses across the country.

On both extreme ends of the political spectrum, it is the lack of knowledge and compassion that led people down these various paths. While these sound like different paths, they are one in the same.

As far as how to fight back against anti-Semitism, I don’t wish to include any spoilers in this review, but simply encourage you to read Weiss’ book.

Volume 74. Number 1. 2020

 

By Sheldon A. Goldberg, Ph.D.

Before the remodeling of the National Museum of American Jewish Military History several years ago, an exhibit called “The Liberators” featured American GI’s who came in contact with the effects of the Holocaust as they marched across Nazi Germany. Unfortunately all that remains of that exhibit are several recordings made by a few of the liberators describing what they saw and experienced. This confrontation with the Holocaust, even for those Jewish GI’s who saw the horrors inflicted on the dead and those who survived, was for the most part a foreign and impersonal experience.
The approximately 300,000-500,000 Soviet Jews who served in the Red Army felt a personal connection to the ravages of the Holocaust they encountered. These soldiers saw their homes, towns, and villages destroyed, as well as the murders of their families, friends, and relatives. It engendered in them a deep hated of the Nazis, and a desire for revenge at all costs. Furthermore, their contact with the results of the Holocaust undermined the Soviet propaganda that there was no such thing as a Jewish nation, nor could there be.

This change of attitude became evident to many of them, including those who had no Jewish or religious upbringing. It became evident as they experienced anti-Semitism at the front, and in the ruined towns and villages they liberated from the Nazis, where surviving neighbors looted homes after Jewish families were taken away and murdered. They saw the remnants of Jewish books and scrolls, pages that were filled with what one Russian historian called “square letters,” used to wrap produce and other items for sale or disposal. It was these “square letters” that drew thousands of Jewish Red Army soldiers together, many of whom had no knowledge of the Hebrew alphabet, as they became symbols of Jews murdered by the Nazis.

These are only a small portion of what one learns from this book, which contains a collection of essays that was presented at a conference sponsored by the U.S. Holocaust Museum, the Blatavnik Foundation, and the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. Contributors to this volume describe the participation of Soviet Jews as soldiers, journalists, and propagandists combatting the Nazis during what the Russians call the Great Patriotic War (June, 22, 1941-May 9, 1945). The essays include newly discovered and previously neglected oral testimony, poetry, cinema, diaries, memoirs, newspapers, and archives. The importance of these sources lies in the fact that except for poets and writers, Red Army soldiers were forbidden to keep dairies or take notes of what they saw and experienced during the war.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part includes a chapter on the writing and personal thoughts of Russia’s most famous journalist, Ilya Ehrenburg. Part two includes conference papers that analyze the works of various Soviet Jewish poets, including Boris Slutskii and Il’ia Sel’vinskii, the film “The Unvanquished,” the work of Russia’s best known photojournalist, Evgenii Khaldei, and several memoirs. The excellent essays by the various authors presented in the volume do not necessarily portray a unified vision of the Soviet Red Army Jews. It does however, take the reader on an emotional journey through the eyes of the Russian Jews who lived and died during the Great Patriotic War.

Soviet Jews in World War II: Fighting,
Witnessing, Remembering
Edited by Harriet Murav and Gennady Estraikh
Brighton MA: Academic Studies Press, 2014
214 pages with index
Available at the NMAJMH online store

Volume 73. Number 3. 2019

By Ben Kane

The date was February 20, 1939. It was George Washington’s birthday, and the occasion was being celebrated at a Madison Square Garden event in a way that the event planners thought President Washington would approve of. 20,000 attendees packed the building and eagerly awaited the event’s music, the marching, the flags, and the message of the “Pro American Rally.” Behind the stand where the speech was to be made hung a colossal depiction of Washington. Four American flags of equal size flanked him, but in between these flags, there was no empty space.

In between them were flags featuring a prominent swastika emerging from the letters “AV”, an abbreviation of Amerikadeutscher Volksbund–the German American Bund. A Night at the Garden, the Oscar-nominated short video directed by Marshall Curry, depicts a Nazi rally in America. This “Pro-American Rally” was a celebration of Nazi Germany, of Fascism, and of the wanton destruction of innocent lives. Hiding violent, misplaced hatred behind the thin veneer of patriotism, a Fascist tradition, Bund leader and native German Fritz Kuhn spoke following the Pledge of Allegiance. Several noteworthy lines from his speech are shown in the video:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, fellow Americans, American patriots… You all have heard of me through the Jewish controlled press as a creature with horns, a cloven hoof, and a long tail… We, with American ideals, demand that our government shall be returned to the American people who founded it… if you ask what we are actively fighting for under our charter: first, a socially just, white, Gentile ruled United States; second: Gentile-controlled labor unions, free from Jewish Moscow-directed domination.”
Then, a pause, followed by shouts and fists. A plumber from Brooklyn named Isadore Greenbaum rushes the stage to attack Kuhn but is stopped before reaching him by a group of American Nazis who beat and restrain Greenbaum until the police arrive to take him away. Greenbaum, like a true American patriot, joined the Navy to fight against the forces of evil when Germany declared war on the U.S.

The beating of Greenbaum took place in front of the youths assembled on the stage behind Kuhn, the impressionable teenagers, children, who The camera zooms in on the youths as Greenbaum is taken away, and one of the children dances with glee at the violent spectacle. The parents taught their children to hate through these rallies and through youth camps like the Hitler Youth summer camps in Germany, who then likely taught that hatred to their children, and so on and so forth.

A Night at the Garden demonstrates the depth of depravity that unbridled jingoism and xenophobia invariably lead to. It is worth noting that airtime for a 30 second advertisement for the video was requested during a commercial break on Sean Hannity’s show on the FOX News channel, and the request was denied because the content of A Night at the Garden was considered inappropriate for their audience. There are several positive aspects of the film like the high production quality, the tasteful, unobtrusive music and text, and its historical significance, that warrant a positive review. However, it being scorned by FOX News is reason enough to recommend this to anyone interested in learning of the efforts of Fascists to gain traction and power in America once before.

Volume 73. Number 1. 2019