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No matter how many times I see the above photograph — and it is perhaps the most widely published and iconic picture from the Holocaust — I still freeze with revulsion, sadness and outrage.
As a parent, educator and just plain-old human being, it bothers me to see children in such a vulnerable, helpless, victimized state…. maybe even more so than seeing the most horrific scenes from the deathcamps.
The debate over what age to introduce children to the Holocaust continues on, but there is no debate why we need to teach the next generation what happened and how to fight the evils of prejudice in our own communities.
Without Holocaust education, we will get more buffoons like Jesse James, who was recently unmasked as a fan of Nazi-themed “humor.” Although I’m jaded about our celebrity-obsessed culture, this news came as a personal disappointment. Watching James for a full-season of The Celebrity Apprentice, I always considered him to be a mensch.
What’s really sad is that his lawyer just came out with the “Some of My Best Friends Are Jewish” defense and bragged about how James lived on an Israeli kibbutz for a month.
James obviously knew what he was doing when he posed with the Nazi salute and war memorabilia. And even though he never meant for the photo to be public, his disrespectful stunt will forever taint his reputation. But it will also make some people laugh.
Education does not guarantee sensitivity and empathy. It cannot override poor character.
Nonetheless, we should try to do everything we can to reach out to the rest of humanity — and use history to encourage respect and understanding in our own backyard.
If you live in New Hampshire or in the Merrimack Valley area (Mass.), there are two Yom Hashoah events I encourage you to explore:
Vermont’s Betty Lauer, author of “Hiding in Plain Sight: The Incredible True Story of a German-Jewish Teenager’s Struggle to Survive in Nazi-Occupied Poland,” will share her life story.
Bertel Weissberger (now Betty Lauer) was 12 in April 1938 when her sister Eva and her mother were expelled from Germany to Poland. Initially, they lived as registered Jews, with special curfews, work assignments and food rations. The Nazis caught Eva, but Bertel and her mother survived under assumed names and forged documents. Fleeing a series of near-discoveries, Bertel and her mother ended up in Warsaw, where they fought in the 1943 uprising and were deported to an internment camp, along with Bertel’s Polish Christian “husband.” They bribed their way out of the camp to take various work assignments, navigated the Russian occupation of Poland, walked to Auschwitz to look for Eva and stowed away on a ship from Poland to Sweden, and then finally sailed to America.
The event is free and open to the public. For more information, call Sheryl Rich-Kern at 603-881-7264.
Click here for directions to Rivier College.
BLOODLINES DOCUMENTARY SCREENING & FORGIVENESS FORUM DISCUSSION — April 13, 7 p.m., Jewish Federation Building, Manchester, NH.
The New Hampshire Jewish Film Festival will host a free screening of “Bloodlines,” followed by a group discussion on “Is Forgiveness Possible?”
“Bloodlines” follows the evolving relationship between two women, one the descendant of a top Nazi war criminal and the other the descendant of Holocaust victims.
“Bettina Goering, grandniece of Herman Goering, has long tried to bury the dark legacy of her family history. Painter Ruth Rich, a daughter of Holocaust survivors, cannot resolve her deep-rooted anger over the suffering of her parents and the loss of an older brother in the Holocaust. Bettina seeks out Ruth in an attempt to confront her enormous guilt and her fear that the capacity for evil is in her blood. When the women meet, their hidden guilt and rage clash in a series of intimate and extraordinary meetings.”
The forum discussion will feature a talk by theologian Martin Rumscheidt, whose father was an executive at I.G. Farben, the German company that invented Zyklon B for the Nazi gas chambers.
For directions to the Jewish Federation Building, click here.