The "perfect Aryan poster baby" was actually Jewish

[repost from my Facebook writer page]

The cover of the January 1935 issue of “Sonne ins Haus” (“sun in the house”, a Nazi magazine for mothers) featured the winner of the “most beautiful Aryan baby” photo contest.

Cover of “Sonne ins Haus”, January 1935


There was only one problem with the undeniably beautiful baby Hessy Levinsons: she was Jewish.
When her mother Pauline had taken Hessy to Hans Ballin’s photography studio for a baby portrait, the photographer had asked her if he could enter said portrait for the “most beautiful Aryan baby” contest. Pauline, flustered, felt obliged to inform the photographer that both parents were non-Aryan. The photographer’s answer: “I know. I want to make the Nazis look lächerlich” [ridiculous].

Recounting the story 80 years later, Hessy Levinsons Taft, now a chemistry professor emeritus at St. John’s University in New York, says she can laugh about it now, but realizes she might not have been alive today if the Nazis had known.

As it happens, following her father arrest and brief imprisonment in 1938, the Levinsons got the message and fled to France. After the Nazi invasion, they made it to Nice in the unoccupied zone (a.k.a., “Vichy France”). In 1941 the husband was able to bribe a Cuban consular official for visas, and with that visa they were presumably able to get a transit visa to Portugal, as they traveled to Lisbon shortly after. In 1942, they were finally able to make it to Havana, where Hessy and her sisetr Naomi attended a British school .
Come 1949, the family relocated one last time to New York City, where Hessy attended a more sciences-oriented high school and immediately was hooked on chemistry. She studied the subject at Columbia and stayed on for her doctorate, during which she met her husband, a mathematics instructor and future professor Earl J. Taft, as in “Taft-Hopf algebra”.)

The exigencies of raising small children made her leave the lab for a while, but she did continue working in science, just on the educational rather than the research side: she oversaw the development of the AP Chemistry test at Educational Testing Services in Princeton, NJ. Later she did return to research, now focusing on water treatment and sustainable water supply. Here is a very recent review article that she co-authored on the subject: http://doi.org/10.1021/acssuschemeng.8b05859

Would an editor chide me for putting this “unrealistic” story in a novel? Possibly, since unlike history, fiction has to make sense. She isn’t the only “Aryan poster boy/girl” used by the Nazis who was Jewish in whole or in part, BTW: Werner Goldberg, the “Ideal Wehrmacht Soldier” whose picture was used for recruiting posters, had a Jewish father. [I will cover his story in a future post.]

Let’s raise a glass wishing Hessy many more healthy and fulfilling years. Ad meah ve’esrim!

[For further reading: http://www.bild.de/regional/berlin/adolf-hitler/berliner-juedin-hessy-taft-war-hitlers-propaganda-baby-36611794.bild.html (in German) and https://cen.acs.org/articles/92/i36/Hessy-Taft.html (in English) If you do not read German fluently, check out the amazing Deep Learning-based machine translator DeepL]

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers! An alert commenter there points out that “Sonne ins Haus” predates the Third Reich and wasn’t originally a Nazi periodical — merely Gleichgeschaltet [literally: “switched in line”, idiomatically: “made to conform”] after the National Socialist takeover.

I was unable to find any online pre-1933 issues, but it seems the owner of the publishing house was a Leipzig-based entrepreneur named Kurt Herrmann (German wikipedia page). Summarizing in translation, Herrmann was a close friend of Hermann Göring [y”sh] and even acted as a witness at Göring’s remarriage to Emmy Sonneman. Already wealthy, he leveraged his pull with the Nazi top to enrich himself enough through forced “Aryanizations” — the forced sale of Jewish-owned firms to new “Aryan” owners for a tiny fraction of their value[*] — that he became the richest man in Leipzig. Near the end of the war, her fled to Liechtenstein. His firm was expropriated after the war by the Communist East German regime and Gleichgeschaltet for the second time. Herrmann himself got off lightly in his denazification trial, being classified only as category 4: Mitlaufer (fellow traveler).

[*] One of these plundered firms was the venerable sheet music publisher C. F. Peters, then owned by Henri_Hinrichsen (Hamburg 1868—Auschwitz 1942). After the war, the Communist East German government expropriated the Leipzig firm again and ran it as a state enterprise; Hinrichsen’s sons Max and Walter, who had set up the London and New York branches of the company, recreated the private company in Frankfurt. After German reunification, the company was reunited as well.

Jewish Rescue in Dutch Limburg: the NV Group [Kristallnacht anniversary post]

In the South of the Netherlands, sandwiched between Belgium and the German province [presently called] North Rhine-Westfalia, lies the rural and somewhat sleepy Dutch province of Limburg. (This is not to be confused with the German town of Limburg on the Lahn River.) Its capital, Maastricht, goes back to a Roman settlement by the name of Mosa Traiectum [Maas/Meuse river crossing].
The local dialect of Dutch is nearly indistinguishable from the Plattdeutsch [Low German] spoken across the German border, and traffic and commerce across the border was fairly frequent in the prewar era. 
Limburg only had a small Jewish population, 1,660 as of August 1941, 0.27% of the total population and just 1.2% of all Jews in the Netherlands. Most Dutch Jews lived in Amsterdam — to this day known in Dutch slang as “Mokum” [from Hebrew makom=place] — or its suburbs, to a lesser degree in the other major population centers (Rotterdam, Utrecht, Leiden,…) of what meanwhile has become the Randstad Holland megalopolis.

After Hitler [y”sh] came to power and the persecution of the Jews commenced, Limburg was one area where Jews who couldn’t afford the ruinous exit taxes would slip across the border. Usually they traveled on to the Randstad Holland, but many were trans-migrants who subsequently slipped across the lightly guarded Belgian border into Belgian Limburg, then onward to Antwerp with its large Jewish community and its port with ships going every which way. 
Yet a number of Jews stayed on in Limburg. At first they caused grumbling among the local tradespeople, who complained they had it tough enough as it was (in the later phases of the Great Depression) without having to deal with new competitors. However, as the persecution in Nazi Germany escalated from economic and civil marginalization to physical violence [particularly the Reichskristallnacht 81 years ago to this day], the attitudes of many Limburgers softened. Local Catholic clergy at first focused primarily on Catholics of Jewish origin, but later broadened their activity.
After the 1940 invasion and occupation, resistance in Limburg was at first the work of individuals and small groups working in isolation, later coalescing into larger resistance groups. Their history is discussed at great length in a 1994 Ph.D. thesis (in Dutch) at Groningen State University by one Alfred P. M. Cammaert, “Het verborgen front: Geschiedenis van de georganiseerde illegaliteit in de provincie Limburg tijdens de Tweede Wereldoorlog” (The Hidden Front: History of the organized underground in Limburg province during WW II), available in full online here:
http://hdl.handle.net/…/cc35a139-e781-46bd-b062-ede455ecb1d7

Some of those resistance group worked in Jewish rescue as a side activity. (Interestingly perhaps; while many Dutch rescuers were motivated by philosemitism and/or their beliefs, Cammaert quotes antisemitic diary entries from some Dutchmen who engaged in Jewish rescue nevertheless — their hatred of the Nazi occupation and desire to thwart the occupiers overcame their prejudices. A similar phenomenon existed in Belgium, particularly in the French-speaking part with its traditional aversion to anything Germanic. Recent memories of German occupation during WW I helped too: the Netherlands had been neutral throughout that war.)

Developments in Amsterdam, however, inspired the formation of a few dedicated Jewish rescue groups. One of the largest, based in Limburg, went by the name of NV-group, NV being the Dutch acronym for “naamloze vennootschap” /“anonymous venture”, idiomatically the term for a public joint-stock company or “Ltd.”.

In Amsterdam, Jews who had been rounded up were initially collected at the Hollandsche Schouwburg [Dutch Theatre] for registration and trans-shipment to the Dutch camps at Westerbork and Vught, and hence (usually) to the extermination camps in the East (particularly Sobibor and Auschwitz). As the building became too crowded, a “creche” (idiomatically: daycare) annex was opened across the street where children under 12 were held and cared for by Jewish Council employees.

As Cammaert explains it, this building was less well guarded than the Schouwburg, and bordered on a trade school run by the Reformed Church. Until the creche’s closing on September 29, 1943, about 1,000 children were smuggled out to non-Jewish rescuers via the school, in outgoing dirty laundry baskets, and using various other subterfuges. Registrars Süsskind and Halverstad would finagle the card indices and deportation lists, with the connivance of director Ms. Pimentel; after the latter was herself deported, head nurse V. Cohen (daughter of the controversial Jewish Council co-chair) likewise got involved. The children were first conveyed to two addresses in Amsterdam, where they were given forged evacuation slips, claiming they had been made homeless by the destructive 1940 Nazi bombing of Rotterdam. (Holland had mandatory ID cards then as now, but children under 16 were exempt.)

The children were handed over to a rescue group started by several students at Utrecht University (“Utrecht Children’s Committee”), working in tandem with another group around Amsterdam law student Piet Meerburg (later to become a prominent theatre producer in the postwar Netherlands). (The group got some financial assistance: Cammaert reproduces letters from the [Catholic] Bishop of Utrecht explaining that his diocese had used 25,000 guilders from its assistance fund and calling on other dioceses to chip in as well.) Until the arrest of most of the Utrecht group in mid-1943, they managed to smuggle out some 350 children, usually to foster parents in rural areas like Friesland and Limburg that were less well policed. (Hiding in the anonymity of a large city might seem superficially appealing, but Amsterdam and other large cities were teeming with both Nazis and Dutch collaborators belonging to the NSB.)

Another rescue stratagem was devised by a Dutch pediatrician named Ph. H. Fiedeldy Dop. He discreetly advised Jewish new parents to ‘expose’ their infants: non-Jewish rescuers would then “find” the babies, and they would then be registered as non-Jewish foundlings. This activity had to be abandoned when somebody “helpfully” wrote about it in the Jewish Weekly’s January 15, 1943 issue. The mind wonders how naive that reporter had to be not to realize that the one allowed Jewish periodical would be tightly monitored by the occupiers…

The rescue operations’ main bottleneck was finding temporary foster parents for that many children. [NB: as the Nazis considered the Dutch Aryans, those caught rescuing Jews were treated more leniently than, say, Poles, who usually paid with their lives as well as those of their families.] Here is where NV and similar groups entered the stage.

The first contact was a traveling salesman from Maastricht named A.H. van Mansum, who worked as a sales representative for an office equipment supplier in The Hague. As such, and with the papers to prove it, he enjoyed relative freedom of movement, which he put to use as a courier for forged IDs and ration cards. [He leveraged a number of his old contacts in the small and tightly-knit Dutch Reformed community in mostly Catholic Maastricht.]

After the Utrecht and Meerburg groups reached out to him, he managed to find homes for a number of children in the mining areas of Limburg. Many of the foster families were working class with many children, where one more would be less conspicuous.

The kingpins of the NV group were two Amsterdammers named J. Woortman en Jaap Musch. The latter, a lab technician at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, answered an ad for a position at the analytical labs of Dutch State Mines in Heerlen, Limburg, and was hired. There, together with dominee (=Reformed pastor) G. J. Pontier, he set about recruiting foster parents in Limburg for the NV effort.

NV was not the only such group (others were the Stakenborg and Paaschen group), but a particularly thorough and well-run one. All 231 children they hid survived. Jaap Musch was arrested and brutally murdered, and one Protestant clergyman in the group, dominee De Jong from Venlo, was arrested in 1944 and shot in 1945. (NV operative J. Postuma was killed in an Allied air raid on Nijverdal.)

Earlier, until its arrest by the Sipo (Sicherheitspolizei) with the help of a mole, the unrelated Westerweel Group had managed to smuggle about 100-150 Jews to Spain and Switzerland. One group of Youth Aliyah pioneers, mostly originally from Germany, was smuggled out in particularly devious fashion: after equipping the whole group with false papers, their guides signed up the whole group and themselves for voluntary labor service with the Organization Todt (OT) and got papers to travel to Bordeaux and La Rochelle in southwest France, where the OT was then carrying out major construction works. Arrived there, they went underground and made their way across the border into neutral Spain.

Aside from the specifically Jewish rescue groups, there was the national https://nl.wikipedia.org/…/Landelijke_Organisatie_voor_Hulp… (LO) which helped all manner of people wanted by the Nazis to go into hiding: numerically the largest group were Dutch men who were being press-ganged into forced labor in Germany, and understandably had no desire to contribute to the enemy war machine.

Tragically, a number of Limburg rescuers reported later that they had earlier offered Jews in smaller towns like Valkenburg help to go underground, but that their help had been declined, as these small communities could not believe what was awaiting them.

Limburg was liberated by Allied troops in the autumn of 1944, and thus was spared the “Hunger Winter” that caused about 20,000 deaths in still-occupied Holland.

In many cases, the children in hiding had been orphaned, and those who had been raised by Protestant or Catholic foster parents often had no idea who they really were and their foster parents desired to have them baptized and to adopt them. As in other places, a heart-wrenching tug-of-war developed between the would-be adoptive parents and surviving Jewish relatives.

As for the rescuers: a number (including LO leaders imprisoned at Vught concentration camp) had been executed in the bloody period of the https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deppner-executies Deppner executions, when following the failed Valkyrie plot Hitler (y”sh) issued an order that resistants were no longer to be tried by courts-martial but to be handed over directly to the SD and Sipo for (implied) execution. Ironically, SS-Sturmbannführer Erich Deppner himself escaped the arm of justice, while both some subordinates and his superior Schöngarth were sentenced to death by Dutch postwar courts and executed.

Many of the NV group people, and the NV group as a whole, were later honored with the Righteous Among The Nations designation by Yad Vashem. Here is the information page on Jacobus “Jaap” Musch. 

https://righteous.yadvashem.org/?searchType=righteous_only&language=en&itemId=4016551&ind=32

His main accomplice, Reverend Pontier, survived the war and was honored in the same way. https://righteous.yadvashem.org/?searchType=righteous_only&language=en&itemId=4043458&ind=36

Greater love hath no man…

Stranger than fiction: 3rd Reich abolished German “Fraktur” blackletter script as being “of Jewish origin”


In the popular imagination, “Fraktur” letters are quintessentially Teutonic. [*] Indeed, the “Iron Chancellor” Bismarck famously used to return books to sender if they were printed in Roman type, insisting German printers should use German type (i.e., Fraktur).

Image may contain: text
Example of German Fraktur script from C. P. E. Bach’s “Essay on the true art of playing the keyboard”, Berlin, 1762

Some neo-Nazi groups do use Fraktur fonts in logos, banners, and tattoos, with the predictable result that some groups who affect them (or superficially similar blackletter scripts) for other reasons are falsely accused of National Socialist sympathies.

Imagine my surprise when, during “world-building” research for Operation Flash, I discovered that Fraktur fonts were actually banned in the Third Reich by a January 3, 1941 circular, which was signed by Martin Bormann but communicated a decision by the Führer himself. This “Normalschrifterlass” (standard script decree) claimed that Fraktur had actually been invented by Jews from Schwabach, and therefore now only Antiquaschrift (i.e. the standard Roman script used outside Germany) was now to be used and taught as “Normalschrift” (standard script).

There is a Dutch-language novel [**] that contains the passage: “The Germans have discovered that Pythagoras was a Jew, so now they have to call his theorem the Hermann Goering Rule instead.” As it was then and as it is now, ideological fanatics defy the satirist’s imagination.

Consensus nowadays is that even the Nazi top themselves did not believe this “pretzel logic” argument, and that they in fact made the switch on practical grounds: as they still imagined themselves ruling over a large part of Europe for an extended period of time, they had no more use for a script that nobody outside the German-speaking lands was familiar with. (The fact that the transition took the form of a phase-out rather than a book-burning-and-replacement action would seem to corroborate the theory of a pragmatic motivation. So does a February 2, 1941 entry in the diary of Josef Goebbels, where it is noted with approval that German elementary schoolers now would only have to cope with four kinds of letters — uppercase and lowercase versions each of Antiqua and cursive — rather than eight.[***])

Early on in the Third Reich, an attempt to demand Fraktur typewriters had met with failure, as typewriter manufacturers could not agree on the specific variant. Interestingly, Hitler (y”sh) himself — who had always disliked Fraktur –subsequently made a reference in a 1934 speech to misguided attempts “by backwards-lookers” to reimpose Fraktur.

In the postwar era, Fraktur never made a comeback: nowadays only Amish and Pennsylvania “Dutch”[****] printers use it as a standard printed script.

But I am still wrily amused by claims that Hebrew square script somehow stood at the cradle of Fraktur…

This video gives a good brief summary in movie form: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLwZ2pyPNAs

[*] Technically, Fraktur is just one specific member of “Gebrochene” [broken/disjoint] scripts, i.e. German blackletter scripts. In common German as well as English parlance, Fraktur has become the term for all German blackletter.

[**] “Cis de Man” (“Frankie as a man”), by Piet Bakker. It’s the sequel to the popular coming-of-age novel “Cis de Rat” (“Frankie the street rat”), following the now-adult protagonist as he is a soldier in a Dutch artillery company before and during the Nazi invasion. Both the original and the sequel are peppered with the earthy Dutch sense of humor, but remain PG-rated.

[***] The fourth script type was Kurrentschrift, the German cursive counterpart of Fraktur. One stylized variant of that, Sütterlin script, was used for cuff titles on Wehrmacht and Waffen SS uniforms throughout the war.

[****] The Pennsylvania community in question are of course of “Deutsch” (German) rather than “Nederlandse” (Dutch) origin. Dutch is on a dialect continuum with Low German (Plattdeutsch), and in the Middle Ages the language called itself “Diets” rather than “Nederlands”. This archaic term survives in the Dutch expression “iemand iets Diets maken”, freely: “tell it to somebody like it is, in plain English”.

Rosh Hashanah and the Rescue of the Danish Jews


A wonderful, healthy, and fruitful New Year to my Jewish readers.

By calendarial coincidence, the Jewish holidays for 2019 fall on or near those for 1943. Around Rosh Hashanah that year, the miraculous rescue of the Danish Jews took place. The following post is an expanded version of an earlier Facebook note.

The Danish rescue was uniquely successful among Nazi-occupied countries because of a confluence of several favorable circumstances.
(1) The Danish Jewish community was fairly small (about 7,500) and
(2) concentrated in Copenhagen, just a short boat ride away from neutral Sweden. (Today, a bridge across the Øresund connects the two countries.)
(3) Moreover, the Nazis regarded the Danes as their racial kin and ran the country as a “model protectorate”, leaving the Danish democratic government in place until well into 1943.
(4) Last but not least, the Danes and the Danish Jews had advance warning from the #2 of the occupation regime, the merchant and diplomat Georg Duckwitz (later honored as Righteous Among The Nations at Yad Vashem).

Duckwitz — an NSDAP member since 1932, but already disaffected since before the war — had learned from his superior, the Nazi plenipotentiary Werner Best, that the roundup would take place on Rosh Hashanah. Duckwitz then tipped off the Danish Social Democrat leader Hans Hedtoft, who in turn passed the word to Jewish community president C. B. Henriques and acting Chief Rabbi Marcus Melchior. The Jews went underground, and over the next few weeks were spirited aboard fishing boats by the Danish resistance (and just general Jeppe Shmø’s) and ferried to neutral Sweden. One well-known rescue group acted under the cover name of “Elsinore Sewing Club”: the Danish city Helsingør/Elsinore, with its Kronborg castle that inspired Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, is just two nautical miles across the Ølesund straits from Helsingfors, Sweden.

The famous physicist Niels Bohr (who had a Jewish mother) stepped up to the plate as well, levering the Nobel Prize he had received from the hands of the Swedish king into an audience with the monarch. Bohr pleaded with him for Sweden to publicly declare its willingness to accept Jewish refugees. Sweden had in fact been quietly doing this since 1942 for Jewish refugees from Norway, but now, on October 2, a proclamation welcoming them was read out on the Swedish radio. Whether this was thanks to Bohr’s intercession, to Hans Hedtoft’s similar démarche with the Swedish ambassador in Denmark, or would have happened anyway is a matter of dispute among historians, but Bohr’s effort certainly cannot have hurt.

The Danish rescuers played with an unusually good hand of cards. Still, this would have been for naught were it not for their determination to make the most of it. In doing so, they achieved an incredible result: over 99% of Danish Jews survived the war. (About 500, mostly elderly, Jews were arrested, but owing to pressure from Danish authorities, they were sent to the Theresienstadt Ghetto rather than extermination camps, and emissaries from the International Red Cross were allowed to check on their welfare. All except 52 of the Danish Theresienstadt inmates survived the war.[*])

The role of Werner Best in this whole affair is an enigma. After the war, Best escaped execution by convincing the Danish courts that he had quietly allowed Duckwitz to thwart the deportations. Yet he not only had been informed of goings-on at the Wannsee Conference, but had eagerly organized transports from France before his transfer to Denmark. Why this sudden change of heart where it came to the Danish Jews? I would argue the key lies in a 1942 Best memorandum (published anonymously on account of its explosive contents[**]) titled Herrenschicht oder Führungsvolk? (“master caste or leadership people?”). In the course of an argument drawing parallels with the Roman empire, Best not just pleaded for an occupation policy (at least in the West) based more on persuasion than on coercion and exploitation, but already then posited German loss of the war as a realistic possibility. As I see it, by September 1943 Best probably considered the war lost, and wanted to create himself a ‘life insurance policy’ through quietly giving Duckwitz free rein.[***] (Omission, rather than commission, afforded Best a measure of deniability if Duckwitz were found out and the Gestapo bloodhounds unleashed on him.)

Let us raise a glass of Aquavit to the courageous and resourceful Danish rescuers. Skøl and Shana Tova!

[*] As a sad reflection on the unseen prices paid for any negotiation with such a diabolical regime: unbeknownst to the Danes, other Theresienstadt inmates had been sent to their deaths in Auschwitz to create more room for the Danish inmates. The Theresienstadt ghetto was originally an army fortress town founded in the late 18th century by Habsburg emperor Joseph II (who named itafter his mother, Empress Maria Theresia). It had room for about a brigade’s worth of soldiers and their dependents, but was massively overcrowded with the 40,000+ Jews held there.

[**] The substance of the memorandum was dedicated to comparisons between the Third Reich and the Roman Empire, and how (in Best’s vision) to avoid the same fate as the latter.

[***] He may also have concluded it was a lost cause trying to convince the Danes they had a Jewish problem that could only be solved through deportation.

“Wait for me, Saloniki”

Yacov “Jako” Philo was born in Thessaloniki — Greece’s fascinating symprotevousa (“co-capital”), onetime secondary capital of the Byzantine Empire, and for 450 years home to the world’s largest Sephardic Jewish community.

In 1943, Eichmann’s henchmen deported nearly the entire community to Auschwitz. Less than 4% survived. One of them was Jako — who immigrated to Israel, where his grandson, Kobi “Jacko” Paz, is now a musician.[*]

Another, more famous, Israeli musician born to Greek Holocaust survivors is Yehuda Poliker. Many years ago, he released a Hebrew version of a Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) song his father and fellow survivors would sing to each other.

Below is Kobi Paz’s recent re-recording, together with the Hebrew lyrics and my English translation. The city is referred to by its Ladino name, Saloniki

Soon this year, Israel will celebrate its 70th birthday. The Jews of Thessaloniki had, prior to the Shoah, only very limited encounters with hardcore judeophobia, and had indeed been a majority or plurality in the “Jerusalem of the Balkan” for over 400 years. Their fate is a reminder why, no matter how safe Jews feel elsewhere, we needed and need a country of our own.


 

עוד גבול אחד, עוד נצח זמן
חכי לי, סלוני

קי
רבה הדרך ליוון
חכי לי, סלוניקי

שוטט הלב, קפוא הדם
בשלג של גרמניה
כולם כולם אבדו לי שם
בלאגר בפולניה

חיוורי פנים, שרידי חיים
פליטי מסע המוות
בלויי טלאים הנה באים
לבכות ברחובותייך

החופש בא, אביב חדש
קרוב אני אלייך
כצל דהוי בגוף חלש
אבוא בשערייך

One more border, one more eternity
Wait for me, Thessaloniki
Long is the way to Greece
Wait for me, Thessaloniki

The heart roams, frozen in blood
In the snow of Germany
Everyone was lost to me there
In the “Lager” in Poland

Pale faces, remnants of life
Refugees of the Death March
Wearing patches, here they come
To cry in your streets

Freedom comes, a new spring
I’m close to you
Like a faded shadow in a weak body
I’ll come to your gates

[*] “Kobi” and “Jacko” are both nicknames for Ya`aqov/Jacob. Unlike the Ashkenazi tradition where children are named to honor deceased relatives, Sephardic tradition is to honor living grandparents in this manner.
 

International Shoah Memorial Day: Chiune Sugihara (“The Japanese Schindler”), the Teheran Children, and David Draiman’s powerful memorial song

In observance of International Shoah Memorial Day, January 27 [the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of the Auschwitz death camp], a few items.

(1) Here is an interview with survivors and escapees who remember the “Japanese Schindler”, the diplomat Chiune Sugihara.

Sugihara was appointed vice-consul in Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania in 1939. After the USSR occupied sovereign Lithuania in 1940, many Jewish refugees from the Nazi war and murder machine tried to flee eastward. “Sempo” Sugihara issued Japanese transit visas that allowed such refugees as could afford a ticket to board the Transsiberia Railway and travel to the Pacific Ocean port of Vladivostok, and hence by boat to Kobe, Japan (the one town in Japan that had a significant Jewish community). His instructions from his superiors were that such transit visas could only be issued to people who had entrance visas to a third country: in the beginning the Dutch consul helped out by issuing entrance visas to the Dutch Antilles and to Suriname, but eventually Sugihara ignored orders and hand-wrote about 6,000 visas until the consulate was closed, and he himself reassigned to Königsberg, East Prussia (present-day Kaliningrad, Russia), later to Prague and to Bucharest. He reportedly passed his last batch of visas from the train window as the train was pulling out of the station.

Many of the “Sugihara visa” holders spent the war in Shanghai, including the parents of a friend of mine. (Japan was an ally of Nazi Germany but for the most part had no idea what Jews even were, let alone shared the obsession with killing them.) Sugihara’s act — in open defiance of his superiors — was culturally unthinkable on the one hand, but on the other hand brings to mind the famous story of the 47 Ronin, with its conflict between obedience and honor.

(2) The story of the “Teheran Children” (Hebrew Wikipedia page here) and how they escaped​ is not well known outside Israel. Below follows a documentary in English. The foreword to a book in progress can be read here.

(3) [Reposted] David Draiman, the frontman of heavy metal band Disturbed, grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family adn actually trained to be a chazzan (cantor). Even though he lost his faith later, he remains connected to his Jewish roots, and it is hard not to hear the echoes of chazzanut in his vocals. The song below is his response to Shoah deniers: if heavy metal isn’t your thing, then just read the lyrics.

They have a frightening desire for genocide
They wouldn’t stop ’till what was left of my family died
Hell-bent on taking over the world
You couldn’t hide in the shout of conformity
We can’t forget how we were devastated by the beast
And now we pleaded with the captors for release
We were hunted for no reason at all
One of the darkest times in our history

[CHORUS:] All that I have left inside
Is a soul that’s filled with pride
I tell you never again
In a brave society
Didn’t end up killing me
Scream with me, never again…not again

A generation that was persecuted endlessly
Exterminated by the Nazi war machine
We will remember, let the story be told
To realize how we lost our humanity
You dare to tell me that there never was a Holocaust
You think that history will leave the memory lost
Another Hitler using fear to control
You’re gonna fail this time for the world to see

REPEAT CHORUS

For the countless souls who died
Their voices fill this night
Sing with me, never again
They aren’t lost, you see
The truth will live in me
Believe me, never again

Amen.