On the road with HAMEC.

UnknownShelley Blumenthal Greenbaum writes:   Don and I were at the airport in Raleigh, North Carolina walking to board our plane.  The Captain of the plane walked by and saw Don who was wearing his World War II veterans cap.  He shook his hand and asked his name and where he served during the war.  He thanked Don for his service.

After the flight took off there was an announcement on the loud speaker from the Captain. “We have an important person on the flight named Don Greenbaum,” the Captain announced.  He asked Dan to stand up and told the passengers that Don was a liberator of Dachau and that Ernie Gross was a Survivor of the camp.  The Captain also said that they talk about their experiences.  Everyone applauded and those near to our seats shook his had.  Then the flight attendant gave us free boxes of snacks.

The Captain must have googled Don’s name.  We were overwhelmed.  I am always so proud of Don.  His talk at Duke University with Ernie Gross was well received.  Don and Ernie will speak at the Union League in Philadelphia on April 24.


Hannah Labovitz, a first year student at  Gettysburg College and joined the Hillel.  She asked the head of the Judaic Studies program, Steve Stern, about inviting a Holocaust Survivor to speak on campus.  He encouraged her to reach out.  She found Dave Tuck and HAMEC, through Charlie Lloyd.   Mr. Lloyd is active with a World War II veterans group in Reading.  These veterans host an air show every year.  Charlie has become good friends with Survivor Dave Tuck, who attends the air show every year.  The Hillel House put posters on campus and publicized on Facebook to the community at large. When Dave went out to speak on April 8, he was greeted by 150 students and 850 people from the community.  



‘Boxcars full of dead bodies:’ American soldier, Holocaust survivor share story of liberation.  HAMEC’s Ernie Gross and Don Greenbaum speak at Duke.

Click for full report from WRAL.com, April 11, 2018


Click for video

— A man who survived the horrors of the Holocaust and one of the soldiers who helped liberate him shared their incredible stories Wednesday night at Duke University.

At 15 years old, Ernie Gross, a Romanian Jew, and his family were forced from their home in Hungary.

“We had to follow orders,” Gross said.

They were eventually taken to Auschwitz concentration camp, where Jews were sent to work or to their death.

David Crabtree visits Auschwitz and Birkenau

Gross said he and his two older brothers were moved to labor camps, but his parents and younger brother and sister were not.

“They are going to tell them to get undressed, they are going to take a shower. Instead of a shower, gas came. They died immediately and they are going in the next building to the crematorium,” Gross said.

Auschwitz ironies: Where the devil once danced, dust remains

After nearly a year of hard labor, Gross was moved to Dachau, another concentration camp, where he knew he would soon be killed. Weak, hungry and unable to walk, he said he was actually happy it would soon all be over, but that was not the end.

“All of a sudden, something unusual happens. I never believed it. The guard near me threw down his weapon and he ran away. I don’t know what it means. I turned around and there was an American Jeep, four soldiers,” Gross recalled.

One of those American soldiers was Don Greenbaum. He said the Americans first thought they were approaching a German supply depot, but there was a smell Greenbaum said he will never forget.

“As we got closer, we came across about 16 boxcars full of dead bodies. They were thrown in like pieces of wood. It was the odor from their bodies that was the tremendous thing that we were inhaling,” Greenbaum said.

Word spread through the concentration camp that the prisoners were being liberated, but it was clear there was already so much devastation.

“Thousands and thousands of men walking around half dead, not knowing what it was,” Greenbaum recalled of the scene he witnessed upon arrival.

For the past ten years, the Holocaust survivor and American liberator have traveled, sharing their story. They say there is a message they want people to take away from it.

“You have to be nice to each other, everybody counts. We all come from the same source, so we have to try to get along and make a better world,” Gross said.

Greenbaum, now 93, was wounded in World War II and awarded a Purple Heart. Gross, 88, now lives in the United States.

After the war, both eventually became business owners with their families.

Holocaust Museum rethinks FDR’s World War II refugee legacy

, Washington Post, April 22, 2018.  Click for full report.

Children looking at Statue of Liberty, June 4, 1939; on view at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. . (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Standing outside the entrance to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s exhibition “Americans and the Holocaust,” which opens April 23, co-curators Rebecca Erbelding and Daniel Greene disagreed on how to grade Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s efforts to save Jewish refugees during World War II. Erbelding, an archivist at the museum, gave FDR a B-minus, while Greene, who teaches at Northwestern University, was stingier with a C-plus. Both agreed that visitors to the museum in the past would have marked the former president considerably lower.

“We are not trying to apologize for FDR in any way or to put a finger on the scale,” Greene says on a walk-through of the exhibition, which contains artifacts, documents, video footage and a deluge of digital documents and facsimiles.

Franklin D. Roosevelt broadcasts his first fireside chat, March 12, 1933. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum/Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum)

Erbelding, author of the new book “Rescue Board: The Untold Story of America’s Efforts to Save the Jews of Europe,” allows that her scholarship on the War Refugee Board, which FDR created to circumvent State Department logjams, might predispose her to look more favorably upon Roosevelt than her colleague. But both agree that it is time for an exhibition that puts the Holocaust in the context of the war and of U.S. public opinion at the time.

“Here FDR is a main character,” Greene says.

The former president, who served from 1933 until his death on April 12, 1945, has long had a checkered legacy when it came to helping Jews fleeing Nazi oppression. Many know of the German ocean liner St. Louis, whose approximately 900 Jewish refugees the United States refused to admit in 1939. The following year, Roosevelt suggested in a news conference that Jewish refugees could be Nazi spies, and when the United States entered the war, FDR’s government prioritized military victory over saving Jewish lives.

Exhibit labels and posted poll questions, which viewers can flip to reveal results, center on what Americans knew about the Holocaust when, and the degree to which the public welcomed refugees. In November 1936, for example, 67 percent of respondents to one poll thought there would be another serious Depression. Three years later, 66 percent of the public said they wouldn’t support the Wagner-Rogers Bill, which proposed allowing 10,000 refugee children from Germany to come live that year with U.S. families.

One of the most powerful artifacts is a set of telegrams that FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt exchanged in 1941, which comes from the FDR Presidential Library and Museum. When the latter asks whether she ought to speak out about the bill, FDR responded that she could, but “it is best for me to say nothing.”

Greene hopes visitors will emerge with an understanding that even the U.S. president faces constraints, and weighing public opinion, FDR decided not to expend political capital to rescue Jews.

This posthumous makeover for FDR at the museum comes amid a new and contentious wave of scholarship, which promises to change the way people think about the former president’s legacy. In addition to the museum’s three-year exhibition and Erbelding’s book, Barry Trachtenberg of Wake Forest University recently wrote “The United States and the Nazi Holocaust: Race, Refuge, and Remembrance.

“There is clearly a generational shift in the thinking of the U.S. and the Holocaust,” he says. “In spite of occasional articles challenging it, there hasn’t been a systematic and non-polemical reassessment of this relationship until now.”

U.S. officials process alien registration documents, June-November, 1940. After Germany invaded and annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939, hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Jews, applied to immigrate to the United States. (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services History Office & Library)

Erbelding’s book centers on a group that surfaces toward the end of the exhibit as well, the War Refugee Board, which FDR created by executive order in January 1944. The board, staffed largely by Treasury Department employees, was formed to circumvent State Department staffers, some with reputations as anti-Semites, who opposed efforts to save Jewish refugees. It is credited with saving up to 200,000 Jews, creating a refugee camp in New York, negotiating ransoms with Nazis and even laundering money past a friendly government to move humanitarian aid.

“They do extraordinary things,” Erbelding says. “They worked incredibly hard. They followed up on everything that was suggested to them, and they really went to the mat on a lot of things with other government agencies.” It was, she adds in the book, the only time in U.S. history that the government created an agency to save an enemy’s victims.

“There has been a tendency to focus our attention and ire on the U.S.’s lack of coherent response to the Holocaust, mainly on FDR and on the State Department,” Erbelding says. “FDR and the State Department are not the entirety of the government. There hasn’t been as much attention paid to what Americans by and large were thinking and feeling about this.”

Jewish refugee children wait to board SS Mouzinho in Lisbon, Aug. 20, 1941. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

In addition to the poll showing that two-thirds of Americans wouldn’t accept 10,000 refugee children, Erbelding notes a later poll in which 83 percent of respondents wouldn’t support their members of Congress proposing any increase in immigration. “So it’s 67 percent against the children, but 83 percent against everybody,” she says.

Erbelding hopes that visitors will learn from the exhibit how complicated things were during the Holocaust, in a country that had recently emerged from the Great Depression and was grappling with nuanced and difficult national security and economic concerns, as the nation does today. Rather than throwing their hands up and saying the challenges are too great, the public and lawmakers should realize how difficult things were during the Holocaust — and yet a few individuals managed to make a big difference, she says.

“There’s a space for all of us to look at the history and figure out what our part is in it, because every day is a day in history. It will be when we look back on it. Do we feel like we are doing the right thing?” she says. “If this exhibit sparks civic engagement, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

But not everyone who studies FDR agrees with this telling. “The very few scholars who have argued that FDR did the best he could have made their case not on the basis of new documents that they uncovered, but by trying to put a positive spin on the sad story that previous historians have documented,” says Rafael Medoff, founding director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. (Wyman, a historian of the Holocaust, died last month.)

Crediting FDR for the successes of the War Refugee Board is a mistake, according to Medoff. “The Roosevelt administration fights tooth and nail against the proposal to create the board,” he says. “One might say FDR was against it before he was for it. He established it only because of strong political pressure, on the eve of an election year, from the Jewish community, Congress and his own Treasury Department.” FDR afforded the WRB only “token funding,” Medoff adds.

David Woolner, a senior fellow and resident historian at the Roosevelt Institute, the nonprofit organization associated with the FDR Library in Hyde Park, N.Y., says it’s important to correct misconceptions about FDR without apologizing for his behavior.

“We have a much better understanding of where people did act, even though of course the responses — we now know — were inadequate,” Woolner says. Between 1936 and 1940, he says, the United States allowed more German and Austrian Jews to enter the country than did any other nation in the world, and that was partly thanks to FDR.

“Of course, these numbers pale when compared to the hundreds of thousands of refugees who were hoping to get out of Europe at the time. But letting in significant additional numbers would have required a change in the law, and under the political circumstances of the time, this was deemed virtually impossible,” he says. “Even to raise the issue was considered unwise, as many members of Congress and the public wanted to cease immigration altogether.”

“Americans and the Holocaust” opens April 23 and is free. U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, 100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl. SW.

Professional development bus trip to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York set for June 21

  • ACT 48 credit hours offered
  • Guided tour of core exhibitions and professional workshop Every Object Tells a Story, exploring using artifact images in the classroom
  • Participants will receive 6 teachers’ guides, workbooks, and resources
  • On bus talks and trip escort by Ruth Kapp Hartz, Holocaust survivor and retired teacher, HAMEC Education Director Geoff Quinn, and Julia Meyer Gross, MA Otto von Guericke University, Germany
  • Reserved admission to the Museum

Register now to save your seat! — Deadline is Friday, June 8th.

    • 8:00 a.m. Depart from Holocaust Awareness Museum
    • 4:00 p.m. Depart from Museum of Jewish Heritage
    • 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Return to Holocaust Awareness Museum
    • Lunch is provided

Cost is $75 per person ($5 discount for HAMEC members and teachers).

To RSVP or for more information email info@hamec.org or call 215-464-4701

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Yom Hashoah observed by both City and State

The rallying cry of “Never again” is arguably most associated with the Holocaust, but in the weeks since the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, the phrase has also been adopted in the fight against gun violence.

It was fitting then, perhaps, that on the morning of April 11, walking into the state capitol in Harrisburg, a crowd of people engulfed the main stairway holding signs promoting gun control while upstairs, in the Governor’s Reception Room, a Yom Hashoah ceremony was about to start.

The Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania hosted the 34th annual Civic Commemoration of the Holocaust on April 11, featuring speakers and survivors who marked the occasion in one of many ceremonies across the state and in Philadelphia.

Rabbi Eric Cytryn of Beth El Temple in Harrisburg recalled Pope John Paul II’s visit to Yad Vashem, in which he asked, “How can man have such utter contempt for man?”

“Let us reject contempt,” Cytryn said, “and then let us respond with respect and dignity, always treating our neighbors in a dignified manner, and pray that it is our children and grandchildren who learn from our shortcomings to find love for their diverse neighbors in their hearts.

“May this be a year in which we truly transform ‘Never again’ from a slogan into a truth.”

Political figures such as Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Mike Turzai and Lt. Gov. Mike Stack joined others like Tim Crain, director of the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education at Seton Hall University, and Hannah Adler, a Linglestown Middle School student and Schwab Holocaust Essay winner, to give impassioned remarks, urging the day’s attendees to never forget the Holocaust and learn from its lessons.

“Like the tattooed numbers placed on so many Jewish arms by the Nazis, the Holocaust — its memories of horror, pain, treachery and murder — is tattooed on each one of us,” Turzai said.

Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-District 19) and Rep. Dan Frankel (D-District 23) presented Senate and House resolutions respectively marking the ceremony and its significance, and shared remarks of their own — including Frankel’s personal connection to the Holocaust. His mother-in-law was a survivor.

Frankel explained House Resolution 823, which marked April 8 through 15 as “Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust” and recognizing April 12 as “Holocaust Remembrance Day” in Pennsylvania.

Dinniman also pointed to the righteous who hid Jews. “How many of us today would have taken that risk?” he asked.

A moment of silence preceded a candle lighting in which six electric candles were “lit” by survivors as well as those lighting them in someone’s honor.

Michael Sand, chair of the ceremony, also called on attendees who were children or grandchildren of survivors to stand and share names and stories of their families.

Stack urged for instilling the message in younger generations. He referenced last summer’s march in Charlottesville and the recent chemical weapons attack in Syria to note that “seeds of fascism and hatred are still finding fertile ground on the fringes of our society.”

“Let us raise our voices and say together once again: Never forget. Never forget. Never forget,” he said.

In Philadelphia, ceremonies and events marked Yom Hashoah throughout the week. Abrams Hebrew Academy observed the day with speakers like Marvin Raab, who discussed his parents’ experience in the Holocaust, and students and teachers who are relatives of Holocaust victims and survivors.

A Yom Hashoah ceremony featuring Bettina Hoerlin, author of Steps of Courage: My Parents’ Journey from Nazi Germany to America, marked the beginning of a week of events at Drexel Hillel, which also included celebrations for Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut.

The echo of the shofar reverberated on the walls of Congregation Rodeph Shalom on April 15, signaling the beginning of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and Jewish Community Relations Council’s 54th annual commemoration of the Holocaust.

“Today we affirm the innocent lives lost in the Holocaust have not and will not be forgotten,” said one speaker during the reading of names as wreaths were placed along the edge of the bimah.

The theme of this year’s ceremony was “Rescuers Among Us,” and stories of Jewish men and women who saved other Jews during the Holocaust were told by a mix of students to a crowd of varying ages.

Nashirah chorale and The ChaiLights A Cappella sang selections such as “Zog Nit Keyn Mol” while survivors and community members lit candles and shared remarks.

Susanna Lachs Adler, chair of the Jewish Federation, noted the upcoming 75th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

“Every age needs its heroes, and our time is no exception,” she said, citing Charlottesville, the uptick in anti-Semitism nationwide and globally, and Poland’s controversial law forbidding blaming the country for any crimes committed during the Holocaust.

“History has taught us we cannot be bystanders,” she said. “Every instance of baseless hatred should be a call to action. Anti-Semitism, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, xenophobia — it is all the same. And it is our duty, individually and collectively, to denounce each and every instance of discrimination when we see it.”

Audience members shook their heads as she also referenced — and repeated — the recent survey by the Claims Conference that found 66 percent of millennials cannot say what Auschwitz was.

“We cannot allow that memory to fade,” she said.

Rene Boni and Roslyn Don stood on either side of their mother, Shirley Don, and held on to her throughout the ceremony.

The 89-year-old survivor from Slovakia greeted cousins and friends after the conclusion of the program.

“We come every year with her, and, of course, we see all of our cousins whose family was also survivors — their parents — so we come from a big survivor family that settled in Philadelphia,” Roslyn Don said.

Shirley Don and her late husband, who was also a survivor from Poland whom she met in a displaced persons camp after the war, were part of bringing the Monument to the Six Million Jewish Martyrs to Philadelphia, the site of the future Holocaust Memorial Plaza.

Of the plaza, Boni said, “I feel a sense of urgency about [the survivors] getting older and the first witnesses, so I’m so glad that this more permanent thing is going to be there.” l

mstern@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0740

German soldiers walking by fires set in the Warsaw Ghetto, which was burned to the ground after the uprising in 1943. (Credit: Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images)
German soldiers walking by fires set in the Warsaw Ghetto, which was burned to the ground after the uprising in 1943. (Credit: Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images.

A train rushed through the snow of a Polish winter. Its destination: the Warsaw Ghetto. Its passengers: a group of terrified Jews. Suddenly, a Nazi guard threw a three-year-old child off the train and into the snow. Its mother jumped off the train, too, desperate to save her child. It was too late. She arrived at the ghetto desperate and mentally ill.

This tale of mother and child is just one of the devastating stories we now know about the more than 400,000 Jews who were packed into the Warsaw Ghetto. But it wouldn’t be known at all if not for a secret archive assembled by a group of Jews inside the sealed-off walls of the 1.3-square-mile area they were forced to live in beginning in 1940.

Between 1940 and 1943, these residents amassed a rich trove of documents and testimonies designed to tell the ghetto’s stories. And though thousands of pages of their Holocaust archive survive, even more may still be buried beneath the streets of Warsaw.

Some of the milk cartons and metal boxes discovered with the hidden Ringelblum archives. (Credit: Public Domain)
Some of the milk cartons and metal boxes discovered with the hidden Ringelblum archives. (Credit: Public Domain)

The Ringelblum Archive, as it is known, was the work of Emanuel Ringelblum, a Polish social worker who also established a soup kitchen, welfare programs and even a society for the advancement of Yiddish culture within the ghetto. Before Warsaw’s Jewish residents were forced to live behind ten-foot walls topped with barbed wire, Ringelblum had been an aid worker for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which helped Jews in Eastern Europe.

As starvation, disease and cold began to kill large numbers of people within the densely packed ghetto walls, Ringelblum became obsessed with documenting the complete reality of the lives of Jews at the time. Together with a group of writers, rabbis, social workers and others who met surreptitiously on the Sabbath, he assembled letters, artwork, posters, data and even packaging from the workshopsthat produced consumer products within the ghetto.

The work was covert and feverish, especially as it became clear that time was running out for Ringelblum and his colleagues, whom he called “Oneg Shabbat,” a Hebrew phrase that means “joy of the Sabbath.” In 1942, Nazis had begun deporting Jews from the ghetto, and between July and September, they took about 265,000 Jews to the Treblinka death camp. Another 35,000 Jews were killed inside the ghetto during the deportations.

Jewish men being transported for labor from the Warsaw Ghetto, 1941. (Credit: Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)
Jewish men being transported for labor from the Warsaw Ghetto, 1941. (Credit: Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)

As conditions deteriorated, the group stepped up their work. Eventually, wrote Ringelblum, “We reached the conclusion that the Germans took very little interest in what the Jews were doing amongst themselves.”

This relative freedom meant that Ringelblum and his co-conspirators could interview ghetto residents and assemble their archive without attracting much suspicion—although continual raids and deportations interrupted their work.

“There was missing the quiet atmosphere that is needed for a task of such size and dimensions,” Ringelblum later recalled of the conditions under which the archive was compiled.

Emanuel Ringelblum. (Credit: Photo12/UIG via Getty Images)
Emanuel Ringelblum. (Credit: Photo12/UIG via Getty Images)

In 1942, the members of Oneg Shabbat were contacted by Szlamek Bajler, a Polish Jew who had escaped the Chełmno extermination camp. Under the pseudonym Jacob Grojanowski, Bajler gave detailed testimony of the atrocities he had seen at Chełmno to Ringelblum and his associates. They smuggled the report to the Polish resistance. Their hope was that the report would make its way both to Germany and to the Polish government in exile, but it’s unclear what happened after it was smuggled out of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Then, in 1943, rumors circulated that the ghetto would be liquidated. As a growing resistance prepared to fight back against the Nazi soldiers who had been sent to deport the ghetto’s residents to death camps, Ringelblum and his colleagues scrambled to protect their archive. They hid the archive in metal boxes and milk cans and buried them in three locations just one day before the beginning of thenearly month-long Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

His precious archive safe, Ringelblum escaped to the non-Jewish part of Warsaw. He was later apprehended and taken to the Trawniki labor camp, but escaped and went into hiding in Warsaw again. Then, in 1944, someone reported his hiding place to the authorities. He was taken to Warsaw’s Gestapo headquarters along with his family and murdered.

People visitng the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, which includes a permanent exhibition titled 'What We Were Unable To Shout Out To The World' featuring the Ringelblum Archive. (Credit: Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images)
People visiting the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, which includes a permanent exhibition titled ‘What We Were Unable To Shout Out To The World’ featuring the Ringelblum Archive. (Credit: Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images)

All but three of the Oneg Shabbat group were killed in the Holocaust, but their work outlived them. In 1946, ten metal boxes were unearthed; conservators were able to restore most of the pages, though they were badly waterlogged. In 1950, the second part of the archives was found. Today, the archive of about 35,000 pages is hosted at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.

But a third part still remains buried. Though it’s been sought ever since, it has never been found.

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