Thursday night. Our Scholar-in-Resident Rabbi Lance Sussman to be honored at Gratz College.

FORUM ON ANTISEMITISM IN AMERICA: The Gratz College Center for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights presents: Forum on Antisemitism in America and Presentation of the Gratz Medal to Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, Ph.D. Thursday, September 29, 2022, 7:00 pm (ET), Online and In-Person. Learn More. Register/Donate.

Opinion: Return to Bergen-Belsen and the future of Holocaust remembrance

Greeley Tribune, September 21, 2022. Click for full report. This article was also published in Newsweek.

Menachem Rosensaft (left) and Israeli President Isaac Herzog meet in Bergen-Belsen.
Shahar Azran / WJC

By Maram Stern, executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author.

When on September 6, 2022, President of Israel Isaac Herzog and German President Franz-Walter Steinmeier passed through the memorial site of the Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen in northwest Germany, they were accompanied by a carefully checked delegation consisting of government officials, diplomats, clergy, camp survivors and two of over 2,000 children born in 1945-1950 in the nearby Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp – Yochevet Ritz-Olewski from Israel and Menachem Rosensaft from New York.

For me, as a German Jew and as Executive Vice President of the World Jewish Congress, the presence of Menachem Rosensaft in Bergen-Belsen was particularly important. Menachem, Deputy Executive Vice President and General Counsel of the WJC, is not only my colleague and friend. He lectures on the law of genocide at the law schools of two prestigious universities, Columbia and Cornell; he wrote extensively about Bergen-Belsen both before and after his liberation; and chairs the advisory board of the foundation that oversees the Second World War memorials in Lower Saxony, especially Bergen-Belsen.

Menachem was born here on May 1, 1948.

It is the importance of Bergen-Belsen as the largest displaced persons camp in post-war Germany and the identity of Menachem as his father’s son that makes his presence there alongside Presidents Herzog and Steinmeier so significant.

Contrary to Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek, Babin Jaru and Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen is not only brutal murder and suffering. Of course, Belsen was the place where tens of thousands of Jews died a terrible, painful death in the last months of the Holocaust. This is evidenced by the mass graves at the memorial site. But the displaced persons camp was also a place where survivors not only returned to life, but also regained their identity as human beings and as Jews.

For five years after the end of the war, the displaced persons camp, under the leadership of Menachem’s father, functioned as an autonomous Jewish enclave – as if a Jewish mini-public – with Jewish schools, a Yiddish newspaper, rabbinate, Zionist political parties, two theaters, cultural and sports clubs, and even its own the police.

It was there and in other camps for displaced persons that Jewish life in Germany revived. Judenrein, get rid of the Jews. And it was there that Jewish Holocaust survivors, Jewish displaced persons, announced their intention to control and decide about their future.

Josef Rosensaft was widely known as a defender of the memory of the Holocaust, and in particular of the legacy represented by Belsen. After his death 47 years ago, in September 1975, Menachem took on this responsibility and made it his own.

When President Ronald Reagan and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl arrived in Bergen-Belsen on their way to the Bitburg military cemetery where members of the Nazi Waffen-SS are buried, Menachem organized and led a protest demonstration of the survivors’ children. “President Reagan and Chancellor Kohl embarked on a gruesome journey through Bergen-Belsen and Bitburg, an obscene transaction,” he declared at the Jewish monument in Belsen on May 5, 1985, just minutes after both leaders left for Bitburg. “Today we tell them that they can either honor the Belsen victims or honor the SS. They can’t do both. And on entering Bitburg, they profane the memory of all those who were m*rdered by the SS and all those they pretended to remember here in Belsen.

Since then, Menachem has repeatedly returned to Belsen and has played a key role in establishing a museum commemorating both the concentration camp and the displaced persons camp. In doing so, he forged a close partnership with the German memorial staff, working with them to make the history and heritage of Bergen-Belsen an integral part of both German and Jewish consciousness. And he engaged in a dialogue with post-Holocaust Germans to explore their common history, albeit from dramatically different perspectives. These relationships and dialogues will be crucial for the future of Holocaust remembrance.

Therefore, the presence of Menachem alongside Presidents Herzog and Steinmeier was crucial. I sincerely hope that their joint meeting in Bergen-Belsen on September 6 marks the beginning of a series of new and different joint Jewish, Israeli and German educational initiatives that are rooted in everything Bergen-Belsen means: both the destruction during the Shoah and the subsequent defiant revival. Jewish life in a displaced persons camp in a way that will resonate with the Jews, Israelis and Germans of tomorrow.

On the New Year

Dear Friends and Supporters,

We at the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center wish a Happy and, more importantly, a Healthy New Year to all of our friends who are celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

While all times are challenging, our heroic Survivors’ commitment to educating tens of thousands of young people yearly about the consequences of state sponsored hate on our country and the entire world, continues to be necessary. Our hope for the New Year is simple—that they all stay healthy and that our dedicated staff and volunteers be able to assist them in our vital mission.

Shanah Tovah!

                                       Chuck Feldman
                                     President. HAMEC

Wherever you are, our Survivors and Liberators are ready to address your school, civic group or congregation–virtually.

Click for report of Nevada’s first Holocaust Memorial Plaza at King David Memorial Chapel and Cemetery in Las Vegas, April 2022. Report by Bronson Christian, KTNV.

With the new school year underway, it is time to book a program customized for your students and your community. Oceans and time zones are no barrier. We serve worldwide VIRTUALLY and in person in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We offer the latest in Holocaust education.  Request a program today.

Hate never takes a vacation and neither do we.

The antisemitic plot to thwart U.S. aid to Europe’s Jews and the man who exposed It

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Henry Morgenthau Jr. in a car.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Henry Morgenthau Jr. in a car on Feb. 9, 1934, . The inscription by FDR reads “From one of two of kind.” | Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

Henry Morgenthau, Jr. used his close ties with Roosevelt to expose rampant antisemitism in the State Department that thwarted America’s efforts to provide refuge for Jews imperiled by Hitler.

By Andrew Meier, Politico, September 23, 2022. Click for full report.

Andrew Meier is the author of Morgenthau: Power, Privilege, and the Rise of an American Dynasty, from which this article is adapted.

On June 19, 1939, over lunch at the White House, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. attempted something he was loathe to do: He prodded his best friend. “A year has passed,” he told Franklin D. Roosevelt, “and we have not got anywhere on this Jewish refugee thing. What are we going to do about it?”

No other member of the Roosevelt cabinet enjoyed a relationship as intimate with the president; the two had a standing date for a private lunch on Mondays. Across Washington, Morgenthau and his wife Elinor were known as the couple closest to the Roosevelts: Since the early 1920s, they had worked together, socialized together and, long before the New Deal, made common cause. (“From one of two of kind,” FDR had once inscribed a photograph to Elinor.) Morgenthau rarely dared to risk his most treasured friendship. But the saga of the St. Louis, the ship carrying nearly a thousand Jewish refugees that had reached Florida only to be turned back to Europe, haunted him. The tragedy, coming just days before his lunch at the White House, laid bare the grim truths of the crisis unfolding on the continent.

The only son of the New York real estate baron — Henry Morgenthau, Sr., who’d become America’s most vocal anti-Zionist — Henry Jr. was reared as a devout assimilationist. He’d never even attended a Passover Seder. But the desperate news from Europe had stirred something, brought a change that those few who were close to him would later call an “awakening.”

Henry Morgenthau, Jr. and FDR picnic at Sunset Hill in Pine Plains, NY. August, 1940.
Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. and President FDR picnic at Sunset Hill in Pine Plains, N.Y., in August 1940. No other member of the Roosevelt cabinet enjoyed a relationship as intimate with the president as Henry Morgenthau. | Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

The war in Europe would test Morgenthau in ways unlike any other member of the Roosevelt administration. In “those terrible eighteen months,” as he would later call the period after the summer of 1942, when he first learned that “the Nazis were planning to exterminate all the Jews of Europe,” Morgenthau would find himself surrounded by threats: an anti-immigrant old guard at the State Department, “America First” isolationists on Capitol Hill and enraged Zionist leaders desperate for the attention of the White House. He would face the greatest test of his 12-year tenure in Washington, risking all that he held most dear: not only his friendship with FDR, but the trust of his best men at Treasury and even the faith of his own family. In the end, Morgenthau would rely on his moral compass — “Franklin’s conscience,” Eleanor Roosevelt liked to call him — to affirm his belief in America as a sanctuary for the persecuted, and press his best friend to act, before it was too late, to save the remaining Jews of Europe. Now,as the nation finds itself once more bitterly divided over its obligations to the world’s refugees, the story of Morgenthau’s crusade serves as a poignant reminder of what can happen when government officials stand up to the misdeeds of their own administration.

Click for rest of the article plus photographs.

Ken Burns turns his lens on the American response to the Holocaust

Commemorating the Holocaust has become a central part of American culture, but the nation’s reaction in real time was another story.

By James McAuley, The New Yorker, September 18, 2022 Click for full report.

People sitting on benches and standing in the Ellis Island Immigration Station

A crowd fills a waiting room at the Ellis Island Immigration Station.Photograph courtesy PBS

When we begin “The U.S. and the Holocaust”—a six-and-a-half-hour, three-part documentary about America’s actions during one of history’s greatest atrocities, the Nazis’ attempted extermination of the Jews—we find ourselves in 1933 Frankfurt, where a bourgeois German-Jewish family is going out for an afternoon promenade. This is the Frank family, whose youngest daughter, Anne, has yet to begin the diary, chronicling her days in hiding until her capture and eventual death in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, that will one day make her a household name around the world. In 1933, all of that is still to come: the inhuman brutality of the Holocaust is still beyond the comprehension of well-to-do Jewish families like the Franks, and indeed of most everyone else. But now, after the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, in January of that year, it is clear that something in the air has shifted. The Franks knew they had to leave the country in which at least some of their ancestors had lived since the sixteenth century. By early 1934, the whole family had settled in Amsterdam, with plans to move to America—“only to find,” in the words of the film’s script, “like countless others fleeing Nazism, that most Americans did not want to let them in.”

“The U.S. and the Holocaust,” directed by Ken Burns and his longtime collaborators Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein, is an examination of what Americans—politicians, journalists, and civilians—did and did not know about the Holocaust, and how they responded to it while it was happening and after it was over. Burns, now sixty-nine, is perhaps the most acclaimed American documentarian of his generation. He has used his work to investigate some of the most powerful symbols and totems of American life—in 1982, he won an Academy Award nomination, his first, for “Brooklyn Bridge;” in 1995, he won an Emmy for “Baseball.” Other topics since have included “The West” (1996), “Jazz” (2001), “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” (2009) and “Muhammad Ali” (2021), as well as several other series about America’s wars—the Civil War, the Second World War, and Vietnam.

Click for rest of the report.

Opinion  ‘U.S. and the Holocaust’ immerses viewers in the limitations that define tragedy

By George F. Will, Washington Post, September 16, 2022. Click for full report.

Members of the Messinger family aboard the St. Louis in May 1939. The ship, carrying nearly 1,000 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany, was turned away from several countries, including the United States. It eventually returned to Europe, where many of the passengers would die in the Holocaust. (1939/Courtesy of PBS)

It begins with an emotional wallop that is especially powerful because it is delivered offhandedly. The first minute of the six-hour, three-part documentary series “The U.S. and the Holocaust” features a black-and-white photo of Otto Frank, who had been a German officer in World War I, strolling in Frankfurt, Germany, with his wife and two daughters. It is March 1933, and Adolf Hitler has been chancellor for less than two months. One of the daughters, Annelies, the world now knows as Anne. She would write a diary even though she doubted that anyone would ever be interested in “the musings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl.” She was mistaken.

In early 1934, the Frank family would be living in Amsterdam, hoping, like many Jews from Germany, to reach the United States. The Franks’ hopes, and those of most others similarly situated on the edge of Europe’s abyss, would be crushed.

The Ken Burns, Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein documentary, which premieres Sunday on PBS, rekindles an agonizing debate: What and when did the U.S. government know about Nazi genocide, and what could, and should, it have done better? The answers that the film judiciously suggests lack comforting clarity.

As the documentary notes, the United States admitted about 225,000 refugees from Nazi terror, more than any other sovereign nation — fewer than it should have but more than public opinion favored. Before Hitler attained power, America’s receptivity to immigrants had waned, and antisemitism, especially in society’s upper reaches, had not. Today’s white nationalist anxieties about “replacement” recast the anxiety of the prominent eugenicist Madison Grant: “The man of the old stock is being crowded out.”

Ken Burns: Being American means reckoning with our violent history

In the 1920s, Henry Ford’s antisemitic newspaper had the nation’s second-largest circulation, according to the documentary. “In 1932,” it reports, “for the first time in American history, more people left the United States than were allowed in.” In the mid-1930s, more than 25 percent of the population listened each Sunday to Charles Coughlin, an antisemitic radio priest.

U.S. newspapers published abundant reports of German antisemitic lawlessness, but many readers were skeptical, remembering discredited World War I propaganda about German atrocities. The State Department, hospitable to upper-crust antisemitism (the documentary names culprits), made visas difficult for German Jews to acquire, then cited the few applicants as evidence that Germany’s Jews were not in crisis. America’s millions of moviegoers saw newsreels in which content about Germany was usually produced by Hitler’s government.

Because Congress would not liberalize immigration, President Franklin D. Roosevelt could not ask other nations to do so. He did say that all Jews who were in America as tourists could stay. But when the United States entered the war, fear spread that European immigrants might include Axis agents. The chairman of the Senate Military Affairs Committee favored building a wall around the nation “so high and so secure” that no alien or refugee could enter.

Three-quarters of the Holocaust’s victims were murdered in 20 months, deep in Eastern Europe, before there was a U.S. soldier on the European continent. The victims could not believe what was happening to them; neither could distant Americans. When, at last, in 1943, the reality of industrialized murder became known, the pace of killing slowed because there were too few readily available Jews to be delivered to the death machinery.

Alyssa Rosenberg: Ken Burns is an optimist. But he’s very worried about America.

By 1944, with 5 million Jews already dead, 70 percent of Americans now favored sheltering European refugees, temporarily. U.S. officials were neither wrong nor reprehensible when they argued that the best way to help the Jews was to win the war as quickly as possible. Bombing the killing camps would have diverted bombers from military targets, and — “precision bombing” was then an oxymoron — would have killed many Jews.

Some indecent attitudes, and then the inability of decent people to believe the reality of unbelievable indecency, prevented America from doing more than it did with its heroic World War II exertions and sacrifices. “The U.S. and the Holocaust” is an immersion in the limitations that accompany, and define, tragedy.

A Holocaust survivor who speaks in the film, Eva Schloss, was a new refugee in Amsterdam when she became friends with another 10-year-old girl who had been in the city six years and was living in what was now their shared apartment block: “She introduced herself and said her name is ‘Anna Frank.’”

A photograph of her then, about five years before her death, radiates cheerfulness. It is an imperishable, unforgettable image of what can be lost when we forget how perishable is the thin crust of civilization that protects us — until it doesn’t.

Legendary WWII hero, Holocaust camp liberator is laid to rest in Arlington

By Fredrick Kunkle, Washington Post, September 6, 2022. Click for full report.

Lt. Col. James Megellas receives military funeral honors at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)

Lt. Col. James “Maggie” Megellas, a paratrooper who took part in several daring World War II operations and became one of the 82nd Airborne Division’s most celebrated and decorated soldiers, was buried Friday at Arlington National Cemetery in a ceremony attended by the nation’s highest-ranking officers.

Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came to pay his respects to a soldier who had single-handedly knocked out a German tank, rowed across a Dutch river in a flimsy boat under enemy fire and often said the “Greatest Generation” would be the one that put an end to war.

Gen. James C. McConville, who is Army Chief of Staff, and Maj. Gen. Christopher C. LaNeve, who commands the 82nd Airborne Division, were also on hand, along with more than 50 mourners, including family who traveled from Megellas’s home in Colleyville, Tex. All had come to honor a man who has been nominated — so far unsuccessfully — for a Medal of Honor.

Anna Salton Eisen, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, came, too.

Her father, George L. Salton, had been a teenager near death when Megellas and other paratroopers appeared outside the barbed-wire fence of his Nazi concentration camp in the last days of World War II. He later recalled inching forward to touch the paratroopers’ boots to make sure the soldiers were real, that he wasn’t dreaming, that his nightmare as a slave laborer in Hitler’s death camps might soon be over.

Maj. Gen. Christopher C. LaNeve, Commanding General of the 82nd Airborne Division, left, presents the U.S. flag to J. Trace Megellas, grandson of Lt. Col. James Megellas. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)

Eisen said she felt compelled to attend Megellas’s funeral because her father, having died in March 2016 at 88, could not.

“I knew if my father was alive, I know this is what he would do and what he would want me to do — to pay my respects,” Eisen, of Westlake, Tex., said.

Megellas was known for being fearless, tenacious and calm under fire. He earned the Distinguished Service Cross — which is the military’s second-highest decoration — two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts and other commendations that made him one of the 82nd Airborne’s most decorated soldiers, division spokesman Capt. Darren M. Cinatl said.

“He was the paratrooper’s paratrooper,” Cinatl said.

Army honor guards carry the U.S. flag and the urn of Megellas at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)
An Army honor guard firing party salutes Megellas on Friday. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)

Megellas (pronounced ma-JELL-is) was born March 11, 1917, in Fond du Lac, Wis., one of seven children of Greek immigrants. He learned to sail and fish on nearby Lake Winnebago, a love that would remain for the rest of his life, his family said. To help support his family during the Great Depression, he went to work with the Civilian Conservation Corps and later entered Ripon College and its ROTC program.

From the archive: Soldiers from the sky

Megellas received a commission as a 2nd lieutenant in May 1942 and volunteered for the 82nd Airborne, whose lightly armed infantry parachuted into hot zones or behind enemy lines. They carried at least 80 pounds of gear and bailed out from heights of about 500 feet, often under fire and at a rate of descent significantly faster than parachutists today, Cinatl said. Their transports were often shot up with flak and sometimes downed.

Megellas — who led H Company of the 3rd battalion of 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment — first saw action in Italy, where he was wounded twice, Cinatl said. The 504th became known as the “Devils in Baggy Pants,” a nickname taken from a German soldier’s diary describing troops that seemed to pop out of nowhere, determined to fight.

His first parachute combat mission came with Operation Market Garden, the largest airborne assault in history, Cinatl said. The ill-fated plan, which aimed to sweep around heavy German defenses by cutting through the Low Countries, required Allied airborne forces to seize key bridges behind enemy lines and hold them until armor could advance.

Megellas took part in the Waal River crossing — a desperate effort to outflank an SS Panzer division holding an important bridge in NijmegenCinatl said. The paratroopers, using canvas-sided, wood-bottom boats, crossed in daylight under heavy fire.

Megellas also fought during the Battle of the Bulge and its aftermath. On Jan. 28, 1945, he was leading his platoon into the Belgian town of Herresbach following a 10-mile march through heavy snow when the unit encountered a Mark V Panther tank with its machine gun blazing.

Megellas, armed with only a Thompson submachine gun and grenades, ran toward the tank, halted it with a grenade, climbed onto its turret and pitched another grenade inside, knocking out the Panther and leaving his men in awe.

“I saw a figure run up to the tank and heard an explosion and saw a flash of light,” George Heib told the Milwaukee Journal years later. “I said, ‘Who the hell is that crazy [expletive]?’”

Megellas then led an assault on German forces in the town. For his heroism, he was nominated for a Medal of Honor, but received a Silver Star instead because of omissions in the original paperwork submitted for commendation, according to an account of his wartime experience that Megellas recorded for the nonprofit American Veterans Center in 2015.

On May 2, 1945, Megellas and several paratroopers entered Wöbbelin, a satellite of the Neuengamme concentration camp near Ludwigslust, and wasn’t even sure what he had found when he encountered skeletal prisoners like Salton, who was then 17 years old and all of 75 pounds.

Salton — who had been born Lucjan Salzman, with the nickname “Lucek,” in the Polish village of Tyczyn — had been separated from his family three years earlier after the German invaders started rounding up Jews.

“We didn’t know about concentration camps,” Megellas told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “We’d been in combat two years, and we’d seen a lot of men killed in battle. But this was a horror you’d never forget — men weighing 50 or 60 pounds.”

That first meeting between the paratrooper and the prisoner would eventually lead to others, including a face-to-face reunion 60 years later in Texas.

“In you, I see living proof of what we fought for in World War II,” Megellas was quoted as saying by the Star-Telegram when the two men met again in 2005.

George Salton, a Holocaust survivor, front, befriended Megellas, who liberated the camp Salton was held in Germany during the Holocaust. They are pictured at an event held near the camp in Ludwigslust in 2007. (Alex Omhoff)
Megellas, one of the most decorated soldiers of the 82nd Airborne during World War II, with Anna Salton Eisen, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor whose camp Megellas and other paratroopers liberated in 1945 (Anna Salton Eisen family collection)
George Salton, a Holocaust survivor, was one of the prisoners of the camp liberated by Megellas in 1945. (Anna Salton Eisen family collection)

Each had gone on after the war on to marry, raise children and build successful careers in the government and private sectors. Each documented his wartime experience in memoirs, documentaries, and speaking engagements. Each embodied in different ways the harrowing victory of the human spirit in a time of unimaginable darkness.

Salton served in the U.S. Army, worked for the Defense Department and published a book — “The 23rd Psalm: A Holocaust Memoir” co-authored with Anna — in 2002. He lectured at schools nationwide and contributed recorded testimony to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Megellas served on his hometown’s city council, ran unsuccessfully for Congress, worked overseas for the U.S. Agency for International Development and wrote an autobiography, “All the Way to Berlin: A Paratrooper at War in Europe,” in 2003. His military exploits also were recounted in the documentary “Maggie’s War: A True Story of Courage, Leadership and Valor in World War II.” John Ratzenberger, of “Cheers” fame, played him in the 1977 Hollywood movie, “A Bridge Too Far.”

Well into in his 90s, Megellas even embarked on a book tour of sorts in Afghanistan, signing copies of his memoir and rousing the spirits of U.S. military personnel stationed there.

A few years before his death, Megellas told family that his mission wasn’t over because he should be doing more to make the world a saner, more just and peaceful place. He died April 2, 2020, at 103.

“It’s such a loss for me that he’s gone because he was so incredible,” his son James A. Megellas, 59, of Colleyville, said in a telephone interview Saturday.

Tomb of Unknowns, marking anniversary, allows public closer look

About 3:15 p.m. Friday, Megellas’s funeral procession approached his final resting place, led by the slow, muffled beat of a drum.

Several of the nation’s highest military officers, including Milley — smartly attired in blue dress uniforms, their white-gloved hands snapping to salute and their medals flashing — lined the pavement.

Across from them stood a scruffy line of about 20 members of the Patriot Guard, a motorcycle group of veterans in black leather vests, T-shirts and jeans. They saluted, too, as the flag-draped caisson, drawn by six gray horses, drew forward.

Army honor guards fold the flag during the Megellas’s funeral (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)

A soldier, gingerly, with almost mechanical precision, removed the silver urn containing Megellas’s cremated remains from the caisson and carried it to the gravesite. Nearby stood a military band, an 82nd Airborne color guard and a firing party, its seven soldiers arrayed in line.

“Paratroopers never truly die — they just slip away,” Chaplain (Maj.) Michael Krog, of the 82nd Airborne, told mourners during the service.

Three volleys of gunfire sounded, and a bugler played taps. Soldiers folded the flag until it was only a triangle of stars.

Then LaNeve, the 82nd Airborne’s commanding general, went down on one knee to present the flag to Megellas’s 25-year-old grandson, J. Trace Megellas, as a symbol of the nation’s thanks.

“I said to General Milley when we left, ‘You guys lost a great soldier, and I lost a great father,’” Jim Megellas said afterward. “But, honestly, the world lost a great man.”

Wherever you are, our Survivors and Liberators are ready to address your school, civic group or congregation–virtually.

With the new school year beginning, it is time to book a program customized for your students and your community. Oceans and time zones are no barrier. We serve worldwide VIRTUALLY and in person in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We offer the latest in Holocaust education.  Request a program today.

Hate never takes a vacation and neither do we.

Museo Della Shoah, Rome, Italy.

Unknown Holocaust photos — found in attics and archives — are helping researchers recover lost stories and providing a tool against denial.

The Conversation, August 31, 2022. Click for full report.

By Wolf Gruner, Shapell-Guerin, Chair in Jewish Studies and Professor of History; Founding Director, USC Dornsife Center for Advanced Genocide Research, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

The summer of 2022 marked the 80th anniversary of the first Nazi deportation of Jewish families from Germany to Auschwitz.

Although the Nazis deported hundreds of thousands of Jewish men and women, for many places where those tragic events happened, no images are known to document the crime. Surprisingly, there’s not even photographic evidence from Berlin, the Nazi capital and home to Germany’s largest Jewish community.

The lack of known images is important. Unlike in the past, historians now agree that photographs and film must be taken seriously as primary sources for their research. These sources can complement the analysis of administrative documents and survivor testimonies and thus enrich our understanding of Nazi persecution.

As a historian originally from Germany and now teaching in the U.S., I have researched the Nazi persecution of the Jews for 30 years and published 10 books on the Holocaust.

I searched for unpublished images in all the archives I visited during my research. But I have to admit that I – along with many of my colleagues – did not take the gathered visual evidence seriously as a primary source and rather used it to illustrate my publications.

During the past decade, scholars have realized how pictures can contribute to our understanding of mass violence as well as the resistance to it. Some can provide the only evidence we have about an act of persecution – for example, a photograph of anti-Jewish graffiti. Others will reveal additional details, as in the image of a court proceeding against anti-Nazi resistors.

Photographs are now in some cases the sole objects of scholarly inquiry. They are used to identify perpetrators and victims in specific cases, when other sources would not reveal them.

Here’s one example: An image shows uniformed Nazis standing in front of a passenger train filled with German Jews in Munich on Nov. 20, 1942. Who were those men? More importantly, what are the stories of the barely recognizable victims behind the windows in this image?

Soldiers watching a train filled with people as a person is pushed onto it.
The deportation of Munich Jews to Kowno in Nazi-occupied Lithuania, Nov. 20, 1942. City Archive Munich, DE-1992-FS-NS-00015, CC BY-SA

Investigating photos of Nazi deportations

Between 1938 and 1945, more than 200,000 people were deported from Germany, mainly to ghettos and camps in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe.

To make pictures of Nazi deportations accessible for research and education, a group of university, educational and archival institutions in Germany and the Dornsife Center for Advanced Genocide Research at the University of Southern California launched the #LastSeen Project — Pictures of Nazi Deportations in October 2021.

This effort aims to locate, collect and analyze images of Nazi mass deportations in Germany. The deportations started with the forced expulsion of around 17,000 Jews of Polish origin in October 1938, right before the widespread antisemitic violence of Kristallnacht, and culminated in the mass deportations to Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe between 1941 and 1945.

The mass deportation targeted not only Jews, but also people with disabilities as well as tens of thousands of Romani.

Hundreds of people being marched down a village street, while onlookers watch.
Romani families, in total 490 people, from Germany’s southwest border region are deported to Nazi-occupied Poland, May 22, 1940. Research Office for Racial Hygiene, Federal Archive Germany, Barch R 165, 244-42.

What can we learn from the pictures? Not only when, where and how these forced relocations took place, but who participated, who witnessed them and who was affected by the persecution acts.

I work with the USC Dornsife Center for Advanced Genocide Research to manage the outreach for the #LastSeen Project in the English-speaking world. The project has three main goals: first, gathering all existing pictures. These images will then be analyzed to identify the victims and perpetrators and recover the stories behind the pictures. Finally, a digital platform will provide access to all the images and unearthed information, both enabling a new level of study of this visual evidence and establishing a powerful tool against Holocaust denial.

When the project began, the partners were skeptical of whether we would find a significant number of never-before-seen images of mass deportations.

But after addressing the German public and querying 1,750 German archives, within the first six months of the project we received dozens of unknown images, more then doubling the number of German towns, from 27 to over 60, where we now have photographs documenting Nazi deportations.

Many of these photos had collected dust on shelves in local archives in Germany, and some were found in private homes. In the future, the project hopes for discoveries in archives, museums and family possession in the U.S. and the U.K., but also in Canada, South Africa and Australia. We know that liberators took photographs with them from Germany at the end of the war, and survivors received them later via various channels.

Tracing unknown images beyond Germany

The project has already located photos in the United States. In two cases, survivors had donated them to archives, which project staff learned during research visits. Simon Strauss gave an image to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum depicting the deportation in his German hometown of Hanau. He wrote on it, “Uncle Ludwig transported.” The second photo was at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York, which had received the hitherto only known picture from the Nazi deportation of the Jews in Bad Homburg.

To locate more photos, the project counts on the help of ordinary citizens, researchers, archivists, museum curators and survivors’ families.

After joining the project, I searched the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, which holds over 53,000 video testimonies of Holocaust survivors. Many of the Jews who gave testimony talked about Nazi deportations. All interviewees shared photographs. While many of these more than 700,000 images are artifacts of personal value, such as family and wedding photos, some images depict Nazi persecution.

Within minutes of my search using the term “deportation stills” I was staring at photographs showing a Nazi deportation in a small town in central Germany. At the end of his 1996 interview, Lothar Lou Beverstein, born in 1921, shared two photographs from his hometown of Halberstadt that he had received from friends after the war. Beverstein identified his father, Hugo, and his mother, Paula, in an image showing Nazis lining up deportees in front of the city’s famous 13th-century Gothic cathedral.

A large group of people assembled on the street in front of a timbered building and a large church, with people watching them on the other side of the street.
Jewish families from Halberstadt, Germany, assembled for deportation from the city, April 12, 1942. USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, Lou Beverstein interview.CC BY-SA

Both of Lou Beverstein’s parents were deported to the Warsaw Ghetto on April 12, 1942. In his interview, Beverstein declared that to his knowledge nobody survived from that transport, which supposedly consisted of 24 men, 59 women and 23 children. Now the project needs to locate Lou Beverstein’s family in the United States or connect to other descendants from Halberstadt to find out more about the origins of the images and the identities of the deportees depicted in them.

Naming and recognizing victims

The identities of deportees and perpetrators in the existing images are often unknown. Most photographs show groups of victims whom project staff aim to identify so they and their stories can be acknowledged. This is very difficult, since there are seldom close-up shots.

Two young girls in winter coats and hats, both wearing Jewish stars on their coats.
Two Jewish girls awaiting deportation in Munich on Nov. 11, 1942. Their identities are not known. City Archive Munich DE-1992-FS-NS-00013

Even in a photograph clearly showing two Jewish girls, we do not know anything other than that the Gestapo deported them to Kowno with the same transport depicted in the image showing Munich Jews being deported referenced at the beginning of this article. The nearly 1,000 deportees from Munich were shot soon after they arrived at their destination in Nazi-occupied Lithuania.

This is but one example of how scholars desperately need the public’s help to recover the stories of countless unidentified victims of the Nazis.

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