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San Antonio Hadassah to honor LBJ for role in rescuing Jews in 1938

UnknownCongressman Lyndon Baines Johnson, about 1938

San Antonio Express-News, August 18, 2018.  Click for full report.

If you believe the story, a young Lyndon B. Johnson played a role in the clandestine immigrations of hundreds of European Jews to Texas in 1938.

Then a freshman congressman, Johnson allegedly paved the way for them to enter the United States through the Port of Galveston.

Though some scholars dispute the validity of the story, the Holocaust Museum in Houston established the Lyndon Baines Johnson Moral Courage Award in the 1990s.

On Aug. 27, the San Antonio Chapter of Hadassah will celebrate LBJ’s 110th birthday and his role in rescuing Jews during World War II. The event at 1 p.m. will be at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, 12500 N.W. Military Hwy.

Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization, also will celebrate the pending Never Again Education Act in the U.S. House. If passed, it would authorize the secretary of education to award grants to eligible entities to carry out educational programs about the Holocaust.

The event will include a reception and tour of the Holocaust Memorial Museum on the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Campus of the San Antonio Jewish Community.

Admission is free. RSVP to marketinglinck@yahoo.com.

REPORT IN AISH.COM

Operation Texas: LBJ’s Mysterious Mission to Save Jews

Did Lyndon B. Johnson secretly rescue hundreds of Jews on the eve of the Holocaust?


By Ivan Koop Kuper, aish.com, February 16, 2016.   Click for full report.

 

On the evening of December 30, 1963, a little more than one month after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the newly sworn-in 36th President of the United States kept a promise he made to the congregants of a small Conservative synagogue in Austin, Texas. At the personal request of his good friend Jim Novy, a political ally and a central Texas Democratic Party fundraiser, Lyndon B. Johnson addressed the members of Congregation Agudas Achim at a dinner dedicating their new sanctuary.

This was Johnson’s first public speech since taking the oath of office to become acting president of the United States. However, before LBJ stepped up to the podium to address a grieving congregation, he was first introduced by Novy, a self-made Polish immigrant and chairman of the synagogue’s building committee. Novy’s remarks were recorded and later reproduced on a commemorative analog vinyl disc that was distributed as a souvenir to all who were in attendance that evening.

LBJ at Agudas Achim

In his Texas drawl with a slight Yiddish accent, the diminutive and bespectacled Austin scrap-metal magnate greeted the congregation and thanked LBJ for his involvement in what has become a historical and political mystery, puzzling both academics and historians for more than 50 years. Jim Novy’s introduction that night lit a fire of conjecture regarding a questionable and often disputed chapter of American history that has been steadily smoldering to this day.

In July, 1938, LBJ allegedly set the wheels in motion to covertly rescue a group of Polish and German Jews.

“I want to take you back as far as 1938 when I went to Poland and Germany with my son, Dave Howard,” Novy began. “Naturally, I asked the advice of President Johnson. He had given me a letter for the [U.S.] embassy in Poland and went as far as calling them long distance to tell them to get as many people out of Poland and Germany that we possibly can and of course, through the efforts of the President, and with a recommendation to the embassy, we were able to take many, many people out.”

Novy with LBJ in the Oval Office

As Novy nervously continued introducing LBJ at Congregation Agudas Achim that evening, he moved two years forward in his story. He explained how after the second wave of refugees were brought to Texas, they were housed and trained in Depression-era NYA (National Youth Association) work camps. These “New Deal” camps, created for American citizens by the Roosevelt administration, were designed to teach new trades to America’s unemployed youth, and reintroduce them back into the work force. Johnson was appointed state director of the Texas NYA by Roosevelt, and he hand-picked his successor, Jessee Kellam, after his election to Congress in 1937.

“All I can remember is that we did get a lot of refugees here, and which the state didn’t mind to lodge them and teach them trades,” Novy told an attentive audience, “but they [NYA] wouldn’t pay for their food. So, the Joint Distribution Committee at that time appointed me to get all the groceries and all they needed to eat while the State of Texas taught them how to get along in life and to get away from a country where they couldn’t do anything [referring to Germany’s Nuremberg Laws].”

With Secret Service members standing at the back of the room and Lady Bird seated by his side, LBJ patiently waited for Novy to conclude his introduction before he stepped up to the podium to address the audience. Johnson then thanked the congregation for their continual support and only cryptically alluded to the surreptitious episodes mentioned by Novy that purportedly transpired during the freshman year of his eleven-year-term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

As he read from the speech prepared by Bill Moyers, White House special assistant to the President, LBJ never acknowledged the tale spun by Novy in his introduction, nor did he deny it. He did, however, make reference to the diverse cultural and demographic melting pot of Austin’s 10th congressional district that afforded him his political career: “From many lands, from many cultures men brought their families here to escape oppression, to escape war, to search and seek their peace,” he said. “I am grateful that my first nonofficial public remarks since November 22 can be made here in Austin and in conjunction with the dedication of a house of worship.”

Controversial Dissertation

This little-known dedication ceremony at Agudas Achim in Austin was all but forgotten until 1989, when word spread in academic circles of a dissertation submitted to the chair of the history department at the University of Texas by Louis S. Gomolak, an older-than-average doctoral student. In his dissertation, Prologue: LBJ’s Foreign Affairs Background, 1908-1948, Gomolak described how first-term Congressman Lyndon B. Johnson pulled the right political strings from behind the scenes to circumvent the existing discriminatory U.S. immigration laws and saved hundreds of Polish and German Jews on the eve of the Holocaust.

Gomolak insisted that Johnson’s strong spiritual conviction and moral obligation fueled this clandestine undertaking.

Gomolak insisted that Johnson’s strong spiritual conviction and moral obligation fueled this clandestine undertaking. Gomolak named this episode “Operation Texas” in his dissertation. He was the first to theorize that LBJ, with the help of Jim Novy, orchestrated two large-scale covert rescue missions of European Jews, in 1938 and 1940, and several smaller isolated ones. All of these were implemented, Gomolak believed, without the knowledge of the U.S. Government, and without leaving any tangible evidence or a traceable paper trail. As evidence, Gomolak cited Novy’s dedication speech and Novy’s personal notes where he specifically referenced 42 Jews who were saved on his first mission to Poland. Gomolak also allegedly interviewed several of the rescued refugees who settled throughout central Texas and who were members of Agudas Achim. Gomalak has been very tight-lipped regarding his sources over the years, and nowhere in dissertation did he identify these supposedly saved hundreds by name.

Since his dissertation first surfaced, Gomolak’s theory has been the subject of speculation and debate among historians and his academic peers. Claudia Anderson, supervisory archivist of the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, first learned of Gomolak’s rescue theory when the library received a copy of the dissertation in 1989. Over the years, she has conducted her own extensive research and combed through State Department archives in an attempt to validate Gomolak’s findings. So far, she said she has yet to discover any “primary-source proof” to substantiate Gomolak’s theory, which has now been relegated to Internet folklore. “I didn’t initially think he had enough evidence to substantiate what he was saying,” Anderson said in regards to Gomolak’s research. “I think he draws conclusions that were not merited by the evidence.”

“I think he draws conclusions that were not merited by the evidence.”

Anderson believes that Johnson sent Novy to the American consul in Poland in 1938 with a letter explaining that Novy had sponsors in the Austin community who had the financial means to support the refugees once they entered the United States and that they would not become public charges of the American taxpayers. “That is what the State Department was so concerned with back then and used as a means to defend their anti-Semitic actions with regard to refugees and immigration,” Anderson said.

Anderson, however, is also skeptical about the number of Jews who were allegedly transported from Europe and brought, under the veil of darkness, into Galveston Bay: “I know that Novy was a big story-teller and I don’t know how closely he stuck to the facts,” she said. “Before I would buy into the story, we need at least some evidence of who these people [refugees] were or some evidence of another person who could corroborate that number – and right now, we don’t have that.”

Golomak’s dissertation noted that at the time of LBJ’s first purported rescue mission, during Franklin Roosevelt’s second term in office, foreign immigration into the U.S. was still determined by the harsh quota system of the National Origins Quota Act of 1924. Also known as the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act, it limited the annual number of immigrants admitted into the U.S. from any one country to 2% of the number of people from that particular country who were living in the U.S. in the year 1890. This discriminatory piece of legislation passed with overwhelming Congressional support, and was signed into law by 30th U.S. President, Calvin Coolidge.

According to Gomolak, this statute was designed to exclude non-Anglo-Saxons – specifically, people from eastern and southern Europe – from entering the U.S. A widespread climate of xenophobia and anti-Semitism existed in the 1930s, and many Americans viewed all immigrants as subversives who threatened America’s social and political stability. The nation was still recovering from the Great Depression, and most Americans favored restrictive laws that protected scarce American jobs and maintained wages for the jobs that still existed.

In the 1930s, the average U.S. citizen condoned America’s isolationist policy, and was only somewhat aware of the oppressive treatment inflicted on Germany’s Jewish population by the Nazis. Articles about the Nurenberg Laws and Kristallnaucht were usually buried in the back pages of America’s daily newspapers. Hitler did not officially declare war on the United States until December 11, 1941, four days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. One day after what Roosevelt referred to as “a date which will live in infamy,” the Nazis experimentally gassed hundreds of Polish Jews in the northern town of Chelmno, as a dress rehearsal for what would become the “Final Solution.”

Gomolak further noted that LBJ first learned the nuts and bolts of how to navigate the bureaucratic maze of America’s immigration policy while he was still an aide to U.S. Congressman Richard Kleberg of Corpus Christi. Johnson discovered that German and Polish entry quotas into Cuba, Mexico, and South America went largely unused, and that he could bring refugees from Europe into those countries. After a period of time, those refugees could then obtain entrance visas into the U.S. and apply for residency. Johnson put this knowledge to the test after he was elected to Congress.

Rescuing Erich Leinsdorf

Erich Leinsdorf, conductor

In March of 1938, another one of LBJ’s good friends and political constituents approached him for a favor. Charles E. Marsh, publisher of the Austin American-Statesman, asked Johnson to intervene in the case of Jewish-Austrian conductor, Erich Leinsdorf. At the time, Leinsdorf was working in the U.S. on a six-month visa for the New York Metropolitan Opera. After being offered a two-year contract with “The Met” and learning of Germany’s Anchluss (the annexation of Austria), Leinsdorf applied for an extension to stay in the U.S. The United States Immigration and Naturalization Service denied his request, but Johnson, according to Gomolak, devised a plan to have Leinsdorf’s immigration status changed from visitor to permanent resident. Johnson then instructed Leinsdorf to leave the U.S. for Havana and reenter under the German immigration quota. By 1942, Leinsdorf would become a naturalized American citizen and serve his newly adoptive country in the United States Armed Forces during WWII.

The Barber from Warsaw

Not all of LBJ’s isolated rescues were as high profile as Eric Leinsdorf’s, nor were they all discovered by Gomolak while researching his dissertation. According to family folklore of the Diskins of Houston, one rescuee in particular, their family patriarch, left pre-war Poland with the help of Johnson and Novy before the borders closed, and immigrated to Texas in a very conventional, yet ambiguous manner.

On September 26, 1938, the M.S. Batory, a Polish merchant ocean liner, arrived at Ellis Island in New York harbor after eleven days at sea that included stops at Copenhagen and Cherbourg, France. Listed on the ship’s Manifest of Alien Passengers Bound for the United States were a group of more than 100 Polish nationals of the “Hebrew” race who departed Gdynia, Poland eleven days earlier. All of their exit visas were issued in Warsaw in the previous months of August and September, and all but two of these Jewish passengers, a rabbi and a Polish government official, told their Ellis Island inspectors when they disembarked that they were seeking permanent residency in the United States. They also said they would not be returning to Poland.

Among the passengers who passed through Ellis Island that day was 26-year-old Icek Diskin, a barber from Warsaw, who reinvented himself as Murray Issac Diskin. Years later, he would become a multi-term city council member and popular clothing retailer (Diskin’s) of Brookshire, Texas. After answering “no” to the obligatory questions asked by Ellis Island immigration as to whether he was a polygamist or an anarchist, Diskin indicated to the immigration officer that he, too, “would not” be returning to Poland. He listed his final destination as Georgetown, Texas, just north of Austin. There, his older sister and her husband, who had paid Diskin’s passage to the U.S. and his train ticket to Texas, were residing. Diskin’s sister, Celia Neuman, and her husband Ben, were prominent members of Austin’s Jewish community and Congregation Agudas Achim. In 1938, they learned of fellow congregant Jim Novy’s rescue mission to Poland and asked if he could include her younger brother in his plans. Diskin had never immigrated to the U.S. like his older sister, and chose to remain in Warsaw with his mother.

Bernice Diskin Reichstein maintains that LBJ and Novy helped save her husband

Although Diskin’s widow, Bernice Diskin Reichstein, maintains that LBJ and Novy helped save her husband, neither she, nor her four adult children, know very much regarding the extent of LBJ’s behind-the-scenes involvement. Nor do they have any credible information of how this episode transpired or the logistics of the purported rescue. Like so many other of LBJ’s rescuees, Diskin neglected to share the details of his story with his immediate family. “When it comes to father discussing his past,” said Diskin’s oldest son, Ira, “he always conveniently had amnesia.”

Honoring LBJ’s Moral Courage

In 1995, the Holocaust Museum Houston established the Lyndon Baines Johnson Moral Courage Award one year after it opened its doors. According to the museum, recipients of this award are individuals, like Johnson, who exhibit moral courage, take personal responsibility and are willing to take action against injustice. The award is part of the HMH’s annual fundraising activities and outreach program. Since its inception, the museum has bestowed this honor on 15 distinguished individuals and one deserving European country for altruistic acts that benefited all mankind. Dr. David P. Bell, a longtime member of the HMH board of trustees, believes that Lyndon Johnson, as a congressman, stretched the limits of his authority and risked his political career to rescue European Jews from the Holocaust – a mission based on his moral imperative. “The basis of why we honor LBJ at the museum is because he was a first-term congressman, with his whole future ahead of him, and he took extraordinary risks that would have jeopardized his political career on behalf of people he didn’t know,” Bell said.

“With his whole future ahead of him, he took extraordinary risks that would have jeopardized his political career on behalf of people he didn’t know.”

When the HMH first learned of Operation Texas in the early 90s, Bell said that the board asked him to travel to Austin to meet Gomolak and investigate his claims about Johnson. Bell was initially convinced that Gomolak’s findings were largely accurate. Now, he said, he is not so sure, and believes that Gomolak may have embellished his research. Bell finds it frustrating that no paper trail regarding Operation Texas exists, plus, there is a reluctance on the part of those rescuees who are still alive to step forward and be acknowledged. Bell, however, has his own theory why Operation Texas has been so difficult to confirm, and why rescuees are reluctant to make themselves known. “This has been such a hard story to document because so many of the people who were brought into the U.S. by Novy and LBJ were led to believe that what happened was illegal,” Bell explained. “Therefore, even years later you find very few people who were willing to talk about it in fear that they will be sent back.”

On October 3, 1965, as a symbolic gesture, LBJ signed the Hart-Celler Act into law at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. This statute forever abolished the U.S. Government’s attempt to unjustly restrict immigration. And as the 16mm black and white film cameras documented this event for the three major television networks, Johnson addressed the American people: “This [old] system violates the basic principle of American democracy, the principle that values and rewards each man on the basis of his merit as a man, and it has been un-American in the highest sense, because it has been untrue to the faith that brought thousands to these shores even before we were a country.”

No Substantive Evidence

Although Operation Texas makes for an intriguing story, no hard, substantive evidence proves or disproves the existence of these clandestine rescue missions. According to Anderson, official Lyndon Johnson biographer, Robert Caro, is well aware of the mystery surrounding Operation Texas. Nevertheless, Caro has never written a single word about this supposed episode of LBJ’s life in any of his four published volumes. And as time passes, hope of any living person coming forward with first-hand knowledge or tangible proof diminishes.

At the time of this writing, neither the reclusive Dr. Louis S. Gomolak, now a retired college professor at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos (renamed Texas State University), nor LBJ biographer Caro, has responded to my requests for an interview. Former LBJ staff member, Bill Moyers, told me via email he had no recollection of a speech he wrote for Lyndon Johnson or the dedication of the Agudas Achim synagogue in Austin where it was delivered on the evening of December 30, 1963 – a little more than one month after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

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Ivan Koop Kuper is a freelance writer and a graduate student of journalism at St. Thomas University in Houston, Texas.

 


Educator Lise Marlowe to be honored at our 57th Annual Silent Auction and Dinner

Saturday, November 17, 2018, 6:00 p.m. 6 to 10 p.m.

Philmont Country Club, 301 Tomlinson Road, Huntingdon Valley, PA 19006

 

2018_Lise_MarloweHonoring Lise Marlowe for her decades of Holocaust education at the Cheltenham School District. A national award winning 6th grade teacher, Lise attributes her dedication to teaching Holocaust history to her own Great Grandmother’s instrumental role in resisting the Nazi’s attempts to deport the entire Jewish population of Denmark.

 

 

Lise Marlowe is a 6th grade teacher at Elkins Park School in the Cheltenham School District.  She has been a Holocaust educator for than 20 years.  She attributes her dedication to teaching Holocaust history got her own great-grandmother’s resistance to the Nazis.  Victoria Madsen was an editor of the Danish underground newspaper Land og Folk.  In October 1943, Victoria Madsen was instrumental in saving the lives of a small Danish Jewish family by rowing them to Sweden in her tiny fishing boat.  Within 14 days, 99 per cent of Denmark’s Jewish population was saved in this perilous operation.  Denmark was the only occupied country that actively resisted the Nazi regime’s attempts to deport its Jewish population.

In 2006, Lise was awarded the History Channel’s first “Teacher of the Year” for her outstanding work in teaching local history to her students.  First Lady Laura Bush presented the award to Lise at the White House along with a $5,000 grant to continue saving and sharing local history with her students.  Using this grant as a spring board, she published three memoirs of Philadelphia-area Holocaust Survivors whose experiences and lessons would not have been otherwise made known widely to the world:  Renate:  A Jewish Girl Who Escaped Nazi Germany (2008), Bringing Beauty into the World:  The Life of Harry Somers (2017), and David Tuck: A Story of Holocaust Survival (2017).

Lise has also been awarded the Pennsylvania Council for the Social Studies Elementary Teacher of the Year Award (2007), the NAACP Freedom Fund Award (2011), and a Resolution of the Board of Commissioners of Cheltenham Township (2013).  She serves as Chair of the Education Committee of the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center.

For additional information and to make reservations call 215.464.4701 or email info@hamec.org.

Preview the gift certificates that you can bid on during our Silent Auction.

 

Italy’s Holocaust executioners revealed in ‘historiographical counterblast’

After decades of silence about Italian citizens’ role in the Holocaust, author Simon Levis Sullam restores the record in a book to be published in English on August 28.

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  • During World War II, Italian Jews at forced labor in the Italian camp at Gorizia (public domain)
    During World War II, Italian Jews at forced labor in the Italian camp at Gorizia (public domain)
  • Italian civilians are arrested in Rome by German soldiers following a partisan attack on Nazi forces during World War II (public domain)
    Italian civilians are arrested in Rome by German soldiers following a partisan attack on Nazi forces during World War II (public domain)
  • The Italian transit camp Fossoli, a site of imprisonment for Italian Jews about to be deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where almost all of them were murdered upon arrival, 1943-45 (public domain)
    The Italian transit camp Fossoli, a site of imprisonment for Italian Jews about to be deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where almost all of them were murdered upon arrival, 1943-45 (public domain)

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Thousands of Italian civilians helped the Nazis murder the country’s Jews during the Holocaust, according to a recently translated Italian book. The book directly contradicts commonly held beliefs that Italians did not cooperate with the genocidal killing machine.

In “The Italian Executioners: The Genocide of the Jews of Italy,” author Simon Levis Sullam examined the fate of more than 6,000 Italian Jews who were tracked down, deported, and murdered during the last two years of World War II. The modern history professor first published his so-called “historiographical counterblast” in 2015, helped to overturn myths about so-called “good Italians” who refrained from persecuting their Jewish neighbors.

Largely forgotten by history, Italy introduced anti-Jewish racial laws in 1938, two years before entering the war on Hitler’s side. Jews were dismissed from their jobs, kicked out of schools, and denounced in the media. As in Germany and the Netherlands, meticulously kept records helped identify the country’s 46,000 Jews, many of whom were put under surveillance.

In “The Italian Executioners,” Levis Sullam focuses on local Holocaust history, naming the leading anti-Semites in several cities, and quoting from radio broadcasts, political speeches, and anti-Semitic schoolbooks.

“Jews be burnt, one by one, and their ashes scattered in the wind,” intoned a broadcaster on Radio Roma in 1938 that is quoted in the book. Three years before the Holocaust began in conquered Soviet lands, Italians in all strata of society were already isolating and persecuting their country’s Jews, according to Levis Sullam.

“The anti-Jewish polemic was as present in the Fascist press, the mouthpiece of the militants, functionaries, and the higher echelons of the Social Republic, as in the papers combining Catholicism and Fascism and in cultural reviews,” wrote Levis Sullam in a chapter on the ideological context of genocide.

As in Germany, wrote Levis Sullam, “the key political importance of labelling Jews ‘foreigners’ and ‘enemies’ was echoed in the constant repetition of prejudices, accusations, and anti-Semitic myths and the invocation of radical solutions as the mobilizing and defining factors behind the revived Fascist movement.”

The Holocaust was implemented in Italy beginning in 1943, by which point the population had been absorbing anti-Semitic vitriol for half a decade.

As in other parts of Europe, civilians played an essential role in not only identifying and informing on Jews, but sometimes arresting Jews for themselves. For nearly two years, citizens served as truck drivers, transit camp guards, train conductors, or in numerous other capacities to enact the “Final Solution” in Italy.

“The majority of Italian executioners were not necessarily ideologically motivated,” wrote Levis Sullam. “The genocide was widely carried out by bureaucratic means, through police measures and actions: actions that represented political imperatives for some, for others simply orders from superiors, and for yet others an opportunity for profit or vendetta.”

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In Milan, wrote Levis Sullam, “Fascists would prowl around the city in search of Jews or tips.” By “tips,” the author meant information about Jews in hiding, from which the denouncers could profit handsomely.

The chapter “Hunting Down Jews in Florence” outlines several roundups of Jews that took place in November of 1943. The mass arrests were carried out by German military personnel and Italian Fascists, including members of the notorious Carita gang, “one of the most vicious actors” of the era, according to Levis Sullam.

“On the night between November 16 and 17, the infamous gang took part in the raid on the Franciscan convent in the Piazza del Carmine where numerous Jewish women and their children had taken refuge,” wrote Levis Sullam. “They were held prisoner in the convent for four days before being transferred to Verona by truck –the Fossoli [transit] camp was not yet operational — and deported from there to Auschwitz.”

According to survivor accounts, “the Fascists guarding the prisoners subjected the women to sexual molestation and extortion.”

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Another Holocaust role performed by at least hundreds of Italians involved posing as “guides” to smuggle Jews across the border to safety. The cottage industry of betraying Jews in this manner filled a chapter called, “On the Border: Jews on the Run,” in which Levis Sullam outlined the lethal scam.

“Guides generally demanded between five and ten thousand lire per person to accompany people across the border, although the fee could rise to forty thousand if the route was particularly difficult,” wrote Levis Sullam. “They could double their earnings by betraying their clients: they would pocket the fee as well as the reward for turning them in.”

By the end of the Holocaust, 8,869 Jews had been deported from Italy. Of those individuals, 6,746 were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and nearly all of them were murdered in the gas chambers upon arrival. An additional 303 Jews were killed in massacres committed on Italian soil.

In the assessment of author Levis Sullam, the Italian state has not done enough to atone for the role of thousands of its citizens during the Holocaust. In comparison to Germany, he believes, there has been a lack of “self-critical gestures” recognizing what took place during the war.

The whitewash of Italians’ role in the Holocaust began early, according to Levis Sullam, fueled by the passage of a 1946 amnesty. Although half of Italy’s murdered Jews were arrested by Italians, as opposed to Germans, “the persecution of Jews was not considered a crime or a specific offense” after the war.

“On Holocaust Remembrance Day, or on similar occasions, there is rarely any specific mention of the roles and responsibilities of the thousands of Italians who all played varying but crucial parts in the tragic process that resulted in genocide,” wrote Levis Sullam. “The only exception is an unavoidable and hasty mention of the racial laws of 1938, and occasionally an allusion to collaboration with the Germans…”

For decades, Italy sought to portray itself as a former hotbed of resistance against Nazism, according to Levis Sullam. However, wrote author, the resistance movement in Italy lasted for only 18 months, engaging relatively few people in only parts of the occupied country. By way of comparison, the Fascist movement lasted for two decades and spread to all of Italy, enrapturing millions of followers.

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Far too many of the Holocaust era’s leading Italian anti-Semites were rehabilitated after the war, according to Levis Sullam. On a related note, he wrote, there is a tendency to focus “collective memory on the saviors at the expense of the executioners.” (By “saviors,” the author is referring to Italians who helped rescue Jews, including more than 400 men and women who have been recognized by Israel’s Yad Vashem since 1994.)

In general, Levis Sullam believes that Italy moved from the “era of the witness” — as epitomized by Primo Levi — into the “era of the savior,” without passing through an “era of the executioner.” Unlike Germany’s comparatively robust confrontation with its past, wrote the author, Italy has largely “bypassed” the work of reckoning with its homegrown Holocaust perpetrators.

Teens portray Survivors in ‘Voices of History’

Eli Susman and Eliana Axelrod | Photo courtesy of L.A. Museum of the Holocaust
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By Oren Peleg, August 3, 2018, Jewish Journal.  Click for full report.
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Admittedly nervous, 16-year-old Eli Susman sat on the steps outside the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills and ate shawarma — his preshow dinner. With minimal acting experience, Susman was tasked with portraying local 91-year-old Holocaust survivor Phil Raucher. 

When the stage lights shone down on Susman, stoic and dressed in all black, he pantomimed the digging of a grave inside a German labor camp. “I had to bury my own father,” he cried out to the dark abyss of seats. Even though he couldn’t see him, Susman knew the real-life Raucher, who actually had to bury his own father while detained at a German labor camp over 75 years ago, was watching him.  

Susman, together with seven other teens ranging in age from 13 to 18, took the stage on July 25 in the culminating performance of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) “Voices of History” program. During the two-week theater workshop, participants wrote and starred in a pair of plays based on the wartime experiences of Raucher and a fellow survivor, 79-year-old Lea Radziner. 

“At first, the idea of playing [Raucher] with him sitting there [in the audience] was intimidating,” Susman said. “But once I started getting into it, I was really able to embrace the role and look past that.” 

During the workshop, the teens took part in acting exercises, played improv games, listened to the stories of the two survivors and then crafted a two-act play under the guidance of their director, Anne Noble, a professional playwright, actor and arts educator hired by LAMOTH. 

Chloe Victoria, 18, is a trained actor who will be studying theater in college this fall and was one of the program’s non-Jewish participants. She has long been interested in Holocaust education and was eager to combine it with her love of performing. 

“It was amazing to get to work with people who are as passionate about listening to survivors’ stories as I am,” she said. “I felt a strong connection with them. Together, we felt it was an honor to stage a play and bring the stories to life.”

Radziner also was in the front row at the Wallis to watch her story unfold. She said when LAMOTH asked her to participate in the project, she was reminded of feelings of insecurity about not being perceived as a “real survivor.” As a young child in the early 1940s, Radziner’s parents had her smuggled via the Dutch underground to an adoptive Christian family in the southern part of the Netherlands. She avoided deportation to a concentration camp, a distinction that she said made her story feel “not needed” and “unimportant” for many years. 

“We have a kid playing the 91-year-old survivor at 16. There’s something special about hearing that story come out of the mouth of a 16-year-old.” — Anne Noble

But after seeing the performance with three generations of family by her side, Radziner was overcome with emotion. “I don’t know if I have words to thank the children and to say how much I admire what they did,” she said. “It helps me see the importance of stories like mine continuing to be told in new ways.”

Wallis Director of Education Mark Slavkin told the Journal, “Sharing the stories of these survivors and empowering youth to share these stories is what we’re all about. It has been a terrific collaboration. It has been nothing short of inspiring.”

For her part, Noble found inspiration in seeing a group of young actors of varying performance backgrounds lean on and learn from one another in forming “a true ensemble. I found that it didn’t matter what experience they had because they were telling the stories from their hearts,” she said. “We have a kid playing the 91-year-old survivor at 16. There’s something special about hearing that story come out of the mouth of a 16-year-old.”

Raucher agreed. “I was emotional,” he said. “He [Susman] is the age I was. I’m sure he was able to identify, to think about what he would’ve done in that situation. I think he did a very good job. They all did.”

57th Annual Silent Auction and Dinner

 

57th Annual Silent Auction and Dinner

Saturday, November 17, 2018, 6:00 p.m. 6 to 10 p.m.

Philmont Country Club, 301 Tomlinson Road, Huntingdon Valley, PA 19006

 

2018_Lise_MarloweHonoring Lise Marlowe for her decades of Holocaust education at the Cheltenham School District. A national award winning 6th grade teacher, Lise attributes her dedication to teaching Holocaust history to her own Great Grandmother’s instrumental role in resisting the Nazi’s attempts to deport the entire Jewish population of Denmark.For additional information and to make reservations call 215.464.4701 or email info@hamec.org.

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