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A World Without Holocaust Survivors

April 9, 2012 5:04 pm 6 comments

Survivors of the Mauthausen concentration camp cheer the soldiers of the Eleventh Armored Division of the U.S. Third Army one day after their actual liberation in May 1945. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration.

As the number of Holocaust survivors able to give direct testimony about their horrific experiences during World War II is dropping precipitously, the Jewish community is seriously considering how the Holocaust narrative may adjust to a future where no eyewitnesses remain.

According to Hillary Kessler-Godin of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, about 500,000 survivors remain alive worldwide. The Holocaust Survivors Assistant Act of 2011 estimated that about 127,000 survivors were still alive in the United States, and Dr. Paul Winkler, executive director of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education, suggests that over the past six or seven years the number of survivors in New Jersey has decreased from 5,000 to about 2,000.

Speaking to these demographic realities, Dr. Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, says, “As I tell my students, they are really the last generation that will be able to say they personally knew individuals who experienced the Shoah.”

April 18 marks this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, known as “Yom HaShoah” in Israel. As scholars and educators consider a future without survivors, some focus on preserving the literal memory of the Holocaust as both a sacred obligation to the victims and an educational tool for ensuring “never again.” Others suggest that more effective ways to remember the tragedy will be new ritualized commemorations and even Holocaust fiction.

According to Sarna, the next generation of students will learn about the Holocaust through “received” rather than “perceived” wisdom.” Since received wisdom is much more challenging to use in a commemorative event, the future will place new demands on the Jewish community. “I think what will need to happen is to somehow ritualize the commemoration of the Shoah the way we ritualize the commemoration of the destruction of the second Temple,” says Sarna.

As the generation now coming of age moves beyond simply hearing testimony to creating new ways to mark the Holocaust and keep it meaningful, Sarna suggests that new commemorations will have to evoke multiple meanings, as does the Passover seder— with lessons ranging from man’s inhumanity to man, to the Zionist idea that Jews are never safe, to the importance of the State of Israel as well as lessons of courage, resistance, and the strength of the human spirit.

At the same time, the messages to young people need to be balanced if they are not to invoke what is termed “Holocaust fatigue.”

“I’m sure we do not want to teach young Jews that the only reason to be Jewish is because people want to kill and destroy Jews and … because we don’t want to give posthumous victories to Hitler,” says Sarna. “Nevertheless I think it would be disastrous for humanity if we allowed the memory of the Shoah to dissipate; our job is to keep the memory fresh and to ensure that these lessons are learned anew in every generation.”

For Jewish educators and museum professionals, the focus remains on survivor testimony. Diane Saltzman, director of survivor affairs at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, suggests that the survivors—as eyewitnesses—remain our best teachers. “While we are fortunate to still have them, we are trying to document from them as much as possible about their experiences,” she says. “What they provide is something no one else can provide.”

New Jersey’s Holocaust Commission under Winkler has been responding over the last five years to the diminishing numbers of survivors with a three-pronged transitional effort: ensuring that as many New Jersey students as possible meet a survivor; training second-, third, and even fourth-generation groups to make sure they know their parents’ stories and how to share them; and giving teacher workshops on how to teach about the Holocaust without the presence of a survivor and how to respond to questions influenced by people who question the veracity of the Holocaust.

Acknowledging the need for some ritualized programs on Yom HaShoah, Winkler suggests that education is the real key to Holocaust remembrance: “If we don’t have teachers educate students on an ongoing basis on the evils of bias, prejudice, bigotry, holocaust, and genocide, we won’t succeed.”

Both the New Jersey Holocaust Commission and the Holocaust Museum will also continue their efforts to draw links between the Holocaust and other genocides, as Winkler says, “to make sure people see that these evils could happen to any group.”

Yehuda Kurtzer, president of Shalom Hartmann Institute of North America and author of Shuva: The Future of the Jewish Past, suggests that making meaning about the past, and the Holocaust in particular may be the defining struggle of this generation.

Whereas up to now making meaning from the Holocaust has been exclusively the right of survivors. But this view, of which Elie Wiesel is the architect, is not in consonance with the traditional Jewish practice of remembering past events via ritual, liturgy, theology, and Jewish practice, but rather defines history by those who lived through it.

For example, the martyrology service on Yom Kippur, says Kurtzer, “is a series of historical events made into a mythology … in a search for truth that goes beyond historicity. It speaks to larger values we are hoping to embody out of those experiences of the Jewish past that are more than what actually happened to individuals.”

In the future, suggests Kurtzer, the Holocaust may mean an obligation for people who did not live through it to imagine themselves doing so, as Jews do for slavery during the Passover seder. “If we do, we have to be willing for the story to change,” he says.

This may mean valuing fiction as we do memoir as a means of capturing Holocaust memory. Alluding to Ruth Franklin’s book A Thousand Darknesses, he says, “In some ways it [i.e., fictionalization] makes it better, makes it adaptable, and you can actually learn something from it.”

In his new book, Kurtzer has tried to advance an almost theological approach with regard to “how Jews in the past take things historically very real to them and still craft a system where they could take what they needed from the past and leave what they didn’t need behind, in some ways transcending history… If it going to matter to Jews about the past, it has to not be about historic memory but about mythic meaning.”

6 Comments

  • Holocaust Claims Conference Just Waiting for Survivors to Die To Spend Their Money rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

  • My major suggestion which will get Rabbis, the Jewish community, Second Generation and Holocaust survivors involved is: those Holocaust survivors in need of food, medication, etc will be first priority. There are obviously some Holocaust survivors who are comfortable. The added funds from the Claims would be beneficial to their children and grandchildren for education, day schools , yeshivas, college tuition, programs on college campuses and Holocaust teaching programs on the university level with scholarships for these families.. This might awaken those who are uninterested because at this point they see no personal benefit. I don’t know the legalities of this but I do know that children, grand children and great grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, especially if they are religious , are in need of these funds. There should be a way to include those families where the Holocaust survivors have perished, but their children and grandchildren could benefit greatly from the funds. These funds could also be used for other purposes for these 2G, 3G, and 4G families. Unfortunately the courts decided that survivors and their children and grandchildren should not have the same rights as every other American to sue insurers who cheat them out of their policy proceeds. That is the decision that an attorney has been trying to overturn via Federal legislation over the past 6 years, unsuccessfully of course. We should all fight to undo this injustice.

    Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

  • by RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG IS IT TRUE THAT the Claims Conference SEEMS to be paying an alleged Nazi sympathizer reparations.

    Two years ago, I read an article about Alex Kurzem in a Melbourne newspaper. Having watched the “60 minutes” segment in horror and disbelief, I’ve followed this story and the Jewish Claims Conference’s involvement.

    As a Rabbi, I am ashamed by the Conference’s lack of scrutiny in its determination of Kurzem’s eligibility for reparations – based purely on a tall tale, which now appears even to have included a fraudulent document! Surely, the Conference has a fiduciary responsibility and owes those who truly were persecuted by the Nazis, to be thorough and discriminating in its validation of veracity. It did not fulfill that responsibility.

    Please explain to me, how it is you have been aware of the doubts and inaccuracies of Mr. Kurzem’s story since 2009, yet have done nothing about rescinding his reparations?

    How does the Claims Conference accept, tolerate, and apparently condone, that in 1972, Kurzem provided an affidavit endorsing the good character of Nazi SS Colonel Karlis Lobe?

    Please help me understand the inconsistency in the Haaretz article appearing last year, where Greg Schneider was quoted as saying no fraud was found in Kurzem’s application.Yet in the same article, Kurzem claims he never said he “was Ilya Galperin” , the person he claimed to be when filling out his application for reparations.

    How does the Conference define persecution? In a 2008 Penthouse article Kurzem is quoted as saying, the Nazis were “my family”, “I felt safe; I wasn’t hungry and I was looked after”. Please tell me, Rabbi Berman, that cannot possibly qualify as persecution by the Conference’s criteria, can it?

    A multi-million dollar fraud was committed on your watch already. Isn’t that enough embarrassment to the Jewish community? I don’t need to remind you of the higher standard to which we, as Jews are always held, and that the Conference cannot afford its integrity to be doubted or compromised.

    Six million are owed so much more, Rabbi Berman! Isn’t it time the Conference came clean on Kurzem?

    IS IT TRUE THAT the Claims Conference SEEMS to be paying an alleged Nazi sympathizer reparations.
    The Testimonies Director at the Centre, Mr Phillip Maisel, who recorded Kurzem’s story formed the impression that his interviewee was not being entirely truthful: “There was something strange about his story, something didn’t add up.” Researcher Colleen Fitzpatrick, concerned with preserving an accurate history of the Jewish Holocaust, has written: “Mr. Kurzem not only has and will continue to experience substantial financial gain and recognition from his books and his movie, he also lectures internationally to school children, thereby feeding the next generation with what may be distortions of the truth.”

  • BernhardRosenberg – YouTube PLEASE SHARE
    http://www.youtube.com/user/BernhardRosenberg

    Nice Peter’s Youtube … Please send to you friend and family to view … Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg shares his response to the statement that was made at an …

  • Anti Semites Are Having a Field Day

    by Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg, child of Holocaust survivors

    5 Fairhill Road, Edison, NJ 08817

    732 572 7266

    The shenanigans going on with the Holocaust Claims Conference and the daily reports in various newspapers is reprehensible. If I were not a child of Holocaust survivors and Jewish I would truly develop anti Semitic feelings and be jealous with hatred of the Jewish people. Why? Jews have been hated throughout history because non Jews believe we control the financial world and find every possible method to steal money from others.

    . I am sixty five years old and was born in a DP camp.. My parents, survivors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald died when I was relatively young. Except for a cousin, their entire families perished in the Holocaust and all their property including land and businesses was taken from them. Any elderly Holocaust survivor who is in need of food, medicine or financial assistance which Germany just made available should receive the additional funding through the Holocaust Claims Conference.

    Due to the mishandling and theft involved with the Holocaust Claims Conference the world is regarding the entire Jewish population as thieves. Is this the legacy we want after many of us lost most of our families to the Nazis?

    While I realize Holocaust survivors will say that the money given by Germany belongs to them, I can suggest other venues where this money would help the children, grandchildren and future generations of those who suffered in the Holocaust. There certainly are many Holocaust survivors who financially did well after the war. I am sure they would also like to see funding from the Holocaust Claims conference used for the Jewish education of their children and future generations. How many Rabbinical Theological schools offer courses in Holocaust history or education? This is the way to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and those who died. Day schools are in desperate need of financial assistance and synagogues are having financial problems. Many young Jewish families, especially Religious families are struggling to keep kosher, send their children to Yeshivas, support synagogues and purchase homes in religious neighborhoods.

    Are we going to allow the same leadership of the Holocaust Claims Conference to misappropriate and mismanage funds to the point where over fifty million dollars was stolen? It is time for new leadership. Unless others join me in speaking out, ten years from now we will be reading about more theft and misuse of funds while most of the Holocaust will have died.

    Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

  • 1.

    These are some of the anti Semitic responses I received ; thought I would share them with you. This only encourages me to fight harder. Please help me condemn the Holocaust claims Conference and ask for the dismissal of their leadership.

    RABBI DR. BERNHARD Rosenberg

    Reply

    â—¦
    Brian
    May 25, 2013 – 4:21 pm

    Fuck off RosenKIKE !!!

    Reply

    2.
    Reverend Loki
    May 25, 2013 – 4:28 pm

    “You speak for our Kedoshim, the martyrs who are no longer with us, as well for the few who are still alive.”

    “kedoshim” IS YIDD FOR LICE.
    “the martyrs” ARE THE BILLION OF LICE THAT THE “BAD” NATIONAL SOCIALISTS GASSED WITH ZYKLON-B.

    OY VEY, OY VEY.

    rosenbugger GO JOIN THE kedoshim, BASTARD.

    Reply THIS IS A THREAT KEDOSHIM MEANS THOSE HOLY ONES WHO ARE DEAD.

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