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October 23, 2017 10:43 am

Filmmaker Faces Harsh Criticism for Claiming Chasidic Jews Were Killed in Holocaust Because They ‘Refused to Blend In’

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Heidi Ewing in 2016. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Filmmaker Heidi Ewing faced a storm of criticism on Sunday for asserting that Chasidic Jews were targeted by the Nazis during the Holocaust partially because they “refused to blend in.”

During an interview on the “Charlie Rose” show on Thursday, Ewing talked about the Chasidim — followers of a stream of Orthodox Judaism which has its roots in 18th century Eastern Europe. At the time, she said, “the community wasn’t as cloistered and insular as it is today,” adding, “The vast majority of Chasidic Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust partly because they refused to blend in. They kept wearing the clothing. They were sort of loud and proud about their identity. And the vast majority died in the Holocaust.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper — associate dean and director of global social action at the Simon Wiesenthal Center — told The Algemeiner on Sunday that Ewing’s comments left him “almost at a loss for words.” He added, “[Jews] were killed because they were Jews. The Nazi definition of a Jew – there was a church in the Warsaw ghetto! — it was a racial definition. People who were not even halachically (by Jewish law) Jewish were targeted also for suffering and ultimately extermination. So I don’t quite get it, as if … the fact that they maintained their identity was the reason for their death sentence? It’s ridiculous.”

Furthermore, Cooper said, “It’s not as if for the Jews who were dressed like Aryans everything would have be fine. I’m in Paris right now, there were many tens of thousands of French Jews who were deported from here. They didn’t look any different from the rest of the Frenchmen, and they were deported to Auschwitz.”

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Chabad Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone took to Twitter to condemn Ewing’s remarks. “This is appalling,” he said. “It’s … an insult to the many Jews across the religious spectrum that were killed in the Holocaust. Cities likes Warsaw and Vilna, strongholds of traditional Judaism also had large secular populations. Nazi bullets and gas killed them all.”

The Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council also condemned Ewing’s comments, calling them “outrageous” and Chaskel Bennett, founder of the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition, called on Ewing to issue a retraction. He noted, “the Nazi ‘final solution’ endeavored to exterminate ALL JEWS!”

Ewing — who wrote and co-directed the documentary film “One of Us,” which chronicles the lives of three former Chasidic Jews from Brooklyn — responded to the criticism with a statement, saying, “I am sorry if my words on Charlie Rose caused any pain and would like to clarify their meaning. The devastating losses that the Jewish community suffered at the hands of the Nazis is unspeakable. Almost half the population of world Jewry was destroyed by the Nazis and their collaborators, whole communities destroyed.”

She continued: “In the midst of this sweeping genocide, Hasidic Jews suffered disproportionate losses during the Holocaust partially because they were more easily identified and therefore had more difficulty hiding. This has been documented by multiple historians. It took great courage for Hasidic Jews at that time to refuse to change their appearance to look more like the general European public. I am only filled with respect and admiration for any person who chooses to live their own truth.”

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