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Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

January 27 marks the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp.

In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly designated this day as International Holocaust Remembrance Day (IHRD), an annual day of commemoration to honor the victims of the Nazi era.

From 1940 to 1945, more than 1.1 million men, women and children were killed in the Auschwitz concentration camp. 90% of them were Jews. All were innocent. Today, we remember

Never Again.

Elie Wiesel, the Auschwitz survivor who became an eloquent witness for the six million Jews slaughtered in World War II and who, more than anyone, seared the memory of the Holocaust on the world’s conscience, died on Saturday at his home in Manhattan. He was 87. (via the Times)

Holocaust survivor and activist for justice Hedy Epstein dies at 91

From Mondoweiss

Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, 91, died at her home in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, on May 26, 2016. An internationally renowned, respected and admired advocate for human and civil rights, Hedy was encircled by friends who lovingly cared for her at home.

Born August 15, 1924, in the Baden-Württemberg region of Germany, her lifelong commitment to human rights was formed by the horrific experiences she and her family endured under the repressive Nazi regime.

Unable to secure travel documents for themselves, Hedy’s parents, Hugo and Ella (Eichel) Wachenheimer, arranged for 14-year-old Hedy to leave Germany on a Kindertransport. Hedy credited her parents with giving her life a second time when they sent her to England to live with kind-hearted strangers. Hedy’s parents, grandparents, and most of her aunts, uncles and cousins did not survive the Holocaust. Hedy remained in England until 1945 when she returned to Germany to work for the United States Civil Service. She joined the Nuremberg Doctors Trial prosecution in 1946 as a research analyst.

Hedy immigrated to the United States in 1948. She and her husband moved to St. Louis in the early 1960s, and shortly thereafter Hedy began working as a volunteer with the Freedom of Residence, Greater St. Louis Committee, a nonprofit organization dedicated to housing integration and advocacy for fair housing laws. Hedy worked for many years as a volunteer and board member, and ultimately served as the organization’s executive director during the mid-1970s.

During the 1980s, Hedy worked as a paralegal for Chackes and Hoare, a law firm that represented individuals in employment discrimination cases. As an advocate for equality and human rights, Hedy spoke out against the war in Vietnam, the bombing of Cambodia, and overly restrictive U.S. immigration policies. She spoke and acted in support of the Haitian boat people and women’s reproductive rights, and, following the 1982 massacre at Sabra and Shatila, Hedy began her courageous and visionary work for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine.

During her later years, Hedy continued to advocate for a more peaceful world, and in 2002 was a founding member of the St. Louis Instead of War Coalition. Much of her later activism centered on efforts to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine. She founded the St. Louis chapter of Women in Black and co-founded the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee and the St. Louis chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace. She traveled to the West Bank several times, first as a volunteer with the nonviolent International Solidarity Movement and repeatedly as a witness to advocate for Palestinian human rights. She attempted several times to go to Gaza as a passenger with the Freedom Flotilla, including as a passenger on the Audacity of Hope, and once with the Gaza Freedom March. Hedy addressed numerous groups and organizations throughout Europe and returned to Germany and her native village of Kippenheim many times.

Three days after her 90th birthday, Hedy was arrested for “failure to disperse.” She was attempting to enter Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s St. Louis office to ask for deescalation of police and National Guard tactics which had turned violent in response to protests following the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Hedy was a member of the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center’s speakers’ bureau and gave countless talks at schools and community events. She shared her Holocaust experiences with thousands of Missouri youth as a featured speaker at the Missouri Scholars Academy for more than twenty years. She ended every talk with three requests: remember the past, don’t hate, and don’t be a bystander. Through the years, Hedy received numerous awards and honors for her compassionate service and relentless pursuit of justice.

Hedy is survived by son Howard (Terry) Epstein, and granddaughters Courtney and Kelly. She was beloved and will be truly missed by countless friends in St. Louis and around the world.

Once upon a time in the 1980s, when I was a twenty-year-old graduate student full of arrogance and attitude, I worked in the Hebrew books and manuscripts division of the Judaica Department at Sotheby’s New York. My boss was the “Judaica expert,” the late, great Jay Weinstein, a man truly deserving of his title, which he bore with immense modesty and humour. My own title was also “expert” but, by way of contrast, it only exacerbated my supercilious arrogance when I found myself called to the front desk to meet a client… The client I was about to meet on the day I am describing had called a week before to tell me that he was in possession of “a very old Hebrew book.” I was not looking forward to the encounter, since auction experts know very well that the hoi polloi consider anything more than ten years old to be ancient and hence of untold value. Disabusing clients of this notion as it applies to their particular treasure is an often painful but necessary task…
Mr. X, I was dismayed to find, embodied all my worst fears. Stooped, elderly, still in his coat, and eager — very eager. Authoritative and disdainful though I made myself, he was simply unimpressed by my “impressiveness.” With total focus and trembling hands, he reached into a plastic shopping bag and produced, wrapped in newspaper older than I was, his “treasure” — a book of Psalms, printed in Warsaw in 1920. I couldn’t believe this monumental waste of my precious time — a brand new book of Psalms would be worth more than this! I was exasperated by this schlepper, and I wanted to tell him so. I wanted to show him the real treasures — gold, silver, ancient, and precious illuminated manuscripts — that had been entrusted into my “expert” care. I wanted to show him the door as I told him with authoritative disdain, “That book is worth whatever you paid for it!”
But at that moment, like the angel in the legend who moves Moses’ hand toward the glowing coal rather than the glittering crown, thus saving his life, some kindly spirit moved my tongue. And instead of that anticipated send-off, I faltered, “Um, what did you pay for this?” The old man drew himself up to his full 5 feet, 2 inches. “For this, I paid seven days’ Auschwitz bread,” he replied with a dignity that totally deflated my pose. It seems that the Nazis had caught him with the little Psalm book, and as a penalty for possessing it, imprisoned him without food — only water to drink — for an entire week. Like Moses touching the coal to his lips, I was struck dumb. “This,” I stammered, “is too valuable for us to sell.” And I stumbled out of the room, a changed young man, with a new appreciation of what is meant by the words precious, valuable, and treasured.
No, one cannot be proud of their Nazi “heritage”.

Today in class, we discussed case studies having to do with ethical dilemmas in student affairs. One of them involved a student hanging a Confederate flag in his dorm room, thereby angering African American students on his floor. According to the case study, the student who hung the flag argued that he was honoring his great-grandfather, who fought for the Confederate army. The group that presented the case study to the class - which included an African American woman - decided that the student had the right to privately display the flag.

And then our professor asked the question that made the rest of class highly unpleasant for me: “What if it were a swastika?”

I, as the only Jewish person in the class (and in my entire school, I’m pretty sure), felt obligated to comment. I essentially said that if I knew someone had a swastika displayed in their room, I could do nothing other than avoid them and let them be “horrible” somewhere other than in my presence. Then, one of my peers said it was unfair to “assume” such a person was horrible. That you cannot judge someone on what they come from. I returned that no one should be proud of being a descendant of a Nazi. She replied: “Why?” and added that we cannot categorize an entire group of people as awful. To which another peer added that many of them “didn’t have a choice” because “their own lives were on the line”.

I was outnumbered, hurt, and angry. So I shut down. But here’s what I have to say now.

If someone has any sort of Nazi paraphernalia for purposes other than the preservation of history, they are horrible. If your grandfather was a Nazi, I don’t judge you. If your grandfather was a Nazi and you condone his actions or are proud of his “service”, I want absolutely nothing to do with you.

Here’s the thing. The Confederate army fought a war. They had a cause, wrong as it was. The Nazis committed a genocide. They tortured and murdered men, women, and children in unthinkable ways. And unless they were plucked off the street as young boys and brainwashed by the Nazi party, they had choices. If someone were to tell me I would be killed unless I herded thousands of innocent people into gas chambers, I would take a bullet to the head without a second thought.

The Nazis almost wiped my people off the face of the Earth. Which is why I sat as the lone Jewish girl in a classroom full of peers who had no idea how much pain their words were causing.

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january 27 is holocaust remembrance day. it was on this day in 1945 that the soviet army liberated auschwitz concentration camp. it is estimated that at least 1.3 million people were deported to auschwitz between 1940 and 1945. of these, a minimum of 1.1 million were murdered.

it’s worth noting that the u.s. state department knew about the genocide as early as 1942, but actively sought to suppress public knowledge. also of note, the war department declined to bomb the extermination facilities and the railway lines leading to auschwitz because it was deemed “too far a flight”, even though u.s. bombers flew directly over the camp to bomb oil factories only five kilometres away.

in 1955, an exhibition at the camp opened to the public, displaying such things as prisoner mug shots; hair (of which almost eight tonnes was found by the red army) and shoes taken from murdered prisoners; and canisters of zyklon b pellets used for gassing.

to learn more, see “auschwitz: the nazis and ‘the final solution,“ ”escape from auschwitz,“ ”america and the holocaust: deceit and indifference“ (and william j vanden heuvel’s response), and “god on trial”. photos by bruno tamiozzo

I had a friend who claimed to be Jewish. He wasn’t, and isn’t, and never will be. For him, it was a fasionable alienation, a thing that he could use to make himself an outlier without actually putting himself at risk. I tolerated this, because there’s a certain amount of smiling and thinking this too shall pass when you’re Jewish.

Sometimes, it surprises people to learn that anti-Semitism is alive and well. It flies under the radar. We don’t like to think about it, as a society: there’s a very real sense of “we’re sorry we used you as our scapegoat and murdered tens of thousands of your people per year for two thousand years, and then let a madman wipe out one third of your population, but that’s in the past. Why aren’t you smiling? You’re rich, right? You control all the money and banks and movies…”

Back in the Medieval Ages, Europe took that whole Christian thing pretty seriously. Jesus was against lending money and charging interest, so royalty lent their money to Jewish communities and had them charge interest, then took it all. Jews were given the worst land to live on and forced to be tax collectors, and if the nobility charged people too much and they rebelled? “Well, it’s the fault of the Jews. Blame them. Kill them. They’re only Jews.”

I disagree with the Zionists and what they’ve done to the Palestinians, but I understand their fervor. A large reason why all these atrocities happened was because there was no Jewish homeland - if you were, say, a Frenchman visiting Spain and the Spanish were mean to you, France would step up to protect you. The Jews had no homeland. No one stood for us, and for two thousand years people took advantage of that.

Have you heard of Yiddish? Of course you have. It’s that funny sounding language that Jews sometimes speak in sitcoms or movies. It’s a real language, a sort of ‘pig-Hebrew’ that was developed in the East Roman Empire. There was another language just like it spoken by Jews living in Western Europe called Sephardic. No one speaks it anymore. Everyone that did was burned to ashes to satisfy the misplaced religious bloodlust of a death cult.

I’ve had pennies thrown at my feet. I try and talk about it and people say that doesn’t happen or you don’t look Jewish, or any one of a dozen other things. I explain that most Jewish holidays boil down to they tried to kill us and failed… let’s get drunk. Smile. Laugh. It’s funny.

1941 was before Pearl Harbor. The United States was still very isolationist. When Hitler put Jews on boats and told the world what he wanted to do to them, the United States didn’t take them. The Jews at that point were allowed to do one of two things by the people that, for two thousand years, had done little more than murder and kill them whenever they felt like it.

In 1941, two Jews invented the character of Captain America. The concept was two-fold; on one hand, Steve Rogers was to be the Aryan Ideal turned in on itself, the Superman made someone who was inherently decent, the conscience of his world. The second was a plea; by calling the character Captain America, these two Jews were asking America to remember its dream and live up to that ideal.

The creators of Captain America had family that the Nazis murdered. They went and fought in that war to save the Jews that the world left to die.

Jokingly, I’ve written a column called God of Comics. I know how comics work, and in regards to this there will be a separate article about how this storyline is a symptom of a larger problem that is choking that industry. So, yes: the Captain America that is now a Nazi will be explained away as being a Skrull, or a clone, or from a different time line, or any one of a hundred different outs. It will be retconned; the company that has allowed this to happen will hope that it will be forgotten.   

It won’t be.

It took Marvel ten years to salvage something of Iron Man from Civil War. Without the movies, I do not think they would have had any idea of where to start. Now, we’re hollowing out an icon that was meant to stand against a thing by making him a part of that thing.

Yes, this too shall pass. It’s comics, another form of fiction, and people that don’t understand the power of fiction will dismiss it as such. It will be fixed, you think, when it gets retconned out of existence for being the idiot idea that it is.

And it is an idiot idea. It’s click-bait built on the deaths of eleven million people, over half of which were just the latest atrocity committed against the Jewish people.

I don’t know how to end this. I try not to quote other people, mostly, as I think that as a writer I should be able to speak for myself. Yet, in this instance, I’m bowing out to Sigrid Ellis, the Jew that does the panels for a comic called Pretty Deadly:

“And knowing that this wound is temporary, that it’s for the sake of sales and money and a story beat, that just makes it hurt more, not less. How little we must matter, the people who needed Steve to be the defender of the underdog and the weak, how little we must matter if betraying us for a story beat is so easy.

"How little must we matter. The people who created Captain America, and Superman, and countless other heroes like them. The people who need him. The people whose history and suffering and hope, as we stood on the brink of annihilation, gave you your weekly entertainment and your fun thought experiment, 75 years later.

"I hope it was worth it, Marvel.”

Smile, everyone. This too shall pass.