Courtesy of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Remember the Women Institute mourns the passing of Richard J. Scheuer, a loyal supporter and kind, intelligent friend who encouraged our projects both philanthropically and ideologically. A real estate executive and philanthropist, Mr. Scheuer spent his retirement years in Jewish communal affairs, as an active supporter of several Reform institutions, Israeli archeology and The Jewish Museum. He not only generously funded these projects, but was also personally involved in them. He served as chairman of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and The Jewish Museum in New York , was a leader of the effort to expand the Reform movement’s rabbinical school in Jerusalem, and to encourage rabbinical students to spend a year studying in Israel. He was an advocate of women becoming rabbis and cantors, and he was a supporter of a K-12 school that was founded on HUC-JIR’s Jerusalem campus. He deeply believed in and worked for advancing liberal Judaism in a pluralistic Jewish State of Israel. A resident of Larchmont, New York, he also maintained a home in Jerusalem.
Richard Scheuer’s “mission grounded in his passion for biblical history and archaeological research and publication shaped his vision for the expansion of [the HUC-JIR] Jerusalem campus, the growth of [the HUC-JIR] Israeli rabbinical and education programs, and the launching of the Tali school system for pluralistic education in Israel,” according to Rabbi David Ellenson, HUC-JIR president. We emphatically agree with Rabbi Ellison that Mr. Scheuer's “commitment to the State of Israel, and love for the Jewish people as well as his intellectual curiosity, generous spirit and warm and kind heart will endure as an abiding source of inspiration.”
Born in Long Lake, New York, he attended the Fieldston School in the Bronx, and Harvard College. In mid-life he earned a master’s degree in ancient history from New York University. He received honorary doctorate degrees from HUC-JIR and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and was named an Honorary Fellow of Jerusalem by Mayor Teddy Kollek.
An officer in the Army Signal Corps during World War II, he earned a Bronze Star. After the war he joined his father’s real estate firm, and became active in advancing the quality of education in the Reform movement. Interested in archeology, he accompanied Nelson Glueck, president of HUC-JIR from 1947 to 1971, on visits to excavation sites in Israel, and was a major contributor to several archaeological organizations.
Richard Scheuer died on November 7, 2008, at the age of 91, succumbing to heart failure after surgery. He is survived by his wife, Joan Gross Scheuer; two sons, Daniel and Jonathan; a daughter, Marian Scheuer Sofaer; a brother, Steven; a sister, Amy Scheuer Cohen, and 11 grandchildren. May his memory be for a blessing.
MY SWAN SONG by Judy Weissenberg Cohen,
(Judy Cohen of Toronto, Canada reports on her mission trip to Berlin and Poland in May 2007, under the auspices of the Canadian Centre For Diversity. She traveled with 63 university students from all over Canada, with diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds.)
We started walking into history in Berlin. Intellectually, and historically, the students really appreciated our journey to start in Berlin and I achieved my long-held conviction that it is important to begin these educational missions about the Holocaust in the country where it all begun, and in chronological order within the time constraint of less than two days. Where to begin?
Bebel Platz, first stop – with the empty library underground, can be viewed through a glass panel on the ground – tells us about the massive book burning of Jewish and non-Jewish authors’ publications that took place in May 1933 – five months after the Nazis came to power.
The Wannsee Conference House Memorial with
its elegant dining room and vast photo documentation was one of the "highlights"
where the group "met" the educated, gauleiters, high-ranking
SS merchants of death, the planners of death camps and gas-chambers for
their intended fast and furious mass murder to accomplish what they called
the "final solution" of European Jews but also planning the
killing of hundreds of thousands of others. The planning of the expulsion
and eventual murder, over a lavish dinner, took less than two hours and
is richly documented here with a vast array of photos and documents. This
was the introduction to the implementation and what the students will
witness in Poland
Topography of Terror Walkway on Stresemannstrasse speaks of the extensive terror of the Nazi regime and is located in the area where the terror houses operated.
Architect, Daniel Liebeskind’s Jewish Museum, with its adjacent Holocaust Tower (The Void) and The Garden of Exile and all the rich cultural and historical exhibits was a revelation to all of us about the long, sometimes arduous but illustrious history of German Jews - from the Middle Ages to the Holocaust period and to the present time.
Field of Steles – a Memorial to the murdered Jews
of Europe (Architect, Peter Eisenman) was our next stop.
It is a controversial monument, consists of 2,700 dark gray, concrete
slabs – supposedly represents a cornfield or subject to any other
interpretation and located in the heart of Berlin.
Underneath these massive slabs of concrete is a most remarkable Documentation/Information Centre, which I cannot praise enough. It is about the victims. It has several rooms. It would take too long to describe them all, so I will do only two. In the Dimension room, on white slabs, placed on the floor, lit from underneath, are engraved the last letters, written by victims to their loved ones left behind and who were quite aware of their impending doom. These are most compelling testimonies.
In the Room of Families there are on display the entire histories, with photos and documents, in lit wall panels, of fifteen families, from different countries, indicating in contrasting colour on adjacent, narrow side panels, who and how many members in the family did not survive. One of these families is about my friend Gabor Hirsch's family from Békéscsaba, Hungary. A fantastic documentation of individual families and their lives and deaths – the way the Holocaust ought to be recorded because the details are most telling.
Poland next – to see the end result of all the planning in Wannsee and its successful implementation in Nazi occupied Poland.
Every time I am back in Auschwitz-Birkenau, (this was my 4th and last time for sure) that singular feeling of the past still hunts me – my stomach is in a wrenching knot due to apprehension – but otherwise there is nothing there any more that are so vivid in my memory, the sources of our unbearable existence then - the bare floors to sleep on in the barracks of “Mexico”; the individual kubliks in designated areas, that served as toilets; the muddy zehlappelplatz in pouring rain; the water truck bringing in water once a day over which we fought fiercely till nothing remained in our cups; the brutality of the SS guards, the Kapos and various prisoners in authority, always yelling and screaming, using their short rubber truncheons generously, to prove their worth and the prisoners with their empty gaze, emaciated bodies, wrapped in rags, always fearful of yet another “selection” to be torn from a loved one or, to be gassed.
The students came on this journey to see what cannot be seen any more, to hear what cannot be heard any more and smell the putrid odour of burning, human flesh that evaporated eons ago. We, the witnesses are special interpreters of those terrible times, trying to convey an undeliverable message from the dead to the living, born many decades later - a daunting and near impossible task.
It is absolutely surreal: Auschwitz-Birkenau, the biggest murder factory
of the Nazi era is today a tourist attraction. Tourist buses are lining
up, the people are pouring out of them, from tiny Japanese ladies with
colourful sunbrellas to young Polish students - all are coming (understanding
what happened there is another question) and it is so crowded in the museum
barracks that we are hurried along much too fast to give space to other
groups - not the best teaching tool.
In our group the students were sincerely interested in Holocaust studies, ranging in age 23-30 (and one 49 year old mature), some with Masters Degrees, enrolled in various academic disciplines but history students were in the majority.
I love to be the survivor/interpreter/teacher to such a group. We can discuss issues and historically significant events on a level I prefer to talk. I am reasonably sure that while they were affected emotionally, they will also think about the serious issues long after the "mission" is over. In fact, some of them are in touch with me now, via e-mail, so that teaching and learning continues.
In contrast to Birkenau, the Majdanek death
camp is intact –the Nazis didn’t have time to destroy anything
– and it is far more telling as to what a Nazi death camp was all
about. I had little to add to the obvious “visuals”- the gas
chamber, the crematoria ovens and the huge mound of human ash with bits
and pieces of bone protruding.
Then came Treblinka. Our Israeli-Polish guide told us that in Poland Treblinka is considered the most dramatic of all camps, a vast cemetery for approximately 800,000 Jews, who were brought there for the sole purpose only to be murdered in a few months, then plowed under and the terrain was given to a Ukrainian farmer who used it for farming, of course – like nothing unusual ever happened there.
Today, all you can see there are thousands of memorial stones and boulders, of various sizes, representing thousands of small and large Jewish communities that were totally obliterated from the map of Poland. There is only one large boulder marked with a name, that of Janusz Korczak, the famous Polish-Jewish pediatrician, teacher, educator and humanitarian - who was murdered there along with 200+ orphaned children from the Warsaw ghetto, his wards in an orphanage. He voluntarily went to his death instead of abandoning the children to face alone their deadly fate.
The other extremely moving experience, even for an emotionally well
"armoured" person like me, was the small town of Tycosyn
- that has not changed, we were told, since WWII. Historical
background: In this small town lived 1,400 Jews, getting along peacefully
with their Polish and Ukrainian neighbours for a couple of hundred years.
When Poland was partitioned by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, Tycosyn came under Soviet occupation for almost two years. When, unexpectedly, the Nazis broke the pact and attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, Tycosyn fell and came under Nazi occupation.
After a short period the Nazis told the Jews that they will give them
back everything the Soviets took from them and asked them to gather in
the town square (where Jews and non-Jews used to sell their farm produce
and handicrafts every week). Once, most, but not all Jews gathered, they
led them through a beautiful little, dense forest telling them that at
the other end they will find their belongings. Once they arrived, they
were shot, one by one. Those who hid were found and two days later had
the same fate. There are two mass graves there now marked by two memorials
- inscribed in Polish and Yiddish. Our group, in May 2007, starting out
from the same market square, followed the same route, arm-in-arm, in deadly
silence, wrapped in our own thoughts, walked through this beautiful forest
to the end where we saw the mass graves. We lit candles in their memory
and put stones on the memorials indicating - "you are not forgotten
- we remember you." It was a small, immensely intimate mourning and
With my mind's eye I could see the original "marchers" and wondered whether they sensed that something terrible would happen? On that spot, in that very moment, it occurred to me that there aren't enough candles in the world to mourn those millions of murdered victims and their would-be descendants - had they lived.
Our visits to ancient synagogues and equally ancient cemeteries gave us an inkling of the rich Jewish life that existed in Poland during the inter-war years.
The journey ended with a beautiful dinner and performances by the students
– readings, humor, and music.
I believe it was a meaningful and worthwhile mission for all those who participated. Hopefully, along with other educators I disseminated enough information, historical and personal, to create - if nothing more - keen awareness of the legal/political decisions and social processes that led from the first violation of human rights, to the suspension of all rights; from closing down the first Jewish business, to target them all; from uprooting the first Roma family, to murdering tens of thousands of them; from burning books to gassing and burning Jewish women, especially pregnant women, men and children.
I also hope that this awareness will make these students keen monitors of what’s happening in the world today and perhaps some of them will become activists for the betterment of the human condition wherever they happen to live.
We said our good byes with many hugs and the intention of staying in touch. While, most likely this was my last mission, I shall continue my public speaking and teaching through my web site right here in Toronto.
For more information, please see www.womenandtheholocaust.com
Clara Ambrus-Bayer, who saved Budapest Jews during the Holocaust, was
named a Righteous Among the Nations and honored at the Israel Consulate
in New York on August 18, 2006. “Clara is an example of how to behave
and do things in the future for all of us,” as her husband of sixty-two
years, Dr. Julian Ambrus, stated at the ceremony. Participating in the
ceremony were Ambassador Arye Mekel, Consul General of Israel in New York,
and Ambassador Gabor Horvath, Consul General of Hungary. Six of Clara's
seven children and other family members attended.
Clara Bayer was born in 1924 in Vatican City, Rome, where her father, an architect, was part of the Hungarian diplomatic mission. The family returned to Budapest when Clara was ten. Clara was in her first year of medical school in 1944, when the Nazis began to liquidate the Jews of Hungary. It was at this time that she devised a plan to hide Jews in the textile factory managed by her parents. The factory had been closed during the war because no materials were available, and the family decided to use it to hide Jews and members of the resistance.
Clara developed several elaborate hiding places in the factory attic and basement, and also in the family's home on the premises. Her job was to go to the ghettos and internment camps and to bribe guards to let people out. She then took them to the factory. She also brought people to the home of Julian's uncle, who was an Italian citizen and declared immunity for them.
Clara and her family shared their meager food supply with their hidden guests until the end of the war. Among those she saved was Rabbi Bela Eisenberg, who later became chief rabbi of Vienna. Clara's father was arrested by the Nazis on suspicion of hiding people, because he bought more food than the family would have needed. He was tortured without revealing the situation, returned home, and died soon afterward.
After the war Clara completed her medical studies in Zurich and then worked at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. Later she completed graduate studies at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. At present she is a Professor of Pediatrics and Obstetrics/Gynecology at SUNY Buffalo, New York, and she and her husband are both affiliated with the Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
As her husband Julian explained at the ceremony, Clara's selfless dedication to helping those in need did not end when the Nazis left Budapest and World War II ended. She also helped Hungarian victims of Communism. When a large number of Hungarians escaped in 1956 and came to the United States, they were placed in Camp Kilmer. In order to be released, they needed to have jobs. Clara and Julian were working at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and they found jobs for as many refugees as possible. To overcome some of the refugees' inability to speak English, they even found them jobs taking care of the research chimpanzees.
Clara is also the recipient of the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute's George F. Koepf Award for the Advancement of biomedical Research, and in 2000 she was named Outstanding Medical Woman of the Year at Buffalo General Hospital. The next year she was declared a Foreign Member of the National Academy of Science in Hungary. She was also named by the Pope as a Lady Commander of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.
I had the privilege of attending the moving ceremony honoring Clara, because her friends (and mine), Nathan and Toby Ticktin Back, formerly of Buffalo and now of Jerusalem, asked me to represent them. Nathan, Professor of Pharmacology in the School of Medicine, State University of New York/Buffalo, was a graduate student of Julian Ambrus and joined Clara and Julian as Research Scientist when they took up Senior Research positions at the Roswell Park Memorial Center in Buffalo. He described the couple as “special, caring people and remarkably creative and dedicated scientists,” and his “role models.” Toby, a Hebrew, Judaic and Holocaust studies educator, was the Founder and first Director of the Greater Buffalo Holocaust Research Center, which has the mission to remember the victims, honor the survivors, and educate the community through teacher training, a speakers bureau, and video testimonies of over 140 survivors (documented by Toby).
Although I have been researching and writing about the Holocaust for nearly thirty years, this was the first time that I had the opportunity to be part of a ceremony to name someone Righteous Among the Nations. Prof. Clara Ambrus-Bayer is modest despite her outstanding professional and personal achievements. She is a courageous heroine, who has finally received the recognition she so deserves for saving the lives of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.
By Rochelle G. Saidel.
March 2008 brought the sad news that Holocaust scholarship lost two men who made important contributions in the field. Both Dr. Stephen Feinstein and Dr. Lon Nuell were specifically interested in art and the Holocaust. Both also always encouraged the work of Remember the Women Institute and believed in the importance of studying the unique experiences of women during the Holocaust.
Stephen Feinstein died on March 4, stricken while giving a speech about the Holocaust at the Sabes Foundation Minneapolis Jewish Film Festival. Suddenly unable to speak, he was rushed to a Minneapolis hospital where he died at age 64. He was the director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and adjunct professor of history at the University of Minnesota.
He had previously taught at other colleges including the University of Wisconsin, was curator for many art exhibits, and spoke internationally about the Holocaust and genocide. He was responsible for bringing the exhibit, "Deadly Medicine" to the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul.
Although Dr. Feinstein specialized in genocide, he had a magnificent sense of humor. He could always be counted on to make his colleagues smile or laugh when the subject became too heavy to deal with, while retaining a sense of compassion for the victims of the Holocaust and genocide. The day before his death, colleagues planned to nominate him for the University of Minnesota Outstanding Service Award. Dr. Feinstein leaves behind his wife, Susan, his son, Jeremy, his daughter and son-in-law, Rebecca and Avi Winitzer, and two grandchildren, Sarah and Shammai.
Less than a week after Stephen Feinstein's untimely death, before we had a chance to begin to absorb it, on March 12 Dr. Leon Richard “Lon” Nuell, longtime professor of art at Middle Tennessee State University and a Commissioner on the Tennessee Commission on Holocaust Education, died at the age of 68. He had a massive stroke at Middle Tennessee Medical Center in Murfreesboro while recovering from hip surgery.
Dr. Nuell joined MTSU’s Department of Art in 1971 after earning his Doctorate of Education and Master of Science in art education from the University of Kansas and his Bachelor of Fine Arts in interior design from the Kansas City Art Institute. Prior to joining MTSU’s art faculty, he served as an assistant professor at what is now known as William Woods University in Missouri.
As the co-chair of MTSU's Holocaust Program, Dr. Nuell encouraged and supported including a session on sexual abuse of women during the Holocaust at the university's Fall 2007 Holocaust Studies Conference. This session was organized by Remember the Women Institute. He was appointed to the Tennessee Commission on Holocaust Education in 1990-2003 and presented with the ACLU’s First Amendment Award in 2002, among other honors. He is survived by his wife, Dr. Elizabeth “Christie” Nuell, also an MTSU art professor, and brother David Nuell of California, as well as three sons, Jordan of Minnesota; Isaac, who is a graduate student in Denver; and Aaron, who is a senior majoring in education at MTSU.
Stephane de Sakutin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Germaine Tillion in 2004, after Germany named her Commander of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic.
Remember the Women Institute honors and remembers French anthropologist and resistance fighter Germaine Tillion, arrested by the Gestapo on August 3, 1942 and incarcerated in Ravensbrück concentration camp. She was a member and leader of the Museum of Man resistance group. At Ravensbrück, where she was forced to build roads, she participated in resistance by such means as teaching history to the other prisoners and secretly keeping track of their fate.
When the camp was liberated by Soviet soldiers at the end of April 1945, she carried out undeveloped photographs that had been taken with a hidden camera. These photographs included documentation of medical experiments on the legs of Polish inmates. Her book about the camp, Ravensbrück, was translated from French into English and published by Doubleday in the United States in 1975. This was the first book in English to document life at Ravensbrück. In French the book had three versions, with Ms. Tillion augmenting previous information.
Ms. Tillion has been the subject of biographies, exhibitions, conferences and films in France, and was honored at the Ravensbrück memorial in 2007. She was one of the most decorated people in France, with awards including the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, presented to only four other women. President Nicolas Sarkozy sent her a letter expressing “the affection of the entire nation” to mark her 100th birthday.
Born in Allègre, France on May 30, 1907, she studied anthropology at the University of Paris and elsewhere, and in the 1930s she carried out research missions in Algeria. She returned to the subject of Algeria after the war, arguing about France's responsibility not to allow Algeria to sink into poverty.
Photo courtesy http://www.irenasendler.org/
Irena Sendler, Rescuer of Jewish Children During the Holocaust
Died in Warsaw at Age 98 on May 12, 2008
Remember the Women Institute honors and remembers Irena Sendler, who rescued 2,500 Warsaw Jewish children from deportation to Nazi death camps. In September 1939, when the Nazis invaded Poland, she was a 29-year-old social worker employed by Warsaw's social welfare department. In the fall of 1940, she watched the Nazis lock up 350,000 Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. As conditions there grew more and more critical, Mrs. Sendler joined Zegota, the code name for the Council for Aid to Jews in Occupied Poland. This underground network founded in December 1942 by psychologist Adolf Berman and six other prominent scholars, religious leaders, and social activists forged thousands of birth certificates and other documents to give Jews false identities. Sendler became head of the network's operation to smuggle Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto.
She entered the ghetto with a forged permit, using the code name Jolanta, and organized the effort to sneak the children out to orphanages, convents, and private homes in the Warsaw region. Mrs. Sendler worked with as group of about 30 volunteers, mostly women. She and Zegota devised several routes for smuggling children out of the ghetto, including sewer pipes and underground passageways. Some escaped through the courthouse, which had entrances on both the ghetto and Aryan sides, and other children were hidden in trunks, suitcases or sacks by a trolley driver and Zegota member. Another supporter, an ambulance driver, kept his dog beside him in the front seat and trained him to bark to camouflage any cries from the hidden babies. For some sixteen months, Sendler persuaded parents and grandparents to hand over their babies and children, giving them a chance to live. Whenever possible, she wrote down the child's Jewish name and new Christian name and new address. She buried these names in jars under an apple tree in a friend's garden, hoping the children could later be located and reunited with their families.
On October 20, 1943, the Gestapo arrested Mrs. Sendler. They had long suspected she was running a smuggling operation, and one of her messengers had been caught and tortured until she gave up Mrs. Sendler's name and home address. The Gestapo interrogated Mrs. Sendler, demanding information about the identities of the other rescuers and the children in hiding. But she refused to talk, even when she was beaten until her legs and feet were broken. She was then taken to Pawiak prison, where she was sentenced to be executed. At the last minute, however, she was rescued. On the day she was to be executed, Zegota bribed a guard, who allowed Mrs. Sendler to escape. The guard subsequently posted her name on public bulletin boards as one of the executed, essentially rendering her invisible to the Nazis. She then went into hiding in Poland until liberation.
After Poland was liberated in January 1945, Mrs. Sendler returned to her friend's garden and dug up the jars. She turned over the rescued children's names to Zegota. However, most of the children had no surviving family. After the war, Mrs. Sendler married, raised two children of her own, and continued her career as a social worker in Warsaw. The beatings she had suffered at the hands of the Gestapo left her permanently disabled.
As Poland was under a communist regime, she did not feel safe speaking about her role in the rescue of Jewish children. In 1965, Mrs. Sendler became one of the first of the so-called Righteous Among the Nations honored by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. Poland’s Communist leaders did not allow her to travel to Israel, and she was presented the award twelve years later.
In March 2000 Mrs. Sendler received a letter from three high school girls in Uniontown, Kansas. Encouraged by their social studies teacher, they had found some scarce information about her and chosen her as the subject of their National History Day project. They wrote to her and received a response three weeks later. They wrote a short play, “Life in a Jar,” and one member of a Kansas City audience was so moved by Irena Sendler's story that he raised money to send the play's three authors to Poland to meet her in May 2001.
In a letter last year to the Polish Senate after her country finally honored her efforts, Mrs. Sendler wrote, “Every child saved with my help and the help of all the wonderful secret messengers, who today are no longer living, is the justification of my existence on this earth, and not a title to glory.” She was born Irena Krzyzanowska in Otwock, now Poland, on February 15, 1910, and died on May 12, 2008, at age 98 in Warsaw. She is survived by her daughter, Janka, and a granddaughter.
A TV movie by Hallmark about the life of Irena Sendler is being readied for production and will air next season on the CBS network. The movie is drawn from the 2005 book Mother of the Children of the Holocaust: The Irena Sendler Story, written by Anna Mieszkowska.
Charles R. Allen, Jr. in 2001. Photo by Barry Mehler
Charles (Chuck) R. Allen, Jr. a prolific anti-fascist journalist noted for his dedication to bringing Nazi war criminals to justice, died on September 9, 2004, in Dahlonega, Georgia, it has just been learned. His death was due to complications of a long battle with Alzheimer's disease and he had been living in a nursing home in Georgia for the last years of his life.
Mr. Allen was always on the side of justice and equality. He won national honors uncovering antisemitism, racism, and fascism, with articles on the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. His articles on Nazi war criminals in America appeared as early as 1963, long before the issue was on the agenda of the United States government or Jewish organizations. He books include: Heusinger of the Fourth Reich (1963), Nazi War Criminals Among Us (1963), and Concentration Camps U.S.A (1968). Beginning in 1978, he collaborated on the Nazi war criminal issue with Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel, Director of Remember the Women Institute. He was responsible for her 1980 invitation to study antisemitism in the German Democratic Republic, at which time she first visited Ravensbrück women's concentration camp.
Mr. Allen devoted his life to exposing the escape and employment of many Nazi war criminals aided by United States government agencies and other respected organizations such as the Vatican. He was called as a witness for the House Subcommittee on Immigration hearings on the findings of the General Accounting Office, and testified at a July 19, 1978 hearing that 149 accused Nazi war criminals had been employed by U.S. government intelligence agencies. His legacy on this issue continues today in the struggle between Congress and the CIA over disclosing related government records.
Mr. Allen’s byline appeared in such newspapers and periodicals as the New York Times, The Nation, Reform Judaism, Jewish Currents, The Churchman, The Jewish Veteran, and Martyrdom and Resistance, and he was a frequent contributor to Associated Press and Jewish Telegraphic Agency international wire services. He also appeared on such television news shows as “60 Minutes,” “Good Morning America,” and “Nightline.”
Through the 1950s, Mr. Allen served as the youngest senior editor at The Nation, where he contributed articles on McCarthyism, antisemitism, racism, and other bigotries. During that decade he also wrote articles for more than 200 magazines and newspapers, including The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Statesman, Colliers, The Saturday Evening Post, and Look.
His investigative writings also resulted in the parole by the State of New Jersey of Clarence Hill, an African-American who had been imprisoned for life for three double murders allegedly committed in the 1930s. After Mr. Allen proved the entire case was a frameup, Mr. Hill was set free in 1961.
Plagued by his refusal to sign a McCarthyite loyalty oath, he had difficulty finding a job with a major publication. In 1957 he became public relations director of the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers Union (UE). He later was public relations director for Corn Products Corporation International, conducting several détente trade missions to the former Soviet Union. Afterward, as a free-lance journalist, he continued his investigative writing on Nazi war criminals and related subjects into the 1990s.
Born and raised in a Philadelphia suburb, Mr. Allen could trace his family's arrival in the United States to the seventeenth century. He attended the Episcopal Academy in Philadelphia, received his B.A. from Kenyon College, and did his graduate studies at Columbia University School of Journalism. He excelled at sports both in college and afterward. He served in Army Intelligence as a political analyst and contacts officer, based in Korea.
Mr. Allen is survived by his son Derek B. Allen of Dahlonega, GA, stepsons Benedict Carton of Washington, DC and Jacob Carton of Seattle, WA, sisters Lois and Vivian, brother Kenneth, and two granddaughters. He is missed by his family, friends, and colleagues, and his deeds and accomplishments should serve as inspiration to everyone who seeks truth and justice. May his memory be for a blessing.
by Robert A. Warren
(Robert A. Warren published Charlotte, based on his discussions with Charlotte Guthmann Operfermann. This essay is taken from his remarks at the 37th Annual Scholars’ Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches, Case-Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, March 12, 2007. For more information, please contact Robert Warren at [email protected].)
Charlotte Opfermann was my dear friend and close colleague; most of all,
she was my teacher. On November 22, 2004, she died in Houston at age 80
after a short, sudden illness, thereby outliving the Third Reich and the
Nazi bastards who wanted her dead by 60 years. I still find the notion
that she’s gone shocking. Somehow, I thought she’d manage
to live forever.
The book which bears her name was composed in 2006 as my personal farewell to her. Her life is briefly outlined in the book’s Introduction and Aftermath sections. Her central experience as a target of the Nazi’s purported “final solution of the Jewish problem,” the 23 months she spent as an inmate at Theresienstadt, forms the core narrative portion of the book. Although authored by me, it is her voice that resonates off the pages.
This is about an ugly segment of the Holocaust which all too often goes unnoticed in the first-person literature that narrates that desolate era. It falls somewhere between the unseemly sentimentality that, through no fault of the author, all too often attaches to The Diary of Anne Frank and the brutal atrocity of the death camps, so eloquently articulated by such premier survivor-authors as Primo Levi in his two remarkable volumes, Survival in Auschwitz and The Drowned and the Saved, and the equally eloquent and revealing short trilogy by Charlotte Delbo, Auschwitz and After. Here, Charlotte and I write instead about the middle ground occupied, at least temporarily, by so many victims of the Shoah, places where Jews and other unfortunate victims were herded, supposedly for the duration. Some were able to fool themselves into thinking otherwise, but young Charlotte and her companions always knew, even if only in an amorphous manner, that their Nazi masters’ sure and certain expectation was their death. It was Charlotte and her family’s lot to end up in perhaps the most bizarre of all such places, “KZ-Ghetto Theresienstadt” located in what is now the Czech Republic, then a place fancifully named the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Its institutional persona was part concentration camp, part ghetto, and part-time Potemkin facade. It was a passive death camp too, where the fatalities were as real and utterly final as those inflicted in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Claiborn and Belzec, but were here masked as stemming from ‘natural causes,’ e.g., unrelenting starvation, illness, and deprivation.
Atrocity remains the hallmark of the Holocaust, and suffering came in many forms. Of the approximately 140,000 inmates who passed through Theresienstadt from late November 1941 to liberation by the Red Army in May 1945, more than 33,000 died in situ, while most of the remainder, some 88,000, were shipped East, generally to Auschwitz, where all but 3,000 perished. Only about 19,000 survived their Theresienstadt ordeal, barely 13 percent. Even without gas chambers and firing squads, it was a lethal locale by any definition.
Charlotte’s story is about a young woman, just emerging from adolescence, who not only had a good heart, but who also was street-smart, tough-minded, determined, and who harbored a will-to-live at any almost price. With calculation, self-control, a couple of strokes of good luck (generated, in large part, by her own winning personality), and her canny decision to learn Czech and thus alter her German identity sufficient to satisfy the Czechs who largely controlled Theresienstadt internal administration, she achieved a status which escaped almost all of her fellow German inmates: to the extent permissible within the miserable confines of the Ghetto, she became the mistress of her own destiny. Even so, she only marginally subsisted in mundane, mater-of-fact misery and desolation for nearly every day and night of eighteen long months. She was perpetually hungry, malnourished, chronically lethargic and the victim of a baker’s dozen of diseases, everything from scarlet fever to influenza to diphtheria. She and her fellows endured terrible living conditions, particularly during the long, brutally bitter winter of 1944-1945. But she coped. She knew opportunity when she saw it, large or small, and she never failed to seize it. She also learned the bitter lesson of how to become her own best friend; not indifferent to others, but fully aware of and attentive to her own needs. She became a survivor in the very best sense of that word, but at a catastrophic, lifelong cost to herself and her family. She forfeited her capacity to trust, and with that her ability to love. She never savaged anyone to save her own life, but as she repeatedly and ruefully observed to me, for everyone who survived in the camps, someone else almost certainly died in their place. Her own response to that dilemma lies at the core of her story as I have recounted it here on her behalf. Knowledgeable commentators like Lawrence Langer have made a dark art form out of describing the ‘choiceless choices’ that defined one’s existence in the lagers. I believe that Charlotte goes him one better: she speaks of choices which, admittedly made under agonizing circumstances, were nonetheless ‘free’ ones, with wrenching consequences that followed her for the remainder of her life.
This description may make her sound essentially self-serving and manipulative. She was not, of course; only entirely human and candidly willing to admit it. To think otherwise is to inexcusably shift the guilt from the damnable to the damned. But living even in good times comes at considerable expense; except for those survivors among us, no one is in a position to debate how that expense might be calculated within the desperate environment of the Holocaust, trapped in a hellhole like Theresienstadt.
Then there was the other side of Charlotte. Still an emerging adolescent at age 19, she took complete responsibility for tens of dozens of orphaned children, acting as a full-charge caregiver in Youth Barracks L414. If she found ways to influence the system for her own benefit, she found even more sophisticated methods to obtain relief for her kids. She always refused to speculate on how many young lives she served or saved. “Not enough,” was always her unequivocal answer to that question. Still, as her story slowly unfolded for me over four or five years, I captured the portrait of a young woman in an unspeakably ugly place who developed an incredible capacity for what is now called intuitive risk assessment. In a blink, she could calculate whether a hazard was worth any benefit that might attach and then act on her instincts without hesitation. She truly learned how to live by her wits, saving both herself and others in the process.
Outside of my immediate family, Charlotte, even in death, remains one of the most important and beloved people in my life. She also was one of my two best teachers. In her seventies, the final decade, she became an acknowledged teacher, a superb instructor on the highly personal aspects of the Shoah and of the lessons to be learned from her own experiences, having spent 12 full years as a young German Jew caught in the savage desolation of National Socialism. I recommend her book, our book, to those of you who are teachers or who are the colleagues of teachers who are charged with introducing high school students to the unimaginable human tragedy and trauma of the Holocaust, not to mention the other instances of genocide that have followed us from the twentieth century into the new millennium. I hope, indeed I believe that this little book does justice to Charlotte’s considerable capacity as a teacher and her incredibly detailed memory of the events that framed her youth. As is made clear on the copyright page, copies of the book are available to teachers and others in the field at no cost, simply by contacting me at the e-mail address to be found there. Downloadable PDF files are a small miracle in themselves. I hope that even a quick perusal of our little book will persuade you that now there is yet another, easily obtainable and, I hope, easily accessible source to assist you to help your students not lose sight of the most monumentally awful moment in recorded human history.
That, then, is Charlotte Opfermann’s legacy — fashioning a lesson plan for others out of her 23 months at Theresienstadt, an experience that brought with it the very worst and the very best moments of her long life. To understand and appreciate the value of that improbable paradox, you’ll have to read the book.
The book had only a limited print run, so bound copies are at a premium. Mr. Warren will be pleased to make complete e-copies of the book available to anyone who is interested. Anyone wishing a copy should make a request to him at [email protected]. If you’d care to tell him a bit about yourself and/or your interest in the book, he’d be most interested, but that is not necessary. He will respond promptly to all requests by sending a complete copy of CHARLOTTE, in fully downloadable (and printable, if you so desire) PDF format, by return e-mail. As you will note from the copyright page, he has placed no restrictions on the use or non-commercial reproduction and distribution of the book. He hopes that anyone who wishes to use it in a classroom as supplementary reading will contact him via e-mail. He expects to have at least enough bound copies to supply one to any teacher using it, as well as a brief teacher’s guide, now in preparation, which should be helpful in introducing the book to students.
by Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel
Panel on “La Guardia and the Holocaust”
David Wyman Institute Conference
Sept. 18, 2005, Fordham University Law School, Manhattan
Gemma La Guardia Gluck, the sister of New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, was a Jewish political hostage in Ravensbrück women's concentration camp. She wrote a now out-of-print memoir, My Story, edited by S. L. Shneiderman and published in 1961. An American born in New York City in 1881, she was arrested by the Nazis in Budapest (where she was living with her Hungarian Jewish husband) in June 1944, and imprisoned in Ravensbrück. As the sister of La Guardia, Gemma was incarcerated as a potential exchange hostage.
I am in the process of editing and expanding Gemma's original memoir about her experience in Ravensbrück and its aftermath, and this information is part of the forthcoming book. Gemma's story is also the subject of a chapter of my 2004 book, The Jewish Women of Ravensbrück Concentration Camp (University of Wisconsin Press). During my research I came across letters between Gemma and Fiorello, as well as letters to VIPs and bank receipts that document how Fiorello helped Gemma--within the limitations he set--after she was released from Ravensbrück.
Some brief family background, which I will not detail here, explains Gemma and Fiorello's Jewish roots, why Gemma was in Budapest, and how the Nazi occupation affected her and family. In May 1944 there was a search of her Budapest home, and on 7 June 1944 she was arrested and ultimately taken to Ravensbrück, arriving on 30 June 1944. I summarized her description of entering the camp, her status and duties as a Sonder-Häftling, or special prisoner, and her ability to remember and record the horrors of camp. She discovered just a short time before she was liberated in April 1945 that her daughter Yolanda and grandson Richard were also incarcerated in the camp.
Gemma was sent from Ravensbrück to Berlin with her daughter and grandson on 15 April, and she witnessed the horrors of Berlin during the week of its liberation by the Soviet troops. After American troops entered Berlin, Gemma was able to get a message to the American authorities, asking them to inform her brother that she was there. La Guardia promised he would do everything he could to bring Gemma and her family to the United States, but that he could not make exceptions and they would have to wait their turn on the immigration quota list.
Gemma's first documented letter to Fiorello from Berlin on 15 July 1945 asked him to "try to find our husbands and get us soon over to the United States of America." Fiorello used his contacts and entrée at the highest levels to help his sister, while insisting he would not pull any strings to allow her and her family to enter the United States before their turns; he also sent money. On 11 September 1945, Gemma again wrote to her brother, providing a vivid description of how desperate her situation was in Berlin.
On 31 October 1945, Fiorello answered via the Red Cross. He expressed his "anxiety" for Gemma's "welfare," but made it clear that he would not use his influence to do anything extraordinary to help her get to the United States. “I will provide for you and do the very best that conditions will permit. You must be patient. . . . You have lost your citizenship, therefore that is something that cannot be remedied....I am trying my best to have you sent either to Sweden or England or Portugal or Italy. There are many insurmountable obstacles. Again, if they do it for one they will have to do it for hundreds of thousands....As to your returning to the United States, I am doing all I can, but I cannot get Yolanda and her child in. You do not want to leave them alone. Unless the law changes, this may continue for sometime. If it can be done, it will be done.”
Although Fiorello sounds tough in this letter, there is documentation that he used highest level contacts, including General Dwight D. Eisenhower, to see that Gemma and her family were taken care of while they waited for immigration clearance. In May 1946 Gemma and her family moved to Copenhagen to wait until their papers were in order. Gemma regained her citizenship after it was established that her husband was dead. On June 11, 1946, Fiorello sent a letter to the Department of State, with a $20 visa fee and sworn statement supporting the entry of Yolanda Denes and her son Richard, and pledging to take care of them financially. During the time that Gemma was in Copenhagen, Fiorello also spoke to officials on her behalf.
On 2 April 1947 Gemma wrote to Fiorello that Yolanda had received her quota number and provisional passport, valid for departure until 1 July 1947. Fiorello then wrote to Gemma on 19 April 1947, with instructions about arrangements and a warning not to seek publicity. On. 1 May 1947, Gemma received a letter from Fiorello that everything was in order; a week later she received notice that passage was available on a ship leaving in two days. Gemma, her daughter, and grandson arrived in New York on 19 May 1947. Again, Fiorello had gone to the top and had arranged for their travel through a personal contact, Mr. Emmet J. McCormack, treasurer of the Moore-McCormack Lines.
"It is a bitter thing to have nothing in one's old age," Gemma wrote in her memoir. "One is almost too weary to start a new life." However, despite the loss of her home, husband, and sheltered former life, she was able to overcome despair and move forward at the age of 64. Gemma also had to face another tragic situation soon after arrival. By then, Fiorello was gravely ill with cancer and died in New York City four months later, on 20 September 1947. Gemma continued to live a quiet life, residing in a small apartment with her daughter in a municipal housing project in Queens, New York. On 1 November 1962, a year after her book was published, Gemma died at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens.
The Remember the Women Institute welcomes essays pertaining to women and history for our on-line library. Suggested research topics include:
How the lessons of the Holocaust apply to women in the present and future
The effect of politics on memorialization of women in the Holocaust
Women in Ravensbrück and other Nazi concentration camps
Women in ghettos, resistance, and partisan groups
Relationships between sexism, anti-Semitism, and racism
· Women and genocide
· Women and migration
· Women and immigration
· Women and displacement
· Women in science and technology
· Women in inter-religious dialogue
· Women in religious worship
· Women in Jewish history
· Women in the university
· Marginalized women
Please contact Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel with your inquiries.
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