Wednesday, July 3, 2013

From Darkness to a Great Light—The Route to Liberation

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      In the immediate days following their return to Vienna, the two brothers began to pick up the pieces of their former lives.
      My uncle managed to return to business, had some success, married a survivor of the camps, Celia Bartfeld. Eventually, they moved to Canada, where he raised his two children, Fred and Benita, and became a successful real estate developer and active member of the Jewish community in Toronto.
      In Vienna, someone had heard of my father’s work as a chemist and suggested they go into business together. My father, having committed his life to the Jewish people, declined; he needed to serve the She’rit Hapleitah, the Surviving Remnants.
      He began some piecemeal work and started writing in local Jewish publications.
      My uncle had a practice of frequenting the Rothschild Hospital, the gathering point for Jewish refugees now flooding in from territories under Soviet occupation, in hopes of finding lost relatives and friends. One day, he came back to the apartment he shared with my father,” I have a surprise for you!”. He had found Irene, the daughter of their cousin, Norbert Gottdenker, from Lwow, Poland (by now, Lviv, Ukraine)! The surprise would eventually become my father’s wife and my mother.
      By 1947, my father went to the Displaced Person Camp at Hallein( near Mozart’s Salzburg), Austria, where he was charged with establishing a “People’s University” where the survivors, denied of education while in the Concentration Camps  could now learn real life skills for their new life in freedom. 
Rabbi Weinberg at rededication of the synagogue in Salzburg, Austria. The Hebrew quote is from the Bible-“Remember what Amalek ( the code word for Jew- hatred in Jewish lore) did to you”. The German text is more direct:”Jude, Vergiss nicht das K. Z”-Jew-Do not forget the Concentration Camp!”

Then, in 1948, he was called to serve as the first  Landesrabbiner ( State Rabbi) of Hesse, the region of Germany surrounding Frankfurt Am Main and it was there that I was born. In that capacity he worked to bring together the surviving remnants of old Frankfurt Jewry with the new arrivals from East Europe. He represented the Jewish community to the American government now occupying the region, the Frankfurt and Hesse government officials, and the newly forming democratic government of West Germany. He officiated at the rededication of the main synagogue of Frankfurt in 1951. He had to struggle with active anti-Semitism and unrepentant Nazis who still hoped to finish off Hitler’s work and saw my father as their enemy.

News Release on the dedication:
Frankfurt   6 September 1950
The first post-war permanent synagogue to be dedicated in Hesse was dedicated in Frankfurt today. The reconstructed building, seating 1,000 worshippers, was destroyed during the Nazi pogrom in 1938.
Dr. Wilhelm Weinberg, Chief rabbi of Hesse, is seen here during his address.
Please credit: PRD-HICOG   tel: 8981 photo JACOBY  1583
( HICOG- Allied High Commission for Occupied Germany).

      In 1951,we moved to the United States of America , the land my father admired and loved for its free and stable democracy. My father served the Jewish people to his last day, March 16,1976, the day of “ Shushan Purim”, the day Jews of ancient  Susa and modern Jerusalem celebrate the triumph of the Jewish people over threatened genocide.
      This completes the first part of the  account of Rabbi Dr. Wilhelm ( William in America) Weinberg. This work will continue with the account of Irene Weinberg, her youth in the new Republic of Poland, her survival in Aryan disguise during the Holocaust and her escape to freedom. The final volume of this project will focus on the reconstruction of Jewish lives in Austria and Germany in the aftermath of the Holocaust. This trilogy will represent the triumph of survival of  the Jewish people in the years that followed the nightmare of Genocide, a  triumph of Geist ( Spirit), the realm of heart, soul and mind and  the sanctity of the human being in the Divine Image over the  “ Triumph of the Will”, of the Will of a fictional  Übermensch or Master Race or a Dictatorship of the Proletariat.


Monday, June 17, 2013

Soviet Exile- Vignettes of Life in the Worker’s Paradise

A great American journalist, Lincoln Steffens, visited with Lenin at the outset of the Soviet Revolution. Highly impressed by what he saw, he returned to the United States and famously declared:” I have seen the future and it works!”
My father and uncle spent several years in the future and made every effort possible to get back to the present.

The Soviet system had as its goal the shaping of the new Soviet man, an altruistic individual who would give his all for the common good, as attributed to Marx:” From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs. “ Marxism-Leninism,or Communism, would embody the goals of ancient preachers and idealists, the Utopia, free of the burdens of religious superstition and the restrictions of bourgeois society; all would own equally, private property would be abolished. Ultimately, in this ideal situation, Marx’s partner Engels predicted, the State itself would be superfluous and wither away. There would only be a very short “ dictatorship of the proletariat” for the transition.

 In this ideal world, as George Orwell’s Napoleon the Pig declared,” All animals are equal—but some are more equal than others”.

The idea of collective ownership produced dismal results. As my father explained, when all own everything, everyone owns nothing, and no one takes responsibility for anything and the Soviet economy lagged far behind the economies of America and Europe.

The “temporary dictatorship” lasted some 70 years, only to be replaced by a government of wealthy oligarchs and a flat ( or “regressive”) tax system

In some sense, both Communism and Nazism shared policies of terror and the overwhelming force of state and party machinery to create a new society. To the credit of communism, it must be said that the frenzy of terror was in pursuit of the noblest goals of human ideals, whereas for Nazism, the goals were the outright elevation of one race overall others and the annihilation of the Jews as the greatest obstacle to that victory.

Years later, when the American Jewish community agitated on behalf of Soviet Jewry, under the slogan, ”Let my people Go,” there were some voices calling the Soviet oppression of Jewish religion a second Holocaust. This hurt my father deeply. For all the flaws of the Soviets, all the rest of European Jewry would have been dead had the Soviets not crushed the German forces at Stalingrad and then rolled on to Berlin. He also told me that the Soviets could not possibly let Jews leave the Iron Curtain—because after the Jews, then the Satellite states like Poland and Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Republics such as the Ukraine and Kazakhstan and all the rest would clamor to leave. No system willingly commits suicide. Indeed, while some Jews were allowed to leave in the 1970’s, by 1980 the exit doors were shut again.            Only with glasnost and perestroika under Mikhail Gorbachov did the gates open again. As my father said would happen, the whole house of cards came tumbling down.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Soviet Exile-- Into Central Asia

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The Soviet Exile-- Into Central Asia

      A thousand years ago, well before Marco Polo, Jewish merchants, known as “Radhanites”, made their way from Europe to the Orient and back. Because they were neither Christian nor Moslem, they could travel freely across opposing lines, and at the same time, use their connections with far flung Jewish communities to facilitate commerce. In the middle of the 20th century, numerous thousands of Jews and non-Jews traversed much the same routes in search of safety from the advancing Nazi onslaught.
      It is estimated that 1.1 million Jews were evacuated by the Soviets from the front lines of the war and sent to central Asia. My daughter’s father in law, who hails from Moldova, explained that at one time, his family had a different last name, Kaiser. When the Germans approached their town, Soviet officers came to evacuate the population eastward. They also distributed false identification papers to provide cover for Jews in case they were caught by the Germans before the trains could leave. The papers stayed with them throughout their travels; so did their names, and thus it came to be that my grandchildren have last names, Ferd, given their forebears thanks to some Soviet officer in WWII. (Many Jews ended the war with very different last names thanks to documents that helped them survive. Just so, my mother’s my aunt, Dora Iger, became Kitzay).

Friday, May 3, 2013

Yizkor--The Fate of the Family Members Left Behind

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Yizkor--The Fate of the Family Members Left Behind

What was it that the brothers had escaped?
Raoul  Hilberg, noted historian of the Holocaust, the first one to apply detailed statistical accounting to the  Destruction of the European Jews ,as he titled his sweeping research of the political, economic, and military resources brought to bear on the Jews. While it is important to note that Nazism’s victims numbered in many millions, it was the Jews that were singled out as the prime enemy of the Third Reich and the prime target of the largest manhunt in history.  It was the culmination of a historic trend, as he described:” The missionaries of Christianity said: You have no right to live among us as Jews. The secular rulers who followed  had proclaimed: You have no right to live among us. The Nazis at last decreed: You have no right to live.” Hilberg delineated the systematic processes of destruction: the rollback of civil and human rights by a thousand years; the expropriation of Jewish property; the deportation and concentration of Jews; the killing process, first through mobile killing units and then through killing centers.
My father had been through the loss of his civil rights, had lost his source of income ( as the family had lost much of their finances), and had been deported, luckily, to escape the ultimate bitterness of concentration and destruction.
With the opening of Operation Barbarossa, alongside the Wehrmacht, special units, Einstazgruppen       ( task forces) went in as well. These commando units had been established, under the Schutzstaffel ( SS, Defense Corps) to secure Nazi interests in the  Anschluss with Austria and then were sent into Poland to establish order—by summary execution of anyone who might make trouble for the regime—Polish leadership, Jews, Roma, mentally ill. Within the space of a few months, they murdered some 65,000 civilians, and herded the Jewish population into the  ghettoes such as in Warsaw.
Now with Operation Barbarossa, Hitler personally gave orders to enable the Einsatzgruppen to operate unhindered and free of any liability in court for atrocities. Hitler’s speeches made it clear that this war would require extermination of all Bolsheviks, and it was clear that he meant by this, all Jews in the territories to be overrun. The leadership of the SS understood and passed on instructions to single out Jews, and the Einsatzgruppen, as trained commandos, set about this with a single –minded purpose. In the space of a few months, they had killed almost a million and a half Jews, coming in swiftness, rounding up Jews, and machine gunning them with such speed that several hundreds of thousands “ could be killed like sleeping flies”, in Hilberg’s words.  This massive wholesale slaughter could only whet the appetite for more blood and eventually a more modern and efficient system, based on mass production methods, a “conveyor belt”, was developed: the killing centers at the concentration camps at Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, to name a few. Human cargo, packed on cattle cars, unloaded, sorted, some enslaved and worked to death, the rest packed into gas chambers and killed with an insecticide poison ( Zyklon B), their corpses disposed of by cremation.  The few that survived the camps by the end of the war were skeletons, a shadow of their former selves. By August , 1944, Eichmann had reported a rough estimate of the Jews killed- some 2,000,000 by the mobile killing units and some 4,000,000 in the death camps, some 6,000,000 in total.
What of the family left behind?
Their parents, Samuel and Binah Weinberg, had been  among the few allowed to enter Switzerland, which had been  untouched by the Germans.
Cousins Rachel, Ada and Wolf had gotten into Palestine. Cousin Marcus survived in Italy.
 Cousins Boaz and Gideon Gelernter had been able to get to the United States, but  their parents,  my father’s  aunt and uncle,  Sara and Jona Gelernter, were not so fortunate.  Sara was killed somewhere in Poland; Jona managed to escape, via Italy to Vichy France, where he awaited transportation to Portugal on his way to the United States—he was instead put on a train to a concentration camp where he was killed.

  Jonah and Sarah Gelernter in center, my father, Wilhelm, on the right, my uncle, Benjamin, on the left.

“List No.2- List of foreigners in the Special Center for Assembly requesting visa for entry to Portugal”
Shows name, birth date, nationality, visa, and identification document.” Jona Gelernter is twelfth on the list . (Courtesy: George Fogelson, who found this list of refugees among his aunts documents.)
What of my father’s cousins in Lwow that stayed behind?  Irene Gottdenker( to be my mother ten years later) together with her aunt, Dora Iger, succeeded in going underground and survived in Lwow and later Warsaw under false identities.

  ( Irene Gottdenker, circa 1941-42, in Lwow, picture is from her ID at work, which has the stamp on it “HOB Holzbau Aktien Zweigstelle LW”-in German,” HOB-Construction Timber Shares-Branch Location LW ( perhaps  for Lwow).)

Karol Gottdenker, her brother,  escaped to Buczacz( at the eastern Polish border), where he found refuge among the local Poles, only to be caught towards the end of the war and executed by the Nazis.
 (Karol Gottdenker)
Their mother, my grandmother, Helena Iger Gottdenker was beaten by the Nazis and Ukrainian henchmen in the first days of  occupation of Lwow, taken to the Janowska Concentration camp and then summarily executed by the Einsatzgruppen at a mass grave in the Piaski, the sandy ravine outside of Lwow, probably in the major “Aktion” in June of 1942.

  (Helena Iger Gottdenker)
No discussion of this period is possible without asking: “Unde Malum”, What is the source of this evil that drove an entire nation to bloodlust?
Was it , as some suggested, a peculiar pathological hatred of Jews endemic to the Germans?
Was it the outcome of centuries of Christian denunciation of Jews as Christ-killers?
Was it an overly effective an efficient bureaucracy merely caught up in proving itself, no matter whether it was manufacturing Volkswagens or turning human beings into ashes?
In the 1960’s, the Catholic Church convened Vatican II to address the needs of the modern world and reevaluate, once and for all, the status of Judaism vis a vis Christianity. Fifty years later, I could sit in the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, as our granddaughter performed in a chorus about Noah, and feel perfectly at home, especially when I  opened the Catholic Missal to see an explanation about “our Jewish ancestors”. Certainly, after Vatican II and official Papal visits to the State of Israel, there has been a change as great as day and night. On the Christian Evangelical side, there is an outpouring of love for Jews, something unimaginable before.  (On the Christian progressive  left, however there is a cold harshness and denunciation of Israel, the State of the Jewish people, singled  out alone among the nations for its treatment of Palestinians while far greater atrocities are occurring on a daily basis in the neighboring states.)
Nevertheless, even as Jews sent delegation upon delegation to the Vatican to negotiate the final Church documents, my father was very concerned that it was much ado about nothing. He told me that when  Churchill warned Stalin about incurring the wrath of the Church over the fate of Poland, Stalin replied:”So how many divisions does the Pope have.”The moral suasion of the Church was very limited n the modern world. ( Years later, a Polish Pope had great moral suasion, but it was the American economy, backed by American missiles, that  brought down Stalin’s successors).
                This is what he wrote for  the National Jewish Monthly of the B’nai B’rith, which published his essay (while at the same time denying his position in an editorial side-bar):
...  “ Neither Hitler , nor the Dreyfusards, nor the anti-Semitic right-wingers who between the two World Wars grouped themselves around the daily “L’Action Francaise”, fought under the faded banner of the church. We must not be deceived by smuggled in pieties. Nazism’s anti-Jewish ideology was not based on the theological antagonism between the Pharisees and Jesus. The Nazis did not adorn themselves with the symbol of the cross but with the swastika, which stood for many things but not for Christian myths or beliefs. Hitler was not a modern Torquemada, and the gas chambers were not regarded by him as auto-da-fe, a places for burning heretics.
    “It is wrong in or day and age to indentify anti-Semitism, primarily, with religious intolerance, though the words are still used interchangeably, especially by Jews. The religious wall turned long ago into a “paper curtain”. If we are still excluded from some clubs or neighborhoods, it’s not for our disbelief in Jesus. The idea that hostility towards us is, mainly and directly, the result of religious intolerance, is a product of frustration. The seed of anti-Semitism is undoubtedly Christian, the root and branches are not. Creeds are not the insignia of our present-day civilization, and the Christ-killer myth rarely, if ever, pops up in conversations. To the best of my recollection, no Nazi ever threw the New Testament at me, nor did any Russian anti-Semite , during the four years I was a refugee in the Soviet Union. Anti-Semitism is essentially a-religious, thoroughly secularized and materialistic.
     “ . . .We are under a spell and look in the wrong direction. Out of fear of another Holocaust, we have put up a warm blanket of belief that if only the churches got less nasty, most Jew-baiting would disappear. And yet I venture to say that if every trace of religious discrimination against us were wiped away overnight, it would have the same effect as a heart operation on a broken leg. In September, 1938, Pope Pius stated clearly:”Anti-Semitism is. . . a movement in which we, as Christians, cannot have any part whatever. . .Spiritually we are Semites.” Did this noble statement prevent the Germans, the Ukrainians, the Poles and Lithuanians from slaughtering Jews? Does the contemporary left-or-right winger pay much attention to church statements? Does the average Catholic study them?
 “. . .For modern anti-Semitism is primarily a secular movement, and large parts of it are anti-Christian. . . We must look for friends who themselves are power factors, for men ready to protect their liberties, law and peaceful procedures for the redress of their grievances—within the framework of our Constitution.
   “We need an increased realism and sobriety with which to approach the modern varieties of Jew hatred. This is a job for politicians, political scientists, criminologists, and psychopathologists rather than for theologians.”
The Bible is strikingly silent on what motivates us to evil. We are told of Cain and Abel:” Vayomer Kayin el Hevel Akhiv”,” Cain said to Abel, his brother.and when they were in the field, Cain rose against Abel his brother and killed him.”. The Hebrew word “Vayomer”,(and said) introduces a quotation, yet there is no quotation. What is it that Cain said to Abel? What did Abel say back to him? What were they talking about? The Bible does not care. It only cares that Cain and Abel were brothers and one brother killed the other.
Not what is the cause of the quarrel, but what is the consequence. The world spent years in bloodshed as a consequence of this act of Cain against Abel in the 20th Century.
Text of original article

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Soviet Exile- Finding Safety in Stalingrad as the” Khimike”

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Soviet Exile- Finding Safety in  Stalingrad as the” Khimike”

                        There followed  a year  of relative  quiet as the two brothers managed to settle themselves in Tarnopol. The Soviets had annexed the central regions of eastern Poland to Byelorussia( White Russia) and southern regions to the Ukraine , while Lithuania absorbed the northern regions. They set about removing all traces of Polish heritage from these regions. They also disbanded the Jewish communal institutions and Hebrew education, while  allowing  for Yiddish language education under state-run schools. All this did not affect the two brothers as they kept a low profile.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Soviet Exile- First Stop- Lwow

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The Soviet Exile- First Stop- Lwow

Post card of old Lwow/Lemberg

      Lwow , with its western European influence, has been dubbed the “ Little Paris of the Ukraine ” and it has a long history as a major center of culture in then Poland and now Ukraine.  It could also have been called “the Little Paris of Poland,  or of Austro-Hungarian Galicia and Lodomeria , as well,  as it was passed over and again to different countries. It has gone ,as well, through many changes of name since its founding in the 13th  century by King Daniel of Halych( Galicia) in honor of his son, Lew. Lwow is the City of Lions , so in Latin, Leopolis; hence, the many lions that appear on city seals and motifs in Lwow literature. Under the Austrians, it became Lemberg and took on a decidedly German flavor ( Lemberg has remained a popular name years later, as my father kept on referring to it by that name decades later). With the independence of Poland after WWI, it became Lwów , then, under the Soviets, Lvov, and now, under the Ukrainians, as Lviv.