Kristallnacht survivor begs us to remember

November 10, 2015

USHMM: Shattered storefront of a Jewish-owned shop destroyed during Kristallnacht (the

USHMM: Shattered storefront of a Jewish-owned shop destroyed during Kristallnacht (the “Night of Broken Glass”). Berlin, Germany, November 10, 1938. — National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Md.

I get e-mail from time to time from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, D.C.

Tonight, November 9, is the anniversary of Kristallnacht in 1938. Jill Pauly lived through it. She tells her story so that we will remember, that we will never forget. “Kristallnacht” is German for “night of crystal.” But in this case, the crystal was broken glass, the broken windows of Jewish shops and homes.  Kristallnacht was the “Night of Broken Glass.”

Dear friend,

I’ll never forget how scared I was 77 years ago on Kristallnacht.

This wave of antisemitic attacks throughout Germany and Austria caused my family to flee our small German town. We drove to a relative’s apartment in Cologne, and my grandparents forced my sister and me to sit on the car floor so we wouldn’t see the violence on the streets.

That evening and for many following it, the men in my family drove all night to evade German officers and avoid becoming some of the 30,000 men who were arrested just for being Jewish.

This was a major turning point for my family, when our lives became dangerous and our future uncertain. Learn more about experiences of families like mine, as well as the origins and aftermath of Kristallnacht.

LEARN MORE

Jill Pauly speaks with Museum visitors. US Holocaust Memorial Museum

LEARN MORE

Kristallnacht was a watershed moment in Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews, indicating an increase in radical, violent antisemitism. Many Jews tried to emigrate as soon as possible after the pogroms.

Today, Kristallnacht is seen as a warning sign of the Holocaust—an indicator of the horrors to come that far too many people ignored.

The Museum strives to learn from this history in order to prevent atrocities in the future. This is why we recently launched, in partnership with Dartmouth College, the Early Warning Project. It aims to give leaders from around the world more reliable information on the risk of mass atrocities to inspire action and help save lives.

On this anniversary, I encourage you to learn more about Kristallnacht and reflect on how we can respond to threats of genocide today.

Sincerely,

Jill Pauly
Holocaust Survivor and Museum Volunteer

Photo: Jill Pauly speaks with Museum visitors. US Holocaust Memorial Museum

“Never again” starts now, if we start it.


70 years ago today, August 4, 1944: Germans capture Anne Frank and her family

August 4, 2014

When I look at the time line, I feel frustrated and angry.

Commemorative stamp honoring Anne Frank, from Germany, 1979.

Commemorative stamp honoring Anne Frank, from Germany, 1979.

On August 4, 1944, the German Army in the Netherlands raided the warehouse where Anne Frank’s family hid from the Nazis since 1942.  As you know, Anne died in a concentration camp shortly after — only her father survived from her immediate family.

History students will recognize that this was nearly two months after D-Day, the Invasion of Normandy that set off the events leading to liberation of Europe from Nazi rule and the collapse of Hitler’s grand visions of conquest.  How could Nazi minions not know their time was limited, and oppression ultimately futile?

Germany surrendered in May 1945.  In nine months, the Frank family would not need to hide.  Anne died in March 1945, less than eight weeks before the surrender of Germany.

More:

Photos from the liberation of Amsterdam, which occurred on May 6, 1945:

This is an encore post.

This is an encore post.


Remembering Mermelstein the Hero, a day late

August 6, 2013

It’s a big world.  A lot happens every day.

Over time, significantly historic events tend to pile up on every day of the year.  This is important to remember shortly after the ides of April when students — almost always male — start going on about Hitler’s birthday, Hitler’s suicide, and any other events that may fall on those days.  It’s good to remember coincidence plays a huge role in history, much more than those looking for woo connections will admit.

But I also like to celebrate important events.  Yesterday I posted on Damn the Torpedoes Day, the anniversary of the Battle of Mobile Bay and then-Capt. David Farragut’s famous line.

Doing that, and a dozen other things, I completely overlooked another anniversary that carries a lot of weight with me, and I hope with you, too.  I was reminded this morning when I saw the post from Professor Olsen @ Large, noting the day Mel Mermelstein beat the Holocaust deniers in court, and established in U.S. law the historical fact of the Holocaust.

On this date [August 5], Long Beach, California businessman Melvin Mermelstein struck a powerful blow against bogus history and historical hoaxes. Mel was awarded a judgment in a California court, in a contract case.

In 1980, the Institute for Historical Review (IHR), a Torrance, California organization that claimed that the planned extermination of Jews by the Nazis was a myth, had offered a $50,000 reward for anyone who could prove that the Holocaust actually happened.

*     *     *     *     *

Mermelstein’s lawyer, William John Cox, had a brilliant idea. He petitioned the court to take “judicial notice” of the fact of the Holocaust. The doctrine of judicial notice allows courts to recognize as fact something that is so well established that it doesn’t need to be evidenced when it is introduced in court — such as, 2 + 2 = 4, the freezing point of water is 32 degrees Fahrenheit and 0 degrees Celsius, the Earth orbits the Sun, etc.

In a pre-trial hearing on 9 October 1981, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Thomas T. Johnson resolved the most controversial part of the case; the court ruled that the Holocaust had occurred. The judge declared:

Under Evidence Code Section 452(h), this court does take judicial notice of the fact that Jews were gassed to death at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland during the summer of 1944.

(…)

It just simply is a fact that falls within the definition of Evidence Code Section 452(h). It is not reasonably subject to dispute. And it is capable of immediate and accurate determination by resort to sources of reasonably indisputable accuracy. It is simply a fact.

That ruling meant that, by operation of law, Mermelstein had won the case, obviating the need for a court trial.

Prof. Olsen has much more — go read — and I’ve listed my previous posts on Mel Mermelstein below.

There were two points of law in the case that delighted me.  One was the sweepstakes contract, and the other was the judicial note.  A sweepstakes contract is one where someone makes an offer, “the first one who does X, gets $,” for example.  While it’s a bit obscure, it is a point of contract law that sweepstakes contracts are enforceable in court (common law, as most contract law is).  Willis Carto‘s Holocaust denial group, the Institute for Historical Review (IHR), hadn’t realized that they made a bona fide, potentially legally-binding offer.  Mermelstein did, performed the required task, and demanded payment.  When IHR refused to pay, Mermelstein hauled them into court.

Judicial note is another oddity of law school, that I think is probably used way too seldom to squelch stupid lawsuits.  The rule — again in common law — is that a judge may take note of certain facts so they need not be evidenced and “proven” in court, over and over again.  The sky is blue, most of the time (black at night); boiling water is hot; 2+2=4 — those are the sorts of facts that judges may rule need not be evidenced at every trial where they might play a role.  Mermelstein’s lawyer, William John Cox — another hero, along with Lawrence E. Heller and all of Mermelstein’s lawyers — moved that the court take judicial note of the fact of the Holocaust.  The judge held a hearing, and did.

That meant there was no issue to take to trial in Mermelstein’s suit against IHR.  Where IHR had probably hoped for a chance to trot out their denialists claims, perhaps for broadcast and print media, the issue was now one solely for the judge to rule on the points of law — and on those points, Mermelstein won.  IHR had to pay him.

Plus, it was established in California, that the Holocaust did occur.  As a point of law, Holocause denialists are wrong.

August 5 should be Accurate History Day, too. 

You could combine the lessons of history from David Farragut, Mel Mermelstein, and Davey Crockett, and get a good philosophy.  Davey Crockett said, be sure you’re right, then go ahead.

Get your history right, stand up for human rights, and damn the torpedoes!

I could live with that.

Tree of Testimony from victims of the Holocaust, at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust

Tree of Testimony from victims of the Holocaust, at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust; dozens of interviews of survivors were taped by researchers at the University of Southern California, displayed on these video screens.

More:


Still quote of the moment, one more time: Martin Niemöller, “. . . I did not speak out . . .”

August 21, 2012

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Pastor Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemoller on a postage stamp, painted by Gerd Aretz in 1992 - Wikipedia

German theologian and Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller on a postage stamp, painted by Gerd Aretz in 1992 – Wikipedia

Some time this year school curricula turn to the Holocaust, in English, in world history, and in U.S. history.

Martin Niemöller’s poem registers powerfully for most people — often people do not remember exactly who said it. I have seen it attributed to Deitrich Bonhoeffer (who worked with Niemöller in opposing some Nazi programs), Albert Einstein, Reinhold Niebuhr, Albert Schweitzer, Elie Wiesel, and an “anonymous inmate in a concentration camp.”

Niemöller and his actions generate controversy — did he ever act forcefully enough? Did his actions atone for his earlier inactions? Could anything ever atone for not having seen through Hitler and opposing Naziism from the start? For those discussion reasons, I think it’s important to keep the poem attributed to Niemöller. The facts of his life, his times, and his creation of this poem, go beyond anything anyone could make up. The real story sheds light.

Resources:

Noted here in February 2011, and August 2011.

800px-Martin_Niemoeller


Mermelstein: The man who forced us to remember

August 20, 2012

I first posted a version of this back in August 2006.  Since that time not much showed up on the internet to commemorate the story of Mel Mermelstein, nor to burn his deeds into the history books.  Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub had many fewer readers each day, then too.  This is a story that should not be forgotten about a story that must not be forgotten.

Mr. Mel Mermelstein, in 1993, recording an oral history for the US Holocaust Memorial  Museum

Mr. Mel Mermelstein, in 1993, recording an oral history for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

In early August 1985, Melvin Mermelstein struck a powerful blow against bogus history and historical hoaxes. Mel won a decision in a California court, in a contract case.

A group of Holocaust deniers had offered a $50,000 reward for anyone who could prove that the Holocaust actually happened. Mermelstein had watched his family marched to the gas chambers, and could testify. He offered his evidence. The Holocaust deniers, of course, had no intention of paying up. They dismissed any evidence offered as inadequate, and continued to claim no one could prove that the Holocaust actually occurred.

Mermelstein, however, was a businessman and he knew the law. He knew that the offer of the reward was a sweepstakes, a form of contract. He knew it was a contract enforceable in court.  He sued to collect the offered reward.  The reward was an offer, and Mel Mermelstein accepted the offer and, he said, he performed his part of the bargain. The issue in court would be, was Mermelstein’s evidence sufficient?

Mermelstein’s lawyer had a brilliant idea. He petitioned the court to take “judicial notice” of the fact of the Holocaust. Judicial note means that a fact is so well established that it doesn’t need to be evidenced when it is introduced in court — such as, 2+2=4, the freezing point of water is 32 degrees Fahrenheit, 0 degrees Celsius, etc.

The court ruled that the evidence presented overwhelmingly established that the Holocaust had occurred — the court made judicial note of the Holocaust. That ruling meant that, by operation of law, Mermelstein won the case. The only thing for the judge to do beyond that was award the money, and expenses and damages.

You can read the case and other materials at the Nizkor Holocaust remembrance site.

Appalachian State University takes the Holocaust seriously — there is a program of study on the issue, reported by the Mountain Times (the school is in Boone, North Carolina — not sure where the newspaper is).

Teaching the Holocaust to Future Generations

Mountain Times, August 17, 2006

As co-directors of Appalachian State University’s Center for Judaic, Holocaust and Peace Studies, Rennie Brantz and Zohara Boyd are always eager to expand and improve the center’s methods of education. Seldom, though, does this involve airfare.

Brantz and Boyd recently visited Israel to participate in the Fifth International Conference for Education: Teaching the Holocaust to Future Generations. The four-day conference was held in late June at Yad Vashem, an institute and museum in Jerusalem that specializes in the Nazi Holocaust. [link added]

“Yad Vashem is an incredible institute,” Brantz said. “It was founded in the ’50s to remember and commemorate those who perished in the Holocaust, and has been the premier international research institute dealing with the Holocaust.”

As Santayana advises, we remember the past in order to prevent its recurring. Clearly, this is a past we need to work harder at remembering.

Despite having been ordered to acknowledge the Holocaust, pay up on their sweepstakes offer, and apologize to Mr. Mermelstein, Holocaust deniers continue to publish claims that Mr. Mermelstein’s account is not accurate, or that it is contradictory or in some other way fails to measure up to the most strict tests of historical accuracy.  So it is important that you remember the story of Mel Mermelstein, and that you spread it far and wide.

More:


Still quote of the moment: Martin Niemöller, “. . . I did not speak out . . .”

August 16, 2011

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

— Pastor Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemoller on a postage stamp, painted by Gerd Aretz in 1992 - Wikipedia

German theologian and Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller on a postage stamp, painted by Gerd Aretz in 1992 - Wikipedia

Some time this year school curricula turn to the Holocaust, in English, in world history, and in U.S. history.

Martin Niemöller’s poem registers powerfully for most people — often people do not remember exactly who said it. I have seen it attributed to Deitrich Bonhoeffer (who worked with Niemöller in opposing some Nazi programs), Albert Einstein, Reinhold Niebuhr, Albert Schweitzer, Elie Wiesel, and an “anonymous inmate in a concentration camp.”

Niemöller and his actions generate controversy — did he ever act forcefully enough? Did his actions atone for his earlier inactions? Could anything ever atone for not having seen through Hitler and opposing Naziism from the start? For those discussion reasons, I think it’s important to keep the poem attributed to Niemöller. The facts of his life, his times, and his creation of this poem, go beyond anything anyone could make up. The real story sheds light.

Resources:

Noted here last February.


August 4, 1944: Germans capture Anne Frank and her family

August 4, 2011

When I look at the time line, I feel frustrated and angry.

On August 4, 1944, the German Army in the Netherlands raided the warehouse where Anne Frank’s family hid from the Nazis since 1942.  As you know, Anne died in a concentration camp shortly after — only her father survived from her immediate family.

History students will recognize that this was nearly two months after D-Day, the Invasion of Normandy that set off the events leading to liberation of Europe from Nazi rule and the collapse of Hitler’s grand visions of conquest.  How could Nazi minions not know their time was limited, and oppression ultimately futile?

Germany surrendered in May 1945.  In nine months, the Frank family would not need to hide.  Anne died in March 1945, less than eight weeks before the surrender of Germany.

More:

Photos from the liberation of Amsterdam, which occurred on May 6, 1945:


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