In June of 2012, I wrote about the remarkable Larry Tillemans and posted an interview with him.
Mr. Tillemans, an Eagle Scout from a family of Eagle Scouts in southwestern Minnesota, was a member of General George S. Patton's Third Army in the European Theater of Operations.
As a member of the Signal Corps, Mr. Tillemans was a clerk-stenographer at the Nuremberg and Dachau war crimes trials in 1945 and 1946.
Mr. Tillemans has spent much of the last twenty years touring Minnesota – sometimes with his friend Gerry Boe (a guard at the first Nuremberg War Crimes Trial) – telling Minnesotans what he learned at Nuremberg so people will not forget. (Click here for a story and interview with Gerry Boe.)
Capturing this story has been the equally remarkable documentary of co-producers David Klassen and Chuck Czech entitled "The Typist" for KSMQ public television of Austin Minnesota supported by the Minnesota Legacy’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund. The documentary represents a huge commitment of time, resources and energy to tell a quintessential Minnesota story of one person's dedication and decency. The documentary also provides the opportunity to hear from renowned historian Deborah Lipstadt; veteran Justice Department prosecutor Eli Rosenbaum; and to see the outstanding and groundbreaking efforts of Holocaust and genocide education at St. Cloud State University with Prof. Daniel Wildeson and his students with whom the JCRC is proud to partner and share time in "The Typist."
David Klassen and Chuck Czech have been graciously partnering with the JCRC and screening the documentary around Minnesota.
On February 11, 2014, the JCRC and Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka screened the documentary before more than a 130 people, followed by a question and answer session with the co-producers and Larry Tillemans.
Click here for photos from the event. (Thank you to Rabbi Kravitz and Nina Samuels and the synagogue for their partnership.)
On February 24, 2014, the JCRC, St. Cloud State University and KSMQ screened the documentary at the Atwood Memorial Center for 50 students and faculty.
Click here for a photo from the event. (Thank you to President Earl Potter and Prof. Daniel Wildeson for your partnership.)
Further north and a few days later on February 27, the Transfer of Memory exhibit opened at the Otter Tail County Historical Society.
Transfer of Memory is a joint project of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas and Minneapolis photographer David Sherman. The exhibit features photographic portraits of Minnesota Holocaust survivors. The written vignettes below the portraits – by Lili Chester – capture the survivors' lives before, during and after the Shoah (Holocaust).
The portraits and vignettes transform an abstraction into a reality. The exhibit helps us appreciate the indomitable will of survivors in surviving the Holocaust and then in beginning lives anew in Minnesota and raising families and starting businesses. Their lives are constant reminders about the value of freedom and the enduring human spirit.
For more information please visit the Transfer of Memory website: www.TransferofMemory.org.
Despite the late February double digit sub-zero temperatures, the opening ceremony was standing-room only. The gathering heard from our partners whom we deeply thank: Chris Schuelke, Executive Director of Otter Tail County Historical Society; and Erin Smith, Director of Fergus Falls Public Library. The gathering also heard from me; photographer David Sherman; and Joni Sussman, the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Joni Sussman screened the documentary "I Was Given Life Twice" about the survival of Joni's mother's family during the Holocaust. We also thank American Legion Post 30 and the Riverside Lions Club. The exhibition and its opening ceremony are also supported by the Minnesota Legacy Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.
Click here for photos from the opening reception. Photos are courtesy of David Sherman.
On January 22, 2014, the JCRC partnered with Bethel University and KFAI to present a reception for Transfer of Memory, a photo exhibition illustrating Holocaust survivors living in Minnesota, in their homes, in full color. The exhibition tells the story of Minnesota Holocaust survivors before, during, and after the Shoah (Hebrew for Holocaust). The exhibition has already travelled to several locations in the Twin Cities as well as St. Cloud, Elk River, and Grand Forks, ND.
Each Holocaust survivor in Transfer of Memory shares a story of survival during exceedingly difficult circumstances yet as a collection, these images focus on life and hope. From Europe to Minnesota, it was here they fashioned their dreams, their futures, and their families – their lives are a constant reminder of the value of freedom and the enduring human spirit. Photographer David Sherman and writer Lili Chester, in partnership with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC), created this photography exhibit. For more information about Transfer of Memory, visit http://transferofmemory.org/.
The reception at Bethel University was a great success drawing over 200 students, teachers, and community members to the Benson Great Hall. It featured Dora Eiger Zaidenweber, a participant in the photography exhibit. Dora presented her newly published family memoir Sky Tinged Red, which chronicles the 2 ½ years her father, Isaia Eiger, spent in Auschwitz. The book is actually Dora’s painstaking translation of her father’s manuscript written in his hand in pencil (some of which was missing for decades) – from Yiddish into English. (Click here for photos from the event.)
Dora Zaidenweber (left) with her daughter, Rosanne Zaidenweber.
Dora Eiger Zaidenweber was born in Radom, Poland in 1924. She survived the Radom forced labor camp and Birkenau and was liberated from Bergen-Belsen. Dora has spoken frequently about her experiences in the Holocaust. Her testimony is part of the Shoah Foundation Institute, Yad Vashem, and her story appears in the book Witnesses to the Holocaust. Dora has made it her mission - “her obligation” - to tell her story. She feels that it is her duty to remember and honor those who have no one to remember them.
Students from a number of schools attended Dora's talk including Normandale Community College (Thank you Prof. Andy Tix) and Calvin Christian High School (Thank you Anneke Branderhorst). The students were well prepared and asked some profoundly important questions including Dora's view of forgiveness and atonement. This led to an illuminating discussion of similarities and differences between Jewish and Christian conceptions of forgiveness and atonement.
Also attending was retired St. Louis Park High School social studies teacher Wes Bodin. Wes Bodin taught Dora’s daughter, Rosanne Zaidenweber. Wes encouraged Rosanne to speak with Dora about the Holocaust. Dora spoke publically about her experiences in the Holocaust for the first time in the early 1970s at St. Louis Park High School.
We thank Prof. Andy Johnson – the lead organizer of the program at Bethel – for reporting that Dora’s presentation has been the subject of on-campus classroom discussions. He has been contacted by professors and students from other institutions who attended Dora’s talk wanting to know about other events.
The photo exhibition will be on display at Bethel University through February 13, 2014.
Thank you to Bethel University and KFAI for contributing to the success of the opening reception. Special thanks are owed to Bethel University President Jay Barnes, Provost Deb Harless, Rosanne Zaidenweber, Nancy Sartor, and Avis Soderstrom.
The JCRC will co-sponsor the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies’ commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide entitled: “Genocide and its Aftermaths: Lessons from Rwanda.” The events will include a public conference, a student conference, and a K-12 teacher workshop. The programs will take place April 16th, 17th, and 19th at the University of Minnesota. Other organizers of the programming include the Institute for Global Studies, the Human Rights Program, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
On November 15, 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the issue of the Kristallnacht at a White House press conference: “I could scarcely believe such things could occur in a twentieth century civilization.” Roosevelt's incomprehensibility referred to the night of November 9 - 10, 1938, in Germany and Austria which, within the course of just a few hours, 815 shops, 171 homes, and 76 synagogues were destroyed; an additional 191 synagogues were set on fire; 36 Jews were murdered, another 36 seriously injured, and some 20,000 were arrested and sent to concentration camps.
The Kristallnacht marked Germany's final descent into the abyss of its barbarity which would precipitate the Second World War and Holocaust and result in tens of millions of deaths in Europe.
75 years later at the Minnesota State Capitol, the anniversary of the Kristallnacht was observed in the rotunda – the ceremonial and historic crossroads of our state.
The location of the remembrance was evocative due to its proximity to the legislative and judicial centers of Minnesota in a space surrounded by the Civil War battle flags of the Minnesota regiments.
The commemoration was one of the anchors of the programming associated with the exhibit “Lawyers Without Rights: Jewish Lawyers in Germany Under the Third Reich.” The exhibit teaches not only the fate of German Jewish lawyers after Hitler came to power but the dangers of the disintegration of the Rule of Law which can lead to genocide at any time or place.
(The exhibit and programming were brought to all of Minnesota – with events in the Twin Cities, Duluth and Virginia – under the aegis of Chief Judge J. Michael Davis and Judge Susan Richard Nelson of the Federal District Court of Minnesota in partnership with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, the Federal Bar Association (Minnesota Chapter), the Twin Cities Cardozo Society, and Associate Justice David Stras of the Minnesota Supreme Court. Particular thanks are owed to Judge Susan Richard Nelson for her continual stewardship of the project.)
Chief Judge Michael J. Davis began the commemoration noting the words inscribed in the atrium of the Minneapolis Federal Courthouse: “Equal Justice Under Law.” These fundamental words – the foundation of the Rule of Law – are etched in granite above the entrance to the Supreme Court of the United States of America. Similarly, with respect to the Kristallnacht commemoration, the ties of justice extend from Minnesota to Washington D.C. The architect of the Minnesota State Capitol, Cass Gilbert, was the architect of the United States Supreme Court.
Many themes were sounded in contemplating the Kristallnacht which was both a fissure in time and a continuation of the anti-Jewish “legislation” of the Reichstag and behavior of Germany.
One sound heard was music – patriotic, poignant, lilting – echoing through the State Capitol.
Another sound heard were the voices of the speakers articulating the themes, some of which highlights are noted here: Judge Susan Richard Nelson reminded us the collapse of the democratic Weimar Republic underscoring the fragility of the Rule of Law. Continual vigilance is necessary for a fair and just legal system to persevere.
The Honorable Samuel Kaplan, former United States Ambassador to Morocco, recalled his esteemed mentor, Minneapolis attorney Sidney Kaplan, and his role in helping to draft the indictments for the first Nuremberg war crimes trial.
Major General Richard C. Nash, Adjutant of the Minnesota National Guard – and great thanks are owed to the Minnesota National Guard for its partnership for the commemoration – reminded the gathering of the need to resist evil and the responsibility for preparation in the face of a “gathering storm.” General Nash invoked the service of Minnesota soldiers across the generations from the soldiers who defeated Nazi Germany in the European Theatre of Operations to his own command in Bosnia in the wake of the murderous ethnic cleansing of Bosnians. “Never again” he urged.
Sen. Rudy Boschwitz recalled the great foresight of his father who decided to leave Germany after Hitler became chancellor in 1933. As a refugee and a small child who came to the United States in 1935, Sen. Boschwitz recalled the pre-war years and World War II as a dark time for humanity. He urged, though, to recall the light of the Danes and Bulgarians and others “Among the Righteous” who saved Jews.
Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman, Senior Rabbi of Temple Israel (Minneapolis), recited the El malei rachamim memorial prayer, the Kaddish, for those who perished in the Holocaust remembering places throughout Europe where the Shoah was perpetrated.
Rep. Frank Hornstein, a member of the Minnesota legislature whose parents survived the Holocaust, told of returning to Poland and meeting the partisans with whom his mother fought in the 1944 Polish uprising in Warsaw. He told of meeting legislators in Poland and their dedication to fighting racism and anti-Semitism.
Associate Justice David Stras of the Minnesota Supreme Court, simply and powerfully, read from a speech of his grandfather – a Holocaust survivor – "Holocaust-Liberation-Aftereffects." Great thanks to Justice Stras and the Minnesota Supreme Court staff for making the logistical arrangements necessary for the Kristallnacht commemoration and the display of "Lawyers Without Rights" at the Minnesota Judicial Center. Justice Stras asked the Holocaust survivors present to stand.
I recognized the Holocaust survivors present: Fred Baron, Margo Berdass, Charles Fodor and Paula Rubin. I thanked them for coming to the United States and their example of the affirmation of life through raising families, starting businesses and loving their neighbors and country. I noted the presence of three JCRC presidents who are Temple Israel members: Jim Jacobson, Cliff Greene and Allen Saeks. (Former president Alan Weinblatt and board members Jeff Oberman and Joni Sussman also attended the commemoration.) I also thanked the Minnesota National Guard contingent present – Gen. Nash, Col. Eric Ahlness, Major Patricia Baker and Chaplain (Major) Philip “Buddy” Winn – for the ongoing partnerships in many projects with the JCRC.
I also thanked the network of Holocaust educators contributing to the "Lawyers Without Rights" exhibit including Prof. Daniel Wildeson of St. Cloud State University and Prof. Alejandro Baer of the University of Minnesota.
The procession of programming associated with the "Lawyers Without Rights" exhibit has also included a study of Minnesota's reaction to the Kristallnacht. Great thanks to the librarians of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and Minnesota Federal Court – Andrea Wambach and Kristyn Anderson – for their instrumental role in research and creating the placards of the display. Thank you, also, to JCRC intern Edmund Nevin for his research assistance at the Minnesota History Center. Michael Vicklund of the Minnesota Federal Court has been essential to all of the "Lawyers Without Rights" programming.
The programming of the "Lawyers Without Rights" shifted venues and direction to the Duluth Federal Courthouse from November 9 to November 14. The opening ceremony and reception took place on November 12th in the federal courthouse – whose origin (1934 and WPA) invoked the period of the disenfranchisement of German-Jewish lawyers and the prelude to World War II but also the great marshaling of American "Arsenal of Democracy" both in spirit and the military in defeating the Axis.
Again, as with each programming opportunity of the exhibit, every seat was filled. In the light of the dusk near the shores of Lake Superior, the speakers included: Chief Judge Michael J. Davis, Judge Susan Richard Nelson, Magistrate Judge Leo Brisbois, Rabbi David Steinberg, Prof. Deborah Petersen-Perlman, Leonore Baeumler and me. (I had the opportunity to note two special moments – one from the present and one from a generation ago. For the former, I introduced Minneapolis attorney Joe Kaminsky who attended the Duluth opening after a court appearance in Grand Marais earlier in the day. Joe Kaminsky's father was Felix Kaminsky who was saved by Oskar Schindler. For the latter, I recalled visiting in October, 1983 the American military cemetery for the Eighth Air Force in Cambridge, England. There touring this sacred American space abroad amid the crosses and stars of David, I came across the grave of Sgt. Held of Duluth.)
Judge Davis noted, with the backdrop of the ore boats which delivered to the east the Minnesota natural resource which became the steel of the war effort, that the Federal Courthouse is named for Gerald Heany, a Minnesotan from Duluth who became a judge of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Heaney was a United States Army Ranger who was among the first ashore at D-Day at Normandy.
After Duluth, the exhibit travelled to the University of Minnesota Law School, the IDS Center, and the Twin Cities Cardozo Society annual dinner. There was also programming in connection with the exhibit in Virginia, Minnesota. It was an honor and privilege to be associated with this powerful and moving exhibit.
As a twenty- year old staff sergeant, Gerry Boe from Cross Lake, Minnesota was one of the last American G.I.’s to ever place his hands on the lifeless body of Nazi Field Marshall Herman Goering. Born in Pequot Lakes in 1926 and now a resident of Crosslake, Minnesota, the now eighty-seven old Mr. Boe is understandably proud of his service to our nation during the Second World War. A collector of classic automobiles in pristine condition, Mr. Boe also carefully maintains documents, photographs, and artifacts – including an iconic “Eisenhower jacket” bearing the Big Red One of the 1st Infantry Division - from his tenure as a guard at the first Nuremberg War Crimes trial from 1945 – 1946. Charged with maintaining security as the architects of the “Final Solution” – the planned annihilation of six-million European Jews – faced some measure of justice at Nuremberg, Mr. Boe would have literally had a front-row seat to history had he not been standing guard at the back of the courtroom.
Mr. Boe appears in pictures from the trial standing mere feet away from the war criminal defendants. (Mr. Boe has a prize artifact from the trial: the front page of the November 3, 1946, Minneapolis Sunday Tribune with a color photograph of the courtroom scene which he keeps under a laminated cover. The caption to the newspaper picture asserts the photographer – Peyton Stallings of the University of Minnesota – took the only color pictures of the trial. Mr. Boe is present in the picture.)
With great energy belying his age, Mr. Boe still enthusiastically travels throughout Minnesota sharing his story of what he witnessed at Nuremberg and before that as a soldier in the Second World War. Speaking often alongside Nuremberg clerk-stenographer, Larry Tillemans, Mr. Boe ensures that the lessons of the Holocaust are not lost on those who did not personally witness the horrors of the Third Reich. If you are fortunate enough to attend one of Mr. Boe’s lectures, please be sure to ask him about the time convicted Nazi war criminal Goering began to address the court without permission after his death sentence had been pronounced. Struck by his insolence, Mr. Boe immediately took his nightstick and authoritatively told Goering to “sit down.” Please ask him as well about Goering’s suicide in his Nuremberg cell on October 15, 1946, shortly before his scheduled October 16th execution. While Mr. Boe has no particular insight into how Goering managed to escape the hangman’s noose, he along with fellow Minnesotan, Douglas Saxfold, were ordered to drag Goering’s body from his cell. Accordingly, after conspiring to murder millions, Goering met his ignominious end at the hands of two Minnesotans.
As we honor Gerry Boe and Larry Tillemans today, we also recall proudly the service of Sidney Kaplan and Justice William Christianson who respectively served as the attorney who drafted the initial indictment at Nuremberg and as a judge at one of the subsequent Nuremberg War Trials. Collectively, these veterans embodied the best of a generation of Minnesotans who were credited by the WPA’s American Guide Series as representing the “exuberance of youth” in one of the “most rapidly developing states in the Union.” Whether it was defeating Hitler or forging striking innovations in energy, technology, and farming, they built a world which was not only safer for democracy, but more prosperous as well.
Finally, it is worth noting that for years, Mr. Boe did not speak of his experience during the Nuremberg war crimes trial. Like so many other World War II veterans that he knew, Gerry Boe simply wanted to move ahead with his life upon discharge from the service. Older now and with perhaps greater perspective, Mr. Boe has grown more introspective. Pondering the many photographs which he brings with him on his many speaking engagements, Mr. Boe called our attention to a picture of the iconic Iwo Jima Memorial which is especially meaningful to him. In it, Gerry Boe sees the extra hands represented in the sculpture reaching out for the American flag as the hands of God reaching out to our flag and our nation. On this Veterans’ Day may God be with Gerry Boe, Larry Tillemans and all those who have served our nation so faithfully so that we may be free and at peace.
The Iwo Jima memorial is meaningful to Mr. Boe. He sees the extra hands represented in the sculpture reaching out for the American flag as the hands of God reaching out to the flag and nation.
The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom falls in a year rich with commemorations in a civil rights vein--including the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. It was no coincidence that the March occurred in the year of the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation at a time when the Civil Rights and Voting Rights legislation were a year away from passage. (As Martin Luther King, Jr. noted at the beginning of his “I Have a Dream” speech: “But 100 years later, the Negro is not yet free.”) Of the speakers present at the March, only Rep. John Lewis remains alive--one of the great Americans of our time.
I had the privilege and pleasure of hearing Rep. Lewis speak in 2008 at the plenum of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs in Atlanta. (The venue of the speech was "The Temple"--the historic synagogue of the city--and a target of civil rights era violence. More on this below.)
Rep. Lewis recounted marches in which he participated: the grandeur, promise and Call to Action of August 28, 1963. The preparation for the March included a meeting with President Kennedy in June, 1963 in which Rep. Lewis participated as the Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. ("In 1963 we could not register to vote simply because of the color of our skin" remarked Rep. Lewis at Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 2013, at the "Let Freedom Ring" commemoration.) Indeed, the speech of Rep. Lewis was a challenge to the Kennedy administration to get serious about Voting Rights legislation with teeth. (At the urging of A. Philip Randolph, Rep. Lewis tempered his remarks. He redacted, for instance, his sentence that "segregation is evil and must be destroyed in all forms." [See Meteor Blades at Daily Kos, August 25, 2013, for the transcript of Rep. Lewis' March on Washington speech which includes the portions struck from his speech as delivered].) Rep. Lewis' unalloyed call for what rightfully belonged to African Americans by natural law and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments was heightened by the authority, personality and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he spoke: “There will be neither rest or tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights.” (Another upper Midwest connection is the work of Rep. Lewis with Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, of Wisconsin, in a bipartisan effort to renew the Voting Rights Act.)
The legislative advance of civil rights through the Congress via the breaking of the southern filibuster in the United States Senate did not result in acquiescence in many areas below the Mason-Dixon. The idea of African Americans voting in large numbers in the South remained an incendiary issue. Seeking to emphasize federally guaranteed voting rights and access to public accommodations, the Selma to Montgomery March of March 7, 1965, started quietly with a church service. Marching two by two, the participants were stopped as they reached the end of the Edmund Pettis Bridge. Alabama state troopers and local law enforcement set upon the marchers. Fifty-eight marchers were wounded and treated at a Selma hospital including John Lewis who suffered a head fracture. The day became known as "Bloody Sunday."