The Allied Nations of World War II are commemorating a series of 70th anniversaries associated with the end of World War ll. The western allies (the United States, Great Britain, Canada and France) will celebrate VE and VJ Days in May and August, respectively. Russia will celebrate its “Victory Day” on May 9. Uniting the commemorations will be an underlying realization of the monumental effort and sacrifice required to defeat Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Japanese militarism. Similarly, honoring the transformation of formerly enemy dictatorships into democratic allies of the United States should resonate as an important theme. These seven decades have remade the world.
The global Jewish communities will join these commemorations and celebrations as both participants in the great struggle against the Axis and as an expression of gratefulness of the Allied effort.
During World War II an estimated 550,000 American Jews served in the various branches of the United States armed services. Roughly 26,000 of these received U.S. military citations for valor and merit with other awards totaling 49,000. “American Jews in World War II” (New York: Bureau of War records of the National Jewish Welfare Board, 1947.) Another one million Jews served in other Allied forces including 500,000 in the Soviet Armed forces according to the Jewish Virtual Library.
The Jews of mandatory Palestine fought in both units of the British armed forces and the Jewish Brigade. Tens of thousands of Jews were partisan fighters in the Resistance movements. (See Suhl, Yuri. . They Fought Back. Crown Publishers; and Sutin, Jack and Rochelle.  Jack and Rochelle: a Holocaust Story of Love and Resistance. Greywolf Press.) We honor the living and the memory of these fighting men and women.
The global Jewish community is also profoundly grateful for the war effort and sacrifice of the Allied nations which is almost beyond comprehension and description. Here is the simple truth: but for the efforts of the Allied armed forces, the Holocaust would have continued inexorably until all the Jews of Europe – and perhaps beyond – were murdered. But for the effort of the Allied armed forces, the occupation and enslavement of European and Asian nations may never have ended.
As insufficient as it to measure sacrifice and war effort in a few sentences, citations or statistics, these references provide a rough order of magnitude.
For the United States, 291,557 military personnel died in World War II. Economically, the United States – in the words of Franklin Roosevelt – was the “Arsenal of Democracy.” Programs such as “Lend-Lease” provided critical military material necessary for Great Britain and the Soviet Union to prosecute their war efforts. The cost of the American war effort was an estimated $296 billion (roughly 4,104 billion dollars today). Closer to home, Dave Kenney’s “Minnesota Goes to War” (2009), details the Minnesota war effort including the contributions of women and African Americans. 7,800 Minnesotans died in World War II as did 662 North Dakotans and 1,426 South Dakotans of the “Greatest Generation.”
For Great Britain – and the commonwealth nations – as close to Minnesota as Canada – the greatest achievement is the designation of standing alone against Nazi Germany and saving Western civilization from the fall of France in May 1940 to the German invasion of the USSR on June 22, 1941, to Germany’s declaration of war against the United States on December 9, 1941. These were the days of the “Hinge of Fate” in the words of Winston Churchill when the resolution of the island nation inspired lovers of freedom throughout the world.
For the Soviet Union, the murder of its people and the deaths of men and women in her armed forces was a staggering 20 million in World War II. By way of perspective, the gigantic land battles of the eastern front raged for three years as the remarkable scale of preparation for D-Day significantly consumed the Western allies war effort in that period. (For a description of one battle and its vast scope and consequences, see Nagorski, Andrew. (2008) The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow that Changed the Course of World War II. New York: Simon and Schuster.) In many ways, the Allied victory over Nazi Germany was saturated in Russian blood and the casualties the Red Army inflicted upon the Wehrmacht, SS and Luftwaffe.
Moreover, the important contributions of the French via the Free French and the French armed forces after Liberation and China (attacked by Japan in 1937 and suffered terribly in the next eight years – see Chang, Iris. (1997) The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. Penguin Books.) and the partisan movements must never be forgotten. As the eminent World War II historian Gerhard Weinberg noted “The fires have been extinguished, but it is up to each and every one of us to see they are never lit again.”
Two important Twin Cities’ 70th anniversary commemorations are approaching on consecutive days:
January 26, 2015: From 5:00-8:00 PM: The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (“CHGS”) at the University of Minnesota is hosting at the Weisman Art Museum: “Bearing Witness 70 Years after the Liberation of Auschwitz.” The JCRC, the Children of Holocaust Survivors Association in Minnesota (CHAIM) and many campus academic groups including the Center for Jewish Studies are partners. CHGS will unveil the eight Minnesota portraits of the forty overall paintings done for the “Portraits & Conversations with Survivors of the Shoah” that CHGS coordinated with Spanish artist Felix de la Concha. Holocaust survivor Dora Zaidenweber will discuss her experiences in the Shoah. Support for the project was provided by Rimon: The Jewish Arts Council, an initiative of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation.
(Please see this link to the JCRC's “Transfer of Memory” exhibit [www.transferofmemory.org] which – in many ways – parallels the paintings of Mr. de la Concha. “Transfer of Memory” is an exhibit of Minneapolis photographer David Sherman’s portraits of Minnesota Holocaust survivors which has toured the upper Midwest for two years.) The JCRC welcomes Mr. de la Concha to the Twin Cities.
January 27, 2015: The Apollo Male Chorus will perform “The Liberation of Auschwitz: A Chorale Concert to Commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz.” Performance time is 7:00 pm at the Ted Mann Concert Hall at the University of Minnesota. Commissioned by The Apollo Club, “Five Prayers” is a five-movement symphonic song cycle for male chorus, solo baritone, orchestra, and dancer. This concert is artistically conceived to begin and end liberatingly with the darkest moment in the center of the program, to symbolically represent the U-shaped Jewish menorah.
The JCRC is deeply grateful for the presentation of both of these beautiful artistic and historic renderings of the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz – which is recognized by the United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The theme of liberation of the camps and gratitude towards the liberating Allied soldiers is an important JCRC programming goal to express to the greater community including our military veterans. Two years ago, in conjunction with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the JCRC partnered with the Minnesota National Guard to hear from keynote speaker Col. Ed Shames – and to honor Battle of the Bulge veteran Herb Suerth, Jr. – his memories of the liberation of Landsberg and Dachau camps. On that day – the civic heart of Minnesota, the rotunda of the State Capitol – was filled to capacity as it was also for the 75th anniversary commemoration of the Kristallnacht on November 7, 2013.
In honor of the American forces that liberated concentration camps in Germany and Austria, here is a compilation of the Liberating Divisions as compiled by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:
Producer Nancy Spielberg premiered the documentary “Above and Beyond” for the Twin Cities in October at the Riverview Theater – in conjunction with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) and the Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival. The documentary is receiving strongly positive reviews (See TC Jewfolk, 20th Century Aviation Magazine, and SSN reviews). The Riverview Theater screening was sold out with 700 people in attendance.
B'shert – “fated” – is a word which Leon Frankel uses in the documentary “Above and Beyond” to describe the remarkable set of circumstances which brought him to Israel during its War of Independence.
Indeed, Leon’s journey to the 101 Squadron in 1948 began with a chance meeting with his friend “Red” Fogerty at Bilbo’s Pool Hall in St. Paul who convinced him to enlist in the Navy instead of the Army Air Corps in the summer of 1942.
Even the venue for the Twin Cities premiere of “Above and Beyond” – the Riverview Theater (hard by the grain silos and spur lines of an earlier south Minneapolis era) – sounded in a certain “kizmetry.”
The architects of the Riverview – Liebenberg and Kaplan – were Jewish and known, among other things, for their designing of movie theaters. The Riverview opened December 30, 1948. This date corresponded with the IDF's “Operation Horev” (also known as “Operation Ayin”) offensive which was the last phase of the 1948 war. This operation, which drove the Egyptian forces from the Negev desert, was notable for the effective integration of the Israel Air Force (IAF) bombers and fighters with the ground offensive of the Israeli Army. Indeed, according to Shlomo Aloni's “101 – Israeli Air Force First Fighter Squadron” (a picture of Leon appears on page 18 of the book), the IAF shot down two Egyptian planes on December 30, 1948. As “Above and Beyond” relates, six months earlier the IAF and the 101 Squadron had been nothing more than the Haganah Air Service with a few Piper Cubs and a small number of (Yishuv) Palestinians who were veterans of the Royal Air Force.
Marquee at Riverview Theater (Photo: Erin Smith Photography)
This b’shert quality was also seen in the presence of three Machalniks (“volunteers from abroad”) at the screening of “Above and Beyond” – a remarkable “concentration” given the passage of 66 years and a relatively modest (in numbers) Twin Cities Jewish population. Joining Leon Frankel were Bucky Bacaner, an Aliyah Bet sailor and World War II merchant marine; and Jason Fenton, the youngest Machalnik who came from Britain at age 16 to join an IDF anti-tank unit. It was a great honor, in the presence of Nancy Spielberg, to introduce all three to the sold out audience of 700 for the kavod (honor) they richly deserve. If nothing else, premiering “Above and Beyond” for the Twin Cities provided an opportunity for the photographing of an indelible portrait: Leon, Bucky and Jason with Nancy Spielberg – three heroes and the cinematic immortalizer of the Machalniks of the 101 Squadron whose cinematic mitzvah will carry forward to all of the Machalniks, whether air, sea, or land.
From L to R: Bucky Bacaner, Nancy Spielberg (standing), Leon Frankel (seated), and Jason Fenton (Photo: Erin Smith Photography)
Great thanks, of course, are owed to Nancy Spielberg for bringing forth this wonderful documentary. Her original connection to the 101 Squadron was b’shert in the sense that the obituary of Al Schwimmer – which described the founder of Israel Aerospace Industries also as the father of the Israel Air Force – happened to catch her eye.
The imagination, verve, energy, and determination of Nancy Spielberg to make “Above and Beyond” are only part of the story. The other part is Nancy's unalloyed graciousness. She made it her business to attend the Twin Cities premiere in the midst of a national and international tour of the premieres of “Above and Beyond” which is an exhausting schedule. Ms. Spielberg was unfailingly accommodating, friendly, flexible, and grateful for the support she was receiving in Minnesota which brought her to tears. (Who didn’t love Ms. Spielberg filming the audience at the premiere to show her mother and father?)
Another critical part of the story of the premiere of “Above and Beyond” was the opportunity for collaboration with the Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival to bring the documentary to the Twin Cities. The film festival is itself, a collaboration of the Jewish Community Center of the Greater St. Paul Area and the Sabes (Minneapolis) Jewish Community Center. That is a collaboration within a collaboration – resoundingly “Better Together” – for two outstanding community agencies and the astonishing range of “Big Screen” Jewish content brought home to us – and thanks to the film festival for partnering with the JCRC for the “Above and Beyond” component.
700 in attendance at the regional premiere of “Above and Beyond” (Photo: Erin Smith Photography)
The Living Word Christian Center and Christians United for Israel hosted their fifth Night to Honor Israel on September 14th.
It was a night of extraordinary interfaith partnership (Christians and Jews); solidarity (United States and Israel); covenantal affirmation (by Pastor Mac Hammond); tribute to survival and redemption of the Holocaust (Professor Irving Roth—he exclaimed that “the American soldiers who liberated him from Buchenwald looked to him like the moshiac—messiah); international musical tour-de-force (Dudu Fisher); personal friendship (Rabbi Norman Cohen of Bet Shalom Congregation, who provided the benediction, and Pastor Hammond have been friends for thirty years when both were leading their nascent congregations and shared adjacent office space) and thousands of people participating in gemulat chasidim – the act of loving kindness between neighbors, friends, colleagues or even strangers – of celebrating and contemplating the sacred relationship between Christians and Jews.
Professor Irving Roth
It wasn't always so – particularly in the upper Midwest – which makes the Night to Honor Israel all the more uplifting and profoundly important. And often it isn't so as a present survey of Europe and the Middle East will show. (Which includes the persecution of Christians in the cradle of Christianity – the Middle East.) And so it is wonderful to bend the arc of history towards justice (repudiating anti-Judaism by embracing the common heritage of Judaism and Christianity) from Brooklyn Center projected to the rest of the world.
Pastor Mac Hammond – as he has for years – forthrightly addressed the issue of Christian anti-Judaism by way of the reason for the Living Word Christian Center’s bringing to life the Night to Honor Israel.
Succinctly, he identified three major points:
Pastor Mac Hammond in the presence of Christians and Jews, young and old, veterans of the armed forces of the United States and Israel, and in a congregation full of people which reflected Minnesota’s rich racial diversity affirmed this elemental truth – vibrant Christianity and Judaism relies on the reciprocal acknowledgement of the intertwined fates of Christianity and Judaism. That is mutual respect is the foundation of Christian-Jewish interfaith relations and all the good which can emerge from it for the benefit of all.
The profoundly serious and heartfelt message of Pastor Mac Hammond is reflected in two stories told over the course of the evening involving “Righteous Gentiles,” which is the name given to non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust often at great personal peril. Dudu Fischer paid tribute – in song and with video of the reunion – of the Polish family which saved his father's family in the Shoah – 16 souls saved by one family. For Irving Roth--who survived Auschwitz, the Nazi Death Marches and Buchenwald – he returned to his village to find, a miracle, that his parents had survived the Holocaust in Budapest. Implicitly, this meant his parents' survival pivoted on the supreme efforts of Raoul Wallenberg and other diplomats of the neutral nations who prevented Eichmann from deporting to Auschwitz the last surviving Jewish community in occupied Europe: the Jews of Budapest. This we celebrate.
Rabbi Norman Cohen
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) applauds Israel’s decision to extend the current 72-hour ceasefire originally set to expire on Friday morning beyond its present deadline. It comes as no surprise that Hamas has called for a resumption of rocket attacks against Israeli civilians if their demands are not met. We support lifting the sea blockade of Gaza, but only if Hamas’ weapons are seized and Gaza is demilitarized.
We underscore Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments yesterday when he said, “Israel deeply regrets every civilian casualty, every single one. The people of Gaza are not our enemy. Our enemy is Hamas.”
There is no question that the loss of life is tragic. Any feeling person understands that this is a horrific situation for innocent Palestinians and Israelis. We want an end to terrorism. We want an end to violence.
Israel takes every measure to avoid civilian casualties, but what should it do when thousands of rockets are being fired by Hamas under the cover of their own people? What would the United States do in the same situation?
More than 3,000 rockets have been fired by Iran-backed Hamas from Gaza into Israel since July 8th with ranges that place millions of Israelis at risk. Day and night, Israelis have 15 – 90 second warnings from a siren to run for a bomb shelter. Mothers, babies, and children in hospitals are sleeping in bomb shelters. People in the street, walking to work, or going about their daily lives are often left unprotected and with nowhere to run, they lie down in the street and cover their heads.
In Gaza, Iran-backed Hamas is fighting against peace by building a vast network of multi-million dollar lethal terror tunnels, firing thousands of rockets at Israeli mothers and children, and hiding behind their own people. For years, there have been no Israeli soldiers or settlers in Gaza. Cement that should have been used to build houses and schools in Gaza was instead used by Iran-backed Hamas to create tunnels of death to attack Israeli civilians, and schools have malevolently been used as storage containers for rockets, turning innocent Palestinians into civilian shields.
The majority of Minnesotans and Americans appreciate the essential moral difference between Israel, a liberal western democracy, and Hamas, a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and internationally recognized terrorist government which seeks the destruction of Israel and all Jews. With the latest news that Hamas has called for a resumption of rocket attacks against Israeli civilians if their demands are not met, we are not sure what further evidence could convince the blame Israel first/blame Israel only fringe that Israel is fighting a just, defensive war.
In a recent interview, famed Israeli writer, peace advocate, and founder of Peace Now, Amos Oz, posed these questions: “What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery? What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?”
Ultimately, the only possible solution to this conflict is the two-state solution, an independent Palestine living in peace with the Jewish State of Israel. Israelis and Palestinians deserve peace and security, and lives free from terror and violence.
Hope for and belief in peace are the reasons that Israel gave up all of the Sinai for peace with Egypt, why Israel made peace with Jordan, left Lebanon, and left all of Gaza. Israel works daily in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank on security issues for both Israelis and Palestinians and to aid in the economic development of Palestinian communities. All those who hope and pray for a lasting peace should support Israel in its war against Hamas, which not only violently seeks Israel’s destruction, but is callously and cynically indifferent to the welfare of Palestinians.
These have been difficult days for Israel during Operation Protective Edge. Israel has exercised its sovereign right of self-defense against over 3,000 Hamas rockets aimed at its civilians and it destroyed terror tunnels from Gaza into the heart of Israel intended to perpetrate a mass casualty attack against Israelis. We owe great thanks to President Barack Obama and Congress, including Senators Klobuchar and Franken from Minnesota; Hoeven and Heitkamp from North Dakota; and Johnson and Thune from South Dakota, as well as Representatives Walz (CD-1), Kline (CD-2), Paulsen (CD-3), McCollum (CD-4), Bachmann (CD-6), Peterson (CD-7), Nolan (CD-8), Cramer (ND), and Noem (SD) for authorizing $225 million in supplemental funding for Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system. Judging by various opinion polls, the American people are standing with Israel.
We also thank Governor Mark Dayton for standing strong with 1,400 other Minnesotans in late July to express support for Israel.
Israelis and Palestinians deserve peace and security. The world is crying out for an end to this conflict and to a cessation of the suffering on both sides.
Finally, we take to heart these polling results of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya:
First, thank you to Senators Klobuchar and Franken as well as Senators Heitkamp (ND) and Thune (SD) for their co-sponsorship of the Senate Resolution defending Israel’s right to self-defense and condemning the unprovoked rocket attacks against innocent Israeli civilians. The House of Representatives unanimously passed the House version last week.
Earlier today, Israel accepted the Egyptian cease-fire proposal which was also endorsed by both the Palestinian Authority and the Arab League. Israel halted its targeted airstrikes against Hamas in the Gaza Strip for six hours. Even Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on Hamas to end the rocket attacks by asking, “What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?”
During this period of Israeli restraint, Hamas continued to launch rockets at Israeli civilian populations. This further underscores Hamas’ true intention of creating terror in Israel and continuing on its path of Israel’s destruction.
Israeli civilians have been besieged by an unprecedented number of terrorist attacks from Hamas and other jihadist operatives in Gaza. Since the beginning of this conflict, over 1,100 rockets have been launched from Gaza into Israel with the express purpose of killing as many civilians as possible.
While Israel's “Iron Dome” anti-missile system intercepts some of these rockets, many are still hitting some of Israel's most populous cities. For many Israelis, 15 seconds is all the time they have to seek shelter.
Israel's defensive actions in Gaza to stop the rocket attacks are legitimate and necessary measures to protect its people. Like all nations, Israel is entitled to self-defense. A right recognized by the White House ("We strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire inside of Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza. No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians and we support Israel's right to defend itself against these vicious attacks.") and even the U. N. Secretary General ("These indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas must stop.").
Hamas has been targeting Israeli civilians while hiding behind Palestinian civilians, including hospitals, schools, mosques, and densely populated residential areas. Israel has made extraordinary efforts to avoid killing innocent Palestinian civilians, including phone calls and the use of effective non-lethal warnings. In fact, some of Israel's fiercest critics have admitted that "[b]y the standards of war, Israel's efforts to spare civilians have been exemplary." (Will Saletan, "The Gaza Rules: Israel, unlike Hamas, isn't trying to kill civilians. It's taking pains to spare them," Slate).
Even as the IDF continues to work around these challenges, Hamas officials praise the use of human shields.
If Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota were under constant rocket attack, we would rightfully demand our government do everything possible to end the attacks immediately. Why shouldn't innocent Israelis currently under siege in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Beersheba, and Sderot deserve the same protection?
When Israel unilaterally withdrew completely from Gaza in 2005, not a single Israeli soldier or civilian remained behind. Rather than pursue peace with Israel and prosperity for its people, the Hamas-led government has launched thousands of rockets into Israel and thus necessitated Israel’s current security blockade to prevent Hamas from securing even more lethal weapons.
The only way for true peace and security in the Middle East is for the Palestinians to accept the Jewish State of Israel next to an independent Palestinian state. So long as Hamas and other jihadi factions continue to reject Israel’s right to exist and acts upon their hatred through terrorism, there will sadly be no peace.