Archive | Historical Perspective by Jerry Kasten

Remembering the master mime, Marcel Marceau

Posted on 13 November 2019 by admin

I never thought that a recent trip my wife, Deanna, and I took to North Carolina for a Road Scholar workshop would eventually lead me back to the master mime entertainer I had thoroughly enjoyed years ago, Marcel Marceau.
Marceau, considered by many to be the best mime ever, helped make mime internationally popular from 1948 through 2003.
Trying to contact an old Army buddy, Ben Martin, who had lived near our Montreat destination in North Carolina, I learned sadly that Ben had passed away two years previously.
Speaking to a friend of his, I also learned that Ben and Marcel Marceau had become good friends in Paris while Ben was a Time-Life photographer.
With Marceau’s’ permission, Ben took numerous photographs of the King of Mime, producing a wonderful 150-page display of the art of mime, titled “Marcel Marceau, Master of Mime.”
While this is primarily a photo book about Marceau, the entertainer, it also briefly mentions Marceau’s experiences evading the Nazis and helping to save hundreds of Jewish children from the Holocaust, a mitzvah he rarely mentioned. Just what you would expect from a silent mime.
Marcel’s real last name was Mangel, but he later changed it to Marceau when he needed an alias after joining the French resistance movement during World War II.
His family evacuated Alsace-Lorraine for central France. Sadly, like so many others, Marcel’s father, a butcher, was caught, deported to Auschwitz and gassed upon arrival.
Marcel, serving in the French underground with his brother, helped to hide many Jewish children from the Nazis and their French collaborators.
Changing the children’s ages from older to younger on their identity cards, Marcel was able to convince the enemy that the children were not old enough for heavy labor.
His acting ability shone through when he dressed, at times, as a Boy Scout leader, leading his charges to a campground in the hills, and across the border to safety in neutral Switzerland.
Because of his modesty, I suspect that many people are unaware of Marceau’s heroism during the war and are more knowledgeable about his successful mime career after the war.
With the liberation of Paris and the war in France drawing to a close, Marceau joined the Free French Army to use his language skills as a translator for General Patton.
Soon after Marceau’s pantomime skills became known to the GIs, there was a clamor for him to perform, resulting in his first professional performance, in a huge army tent before 3,000 troops.
In April 2001, Marcel Marceau received the Wallenberg Foundation’s award in recognition of his solidarity and courage during the Second World War.
If you don’t learn anything else from having read about Marcel Marceau, remember this: “Actions speak louder than words.”

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‘Race’ is a 4-letter word

Posted on 31 October 2019 by admin

Whoever we are and whatever we do in life, we are all being asked, many times over the years, to choose our race from a given list.
It may be a job application, health insurance or medical form, driver’s and marriage licenses, or school form; the list goes on and on.
No matter what justification is sometimes given, such as the need to identify individuals having a predisposition to certain diseases, the true purpose may lie elsewhere.
As recently reported in The New York Times marriage announcement section, a couple applying for a marriage license in Virginia refused to provide their race on the marriage license application, of which there were 200 choices including Aryan, Mulatto, Nubian and Octoroon (a person who is one-eighth black by descent).
The couple found the terms to be offensive and scientifically baseless.
They joined a class-action lawsuit which resulted in Virginia’s attorney general ordering court clerks to eliminate the “race” requirement.
Georgia and Louisiana, however, continue to require “racial information.”
We should never forget the use of racial profiling by Adolf Hitler and his attempt to create a superior Aryan race by eliminating those he deemed “inferior” such as Jews; Roma, also known as Gypsies; etc.
Who among the non-Jewish German population spoke up as their Jewish neighbors were disappearing during the Holocaust?
The “alt-right” White Nationalists, KKK, American Nazi Party and their ilk thrive on the concept of racial superiority. They even have referred to Jews as a race rather than a religion.
Renowned sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois, more than 100 years ago, expressed concern that race was being used as a biological term for what he felt were actually social and cultural differences.
The greater science community today agrees. Scientific scholars state that racial concepts in genetic research need to go.
Many people today, as they investigate their ancestry, are realizing for the first time that their family roots reveal a multiethnic heritage.
There has historically been tremendous assimilation through the centuries of various ethnic groups. There is no “pure” or unmixed group.
We should celebrate our ethnic heritage, whatever it may be, and bury the racial stereotypes forever.

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America’s Jewish farmers helped agricultural expansion

Posted on 16 October 2019 by admin

Many people are unaware of the fact that Jewish immigrants were part of the great agricultural expansion which took place in the United States from 1800 to 1900 and beyond.
The usual belief is that Jews were merchants, generally found in towns and cities and not farmers out in the countryside, tilling the soil.
Not quite so. Fleeing the disastrous pogroms and lack of economic opportunities under the czar, Eastern Europeans especially those with farming skills, found agricultural opportunities easily available.
A number of Jewish organizations such as the Hebrew Union Agricultural Society, the Jewish Colonization Society, and the American Hebrew and Horticultural Association attempted to promote and assist Jewish settlers to organize groups (collectives).
They would be trained, then formed into groups which would share the work and any profits thus derived.
The Jewish agricultural collectives which were established in 12 states eventually failed to last very long because the immigrants did not want to share their profits with their fellow workers, some of whom they felt may not have worked as hard as they.
With the eventual failure of collectives, the Association began to fund individual farmers instead of groups.
Many Eastern European Jews fleeing the hopelessness of bleak futures under the czar’s repressive measures against Jews, found work as farm laborers.
My father, of blessed memory, escaping as a teenager from being swept up in Eastern Europe’s pre-WW1 gathering storm, fled to America in 1914.
Joining his older brother, who was working on a chicken farm in New Jersey, he learned to work with chickens, eventually opening his own market in New York.
I remember during World War II when meat was scarce and rationed, that we always had meat on the table, chicken, that is.
Farming, in general, was changing during and after World War II. Smaller farms were disappearing, being bought out by large co-ops and corporations.
Modern farming now required lots of land and a highly mechanized and modernized approach.
While the number of Jewish farms has greatly decreased, there have been some recent developments.
Coinciding with the growing interest in organic foods, there is the environmental health movement. Organic farms are increasing and some have become large corporations, such as Ben and Jerry’s.
The Jewish Farm School centered in Philadelphia has been operating for nearly 14 years, but is scheduled to shut down as an organization this fall.
Yet, as one Jewish agricultural group fades, others, like newly planted seeds, pop up. Idealistic young Jews have helped to form farms, co-ops, and organizations in order to teach and incorporate Jewish values into food production.
Some of the groups which impose a higher standard during food production include Adamah, EcoGlatt, Grow and Behold, Hazon, Jewish Farm School and others.
Yet, as one Jewish Farm group, in Philadelphia, appears to be fading, another in Baltimore appears to be emerging.
For any TJP readers contemplating becoming a Jewish farmer, you may be interested in attending Cultivating Culture, the First Annual Gathering of Jewish Farmers, to be held at the Pearlstone Center near Baltimore, Maryland Feb. 13-16, 2020.

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Honoring Roddie Edmonds, Righteous Among Nations

Posted on 18 September 2019 by admin

This non-Jew saved 200 Jewish POW during WWII

Many accounts of bravery have emerged among the many thousands of American prisoners of war during World War II in the Pacific and European Theatres.

September 20 is POW/MIA Recognition Day, a day worth remembering the actions of Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds of Knoxville, Tennessee. Edmonds, along with others of the 422nd Infantry Regiment, was forced to surrender to an overwhelming force of Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, toward the end of the war in Europe.

As was the custom, officers went to one camp while the enlisted men went to another, Stalag IXA, located near Ziegenhain, Germany.

Jewish-American soldiers had been warned to throw their ID tags away, so they could not be singled out by the Jew-hating Nazis. In violation of the Geneva Convention, the Nazis were sending those soldiers to slave-labor camps where chances of survival were minimal.

As the highest-ranking enlisted man, Edmonds was in charge of all 1,275 prisoners — 200 of whom were Jews — whose well-being he considered his responsibility. After they arrived in the bitter cold, the Nazi commandant ordered Edmonds to identify all the Jews in his group, and to have them in formation the next morning. Instead, Edmonds ordered all 1,275 men to assemble outside their barracks, which they did. Outraged, the Nazi commandant drew his pistol, pointing it at Edmonds, demanding that he identify the Jews.

“We are all Jews here,” Edmonds said. “If you want to shoot Jews, you must shoot everyone.”

He warned the commandant that, with the war ending, if the prisoners were harmed, he would be hunted down and tried as a war criminal. The commandant holstered his gun and walked away.

Edmonds, who also served in the Korean War, never received official recognition saving the Jewish soldiers. It was only after his death in 1985, when his wife gave Edmonds’ two diaries to his son, a Baptist minister, that Edmonds’ bravery became known to his own family.

In 2015, Yad VaShem named Roddie Edmonds a Righteous Among the Nations.

Unfortunately, an attempt to confer the Congressional Medal of Honor has stalled because no battle had been fought nor blood shed in his efforts. Yet, with or without a medal, Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds will always be remembered as a non-Jewish, Jewish American Hero.

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Siegfried Marcus invented the ‘auto-mobile’

Posted on 04 September 2019 by admin

The 1800s German Jew introduced a liquid-fuel breakthrough

It sure is amazing. I just saw a TV report showing a self-driving car safely navigating the streets and eventually parking itself. So, can you imagine people’s reaction, way back in the late 1800s, when they saw one of the first cars on the street?
The person who generally gets credit for inventing the very first road vehicle is Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, a French military engineer, who in 1769, built a steam-driven three-wheeler designed to pull artillery. Other inventors followed with steam-driven and coal gas models, but most engineers describe the first true car as “one driven by liquid fuel.” Fulfilling this breakthrough was Siegfried Marcus, a German Jew and prolific inventor, who spent most of his life in Austria.
Starting as a 12-year old machine-shop apprentice, Marcus blossomed in the telegraph industry, eventually improving telegraphic relay systems and gaining recognition as an “up-and-coming engineer.”
One of his most well-known inventions was the T-handled plunger device used by mining and construction companies, which safely detonated explosives. By the 1860s, money from Marcus’ successful inventions allowed him to build his own research laboratory, where he could experiment with whatever he chose.
While using liquid fuels for ignition purposes, Marcus understood the force that developed when sparks ignited, enabling him to build a two-cycle engine. He mounted his motor to the rear wheels of a four-wheel cart, providing the basis for a motor-driven cart.
Finally, in 1888, Marcus announced his much improved car. Sporting a four-cycle, gasoline powered engine, the “auto-mobile” reached a top speed of 10 miles per hour.
For a brief time, Siegfried Marcus was celebrated as the inventor of the first automobile. However, when he was to be honored by the Austrian Auto Club, he surprisingly declined to attend, stating that the idea of the auto was a waste of time. And, interestingly enough, he made no further effort to perfect and market his car. I suppose once he accomplished what he set out to do, there was no longer a challenge.
Thirty-five years after Marcus died, and soon after Hitler came to power, evidence of the inventor’s achievements disappeared. Blueprints, files, and patents of Marcus and other Jews were destroyed. The Nazis attempted to destroy all evidence of Jewish achievements, including a monument honoring Marcus at the Vienna Technical University.
In 1950, Marcus’ second car was found where it had been hidden: bricked up behind a false wall of a Viennese museum by employees to protect it from Nazi destruction. Siegfried Marcus’ second car is now on permanent display at the Vienna Technical Museum.
While the Viennese support Siegfried Marcus as the inventor of the first car, most auto historians give credit to Gottlieb Daimler (1885) for the first modern engine and Carl Benz (1886) for the first gasoline-fueled car.
But Marcus, the Jewish inventor, also deserves to be remembered as one of the first inventors of the automobile.

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South African Lemba have similar lineage to Jews

Posted on 22 August 2019 by admin

You have heard of the Black Ethiopian Jews, many now living in Israel, but do you know of the Lemba people of Zimbabwe, South Africa, Malawi and Mozambique?
The Lemba are estimated to number 50,000, resembling their neighbors, the Bantus, but have religious beliefs similar to Judaism and Islam.
After the destruction of the Temple, a group of Jews left Judea, settling in Yemen. When the economy failed in Yemen, Jews left for Africa, settling in both Tanzania and Ethiopia. Many in Ethiopia moved south into Zimbabwe.
They have certain dietary rules which closely resemble those of Judaism and Islam. Those Lemba who most resemble Jews also have close Christian beliefs.
Among the Lemba’s Jewish-like practices are:
• Observance of Shabbat
• Praise of a God who considers them the chosen people
• Teaching their children to honor their parents
• Avoiding pig and other certain foods
• Having ritual animal slaughter and preparation
• Practicing male circumcision
• Putting the Star of David on tombstones
• Marrying only other members of their group
Their oral tradition explains that the Lemba are descended from seven Jewish men who left Israel 2,500 years ago, marrying Lemba women.
Their language at prayer is a mixture of Hebrew and Arabic. They have a religious artifact which is a replica of the Biblical Ark of the Covenant. This ark was built almost 700 years ago from the remains of the original ark which had stored the Ten Commandments.
Members of the Lemba priesthood, known as the Buba, have a priestly line, known as Kohanim.
According to Professor Tudor Parfitt, of the University of London, “the Jewish priesthood continued in the West by people called Cohen the same way it was continued by the priestly clan of the Lemba.”
While the Lemba have not yet proven that they are one of the lost tribes of Israel, DNA evidence shows that the Lemba of South Africa share a common ancestor with the Jewish people.
Modern genetic science has shown similar genetic characteristics of Jews with the Lemba people.
Israeli’s right of return law, which guarantees citizenship for any Jew, may be difficult to apply to the Lembas. They establish identity paternally, while under Israeli law, identity is established maternally.
But the Lemba consider themselves part of our Jewish tradition. We should welcome them.

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Fighting anti-Semitism with Anne Frank’s tree

Posted on 07 August 2019 by admin

Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe, as well as in the United States.
Whether we are Jewish or not, we should recall the horrors of the Holocaust, which began with a systematic program of anti-Semitic moves by the Nazis.
In response to this current rise in anti-Semitism, the Anti-Defamation League is sponsoring a Walk Against Hate in Dallas on Sept. 15.
Various synagogues are holding discussion groups on the subject today, since a growing number of young people are not learning about the Holocaust.
With the advent of the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness tests, teachers feel pressured to teach to certain objectives, allowing less time for meaningful discussions such as Hitler’s use of anti-Semitism and the resultant Holocaust.
Motivated and self-directed educators will make use of Holocaust centers, if possible, to provide an effective learning experience, but directives and guidelines will pressure teachers to move on.
Some educators are told not to spend too much time on Hitler’s Germany, putting greater emphasis on Germany after World War II. As a result, a growing number of school children are unaware of who Adolf Hitler was. Something more effective is needed in terms of educating young people about the evils of hate and anti-Semitism.
Many people have heard of the book, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” but have they read it? Everyone should because it provides a personal account of what life was like as a Jew hiding during the Holocaust. Her diary, historical records and the declining number of Holocaust survivors are some of the only tangible resources we have left to show our children.
While it is only mentioned three times, Anne found much joy in nature, commenting on the lone chestnut tree she observes from her hiding place in the Secret Annex.The tree provides insightful symbolism to readers.
On May 13, 1944, Frank’s diary reads, ”Our chestnut tree is in full bloom. It’s covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year.”
Her tree symbolizes freedom and continues to do so through its saplings replanted at many locations worldwide.
Fifty years after Anne Frank and her sister lost their lives to typhus at Bergen-Belsen, her tree also succumbed to disease.
Thankfully, caretakers at the Frank House, discovering the tree’s plight early enough, created saplings to be later planted at various sites around the world.
Anne Frank trees have been planted in places like: the U.S. Capitol, the Boston Common, the United Nations, the W.J. Clinton Presidential Center, Central High School in Arkansas, Southern Cayuga School District in New York Liberty Park, the New York Children’s Museum and several other places.
Some teachers assign Anne Frank’s diary to their students and foster meaningful discussions, encouraging their entire school to plant a tree on campus as a memorial dedicated to Anne Frank.
So many of life’s lessons can be learned if today’s children read Anne Frank’s words.
“We’re all alive, but we don’t know why or what for; we’re all searching for happiness; we’re all leading lives that are different and yet the same… we have the opportunity to get an education and make something of ourselves…but we have to earn it. …doing good and working, not being lazy. Laziness may look inviting, but only work gives you true satisfaction.”
Demonstrations and discussions translate to short-term lessons, but the reading of Anne Frank’s diary, followed by the planting of a tree at a school in her honor, results in a lifelong remembrance.

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The nation that saved 50,000 Jews

Posted on 25 July 2019 by admin

Bulgaria’s church and government stood against Hitler

My wife and I recently returned from a river trip down the Danube from Budapest, Hungary, to Bucharest, Bulgaria.
The most historical center of my interest was Bulgaria and the story of how the country saved 50,000 Jews during the Holocaust, so unlike its neighboring countries. The story is also not as well-known as Oscar Schindler’s efforts on behalf of 1,200 Jews. The story, however, deserves to be told and retold.
Rather than fight a lost cause, the weak Bulgarian government at first agreed to allow the Nazis to remove their Jews to be sent to “work camps.” However, once Bulgaria learned the truth that these were “death camps,” the Bulgarian people began to oppose the Nazis’ plan. Leading the opposition was the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, under the leadership of Bishop Kiril. The bishop was supported by 300 church members.
An entire mobilization effort was undertaken, involving the printing of false baptismal certificates and hiding Jews among non-Jewish families.
Meanwhile, the political parties united in opposition to the Nazis, pressuring Bogdan Filov, the prime minister of Bulgaria, to stand firmly opposed to sending Bulgaria’s Jews to the death camps.
When the trains arrived to transport Bulgaria’s Jews to Treblinka’s death camp, they remained empty, while the church provided shelter for its Jews in hiding.
The czar of Bulgaria, Boris III, sent the trains back empty, stating that the Jews were needed at home as a labor force. However, to satisfy Hitler’s continuing demands, the king set up so-called “labor camps” within Bulgaria, ensuring the Jews that they would not have to leave the protection of their homeland. Jews were free to come and go as they pleased.
During the war period of 1939-1945, while Bulgaria was on the side of Germany, its army did not participate in military actions against the Russians, nor did it persecute Jews in any manner.
With the occupation of Bulgaria by Russian troops in 1944, communism expanded and took control by 1954. Bulgaria became part of the Soviet Bloc and suffered under the tight rule of communism until 1989.
Today, it is a thriving country, but still shows signs of past communist rule in its ugly buildings, referred to as “commie condos.”
The only European nation to refuse Hitler’s orders to surrender its Jewish citizens to the gas chambers, Bulgaria, has chosen to become a democratic nation. Over 90 percent of Bulgaria’s Jewish population has emigrated to Israel, establishing a special bond between the two nations. Only about 1,200 Jews remain in Bulgaria, most of them living in Sofia, the capital.
Israel recognizes this nation that managed to protect its Jewish population in spite of its being allied to Hitler.
Across the street from our hotel in Bucharest, on a main thoroughfare, was a souvenir shop whose owner wore a yarmulke and advertised his wares in Hebrew.

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Marco Polo was not the first world traveler

Posted on 11 July 2019 by admin

By Jerry Kasten
Every summer, children splash the pools trying to evade capture in a game called “Marco Polo.” The game is simple: A blinded tagger roams the pool shouting, “Marco!” while others respond, “Polo!” driving the tagger in the direction of his or her victim by sound.
I assume these children were taught that the game is named after Marco Polo, an early overland traveler merchant who helped the East meet the West.
Marco Polo crossed into Asia by a combined land and sea journey from southern Europe to India and China. His journey established trade routes and fostered the exchange of European and Asian knowledge.
However, Marco Polo was not the first to conquer this task.
Benjamin of Tudela, a Spanish Jewish scholar, made a similar journey 100 years before Marco Polo. His observations provided a more scholarly insight and perspective and might have served as a foundation for Marco Polo’s journey.
Since knowledge of life outside of Western Europe was limited, any eyewitness accounts by travelers helped contribute to the knowledge of the world. Benjamin’s travels took him from Europe to Asia and Africa.
We know that Benjamin left Tudelo, Spain, around 1160 and returned in 1172.
Places he visited included Barcelona, Marseilles, Rome, Naples, Rome, Salonica, Constantinople, Corico, Jerusalem, Damascus, Mosul, Bagdad, Cairo and Palermo.
He visited both Jewish and non-Jewish communities, keeping a travel diary titled “The Travels of Benjamin,” during his journey of a dozen or more years.
Benjamin’s observations describe each area’s sociological and geographical features, in addition to its Jewish community.
Originally written in Hebrew, his book was deemed important enough to be translated into the major European languages for all to read, including future travelers such as Marco Polo.
World history publishers need to credit Benjamin of Tudela (Spain) in addition to Marco Polo (Italy) with helping to provide significant geographic knowledge of our early world.

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Correcting a Buchenwald historical inaccuracy

Posted on 27 June 2019 by admin

One of the world’s greatest horrors unleashed on mankind, the mass extermination plan against Jews and others deemed inferior by the Nazis under Adolf Hitler, is known as “the Holocaust,” which was carried out throughout Nazi-occupied Europe.
One of the first and largest of the concentration camps was Buchenwald, located near Weimar, Germany. More than a million people each year visit Buchenwald, which operated from July 1937 to April 1945. When visitors travel through Weimar, they see signs crediting the Soviets for Buchenwald’s liberation. In truth, it was the American army, under General George Patton, who first reached the camp April 11, 1945. The Soviets did not come to the area until July 3, 1945, almost three months later. However, as a part of the Potsdam Agreement, the eastern sector of Germany, which included Buchenwald and its surrounding cities, was turned over to the Soviets.
Almost immediately after the Soviets took possession of Buchenwald, they took credit for the area’s liberation. However, since the Soviet Union’s fall and Germany’s reunification in 1990, there has been a need to place a historic marker to properly credit Buchenwald’s liberators, the U.S. Army.
According to Jerry Klinger, president of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, the cities closest to Buchenwald, Weimar and Thuringia, still have publicly posted signs crediting the Soviet Union with the Buchenwald liberation. But no signs exist crediting the United States.
The organization approached the Buchenwald Foundation with a proposal to pay for a single American Liberators Memorial to be placed at the front entrance, properly crediting the American forces with being the first to reach and liberate the camp. If approved, it would be the only Buchenwald memorial crediting Patton’s Third Army as the camp’s liberators.
Before the American rescuers arrived, many prisoners attacked fleeing Nazi guards, and were consolidating their control of the camp.
Instead of having to face the Nazi enemy, Patton’s troops had to fight the powerful stench and horrible unhealthy living conditions, while treating starving and sick survivors.
The Army medics did what they could to help save whom they could, as many were dying before their eyes. An enraged Patton sent military police with army interpreters such as Rudy Baum, my friend of blessed memory, to nearby towns, forcing residents to see, up close, how their death camp looked and smelled inside.
“Nothing I have experienced in my entire life can compare with the impact that Buchenwald had on me,” wrote Rudy, in his 1996 memoir, “Children of a Respectable Family.” “When I talk or think about the Holocaust, it brings back to my mind pictures of the emaciated, dying victims in the camp. It embodies all the evil inflicted by the Nazis on mankind in general, against the Jews and especially against my family. It is the epitome of man’s inhumanity to man, which hopefully will never happen again. Only through a miracle could a human being survive the indescribable brutalities and atrocities, including floggings, starvation and mass executions committed by the Nazis.”
Rudy is gone, as are many of his fellow veteran liberators. But hopefully, the American Liberators Memorial in Buchenwald will become a reality for those remaining survivors, liberators and all future visitors to see.

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