Kristallnacht 2016, 1939 Club Members Now Extinct

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“And you will be mad of the sight of your eyes which you will see” (Deuteronomy 28:34)

“And your life shall hang before you, and you will fear night and day and will have no assurances of your life. In the morning you will wish it be evening, and in the evening you will say may it be morning, for the fear of your heart which you will fear and the sight of your eyes which you will see.” (ibid:66-67)

It was a November night in 1938, a night that would be remembered ever after as the Night of Broken Glass. Jews were no longer safe in Europe.

The 1939 Club – Members Now Extinct

Some years ago, Jews and Christians working together in defense of their shared values had an event at the exclusive Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles.

The event was held by the Israel Christian Nexus and sponsored by the 1939 Club (today the 1939 Society). I remember entering the room designated for our event, alongside Pastor John Hagee of Christians United for Israel.

Our hosts, members of the Los Angeles based 1939 Club, were already seated. What I clearly remember are not the individual faces, just the fact they were all very old, very frail and dressed up so elegantly as if they came from a different world. I do not remember canes or walkers, but the image of people hardly able to stand or walk has been etched deeply in my mind.

Slawomir Grunberg and Lily Steiner, visiting from Australia
Slawomir Grunberg and Lily Steiner, visiting from Australia. Photo: Ari Bussel.

Small people. People who, if one dares touch them most gently, might turn to dust or fog and disappear. Appearing as a figment of imagination, or perhaps a prop? Clearly, they did not seem real, making the entire event both surreal and holy.

The 1939 Club was supporting many causes at that time and doing so most generously. Their money had to be put to good use, and they were there observing, stewards and guardians.

They were not checking, micromanaging or overseeing and gave most generously, no questions asked. Rather they were a living testament to an awful era, and their task, with plentiful means, was: Do whatever is necessary to ensure such evil happens “Never Again!”

I saw small, little, frail individuals from whom intense will and determination emanated. Powered by the means to do good, educate, influence, teach, instill courage, fight and ensure continuity, they focused on the task at hand, for it was apparent to everyone that time was of the essence. Time was running out, yet the obligation was as formidable as always.

These were the survivors, and I am told not one of them is here with us today. How is it possible? Simple: My parents were young children during the Holocaust. The members of the 1939 Club were at least 20 years older, thus, they would be nearing 100 today.

Like them, other survivors are all disappearing. On October 28th, Sol Berger z”l would have turned 97. He passed away on Rosh Hashana, three and a half weeks earlier. His younger friend, Joe Davis celebrated his 96th birthday on November 7th and Joe’s wife turned 92 on the very same day.

Sol z”l, a member of the Partisans, and Joe and his wife are three of several Holocaust survivors I know and dare to call my friends. Julius with a number tattooed on his hand and Leslie, saved by Raul Wallenberg, are two other survivors. They all reside at the same “retirement home,” and I am privileged and most blessed to be with them every Shabbat.

Remembering the Holocaust – Annual Events

Year after year, my friend Lily Steiner invites me to the annual Kristallnacht Commemoration event at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Year after year I promise to go, but something always comes up, and I never had; until this year. Lily came back from Australia especially for me to join her, and I am so grateful I did.

The 10th annual event now joins Dr. Joel Geiderman’s annual event at Cedar Sinai Medical Center as a “must attend” event on my calendar.

Dr. Geiderman is the co-chair of the Emergency Department at Cedar Sinai and for some three decades has brought thousands of doctors, nurses and staff, alongside community members and Holocaust survivors for the annual lunch-and-lecture.

At Loyola I discovered some of the same elements: faculty and staff, community members and students. Students, young, oh so young and impressionable, yet eager to hear and learn.

While at Cedar Sinai the number of survivors dwindles down every year, there are still some.

Sol z”l, Joe and his wife, Leslie and Julius, as well as Irene (“I am 94, I survived the Holocaust and I am blind!”) all reside two blocks away from the hospital, yet there has been no effort to send someone and bring them and other Holocaust survivors who are alive and live nearby to the event. Apparently this extra effort is beyond necessity. It will be a “feel good” and fulfilling event anyway, so why bother.

At Loyola I found no more survivors. The Director of Jewish Studies responsible for the ten annual commemoration events explained that the date was set a very long time in advance and happened to clash with a long weekend for Holocaust survivors, who were too exhausted to attend. However, the annual event she said has been supported by the generosity of the 1939 Society and will, she hopes, continue to be supported in perpetuity.

Seated in the center: LMU Campus Rabbi Zachary Zysman and Consul General of Poland Mariusz Brymora.
Seated in the center: LMU Campus Rabbi Zachary Zysman and Consul General of Poland Mariusz Brymora.

There was, though, one elderly woman with a walker who fit the age. The intensity of her look convinced me she was a survivor, but I did not ask. When the film screening started, she was unable to see from the place she was seated. It was too far away.

I brought two chairs for her and her companion, likely her daughter. A lady from the back came toward us, shouting, “you cannot sit here we will not be able to see!”

Not only was she very far back, the elderly lady could not have blocked her line of sight. To be at a Holocaust memorial event and show not the tiniest iota of kindness begs the question, why does one even bother to show up?

The lady without compassion could have moved her chair two inches to the right or the left, as there was so much space. But she decided to be confrontational toward a person much older and so much more fragile than she.

And we ask ourselves, how could a nation so intelligent, so cultured and advanced as Germany in the early 1930s become so evil? We wonder if it can happen again, if we could have partaken in the same madness.

The answer apparently is yes. As human beings we do not find in our hearts to be kind, to try, to overcome the urge to “go and make a scene,” “complain!” and insist “she must not sit in front.” Instead, we behave in such an inconsiderate and loathsome manner.

Such untoward behavior at a Kristallnacht Commemoration event is tragic. Oh, the person must be so proud! She disappeared quickly before the last credits were shown, skipping the reception. I was actually looking for her, to take her picture. How people who look “normal” and “cultured” can turn so ugly and evil.

Refugees

Following the screening of “Jan Karski & the Lords of Humanity” about the Polish, Karski who was assigned to inform the world of the Nazis exterminating the Jews, a panel response with the director allowed Q&A.

In a most vivid discussion about refugees, the survivors and the world’s reaction to them were compared to the modern-day Syrian refugees crisis.

Remember, my friend Lily and I were seated among some 120 people we did not know. I am among the very few children of Holocaust survivors who were in the audience, and my friend Lily is a fierce fighter for Israel and the West.

Karski, from the documentary.
Kraski, from the documentary.

I am thinking about the students, those young, impressionable minds, who experienced no war or real threat in their lifetimes, hearing from two prominent and very respected individuals (a professor and a film director) that Holocaust survivors, like my mother who managed to arrive illegally to Palestine then under British Mandate, or my father who managed to arrive to Israel after the formation of the modern state, are very like today’s Syrian refugees in Europe or those being admitted to the USA by the Obama administration.

I am livid. I am ready to explode. I boil. Just moments earlier we all watched footage from the Warsaw Ghetto. My father was there until his escape. And now, I am told that he is very much the same as those purportedly escaping their brethren in Syria?

Those who are dressed nicer than I am? Who demand where they prefer to live? Many among whom rape and grope German women? Or perpetrate horrific terrorist attacks against their new home countries? Who have fake passports and ulterior motives to infiltrate and overtake Western civilization?

Or maybe the “similarities” can be found in the fact that the Arab world, other than Jordan, does nothing to aid the Syrians? Indeed, the Jews of America during WWII behaved in much the same way. But how can anyone compare the Muslims to Holocaust survivors?

Lily raised her hand, was given a microphone and very politely but powerfully contested the corrupt “moral equivalency” presented.

The same fake equivalency was shown in Spielberg’s movie “Munich.”

And the same has happened time after time when the world compares Israel and Gaza’s Hamas. “So many dead among the Gazans; so few among the Israelis – Israel is at fault! Israel is the evil-doer, not Hamas and the non-stop, non-discriminating barrage of rockets it unleashes against the Israeli population!”

Celebrating the Holocaust, Appeasing Our Senses

It seems that seven decades after the end of WWII, as Holocaust survivors are disappearing and their voices become too frail and hard to hear, we are creating our own notions of the Holocaust.

We have annual commemorations where we forget the most basic decency.

We bring politics and similar baggage to higher education institutions, and professors utilize the classrooms and their students as breeding grounds for indoctrination.

We allow anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments, so prevalent nowadays, to pervade every fabric of our being. Many of the detractors are Jewish. Some even are Israelis. And we do not really need any enemies. The Arabs understood it all long ago, a simple lesson: Leave the Jews to their own bidding, and they will destroy themselves.

Apparently, we will continue to “celebrate” the Holocaust, with more movies and stories, now done by members of the second generation who were not there but only witnessed the Holocaust via their parents or grandparents, the living remnants of the Holocaust.

We do not do the simplest deed that requires effort, like going out of our way to bring a Holocaust survivor, since we live in a different day and age.

Today the Holocaust does not really matter, except when we see a movie that manages to touch us, and we leave convinced “we remember,” and even that “we did something good by simply watching a movie.”

Can the same evil happen again? Undoubtedly.

So what was Kristallnacht in 1938? What happened in Europe from 1933-1945? What started on September 1st, 1939?

Judging by the behavior of too many … a whole lot of nothing.

Ari’s story was First Published November 8, 2016, in © Israel Monitor, November, 2016

Slawomir Grunberg and Lily Steiner, visiting from Australia
Slawomir Grunberg and Lily Steiner, visiting from Australia.

In the series “Postcards from Israel,” Ari Bussel and Norma Zager invite readers throughout the world to join them as they present reports from Israel as seen by two sets of eyes: Bussel’s on the ground, Zager’s counter-point from home. Israel and the United States are inter-related – the two countries we hold dearest to our hearts – and so is this “point – counter-point” presentation that has, since 2008, become part of our lives.