Letters to the editor: Week of Sept. 3, 2014

Who is a Holocaust Survivor?

I have received close to a dozen emails with a vicious attachment — an Aug. 20 blog post by Debbie Schlussel on her website regarding a “fake Holocaust Survivor” arrested during a protest of Gov. Jay Nixon’s activation of the Missouri National Guard in Ferguson. I have chosen to clarify and correct some issues within Schlussel’s vicious, personal screed. 

The question of who is, or isn’t an authentic “Holocaust Survivor” is complex. We at the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center define a survivor as someone who lived and suffered under Nazi occupation. This definition was informed by the official terminology used by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Washington, DC: “…any person, Jewish or non-Jewish, who was displaced, persecuted, or discriminated against due to racial, religious, ethnic, social and political policies of the Nazis and their collaborators between 1933 and 1945. In addition to former inmates of concentration camps, ghettos and prisons, this definition includes, among others, people who were refugees or were in hiding.” Likewise, Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, defines survivors, as “Jews who lived for any amount of time under Nazi domination, direct or indirect, and survived.” Clearly, those rescued through a kindertransport meet the above criteria.

By creating her own personal designation of who is a survivor, Schlussel dishonors and discredits thousands of other individuals who were torn away from their families, suffered displacement and sometimes abuse and neglect in their new, unfamiliar surroundings. Most never saw their parents again, as was the case for the target of her vitriol, who lost both parents, and other family members in Auschwitz. To learn more about this subject, I highly recommend the film, “Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories From the Kindertransport.” Should we assume that the writer would similarly delegitimize Jews who survived in hiding or with hidden identity, at constant risk of betrayal or exposure? They too “never saw the insides (sic) of a concentration camp” — Schlussel’s narrow criterion.

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The writer was so intent on hurling vulgar insults that factual information was lost to childish name-calling. In addition to incorrectly identifying the location of the subject’s arrest (downtown St. Louis, not Ferguson) she repeatedly refers to Jews “gassed in ovens,” or “cooking in ovens,” no doubt for dramatic effect. One would expect a grandchild of a survivor, or a responsible journalist, to know that ovens were not used for gassing victims, but for burning corpses. 

The author’s hysterical, hyperbolic style and numerous inaccuracies distract the reader from the issues and political activism that the writer has every right to disagree with, or abhor. Instead, Schlussel misdirects the conversation through a shameful lack of civility.

Daniel Reich, Curator and Director of Education, St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center

Veto threat looming in Missouri legislature 

On Sept. 10, the Missouri legislature will be holding their annual constitutionally required veto session. Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed an unprecedented number of bills at the close of the 2014 session. National Council of Jewish Women, St. Louis Section (NCJW), was pleased Gov. Nixon vetoed several bills that impact our mission of improving the lives of women, children and families. However, due to the fact that the ruling party in the Missouri legislature has a veto-proof super majority, most of these bills are in grave danger of being overridden.

Of paramount concern to NCJW is the proposed 72-hour waiting period to get an abortion. This bill would triple the mandatory waiting period for a woman to access safe, legal abortion, despite the fact that Missouri women already receive support, counseling  and information and are required by law to wait at least 24 hours and make two health center visits before having an abortion.

This bill is government overreach and a further intrusion of politicians into Missourians’ personal lives. In addition, Missouri is a state with only one health center (Planned Parenthood of St. Louis) that provides safe, legal abortion. Women travel nearly 100 miles on average for the procedure, and one in 10 women travel more than 300 miles.

Please join NCJW and our coalition partners to Stand with Missouri Women at a rally in Jefferson City on Wednesday, Sept. 10 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. We must raise our voices against this onerous bill. Buses for women’s health supporters will be leaving from across the state to meet in Jefferson City for the rally. Visit standwithmissouriwomen.com/ to register.

If you can’t make it to Jefferson City, please contact your state representative and state senator to let them know that enough is enough. The law requires that women can access abortions services; there is no need for Missouri to add another undue burden that comes between a women and her health care. 

For more information, contact Ellen Alper at NCJW at [email protected].

Jennifer Bernstein, NCJW State Policy Advocacy Chair