Tag Archives: Auschwitz

The Power of “Night”

Recently, as I was working on the book regarding the story of my Uncle Bram’s violin, I came to the conclusion that there was one book that could help me at the very least, try to get some sort of grasp on what Bram went through as a teenager transported to Auschwitz with his father. The book I am referring to is “Night”, by Elie Wiesel. While the impact of reading it was profound, it was nevertheless different than I anticipated, and one might argue even more important.

In September of 1943, 22 days shy of his 19th birthday, my Uncle Bram was murdered in Auschwitz. As I work on giving him the legacy he deserves, through having his memory be remembered in a way that not only gives respect to his memory but also inspires others, reading “Night” seemed logical, albeit difficult. While the impact it had in regard to my work was powerful, it was not what I expected.

When I wrote “Jew Face”, I often successfully tried to feel like I was with my parents as young adults going through the trial and tribulations of evading murder by the Nazis. But trying to do this with someone who was in Auschwitz is an exercise in futility. Probably a fortuitous one. The pure horror described by Elie Wiesel in his book, and the countless accounts and images provided over the years show the devastation as best it can, but the generations that follow are inevitably limited in what they can feel.

In his preface Wiesel writes:

“Only those who experienced Auschwitz know what it was. Others will never know.

But would they at least understand?

Could men and women who consider it normal to assist the weak, to heal the sick, to protect small children, and to respect the wisdom of their elders understand what happened there? Would they be able to comprehend how, within that cursed universe, the masters tortured the weak and massacred the children, the sick, and the old?”

I am not quite sure what it means to understand the unimaginable. I am not sure how to comprehend an army’s mission to dehumanize an entire group of people. Millions of people. I thought that maybe reading the book I could somehow feel like I was there. At least enough to help me write more about what it must have been like for my lost Uncle and millions of others, including so many others in both my mother’s and father’s families. I will not go as far as saying I reached anywhere close to that point, or if I ever will. I do know however that in finishing it something else, maybe even more important happened. I felt an increased sense of responsibility. A responsibility to do more than just read, or even write a book. A responsibility to do something significantly more important than relating to the horrors. My responsibility is to consistently tell the story. To make sure continuing generations know what happened. To let them know that those places that still stand where events leading to the murder of 6 million Jews or where monuments of remembrance have been placed are so much more than tourist attractions. They are the representation of the very soul of those we remember. They have the sanctity of a cemetery, and they give life to the souls of those taken from us by vicious murderers.

I sat down to read “Night” hoping something important would happen to me. While it was not what I expected, I came away with something far more important than I anticipated. An increased determination to make sure the world knows what happened and never forgets. To let it be otherwise would be more than tragic than I could imagine, and substantially more dangerous.

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Also learn more at

 http://bramsviolin.com

and

 http://kennethsarch.com


Remembering an Angel at 100

The day after my mother passed I wrote a piece entitled, “An Angels departs”. Today as a special milestone approaches I offer you this piece, entitled, Remembering an Angel.

Sixty years ago this Saturday, January 1st, my mother and father were celebrating my mother’s 40th birthday together with friends in Cincinnati, Ohio. During a game of Canasta, my then very pregnant mother started laughing so hard she went into labor 2 weeks early and I was born the very next day.  While I embrace my upcoming birthday with gratitude, it is somewhat bittersweet, because I know I will not be alone in remembering and missing my mother on what would have been her 100th birthday.

When I saw the upcoming date, 1/1/22, I couldn’t help feel like it looked familiar to me.  It was then that I remembered how much my mother embraced the uniqueness of the numbers representing the day of her birth, and how these numbers signified this very special day approaching.  There are so many things to say about my mother, Sipora Groen, born Sipora Catharina Rodrigues-Lopes.  The thing I say to people most often, partially because it sums her up so well, but also because I know she would have liked it, is if you didn’t like my mother, you didn’t like anyone. She was warm, loving, jovial, and as social as anyone you will ever meet.  But what very possibly made her so special, was that she was so very much more than that.  Some of her greatest attributes were so understated that they could easily be missed by the casual observer. This was very simply because she was never who she was for show, she just was who she was, and was blessed with qualities most never acquire.

Some of the strongest and most intelligent people we meet or know of, show off these qualities on full display for all to witness and acknowledge.  I do not say this disparagingly, since these qualities are meaningful and positive, I merely state this to emphasize one of the most remarkable things about my mother.  When it came to her strength and intelligence, she was one of the most non self-promoting people you could ever meet.  Highly intelligent, she had no trouble sitting in a room of people and allow them to take center stage.  Whether it was wisdom or natural inclination, she understood that her intelligence was just another tool she could use to improve her life and the life of those she cared about, not something to show off to others. 

Her strength was not something she ever used to achieve a dominance over others, rather a means of helping other and dealing with experiences that might have crushed the spirit of people with lesser means of coping. 

My mother was just 13 years old when her mother passed away of natural causes.  Left with a brother almost 3 years younger and a father struggling emotionally from the loss of his young wife, my mother had to deal with hardships most 13 year olds do not have to face.  When the Nazis invaded Holland 5 years later she would have to face a different level of hardship, one almost impossible for most people to even comprehend.  She went into the war with a fiancé who would subsequently be one of the 75% of Dutch Jewry murdered by the Nazis. Her father and brother would be taken to Auschwitz and murdered as well.  Many friends and family perished in this time, and had in not been for my father, Rabbi Nardus Groen, my mother would have very likely met the same fate.  She came out of the war with her newborn son Marcel as the one thing she had to live for, and had to spend many of those early months quarantined away from him due to illness.  Eventually my father would return from military service and begin to build a family together with her.

My parents would be together till the death of my father on June 13, 2007.  I always say that there was only one thing my father feared, and that was being without my mother.  While in many ways my father was the strongest man I’ve ever known, I am not so sure he would have been able to live 10 years without my mother with as much fulfillment as my mother did without him for her last 10 years.  My mother loved and respected my father dearly, and I truly believe the one thing she missed in her last ten years on earth was her husband of over 60 years.  Even so, her incredible wisdom and inner strength drove her to rebuild those last years and recreate her life in a truly remarkable way.  About a year after my father’s passing, give or take, one day she turned to Marcel and said, “he’s not coming back.”  From this point on she rebuilt her last years into one final chapter of an extraordinary life, spreading joy, love and strength to whoever was open to receiving it from her.  She was “Oma” (Dutch for grandmother) to so many, and made the term one of endearment to so many who had never even heard it before.

As I sit here, nearing what would have been her 100th birthday, there is still something I find thoroughly amazing.  My mother was a short, gentle, physically unassuming woman.  She sometimes looked at life with a simplicity that made her appear to be a young soul, for those of us who believe in such a thing.  Yet more than 4 ½ year after her body left this earth, her presence, her very soul still guides me and supports me in a way I could have never dreamed possible, and I know from others who knew her that I have not been alone in feeling this way. 

So while I am not alone in wishing my mother was here on earth celebrating her 100th birthday with those she loved and who loved her, I know that her birthday was, and still is a cause for tremendous celebration, something I will do with the joy I know she would have wanted from all of us.

Happy Birthday Mom.


Why we need to stop the misuse of the word “Nazi”

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In recent years there has been a growing and concerning trend in regard to a word as familiar globally as any other word.  That word is Nazi. The trend I speak of is in the use of the word in a descriptive, subjective form, as opposed to the literally specific form necessary to keep an understanding of the evil it represents.

A number of people who knew that I intended to write this piece have actually thanked me for doing so.  Any attempt to try to change the thought pattern of an anti-Semite or other form of bigot that uses Holocaust denial as a means of forwarding a perverse agenda is a waste of time.  A more worthwhile venture is to make sure those who have open minds and pure hearts are afforded the opportunity to know the truth.  The truth is that improper use of the word Nazi dilutes the horrors of what took place under the Nazi-occupation in Europe.

This post is neither a political statement nor an apology for those that misuse power.  This is more of a perspective check. Calling someone a Nazi because they do something damaging to other individuals, or even worse calling them one because it is your perception they are doing so, detracts from some critical facts.

Adolf Hitler’s Nazi war machine sought out and killed in staggering numbers.  According to jewishvirtualibrary.org the numbers break down as follows.

Jews: up to 6 million

Soviet civilians: around 7 million (including 1.3 Soviet Jewish civilians, who are included in the 6 million figure for Jews)

Soviet prisoners of war: around 3 million (including about 50,000 Jewish soldiers)

Non-Jewish Polish civilians: around 1.8 million (including between 50,000 and 100,000 members of the Polish elites)

Serb civilians (on the territory of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina): 312,000

People with disabilities living in institutions: up to 250,000

Roma: 196,000–220,000

Jehovah‘s Witnesses: around 1,900

Repeat criminal offenders and so-called asocials: at least 70,000

German political opponents and resistance activists in Axis-occupied territory: undetermined

Homosexuals: hundreds, possibly thousands (possibly also counted in part under the 70,000 repeat criminal offenders and so-called asocials noted above).

As a son of Dutch Jewish Holocaust survivors, the Jewish number hits very close to home, as it does or has done for many others I have known or still know over the course of my lifetime.  The Nazis destroyed entire worlds.  They wiped out an entire Jewish civilization in a large percentage of Europe.  They tortured, they raped, they conducted experiments, made people dig graves before shooting them in cold blood, and put together one of the most efficiently cruel means of mass murder by gassing to death multitudes of people.  Frankly, although these facts are accurate, this does not capture the true horror of what took place.  For that one needs to research the numerous pictures and accounts of the events that took place.

And yet many people today refer to anyone with ideologies opposed to their own as a Nazi.  This is not a left and right issue.  This is also not a justification nor a means of disregarding dangerous viewpoints or ideologies.  What this is instead is a specific statement as to what separated Nazi Germany from much of what people refer to today as Nazi behavior.  I’ve seen people on the right call Barack Obama a Nazi.  I’ve seen people on the left call Donald Trump a Nazi.  You can criticize, even despise the Iran deal or the situation on the border, but neither of these facts put either president even close to being in the same category as Adolf Hitler.  Furthermore, even if one would feel strong critique for Israel’s handling of the Palestinian situation or feel a disdain for Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, invoking Nazi atrocities as a comparison to today’s Israel is nothing more than a disingenuous use of a term to promote a dangerous anti-Semitic political agenda.

None of this is to say that we should turn a blind eye to the dangers that exist both in our respective countries or abroad.  But it is important to note, that if one is to learn from history it starts by doing everything necessary to study it accurately.  What the Nazis did  between 1933 and 1945 is perpetrate an evil unlike anything the world had ever seen.  To improperly identify and remember what took place not only dishonors all those murdered, it puts us all in greater danger of seeing it take place once again.

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5 Passages to Bram: Passage 2:Marcel & Deborah Rodrigues-Lopes

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As a child growing up I knew different things about the families of both my mother and father.  Over the next 4 weeks as I write these brief posts in the series “5 Passages to Bram”, my intention is to keep it more personal than specific.  When it comes to my mother’s parents, Marcel and Deborah Rodrigues-Lopes, most of what I have to offer is personal.

My mother would always speak warmly and affectionately about the mother she lost when she was a child of only 13. She spoke of her mother Deborah as being a soft and gentle woman, loving and kind. That softness was passed on to both her children, but in many ways even more so to her son Bram, and the gentle kindness was passed on more to her daughter, my mother Sipora.  Although there is an undisputed sadness in her life being cut so short due to an illness very treatable in today’s world, some might say she was fortunate not to have to witness what would take place in Holland only 5 years after her death.  Her husband Marcel was very much in love with her, and my mother would often say that after her passing he was a different man.  A fact that would be easy to understand given the fact that she was taken from them at the young age of 35.    Her passing left a 13 year old Sipora with greater responsibilities than most see at that age, including a significant impact on the everyday life of her little brother Bram, a young boy of only 10.

Marcel Rodrigues was one of those men with a lot going for him.  He was youthful, athletic, handsome and accomplished in business.  I never once heard my mother challenge whether or not he loved his children, but it was clear that he was never the same after his wife Deborah passed away.  Even with that he was a man that by his very nature wanted to make the most of life, a quality I believe he passed on to his daughter Sipora.  An avid soccer player and traveller, he loved his children dearly, looking for ways to protect them when things were at their worst.  Willing to face the bitter reality, he wanted to do whatever necessary to get them to safety after the Nazi onslaught.  Sipora chose to stay in Amsterdam at the hospital where she worked and had the help and support of her relatively new friend and later to be husband and my father Nardus, while Bram would go with his father in an attempt to escape Holland through Belgium, only to picked up at the border and taken to their death in Auschwitz.

My mother honored her parents throughout her life.  May their memory be blessed.

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A correction has been made to the previous post in which I referred to my paternal grandmother as Marjan.  Frankly, I know I did not make up the spelling of Marjan, subsequently knowing I did get it from somewhere and or someone connected to her history, but in looking up the Yad Vashem archives she is referred to as Marianne.  I have made the correction in the post and thank my cousin Bettie for bringing it to my attention.

 


5 Passages to Bram: Passage 1: Leendert & Marianne Groen

Over the next 6 weeks I will be highlighting the story of much of my family, particularly with regards to my grandparents, parents, and individuals key in saving both the lives and memories of much of my family.  I will be leading up to a very special story of a lost family member and a most inspirational and memorable  moment.  I call this series, 6 Passages to Bram.

The first installment will be my grandparents on my father’s side, with special mention of my aunts and uncles from this side of the family.

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We often hear stories of bravery and self-sacrifice.  In many ways the story of Leendert (seen above) and Marianne Groen, my paternal grandparents, epitomizes both of those things like no other story you will ever hear.  They started their family in the port city of Rotterdam, a city that albeit one with a Jewish community in the 1920’s, was not one where being Jewish was particularly easy.   My grandfather Leendert had a successful business until running into difficulties for not being able to remain open on the Jewish Sabbath, the Shabbat.  Rather than compromising the principles he believed in and was teaching to his children, he chose to close his business, and with my grandmother in agreement picked up and moved the family to the thriving center of Jewish Holland, the city of Amsterdam.  It was there that they chose to raise their children, 4 of which would be active the rest of their lives in the Jewish community or would live in the State of Israel for significant portions of their lives. The 5th, the youngest daughter Elizabeth, would be one of the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis.

When the Nazis raided the Jewish neighborhoods, they systematically emptied them out until nothing remained of anything resembling a Jewish identity.  When the time came near to when Leendert and Marianne would be transported out of Amsterdam, ultimately to their deaths in the concentration camp, Jacques Baruch, close family friend and active member of the resistance, attempted to provide them with baptismal papers in order to allow them to hide long enough to survive the Nazi onslaught.  They refused the papers, with Leendert making the statement to Jacques that would define him for eternity, “We were born as Jews, we will die as Jews”. Sadly they would indeed die as Jews in Auschwitz on February 5, 1943.  They would take their faith with them to their death and their lives and devotion to their faith are an inspiration to us all.

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Open Letter to Sean Spicer Regarding his Comments made about Hitler and the Holocaust

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Dear Mr. Spicer,

I am the son of Holocaust survivors and I am writing to you in regard to the comments you made, of all days, on Passover.   Maybe I am not as forgiving as some, but to be blunt, your apology is not accepted. At least not by me.  And here’s why.

You started off by saying the following:

“You had someone as despicable as Hitler, who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”

In an attempt to fix your error you went on to say:

I think when you come to sarin gas, [Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing. . . . He brought them into, um, the Holocaust center  —  I understand that. But I’m saying in the way Assad used them where he went into towns, dropped them down into the middle of towns, it was brought  —  the use of it  —  and I appreciate the clarification.

Mr. Spicer, I do not believe you to be an anti-Semite, nor do I believe you made your comments out of any desire to hurt or offend any member of the Jewish community.  That being said, sometimes the words are so despicable, an adjective you yourself used, and the actions are so disgraceful, that neither an apology nor lack of malicious intent is enough to move on.  In addition, the nature of an apology tells a lot about how a person feels.  So when the apology seems more motivated by how bad you look and how much you let your boss down than it does the pain and anger you caused significant parts of an entire community, then apologizing is just not enough to make it all better.

The problem I have with this Mr. Spicer, is that your words revealed a deeper and more dangerous perception of the Jewish people and the horrors of what took place in the Holocaust.  To your credit, I do believe your apology tour makes clear you did not want to hurt anyone, but with your clear lack of understanding of where you went wrong you have a lot of work to do before I and many people who think as I do are willing to put this incident behind us.  Ironically I suspect my greatest opposition to the views I am stating here will come from my fellow Jews who are in your camp and feel I am some sort of traitor to my people for wanting Hillary Clinton as president over Donald Trump. They will come back to me with responses like, “Everyone is allowed to makes a mistake” or “Hillary would have done a lot worse for the Jewish people”.  To which I respond as follows. The seriousness of the mistake dictates how easily or soon it is forgiven, and this is not about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.  This is about Sean Spicer.

You see Mr. Spicer, you revealed a subconscious and critical perception, one likely ingrained in you for a long time, and that is the perception that Jews in Germany were not really Germans.  This perception is in line with how the Nazis perceived their Jewish population and the Jewish population throughout Europe.  They referred to them as sub-human. So from the perspective of the Nazis, Hitler didn’t use gas on his people because Jews were not really people.  I know you did not mean to infer this, but if you are to apologize, you might want to understand the deep-rooted problem in your comments.

I also felt part of your apology to be somewhat patronizing inasmuch as it came across as though you were sorry you even made a reference to Hitler, as though mentioning his name is enough to offend us Jews.  Jews don’t necessarily mind the reference being done appropriately, but when the President’s detractors compare him to Hitler I find myself protesting that as well, because as much as I am not a fan of your boss, calling him another Hitler is inappropriate on many levels.  To refer to Bashar al-Assad as being like Hitler in regard to his penchant for murder is appropriate enough that had your comments not gone further than that, I doubt many people would have protested, despite some glaring holes in the comparison.  One such hole being that Assad has never exhibited an ambition towards global domination, and the other being that his brutality is based more on controlling with an iron tyrannical fist than it is on wiping out an entire segment of the population. But inasmuch as Assad has shown himself to be an evil murderer , he is similar to Hitler.

I guess what bothers me most Mr. Spicer, is that although I believe you when you say you are sorry, I am not convinced you really understand enough for your apology to really count.  Until you know that places like Auschwitz and Dachau were Concentration Camps or Death Camps, not Holocaust Centers, and until you understand the problem with your words is not just the use of Hitler’s name but the lack of understanding of what it does to a people to have 6 million members of their kind murdered, I will see your apology more as an ‘oops I messed up’ than a deep feeling of regret.  When this is more about an understanding for the sadness of the Jewish people and less about a feeling of letting your boss down, only then will I personally accept your apology.  Who am I you might ask?  I am someone representative of how a significant segment of the Jewish population feels, I am an American, and I am a Jew. These factors all give me the right to speak my mind.

Mr. Spicer, if you take the time to learn more about what happened in Europe under Nazi occupation and truly understand the devastation, I am sure you will not only express openly a new mindset, but you may even be a better person for it as well.

Sincerely,

David Groen

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On International Woman’s Day: A Tribute to the Famous Woman I admire most. My mother

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Today is International Woman’s Day and one of my social media friends posted the question, “Which famous woman do you admire most?”  Although my initial reaction was to say Golda Meir, I chose to change my answer to Sipora Groen.  Sipora Groen is my mother, and although my book about my parents and how they survived the 4 years of Nazi occupation in Holland isn’t the bestseller I naturally hoped it would be, I think enough people know about my mother to classify her as famous.  If that’s not enough, let me tell you why how admirable she is makes up for where you may not consider her famous enough for this discussion.

Sipora Rodrigues-Lopes was born in Amsterdam on January 1, 1922.  Sipora lost her mother when she was a young girl of only 13 and  was left with a large share of the responsibility in raising her younger brother Bram.  Prior to the war Sipora fell in love and got engaged to a young man named Hans.  At the outbreak of the war in Holland she was studying to be a nurse, and when the Nazis occupied Amsterdam and began the process of rounding up the Jews and transporting them to the death camps, Sipora was living in the nurse’s quarters of the Jewish hospital.  Her personal life was turned upside down seemingly forever when not only her father and brother fled Amsterdam to ultimately be captured and murdered by the Nazis, but the love of her life and fiance Hans was taken away to Auschwitz.  Alone and feeling hopeless, all she had was the work she had taking care of the sick patients.  If not for Nardus Groen, my father of blessed memory,  the man she would later spend her life with, she likely would have been transported to her death along with the majority of the patients.  Instead she began a journey with Nardus through the Dutch countryside that took her from place to place, through homes of righteous Dutch people who put the value of life over religious belief or personal danger.  Ultimately she ended up in the home of Lubertus & Geeske te Kiefte, the righteous and courageous couple that risked sacrificing everything in order to give her a safe home in the small town of Lemerlerveld for almost a year and a half until the war ended.

As the war ended in Europe, Nardus joined the Dutch Marines to help in the fight against the Japanese, not knowing till later that Sipora was pregnant with his child.  Part of the reason Nardus didn’t know was because originally Sipora didn’t know.  She took a job in a local hospital when upon feeling tired and worn down she was told by the Director of the hospital that she was indeed with child.  She moved back to Amsterdam only to find her home now occupied by the housekeeper who was with the family before the war.  The housekeeper pushed Sipora to leave the house despite her now advanced pregnancy, forcing her to take a very small apartment with very little heat in winter. If not for the help of her father’s childhood friend who gave money for her new home, Sipora might have found herself pregnant and homeless right right after spending 5 years running and hiding from the Nazis and losing so many of the people closest to her.  Just a few months after the birth of her son Marcel, Sipora would contract the lung disease known as pleurisy and would spend months in the hospital away from what felt like the one hope she had in life, her newborn son.

With his love for Sipora and a now a son, Nardus chose to leave the military and return to Holland where he would try to help rebuild the now decimated Jewish community.  He would be ordained as a Rabbi and start the process of building a family with Sipora who was now his wife.

Nardus and Sipora would have 5 children and would move often from place to place.  They ended up in America in the late 1950’s where they would live till 1976.  In 1976 they would move back to Holland where Nardus would take over a synagogue in the town of Arnhem while taking on responsibilities of the Jewish communities in 6 provinces throughout the country.  At the same time Sipora would become Director of the Jewish old age home in Arhem where she would be loved and respected by residents and employees alike.   After years of hard work between the 2 of the them, and setting themselves up for their senior years, Nardus and Sipora would retire, first to the Dutch seaside town of Zandvoort and later to Boynton Beach, Florida.

On June 13 of this year it will be 10 years since my father Nardus Groen passed away.  I’ve learned this about my mother during the time since his death.  This is in many ways my mother Sipora’s 5th life.  The first life, the most innocent and peaceful was the one she lived till the age of 13 when she lost her mother.  The second was the next 5 years, a time of peace in Europe but a time of both love and difficulty for Sipora.   The 3rd, and unquestionably the hardest was the 5 years of the war, a time we can try to comprehend but never fully understand.  The 4th were the relatively normal but still often very difficult years following the war, where she and Nardus worked hard and sacrificed to raise 5 children, experiencing all the trials and tribulations any family would during decades of normal life.  This was the longest of her lives to date as it would last till the death of Nardus over 60 years later.

The 5th life, and in some ways the most remarkable one is the one she is living now.  It is the life she has lived since my father’s death 10 years ago.  On January 1st Sipora Groen turned 95 years old.  This is a woman who reinvented herself upon becoming a widow while simultaneously honoring the memory of the man she still loves today.  She drives, she shops, she host Mahjong games, threw her own 95th birthday party on her own insistence, takes plane and train rides alone, is an active member of her synagogue and even has her own Facebook account. But what is most remarkable is the love of life she displays and the warmth she shows for family and friends, a warmth that can only be credited to a strength of will and character unimaginable to most of us.

In those moments when I would feel unreasonable self-pity I would sometimes ask myself, why can’t I be that guy?  The guy born into money with no worries, or the guy with incredible talent recognized by millions, or that person living the charmed life where very little ever goes wrong.  But not so long ago I realized I am that guy, because I am the son of a 95 year old mother who you just read about and who not only has gone through and achieved everything I wrote about, but has the incredible state of mind to enjoy it and share her joys with those around her.   You want to recognize someone admirable on International Woman’s Day, you need go no further than my mother, Sipora Groen.

 

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Marcel Groen’s words on the Effects of Immigration on Real Lives

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The following was written by my brother, Marcel Groen.  Marcel is the Chairman of the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania.  He is a son, a husband, a brother, a father, a grandfather, and friend and colleague of many.  In this short but poignant piece however, he represents himself, the son of Holocaust survivors, more than anything else, as an American.  It is my honor and pleasure to share my brother’s words.

 

In the winter of 1942 Marcel Rodrigues went to the embassy in the Hague, the Netherlands, to apply for a visa for himself and his son, Bram.  He applied for the visa because he felt that America was the only country in the world that could provide him with hope, safety and freedom.

He was right. His visa was denied, He chose not to try to come here as an illegal immigrant. Oh do I wish he had. Marcel and his son  were murdered in Auschwitz on August 13, 1943, ten months later.

If only he had tried to get here as an illegal immigrant-he might not have succeeded, but if he had been successful he would’ve lived. There was no one else or place to go.

Marcel was my grandfather and Bram my uncle.

Americans should never forget why people come here, sometimes legally, sometimes not, but millions have come. They came because America represented opportunity, safety and goodness,  in a world that was neither good nor safe. We represent that wonderful experiment called democracy, where we make room for all and provide safety and opportunity for all who come here. Without those immigrants we would be nothing.

We are not perfect as a society. We have a long way to go, but we can and must continue to work towards those lofty goals we believe in.

When we crush those dreams; when we close our borders to those in need; when we forget where we came from and where we want to go;  then we will lose our place in the world, than our experiment will have failed. We cannot let that happen. As a people we are too good for that.

There are times when good people must stand up regardless of the consequences. JFK’s Profile in Courage comes to mind.

This is one of those times.  

Marcel Groen

 

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And my Vote goes to…

trumpclinton_0

MY CHOICE FOR PRESIDENT IS…

As the Democratic National Convention gets underway, we know one thing for sure. November will be historic.  The citizens of America will either elect a businessman from New York, a man with no formal experience in politics or, for the first time in the nation’s history, a woman as President of the United States.  There have been times in the past when the candidates of one of the parties was somewhat more obscure, or at the very least less high-profile, but this year without question, name recognition is not an issue. Everyone knows who Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are?  Or do they?

I don’t want to use this forum as a means of showing my support for one candidate by trashing the other, but in this election the majority of voters are at least somewhat impacted by that which they do not like about the other.  It’s very much about spin.  Take the most extreme supporter on either side and there is nothing the opposing candidate can do that will be seen as OK.  However, there is one glaring difference in my estimation. We can at least claim to know the worst there is to know about Hillary.  But what about Trump?  Somehow people have come to believe that a millionaire businessman, the owner of hotels, private jets and helicopters, is somehow a regular guy, a man of the people. They look at me with a straight face and say they won’t vote for Hillary because she is a liar or corrupt.They actually allow themselves to believe that Donald Trump has gotten to where he is out of sheer brilliance and hard work.  I won’t sit here and prosecute the case against him, but really?  If you believe that I have a great university you should attend. It will make you rich.

I know the criticisms against Hillary and I will openly admit that I don’t like everything about her, but do I have a far greater amount of confidence in her ability to lead this country in the right direction than Donald Trump?  Without question I do.  Was Benghazi a tragedy?  Of course it was.  Could things have been handled better? Maybe, probably, I don’t know. But I do know that under George W. Bush 13 embassies were attacked and 60 people were killed.  We’re America. We are hated by those who want to take what we have or change who we are.  We are targets and will remain targets as long as there is evil in the world.

I don’t like the Iran deal.  Never have, likely never will.  But even if I am to see it as a total attack on Israel, which I don’t necessarily do, I see it as President Obama’s deal not Hillary Clinton’s.  To say a Secretary of State is wrong for working towards the goals of her boss doesn’t make him or her complicit in the outcome of the goal, good or bad.  It makes them a loyal servant to the Commander in Chief.  I am also comfortable to go on record and say that in areas I disagree with the president, I believe him to be more someone trying to save the world, sometimes naively, rather than someone trying to bring anyone, including Israel, destruction.

Emails? Sorry. I am not even going to make a case as to why this is not enough reason for me to vote for Donald Trump over Hillary.

People say that Donald Trump is preying on the fears of the people.  That is partially true. Sadly I believe he is also exposing the stupidity of many.  I would never say that all people voting for Trump are stupid, many are highly intelligent, but I do believe he is counting on the vote of those that are stupid. If Hollywood made a movie, and the day after the Democratic National Convention started the Republican nominee’s best response to what he saw was calling the Democratic nominee Hillary “ROTTEN” Clinton, people would have assumed we were watching a Mel Brooks satire.  But no, this really happened, and it happened from someone people still take seriously.  Someone who made fun of Carly Fiorina’s face, likened Ben Carson to a child molester, called his opponents names like Little Marco and Lyin Ted, mocked a handicapped person, called Mexicans rapists, called for a ban of an entire religion, said John Mccain wasn’t a war  hero because he got caught, and yes, even spoke about the size of his penis. This man is somehow considered to be more qualified than Hillary Clinton?  Really?

As a Jewish man and a Zionist I say this.  Many reading this see history and see Roosevelt and Churchill as great men.  I won’t sit here and necessarily challenge that.  Had they not led the world to victory against Adolph Hitler it is possible that western civilization as we know it would not exist and all we know as Jews would be gone.  But before we judge people on a standard of perfection, or even good or bad, ask yourself how many Jews might have been saved had they destroyed the railroad tracks leading to Auschwitz and other concentration camps.  If FOX News were around then, FDR might have been held accountable to the point of prosecution, Thomas Dewey might have been elected, and Harry Truman would never have become president.  Who knows how World War II would have ended?  I am not saying FDR and Churchill were perfect or the biggest fans of the Jewish people, but their jobs were to be leaders of the US and Great Britain, and that they were, in exceptional manners.  We have every right to demand our leaders don’t hurt our cause, but we also must realize we are electing a President of the United States, not a president of the Jewish people, and we must therefore expect that president to do what they deem best for the country.  Furthermore, before Jewish supporters get all excited about a Trump presidency merely because his daughter converted and he speaks harshly about Muslims, keep these 2 things in mind.  When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized Trump for his anti-Muslim rhetoric Trump punished him by cancelling his trip to Israel.  Also keep in mind how Trump plans to reconsider aide to our allies, including Israel.

The point is, no matter who you are or where you come from, whatever good you believe you are hearing about Donald Trump, he’s only telling you to get your vote.  Yes, you can say that about all politicians, but don’t tell me how different Donald Trump is from the establishment.  He funded the establishment, including the Clintons, for decades.

I don’t buy into the fact that a Hillary Clinton presidency will be 4 more years of an Obama presidency.  If anything I believe it is more likely to be closer to being 4 more years of a Bill Clinton presidency, and that would be just fine by me.  I honestly don’t know how good of a president Hillary would be, but I feel that her demeanor, her experience and her intellect is enough to make me very comfortable in giving her my vote.  I think her choice of Tim Kaine already shows she is making choices based on her agenda as opposed to the demands of others.  I think she is ready to be president today, as opposed to her candidate who will never be ready to be president.  Besides the fact that I’ve always been offended by the implication that America isn’t great, merely for the benefit of a slogan, I also know that Donald Trump couldn’t even make Atlantic City great again.

I know that many reading this find it hard to believe that I, someone who has always been so outspoken about the security of Israel could support Clinton over Trump, but guess what?  I find it hard to believe that you don’t.  You might be able to legitimately raise questions about her, but to me that doesn’t mean voting for Trump, someone who repeatedly shows signs of being a global menace.  I’ve seen and heard enough bad from Trump to not vote for him while seeing enough good to vote for Hillary, and that is what I intend to do.  What good you ask?  In this political climate don’t count on answer, because most people asking won’t accept my answer anyway.  You vote your conscience and I’ll vote mine and I’ll accept you for your choice whether you return the favor or not.  After all, that’s the American way.

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One Person of Integrity can make a Difference

Elie_Wiesel_2012_Shankbone

“One person of integrity can make a difference” is a quote from the late Elie Wiesel who departed this world yesterday at the age of 87.  This is a man who had every right to say these words, because in his strength, survival and life, it is nearly impossible to find anyone who made such an enormous difference with strength and integrity of enormous proportions.

We all know the story of the plight of the Jewish people during Hitler’s rule.  6 million Jews were killed in numerous concentration and death camps set up primarily to solve what the Nazis saw as the Jewish problem.  The most notorious of all the camps, the camp that symbolized the horrors committed during this time was Auschwitz.  One estimate is that 1.1 million of Jewish victims of the Holocaust were  murdered in Auschwitz.  Although most people who ended up there never left, there was a small percentage that did survive, and although for many the horror was too great to relive, there were those who would tell their story.  No one did so with greater skill, honor and integrity than Elie Wiesel.

Ever since his death I have thought a lot about what it was that made Elie Wiesel great. People are often thrust into difficult even horrific circumstances.  To survive as a functioning decent member of society is, in itself heroic, but to tell the story and make it a cause is taking that heroism to another level.  In 1944 at the age of 15, Wiesel was taken by the Nazis from his home in Romania with his family and deported to the camps in Poland. His mother and a sister were killed in Auschwitz and his father was murdered in Buchenwald a few weeks before its liberation.  To be there when that happened, to lose one’s parents and a younger sister in so short of a time would already be enough to destroy anyone’s spirit, not to mention the countless horrors he witnessed during his stay in both Auschwitz and Buchenwald.  Rather than let his spirit be crushed, Wiesel came out of this horror of all horrors with a resolve and strength of character unparalleled.

 “Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed….Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”
Elie Wiesel, Night

It is my contention that not only do Jews everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to Elie Wiesel, but so do good and decent people of all faiths.  History books tell the story of the Holocaust, but nothing can ever do so with the power and purpose of someone who was there, experienced humanity in its darkest moments, and in their survival remained committed to letting the world know, all in the hope that somehow it could prevent humanity from ever doing anything like that again. Elie Wiesel did all of that, and he did so with a dignity unfathomable.   This man who was almost killed as a teenage boy, went on to live a life that will keep his spirit alive forever.

“For in the end, it is all about memory, its sources and its magnitude, and, of course, its consequences.”
Elie Wiesel, Night

I found an ironic symmetry yesterday as Elie Wiesel passed away at 87 just hours before sunset and the beginning of the day on the Jewish calendar commemorating the day in which my father, also a Holocaust survivor also passed away at the age of 87.  The education I received from both my parents, both survivors, always made me aware and knowledgeable of what took place during that time that everyone would hope to forget but are obligated to remember.  With that in mind I leave you with this one last quote from the great Elie Wiesel of Blessed Memory.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

Rest in Peace Mr. Wiesel and thank you. I will try to never be indifferent.

 

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