Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.
Showing posts with label Nazis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nazis. Show all posts

Friday, November 4, 2022

As Jacoby talk comemmorates Kristallnacht, Ukraine recurs in historical record of flights from oppression

An upcoming talk on Kristallnacht, a recent experience in the Paraguayan Chaco, and the ongoing war in Ukraine have me thinking lately about cultural and religious freedom.

In commemoration of Kristallnacht, award-winning Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby will speak at the S. Joseph Solomon Synagogue of the Maimonides School in Brookline, Massachusetts, on Sunday at 7 p.m. The talk will be livestreamed.

Jacoby's father was the sole survivor of his family at Auschwitz. 

"He didn’t hate God for what he had lost and didn’t abandon the Judaism in which he had been reared," Jacoby wrote of his father. "On the contrary, he deepened it with observance, study, and prayer."

Last week I had the privilege of visiting Mennonite communities in the Chaco region of Paraguay. Mennonites arrived in Paraguay in three waves, circa 1875, 1930-32, and 1947. Each time, they sought refuge from regimes that wished to extinguish their religious freedom, if not their lives.

Restored "Koloniehaus" at Filadelfia, Paraguay
RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
On a world map at the Fernheim Colony House in Filadelfia, I was struck in particular by one remarkable line tracing Mennonite migration. The journey ran eastward from Ukraine, then Austria-Hungary, to Siberia in 1908; then further east to China, turning south to Indonesia in 1927; then turning back westward across the Indian Ocean and isthmus of Suez, to Europe; and at last on to Paraguay to join the end of the second migration there in 1932.

Besides the astounding odyssey it represented, the line resonated with me both because of the current conflict in Ukraine and because my own grandfather's Jewish family fled what is today western Ukraine at about the same time.

Map at the Filadelfia Mennonite Museum,
similar to the one at the Colony House

RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
with no claim to underlying work
As has been widely reported, one Russian strategy in the present war in Ukraine is the forced relocation of Ukrainians, especially children, to Russia, whether to be given passports and politically and culturally Russified, or, in the case of dissenters and combatants, to be condemned and disappeared in remote parts. The strategy is not new.  Just before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, I wrote about the forced relocation of Polish ethnic minorities, such as the Lemkos, from western Poland to Soviet Russia in 1947.

The parallels are not coincidental.  The Mennonites fled increasingly unstable Austria-Hungary for Russia before the outbreak of World War I. Then, scarcely a decade after the Russian Revolution, rising nationalism rendered even Siberia inhospitable, prompting the exodus of the late 1920s. After World War II, Mennonites remaining in an eastern Germany about to be gifted to the Soviet Union departed in another migratory wave, in 1947. They were not alone; justifiably afeard Christians of other sects departed as well.

Engrossed in the map in Paraguay, I muttered something unkind about Putin. Standing nearby, Fernheim archivist Gundolf Niebuhr said quietly, "History repeats itself."

Niebuhr and I talked about the complex relationship of the contemporary Mennonite Paraguayans with their Latino and indigenous neighbors.  They work closely together, literally, on farms, in schools, and in governance.

But the legacy of repeatedly fleeing oppression, Niebuhr told me, is that even in prosperous and peaceful times, people are dogged by a lurking anxiety over the inevitable impermanence of the idyll. To look around, the Mennonites and their partners have defined the unique cultural identity of the human Chaco. Yet are the Mennonites still only visitors? Will the day come when Asunción says, assimilate, or else? And it will be time to move on again.

Struggle and perseverance are enduring themes in Jewish identity. The former seems inescapable, as expressions of antisemitism abound. Hate simmers now in the Twitter scandals of Kyrie Irving and Kanye West.  Last week, mourners marked the fourth anniversary of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack. Yet the Jewish tradition teaches that anxiety is counter-productive. God will light the way, as always he has. That seems to have been the remarkable faith walk of Jeff Jacoby's father. Still, there are scarce few among us who do not struggle to eschew fears and doubts.

The Jewish people have a strong claim to unrivaled familiarity with persecution. But assimilation and expulsion of the other seems well ingrained in the human mode of operation, regardless of the nature of the otherness. An elder of my Christian church reminded me yesterday that being Christian is not supposed to be easy. The "Good News" might offer salvation, but leisure and luxury are not part of the methodology, at least not in this life.

I live without fear of being alienated in, or exiled from the only home I know. That is a blessing. All of us possessed of that blessing owe open hearts to anyone who loses it, whether in Pittsburgh, Paraguay, or Ukraine.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Researcher recounts riveting history of Auschwitz infiltrator

Pilecki before 1939
Witold Pilecki was an officer of the Polish underground in 1940 when he allowed himself to be captured by the Nazis in a civilian roundup and sent to Auschwitz.  The underground sought to document German atrocities in the concentration camps with the aim of spurring the Allies to action.

Assuming a false identity using found papers, Pilecki passed himself off as "Tomasz Serafiński," the commanding officer of the Nowy Wiśnicz region unit of the underground Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa, or AK).  He remained in Auschwitz for nearly there years and wrote reports for the underground that were smuggled to London and Washington.

At Easter in 1943, Pilecki and compatriots made a daring escape from Auschwitz.  Hunted by the Gestapo, they made their way through the Polish countryside and ultimately found refuge with the real Tomasz Serafiński, his wife, Ludmiła, their children, and their underground network.  Amid their run, the escapees had become suspected by the underground of being German spies.  As he grew close to his unexpected namesake, Serafiński found himself at odds with the AK, ultimately depending on Ludmiła to protect both men against underground suspicion and Nazi hunters.  Pilecki and Serafiński each had a grim fate yet in store.

Pilecki at Auschwitz
This riveting WWII story is the subject of a working research paper, replete with documentary images, authored by Elizabeth M. Zechenter, Ph.D., J.D.: Was it Really a Blind Fate? Interwoven Lives of Witold Pilecki and Tomasz Serafiński, and the Daring Efforts of Ludmiła Serafińska to Save Them Both.   The paper was featured in this month's (Oct. 2019, no. 20) Quo Vadis, the Philadelphia Chapter newsletter of The Kosciuszko Foundation.  The foundation is a New York-city based non-governmental organization dedicated to cultural and educational exchange between the United States and Poland.

Zechenter
By day an assistant general counsel for GlaxoSmithKline, LLP, Zechenter is an accomplished academic researcher (Academia.edu, ResearchGate), her UCLA Ph.D. in evolutionary archaeology, who has taught international law and human rights law at Georgetown University Law Center.  She also is president of the Jagiellonian Law Society (JLS), "a voluntary legal association comprised of a diverse group of professionals (lawyers, judges, law faculty, and law students) who are interested in, or have roots in Polish and Central/Eastern European (CEE) cultures."  She is related to the Serafińskis. 

I was privileged to learn about Elizabeth's work through membership in JLS ("open to any legal professional who shares [JLS] interests and goals") and my work in the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, American Law and LL.M. program with Jagiellonian University (not associated with JLS) in Kraków, Poland, and Washington, D.C.