The First into the Dark
During the 12 years of the Nazi regime, a secret program of ‘euthanasia’ was employed against the sick and disabled. More than 300,000 Europeans with disabilities were covertly murdered and their families issued with falsified death certificates. A further 400,000 were deemed by special courts to have ‘hereditary diseases’ and were sterilised against their will.
This aggregate of crimes, now known as Krankenmorde (the murder of the sick), was organised and performed by doctors, nurses, bureaucrats and designated military groups. Many would go on to commit larger scale crimes against humanity in the Holocaust.
From the extraordinary eyewitness account of eight-year-old Elvira Hempel, a girl declared "feeble minded" and sent to be gassed at the Brandenburg killing centre, only to be sent back to her institution, The First into the Dark reveals a history of the victims, witnesses, opponents to and perpetrators of the Krankenmorde. It presents an accessible analysis of that era within the rise of ‘scientific’ eugenic discourse and traces the implications for contemporary society—moral values and ethical challenges in end of life decisions, reproduction and contemporary genetics, disability and human rights, and in remembrance of and atonement for the past.
About the authors:
Dr Michael Robertson is a consultant psychiatrist, Clinical Associate Professor of Mental Health Ethics at the Sydney Health Ethics centre at the University of Sydney, and a visiting professorial fellow at the Sydney Jewish Museum.
Dr Astrid Ley is a historian and historian of medicine. She is deputy director at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial near Berlin.
Dr Edwina Light is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Sydney Health Ethics centre at the University of Sydney, and a visiting fellow at the Sydney Jewish Museum.
To read more about the book or to purchase or download a copy, visit the publisher's website: utsepress.blog/2019/09/28/the-first-into-the-dark-the-authors-story/
To download a free audio version of the book through January 2020, visit archive.org/details/thefirstintothedark
By Stacy Gallin
On July 4, 2018, I said goodbye to Eva Mozes Kor, Holocaust survivor, Mengele twin, my friend, mentor and inspiration, in the Krakow airport for what would be the final time. We had just concluded a life-changing journey to Auschwitz with the Davidson College men’s basketball team, an idea that was formulated in 2017 after a colleague and I met Eva and witnessed her powerful message of survival, forgiveness and hope when she spoke to a full auditorium at Misericordia University, a Catholic University in Dallas, Pennsylvania. She helped us launch the Center for Human Dignity in Bioethics, Health and the Holocaust, where I currently serve as the director. That first night I met her, I promised to do everything I could to help share her message. Eva told me that I was a “firecracker,” and that she had no doubt I would make good on my promise. It was one of the best compliments I have ever received.
Over the next several months, Eva and I spoke frequently about how best to share her message with the world. Through the nonprofit organization that I founded, the Maimonides Institute for Medicine, Ethics and the Holocaust, and the nonprofit organization that Eva founded, CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center, we were able to organize this trip with the Davidson basketball team in an effort to educate a new generation of leaders and influencers about the anti-Semitism and human rights violations that took place during the Holocaust. Our goal was to inspire these young men to use their platform to become active agents of social change. The team spent four harrowing days touring Auschwitz-Birkenau and hearing Eva’s testimony. They witnessed the remnants of evil as they walked through the gas chambers. Those moments will remain with all of us forever and have already inspired many of the players to actively promote Holocaust education and the promotion of human dignity for all.
But there was more to our trip that we will remember as well. When the players and coaches first arrived at our hotel, she challenged them to try and make a basket…by shooting a ball into the seat of her walker. She fist-bumped each and every of them. She took selfies with the players because she thought the difference in height—two feet between her and some of them—was absolutely amazing. Knowing the circumstances of her early life, it’s hard for most people to understand this, but she was, quite simply, joy and hope personified.
Eva was a true inspiration. Sharing the story of her time in Auschwitz to teach people the power of forgiveness was not an easy thing to do, nor did it always make her popular among her peers. She didn’t care about that. She knew that her experience could help other people, and that was all that mattered to her. I don’t think it was a coincidence that she passed away at the end of her annual trip to Krakow, where she would take 100 people each year to show them the tragedy of the Holocaust juxtaposed with her story of survival, strength and hope. It was, quite simply, Eva’s way. If you knew Eva, you knew there was no way she was going to let anything stop her from sharing her message one final time.
On July 4, one year to the day after I last saw Eva Mozes Kor in Krakow, I received a text message telling me about her passing. The message read simply, “Rest in Peace, Eva. Such an inspiration and an amazing person.” It was sent from one of the Davidson basketball players. That speaks volumes about Eva’s impact and her legacy. I have been fortunate in my career to meet many wonderful people with amazing stories to share. However, I have never been more fortunate than the day I was blessed to meet Eva Mozes Kor. Getting to know Eva was—and will always be—one of the great privileges of my life.
Eva, I hope you know how much you meant to so many of us and how much good you did for the world. I promise to keep fighting the good fight and keep sharing your story, just as I did on that first night I was lucky enough to meet you.
Baruch Dayan Emet. May Eva’s memory be a blessing to us all.
By Ira Bedzow and Stacy Gallin
After refusing to admit that the Holocaust was a “factual, historical event,” Principal William Latson of Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton, Fla., was removed from his position and reassigned to a different position in the Palm Beach County school district.
It is not that he personally denied the Holocaust. Rather, in an email to a student’s parent, he suggested that, as a school district employee, he was not in a position to say that the Holocaust is a factual, historical event since not everyone believes the Holocaust happened.
While it is important to recognize the limits of one’s own expertise, and it is usually a good idea to avoid speaking as an authority on issues that are outside of the scope of one’s proficiency, Latson’s claim is not only unacceptable, it is irresponsible. One does not need to be a professional historian to know that the Holocaust occurred.
We can visit Auschwitz and walk through the barracks of the concentration camps that now serve as memorials and house personal artifacts of the victims, such as clothing, shoes, prosthetic limbs, even human hair. We can stand in the gas chambers and see the ovens used to burn the bodies of those who were murdered. We can talk to survivors and see the numbers tattooed on their arms.
Moreover, when educating students, it is vital to provide them with the skills to analyze data, verify which data are reliable, and arrive at justifiable conclusions. However, it does a disservice to students to make them question the veracity of obvious facts, simply because “not everyone believes in them.”
Imagine if the principal questioned the importance of teaching “Introduction to Physics,” simply because not everyone believes that gravity exists, or banning globes because there are flat-earthers in the world. Having students “see all sides” of a complicated issue where values can be prioritized in different ways with varying implications so that they can arrive at a conclusion based on facts and their values is one thing. Having students exposed to truth and falsity as two equally valid options is quite another.
Underlying Latson’s refusal is a question of the importance of Holocaust education. Currently, just 11 states, including Florida, have laws requiring schools to provide Holocaust education. The most recent state to require it was Oregon in 2019, whose law stipulates that instruction be designed to “prepare students to confront the immorality of the Holocaust, genocide and other acts of mass violence and to reflect on the causes of related historical events.”
The importance of Holocaust education is not simply raising awareness of a historical fact. Holocaust education can provide a unique lens to many contemporary social, political and professional issues that challenge us today.
One can see the deleterious effects of hardening ideologies and prejudice, not only along the margins of society, but even within those sectors of society that have traditionally been seen as its stalwarts. For example, members of various professions, such as in law and health care, have allowed political, racial and religious bigotry to affect the ways in which they engage the most vulnerable.
By showing that the tragedy of the Holocaust is not only a tragedy in Jewish history but a lesson for everyone, Holocaust education can serve to foster civics and ethics education. The Holocaust can serve as a historical example for understanding the danger of placing societal progress and political expediency ahead of individuals.
Holocaust education is an opportunity to teach the next generation about the essential connection between the past and the future, to give them the tools they need to learn about moral decision making and to emphasize our responsibility to stand up and speak out when we see evil in any form. How we teach the memory of the Holocaust is intricately tied to our vision for the future of our society. Let’s stop thinking that “Never Forget” is enough of a message.
Let’s remember not only for the sake of remembering, but for the sake of developing our students to become people who respect each other.
Bedzow is the director of the biomedical ethics and humanities program at New York Medical College and Senior Scholar at the Aspen Center for Social Values. Gallin is the director of the Center for Human Dignity in Bioethics, Health and the Holocaust at Misericordia University and the founder and director of the Maimonides Institute for Medicine, Ethics and the Holocaust.
As we commemorate Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), The Maimonides Institute for Medicine, Ethics and the Holocaust (MIMEH) proudly announces a new educational initiative that will explore how sports can serve to engage a new generation about the importance and relevance of Holocaust education and the promotion of human dignity for all people. This project was made by possible through a generous grant that will allow MIMEH to collaborate with other Holocaust education centers and universities throughout the world to amplify the message of remembrance, education and activism.
With recent studies showing a decline in the basic awareness of the Holocaust among young people and an increase among anti-Semitism worldwide, MIMEH is rethinking our approach to Holocaust education to preserve the legacy of those who perished during the Holocaust and fulfill our promise of “Never Again.”
The initiative will build off of the success of a pilot program that aimed to combat these disturbing trends with an innovative program targeting a broad, intergenerational audience. In partnership with MIMEH and CANDLES Holocaust Museum, the Davidson College men’s basketball team made a life-changing journey to Auschwitz in July 2018. Over the course of four days, the team experienced first-hand the horrors that took place during the Holocaust. A short film of the event documented the players’ reaction and increased motivation to take active roles in becoming leaders for social change.
Since returning home, the players and coaches have continued their efforts to promote Holocaust education, equality, dignity, and justice for humankind. Davidson guard Kellan Grady, an all-Atlantic 10 first team selection who recently entered the 2019 NBA draft stated, “Auschwitz taught me the importance of respecting the dignity of all individuals regardless of their background. On Yom Hashoah and every day, it’s imperative that we continue to honor and remember the victims of the Holocaust, while also making a concerted effort to continue to respect the dignity of all people.”
MIMEH is working to build on this foundation to create an innovative educational curriculum that incorporates athletics into Holocaust education to reach a broad audience and inspire a new generation to remember the past and protect the future.
The “Davidson College Basketball Journey of Remembrance” video is currently available to view online at www.mimeh.org For more information about this new initiative, please contact Stacy Gallin, Founding Director of MIMEH, at firstname.lastname@example.org
We are pleased to announce a special issue of Conatus Journal of Philosophy dedicated to the intersection of Holocaust Studies and Bioethics. This issue will be guest edited by MIMEH's Director, Dr. Stacy Gallin, and Educational Consultant, Dr. Ira Bedzow. Please see Call for Papers below and share with interested friends and colleagues.
A new book, Jewish Doctors and the Holocaust: The Anatomy of Survival, was published on January 15, 2019, by De Gruyter Publishing and Magnes Press. In this book, Dr. Ross Halpin discovered that Jewish doctors survived an average of twenty months, many under the same horrendous conditions as ordinary prisoners. Despite their status as privileged prisoners’ Jewish doctors starved, froze, were beaten to death and executed. Many Holocaust survivors attest that luck, God and miracles were their saviours. The author’s thesis is that surviving Auschwitz for long periods was far more complex. Interweaving the stories of Jewish doctors before and during the Holocaust Halpin develops a model that explains the anatomy of survival. According to his model the genesis of survival of extreme adversity is the will to live and persistent drive to survive which must be accompanied by the necessities of life, specific personal traits, such as resilience and defence mechanisms. For survival all four must continue to exist at the same time.
"This is a 'must read' book in medical and allied health professional schools." Avi Ohry, MD Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, Israel
"After meticulous research, Ross Halpin presents a pioneering study that intertwines fragments of testimonial accounts, documentary archival evidence and conceptual frameworks. What emerges is a compelling model of description and interpretation of the limited chances of survival of Jewish doctors in Auschwitz, one of the epicentres of the Holocaust." Konrad Kwiet, Emeritus Professor, Resident Historian, Sydney Jewish Museum, Sydney, Australia
"The author's description of Auschwitz's medical world is an illuminating and brilliant synthesis and his final chapter, 'Anatomy of Survival', a masterpiece where one can see his own contribution to research at its best." Etienne Lepicard, Bet Hagat and the Israeli National Council for Bioethics, Jerusalem, Israel (Prologue)
There are no words to convey the shock, horror, and grief that we are feeling in response to the senseless attacks that took place at the Tree of Life Synagogue.
There are no words that will bring back the victims who were murdered as they prayed during Shabbat services in a house of worship that is supposed to be a place of peace and comfort.
And yet, we must find the words. We must speak out against this kind of hatred and violence because as Elie Wiesel warned, “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” We cannot afford to be silent anymore.
The Maimonides Institute for Medicine, Ethics and the Holocaust was founded on a simple idea: “Remember the Past; Protect the Future.” Today, we remember a time not so long ago when anti-Semitism led to the murder of six million Jews. The impulse to divide humanity into “us” vs. “them” was at the root of the death and destruction that took place then, and it continues to haunt our society now. As we mourn the loss of life that took place at the Tree of Life Synagogue, we must realize that our only hope for protecting the future lies in our ability to learn from the past. Intolerance and hatred are our enemy. We must put aside our differences in order to create a better future where all people are treated with dignity and respect because that is the very foundation of what it means to be human.
In Judaism, there is a concept known as Tikkun Olam, in which we are encouraged to perform acts of kindness in order to repair the world. We have a responsibility to those who were murdered at the Tree of Life Synagogue and those have been persecuted and killed throughout history for no reason other than being Jewish to take action to try and heal this broken world.
We will not be silent in the face of hate. We pledge to stand up and speak out against anti-Semitism, prejudice and intolerance of any type. Only then can we fulfill our promise of “Never Again.”
This summer I had the incredible privilege and opportunity to travel with the Davidson Basketball Team to Poland and tour the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. The trip was set up by the the Maimonides Institute for Medicine, Ethics, and the Holocaust and CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center. We were given tours of the camps by Eva Mozes Kor, a survivor of Auschwitz and the medical experiments on twins that were performed by Dr. Josef Mengele.
This first thing I noticed when walking into the camps is how large they are. It is difficult to comprehend the size and scale of the camps until you are actually there. The Birkenau camp held 100,000 people in it at one point. Walking down the selection ramp was particularly moving: that is where the majority of Jews in the camps were sent to their deaths. Train loads of people would come in and the Nazis would either point left, to the gas chamber, or right, to the labor camp where they would be abused, starved, and forced to work in inhumane conditions. Everything the Nazis did was geared toward stripping the Jews of their dignity, humanity, and ultimately their will to live. I remember talking with some of my teammates about how efficient it all was. The Nazis planned everything perfectly to where everything they did could be used to kill people as quickly as possible. Everything from the ghettos to the train rides to the forced labor and of course the gas chambers was all put in place to systematically erase a people group from the planet. They would tell the Jews that they were going to take a shower and get new clothes as they marched them to gas chambers. I kept asking myself: How could you do this to another human? Some images that I think will stick with me forever are small children being led directly to the gas chamber, Eva telling us about the moment she was torn from her mother, never to see her again, the scratches on the walls of the gas chambers, the children’s drawings etched on the wall, the rooms full of personal belongings, hair, suitcases, shoes, glasses, brushes by the thousands, and the pits where bodies were openly burned. These are just a few of the sights that will stay with me forever.
I think about the emotions I felt while I was walking through the camp. First, I felt incredible sorrow and grief for the victims of the tragedy that is the Holocaust, but shortly after I felt an immense amount of anger for the perpetrators, the Nazis. But the anger did not stop there. I also felt anger for those that were complicit, the ones that knew what was happening and let it happen. The United States can be grouped in with countries that would not accept Jewish immigrants when Hitler started rounding them up, as with the MS St. Louis: we turned away over 900 Jewish refugees who were forced to return to Europe. The Catholic Church did not even address what was happening. I am a Christian, and this was one of the things that hurt me the most. How could the church turn their back on these people? I do not know if I will ever be able to shake that feeling of anger. I cannot even imagine how survivors of the camps felt. I think that is what makes Eva’s story so special. She also felt immense anger, but she has gotten to the point where she can forgive those that wronged her and push a message of kindness, forgiveness, and a continuing fight to preserve human dignity.
It was very difficult for me to process an experience like that because of all the images and emotions that we were flooded with in a very short amount of time. As more time has passed since the trip, I feel like I have been able to gather my thoughts a little better and have gained a better understanding of how to apply the lessons we learned while we were over there. It helped me a lot to read the sermon by Pastor Kershner. The idea of having a strong and tender heart is one that I think is essential for us to make a difference. We must first have a tender heart to be able to empathize with those that are disadvantaged and persecuted, but then we must have a strong heart to be able to have the courage to act. I am sure there were countless people during the Holocaust that could have been charged with thinking it was wrong, but not doing anything to change it. While I was walking through the camps, all I could think about was what I would have done if I were an inmate, a guard, or a civilian of the surrounding town. I always pictured myself doing something to change the situation. I hope and I pray that when times like that come now, that I have the courage to do something that enacts change.
I think on very tangible level, I can be on the lookout for the language of dehumanization. The language of dehumanization and a culture that is okay with dehumanization is a breeding ground for violence and hate. I have now seen firsthand what that dehumanization and hatred can culminate in and I hope and I pray that I will never live to see an evil like that. I think we are always closer to repeating history than we think and that is why we must fight to never let something like the Holocaust happen again.
This article was written by Patrick Casey, a junior at Davidson College who visited Auschwitz-Birkenau with his fellow teammates and coaches this summer.
Lessons Beyond The Basketball Court
By Steve Lipman
This summer, a group of college students from North Carolina joined a new international movement in Holocaust education that involves visits to sites of Nazi concentration camps by teams of professional and student athletes.
The basketball team of Davidson College (14 players and five coaches) took part in a four-day trip to Poland, which included guided tours of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and Auschwitz Museum, and time in Cracow, where the delegation was based. The visit, coordinated by the Maimonides Institute for Medicine, Ethics and the Holocaust (MIMEH), based in Freehold, N.J., and the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center, from Terra Haute, Ind., was part of the program of overseas training tours that the National Collegiate Athletic Association provides for its teams every four years.
But the Davidson team’s time in Poland was different.
“No basketball at all,” said Bob McKillop, the team’s Queens-born head coach. Guided by Eva Mozes Kor, the Auschwitz survivor who founded CANDLES, the players saw the gas chambers and railroad tracks of Auschwitz and heard Kor’s story of losing her parents in the Shoah and being forced to take part in one of Dr. Josef Mengele’s brutal experiments on twins. “It was non-stop and exhausting, physically and emotionally,” McKillop said.
The players returned to campus as changed persons, he told The Jewish Week in a telephone interview. “I’m watching the way they treat people. I see there’s a sensitivity, there’s a respect that maybe was not so apparent. That will shape their lives.”
As prominent members of the campus community, the athletes are likely to share their experiences during classes, in interviews and public speeches and in a forthcoming documentary, said McKillop, a church-going Catholic who served as a high school history teacher early in his career.
The fifth-longest-tenured head basketball coach currently in NCAA Division I, he is best-known to fans as the former coach of NBA superstar Stephen Curry, who played at Davidson in 2006-09.
Other sports teams that have made similar visits to concentration camps in recent years include England’s Chelsea Football (soccer) Club, the Duke University men’s soccer team, and the University of Tennessee men’s basketball team, under the leadership of Bruce Pearl, the Jewish head coach who now works at Auburn University.
“It’s a growing educational trend, and a valuable one,” said Michael Berenbaum, Holocaust expert and author. “A pilgrimage there is deeply important — it raises all the issues of the fundamentals of life.”
“We are glad that there are so many young people visiting the Auschwitz Museum. Among them are also sportsmen,” Lukasz Lipinski, a Museum spokesman, said in an email interview. “It is important that those that are leaders or idols visit Auschwitz. Their experiences … their thoughts and emotions after visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau reach a very wide group of people.”
The visit of the athletes from Davidson College, a small, private liberal arts school loosely affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, was the idea of Amanda Caleb, a 2002 graduate of the university who played field hockey there, and of Stacy Gallin, founder and director of MIMEH, which targets most of its activities to healthcare professionals. High-visibility athletes are poised to serve as informal Holocaust educators and an antidote to Holocaust deniers, Caleb and Gallin thought.
Caleb pitched the idea to McKillop, who immediately accepted. His players, members of various Christian denominations, “welcomed the opportunity to see history,” he said.
McKillop said fellow basketball coaches have approached him about conducting similar concentration camp visits for their teams. They share his vision that their athletes should learn lessons about life beyond sports, he said. “There’s a greater awareness.”
MIMEH is pleased to introduce Cal Freundlich, our Inaugural Emerging Scholar. Cal is a rising junior at Davidson College in North Carolina. He is a Music and Media major and a member of Davidson's Division I basketball team. Cal joined MIMEH on our summer 2018 trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he was "reminded of the responsibility that we, as young people, have to be leaders of our generation and ensure that human dignity and equality are protected." Cal will be scoring the music for the documentary MIMEH is producing based on our trip. In addition, he will be contributing posts to MIMEH's blog and working with established scholars in the field to help foster his desire to become an active agent of social change.
As part of our trip, Dr. Amanda Caleb, MIMEH's educational consultant, provided each student and coach with a journal to be used for reflecting and processing this intensely emotional experience. Cal decided not only to use the journal, but offered to share his thoughts on camera and on our website.
"Here, there is an objective beauty -- the light, the sky, the grass, from a far even some of the structures -- it is painful. The more I think of it the more I feel it is a metaphor. The camp today means something different than it used to, and maybe it's displaying that. Today it means survival, triumph, mourning...the other side of the mountain of forgiveness (that Eva speaks about). But that is today, maybe tomorrow it storms and a whole different side is displayed. But nonetheless, I can't help but think that even in "hell on earth," one can still find beauty."
As I looked carefully through pictures in what was called "Canada," I came across a wall dedicated to a woman named Fela Roze. I looked carefully at all her pictures. She had family and friends all over the wall. One picture caught my eye, three people standing in a line smiling. I read the names and froze. "Fela Roze (left), Bernard Freundlich (middle)..." I walked over to our tour guide.
"Everyone on these walls, did they all, um, were they all victims?"
It felt like a wave. Now I'm sweating, itchy. Freundlich is a common german last name. I find myself wanting to search for more. I also find myself wanting to walk away. Four more pictures. Part of me is saying "don't be dramatic" but another part of me wants to feel. Most likely he's not related to me at all. But what if. But if not, does it even matter?
Seeing my last name under a photograph at Birkenau was perhaps the most important moment of my visit, but not because it created any connection to my past or my family. Seeing that name reminded me what losing someone feels like. What losing one person really feels like. ONE in six million. Numbers don't make you feel, people do, and too often do we focus on statistics when it comes to tragedies. We must not forget the value of one single life.