Holocaust Stories

JNS.org offers Holocaust stories, news and analysis from the Second World War and the Nazi era. Particularly, every year JNS.org covers the annual International Holocaust Commemoration Day on January 27 and Israel’s Yom Hashoah every spring. To select another topic, choose from the other content “categories” in our navigation bar.

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Susan Salzberg was the first to spot her late father-in-law’s face—a face with a striking resemblance to that of her 22-year-old son. Since as many as 200,000 Jews passed through the Lodz Ghetto from 1939-1944, the Salzberg family hardly expected to see Lewis Salzberg among the images in “Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross,” an exhibit on display in Boston through July 30. Ross’s lens caught the pain and pathos of the Jews remanded to the Holocaust era’s second-largest ghetto after the Warsaw Ghetto.

Last week’s visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, to Thessaloniki, Greece, marking the construction of a new Holocaust museum, turns the page in the city’s once thriving Jewish community, writes JNS.org's Adam Abrams.

For Holocaust survivors’ grandchildren like Beckah Restivo, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum works to anchor family stories in a historical context. Much of the museum’s resources come from the International Tracing Service, an archive of Holocaust records established by the Allies after the war. The archive boasts millions of pages of documentation. “Everything I know about my family history, besides my grandfather’s and great-uncle’s actual firsthand accounts, has been driven by the resources at the museum, and I’m so grateful,” says Restivo.

For Israelis, this year’s Yom HaShoah commemorations marked a balancing act between caring for the Holocaust survivors who remain alive and planning for the education of future generations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Sunday of the need to “ensure quality of life and respectable existence for the Holocaust survivors in their remaining years.” Israel’s Ghetto Fighters’ House museum, meanwhile, inaugurates a new Holocaust education program that “will look at the role of the Holocaust in the collective minds one generation to two generations from now,” said Dr. Arye Carmon, board chairman of the museum.

At an antiques flea market in Berlin, one of several stands proudly displays two Hanukkah menorahs for sale. The husky, white-haired seller explains how one of them probably came from Königsberg, a former German city in modern Russia. The other is easy to identify: a plaque indicates it was gifted by an Israeli organization to a German-Jewish benefactor in 1992. While Jewish victims and their organizational representatives have, over the years, processed claims for real estate, businesses and works of art seized by the Nazis, Jews’ more mundane Holocaust-era property may still be circulating in antique shops and households, unbeknownst to the current buyers or owners. “How do you establish what ordinary household goods belonged to a family that was murdered?” asks Dr. Christoph Kreutzmüller, a curator at Berlin’s Jewish Museum.

Ever since Michael Kagan, 60, was a boy growing up in the U.K., each detail of his father’s escape from a Nazi labor camp has ricocheted through his mind and heart. Now, in his new documentary “Tunnel of Hope,” the son is sharing his father’s story with the world. It’s a story that Jack Kagan had fought to keep alive, recording not only the escape, but the murders of the vast majority of the Jews of Novogrudok—a city in Belarus—who were dead long before that fateful night. “He was driven, determined to get it out there,” says Michael Kagan.

While the annual marking of International Holocaust Remembrance Day Jan. 27 gives voice to the stories of victims of the Nazis’ atrocities, what can Germans know about perpetrators from their own family? That was precisely Maya Levy’s question when she contacted the German government agency Deutsche Dienststelle (WASt) to investigative the Nazi past of her paternal grandfather. The WASt eventually informed her of her grandfather’s army ID and tank unit, named after Gestapo founder Hermann Goering. “He never spoke about the war when he came back, like everyone else, and nobody asked,” Levy said. The WASt helps descendants of Nazi soldiers learn more about the sensitive subject of their father or grandfather’s service. “For a long period of time, it was like a taboo,” said Hans-Hermann Söchtig, the WASt’s director. “The [wartime] generation didn’t talk about this era. It was a gray zone.”

Ahead of this year’s marking of International Holocaust Remembrance Day Jan. 27, new details have been revealed concerning how much the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration knew about the Nazis’ euthanasia policy, and why the U.S. failed to respond.

About a month after JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen wrote about a group of British animal rights activists who employed Nazi imagery in a campaign against a kosher slaughterhouse, there have been three more significant episodes involving the Holocaust and the Nazi era, leading Cohen to believe he underestimated the scale of the problem. If the Holocaust is now primarily a political instrument, rather than a central historical memory with a direct bearing upon both politics and ethics, we can expect further manipulation of the past to serve the imperatives of the present. From the "Hitler" chatter on social media all the way up to the new guardians of Holocaust memory, the politicization of the Holocaust is a distinct challenge facing the current Jewish generation, Cohen writes.

When Fania Bilkay and her son Evgeni stepped up to her desk, Sima Velkovich, a staffer in the archives division of Yad Vashem - The World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, was winding down what appeared to be an ordinary work shift. But suddenly, she was pulled into the center of a complex family drama that reached its climax this week. Bilkay had visited a Warsaw synagogue where she discovered a form on Yad Vashem's Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names that counted her father among those killed by the Nazis, despite the fact that her father survived the Holocaust and died of natural causes in 1983. What Bilkay didn’t know that day in Warsaw was that by disputing the recorded evidence of the “murder” of her father, she was about to be begin a journey that would unite her with relatives she had never known existed. The family reunion took place in Jerusalem Dec. 13.

A recently deceased co-star of the most widely viewed Holocaust drama in American television history was raised Catholic, but said he was so deeply affected by the role that he "became a Jew" in his view of the world. Fritz Weaver, who died Nov. 26 in New York City at age 90, co-starred on “Holocaust,” a four-part miniseries that aired on NBC in mid-April 1978. The miniseries chronicled the fate of Europe's Jews under Hitler through the fictional lives of a Nazi war criminal and a German Jewish family.

Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds never spoke about his experiences as a prisoner of war during World War II. Captured during the Battle of the Bulge, Roddie survived an arduous march through frozen terrain and was interned for nearly 100 days at Stalag IXA, a POW camp near Ziegenhain, Germany. “Son, there are some things I’d rather not talk about,” Roddie would tell his boys, Kim and Chris Edmonds, when they were young. When Roddie died in 1985, Chris, now a Baptist pastor, inherited his father’s war diaries. Now that his father’s wartime stories are known, Chris said his life has been “turned upside down.” The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, an organization that identifies non-Jewish rescuers of Holocaust survivors and pays tribute to their courage, honored Roddie’s memory Nov. 28 with the Yehi Ohr Award during the foundation’s annual dinner at the New York City Public Library. 

A Ukrainian legislator from the city of Kharkiv, Oleksandr Feldman, discovered that Facebook deleted one of his posts expressing criticism of his country’s lionization of Holocaust collaborators earlier this week.

A prominent Jewish figure in Kiev found his Facebook account suspended after a post detailing Ukrainian collaboration in the Holocaust was flagged as violating the social networking site’s terms of service. Experts say freedom of speech is restricted in Ukraine.

Some may think anti-Semitism ended decades ago, when the horror of the Holocaust was exposed. But the new anti-Semitism is expressed by those who are anti-Israel, masquerading behind humanitarian relief, nongovernmental organizations and so-called “reconciliation” ministries, according to Carla Brewington, a Christian volunteer with the organization StandWithUs.

The story of two of these honored heroes, American minister Waitstill Sharp and his wife, Martha, is brought to life in the new Ken Burns film, “Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War,” airing Sept. 20 on PBS stations nationwide.

The Sharps' grandson, Artemis Joukowsky, co-directed the compelling new documentary with Burns, which sheds light on how the couple saved refugees from Nazi persecution while the war raged on in Europe.

The compelling life story of retired Green Beret Maj. Gen. Sidney Shachnow, the only Holocaust survivor who became an American general, is driving his effort to collect signatures from other U.S. generals and admirals on an open letter of endorsement for Donald Trump.  

At a memorial in Rwanda to the victims of the 1994 genocide, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week wrote in the visitors’ book that he was “reminded of the haunting similarities to the genocide of our own people.” Certainly all instances of genocide have some characteristics in common. But perhaps the most compelling analogy between the Holocaust and the Rwandan slaughter concerns the international community’s apathetic response to the news of those genocides, writes historian Rafael Medoff.

A German court recently sentenced 94-year-old Reinhold Hanning, a former Nazi, to five years in prison for being an accessory to the murder of 170,000 Jews between January 1942 and June 1944, when he served as an SS guard at the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Both of Nathan Moskowitz's parents survived Auschwitz during Hanning’s “service” and assisted prosecutor Thomas Walther with Hanning’s trial. In the aftermath of the Hanning sentencing, Moskowitz—the author of “Kuzmino Cronicles: Memoirs of Teenage Holocaust Survival”—reflects on the significance of labeling the evils of the past and the present.

More than a dozen years ago in Worcester, Mass., Prof. Deborah Dwork got a letter from a man in Switzerland she’d never heard of. Ulrich Luz told her about something he’d discovered packed away in a suitcase among his late aunt’s belongings that might be of interest to Dwork. Indeed it was—so much so that she is now writing a book about it. The nephew had heard about Dwork's work for the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University. So when he discovered more than 1,000 letters his aunt Elisabeth Luz had sent back and forth between hidden children and their parents from the time of the Holocaust, he had a hunch Dwork might find the collection to be of value. He began sending Dwork packets of the letters—and then Dwork began the long process of scanning, sorting, transcribing, and translating them. The letters had gone from parents in Greater Germany to their children hidden in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and England. Several-hundred families are represented in the collection.