Times Past

As generation of Holocaust survivors die, we must 'always remember'

Special to The TribuneApril 19, 2014 

Ninety-year-old Ruth Cairns Baker of Cambria recalls when she was living in Vienna.

She and her “school-buddy Ana . . . spent many hours talking, while walking each other home. However, we never visited at each other’s home. Later, it turned out that Ana’s father belonged to the illegal Nazi party and she was no longer allowed to see me.”

When the Nazis took over the country, all Jewish children were expelled from school.

In a very few years, the last living Holocaust survivors will be gone. Many of the most vicious Holocaust deniers and trivializers have been waiting for the moment when the last living witness is gone.

These deniers are individuals and groups who argue that the Holocaust, in which approximately six million European Jews, as well as Gypsies, gays, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others were systematically murdered by the Nazis, never happened. Often, these deniers are blatant racists who hate everyone who isn’t a “pure Aryan.”

The white supremacist suspected of killing three people outside two Kansas City-area Jewish community facilities on April 13 fits into that category.

In an increasingly multiracial society, they sometimes snap and engage in violence. Sometimes they strive to seek respectability by writing what on first glance appear to be scholarly texts. The Institute for Historical Review and its media branch, the Noontide Press, were founded in 1978 by longtime anti-Semite, Willis Carto. Operating out of Torrance, California, Carto wormed his way into the mailing lists of highly respected groups of professional historians.

Thousands of us were appalled when we received copies of the Journal of Historical Review, which purported to be a scholarly publication. The IHR’s authors and spokespersons contend that The Diary of Anne Frank is a forgery.

They claim that the Holocaust “hoax” (sic “Holohoax”) was publicized by so-called “Jewish controlled media” in order to create and support the state of Israel, and to force a defeated Germany into paying billions of dollars in reparations payments to survivors. In the deniers’ view, the gas chambers were at worst “delousing” facilities.

In 1979, the IHR offered $50,000 to anyone “who could prove that the Nazis operated gas-chambers to exterminate Jews during World War II.” Southern California resident Mel Mermelstein sent a notarized statement describing his internment at Auschwitz to the IHR. Mermelstein had lost his mother and two sisters in the Holocaust.

He failed to get a response from IHR. Instead, they began distributing hate literature in his neighborhood. In 1981, he sued the IHR. In the ensuing trial, the court accepted as a well-known and indisputable fact that Jews were gassed at Auschwitz.

The IHR and other so-called “revisionist groups” continue to try to discredit Mermelstein. Their web sites refer to the gas chamber where he last saw his mother being forced into a tunnel as “saunas.” The deniers look forward to the day when there are no more Mel Mermelsteins alive to testify as living witnesses.

Fortunately, some like Ruth Cairns Baker (nee Rosenthal) still live. Ruth was assisted by the underground in escaping from Nazi occupied Austria after the Anschluss of 1938.

In 2006, Daniel Deitch, then 13 and his sister, Lauren, 12, wrote a book, “We Will Always Remember,” about their grandparents. Daniel is now a graphic art and design junior at Cal Poly and drew the illustrations for the book.

Their father’s mother and their mother’s father were both Holocaust survivors. Their grandfather, Walter, an 87-year-old survivor currently living in Encino, escaped at the age of 12 on one of the last Kindertransport rescue missions — a train and ship system that saved more than 10,000 Jewish children.

Deitch told Cal Poly Mustang reporter Aryn Sanderson that he and Lauren wrote “from the viewpoint of what it’s like to be the third generation . . . and how it feels to be the last generation to know these Holocaust survivors before they all die…We found that to be one of the most important things, ever.”

Daniel Deitch will join Ruth Cairns Baker at the Holocaust Remembrance 2014 program, held on Monday, April 28 at 7p.m. at Congregation Beth David, 10180 Los Osos Valley Rd., San Luis Obispo. The public is invited.

Dan Krieger's column is special to The Tribune. He is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association

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