September 18: The Nazi-Hunter

190_wellesElliot Welles (Kurt Sauerquell), who headed the Anti-Defamation League’s Task Force on Nazi War Criminals from its founding in 1979 until 2003, was born in Vienna on this date in 1927. He and his mother Anna were deported by the Nazis to Riga, where they executed Anna on a transport bus. Welles then spent years of his boyhood in the Riga ghetto before being interned at the Stutthof concentration camp in Poland. Settling in New York in 1949, he eventually became a co-owner of a restaurant in Yorkville, a German neighborhood in Manhattan, where he began to gather information on former Nazis and their whereabouts. Welles eventually tracked down in Germany the SS officer who had selected his mother for death, and had him prosecuted in 1976. This kind of hunt became Welles’ calling, and he grew, writes Margalit Fox in the New York Times, into “one of the most influential forces in identifying Nazis who had settled in the United States and having them extradited to stand trial abroad.” Among the men he identified and brought to justice were Boleslav Maikovskis, responsible for the mass execution of 200 Latvian villagers during the war, who had settled in Mineola, NY (Maikovskis proved too ill to stand trial and shortly afterwards died), and Josef Schwammberger, a former Nazi labor camp commander who hid in Argentina for forty years before Welles succeeded him having him extradited to Germany, where he was convicted and died in prison. Welles died at 79 in 2006.

“Welles spent years trolling dusty archives and marble corridors in the United States, Germany, Austria and elsewhere, painstakingly tracing the whereabouts of men and women who had hoped to vanish into obscurity. He tenaciously pressed reluctant governments around the world to divulge information, to find suspects, to apprehend them and bring them to trial.”—Margalit Fox


September 17: Einstein’s Letter to Ataturk

Einsteinin_Ataturke-mektubuAlbert Einstein wrote a letter to Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, through his prime minister, on this date in 1933, urging Turkey to give sanctuary and research facilities to forty German Jewish scientists and doctors who had been removed from their work by the rise of Nazism. Einstein’s letter was urged by Sami M. Günzberg, a Jewish Turkish dentist who met the physicist at an International Conference in Paris of the Union for the Protection of the Well-Being of the Jewish Population (OSE), of which Einstein was the honorary president. Günzberg was Ataturk’s dentist and knew much about the Turkish leader’s desire to modernize his country. According to Bulent Atalay at the National Geographic website, “Not just the forty that Einstein requested, but many scores of German and Austrian Jewish scientists, their families, and their assistants, moved to Turkey. For the next ten to fifteen years the medical schools, and science and technology departments, especially in Istanbul flourished. By the 1950s many of these scientists immigrated to the newly created State of Israel, and to the United States.”

“These scientists are willing to work for a year without any remuneration in any of your institutions, according to the orders of your Government….In supporting this application, I take the liberty to express my hope, that in granting this request your Government will not only perform an act of high humanity, but will also bring profit to your own country” —Albert Einstein


September 16: The Great Seal

ussealThe Great Seal of the United States of America was impressed upon a document for the first time on this date in 1782, three months after its design was approved by Congress. Used on passports, military insignia, embassy placards,  flags and other government documents, the Great Seal portrays an eagle clasping an olive branch and thirteen arrows, and a “glory” with thirteen stars arranged on a blue field — in the pattern of a Jewish star. This pattern, which also has appeared since 1935 on dollar bills, has produced a nonsensical, sometimes anti-Semitic literature about Jewish influence over the United States. The best-known myth is that Haym Solomon, an important financier of the American Revolution, requested the Star of David configuration to George Washington. Washington, however, had no input into the design of the Great Seal. “The reason why artist Robert Scot chose to arrange that constellation of 13 stars into the shape of a hexagram when engraving the first die of the Great Seal in 1782 . . . is unknown,” says Snopes.com, “but the best guess is that he was emulating the arrangement of stars on the first American flag.”

“[T]he official State Department document describing the history of the seal makes no mention of any Jewish symbolism. Darlene Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which manufactures paper money, says there is no intentional Jewish symbolism on the dollar bill…. So why has this myth captured the imagination of American Jews? Dr. Jonathan Sarna . . . says it has helped American Jews proudly connect themselves to their country’s formative era.” —Benjamin Goldberg. Snopes.com
JEWDAYO ROCKS: Justine Frischmann, lead singer of Elastica, was born in London on this date in 1969. To see her leading the band on the song “Stutter,” look below.


September 15: Slow Train Coming

Bob_Dylan_-_Slow_Train_ComingBob Dylan’s newly released, Slow Train Coming, an album with born-again Christian themes, was reviewed by Jann Wenner in Rolling Stone on this date in 1979. Wenner called it “one of the finest records Dylan has ever made. In time, it is possible that it might even be considered his greatest.” Yet “so much emotion has become invested in Dylan’s public image,” he continued, “that the greater numbers of his critics and devotees torture themselves before they will put aside their previous definitions of him.” The album emerged following a conversionary experience in which “Jesus did appear to me as King of Kings, and Lord of Lords,” Dylan reported. “There was a presence in the room that couldn’t have been anybody but Jesus . . . I felt it all over me. . . .The glory of the Lord knocked me down and picked me up.” Produced by Jerry Wexler (who resisted Dylan’s evangelizing by saying, “Bob, you’re dealing with a 62-year-old confirmed Jewish atheist. I’m hopeless. Let’s just make an album”), the album included Mark Knopfler as lead guitar and featured “Gotta Serve Somebody,” which became Dylan’s first hit in three years and won him a Grammy. Slow Train Coming was listed at #16 in the 2001 book CCM Presents: The 100 Greatest Albums in Christian Music and went platinum in the US, where it reached #3. Within a few years, Dylan was hanging around with Lubavitcher Hasidim, en route to a more enigmatic religious stance today. To see Mavis Staples and Jonny Lang singing Dylan’s hit, look below.

“You might be a rock’n’ roll adict prancing on the stage
Might have money and drugs at your commands, women in a cage
You may be a business man or some high degree thief
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief.
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” –Bob Dylan


September 14: Justice in Israel

2_waDorit Beinisch became the first woman President, or head justice, of the 15-member Supreme Court of Israel when she was appointed to that post on this date in 2006, after serving for 28 years in the justice ministry, often as the first woman appointed to various positions, including as State Attorney General. The most well-known decisions of the Supreme Court during her tenure included denying parents the right to use corporal punishment with their children; denying the Israeli Defense Force’s right to use Palestinian as human shields; limiting the detention of noncombatants; forbidding the privatization of prisons; and strengthening women’s capacities to sue for equal pay for equal work. In February, 2012, after 15 years on the Supreme Court, Beinisch was officially replaced in her role by Justice Asher Dan Grunis. One of her rightwing critics labeled her “a controversial judge whose radical left-wing ideology guided her and jurisprudence was just a tool for her.” Shimon Peres described her as “one of the most important and bravest figures that has served at the head of the highest judicial institution in Israel.”

“We must be attentive to the distress of the public and to what it feels in its heart without being subject to the influence of groups of one kind or another.”—Dorit Beinisch