Telling Story of Holocaust's Horrors Through Ultra-Orthodox Eyes

Brooklyn Museum Plans To Offer Neglected Shoah Perspective

yad vashem

By Paul Berger

Published April 09, 2014, issue of April 18, 2014.
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Dozens more pictures line the wooden furniture around the office. There are photographs of local and national politicians, such as Republican New York Rep. Peter King, Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Sprinkled among the American dignitaries are Israelis, such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi.

Americare has attracted negative publicity lately. In January, an article in The New York Times drew attention to several recent lawsuits against Kleinman’s company that “detailed patterns of patient mistreatment, forgery of medical documents and sexual misconduct by a top executive.”

Americare was fined $7 million in 2005 for fraudulent billing at its care homes. In 2008, the company was fined $8 million for employing home health aides who were not properly trained to care for Medicaid patients.

“I am not going to talk about Americare today,” Kleinman said when asked about this. “That’s not what we are here to discuss.”

Instead, Kleinman talked passionately and at length about the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and his plans for the KFHEC. Both of Kleinman’s parents are Holocaust survivors. His 90-year-old mother, Ethel Kleinman, was in Auschwitz. His father, Avrohom Kleinman, endured slave labor and a death march.

Kleinman, who has sunk about $4.5 million into the project so far, says the center is intended to teach much more than just history. He hopes that his target audience, Orthodox schoolchildren in grades seven through 12, will learn about Jewish tradition and laws through stories of courage and resilience: mesiras nefesh, sacrificing one’s life; bitachon, trust in God, and emunah, belief in God.

But according to Michael Berenbaum, a Holocaust scholar who advises KFHEC on its exhibition, a historically honest exhibition will, inevitably, also challenge some Orthodox museum visitors’ preconceptions with its stories of piety under stress during the Holocaust. There is, for example, the case of Rabbi Yehoshua Moshe Aronson, who, while living in a labor camp, in Kolin, Czechoslovakia, was asked if it was permitted to eat nonkosher food not just to prevent death due to starvation, but also, preventively, to preserve one’s strength. Aronson not only permitted this, Berenbaum said, but also led by example, eating the prohibited food himself in public.

In another case, Rabbi Michoel Dov Weissmandl, a revered religious leader of World Agudath Israel, in Czechoslovakia, strongly criticized a Jewish partisan who showed him that he was continuing to wear his tzitzit, or prayer fringes, under his shirt even as he fought the Nazis. Rather than praise his religious commitment, Weissmandl remonstrated with the fighter.

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