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May 16, 2003

Protecting Death Camps Helps Shoah Education

I am pleased that the Forward is giving coverage to the continuing international efforts to protect and preserve important Jewish cultural, religious and Holocaust-related sites in Europe, including the most infamous death camps and killing fields (“‘A Place… Close to Our Heart’: Millions Raised To Fix Up Camps,” May 2).

The Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad has been at the forefront of this work for more than a decade. During the last year alone, we have assisted in the creation or restoration of Holocaust memorials in Germany, Poland, Ukraine and Latvia.

We are sponsoring the restoration of numerous historic sites in those countries, and are also contributing to the post-flood restoration of the “Secret Synagogue” at Terezin, from where the camp preservation article was written.

Funds for all these projects come from private donations from the United States and around the world, and from local and foreign government contributions. Despite the claims of some, the amount spent on these efforts is quite small compared to the enormity of the need, and in comparison to monies spent for other sorts of preservation and restoration projects in this country and worldwide. The memorial to the Oklahoma City bombing cost $29.1 million, for example, and the restoration of the Tweed courthouse in New York cost more than $80 million.

In reference to the proposed Belzec death camp memorial, the Forward misquotes me as calling the cost “an excess of $4 million.” I actually said the cost was “in excess of $4 million.” I was stating a fact, not making a judgement on the project or the cost.

Despite the problems and criticisms that individual preservation or commemoration projects may face — and there are always naysayers — overall the process of remembering the victims of the Holocaust, and preserving sites where they suffered and where their mortal remains still lie, is widely supported by Jews and non-Jews in this country and worldwide.

Preservation of the death camps does not detract from Holocaust education — it enhances it. We teach the present and future generations by confronting, not neglecting, the past.

Warren Miller


United States Commission for the

Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad

Washington, D.C.

Schools Should Teach Morals, not Religion

It is unfortunate that Secretary of Education Rodney Paige’s remarks concerning a personal preference to educate his own children with the education provided by religious colleges and universities was distorted by one news service (“Misquoted About Schools, Paige Is Hearing Apologies,” May 2).

In the rush to judgment concerning Paige’s’ supposed remarks and the subsequent rush of some critics to apologize for their unfair criticism, other parts of his remarks have escaped the scrutiny they deserve.

Elsewhere in his interview with the Baptist News Service, Paige indicated that public schools were structurally incapable of providing a sound moral footing for their students because “they must serve so many different kids with different kinds of values.”

Diversity of moral thinking is no doubt a fact of American life. And while that diversity denies public schools the easy escape of preaching and enforcing the values of a dominant faith, it is no obstacle to the inculcation of the fundamental values of good citizenship.

On the contrary, Justice Robert Jackson observed during a period of national crisis and testing 60 years ago that “compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.”

Paige needs to make clearer than he has that public schools are invaluable institutions even though they cannot teach Christian, or other, religious values.

It is unseemly and inappropriate for a secretary of education, who should be the nation’s leading advocate for the public schools, to suggest that public schools are structurally incapable of producing moral citizens.

Marc Stern

General Counsel

American Jewish Congress

New York, N.Y.

Hollywood’s ‘Passion’ For Making Movies

The controversies engendered by cinematic depictions of the death of Jesus are nothing new (“Scripting the Scriptures,” May 2). Rabbi Stephen S. Wise protested Cecil B. DeMille’s “King of Kings” in 1927, and DeMille, under pressure from B’nai B’rith, prepared a revised foreword in which he promised to “exculpate the Jews of guilt for the death of Jesus,” and put the responsibility on Caiphas, the high priest.

The eminent critic Dwight MacDonald, in his review of “Ben-Hur,” noted the absence of any Jews at Jesus’ trial, but shortly thereafter published an apologetic discourse on the Romans actually being the “fall goys.” The 1961 version of “King of Kings” provoked similar complaints that Jewish enemies of Jesus were nowhere to be seen.

By 1965, “The Greatest Story Ever Told” simply provoked yawns. Of course, any controversy feeds the Hollywood publicity machine and this cannot be far from the minds of Mel Gibson and his colleagues.

The New Testament account does not differ greatly from the talmudic sources quoted by opinion columnist David Klinghoffer. In John 18:14, we read that “Caiphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.”

I have always seen a modern-day equivalent in General Jaruzelski of Poland, a patriot who harshly repressed his fellow Poles to avoid worse oppression from the Soviets. It was the welfare of his fellow Jews that Caiphas had in mind when he sacrificed Jesus to the Romans.

Alexander Goldstein

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Buying the Settlers Out Is Investment in Peace

Opinion writer Marcia Freedman’s suggestion that the United States should spearhead an international effort to buy out the settlers is a creative way to think about diminishing the cycle of violence (“Buy the Settlers Out,” May 2).

Apart from terrorism, the bleak Israeli economy is undermining the fabric of society. The subsidies going to the settlers and the cost of their defense contribute to Israel’s economic decline.

If American money could be spent helping resettle those Israelis now in the West Bank and Gaza, the United States could build support not only among the settlers, but also among the Palestinians.

This is something the United States sorely needs in order to defuse the mistrust many Arabs feel for us, and especially for American support of the Sharon government. American funding of this resettlement would also help the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, curb terrorism.

If we took Freedman’s idea one step further and actually urged the Israelis to allow Palestinian families to occupy the homes left by the settlers, this goodwill step would surely undermine the power of the terrorist groups supporting the suicide bombers.

Pamela Berger

Cambridge, Mass.

Marcia Freedman suggests that the United States pay $2 billion to $3 billion to buy out the Jewish settlers.

I feel that the basic idea is correct but the target is wrong.

My solution is very similar: Use the money to buy out the Palestinians on the West Bank. First of all, Arabs have less of an association with the land since the Jewish people have been there for 3,500 years while the vast majority of the Arabs moved in much more recently.

Secondly, if the Jews leave the West Bank, they will only have a piece of land 9 miles wide, with enemies on one side and the Mediterranean Sea. Palestinians, on the other hand, would have a choice of nearly two dozen countries.

And thirdly, the amount of money each Jewish settler would receive would not go very far in Israel, while any Palestinian who moves to an Arab country would likely live like a king.

Eber Weinstein

Old Orchard Beach, Maine

Israel Studies in D.C.

New York University is not the only university to have the distinction of being home to an Israel studies center (“NYU Center: New Addition to Growing Academic Field,” May 2).

American University’s Center for Israeli Studies celebrated its fifth anniversary this year and is the administrative home for the international Association for Israel Studies.

These Israel studies centers are needed to balance the curriculum studies of the Middle East and to offer another face of Israel to the one typically presented on campuses today.

Howard Wachtel

Director, Center for Israeli Studies

American University

Washington, D.C.

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