Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Early Warning--Survival

"The U.S. government has had estimates like this for a while, but they haven't made them public. So part of this is to democratize this information and put it in the hands of public advocates, journalists and others."
Cameron Hudson, director, Center for the Prevention of Genocide, Holocaust Museum, D.C.

Can genocide be prevented? Can intense scrutiny by informed experts studying the field of human psychology and state cultural behaviour predict when mass violence will erupt? This is basically the purpose of a study by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.   In a collaborative study between the museum in Washington and the Dickey Center for International Understanding (Dartmouth) labelled The Early Warning Project the initiative has undertaken a rating of countries which may be perceived might embark on an orgy of state-orchestrated mass atrocities.

"I looked at the scrapbook a couple of times over the years and I would say, 'This is interesting'. But there wasn't a hope in hell that I could trace anything more about my past. Who was I going to ask?"
"I wasn't one to dwell on the past. But it was difficult."
"Here I am, meeting a lady who I spent the first three years of my life with, and the feeling of warmth was unparalleled. And I find out all this information I had about myself was wrong. My birthdate on my passport is July 15. But I find out I was born on the 24th of June."
"Everything has finally come together."
Dr. Mel Goldberg, age 72, "the infant who survived", Toronto **
Mel Goldberg
Mel GoldbergDr. Mel Goldberg at age 3.
"The survivors [Polish Jews] often spoke of a child who had been taken out of the Jewish ghetto right before it was liquidated."
"Mel, and this wasn't part of his life, but he became a symbol for others -- a bridge between two worlds. He was the infant who survived."
Lilka Elbaum, daughter of Holocaust survivors, Boston **

As examples where genocidal conflicts have taken place there is no lack, from Turkey's mass killing of millions of Armenians, to the USSR's deliberate starvation of millions of Ukrainians, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, the Darfurian slaughter in Sudan, Rwanda's Hutus' bloodletting of Tutsis, the world has witnessed one horror after another, both before and after the commission of state-sponsored measures to exterminate every Jew in Nazi Germany's World War II domain.

Burma and the Central African Republic represent countries where atrocities against civilians have taken place; and one can add to that, Syria. What has happened, despite the international community's collective vow that anything resembling the Holocaust would never happen again, has, and appears destined to occur, time and again. "Most of the time, the countries at the top of the list are not going to be surprising", noted Jay Ulfelder, a political scientist involved in developing the model used by the Museum.

"The value comes from the small number of places named which are counterintuitive." That Guinea ranked just above Afghanistan represents "one that people in the atrocity prevention community aren't talking about." Now, perhaps they will. And perhaps also it isn't totally surprising that most of the countries listed are Muslim-majority countries, and African countries.dotplot3020140619
The infant that was Mel Goldberg was born Mendel Gwiazda, in 1942. At three months of age he was destined to become an orphan as a result of a world event of staggering proportions, the systematic, organized and painstaking effort to eliminate from total existence a tribe of people whom the world knew as Jews. Six million Jews; children, women, octogenarians, men from all parts of Europe under fascist control of the Axis nations led by Nazi Germany were destined to die, tiny Mendel's parents and his three siblings among them.

His parents were Ancel Gwiazda and Elka Goldberg, and he lived with them in Biala Rawska, Poland. Along with his mother, father and the siblings he never knew, were aunts, uncles and cousins murdered in the Polish death camp, Treblinka. Although he never knew the names of his murdered siblings, now he does; they were Bajla, Wolf and Majlech. Mel Goldberg's father, Ancel Gwiazda, had warm relations with a Polish man who worked as a cobbler, because Ancel was a leather dealer.

Ancel asked the cobbler to look after his infant son, and gave tiny Mendel into the care of Waclaw Libera. But when he brought the child to his parents, they refused to accept the baby's presence among them. Waclaw then built a one-room house where he could live with his wife Stanislawa and their daughter Irena. In that tiny dwelling the Jewish baby was cared for, hidden from authorities, in a bureau drawer.

A relative of his mother, Wolf Goldberg and his wife Tillie discovered his presence eventually at a Polish orphanage when he was three years old. Wolf Goldberg took the infant on an ocean liner from Poland to New York. And from there the man who declared himself the boy's father, took a train to Toronto. From an early age the boy adapted well. His adoptive parents kept a scrapbook for him, of a life beyond his memory in Poland. The boy grew to adulthood, attended university, obtained an engineering degree then a medical degree.

Several years ago a phone call reached him from a woman whose name was Lilka Elbaum whose parents came from the same village in Poland as his parents and which represented Mel Goldberg's first home. Her parents were two among the 37 Jews who remained of the Biala Rawska Jewish population of 1,500. A legend had grown among the survivors of a child, taken from the Jewish ghetto to be safeguarded by a gentile. In the town of Biala Rawska no Jews remain now.

Dr. Goldberg and his family travelled to Warsaw in June for a ceremony to honour the Libera family for rescuing that child that he was in 1942. Irene, the child of Waclaw Libera, is now a retired teacher. She accepted the tribute to her parents, and the Polish woman and the Canadian man, she once a child whose parents saved a Jewish infant, embraced in a tandem of human warmth.

** Interview with Joe O'Connor, National Post journalist

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  • At 11:21 PM, Blogger Marek Kaminski said…

    Please correct the unfortunate phrase "Polish death camp." The camps were erected by Germans in occupied Poland. Incidentally, I lived near Biala Rawska, the town mentioned in your piece and once met a Mr. Libera whose family helped save Jews during the war; I do not know whether those people are related to Mr. Libera from this text though. Cheers, Marek.


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