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June 28, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 28, 2013 ~ PAGE 11A By Rafael Medoff June 27 was Helen Keller Day--the annual occasion when Students across America learn about the disabilities activist whose remarkable achievements inspired her gen- eration, and every generation since. Less well known, but no less deserving of commemo- ration, was Keller's powerful outcry against the Nazis. One of Adolf Hitler's top priorities when he became chancellor of Germany in 1933 was to prevent schools from using books that the Nazis re- garded as "degenerate." Eighty years ago this spring, Germany was transformed into one huge funeral pyre for any books that differed from the Nazis' per- spectiVe on political, social, or cultural matters, as well as all books by Jewish authors. The Hitler regime chose May 10, 1933 as the date for a nationwide"ActionAgainstthe Un-German Spirit," a series of public burnings of the banned books. The gatherings were organized by pro-Nazi student groups under the supervision of the Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. The largest of the 34 book- Bain News Service via Wikimedia Commons Helen Keller burning rallies, held in Berlin, was attended by an estimated 40,000 people. Books by Ger- man Jews such as Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud were burned, as well as books by the British science fiction writer H.G. Wells (author of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds) and many American writers, including Ernest Hemingway (For Whom the Bell Tolls), Jack London (Call of the Wild), and even Helen Keller. "No to decadence and moral corruption!" Goebbels declared in his remarks at the rally. "Yes to decency and morality and state!... The soul of the German people can again express itself. These flames not only illumi- nate the final end of an old era; they also light up the new." A New York Times editorial sarcasticallysuggested that the Nazis might next begin "burn- ing microphones" to stamp out free speech. Time called the Nazis' action "a bibliocaust," and Newsweek described it as "a holocaust of books." This was one of the first instances in which the term "holocaust" (an ancient Greek word mean- ing a burnt offering to a deity) was used in connection with the Nazis. The outcry around the world included this moving letter from Keller, addressed to "the Student Body of Germany." "History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas," Keller wrote. "Ty- rants have tried to do that often before, and the ideas have risen up in their might and destroyed them. You can burn my books and the books of the best minds in Europe, but the ideas in them have seeped through a million channels, and will continue to quicken other minds. I gave all the royalties of mybooks tothe soldiers blinded in the World War with no thought in my heart but love and compassion for the German people." "Do not imagine your barbarities to the Jews are unknown here," she added. "God sleepeth not, and He will visit his Judgment upon you. Better were it for you to have a mill-stone hung round your neck and sink into the Sea than to be hated and desPised of all men." Various foreign leaders also criticized the book burn- ings, but the Hitler regime ignored such protests. Perhaps if the words of condemnation had been accompanied by diplomatic or economic conse- quences, the Nazis would have had to reconsider. Five years later, protests by American college students helped prevent another mass book burning by the Nazis, this time in Austria. Shortly after Hitler annexed Austria in March 1938, the Nazis gave theAustrian National Library a long list of books to be removed and burned. StudentsatWilliams College in Massachusetts sent a tele- gram to the Austrian library, offering to buy the books. Riots broke out on the Williams cam- pus when anti-Nazi students tried to burn Hitler in effigy, and pro -Nazi students used fire hoses to stop them. Yale University's'student newspaper urged the school administra on to purchase the Austrian books, which it said would both add to Yale's "intellectual equipment" and "administer a well-justified backhanded slap" to the Na- zis. Unfortunately, Yale's chief librarian disagreed, claiming the book-burnings in Germany were just "students letting off steam." Nevertheless, the protests by students at Williams, Yale, and other universities appear to have had an impact. The Austrian National Library an- nounced that it the books in question would be 16cked away rather than burned. Helen Keller is not known to have commented specifi, cally on the student protests. But one may assume she was deeply proud that at a time when too many Americans did not want to be bothered with Europe's problems, these young men andwomen under- stood the message of her 1933 lettermthat the principles under attack by the Nazis were something that should matter to all mankind. Dr. Rafael Medoffis founding director of The DavidS. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, www. His latest book is "FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith." Courtesy Ora Bogomolny The slide made for Avraham Siton at his elementary school's 60-year reunion. Attendees of the 60-gear Elementary School pointing Noa Becker reunion of Tel Aviv's Geulah at their class photos. Courtesy Ora Bogomolny From left: Geulah Elementary School classmates Avraham Siton, Ora (Perry) Bogomolny and Mashiach Moshe Shem-Tov meeting for lunch in Florida months before their 60th reunion in Israel. Siton would die two days before the June 12 reunion. By Hillel Kuttler BALTIMORE (JTA)--Ora Bogomolny sounded subdued, as if the phone call to her Is= rael apartment had disturbed her sleep. Indeed, she had experienced a nightmare just hours before receiving the call from "Seek- ing Kin" on June 13. Bogomolny had learned that Avraham Siton suffered a fatal heart attack in a Man- hattan hotel room mere hours before his scheduled flight for Israel to attend a reunion of their Tel Aviv elementary school class--an event spear- headed by Bogomolny. The previous night's get- together of the class of 1953 had gone beautifully. But Siton's death "destroyed all the good feeling we had" from the event, said Bogomolny, who described herself as being "in shock." She had decided last year to organize the reunion--an endeavor about which "Seek- ing Kin" wrote in November. Eventually she found Siton liv- ing in New Jersey, and the two would have regular contact. Bogomolny, of Toronto, even met Siton and another Geulah Elementary School classmate, Mashiach Moshe Shem-Tov, for lunch twice last winter while visiting Florida. The two men had homes in the North Miami Beach area, but hadn't known about the other until Bogomolny reunited them. In calls and emails, Siton told her how much he was looking forward to the June 12 reunion. Two days before Bogomolny left her home for Israel, Siton sent one last email. "Have a safe trip," he wrote. "See you soon." Twenty-nine children com- prised the class of '53 at Geulah, which was in down- town Tel Aviv. The school no longer exists, but the building does--it wasn't far from the reunion festivities at the Tal Hotel. Two classmates, Dov Becker and Rachel Gutfeld Younish, handled most of the reunion's logistical planning, and Bogomolny labored at finding everyone--and she did just that. Some, like her, lived outside Israel. Six had died. Others were too ill to attend. All told, 17 of the Geu- lah students came, six with spouses. Becker, who lives near Netanya, brought his daugh- ter, Noa, a photographer. At the reunion, attendees wore pins with their photos from the Geulah days. They oohed and aahed with each contemporary face recog- nized. Noa Becker's camera captured the hugs and em- braces. After an hour they moved upstairs for a sumptuous buf- fet. Bogomolny (nee Perry) for- mally welcomed the class and related her search for each in- dividual. ZivaYanovskyWexler spoke about the teachers as a slide show presented their vis- ages. Younish waxed eloquent on friendships formed then and renewed only recently. Younish's son, Guy, played a CD of period melodies, and the classmates sang along. It was "a magical atmo- sphere," Becker said. But he and Bogomolny grew concerned by Siton's absence. They glanced at the door con- stantly, awaiting his entrance. Others did, too. Siton, Bogo- molny said, "was the star of the class: handsome, successful. He'd left for the U.S. at age 17. After I found him, everyone was looking forward to seeing him [at the reunion]." Tracking down Siton last autumn hadn't been easy. Bogomolny spoke on the Is- raeli radioprogram"Hamador L'chipus Krovim" (Searching for Relatives Bureau). She also mentioned her search to a friend, who revealed that she had attended Geulah's high school with Siton's older brother, Ovadiah. The women eventually located the Sitons' niece in New Jersey, who said the Sitons changed their names long ago: Ovadiah Siton became Buddy Sutton; Avra- ham Siton became AI Sutton. Once found, Avraham Siton was thrilled to reconnect. "He was so excited to come to the reunion, excited to meet everyone," Bogomolny said. "We spoke and exchanged emails all the time. I'd get a response five minutes later from his iPhone." Siton, 74, had enjoyed a successful career, partner- ing with Buddy and another older brother, Mike, in several clothing and linen businesses in the New York area, among them Sutton Stores. He and his wife, Paula, had three children, who produced seven grandchildren. In an interview, Buddy Sut- ton said Avraham was "very good-hearted," serving on the board of Brooklyn's Mai- monides Medical Center and building a synagogue there in memory of their parents, Hillel and Bahira. The brothers owned Florida winter homes near each other. They played golf, and Avraham made a point of including a cousin with poor eyesight. "We were very attached," Buddy said, and Avraham's sudden death is "going to take forever to accept." Two days before the reunion, Bogomolny called the Tel Aviv Hilton and learned that her classmate had not checked in, as planned. After the reunion, she grew more worried and asked Becker to cal| Siton's wife in Long Branch, N.J. On the phone, Becker didn't understand what "passed away" meant, so he asked to speak with someone fluent in Hebrew. Buddy Sutton came on the line and told Becker what had happened, adding that his brother had been healthy and active. Bogo- molny called, too, and Sutton described Avraham's great anticipation of the reunion. Now the surviving class- mates grapple with the cruelty of it all, especially the timing. Psalm30:11 speaks of turning, mourningtojoy; now the order was reversed. Mini-reunions will con- tinue. Before returning to Toronto, Bogomolny will get together with two classmates residing near Tel Aviv. Afriend living on Kibbutz Degania invited Becker to visit. The conversations will extend the joy and the mourning. "It's a paradox," Becker said. "If we'd ... known he died, I Wonder whether the event would have proceeded--and if it did, what the atmosphere would have been. It certainly wouldn't have been happy. This was the fates laughing." Bogomolny had invested her all into this once-in-a- lifetime event. "Sometimes I wonder if it was a good idea to have a reunion. Maybe if i didn't have the reunion, he'd still be alive," she said. "Maybe he was overexcited." Bogomolny can take solace inthe reunion having drawn Siton back toward his child- hood friends. For those he would never see again, he'll remain forever young. Please email Hillel Kuttler at if you would like "Seeking Kin" to write about your search for long- lost relatives and friends, Please include the principal facts and your contact in- formation in a brief email. "Seeking Kin" is sponsored by Bryna Shuchat and Joshua Landes and family in loving memory of their mother and grandmother, Miriam Shu- chat, a lifelong uniter of the Jewish people. .... iiiii!i!ili~@~i~ii::~~ Goldii iiii Diam.i: onds