Yaffa Eliach – "one of America's most respected Holocaust scholars"

Published: 1996-08-12

Below is our response to the US News & World Report (USN&WR) article of July 8, 1996 and The New York Times (NYT) autobiographical article by Yaffa Eliach of August 6, 1996. Only the USN&WR article is copied below, the NYT is very long, current and easily available to anyone interested.

USN&WR in its July 8, 1996 issue, on page 24 published as follows:

"OLD WOUNDS. Poland's new president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, arrives in Washington next week in the midst of a new controversy over the credibility of one of America's most respected Holocaust scholars. At issue: the circumstances surrounding the killing of more than 50 years ago of two relatives of Yaffa Eliach, a professor of Judaic studies at New York's Brooklyn College. During World War II, Eliach and her family were among 29 Jews from the then Polish village of Ejszyszki who were hidden by Christian Poles, enabling them to escape the Nazi slaughter of 4,000 other Jews in the community. After the Germans were driven out of Poland, Eliach says, she and her family returned home, where they were attacked by a band of antisemitic Polish partisans on Oct. 20, 1944. According to her recounting of the ordeal, gunmen shot and killed her mother and baby brother as she and a second brother looked on. Eliach, who assembled the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's 'Tower of Life', an exhibit of prewar Jewish life in Ejszyszki, has devoted decades to documenting the fate of her family and the town's other Jews. But now several Polish-American fringe organizations have accused her of fabricating the tale of her mother's and brother's deaths to defame Poland. They have also launched a sustained campaign on the Internet to discredit her. As a result, the Polish Ministry of Justice has announced an official investigation into the case and has gotten cooperation from the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations. Both Eliach and Michael Berenbaum, director of the Holocaust Museum's Research Institute, insist that her story is true and is backed by numerous witnesses. And what do mainstream Polish-American organizations say ? Les Kuczynski, national executive director of the Chicago-based, million-member Polish-American Congress, noted that his group 'did not call for the investigation'... By Douglas Stanglin with Linda Fasulo, Richard J. Newman, Michael Barone, Gary Cohen, Richard Z. Chesnoff and Josh Chetwynd."

Before going into the matter of the alleged murder by Polish "antisemitic" partisans, I offer several quotes by or in reference to this "one of America's most respected Holocaust scholars".

In "Preserving Memory, The Struggle to Create America's Holocaust Museum" (1995) by Edward T. Linenthal (Linenthal), on page 13:

"Writing in 1979, Eliach declared that American Jews had discovered the 'vast educational and financial potential of the Holocaust'. It was, she said, 'an instant Judaizer, shocking people back into their Jewishness. ... One may sadly reflect that 'there is no business like Shoah business.'"

In "Publisher's Weekly" (Nov. 12, 1982) page 7:

"'Everyone likes to be the hero of his or her own experience' – she [Eliach] is very concerned about the 'lack of responsibility in the research of the Holocaust'. She believes that too many unrelated fields are 'using and abusing' the Holocaust to prove their own theories, ... "

In "Publisher's Weekly" (Nov. 12, 1982) page 6:

"The author [Eliach] was four years old when [in September 1941] the Germans commanded the Lithuanian officials ... to round up all the Jews."

In "Contemporary Authors", Vol. 110, page 163:

"ELIACH, Yaffa 1935 – . Personal: Born May 31, 1935, in Vilna, Poland." According to this source she was closer to 6 1/2 years old not 4 in September 1941."

In "The Buffalo News" (Nov. 7, 1982), on Hasidism by writer of an article promoting Eliach's book "Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust":

"The Hasidic movement placed prayer, ecstasy, storytelling and daily sanctification on the same level as scholarly achievement in the Orthodox world."

In Linenthal, on Jewish resistance, page 192:

"And should 'resistance' mean more than physical resistance? Yaffa felt strongly that spiritual resistance deserved recognition in the museum. She offered an example: 'Prisoners in the camps,' she said, 'would tie seven knots in their dresses in order to know when the Sabbath came.'"

In Eliach's "Hasidic Tales ... " , on resistance, page 151. The story describes an incident at the Janowska concentration camp where, Jewish children were brought (apparently by their parents) from the surrounding areas to be killed. Rabbi Israel Sira, a survivor, relates an incident:

"I heard the voice of a woman. 'Jews have mercy upon me and give me a knife'. In front of us was standing a woman, pale as a sheet. Only her eyes were burning with a strange fire. I thought that she wanted to commit suicide. ... 'Give me that pocket knife !' she ordered the German [guard standing by] in a commanding voice. The German, taken by surprise, handed the knife to the woman. ... With a steady hand she opened the pocket knife and curcumcised the baby. ... 'God of the Universe, you have given me a healthy child. I am returning to you a kosher child.' She walked over to the German, gave him back his blood-stained knife, and handed him her baby on his snow-white pillow. Amidst a veil of tears, I said to myself that this mother's circumcision will probably shake the foundations of heaven and earth."

In "Los Angeles Daily News" (Nov. 5, 1982):

"As a child in her native Vilna ... Yaffa Eliach watched in horror as German soldiers murdered scores of Jews and threw them into open pits during World War II. On another occasion, she went to the town jail to bring her imprisoned father some food. But he had been so badly beaten by the Nazis that she did not recognize him. Instead of feeding him, Eliach threw the food away rather than give it to someone she thought was a stranger."

In "The Canadian Jewish News" (April 27, 1995), regarding the clothing of pre WW II Ejszyszki Jews whose photos Eliach collected now exhibited at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's (USHMM) "Tower of Faces":

"Eliach noted the modern garb depicted in most photographs. Because of the influence of radio, newspapers and television, 'whatever was the fashion in New York was the fashion in Ejszyszki', she explained."

In "The New York Times" (May 26, 1976), having declared her outstanding intelligence – "As a girl of 5 in the village near Vilna ... attended class in a pit under a pigsty ... studied Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian and Polish" – Eliach insults the non-Jewish inhabitants of Ejszyszki (most likely Polish) by relating a supposedly true incident "of a Jewish boy" who fell into "an open trench to be murdered" "just before the guns fired". He "emerged at night, naked and covered with blood": "When he knocked on a door later, it was opened just a crack and he was told "Jew, go back to the grave where ;you belong". At another door the message was the same. Finally, he said; "I am Jesus, and I have come down from the cross." He was invited in and he survived."

The just cited absurdity, repeated as truth, appears expanded in Eliach's "Hasidic Tales ...", page 53. It is allegedly based on her "several interviews with" the survivor himself and "with several other people from Eisysky". It again reveals the ingratitude by the Jews and their defamation of Gentiles who risked their lives to save them. Having survived, the ingrate together with Eliach, concocted a ridicule of the rescuers and Christianity.

We have decided to publish on this subject as fully as feasible from currently available sources. Below are quotes from "Hidden Children, Forgotten Survivors of the Holocaust", Chapter 3, 'Child of Shadow, Child of Light', The Story of Yaffa Eliach". (1993) by Andre Stein (Stein), ISBN 0-670-84518-3.

Let's keep in mind the remarkable memory, including lengthy conversations quoted verbatim, of the four/five/six (?) year old Eliach.

Page 52:

"Everyone in the eight-hundred-year-old Lithuanian shtetl of Ejszyszok knew Yaffa Sonenson even though she was only five years old when the hostilities against the Jews began."

(Ejszyszki, in writings re Eliach is referred to as: "Lithuanian shtetl of Ejszyszok", quoted above; "Polish town of Eishyshok", USN&WR April 3, 1995; "Polish village of Ejszyszki", USN&WR July 8, 1996; "small Polish village of Ejszyszki; Religion News Service July 11, 1996; "Lithuanian town of Ejszyszki" Linenthal, page 58; "Eishishok [the Yiddish name of the shtetl]", Linenthal, page 186)

"Yaffa's first years were idyllic. Her father, Moshe Sonenson, was a solid businessman; her mother, Zipporah, was a professional photographer. They owned a wax factory, a tannery, a wholesale fur business and a large forest. The family spent the entire season in a pleasant summer home on the edge of the woods. Yaffa and Yitzak, her brother, four years her senior, ... would delight watching the adults play tennis."

Not a bad life for this Jewish family among the "anti-Semitic" natives.

Page 53:

"But during the summer of 1941, they heard something that cast dark clouds over their carefree horizon. The Sonensons were among the first in Ejszyszki to have purchased a radio. ... [T]hey heard a shrieking male voice making a speech in German. ... "This is Adolf Hitler". Somebody pronounced the speaker's name with awe. But to the five-year-old, the name meant nothing.

That summer, the number of refugees who had been passing through Ejszyszok since 1939 swelled to a constant flow. They knocked on every door, including the Sonensons', terrifying everyone with their bone-chilling stories. With the fever of terror in their voices, they recounted how the Germans had taken over their homes and locked them up in ghettos.

"Don't pay attention to these stories. Nothing like this is ever going to happen here", Grandmother Sonenson reassured Yaffa. She remembered the Germans from World War I – they were wonderful. They brought culture and civilization to that otherwise primitive region. Those miserable refugees must have done something to deserve such hard treatment."

The just quoted passage is very informative. It reminds us that from September 1939 till as late as the summer of 1941, a constant flow of Jewish refugees pushed eastward. (Then how many survivors should be deleted from the number 3,000,000 of Polish Jews that reportedly perished ? How many of them returned with the Soviet "liberators" to terrorize and murder Polish patriots and rob Poland ?) Refugees in need of shelter, – "They knocked on every door" – were refused by the wealthy Sonensons. Their stories of horrors did not disturb the Sonenson's "carefree horizon". It is indicated in many survivors' stories, that Jews did not help other Jews but panicked when their own security was threatened.

Interestingly and significantly, – in our collection of material on the Jewish Holocaust, in library books that we have checked, at meetings re Holocaust that we have attended, no Jewish help extended to the Jewish refugees in Soviet occupied Eastern Poland, is recorded nor talked about. – An absolute silence. No Jews' life would have been threatened while helping Jews in need. Yet Jews have the audacity, – the ingrates, to complain and hatemonger, that not enough Poles helped them during the German occupation when such help meant death to the Poles if discovered.

The photos of children in the Warsaw Ghetto, living, freezing and dying on the streets are nowhere properly captioned. Jews were packed into Warsaw by the Germans, but they were dying slow deaths because, – like the Sonensen's in Ejszyszki, the wealthy Jews in Warsaw refused them shelter..

The happy, positive memories of the Germans in WWI by Eliach's grandmother, most likely reflects the memories of other Jews of Ejszyszki and subsequently reflects the attitude of local Poles towards the Jews, – aka "Polish anti-Semitism".

"On June 23, 1941, the day the Germans occupied the shtetl, Alte Katz [Eliach's grandmother] took out her camera to snap some pictures of her granddaughter feeding the chickens. ... Zipporah Sonenson was pregnant and did not feel like staying at the summer-house any longer. So the family returned to the shtetl."

Eliach, "one of America's most respected Holocaust scholars", – makes no mention that in September 1939, Ejszyszki as the rest of Eastern Poland was invaded by the Soviets ! At that time and in that area, while Poles were being rounded up for imprisonment, death or exile in Siberia by the NKVD, these Jews enjoyed a "carefree horizon" ! Second World War started for them almost two years later, on June 23, 1941!

Because there are now rumours that the Polish Ministry of Justice is investigating the Sonenson/Eliach allegations against Poles, Polish citizens should insist on investigation of the Sonensons conduct in September 1939 to June 1941. Enough victims of Jewish collaboration with the NKVD are still alive to support such an investigation. Some Jews were also deported at that time and had their properties taken away, how come the Sonensons enjoyed a "carefree horizon" until the arrival of the Germans ?

The general hush in WWII history published in English re the condition of Jews in Eastern Poland during the Soviet 1939-1941 occupation is very curious. Also, re any alleged Jewish resistance to the Germans prior to German invasion of the Soviet Union. We would welcome information to published sources.

As to Eliach's grandmother taking photos of her and the chickens on the day the Germans arrived, – it is absurd. This photo of the smiling Eliach appears in People Magazine, January 17, 1994. She looks younger than five years old. Indeed, the photo is captioned: ""Some of my earliest memories are of watching my grandmother take photos", says Eliach (posing for her at age 4)." Reference to this one and another photo in People: "Standing in front of the tower, Eliach points to a photograph of herself at age 4 in her father's arms and another of her feeding chickens – both of them taken on the day the Nazis arrived." On that fateful day, in addition to calmly taking photos and feeding chickens, the family returned to Ejszyszki because the capricious Zipporah "did not feel like staying at the summer-house any longer" (?). How did they avoid the Germans ? Weren't they scared after having heard since 1939 the "bone-chilling stories" of what Germans did to the Jews in Western Poland ? Weren't they conspicuous on the empty streets ?

Page 54:

"That day the shtetl looked like a ghost town. There was no one in the street. All shutters were closed. Yaffa saw through the cracks of the shutter the procession of soldiers dressed in black uniforms on motorcycles and atop tanks. She also saw a Christian couple climb on a tank and kiss the German soldiers on it."

Eliach had an uncanny gift to be at the precise cracks through which to have a vintage point of what she wanted (or imagined) to see. In USN&WR, April 3, 1995, she "watched through a crack in the closet" (in utter darkness) as her mother was being killed. Here, she not only saw the entering German army but also a couple kissing German soldiers on a tank, – and their religion (at her age of 4/5/6), and after she just finished informing that "there was no one on the street". Utter nonsense and hatemongering against Christianity! The conquering Germans would have shot anyone trying to climb a tank because they would not know the intentions of the climbers. Kisses, or a bullet or knife into the soldier. This ridiculous story is akin to the one she published in "Hasidic Tales ... " on page 151 (see 7. POLISH nation libel, August 12, 1996) where she tells of a German soldier giving a weapon, a pocket knife, to a distraught Jewish woman on her command.

Or, perhaps the kissers were Jews. Poles would not kiss up to an invading army which devastated their country and killed their people. Eliach already informed that her grandmother admired the Germans of WWI. Perhaps Eliach was looking at her parents ? It appears her mother was not at home to grab the child away from the window for fear of shots. Perhaps her father had some interest to kiss up to the Germans, – a position in the Judenrat ?

It is documented that Jews greeted the Soviets in 1939 throwing flowers at them and their tanks. They put out bread and salt on tables covered with white cloths as a gesture of welcome, while other Jews were robbing Polish homes. It is documented that some Jews also greeted the Germans.

Eliach has been profiting from the tragedy of the Holocaust, from the death of her mother and brother, for approximately forty years without regard that her Holocaustomaniacal babble makes a farce of that tragedy.

© August 12, 1996


Dana I. Alvi. Chairwoman P. O. Box 3206; Santa Monica, CA. 90408

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Author(s): Dana I. Alvi
Title: Yaffa Eliach – "one of America's most respected Holocaust scholars"
Published: 1996-08-12
First posted on CODOH: Aug. 10, 1996, 7 p.m.
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