Yaffa Eliach, Child Survivor and Historian Who Tried to Humanize Hitler’s Victims

Born in 1937, Yaffa Eliach—who died last Wednesday—survived the Shoah with her family by hiding with Christian peasants. She then came to the U.S., where she became an influential historian and Holocaust educator. Joseph Berger writes:

Her mission, she said many times, was to document the victims’ lives, not just their deaths, to give them back their grace and humanity. She determined to do so as a member of President Jimmy Carter’s Commission on the Holocaust, . . . when she realized that the victims were [often] portrayed only as bulging-eyed skeletons in ragged striped uniforms, not as the vital people they once were.

Professor Eliach decided to recreate the shtetl she had known in Lithuania—Eisiskes, known in Yiddish as Eishyshok—where 3,500 Jews, almost the entire Jewish population, were killed, by collecting photographs of its inhabitants.

Starting with a nucleus of family photos she and her older brother had squirreled away in hiding, she spent fifteen years traveling to all 50 states and many countries searching for photographs, diaries, and letters of other shtetl residents. . . . Some 1,500 were selected for the Holocaust museum’s “Tower of Faces,” . . . where photographs are arranged in a narrow, soaring chasm that visitors walk through. The faces render the lives of so many ordinary Jews intimate and vibrant.

Read more at New York Times

More about: East European Jewry, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Holocaust Museums, Shtetl

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood