Anne Frank, Syrian refugee? Appropriation of diarist sparks debate in Holland

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — Decades after her death at a Nazi concentration camp, Anne Frank’s restless spirit in heaven finally finds a soulmate in Zef Bunga, an Albanian teenager who was murdered in a revenge killing.

Anne, whose world-famous diary recounts her two years in hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam with her family, falls in love with the Muslim boy. They kiss and they commiserate and bond over the injustice of their early deaths — Zef in the 1990s in Tirana, Anne in 1945 in the Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp.

This original take on the Anne Frank story is the plot line of a 2015 opera for children titled “Anne and Zef.” Critical of the Nazi genocide as it is of Albanian revenge killings, the show was performed last month at the National Holocaust Museum here by singers and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra.

Based on a 2009 play of the same name, the “Anne and Zef” opera is a recent addition to a growing but controversial slew of artworks and essays that examine the Anne Frank icon outside of her historical context.

Lilian Farahani and Benjamin de Wilde portraying Anne Frank and Zef Bunga at the National Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam, March 5, 2017. (Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)

As witnesses to the Holocaust leave this world, proponents of such adaptations say they are necessary to keep the message and memory of the genocide relevant and accessible to future generations. Yet opponents argue that such projects blur historical accuracy, obfuscating, diluting and ultimately cheapening the memory of the Holocaust.

After decades where she was largely thought of as the quintessential Jewish victim of the Holocaust, “in the past 20 years Anne Frank has come to symbolize the victim of all of the world’s evils,” said David Barnouw, author of the 2012 book “The Anne Frank Phenomenon.” Barnouw is a former researcher at the Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

The debate on whether Frank’s story should be viewed and taught as a particular case of the genocide against the Jews or more generally as a story of a child victim of war is as old as the diary itself, which has been translated into dozens of languages since its publication in 1947. A 1955 Broadway play and the 1958 Hollywood version were dogged by accusations that their creators had made her story less Jewish and more universal.

View of the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, Holland, where Anne and her family hid during the Holocaust. (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

But amid rising levels of anti-Semitic hatred in Europe and on social networks, appropriations of the Anne Frank symbol have rekindled the debate among scholars and activists.

“Everyone took Anne Frank for their own beliefs, and with Zef it’s just the same: ‘Yeah, we’re all victims,’ etc.,” Barnouw said, adding that he does “not feel comfortable with this” but despite his objections, “this is the general perception today.”

The creeping decontextualization of the Anne Frank story is the main theme of a 2014 Dutch documentary featuring interviews with dozens of the roughly 1 million people who each year stand in line for hours to enter the Anne Frank House — the Amsterdam museum that was set up at her family’s former hiding place.

In the film, titled “In Line for Anne,” an activist for African-American rights from Texas, Omowale Luthuli-Allen, compares Anne’s experience to that of blacks living under segregation.

“We’ve lived like that,” he says. “In a way we have lived Anne Frank’s life.”

Augustine Sosa, a gay man from Paraguay, says his “life is very similar to that of Anne Frank.”

A memorial stone for Anne Frank and her sister Margot on the grounds of the former Prisoner of War (POW) and concentration camps Bergen-Belsen in Bergen, north of Hanover, central Germany, on June 21, 2015. (AFP / NIGEL TREBLIN)

A tearful Beatrix Marthe, an Austrian woman in her 30s, tells the filmmakers that she is crying not only for Anne but also for her grandfather, a soldier who fought in Adolf Hitler’s army. Other interviewees include Tibetan monks who say Anne is the ultimate symbol for their quest for independence from China.

An eccentrically dressed British mother explains that she brought her teenage daughter to the museum so she would feel more comfortable wearing flamboyant clothes even though it makes her “excluded.”

Such interpretations are part of what makes the “reception of the Anne Frank story after the war a sad affair,” said Yves Kugelmann, a volunteer board member of the Anne Frank Foundation, which Anne’s father, Otto, founded in Basel in the 1960s and the designated heir to the family’s archive, including the diary.

“The bottom line is that the broad public’s knowledge about her is inaccurate, decontextualized and therefore easy to distort,” Kugelmann said. “She’s become an iconized saint instead of a real Jewish girl who was in hiding from the Nazis and their Dutch collaborators.”

He added that Anne Frank has been “transformed into a kind of kitsch and everybody uses her for anything.”

But the use of Anne Frank as a symbol for causes unrelated with her life and death can amplify the lessons of her diary and the Holocaust, according to Ernst van Bemmel van Gent, an Amsterdam lawyer with Jewish roots who visited the Holocaust museum for the first time to catch the “Anne and Zef” opera.

A man shows a handwritten poem by Anne Frank, written shortly before she went into hiding from the Nazis, at the auction Bubb Kuyper in Haarlem on November 22, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / ANP / Koen Suyk / Netherlands)

“Seeing it here, next to a room commemorating the victims, adds another dimension to my understanding of the Holocaust,” van Gent told JTA.

The play and opera “break from taboos on representing the Holocaust” because they present it “not as unique, but together with other forms of violence,” according to Cock Dieleman and Veronika Zangl, Dutch theater scholars who analyzed the play in a 2015 essay.

The opera is a relatively a mild example of how Anne Frank’s memory is used by artists and activists.

A more controversial case is the reproduction in Amsterdam of images of Anne Frank wearing a kaffiyeh, the checkered shawl favored by pro-Palestinian activists. Postcards and T-shirts bearing the image, which was first circulated on social networks and adopted by activists seeking a boycott on Israel, were sold for years despite protests by Dutch Jews who said it suggested an equivalence between Israel and Nazi Germany.

The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam also objected to the image because it is “deeply hurtful, even in 2016,” the institution’s director, Ronald Leopold, told JTA last year at a symposium about the iconization of Anne Frank. The conference, featuring prominent scholars, was an attempt to understand what Anne Frank will mean to future generations.

In 2006, the Arab European League, a radical Belgium-based Muslim rights group, posted on its website a caricature of Anne Frank in bed with Adolf Hitler. A Dutch appeals court in 2010 fined the organization for hate speech and ordered the offensive caricature removed, but it had spread on social media, where it circulates today.

Photograph taken in the Anne Frank House book shop with her image and translated copies of the diary in the background. (Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)

And last year the Anne Frank Foundation criticized an escape room-style game in a southern Netherlands town made to look like Anne’s hiding place in Amsterdam.

A more mainstream attempt at recontextualization came in a New York Times op-ed from August 2016 titled “Anne Frank Today Is a Syrian Girl.” Columnist Nicholas Kristof likened US reluctance to admit refugees from Syria to the refusal to take in most European Jews fleeing Nazism.

Anne Frank “is the holy trinity of symbolism: the child, the young woman, the Jew,” said Eyal Boers, an Israeli filmmaker and director of the 2009 Dutch-language documentary “The Classmates of Anne Frank.” “It’s not surprising that she is so attractive as an icon.”

But that power, he added, means that the Anne Frank story and its elements — including Anne’s Jewish identity — “will ultimately transcend any attempt to twist it.”


The Christian Reinterpretation of Beowulf
by Professor Revilo P. Oliver (Liberty Bell, July 1987)

IN ONE OF THESE “Postscripts,” published in May 1986, I described briefly one ominous symptom of the growing epidemic of unreason among scholars, an attempt to Christianize the oldest monument of English literature by atrocious mutilation and interpolation of the Anglo-Saxon text.

Now I learn from a review in Speculum, LXI (1986), pp.668-670, that another attempt to distort for Jesus the fundamentally pagan epic was made by Professor Bernard F. Huppe of the State University in Binghamton, New York, in The Hero in the Earthly City, a Reading of Beowulf, published by that university in 1984.

I have not looked at the book. As it is, to report incidents that seem to me noteworthy to the readers of Liberty Bell, I afflict myself by reading so much tripe that I am beginning to wonder whether I should be so supercilious when I refer to the Christian dolts who used to wear horsehair shirts to make themselves suffer.

I rely entirely on the review by Professor Edward B. Irving, Jr., who notes various errors of fact in the book and also remarks on the absurdity of an “Augustinian” interpretation of the poem. Huppe seems not to have tampered overmuch with the Anglo-Saxon text, but, as the reviewer remarks, he “smuggles in the Christian concept of grace” by simply giving to the Anglo-Saxon words meanings they could not possibly have had. “A tidy Christian poem is reconstructed from the ruins of its proper original contexts, …and the pressure to distort is constant.” Having thus Christianized the poem, Huppe then denounces its failure to adhere to his favorite theology: Beowulf ought to have remembered that Jesus said revenge was sinful, and he sins terribly by fighting the dragon without getting Yahweh’s permission.

The details of the travesty do not matter. As I said in my “Postscript,” the Anglo-Saxon epic is fundamentally and unmistakably a pagan composition, and the only question is who introduced the bits of Christian or ambiguous phraseolgy that are found here and there in our only extant text and are as conspicuous and incongruous as patches of red calico on a dinner jacket. Everyone knew that in 1920, when what is still the best edition of the text and commentary was published, and it is only sheer perversity to pretend otherwise today and use the methods of scholarship to defeat the very purpose of scholarship.

The pernicious factor in such misbegotten studies is their effect, not on scholars who have read and understood the poem, but on students in cognate fields, who may have to rely on the reports of “specialists” in Anglo-Saxon. A multiplication of books that distort the epic is apt to create an impression that “modern scholarship” has discovered that it sprang from a Christian society. And that application of the “democratic” principle of ascertaining truth by counting noses will deceive many earnest students and may confuse or even vitiate some of their work in their own fields of research.

Academicians want to be fashionable, and it is likely the next few years will bring us more “studies” that affirm the factitious Christianization of our earliest extant monument of English literature, but that, of course, will prove nothing. It will be as meaningless as the Jews’ current efforts to shore up their crumbling Holohoax by producing more and more Yids, who pop out of the bushes and suddenly remember that they watched the wicked Germans cram millions of God’s Darlings into gas chambers or ovens, it being assumed that the notoriously methodical Germans inexplicably and unforgivably forgot to include the watchers with their fellow tribesmen. Lies do not become truth by multiplication. 50,000 x 0 = 0.

The continuing flurry of “critical reinterpretations” of Beowulf is symptomatic and highly signficant because it is, in a way, so comparatively trivial. The number of persons who read Anglo-Saxon is very small, and I cannot believe that multitudes are reading one or another of the translations into modern English. And does it really matter whether or not the poem is basically “pagan”? Is not that just a bit of antiquarian lore, comparable, for example, to identification of the corpse in the famous ship-burial at Sutton Hoo, interesting, no doubt, to some people, but of no relevance to the present?

That is precisely my point. If these were efforts to deceive Americans about something that will affect their thinking (such as it is) about their present plight, the explanation would be obvious. Manufacture of “evidence” to support the Jews’ great swindle, or production of a revelation that Karl Marx was, like Jesus, an avatar of old Yahweh, or even endorsement of the prevalent hokum about what is mendaciously called our Civil War, would have an obvious purpose.

If a man labors long to devise and perfect an elaborate swindle that will net him a billion of the ersatz-dollars now in use, we understand and have no more doubts about his rationality than about his morality. But if he makes the same prolonged and arduous effort to filch a dime, he is a problem in psychonosology. The contagion of unreason among scholars is so ominous and frightening precisely because it is so gratuitous.

This article originally appeared in Liberty Bell magazine, published monthly by George P. Dietz from September 1973 to February 1999.

New book says Hitler was an indicted war criminal at death (LOL…..)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A new book that examines previously restricted files from the UN War Crimes Commission cites documents showing that Adolf Hitler had been indicted as a war criminal for actions by the Nazis during World War II before his death — contrary to longstanding assumptions.

The book, “Human Rights After Hitler” by British academic Dan Plesch, says Hitler was put on the commission’s first list of war criminals in December 1944, but only after extensive debate and formal charges brought by Czechoslovakia, which had been occupied by the Nazis.

The previous month the commission determined that Hitler could be held criminally responsible for the acts of the Nazis in occupied countries, according to the book. And by March 1945 — a month before Hitler’s death — “the commission had endorsed at least seven separate indictments against him for war crimes.”

Plesch, who led the campaign for open access to the commission’s archive, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the documents show “the allies were prepared to indict Hitler as head of state, and this overturns a large part of what we thought we knew about him.”

A Dec. 15, 1944 document submitted to the commission by Czechoslovakia accuses Hitler and five members of “the Reich government,” including his deputy Rudolf Hess and Heinrich Himmler, one of the Nazis most responsible for the Holocaust, of crimes including “murder and massacres-systematic terrorism.” A photocopy is included in the book.

In this Oct. 6, 1938, file photo, Adolf Hitler, second from left, stands in front of the barbed wire fortifications at Kreuzbuche, Germany after German troops advanced and occupied the second zone of Sudetenland.  (AP, File)

The United Nations War Crimes Commission was established in October 1943 by 17 allied nations to issue lists of alleged war criminals — ultimately involving about 37,000 individuals — and examine the charges against them and try to assure their arrest and trial.

Its unrestricted records, related to more than 10,000 cases, were put online in July 2013 by the International Criminal Court after an agreement with the UN. Three months later, then US Ambassador Samantha Power announced that the restricted files — which contain some 30,000 sets of pre-trial documents submitted by national and military tribunals to the commission to judge whether a case should be pursued — would be given to the Holocaust Museum in Washington.

According to the book, legally certified documents, government transcripts and interviews with torture victims “prove beyond doubt” that the US and British governments were told about Hitler’s extermination camps in the early years of World War II.

Plesch said both governments acknowledged their existence but did almost nothing to stop the mass killings.

The earliest condemnations of Nazi atrocities were made in a joint statement by the Czech and Polish governments in November 1940.

In 1942, the American, British and Soviet governments led their allies in a public declaration “that explicitly condemned Hitler’s ongoing extermination of European Jews” and the book says that condemnation was far stronger than commonly believed.

“The records overturn one of the most important accepted truths concerning the Holocaust: that, despite the heroic efforts of escapees from Nazi-occupied Europe, the allies never officially accepted the reality of the Holocaust and therefore never condemned it until the camps were liberated at the end of the war,” Plesch wrote.

“The book documents not only that the extermination of the Jews was condemned officially and publicly by the allies but that specific features of the extermination were publicized, including a favored method — lethal gas — and the central place of execution — Poland,” he said.

Plesch wrote that it was beyond the scope of the book to assess why public condemnations of the extermination of Jews aren’t prominent in public and scholarly narratives of the Holocaust.

One possibility, he said, is that “significant parts of the governments in the United States and the United Kingdom were directly opposed to doing anything to help the Jews or to support war crimes prosecutions.”

Nonetheless, he cited material from the commission’s restricted archive which shows that hundreds of German “foot soldiers of atrocity” were indicted while the Holocaust was still underway by states where the crimes took place — and it shows that these national indictments were endorsed by the War Crimes Commission up to its final meetings before it was closed in March 1948.

One chapter analyzes country-by-country the indictments that began to be made early in 1944 for anti-Jewish persecution by Germans. It includes 372 cases submitted against Germany by Poland, 110 by the Netherlands, 91 by France, 52 by Czechoslovakia, 30 by Yugoslavia, 21 by the United Kingdom, 18 by Belgium, 14 by Denmark and 12 by Greece.

The book also notes cases brought against German allies Japan and Italy.

“Ultimately thousands of soldiers were tried for war crimes after World War II,” the book says. But Plesch wrote that “the commission’s files contain indictments against thousands of Nazis who were then allowed to go free.”



They say that the victors write the history. But who writes the fiction?

The Cold Warriors of yesteryear may be asking themselves this very question today.

News recently broke that a reputable publishing house released a book titled “Communism for Kids.” Its author appears to be the archetype of an Obama administration education czar: “Bini Adamczak is a Berlin-based social theorist and artist. She writes on political theory, queer politics, and the past future of revolutions.”

What better literature to which to expose young minds than communist propaganda packaged as a parable, and who better to write it than Ms. Adamczak?

The book’s overview reads in part:

Once upon a time, people yearned to be free of the misery of capitalism. How could their dreams come true? This little book proposes a different kind of communism, one that is true to its ideals and free from authoritarianism. Offering relief for many who have been numbed by Marxist exegesis and given headaches by the earnest pompousness of socialist politics, it presents political theory in the simple terms of a children’s story, accompanied by illustrations of lovable little revolutionaries experiencing their political awakening.

If you thought the old saw about communism leading to soul-crushing and violent collectivism, economic failure, and human misery only because it had never been implemented properly was dead, think again.

Never mind that communism is antithetical to human nature; that it is inherently authoritarian in its squelching of liberty; or that it is Adamczak’s “lovable little revolutionaries” who are always the first ones to lose their heads after the revolution “triumphs.”

This time things will be different, comrades!

The overview continues:

It all unfolds like a story, with jealous princesses, fancy swords, displaced peasants, mean bosses, and tired workers–not to mention a Ouija board, a talking chair, and a big pot called “the state.” Before they know it, readers are learning about the economic history of feudalism, class struggles in capitalism, different ideas of communism, and more. Finally, competition between two factories leads to a crisis that the workers attempt to solve in six different ways (most of them borrowed from historic models of communist or socialist change). Each attempt fails, since true communism is not so easy after all. But it’s also not that hard. At last, the people take everything into their own hands and decide for themselves how to continue. [Author’s note: When the people — as opposed to the state — “take[s] everything into their own hands,” is not that more classical liberalism than communism?] Happy ending? Only the future will tell. With an epilogue that goes deeper into the theoretical issues behind the story, this book is perfect for all ages and all who desire a better world.

What are we to make of this nightmare cast as a fairytale?

First, the Left never stops in its attempt to win the war of ideas. While Venezuela burns and the modern-day gulag of North Korea persists, in the minds of leftist true believers communism is ripe for rebranding. Just as these adherents cling to the idea that there can never be enough government spending to paper over problems, or power to be usurped and wielded to achieve the Left’s infinite flavors of “justice,” so too do they believe that communism remains the road to utopia if executed properly by the right actors.

Have you ever seen “The Black Book of Communism” mentioned in a movie or incorporated into your children’s curriculum?

Second, the Left believes it imperative to take all measures to convert people to their anti-religion as early as possible. Propagandizing our youth is not only fair game, but the right thing to do from their perspective. While there is something sinister about seeking to influence young minds with political messages with which they may not be ready to grapple — and without presenting counter-arguments to boot — this has been the hallmark of such leftist movements for decades. As progressive education luminary John Dewey wrote in one section of his “Democracy and Education” titled “Education as a Social Function:”

We have seen that a community or social group sustains itself through continuous self-renewal, and that this renewal takes place by means of the educational growth of the immature members of the group. By various agencies, unintentional and designed, a society transforms uninitiated and seemingly alien beings into robust trustees of its own resources and ideals. Education is thus a fostering, a nurturing, a cultivating, process. All of these words mean that it implies attention to the conditions of growth. We also speak of rearing, raising, bringing up—words which express the difference of level which education aims to cover. Etymologically, the word education means just a process of leading or bringing up. When we have the outcome of the process in mind, we speak of education as shaping, forming, molding activity—that is, a shaping into the standard form of social activity. [Emphasis mine]

Third, as always, the Left is laser-focused on competing in culture, of which children’s books are just one small piece. This is a space conservatives have ceded for far too long with devastating effect because if you lose the culture you lose the politics. And while we conservatives believe we have superior ideas, the Left understands that the packaging and distribution of such ideas is essential if its worldview is to prevail.

At the beginning of this piece I invoked the adage that the victors write the history. To that end, I would challenge readers to present a “conservative” history book that has been comparably successful to Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” in terms of its impact on our culture. Have you ever seen “The Black Book of Communism” mentioned in a movie or incorporated into your children’s curriculum?

Can we really claim that we are the victors in this ideological battle?

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How the people of the book became the people of the library


LOD — Sitting on the pint-sized couch in the bright, busy Gan El-Nagmen kindergarten, the stuffed, oversized figure waits, its floppy green arms outstretched for hugs and squeezes from the class’s five-year-olds.

The stuffed doll was made by one of the class parents after reading “Where Do I Go When I Am Angry?” a book in Arabic about how to handle emotions.

It’s one of the many tactile ways in which this kindergarten — like others participating in the extensive PJ Library program founded by the Springfield, Massachusetts-based Harold Grinspoon Foundation — capitalizes on the books it receives over the course of the 10-month school year to teach ideas, values and, of course, a love of reading.

While tangible results are hard to come by, over ten years into this global children’s book-reading network, organizers, publishers and community leaders say the impact the books are having is unmistakable, with young minds increasingly exposed to Jewish ideas — or Israeli values in Sifriyat Pijama (the Israeli PJ Library) and humanistic values in Maktabat al-Fanoos (the Arabic PJ Library) — and publishers are more likely to put those themes into their pages.

The Lod kindergarten is one of 2,800 preschools that take part in Maktabat al-Fanoos, or Lantern Library, the Arabic-language book program created by the PJ Library, a global early childhood reading program that started off as a project to expose American Jewish children to Jewish books.

Maktabat al-Fanoos, one of the more recent additions to the US-based program, now brings books to 90,000 young Arabic readers.

Reading 'xxxx', a Maktabat al-Fanoos book at a Lod kindergarten (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

“We’re the largest gifting book program in the Arabic-speaking world,” said Galina Vromen, director of Sifriyat Pijama and Maktabat al-Fanoos.

Maktabat al-Fanoos was established in 2014, nine years after PJ Library and its cascading list of reading programs. It just marked two million books given to all children in Arabic preschools across Israel.

“Now these kids — and their families — are reading the books at home as well, building libraries in houses that may not have had much of a book collection,” said Ahlam al Masoudi, the energetic, veteran teacher at the Lod kindergarten. “They talk about feelings in the books and it helps them figure that out at home.”

The goal of Maktabat al-Fanoos is not just getting the kids to read, but acquainting them with books, said Vromen.

“They shouldn’t be terrified of books and learning to read when they get to first grade,” she said.

That’s a serious consideration for the Arabic-speaking population, which hasn’t always had the wherewithal to read or buy books to have at home.

“Maktabat al-Fanoos makes books very accessible to these kids and their families,” said Fatma Kassem, a supervisor of Arabic pre-schools in Israel’s Education Ministry. “In the past, books were just not as accessible to them, and that made it harder.”

The Education Ministry is a full partner in Maktabat al-Fanoos, contributing 70 percent of the funds used to run the program. It’s not the first time the ministry has had a children’s book program; My Bookshelf At Home was another ministry book-buying program that often required funding from the parents to participate.

“PJ Library just works better,” said Kassem. “It has books on all kinds of subjects; it opens the conversation between parents and kids.”

A report released in June by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in collaboration with Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, also known as the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, surveyed basic skills among people aged 16-65 in literacy, numeracy and problem-solving in 34 countries.

When comparing scores between Jewish and Arab adults, there were significant gaps, particularly in literacy, in which Jewish adults scored 264 on average, while Arab adults scored an average of 225 – a 39-point gap.

There are no current figures showing how Maktabat al-Fanoos affects Arab adult literacy, or that of Arabic-speaking preschoolers, but Kassem pointed to clear advantages of the program.

“It enriches their vocabulary,” she said. “They’re using words from the books they’re reading in conversation.”

Working on artwork related to Malak Farooge's Lantern Library book, ' Where Do I Go When I Am Angry' at the Lod kindergarten (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

By the time a child reaches first grade, he or she has a personal library of 24 Maktabat al-Fanoos books.

“This program is creating important change in Arab society,” said Kassem. “There is increasing research that shows that exposure to reading from an early age helps later academic success. And reading is also important for emotional development.

“Everyone takes it home, and they read it all together, all the time,” she said. “It’s a big change, because they might not have been able to buy kids’ books otherwise.”

The books in the program include original works in Arabic from authors such as Safah Amir, Fadel Ali and the late Jihad Iraqi, as well as translations from foreign works. Program evaluation has shown that more than 90% of teachers and parents like the books and consider them high-quality.

There are also books that are read by both Arabic speakers and Hebrew speakers, creating a joint literary experience whose importance can’t be overstated, added Kassem.

xxx, the energetic teacher who loves the teaching opportunities brought to her classroom by Maktabat al-Fanoos (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Maktabat al-Fanoos followed Sifriyat Pijama, the Hebrew PJ Library project, in Israel.

While PJ Library supports Jewish values, and Jewish and Israeli heritage with Sifriyat Pijama, Maktabat al-Fanoos supports universal humanistic values and knowledge of Arabic language and genres, said Vromen.

The Grinspoon Foundation never planned on expanding its children’s book program to this extent, said Vromen. But it believes in the importance of Israel, and Maktabat al-Fanoos helps to strengthen the fabric of Israeli society as a whole, she said.

None of this was necessarily the plan when Harold Grinspoon, the now-87-year-old philanthropist, first came up with the idea of handing out free books with Jewish content to families with young children.

The philanthropist who gives away books

In 2004, Grinspoon was listening to NPR when a report came up about country singer Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which set up book repositories for disadvantaged populations. The philanthropist, who had made his millions in real estate, was gripped by the idea that Jewish books could perhaps bridge the growing gap in the American Jewish community, particularly among intermarried families.

“It was really about Jewish values, it always has been and always will be,” said Diane Troberman, Grinspoon’s wife and co-founder. “In our community, 40% of the Jewish community was intermarried.”

Grinspoon and Troderman were familiar with those statistics from years of donating to different Jewish causes. A self-made millionaire who parlayed the purchase of a rundown two-family home into a real estate fortune, Grinspoon hadn’t always been a major giver.

It was when he met Troderman, his third wife — she was his reader, as Grinspoon, ironically, is dyslexic — that the two began expanding their charitable giving. Both were raised in secular homes, but knew enough about anti-Semitism and assimilation to grasp the importance of a strong Jewish community.

They met with representatives of Parton’s foundation and became convinced that giving away books with Jewish values could help instill greater awareness in their local Jewish community.

The Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation began sponsoring Imagination Library in Western Massachusetts later that same year, and continues to do so. A year later, PJ Library was created.

Harold Grinspoon, the founder of PJ Library, reads one of the program's books with a gaggle of children. (photo credit: PJ Library/JTA)

Since then, PJ Library has expanded to more than 200 Jewish communities across the US and Canada, mailing some 200,000 books each month to participating families’ homes. The cost of the annual subscription, which is approximately $100 per family, is split between the Grinspoon Foundation and more than 200 community partners in the US and Canada. In most communities, the local Jewish Federation is the partner, although it may be the JCC or another Jewish organization in other places.

“There was a void for Jewish families in America,” said Grinspoon, chatting over breakfast a few months ago. “And that left room for them to invite us into their home.”

The project grew from its initial roots in Western Massachusetts, to 160,000 subscribers in the first 10 years and now 200,000 families.

As for impact: In a survey in 2013 of some 25,000 PJ library subscribers, 75% said they discuss Jewish-related concepts and values more because of PJ Library books, and 58% reported that PJ Library influenced their decision to build upon or add a Jewish tradition to their home life, whether with a Passover Seder, Friday night dinner or Purim costumes.

(The organization surveys its results every three years, and the results for the 2016 survey were not yet available for this article.)

The majority of PJ Library subscriber families have been part of PJ Library for three years or less, according to the most recent survey. Some 46% of subscriber families identify with one of the three major North American Jewish movements, and 28% identify themselves as “just Jewish.” One in five subscriber families identifies as interfaith.

“Harold has driven this,” said Troberman. She often jumps in for Grinspoon, whose speech is somewhat hampered by the surgery he had for tongue cancer years ago.

“It’s all measured on the return on investment,” said Grinspoon, pointing out the relatively inexpensive program. “How else could we reach Jewish families so inexpensively?”

A global bookmobile

There are now a total of 530,000 children’s books in English distributed around the world each month by PJ Library. That’s not counting, of course, the 90,000 books distributed to Arabic readers in Israel, or the 340,000 received by Sifriyat Pijama readers in Israel.

Galina Vromen, the director of Sifriyat Pijama and Maktabat al-Fanoos, the Hebrew and Arabic branches of PJ Library (Courtesy Galina Vromen)

In the US and Canada, the books come in the mail for the young readers, making them “the best missionaries,” said Vromen, the Grinspoon Foundation executive director in Israel.

“The kids get the envelope in the mail, and there’s no way parents can get away without reading it,” she said. “In Israel, where it gets distributed in the classroom, there’s the peer pressure of the other classmates having read it.”

Israel’s Sifriyat Pijama books couldn’t be sent by mail because they would have ended up in the post office as packages, and Israeli parents don’t have the patience to stand in line at the post office to pick up a book, said Vromen.

Instead, they came up with the solution of giving the books out in the classroom.

Once they ended up funneling the books through the classroom, the program gained the power of the teacher, said Vromen. It turned out that most teachers read to their young students almost every day,

“They are our best emissaries,” she said. “They liked that the books are good and that they value education.”

It was the teachers who “really took to the program,” said Vromen. Sifriyat Pijama began with 3,500 kids in 2009 and has ramped up to 340,000 along with the 90,000 Arabic-speaking kids.

“The Education Ministry has really taken this on board as part of what teachers do,” said Vromen. The ministry also provides financial support, buying the books and handling the curriculum used by teachers in the classrooms.

Preschool kids getting their Sifriyat Pijama books in the bags given out by the PJ Library program (Courtesy PJ Library)

Sifriyat Pijama is currently distributing four books a year to half of the Hebrew-speaking first- and second-graders. The plan is to distribute to the entire school system by next year and to all Arabic-speaking schools within two years.

“I’m a convert for the government involvement,” said Vromen. “If you want massive impact, you need the government and there are a lot of great people in the Education Ministry. I communicate with them at all hours of the day.”

Kids — and parents — still read books

How did such a relatively small idea become such a powerhouse in the children’s book industry? The best answer is probably that kids and their parents still want to read books together before bed.

Parents and small children want “something tangible to read at night,” echoed Catriella Freedman, who runs the program’s newest addition, PJ Our Way, for preteens.

It’s a truism backed by stats from one of PJ Library’s surveys, conducted every three years: A significant number of parents — some 35% — are still reading to kids, often past the age of 8.

Parents like reading to kids beyond age 8, and PJ Library is honing in on that habit (Courtesy PJ Library)

Reading to kids, and making sure they’re still looking at printed books, is important to parents, said Freedman. Yet the “brilliance of Harold’s idea” was putting Jewish values into that content, “making it easy for them,” she said. “And they don’t want it on an iPad, they want it in a [printed] book.”

The timing of PJ Library with the explosion of personal devices and the games kids play on iPads and tablets was actually a boon for the program, added Troberman.

“Because of parents’ desire to limit screen time, they’re over the top about making sure kids are read to,” she said.

Freedman runs PJ Our Way from Zichron Yaakov, the northern Israeli town where she moved to Israel from the US with her family nine years ago. With a background in Jewish education, she had thoughts about how PJ Library should expand, and shared them with Grinspoon when they met by chance several years back.

“PJ Our Way is very much based on those ideas,” said Freedman.

Now there are 21,000 preteens signed up for the book program, with 13,000 books send out each month, “a huge number for this age group,” which is “so locked into” tablets, video games and apps.

Her focus, for now, is on the preteen set in the US, where the program has grown because of a perceived vacuum in content for that age group.

“It’s a platform for Jewish families to feel connected,” said Freedman. “So why have PJ Library stop at age 8?”

Reading PJ Our Way books (Courtesy PJ Library)

Dina Rubin, a fourth-grader from Cleveland, Ohio, is one of ten PJ Our Way national design team members.

She said she likes getting to meet people close to her age all around the US, as they meet virtually one Sunday a month. But reading books is, of course, the best part, said Rubin, who likes mysteries, fantasy and graphic novels, but won’t turn down a good non-fiction book.

She’s not averse to the Jewish aspect of PJ Our Way, either.

“It kinds of makes me feel closer to my religion,” said Rubin. “If it’s about a famous Jewish person, it kind of makes me want to do that kind of stuff.”

It’s been a challenge finding Jewish content for that age group, said Freedman, as most tween books are geared for slightly older kids, not the 9-to-11 set.

But just as PJ Library has changed the face of Jewish children’s literature, PJ Our Way has done the same.

The preteens have a big say in what they read and how they share that with fellow readers.

A PJ Library mentor meets virtually with her “readers” six months in advance of books chosen, going through the roster of titles and, once they are selected, making videos and writing blog postss about each book. There are also Skype chats with the authors.

“Kids love authors, they’re like rock stars,” said Freedman.

Reading PJ Our Way books at summer camp, one of the newest additions to the PJ Library plan (Courtesy PJ Our Way)

Once PJ Library extended to a slightly older readership, Grinspoon, whose foundation also helps Jewish camps through JCamp180, a program designed to help non-profit Jewish camps fundraise and be sustainable — wanted to send books to sleepaway Jewish camps.

Now JCamp180 camps can apply to receive PJ Our Way books each year, one per camper per summer. The program is up to 68 camps for summer 2017, up from 46 last summer.

The incentive to get kids to go to Jewish camps comes from their younger siblings’ PJ Library books, which have a sticker asking whether they’re planning to go to camp this summer.

The PJ effect on publishers and writers

With the increasing number of titles it distributes, PJ Library has also influenced the growing number of Jewish children’s books, and the publishers that seek them out.

“PJ Library has done a wonderful job of getting Jewish values and books out into the market, they’re remarkable,” said Joni Sussman, publisher of Kar-Ben Publishing, the largest Jewish children’s book publisher, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary.

A Kar-Ben title, 'The Passover Scavenger Hunt,' which was a PJ Library pick several years back (Courtesy Kar-Ben Publishing)

Named for the youngest children — Karen and Ben — of the two founders, Judyth Groner and Madeline Wikler, Kar-Ben was established in 1975 to publish its first book, “My Very Own Haggadah,” a children’s Passover Haggadah. The company was later sold to the Minneapolis-based Lerner Publishing group.

The publisher now receives about 1,000 manuscripts a year, and publishes around 20, said Sussman. These days, a lot of their work is with PJ Library.

“They’ve certainly raised the profile of Jewish children’s books,” said Sussman. “These books are now going into many homes that, frankly, prior to PJ Library, wouldn’t have found their way there. What’s great about Jewish children’s books is that no matter where they are on the spectrum, you can find something to learn in a non-threatening manner.”

Ditto for Maktabat al-Fanoos, which has ended up supporting new authors like Malak Farooge, a Tel Aviv University-trained social worker who wrote “Where Do I Go When I Am Angry?” after working with young children and mothers in a battered women’s shelter.

Farooge has always written poems and prose, but submitted the book draft to a new authors’ competition at a local book organization, which then published it, and later connected her to Maktabat al-Fanoos.

“I wrote about anger, and how kids deal with anger,” said Farooge. “There’s not a lot of ways to do that with Arabic, with books that teach about the emotional world and emotional language.”

'Where Do I Go When I'm Angry?' by Malak Farooge Abu-Raiya, is one of several new Maktabat al-Fanoos books by local authors (Courtesy Maktabat al-Fanoos)

The second printing of her book was for Maktabat al-Fanoos, which meant that thousands of families were receiving copies and bringing a new culture into their homes, said Farooge, something that probably wouldn’t have happened were it not for the reading program.

“Until Maktabat al-Fanoos printed it, not many people bought it, because I’m a new writer, and new writers’ books don’t get bought in the same way,” she said.

For now, she wants to carefully tread the line between writing books that work for Maktabat al-Fanoos and writing prose that comes from her own emotional world, and plans on finding that balance.

The global program has created a similar demand for more original Jewish children’s books, and there are more being written now, said Kar-Ben’s Sussman. Other publishers are also getting into this niche market, knowing that PJ Library will buy a number of books in a given year.

“If PJ Library takes a book, that’s a big sale,” said Sussman. “We still publish what we publish, with books that aren’t necessarily part of the PJ program, such as a Holocaust story or same-sex family. We need Jewish in setting or context.”

Even to a secular children’s book publisher like Chicago’s Albert Whitman & Company, PJ Library can help shift the number of Jewish children’s books, as the publisher has now produced approximately 25 PJ Library titles, said Andrea Hall, an assistant editor at Albert Whitman.

“You can’t get away from the impact they’re having,” said Rena Rossner, a literary agent who specializes in children’s books and young-adult fiction. “There are a lot of living, breathing Judaism in books that PJ Library wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, but it is a wonderful program.”

Rossner, who lives in Israel but works only with English-language books, would like to see more PJ Library books that have “enough” Jewish content and values but better quality.

“I’d like to see books about characters who happen to be Jewish rather than in-your-face Judaism,” she said.

These are arguments and discussions that don’t bother Grinspoon and Troberman. They love the fact that Jewish books and values — or Hebrew or Arabic books — are what’s being discussed.

“I said to Harold, ‘You will change the world of Jewish publication,” said Troberman. “A Russian rabbi said we are the largest pluralistic congregation in the world, and when you look at PJ Library that way, it’s absolutely true.”



The novel created a firestorm in Israel several years ago – and now it’s heading for the United States.

Dorit Rabinyan first published her book “Gader Haya” (Borderlife) in 2014, about a love affair between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man both living in New York. The book ended up being banned from school reading lists by the Education Ministry, and ingited a controversy which led to, ironically, its soaring popularity.
Next month a translation of the book by Jessica Cohen will be hitting the shelves in the US, published by Penguin/Random House under the title “All the Rivers.” The translation was released in the UK earlier this month.

Education Ministry under fire for excluding novel about Jewish-Arab love story

While the book was first published in 2014, it only really grabbed headlines in late 2015, when the ministry announced the decision.
Explaining the move at the time, a spokesperson for the minister’s pedagogical committee said: “We decided that, because this is a sensitive time and because this is a very contemporary piece, it is not suitable to study this as a requirement. In conversations with teachers, there were fears that it could cause some harm among a portion of students.”

Since the controversy did wonders for the book’s sales in Israel, the US is hopping on the same bandwagon. The Penguin/Random House site is marketing the book as “banned from classrooms by Israel’s Ministry of Education.”

Rabinyan is a successful, award-winning author, whose previous novels, ‘Persian Brides’ and ‘Our Weddings,’ were also translated into English.

The Amazon Book Burning


It was bound to happen sooner or later.

It happened sooner.

Amazon began its book-burning campaign this month by banning seventy titles.

Books promoting deviant sex? No.

Books on Satan worship? Nope.

Books blaspheming Jesus Christ? Not a chance.

But books proving that ’six million’ didn’t die; that no gas chambers existed, Zyklon B was not used for murder, but delousing…and even books engaged in scholarly discussion…those books got banned.

Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon, apparently caved to pressure from Jewish money and influence.

For after four years of whining from World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer, looks like Bezos broke down.

In a ‘post-mortem’ letter to Bezos, Singer offered his assistance in flagging other “offensive” material in violation of “Amazon’s standards.”


Blasphemy, deviancy, and witchcraft flies? But whatever offends the Jews, that dies.

Jews got this first batch of books banned not because they might be factually incorrect but because Jews have real trouble with facts.

Historical and forensic facts like those presented in these books that expose the Holocaust as a hoax.

I grew up as a Jew in the 50’s and we knew nothing of a “holocaust.”

It was one of our own, Jewish historian Jacob Marcus, who stated in the Encyclopedia Brittanica that “thousands”—NOT “six million”—of Jews perished in German work camps.

It wasn’t until the sixties, that the ‘Holocaust Industry’ emerged, with Elie Wiesel, the high priest of the lie, touting that “six million” died.

‘Jewish babies,’ he wrote in his book “Night,” ‘were thrown into a fire pit at Auschwitz.’

Never mind that the camp was built on a swamp, and no such fires could have been lit.

But there’s something larger at work here.

Start banning Holocaust Truth books, what’s next?

Already the Jews call you an “anti-Semite” if you question the genocidal policies of Israel.

Will Jimmy Carter’s, “Peace Not Apartheid,” be next on the chopping block?

Any book veering off the Jewish script gets a shave and a haircut.

Look, if the Holocaust narration is true, it can pass through the fires of critical examination.

Jews call this examination, “Holocaust denial.”

Fine. Let people deny the earth is round.

But talk about denial.

Jews deny the Resurrection of Christ.

But Orthodox Christians laugh at them, and still worship the Risen Christ.

Ban the books, Amazon. Go ahead.

But there’s nothing covered that shall not be revealed.

Global Censor World Jewish Congress Praises Amazon Removal of “Holocaust Denial” Books

The jewish lobby welcomes Amazon move to remove “Holocaust-denial” books, offers assistance in identifying further through crime material.


World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer on Thursday thanked Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for removing several Holocaust-denial books flagged by the WJC on multiple occasions since 2013, and as recently as earlier this month, as being in violation of Amazon’s guidelines prohibiting the sale of material that “promote or glorify hatred.” In a letter to Bezos, Singer offered the WJC’s assistance in helping to identify and flag other offensive material in similar violation of Amazon’s standards.

“On behalf of the more than 100 Jewish communities affiliated with the World Jewish Congress, I want to thank you and the staff at Amazon for removing the three Holocaust-denial books that my organization brought to your attention in a series of recent letters, and again in my article in the Los Angeles Times earlier this month,” wrote Singer in the letter to Bezos.

“The three titles that you removed – Holocaust: The Greatest Lie Ever Told, by Eleanor Wittakers; The Hoax of the Twentieth Century: The Case Against the Presumed Extermination of European Jewry, by Arthur R Butz; and Did Six Million Really Die? by Richard Harwood – are blatantly anti-Semitic works penned by some of the most notorious bigots of our time, and we commend you for recognizing the potential harm of enabling their accessibility on Amazon.

“We are also gratified to note that Amazon has removed numerous other Holocaust-denying items from its website. It is encouraging to know that Amazon is endeavouring to enforce its own standards and guidelines prohibiting the sale of material that “promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance.”

“The World Jewish Congress stands ready to assist you in every way possible to identify and flag other offensive material that similarly violate Amazon’s guidelines, and ensure their quick removal from the website. We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you or one of your colleagues to discuss this matter further,” the letter concluded.

Amazon’s Massive Own Goal


The Amazon book-burning fest has caused consternation and in some cases despair. As a consequence of Amazon sticking two fingers up at the public’s right to access freedom of information I will suffer financially. Yet, today I celebrate the hole that these on-the-ropes last resort book burners are digging themselves into.

It is a mistake to think that Amazon Books and Amazon Kindle are omnipotent. They are not; they have many publishing rivals. These challengers are now partying at Amazon’s expense. Anticipating Soviet-style censorship most dissident publishers are already spreading their book selling bets across a wide number of online book publishers.

Amazon’s denial of the public right to access information will lead to the book publishers losing much of their market and their credibility to rivals. Will the Jewish lobbyists, who coerced the online publishers, make up for Amazon’s massive financial losses?

There are many other ways to expose international holocaust related fraud. Amazon is small fry. It wasn’t Amazon (or the Russians) that was pivotal in the US presidential elections; it was alternative and social media. The relatively uncontrolled internet has got the mainstream media in a panic; they too are on the ropes.

The book burners can interrupt progress but an interruption is never going to stop the free flow of information. Holocaust fraud is taking place on an international scale. Such fraud is in defiance of every country’s laws. Holocaust fraud has got to stop and it will be stopped at whatever cost.

Bans never stopped booze production during prohibition, bans don’t stop crime, sex, drug taking, and bans don’t stop the truth seeping out and becoming a torrent.

I have made a number of positive points and recommendations in my hour long Spingola Speaks radio broadcast. I hope that in listening to the broadcast the spirits will lift and inspiration will flower.

Jewish omnipotence is an illusion; the international Jew does have great power but they are few in number. In an awakening world comparatively few who are active in waging a war for domination are more vulnerable today than they have been.

If they don’t succeed in their aims to once and for all crush and dominate one billion ethnic Europeans and subjugate the world’s 6.4 billion non-Jewish ethnic communities then this tiny insignificant group of swindlers will fight and lose their last battle. The Jewish tail will not be wagging the Gentile dog for very much longer.

Amazon Decides That the Jewish “Holocaust” Cannot Stand Up to Critical Scrutiny

And so, under pressure, censors and removes historical works of which Jews disapprove; how large will their “banned list” get? What are the Jews hiding? Truth does not fear investigation.

Editorial Note by Kevin Alfred Strom: Giant, oligopolic sites such as Amazon are de facto public utilities and should be treated as such: They should not be permitted to censor public debate on ideas of significance. We should immediately put public pressure on Amazon to reverse this decision.

A FEW DAYS AGO, a lunatic Israel-first group calling itself “United With Israel” urged its mostly Christian dupes to participate in the Jewish pressure campaign to intimidate Amazon to stop sales of books that “deny the Holocaust” — that is, books which historically examine Jewish WW2 atrocity claims and find them wanting. Their boilerplate is copied almost word-for-word from that issued by many Jewish organizations in the past week or two in a tightly-orchestrated campaign.

The online retailer Amazon caved in to the pressure and has stopped selling three “Holocaust denial” books after Jewish groups insisted that they stop selling any books of which Jews disapproved on the topic.

Jews have demanded such censorship for years, but the recent Jewish campaign to convince the world that “anti-Semitism” is an exploding, out-of-control “crisis” prompted Robert Rozett, a senior official at Jewish “Holocaust remembrance” group Yad Vashem, to orchestrate the latest pressure campaign on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos — in which hundreds of Jewish and Christian groups called for “immediate action” to censor historical works that dispute Jewish claims.

On Wednesday morning, the three titles that Mr Rozett had mentioned in his campaign were suddenly unavailable for purchase. Two were not showing up in searches, and one was listed but with a note saying that it was “under review” and could not be bought. This was the case for both US and UK stores.

Mr Rozett said the company had taken a “positive first step” which showed that they were listening to him and other Jewish groups that echoed his demand, such as the World Jewish Congress.

The titles in question were: Holocaust: The Greatest Lie Ever Told, by Eleanor Wittakers; The Hoax of the Twentieth Century: The Case Against the Presumed Extermination of European Jewry, by American professor Arthur R. Butz and Did Six Million Really Die? by Richard Harwood.

Amazon did not answer a request to comment for this article, and did not inform Mr Rozett that the books were being taken down.

Mr Rozett said the real test will be whether it takes related steps to stop feeding antisemitism.

“It’s a complex problem because Amazon is selling books, carrying reader reviews which defend them, and then Amazon recommends related titles to people,” he said.

Mr Rozett wants to know that Amazon will ensure that no Holocaust denial titles are sold, that no review sections on its site are used to propagate denial, and that people who bought denial books in the past are not being recommended books “that are likely to strengthen anti-Semitic beliefs based on their purchase history.”

Jewish Board of Deputies Vice President Marie van der Zyl indicated that this censorship is just the first step, saying, “Should any member of the public find further offending works, please get in contact with us and we will report them using the appropriate channels.”

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Source: National Vanguard correspondents

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