Not Yet Hanukkah: A Story of Miracles

By BERNIE FARBER

November is Holocaust Education Month, a time we tell stories of survival. My father, the sole Jewish survivor of his small Polish village, used to say that it took 1,000 miracles to survive the Shoah because 999 were simply not enough.

The following is not only the story of 1,000 miracles, but at its conclusion we will understand what the circle of life is really all about.

In 1939, when Samuel Pisar was 10 years old, both the Nazi and Soviet armies invaded his native Poland. Interestingly, Samuel came from Bialystok, 50 kilometers from my father’s village of Bothki. When Adolf Hitler broke the Nazi/Soviet pact in 1941, Samuel was captured along with thousands of other Jews. He was young and strong and survived incarcerations at Majdanek, Auschwitz and other camps whose only purpose was to murder Jews.

His final camp, Dachau, became the concluding volume in this first chapter of his life. It was the spring of 1945. Young Samuel was out on a Nazi slave labour detail as Allied forces approached. Nazi SS guards gathered the work detail and marched them away from the advancing Americans. They marched for three days with little water or food. Many succumbed. Still young, Samuel stayed alive.

It was on the third day when a number of Allied fighter planes spotted both the Nazis and their slave labour detail. Thinking it was a column of Nazi soldiers, the planes’ pilots descended sharply and strafed the area. Taking advantage of the ensuing confusion, a number of prisoners made a break for the forest. The bombing and Nazi bullets mowed most of them down but young Samuel used up one of his thousand miracles and made it to the safety of the embracing forest.

Starving, emaciated, Samuel hid in an abandoned hayloft. A few mornings later, he was awakened by the sound of a rumbling motor. Cautiously looking out from his hiding place, sure that he would see the dreaded swastika, he saw instead an American insignia.

Washed over with relief, he stumbled from the hayloft in tears of joy. The hatch of the tank popped open and emerging was Corporal Bill Ellington, the son of a former slave and member of the storied 761st Tank Battalion, known for being comprised primarily of African-Americans. They were the original “Black Panthers.”

The son of a former slave and the young survivor of the Nazi death camps held each other while Samuel cried the only words he knew in English, “God Bless America.”

He was just 16, the sole Jewish survivor of his family in Poland when he emerged into what would become the second volume of his life.

Miracles followed Samuel. He was raised by the remnants of his French and Australian family, graduated from the University of Melbourne, and later earned doctorates of law from Harvard and the Sorbonne.

His rise was rapid. He worked for the United Nations and UNESCO and was appointed a special advisor to President John F. Kennedy. He counseled the State Department and worked as legal adviser to both the House of Representatives and Senate. He was one of the youngest, most respected government advisers – so much so that in 1961, through a special act of Congress, Pisar was awarded U.S. citizenship.

His legacy continued. He counselled governments and world- renowned personalities from pianist Arthur Rubenstein to tech whiz Steve Jobs. His passion became human rights and he took up the causes of the novelist Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.

He became a trustee of the Brookings Institute, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and has addressed international conferences and world leaders at Davos, the International Monetary Fund and the European Parliament.

Samuel was twice married upon his death in July 2015 and left two daughters, one from his first marriage, Leah and Norma, from his second wife, Judith.

Here’s the promised kicker: Samuel also left a step-son from his marriage to Judith: Antony Blinken who, on Nov. 23, was nominated to become U.S. Secretary of State in the administration of President-in-Waiting Joe Biden.

Samuel Pisar was a man of many miracles, maybe even 1,000. May his memory continue to be a blessing.


Bernie Farber
Bernie Farber

Bernie Farber is publisher and co-founder of the Canadian Jewish Record, Chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a writer and human rights advocate. 

Another Racist in the Ranks; Forces Promise to Act

Sept. 16, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Another racist has been unmasked in the Canadian military, this time in the army.

Lieutenant General Wayne Eyre

Army commander Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre has promised that Canadian Ranger Erik Myggland will be out of the armed forces “within weeks.”

According to a recent CBC report, Myggland has a history of involvement with the white supremacist group Soldiers of Odin.

The army’s commitment to rid itself of another racist in uniform was welcomed by Canadian Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

“We support and appreciate this decision by the Canadian Army to finally remove an individual involved in far-right activity and hateful conduct from its ranks, a decision that sends a message that those who are involved in hate groups and activity are not welcome in the military,” FSWC president and CEO Michael Levitt said in a news release.

Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan

“We commend leaders in the Canadian Armed Forces, including Army and Navy commanders, as well as [Minister of National Defence Harjit] Sajjan for speaking out against extremism in the military and taking steps that show it will not be tolerated.”

The action against Myggland follows the revelation last year that a navy reservist in Calgary was a long-time supporter of the racist website Iron March, and once offered to arrange the sale of military grade weapons to another group.

Leading Seaman Boris Mihajlovic was suspended after that revelation but was reinstated in July after saying he had been rehabilitated and no longer held racist views.

That decision to reinstate him is being subjected to a “command level review” by navy commander Vice-Admiral Art McDonald.

The Myggland decision comes two weeks after FSWC leaders met with Sajjan, who promised to drive racists and white supremacists out of the Canadian Forces.

In a statement following that meeting Sajjan said there is “no place for hate in Canada, and membership in organizations that promote hate goes against everything that Canadians value, and what the Canadian Armed Forces stand for.”

Several courses of action have been suggested to military leaders. FSWC recommends a zero-tolerance policy and quick dismissal of any members found to be involved in extremist activity.

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network (of which CJR publisher Bernie Farber is chair) has urged restoring Section 13 of the federal Human Rights Code, which allowed individuals to pursue groups espousing hate speech.

The section was removed by the previous Conservative government, which said it restricted free expression.

Anti-hate activists have also urged Canadian law enforcement to make better use of Criminal Code provisions against hate speech.

Under the current system, provincial attorneys general must sign off on turning a charge into a hate crime – something too many have been reluctant to do for fear of constraining free speech.

Activists have also claimed the military has a habit of side-stepping such issues by slapping the wrists of members caught making racist statements or being involved in demonstrations.

That’s what happened in 2017 when five Canadian sailors were identified as part of a crowd that disrupted a Native protest in a park named for Lord Edward Cornwallis. A founder of Halifax, the British officer is also the author of a policy of genocide against the area’s Indigenous population.

Four sailors faced probation but were returned to active duty. The fifth left the military.

Racist Sailor Prompts Calls for Reform in Forces

Aug. 19, 2020 – By Steve Arnold

A racist has been unmasked in Canada’s military, prompting new calls for the Armed Forces to get tough with members who don’t represent the country’s values.

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network (whose Chair is CJR publisher Bernie Farber) and the Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center want action after a Royal Canadian Navy reservist in Calgary was revealed to be a member of an online neo-Nazi hate group.

Boris Mihajlovic
Boris Mihajlovic

Initial anger grew even hotter after Leading Seaman Boris Mihajlovic was accused of trying to sell military-grade weapons to another hate group. There is no evidence a deal was ever completed and Mihajlovic was later reinstated to the navy after claiming he has been rehabilitated and no longer holds racist views.

In 2019 Kurt Phillips, now a director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, was among the first to raise an alarm about the alleged arms deal. Mihajlovic was later identified by alternative media site Unicorn Riot.

“(Mihajlovic) is a person who kind of stood out for me,” Phillips said in an interview. “The big concern here is the Forces and their reaction to this. Our concern now is, what is the Canadian military doing about this?”

Phillips said the Canadian Armed Forces have a long-established pattern of side-stepping such issues by slapping the wrists of members caught making racist statements or being involved in demonstrations.

“It’s in the nature of institutions like this to just want controversy to go away,” he said. “They will circle their wagons and say what they need to.”

That’s what he said happened in 2017 when five Canadian sailors were identified as part of a crowd that disrupted a Native protest in a park named for Lord Edward Cornwallis. A founder of Halifax, the British officer is also the author of a policy of genocide against the area’s Indigenous population.

Four of the sailors faced a period of probation but were returned to active duty. The fifth left the military.

“The military seems to treat these incidents as an exercise in public relations,” he said. “It’s a case of saying the right things but not taking the extra step.”

In the most recent case, leaders of FSWC met recently with Vice-Admiral Art McDonald, commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, who promised a “command-level review” of the investigation into the allegations and the decision to keep Mihajlovic in the Forces.

In its new release following that meeting, FSWC said it asked the admiral to “ensure that (Mihajlovic) faces justice for his participation in neo-Nazi terrorist organization Blood & Honour; for his efforts to foment a ‘race war’ against Jews and others, and for his attempts to offer for sale military-grade weaponry to other white supremacists.”

FSWC said McDonald also told the group that the Navy is committed to combating discrimination, racism and antisemitism within its ranks and to reflecting the values of Canadians by promoting diversity and tolerance.

Mihajlovic’s racist activities were revealed by Unicorn Riot and CBC in December. CBC reported his hate group activities include serving as an administrator of the now-defunct Iron March forum, a neo-Nazi website. He was also involved with Blood & Honour for at least four years and its armed branch, Combat 18, a group the Canadian government identified last summer as a terrorist organization.

Mihajlovic told the public broadcaster he hasn’t been involved with such groups since Iron March shut down in 2017 and now he realizes he was wrong and rejects racist views.

“I want people to know that I’m a very different person than I was,” he said. “I just want people to know that the people in these groups really need mental help and therapy.”

He said his military experience, as well as a course he took at the University of Calgary in 2017, made him question his radical beliefs.

“During my time in the military, I met people from different races and cultures and realized I was wrong,” he said. “I realized I was hating people without any reason. I believed in a really elitist world view.”

For Phillips, words like that are a good start, but more is needed to show Mihajlovic has truly recanted his former views – actions like a sincere apology to the communities he offended and helping law enforcement identify and deal with other groups and extremists.

The military itself has work to work, including reforming a culture that attracts people with right-wing views. A frequent theme for such people, Phillips added, is to use the military to gain training in weapons and tactics for what they believe is a coming race war.

Mihajlovic mouthed those very words in some of the hate group postings identified as his by CBC.

“They pay you to teach you the methods you need to destroy them,” he once wrote, saying his rationale for serving in the military was to gain combat experience for an eventual “race war.”

Phillips added an important step for Canada would be to restore Section 13 of the federal Human Rights Code. That’s the section that allowed individuals to pursue groups espousing hate speech.

The section was repealed by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government on the grounds it restricted free expression.

Canadian law enforcement also needs to make better use of Criminal Code provisions against hate speech, Phillips said.

Under the current system, provincial attorneys general must sign off on turning an allegation into a hate crime – something too many have been reluctant to do for fear of being accused of constraining free speech.

“We really have to press our elected leaders to make better use of the laws we already have,” Phillips said.

Survivors Seek to Shame Facebook Into Removing Holocaust Denial

Aug. 7, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

A new campaign seeks to shame Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg into pushing Holocaust deniers off his popular social media platform.

Dubbed #NoDenyingIt, (http://www.claimscon.org/nodenyingit/#clips) the drive is led by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (the or Claims Conference), the New York-based agency that pushes for compensation for survivors of the Holocaust.

The effort will see 30-second video messages from Holocaust survivors around the world posted to Facebook and other social media sites urging Zuckerberg to finally take action against Holocaust denial on the site he leads.

“This is something you’d think would be pretty straightforward,” said Conference president Gideon Taylor in a CJR interview. “We’re saying that Facebook has an obligation to history and to survivors to ensure this terrible kind of speech is not being promoted.

Gideon Taylor
Gideon Taylor

“We have Holocaust survivors every day issuing calls for Facebook to take down Holocaust denial,” he added. “We want him to sit down with Holocaust survivors and hear directly from them.”

Taylor added two factors make the campaign especially important now: The ever-decreasing number of first-hand witnesses to the Holocaust, and the steadily increasing number of voices claiming it didn’t happen.

“Facebook is a platform being given to these groups to make the voice of hate louder,” he said. “We’re asking that Facebook not let itself be used as a megaphone for that hatred.”

Survivors taking part in the campaign include famed Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld; Roman Kent, an Auschwitz survivor and head of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors; Eva Schloss, step-sister of Anne Frank; and Charlotte Knobloch, who survived Kristallnacht.

Joining them are Canadians Pinchas Gutter of Toronto and Sydney Zoltak of Montreal. Both say rising antisemitism around the world makes the effort critically important now.

“A huge amount of people now believe things that are lies,” Gutter said in an interview. “The Internet creates a platform for these lies to be spread and it has to stop.”

Gutter was seven when the Second World War started. His family was eventually confined in the infamous Warsaw Ghetto. In April 1943, during the first three weeks of the ghetto uprising, the family was discovered and deported to the Majdanek death camp.

Pichas Gutter
Pichas Gutter

On the day they arrived, Gutter’s parents and twin sister were murdered. The boy, however, was sent to a work camp. He later passed through several other concentration camps, including Buchenwald and Theresienstadt, where he was liberated by Soviet troops on May 8, 1945.

Today, he does what he can to educate people about the Shoah, and sees the #NoDenyingIt campaign as an extension of that effort.

“The only thing I can do now is educate people and the program is about educating the world,” he said. “It’s time to deal with all these lies and malignancy before they lead to killings and other terrible things.”

Zoltak is also a child survivor. His family was confined in the Siemiatyzce ghetto but escaped during its 1944 liquidation, eventually finding refuge in the barn of a family who remembered a small kindness once given them by Zoltak’s mother.

Sydney Zoltak
Sydney Zoltak

In an interview, Zoltak said he has “a special dislike for Holocaust deniers,” something he tries to ease by telling his story as often as he can.

“I don’t know what Mark Zuckerberg is thinking by allowing Holocaust denial to go on,” he said. “He says that denying the Holocaust is not hate speech, but it is.”

Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and a former Canadian representative to the Claims Conference (Farber is also publisher of the CJR), said, “the very fact that survivors have to do this in 2020 is disgusting. Deniers are using Facebook to express ideas that are unquestionably antisemitic and hateful.

“(Facebook) has to say clearly that Holocaust denial is a vile spreading of hatred against Jews and will not be tolerated.” He said the social media giant has been pushed for two years to remove such material.

In an e-mailed statement, a Facebook spokesperson said the platform will “take down any post that celebrates, defends, or attempts to justify the Holocaust. The same goes for any content that mocks Holocaust victims, accuses victims of lying about the atrocities, spews hate, or advocates for violence against Jewish people in any way.

“We know many people strongly disagree with our position – and we respect that. It’s really important for us to engage on these issues and hear from people to understand their concerns,” the statement continued. “We have a team that is dedicated to developing and reviewing our policies and we welcome collaboration with industry, experts and other groups to ensure we’re getting it right.”

A random search of Facebook, however shows such statements still make it on to the platform.

In one public group called “Did the Holocaust Really Happen?” one participant argued that claims of six million dead must be false because there simply wasn’t enough time during the Second World War to kill and cremate that many victims.

Another claims the “Holocaust myth” is nothing more than the theft of “billions of dollars from hardworking German taxpayers…to fund the brutal occupation and genocide of the Palestinian people.”

Since 1952, the Claims Conference has negotiated the payment of more than US $80 billion in indemnification to survivors. This year, the agency will distribute approximately $350 million in direct compensation to over 60,000 survivors in 83 countries and allocate approximately $610 million in grants to over 200 social service agencies worldwide to provide Holocaust survivors with home care, food and medicine.


Steve Arnold