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Hannah Rosenthal


by Rhonda Spivak and separate article by Simone Cohen Scott, May 24, 2012

Readers know that Dr. Adam Muller has put forward the theory in this publication that antisemitism was not the central cause of the Holocaust. See here and here

 In an exclusive interview with the Winnipeg Jewish Review prior to her formal talk on May 7 at the Fort Garry Hotel, Hannah Rosenthal voiced strong opposition to Muller's position.

 Rosenthal, the daughter of a survivor, said "To say that antisemitism wasn't the major cause of the Holocaust is obscene, it’s absurd. Anyone who has read Mein Kampf will understand this. Other marginalized groups were killed by the Nazis, but the design of the Holocaust was to wipe out European Jewry."
In a talk at a reception prior to her main speaking event, Rosenthal added, "The Holocaust could not have happened without centuries of antisemitism. To study the Holocaust is to study antisemitism."
"I believe and a majority of scholars believe that the Holocaust was a uniquely Jewish event in history . . . Any obfuscation of this is historically inaccurate and harmful." [Emphasis added]
Rosenthal said she understands that the CMHR is going to be featuring four other genocides [Holodomor, Armenian, Rwandan, Srebrenica] in addition to the Holocaust.
"While these others [genocides] are all significant, it’s important that they not all be conflated with the Holocaust."
"You cannot try to water down historical truths to keep various constituencies at bay," she added, referring to how the Canadian Museum of Human Rights ought to be portraying the Holocaust.
Rosenthal said she had met with Clint Curle, a Methodist minister and Ph.D. in Political Studies, and Jeremy Maron, who has a Ph.D. in Cultural Mediations, who are in charge of the content of the Holocaust gallery, and in her talk she expressed some concern saying she is always nervous that when the Holocaust is exhibited in a museum that the museum depicts the historical truth accurately.
"If it isn't handled in the right way it can obfuscate the Holocaust."

In her talk at the Jewish Foundation's Women's Endowment Fund Luncheon, Dr. Catherine Chatterley echoed the theme of Rosenthal's remarks in regard to the content of the Holocaust gallery at the CMHR.

Chatterley stated emphatically, "Antisemitism must be included in the content of this museum. The Holocaust gallery must reflect historical reality, which is to say—the gallery must clearly and accurately depict and explain the systematic destruction of European Jewry during the years 1933-1945, and not conflate this historical specificity with the crimes of the Nazi regime during World War II."


* * *

The following article on other aspects of Hannah Rosenthal's talk in Winnipeg was written by Simone Cohen Scott:


by Simone Cohen Scott, May 12, 2012


It speaks well of Hillary Clinton that she appointed Hannah Rosenthal as U.S. State Department Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism. That this position was even created is a blessing, and for that we must give credit to George W. Bush’s administration.

Introducing Rosenthal, Dr. Catherine Chatterley, Founding Director of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (CISA), recounted their shared cab ride to the University of Indiana last year on the same day as the pig postcard editorial was published in the Winnipeg Free Press. One thing led to another and finally to the appearance of this warm, bright, articulate, sensitive, individual at CISA’s First Annual Shindleman Family Lecture. What a stellar beginning for this venture!

The morning after I attended the lecture, I received the U.S. State Department’s official copy of Rosenthal's speech to be delivered. I barely recognized it. The contents of the speech Rosenthal delivered was very different than the speech prepared and released by the State Department.To read the‘officialese’, go to the blog at What follows is my summary of the speech based on notes I took and my memory.

A decision was made, sometime after 9/11, that someone be taxed with the responsibility to call out Antisemitism in the 193 countries with which the United States government has diplomatic relations. No one was officially doing this until Congress unanimously embraced the idea, passed the Global Antisemitism Review Act, and voila! The first appointment to the position was Greg Rickman, in 2006. In 2008 he submitted his Letter of Resignation, a requirement for all Special Envoys at the end of each term. It is then the prerogative of the incumbent President, or the next one, to accept or refuse said resignation, and it seems President Obama accepted it. The position was vacant for about a year, until Secretary of State Clinton appointed Hannah Rosenthal, on November 23rd, 2009.

Her role, Rosenthal admits, is daunting but rewarding in that it utilizes every aspect of her background. Her father, a Rabbi, was a Holocaust Survivor. During the years when the topic was avoided, Rosenthal learned about the Holocaust at his knee. Lately she asked friends, contemporaries she grew up with. “Where did we learn about the Holocaust?” “From your father,” was the reply. That’s how it was. What happened to the Jews during WW II just wasn’t talked about, let alone taught. Others that Rosenthal speaks to think Antisemitism stopped when the war stopped. It didn’t! And that is why she is adamant about education and more education; “No one should be ignorant of the facts.”

Furthermore, she emphasized, study of Antisemitism needs to be approached from every possible aspect in an attempt to understand and to combat this ancient disease of hate focused on the Jews and culminating in the Holocaust, and “…needs to take into account the centuries of preparation, building a matrix, so that at a certain point in time, an emerging nationalism became the catalyst for an unquestioning acceptance of ‘blaming the Jew’ to the point of elimination.”

Rosenthal mentioned folklore and fairy tales as just one factor forming the context in which to set this bigotry. (The following day I opened my beautifully bound volume of Grimm’s Fairly Tales, which were first published in time for Christmas 1812. A quick look at the Table of Contents and I noticed ‘Hansel and Gretel’. Now if generations of children who are taught that the Jews killed Christ, enjoy a story about the defeat of a witch by burning in an oven, what more needs to be done?)

Rosenthal stated, ‘…this doesn’t mean that other atrocities, past and present, are not to be studied,” but “the Holocaust was a uniquely Jewish event in history.” It is from the Holocaust that the word ‘genocide’ evolved, and because of the Holocaust that past and present genocides are now being addressed, but genocides are not the Holocaust. (In a later comment she intimated that galleries of the Holocaust should be separate from other genocides.)

“CISA is taking on an enormous challenge,” said Rosenthal. “It is one of only six institutions in the entire world dedicated to the scholarly study of Antisemitism, taking a holistic approach in an attempt to understand this unique evil that is still virulent and is encroaching upon us, particularly through the electronic media.”

She went on to review the current versions of traditional forms of Antisemitism. For example, the old blood for matzo libel has been replaced by accusations of organ theft, although, just lately, Spain celebrated an anniversary of the old style legend. It is on this kind of ignorance her department attempts to focus attention, confronting governments and spotlighting violations.

Misrepresenting or denying the Holocaust is another form. There is a sense of urgency, she said, because “…Holocaust denial is increasing, and as survivors are becoming fewer, history is being revised.” At the same time, she said, “…the Holocaust is being glorified. Neo-Nazi groups parade in some Baltic countries, recruiting members, then view footage of the death camps, admiring Nazi crimes.” Another trend is to“…minimize the Holocaust by conflating stories that are not related to the Holocaust, and calling them Holocaust.”

Israel bashing is also a new form of Antisemitism, but Rosenthal carefully differentiates between that and legitimate criticism of the State. The latter should lead to discussion, and is beneficial in democratic settings. Natan Sharansky’s Three D’s, she told us, can be used to define this particular aspect of the hate: 1) Demonization; 2) Denying Israel’s right to exist; and 3) Different standards. The third ‘D’, using different standards, filters down to the street from the United Nations. Rosenthal cited the numbers regarding human rights violations “…there have been 5 U.N. resolutions against the Sudan, 8 against North Korea, and 435 against Israel.”

 The job requires that Rosenthal travel extensively, pressuring governments regarding truth and transparency in their education systems. Monetary pressure is put on countries that depend on the United States for assistance, in hopes the leverage will force some positive changes. With wealthy countries like Saudi Arabia this approach is not so effective. She is expecting a report shortly on the results of a study of Saudi textbooks. “I’m not going to be able to fix the problem, but maybe I can just move the needle a little.” Apparently countries that move on the world economic stage need to at least appear to be trying to conform to a certain standard.

In 2010, Rosenthal was instrumental in taking a group of eight Imams on a trip to Dachau and Auschwitz. Two of the group had been outright Holocaust deniers. The results were gratifying; they unanimously made a statement condemning all forms of Antisemitism, including Holocaust denial.

Congress mandates that what Rosenthal is doing be reported to the President. Other envoys approach problems regarding Muslims, Roma, and so forth. “Hate is hate,” she says. “Criminalizing it doesn’t stop it. Hate speech needs to be called out, not closed down. It needs to be publicly condemned.” “If one leader,” she said,“had spoken out after Krystallnacht,” (the night of November 9th, 1938, during which Nazis and Nazi sympathizers in Germany and Austria engaged in attacks on Jews and their property,) “…history would have been different.”

Thirty-four years ago, after spending two and a half years in a five-year program, Rosenthal took a Leave of Absence from Hebrew Union College. I asked her why she had not continued. “I am a professional Jew, and a professional Feminist, and I realized “when you want to be an active participant for social change, it is important you choose the right vehicle for yourself.” For her, the Rabbinate was not going to be the right vehicle, (although she has been known to conduct services, perform weddings, and sing Kol Nidre in Madison, Wisconsin). Instead, she went on to influential positions in other fields, including on the advisory council of J Street, and J Street PAC, as well as on the board of Americans for Peace Now. She was one of the Forward Fifty, a list of FORWARD Magazine’s most influential Jews.

Another vehicle that was not right for her, she told me, came along immediately upon her return home from hospital a number of years ago. (She is a cancer survivor.) On that day the very first phone call she received was from Gilda’s Fund, (Gilda Radner was a beloved comedienne who died in 1988), asking her to become involved in the fund-raising arm of the Gilda’s Club family of cancer support groups.

Rosenthal appears to have found her niche. Like a typical Jewish mother she firmly instructs: “learn to use the technology; internalize the history; call out hatred; resist complacency.” “It just takes one,” she says, and “Thank you for what you’re about to do!”

In the Q & A period afterwards, a young woman asked how best to contend with IAW activity on campus. “Join them,” said Rosenthal, “and then correct them when they are wrong.” She suggests that students demand that BDS groups on campus also boycott diamonds from Zimbabwe and silk from China, and so on. When they refuse you can prove that they are singling out Israel.

Perhaps easier said than done.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.