To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, Rambam Mesivta High School in Lawrence hosted a Jewish studies scholar who discussed the Holocaust from an editorial perspective.
Jewish history author and professor Dr. Rafael Medoff spoke to the students one day after International Holocaust Remembrance Day as they returned from winter break. His Jan. 28 discussion focused on the Holocaust through the lens of newspapers and political cartoons from the 1930s and ’40s in the United States. Medoff, the founding director of the Washington D.C.-based David Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, has also authored 16 books on American Jewish history, Zionism and the Holocaust.
He showed seven cartoons that were published between 1931 and 1939, which he said greatly illustrated what people knew and were thinking in the U. S. during that time period. “Readers would see an editorial cartoon that would draw their attention to what was happening,” Medoff said. “Part of the reason there weren’t many political cartoons about the genocide of Jews is because many newspapers were downplaying the news.”
Medoff also noted that newspapers across the country including one of the most preeminent publications would not highlight news about the Holocaust while it was happening. “The process of the American public learning about the Holocaust was slow,” he said. “Many major newspapers, especially The New York Times, buried news about the mass murders in their back pages. It wasn’t just the Times doing this, many American newspapers treated the news about the genocide of Jews as if it was unimportant.”
He pointed to the Sulzberger family, who owned the Times, as the primary reason this Holocaust news desert occurred. “The publishers of the New York Times were Jewish,” he said. “They were assimilated Jews who believed that Jewish problems and concerns shouldn’t be on the front pages. We know all of this from internal documents from The New York Times mentioned in the book ‘Buried by the Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper.” The 2005 book by Lauren Leff detailed the Times’ coverage of the Holocaust in a critical manner.
Rambam senior Avi Balsam described the Medoff’s presentation as eye opening. “Dr. Medoff gave us perspective on how unsympathetic news media was towards Jews during the Holocaust,” Balsam said. “It shows that if Jews aren’t going to speak up for themselves, then nobody will.”
Senior student Yidi Sprei agreed with his classmate saying the presentation gave him further perspective on the Holocaust. “The things discussed by Dr. Medoff correlates to times today for Jewish people,” Sprei said. “It’s clear that anyone can speak for themselves, but we need to be able to support each other when doing so.”
Medoff said he was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak at Rambam. “It was an honor to address the students because this school has been at the forefront of activism on behalf of so many Jewish causes,” he said. “For someone like me who writes a lot about American Jews who were not as active in the 1930s and ’40s, I’m delighted to have been able to speak at an institution like this.”