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Another September 11: Remembering The Sarmas Massacre & My Zayde's Role In Burying Its Victims

Exhuming the victims of the Sarmas massacre for burial, 1945. Photo of exhumation via Yad Vashem, via MemorialMuseums.org
Many people don't like to talk about death. But in my family, it has always been the tradition to help out the Chevra Kadisha, or "group who does the sacred." These volunteers make sure that Jewish people receive a proper religious burial. I never understood how, or why, we were so connected to this particular area of Jewish life, nor did I understand why I felt such a personal need to advocate for women. That is, until my father sent me the videotape of my Zayde (grandfather), who recounted his experiences in a series of interviews with the Holocaust memorial organization Yad Vashem. For awhile I couldn't watch the videos; too painful. But then on Tapes 4-5, Zayde tells an important secret he never revealed to me in his lifetime. I had to share it with the world. - Dannielle

Background

Sarmas is located in the south of Transylvania, a region in Eastern Europe.

For centuries, Transylvania was part of Hungary. After World War I, in 1918, the ethnic Romanians declared independence and laid claim to the land.

But Hungary wanted its land back. During World War II, with the help of Germany and Italy, Transylvania was partitioned in 1940, and Hungary took the north.

Beginning in 1941, Hungary and Romania fought together, alongside the Nazis, to defeat the Soviet Union. But on August 23, 1944, Romania flipped and allied itself with Russia.

Hungary resisted this show of Romanian independence. On September 5, 1944, Hungary invaded Sarmas and other parts of Southern Transylvania, which it wanted to reclaim.

On Monday, September 11, 1944, Hungarian troops arrested and imprisoned all the Jews of Sarmas. They forced them into the barn of a man named Ioan Pop, who served as "road overseer." The house would serve as "the ghetto until the 'final solution' could be carried out."

The Torture

The Hungarians had entered Sarmas singing loudly.

The torture started soon after.

At first it did not seem so bad. On September 11, the first day in the improvised ghetto, the Jews were allowed to get some things from home.

But the next day, September 12, the Hungarians ransacked the Jewish homes, taking everything they could.

There was no food or water left by September 13. The Romanians and a few Hungarians tried to help them. But they were kept out, on threat of being shot to death.

September 14 started with a group of old Jews, in their 70s and 80s, marched to the courtyard to "perform...all kinds of dances."

On the night of September 14, the invading soldiers spent the night gang-raping Vera Hasz, daughter of Arthur Hasz, who was chief engineer and manager of the Sarmas mill.
"That night the National Guardsmen dragged Vera outside, brutally beat and raped her. She fought to defend herself. Her screams and the noise of the scuffle mixed in a macabre fashion with the artillery rumblings that heralded the approach of liberation not more than 18 miles away. She returned in the morning. Bleeding, pale, humiliated, she lay next to her parents and seemed to be motionless for the rest of the day." 
The day of September 15 saw more starvation, more "games," and more robbery. And the night saw another gang-rape:
"In the evening Vera Hasz was brought again -this time with another Jewish girl -to be tormented and raped during the night by National Guardsmen and gendarmes....'the girls returned in the morning almost unconscious, lying during the whole day as if they were dead.'"
When the Jews asked what would happen to them, the Hungarians said they would be transported to another town to work.

That night brought the Sabbath, but it was not a Sabbath for the Jews.
"After another warm summer-like night amidst hunger, thirst, and rape, the morning dawned with compulsory dancing and gymnastics for the elderly. "
On Saturday, September 16, they gave shovels to twenty young Jewish men.

Those would be used to dig their own graves.

As the Jews were taken to the site of the massacre, they panicked. Arthur Hasz had the chance to run away, to the forest. But he could not:
"Pointing to his wife and the bleeding, beaten Vera, he said 'Thank you--God bless you--but I just cannot abandon them.' And he stayed."

The Massacre

Here is a close-up of the corpses. They were murdered on September 16-17, 1944, just before Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year.


That night, the Hungarians set about their business.
"Mr. Aluasi remembered the eerie silence in the darkness of the moonless night, full of terror to come. After midnight there was an exchange of light signals between the Hungarians on the hills and those on the highway. Mr. Aluasi, a veteran, sensed what was to come; he said to Mr. Mocean, 'Now they are going to kill the Jews.'"
The Jews had to climb to their graves. If they could not walk, the Hungarians beat them into walking.

The Jews were forced to strip naked as the Hungarians did not want them buried with their clothes.

They were divided into two groups.

The sound of killing went on for hours as the Hungarians changed shifts.

The Jews were:
  • Shot by machine guns
  • Beaten with shovels
  • Beaten with other objects, likely bayonets
Their skulls and bones had deep fractures. Some of the bones were cut entirely.

The children were buried alive. Thrown straight into the graves.

The Aftermath

The Hungarians warned the witnesses not to talk.
"National Guardsmen, Hungarians from the village, came to their houses and, brandishing their guns, asked: 'What did you see last night? Did you hear anything?' They frightened and threatened the foresters and their families."

My Zayde Buried Them

My Zayde, may he rest in peace, returned to Sharmash after being detained by the military police. He found out that his father, may he rest in peace, had died of a heart attack in his absence. And that his uncle had been massacred, along with every other Jew in Sharmash.

It is thanks to my Zayde that the victims of Sarmas were buried.

  1. He asked until he got the truth.
  2. He negotiated to buy land for a cemetery.
  3. He made sure they received a religious burial.
  4. He made sure all 139 victims were buried within one day.
  5. He made sure a monument was put up in their name.
  6. He hunted down the killers
  7. He ensured that the killers were brought to justice.
He promised all the credit to others.

He never told me what happened.


In 1999, my grandfather told the story of his role in burying the victims -- when Yad Vashem asked him to testify on video.

You won't find the name of Rabbi Shmuel Stroli in the history books.

This is my way of recognizing what a truly great man he was.

The kind of human being I can only aspire to be.
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By Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own. This blog is hereby released into the public domain.

A Broadcast Cut Off In Midstream


This morning I did a short, 5-minute broadcast on Periscope addressing the issue of corruption.

My father texted me afterward to inform me that the broadcast had been cut off in midstream.

The broadcast was prompted by two recent developments that concern me deeply, because they are nothing less than manifestations of corruption covered up by the institutions we depend on for justice:
  • The denial of a FOIA request to see the records on the Hillary Clinton investigation.
  • The dismissal of the DNC fraud lawsuit.

In my broadcast I urged people to fight back against corruption by getting an education, preferably an advanced education. An advanced education allows you to not only learn specific subject matter, but also — and perhaps more importantly — to think critically and communicate clearly.

I urged people to get a law degree, because the law is written and taught in such a way that it perpetuates a power gulf between the elite few who go to law school, and the rest of the people who can’t understand what the law actually says or how it affects their lives.

If you have a law degree, and your intentions are pure, you can fight for justice armed with the tools of the justice system.

There is no need to be an extremist.

Using the tools of the system, against those who would pervert it, is revolution enough.

____

Posted by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. on August 21, 2017. All opinions are the author’s own. This post is hereby released to the public domain. Screenshot by the author.

Avoiding The Conversations That Matter



Author’s note: This is a work of fiction.

“I’m not touching it,” he said. “I’m just not. Don’t go on and on about it.”

“But we have to. It’s a huge controversy.”

“No. Absolutely not. Never.”

“Why not?” I asked, knowing the answer in advance.

“Because we report to Headquarters. And they said no. Don’t you get it? The subject is third rail.”

“But if it’s third rail, then that is precisely what we should be talking about.”

“Oh my God. You’re fired! Get out of here!”

“You can’t fire me again. You’ve fired me fifty times already.”

“Just go back to your office, Dannielle. Really!”

“Fine.”

And then, suddenly, I swiveled.

“Then what is the point of communicating anything about anything?”

His face had turned very, very red.

“Because nobody actually even asked about that!”

And then, to himself, “Geez!”

I should have turned back and retreated. But something in me said: No.

“We are, right now, a headline.”

“Not us. We’re not the headline. No, we are not.”

“Yes, absolutely we are. We are, along with five other agencies that all touch the same problem.”

“Dannielle, I do not run five agencies.”

“We’ve had interagency task forces before. They work. Let’s make one.”

“Is there a crisis I hadn’t heard about? Because nobody is picking up the Bat Phone.”

“Yes, in fact, there is, Sir. The crisis is that people don’t trust the government.”

“Not my problem. I don’t need to be on the cover of The Washington Post.”

“Sir, I have spoken to reporters in the past. The more you clue them in, the more you provide information to the public, the more favorable their coverage of you, because they see you have nothing to hide.”

“Not my problem.”

“Sir, you have to alleviate the public’s concerns.”

“No, actually I don’t.”

“What does that mean?”

“What I have to do is answer to my chain of command. Stepping outside of that chain, to create a problem that does not currently exist, violates every known principle of government communication.”

“Fine.”

“Dannielle.”

“What?”

“You’re an excellent writer, but you’re fired again. Go take a walk around the block, and don’t come back to my office today.”

I had to restrain myself from shouting.

___

Posted August 29, 2017 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author’s own. This blog is hereby released into the public domain. Public domain photo by Geralt via Pixabay.

Leadership Lessons From Dr. David Shulkin

The below list is based on this article: http://www.politico.com/story/2017/08/28/trump-shuklin-veterans-obama-holdover-242047

BLUF: Nobody's perfect, but the praise Secretary Shulkin is receiving for his work is instructive. This is an attempt to deconstruct an article that appeared in the news and extract some key lessons.

Theme I. LEADERSHIP & MANAGEMENT

1. Keep your eye on the prize -- serving the Veteran

2. Work with everyone equally

3. Stay in your lane

4. Understand that your job is to make tough calls and take bold risks at times

Theme II. STRATEGY

5. Offer more choices while building up internal capacity

6. Focus on "core" priority services, defocus on services easily available elsewhere at low cost

7. Cut the red tape

Theme III. CUSTOMER FOCUS

8. Orient your actions toward regaining the customer's trust

9. Organize services around the human beings being served, not vice versa

Theme IV. COMMUNICATION

10. Be honest, open and direct

11. Make yourself available to answer questions

12. Offer regular transparency reports -- such as waiting times, reports on positions of employees dismissed

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 By Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own. This blog is hereby released into the public domain.

The Jewish Community Has Changed

It is time to shift the definition of "Jewish community." Many if not most are single, divorced and/or widowed. Serve their needs!
The institutions have not evolved to match the reality.

Example 1--Community Shabbos dinner should be standard. A woman in town said to me, "I am single, my Friday night meal is frozen yogurt and matza ball soup from a can." Why does she have to wait for an invitation...this is what Shul is for.

Example 2--Single parents. Nobody can afford tuition, solo mom or dad especially. Need homeschooling solutions that keep kids in the frum culture without sacrificing secular quality education. This is a must!

Example 3--Singles. Being single is not a disease. People who are solo are simply living. They want to meet people without being treated with pressure. Like a piece of beef. Make community events for EVERYONE. Build a house for poor people. Make food for the poor. Oh wait did I say poverty???

Example 4--MOST JEWS ARE NOT RICH. The cost of kosher meat is exorbitant. We need to teach each other to live within our means. Cooking, small business skills, no cost weekend activities, etc. The days of mommy and daddy paying for two car garage homes and Yeshiva are over.

Example 5--Elderly and widowed or divorced. Alone. Somebody needs to be checking on our most vulnerable populations. Personal financial security, healthy eating, someone to talk to. We can't leave it to the local Jewish Federation social workers. These people are our parents. Our sisters and brothers. Us.

Seriously: I am just so sick and tired of the superior "us vs. them" mentality. There is no "in" group anymore. Nobody can afford the financial or emotional pressure of trying to keep up with the Joneses either religiously or in any other competition. And I really feel the revolution has to start by dealing with the reality of how people live right now.
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By Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own. This blog is hereby released into the public domain.