God bless the Hebrew University Summer Ulpan in Jerusalem. I was a student in the program in 1987, after graduating with honors from Columbia University, and was placed in the top rung of the Hebrew courses (known in Hebrew as ramah vav). I graduated with an A-, likely because my Hebrew grammar was my Achilles heel.
The ulpan program was excellent. Although my Hebrew was good from years in yeshiva day school and high school in New York – and 10 months before college, in the hesder yeshiva in Gush Etzion – I was astounded that for the first time in my life, I penned essays and poetry in Hebrew (one was about Spinoza) and I was able to understand Yehuda Amichai in the original.
The trips during the summer break were memorable, especially a trip to the Sinai – in Egyptian hands – and the swimming and snorkeling were great. Also memorable was chanting Eichah at a crowded and well-lit Kotel on the evening of the Ninth of Av. It was the best summer of my life.
And yet, I am critical of Israel’s oldest university for two reasons. First, it took too many years for Hebrew University to establish an academic chair in Yiddish Language. It was not until 1952. As much as I love Hebrew and know little Yiddish, we must acknowledge that Yiddish was the core of a civilization that endured a millennium.
Whatever animus Zionists, led by David Ben-Gurion, had against Yiddish as a language of exile should not have interfered with the academic study of the language (not a “jargon”).
My second criticism is the subject of the remainder of this essay. After his death in 1968, the widow of Arthur Hays Sulzberger established a scholarship in his memory at the Hebrew University. I will argue that as long ago as this scholarship was established, it should now be abolished. Sulzberger, as publisher of the highly influential New York Times, betrayed his fellow Jews by diminishing news of the Holocaust during his tenure as the head of the newspaper.
No matter how much money his wife donated to the university, he abdicated his responsibility to the Jewish people. The Hebrew University should never have honored him with a scholarship. And it was only in death that he acted on behalf of Jews and the Jewish people.
Why The New York Times didn't report on the Holocaust
I AM BASING this essay on two studies. The first is Professor Laurel Leff’s Buried by The Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper (2005). The second is Rabbi Haskel Lookstein’s Were We Our Brothers Keepers?: The Public Response of American Jews to the Holocaust 1938-1944 (1985). Professor Leff’s book is the definitive study of The New York Times’ coverage – or lack of coverage – of the German genocide of the Jews of Europe. It is a masterwork that is detailed, readable, and makes the reader outraged with “the paper of record.”
Rabbi Lookstein’s study is a broader account of American Jewry as a whole, but he often mentions the Times and its failures to give adequate coverage to such critical Shoah news as the Jewish revolt against the Germans in the Warsaw Ghetto in April 1943. Sulzberger buried a summary of the first days of the revolt on page 9. It was brief and did not convey its importance to the reader until days after the factions of the Jewish underground initiated the fight to the death. It was most unimpressive.
My father was a sergeant of a heavy-machine gun squad in the 97th American Infantry Division, fighting in Germany and Bohemia in the last month of the war in Europe in 1945. He wrote home to my grandparents on V-E Day. He hardly spoke of victory. He and a friend, another Jewish soldier, spoke in Yiddish with Jewish women from Hungary who survived likely Auschwitz and a “death march” as the Germans retreated from the Soviets.
They walked for miles each day and were fed three potatoes each day. They told my Dad that one boy on the march was starving and ran out to a field of beets. The German guard shot the boy down.
According to Professor Leff, “There was literally no Times story that followed a Jew from his or her prewar life, to a ghetto, and then to an extermination center, a death march, and a German concentration camp. Survivor testimony, as it is now commonly thought of, did not appear anywhere in The New York Times in 1945.
So, the American public may have grasped what atrocities meant, but not what an atrocity meant to one suffering person.” In contrast, the Times had no problem interviewing the survivors of the Bataan death march. I am grateful my father reported in his correspondence in English to my grandparents what The New York Times found “Not Fit To Print” for the American public.
WHILE THE Yiddish press in New York presented a front page with a black border of mourning, upon reporting on the mass murder of Jews by the Germans and their collaborators, Arthur Hays Sulzberger buried the genocide of Jews in the middle or back of the Times, sometimes including it as a few paragraphs in a longer story about the battles of the war.
He was from a family with roots in German Reform. While the Reform movement transformed itself from anti-Zionist to being much more supportive of the movement in the decades before World War II, Sulzberger’s brand of German Reform feared charges of dual loyalty, and Sulzberger did not want the Times to be identified as a Jewish paper.
According to Professor Leff, “As his Reform friends abandoned anti-Zionism, Sulzberger abandoned Reform and ultimately Judaism.” Later in his life, he said, “I know no difference in my way of life than in that of any Unitarian.” That says it all. And the Hebrew University chose to establish a scholarship in this man’s name. It is a scandal.
“All the News That’s Fit to Print.” Since 1897, this has adorned the masthead of The New York Times. It just seems that, in the paper of record’s long history, some news was “Not Fit to Print.” That reality is not deserving of honor.
The writer is a rabbi, essayist, and lecturer in West Palm Beach, Florida.