[Cz-L] Judging Josef Zissels

From: Miriam Taylor <mirtaylo_at_indiana.edu>
Date: Wed, 02 Apr 2008 11:37:36 -0400
To: 'Czernowitz Genealogy and History' <czernowitz-l_at_list.cornell.edu>
Reply-to: Miriam Taylor <mirtaylo_at_indiana.edu>

Like many other members of this list, I am very much against the total
omission of the events of WW2 from the opening exhibition in the Jewish
museum of Chernivtsi and I am in full sympathy with the pain expressed
by some. I lived in Czernowitz during the war, I remember and am still
adversely affected by what I experienced. My grandmother and many other
relatives died in Transnistria and my parents' lives were for ever
shattered by the events of 1940 -1945.

I do not agree with Mr. Zissels decision, yet I think that we must
resist the urge to smear his name and attribute vile motives to him.
Like David Glynn and Bruce Reisch, I think that the controversy over
building a community center at Babi-Yar is not sufficiently clear and
we should not blindly assume that the majority of the Jewish leaders
of the Ukraine were necessarily right. Majorities are often wrong.

Looking for more information about Josef Zissels, I found the following
article on the website <Cleveland Jewish News.com> it is dated April 1, 2008

> Many of those who stayed behind to build the secular organs of communal life
> fit a similar description: strong-willed intellectuals with Zionist
> proclivities.
> Josef Zissels, 61, a native of Chernovtzy, Ukraine, fits that bill as well as
> anyone.
> "I'm a traditional/Masorti Jew and Zionist in a wider meaning of the word," he
> says. "The optimal formula is strong Israel and strong Diaspora."
> He was a member of the human rights movement in Ukraine and the Soviet-era
> Jewish resistance. Imprisoned twice for his work, Zissels spent six years as a
> political prisoner in the Soviet Gulag. But when the time came to leave
> Zissels, who spent decades fighting for the rights of Jews to emigrate from
> his native Ukraine, chose to stay.
> Ironically his father has wanted to immigrate to Israel and Zissels now has
> many relatives there. Still he says he is fully satisfied with his life and
> activities in Ukraine in spite of a recent spike of xenophobia and
> anti-Semitic attacks, and he has no plans to leave.
> Zissels leads the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of
> Ukraine, a nationwide umbrella group based in Kiev, and serves on the board of
> the European Jewish Congress.
> Aware of his vital role within the community, Zissels sees his mission as
> developing the Jewish community of Ukraine, which he says "will become stable
> in a generation."
> "We have to restructure ourselves because what we were doing more than 20
> years ago is no longer suitable today," he says.
> For many who stayed behind, who were raised in an environment of resistance
> and left to revive an indigenous Jewish culture decimated by 80 years of
> Soviet communism, the period brings bittersweet memories as marking the end of
> an era.

The letter from Anna Lenchovska, gives the motives and plans of Mr. Zissels
for the Jewish museum in the Jewish community building and the proposed
Holocaust museum in what once was the prayer hall at the entrance to the

I suggest that we take Mr. Zissels at his word; let's agree to delay a
complete and detailed account of the Holocaust as experienced by the Jews of
Czernowitz and the Bukovina till there are funds to establish the other

At the same time, let's not allow the complete omission or mention of
the holocaust from the present Jewish museum display. If three rooms are
available for the exhibition, surely one wall, in one room, could be devoted
to the sad statistics and any photographs of the effect of World War 2 on
the Jewish community of Czernowitz.

I replied to the letter by Ms. Lenchovska and these are excerpts from what
I wrote:

> ..there has to be some mention of the fate of the former Czernowitz Jewish
> community . One wall in one room, would be sufficient to present some
> widely known facts and a few photographs.

> ...I would like the Jewish community to be remembered for this community's
> contributions to the culture, Arts and social and economic advancement
> of mankind in general and the good name and renown of the city
> of Czernowitz in particular.
> You might also mention in this exhibition, the names of former Jewish
> residents of Czernowitz, who have and continue to bring respect
> and honor to the city of their birth:

> The poets Paul Celan, Rose Auslander and Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger,
> sculptor Bernard Reder, singer Joseph Schmidt, scientist E. Chargaff,
> film producer Andrew Halmay, author Aharon Appelfeld and philologist
> Wolf Moskovich are some of them.
> The fame of many of the above mentioned Jewish Czernowitzers,
> is intimately associated with the events of the holocaust. Mentioning
> these names and not mentioning the holocaust cannot be explained or excused.

> I hope Mr. Josef Zissels will consider my opinion and that of the other former
> Jews of Czernowitz and decide on a modest place in the planned exhibition for
> the events of 1940 - 1945.

Please let's compromise,

Miriam Reifer Taylor
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Received on 2008-04-02 15:37:36

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