Blurred Lines of History


Holocaust historians are not ones to suppress information from the era, but when survivor Morris Spitzer tried to get museums to shed light on something he claims to have witnessed, he was met with skepticism.

There’s a photo of a 1946 funeral procession in which survivors are marching down a street in Romania carrying a casket. Spitzer, who was there, says the casket was filled with soap made from the fat of murdered Jews.

Historians didn’t buy it. Where’s the rest of the evidence?

Spitzer approached Baltimore-born playwright Jeff Cohen after one of his productions in New York. He gave Cohen a copy of a Moment magazine article about his soap-related crusade. That article inspired Cohen to write “The Soap Myth,” a play that comes to the Gordon Center Sunday and is the subject of Connor Graham’s cover story this week.

Starring Ed Asner and Tovah Feldshuh, the play wrestles with Spitzer’s assertion through the eyes of a journalist, survivors and scholars. It asks, who has the right to write history?

As you’ll read, scholars and Cohen both worried about the subject providing fodder for Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites, who could argue the charge is exaggerated and link that to a larger narrative. Interestingly, as one historian told the JT, the Nazis did try to make soap from human remains, but there was not enough fat from Holocaust victims to make mass production economically feasible.

The story and the play showcases an issue from the Holocaust we don’t often write about in these pages — what happens when survivors and scholars are at odds?

Elsewhere in the community, newly founded organization Chayeinu Baltimore held a public discussion about addiction and youth. As freelance reporter Erica Rimlinger reports, Yeshiva University professor Dr. David Pelcovitz spoke about the basics — how and when to talk to your kids — as well as more complex issues, such as appropriate punishments if a child is caught with drugs or alcohol. The message echoed by Pelcovitz and organizers is one you’ve read in the JT before: Addiction touches every aspect of the Jewish community. Spreading awareness and removing the stigma are huge steps in helping those dealing with addiction in our community speak up and reach out, experts say.

In statewide news, Gov. Larry Hogan’s anti-BDS executive order will be tested in court after a former state delegate and Muslim civil rights group filed a suit saying the order violates the First Amendment. As Samantha Cooper reports, Jewish community leaders believe the order was crafted to stand up to legal challenges.

These are all contentious topics, and the JT is committed to keeping you informed.

Happy reading!

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