VISIT THESE WEBSITES . . .
Remembering Jackie Robinson’s fight with black nationalists over anti-Semitism
NEW YORK (JTA) -- Moviegoers who headed this past weekend to the AMC Magic Johnson Harlem 9 for the opening of “42” saw the story of how Jackie Robinson displayed legendary courage, class and talent in the face of immense pressure and racial hatred as he broke down baseball’s color barrier.
Less well known is Robinson’s role in a controversy that erupted just a few blocks away, at Harlem’s most famous theater, and underscored his commitment to fighting all bigotry, including prejudice emanating from his own community.
It was 1962, a decade-and-a-half after Robinson first took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers and just a few years after he retired. Day after day, an angry crowd marched outside Harlem's legendary Apollo Theater protesting against its Jewish owner, Frank Schiffman, and his plan to open a low-cost restaurant with prices that potentially would threaten the business of a more expensive black-owned eatery.
The demonstrators carried anti-Semitic posters and hurled racial epithets, reportedly denouncing Schiffman as a Shylock who wanted to extract a pound of flesh from the black community.
Schiffman turned to several black leaders for help, but despite the increasingly hostile acts of anti-Semitism that were taking place, they all remained silent -- except for Robinson.
"I was ashamed to see community leaders who were afraid to speak out when blacks were guilty of anti-Semitism," Robinson wrote in his 1972 autobiography, "I Never Had It Made." "How could we stand against anti-black prejudice if we were willing to practice or condone a similar intolerance?"
Never one to back down from a cause he believed in, Robinson used his syndicated newspaper column to condemn the protesters' blatant use of anti-Semitism and compared their actions to events that had occurred in Nazi Germany, drawing the ire of many black nationalists in the process.
The nationalists, who had adopted a separatist agenda, retaliated by protesting in front of a nearby Chock Full O' Nuts coffee shop -- Robinson had worked for the chain after his 1957 retirement from baseball -- and outside a dinner honoring Robinson's induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
In turn, several mainstream black leaders -- including Roy Wilkins, the longtime leader of the NAACP -- quickly came to the defense of Robinson and Schiffman.
"In their fight for equal opportunity, Negroes cannot use the slimy tools of anti-Semitism or indulge in racism, the very tactics against which we cry out," Wilkins wrote in a telegram to Robinson. "We join you in your straight statement that this is a matter of principle from which there can be no retreat."
Other leaders, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Philadelphia Tribune publisher Dr. E. Washington Rhodes, also offered their support, according to Robinson. Major League Baseball's first black player also managed to pry a condemnation of anti-Semitism from Lewis Micheaux, the owner of Harlem's National Memorial African Book Store, though Micheaux had sympathized with the marchers and denounced Robinson's initial criticisms.
Soon after, the protests ceased.
Some Jewish communal officials have noted that Robinson's strong stance during the 1962 Apollo incident stood in stark contrast to the silence from black leaders during the 1995 protests outside Freddy's clothing store on 125th Street.
For months, large crowds gathered in front of the Harlem store to protest the efforts of its Jewish owner, Fred Harari, to expand into an adjacent storefront that was occupied by a black-owned business.
The condemnations came only after one protester, Roland Smith Jr., shot and killed seven store employees before burning down the building and taking his own life.
Robinson was always quick to criticize anti-Semitism in the black community, according to Stephen Norwood, a professor at the University of Oklahoma who co-wrote a scholarly article on Robinson’s relationship with Jews.
In a 1997 interview timed to the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s integration of baseball, Norwood pointed out that Robinson was the first to condemn and call for the removal of a Congress of Racial Equality official in 1966 after he shouted at a group of Jews, "Hitler made a mistake when he didn't kill enough of you."
While raising funds for the NAACP and bail money for imprisoned civil-rights marchers, Norwood said, Robinson witnessed the valuable contributions that Jews were making to the black community's struggle. When Robinson took part in the legendary march on Washington and stood by King in Birmingham, Ala., he saw that some Jews also were placing their bodies on the line for civil-rights causes.
According to Norwood, when black nationalism emerged as a powerful force during the 1960s, Robinson rejected its separatist agenda and continued to include Jews in his major efforts to economically empower the black community with the Freedom National Bank and the Jackie Robinson Construction Company.
Roger Kahn, whose “Boys of Summer” chronicled Robinson and his teammates’ multi-year road to winning the World Series in 1955, would write later that Robinson's actions during the Apollo protests should not have come as a surprise.
"He hated anti-Semitism just as he hated prejudice against blacks,” Kahn wrote. “Without qualification and from the gut.”
Across Warsaw, remembering Warsaw Ghetto heroes with yellow daffodils
By Ruth Ellen Gruber
WARSAW, Poland (JTA) -- In Warsaw, sirens wailed and church bells rang to mark the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, a valiant but failed revolt by Jewish fighters against the Nazi occupiers who already had deported hundreds of thousands of Jews to the Treblinka extermination camp.
An official commemoration, held last Friday in a plaza between the monument honoring the ghetto heroes and the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews, was attended by Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk, as well as Israeli Education Minister Shai Piron. But a half-mile away, a small group gathered under leaden skies at the entrance to Warsaw’s huge Jewish cemetery for an alternative memorial.
Carrying bunches of bright yellow daffodils, they walked down the main path and laid the flowers on the grave of Marek Edelman, the last surviving uprising commander, who died in 2009 in his early 90s. The group, most now in their 60s and 70s, has come together for decades to mark the anniversary of the uprising. Until his death, Edelman was usually with them, laying a bunch of daffodils at the towering, dark monument to ghetto heroes.
For years, Edelman had received yellow flowers, usually daffodils, from an anonymous person on the anniversary. Eventually the flowers became a symbol of the remembrance. The group laying flowers on Edelman’s grave this year included an Italian who wrote a book about Edelman, several Polish Jews forced to leave the country during the communist anti-Semitic campaign of 1968, and former dissidents and Solidarity activists.
One of them, Janusz Onyszkiewicz, served as Poland’s defense minister following the fall of communism. In 1983, he was arrested and jailed for four months by the communist regime for speaking at an anniversary ceremony organized by dissidents.
“We had all hoped that Marek Edelman would turn up and say a few words, but he couldn’t because he was being held under house arrest in Lodz,” Onyszkiewicz told JTA. “He only sent a letter that was read. I felt that everyone was waiting for something to happen, so I got up and delivered a speech, and as a result, I was arrested immediately.”
He added, “What was rather funny is that when the secret police agent arrested me, he was rather curious. He asked me, 'Why did you come here, you’re not a Jew?’ I replied that no, I’m not -- but so what!”
Yellow daffodils were a memorial motif; a stylized daffodil was an official logo of this year's commemorations. People placed daffodils at the foot of the ghetto memorial and at the monument at Umschlagplatz, the site from which hundreds of thousands of Warsaw Jews were deported to Treblinka. Pots and vases of daffodils decorated the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, where thousands of visitors flocked to see the striking new building, attend concerts and films, and buy souvenirs in the gift shop.
Throughout the city, young volunteers handed out paper daffodils for people to wear on their jackets or lapels. All over Warsaw, people could be seen sporting the symbol, which was reminiscent of the yellow Star of David the Nazis forced Jews to wear.
“I think one of the most moving things I’ve seen in all my years in Poland was watching volunteers all around the city giving out the daffodils and watching Warsavians walking around the city wearing them, evoking the Star of David,” said Jonathan Ornstein, the executive director of the JCC Krakow, who was in Warsaw for the commemorations. “It really felt as if the city was commemorating something from Polish history, not only Jewish history, and it made me aware that Poles realize the shared heritage.”
The anniversary proceedings attracted Jews with Polish roots from all over the world. Among them were Holocaust survivors and emigres -- such as American philanthropists Tad Taube and Sigmund Rolat -- and those who had fled during communism. Members of Poland's contemporary Jewish community also turned out in numbers.
For many, this made it an old home week of sorts, filled with emotional reunions. The high-profile presence of visiting Jews created one of the more unusual sightings. Late at night after the Friday ceremonies, the tower of the Marriott Hotel in the center of Warsaw bore a message spelled out in lights that moved around the top of the building: kosherfood.pl.
The website, it turns out, is for the Marriott’s own kosher catering service.