Saturday, December 18, 2010


Many of our heroes are folks who have responded by their own admission mostly spontaneously to circumstances that are thrust upon them – reacting intuitively and mostly involuntarily to those conditions without forethought or reason like diminutive Texan Audie Murphy, the most decorated American soldier of World War II. They all demonstrate an uncommon courage and bravery generally at great risk to their person and without the promise of reward. Words that conjure heroism include, among others, courage, daring, selflessness, bravery, nobility, valor and yes that old 20th century standby - guts.

As an aside I guess that we can now also include Bay City, Florida School Board member Ginger Littleton who inexplicably whacked gunman Clay Duke on his gun arm with her purse as he threatened the school board the other day. Duke brushed off the hit and Littleton fell backwards onto the floor. Duke cursed her, pointed the gun at her head though did not shoot. Littleton instinctively did what she could to prevent a further tragedy the only way she knew and it’s a miracle she survived that episode. Perhaps her action had an effect on Duke who after being shot by a security guard mortally wounded himself. Littleton could be the real hero in that whole tragic episode.

No doubt that there are also those that act deliberately and with forethought engage situations that are clearly dangerous with the calculated intent to benefit others and right a wrong. Those individuals represent a different class of individual and heroism. One such person was Stephen Hall and scores of other OSS agents in WWII. Another was William Schiff of Dallas, Texas and originally of Krakow, Poland who passed at age 91 on December 10, 2010.

William personally and intimately experienced the horrors of the Holocaust and did the unthinkable so that he, wife Rosalie and Family and Friends too numerous to count could survive. He walked that one step further and clearly put himself in harm’s way every minute of every day in that period. From the few conversations that I had with William, I am positive he was never really afraid of anything, save not performing to his expectation and concerned about meeting the life and death needs of his charges. He was the ultimate go-to and caregiver. There was no one else…

William was an intense individual and, sadly, there was seemingly never a casual conversation in the itinerary of this Man who lived his life experiences every second of every day. His legacy was also his nightmare… The Holocaust to William was the day before yesterday, not sixty-five years ago. He lived those years and terrible tragedies every day of his life. It became part of him and seemingly always pained and in angst, he made it his life’s work to pass on the knowledge of those terrible genocide years to any who would listen. That meant all his neighbors on Golden Creek, those folks and groups that invited he and Rosalie to relate their experiences and, frankly anybody, one or more in number that would stop and listen. He celebrated life with an equal fervor with Family and Friends being the epicenter of his life. The week before his passing he was partying hearty - dancing and celebrating Hanukkah at the Dallas Holocaust Museum.

That opportunity to celebrate was his great reward for probably without his heroics, none of his Family would be alive today. William’s wife of almost seventy years, Rosalie, gave testimony many times that were it not for William, she would not be alive today – hence there would be no Schiff Family.

Now, I certainly studied the Holocaust in school and was horrified at the concept let alone the capacity of any one group to conceive, plan and then execute ethnic cleansing. The Holocaust never got really personal for me before William Schiff though I do remember gripping and horrific testimony from Mentor and Good Friend (and off and on again Sergeant) Bob Swanson who served with the Fourth Armored in WWII. Bob was one of the first Americans who unexpectedly discovered Ohrdruf, the Buchenwald sub-concentration camp which turned into a slaughterhouse when the Nazis retreated. The Fourth Armored literally stumbled upon hundreds of starving Jewish prisoners and piles of corpses. That experience changed Bob, haunting him for the rest of his life.

The sacrifices and heroics of William are forever documented in "William and Rosalie: A Holocaust Testimony," (University of North Texas Press) written with author Craig Hanley. It not only told William and Rosalie’s story but retold the horrors that the Nazis rained down on European Jews. Had the Nazis won they would have expanded that effort to the rest of the world. This is no fiction and written through the courageous eyes of William and Rosalie.

What scares the Hell out of me now are the inexplicable, illegitimate attempts to distort the historical record not only of the Holocaust but other events of great import by ignoring extensive historical evidence, patently rewriting the record or flat out denying that it ever happened – all to meet some new political agenda.

Fortunately Germany and fifteen other countries including Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Israel, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, and Switzerland have literally criminalized Holocaust denial (explicit or implicit) and punishable with imprisonment and have been successful in their prosecutions. Why is the United States not in this group? In our zeal to protect our free speech rights we are willing to allow everybody the right to express their opinion, however heinous and deviant. That same constitutional right ironically allows neo Nazis to organize in the United States.

Included in this cesspool is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has frequently denied the Holocaust earning him the enmity of all rational human beings. Scores of other Arabs including the Palestinians continue to deny the existence of the Holocaust costing them credibility that may ultimately keep them mired in their present plight – literally between the rock and the hard place…

Comes now the Texas Board of Education (TEA), notorious for its past efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution in Texas public schools and is apparently intent on keeping our students well behind the national curve, which has now moved to revise the Texas social studies curriculum to portray conservative ideas and movements in a more positive light in a myriad of issues even including the attempt to morph slavery under the more palatable and innocuous “Atlantic triangular trade”.

It would certainly appear that no real debate ever occurred at the board level as the individuals involved would have to be educated and knowledgeable (gulp) on the topics being addressed. There is no scholarship here only a blatant political attempt by TEA to “correct” history (their words).

So where am I going with this post which started off as recognition of William Schiff as a hero of the Holocaust? Well, with all this rewriting of history in the world theater and the State of Texas trying to rewrite (“correct”) history I just wonder if The Holocaust might be next on their list? If we don’t like something or it becomes an embarrassment or perhaps inconvenient, then just rewrite the textbook and within a few generations all will be a fading memory. All students of history (or any subject) require an objective, accurate curriculum and textbooks chosen for their educational merit, not politics or ideology.

That said the Internet and an incredible repository of historical data about The Holocaust within our own borders including the United States and the Dallas Holocaust Museums should not allow that to happen – unless, of course we consent. We need all confront bias and prejudice and surely stand as sentinels ready to challenge those who would rewrite our history. We need to remember William Schiff, honor his memory and heroics and his noble attempts to keep the rest of us educated on this sad chapter in the history of Man. Please all be upstanding and raise your glasses high…

Yes, what we do matters.


Ned Buxton

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