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State Department's Anti-Semitism fighter, Hannah Rosenthal focusing on Holocaust denial

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WASHINGTON -- On Kristallnacht -- Nov. 9, 1938 -- when Jews were rounded up in Germany and Austria and Jewish stores and synagogues smashed, a young German rabbi was arrested and eventually sent to Buchenwald, the concentration camp. Frank Rosenthal survived and made his way to the United States and to the pulpit of Temple Anshe Sholom in Olympia Fields.

Today, the late rabbi's daughter, Hannah Rosenthal, is the State Department's Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, a post created by Congress in 2004.

"There is nowhere I have been where everything is fine," said Rosenthal, in Chicago on Thursday to deliver a speech to the Middle East Media Research Institute.

After Chicago she is in London for a conference and then to Tallinn, Estonia, with Justice Department Nazi hunter Eli Rosenbaum to "express total dismay and astonishment" that the Estonian government is not prosecuting Mikhel Gorshkow after he was deported from the U.S. because of his Nazi war crimes.

Rosenthal's family moved to Flossmoor when she was five; she graduated from Homewood-Flossmoor High School in 1969. After picking up a bachelor's from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, she studied two years for the rabbinate at Hebrew Union College but eventually switched gears, turning to women's issues, politics and government.

She ended up the Wisconsin chair of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, which led her to run the Department of Health and Human Services Chicago regional office before she moved to posts dealing with women or Jewish affairs.

Rosenthal met Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton when they both were working on children's policy years ago. Speaking about Rosenthal in a July 13, 2010, speech, Clinton said "she has traveled the world devising new strategies and engaging governments and people to confront anti-Semitism and to promote tolerance and non-discrimination."

Seventy-three years after Kristallnacht -- the pogroms are seen as the start of the Holocaust -- anti-Semitism still exists. Of 193 countries Rosenthal's office monitors, the last study showed increases in anti-Semitic incidents in 75 nations, to a "disturbing degree" in 38 of them.

Of the troubling trends, Rosenthal is paying particular attention to growing Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic textbooks, particularly in Saudi Arabia.

Holocaust denial comes in many contexts: from clerics, heads of states, so-called academics, textbooks and websites. Between Aug. 7-11, 2010, Rosenthal accompanied a group of seven Muslim-American Imams and community leaders -- of which two included Holocaust deniers -- to Dachau and Auschwitz where millions were systemically murdered by Nazi Germany.

Rosenthal did have an ask for the group. "I was clear," she said. "If they could find it in themselves in the end of the trip to issue a statement." They did.

"We bear witness to the absolute horror and tragedy of the Holocaust," they said in a long statement turned into a poster in Rosenthal's State Department office--along with a collection of framed cloth Jewish stars Nazis forced Jews to sew on their clothes.

During a trip to Saudi Arabia, she met with officials and "they assured me they have taken all elements of intolerance out of their textbooks." She is waiting for results of a Saudi textbook study.

Rosenthal works closely with two State Department envoys to Muslim communities. "I will define success," she said, "when non-Jews are condemning anti-Semitism and Jews are condemning hatred of Muslims and hatred of other vulnerable populations."

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on November 10, 2011 9:07 AM.

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