It’s no surprise that Jud Newborn was attracted to the story of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose.
The members of the German resistance group fighting against the Nazis were seemingly typical Germans who simply decided to fight injustice. It was a daring move at the time and ultimately led to Scholl’s death by guillotine in 1943.
Likewise, Newborn, grew up where many might consider the American Dream — Long Island — living a seemingly typical life. But while the community is home to more than 300,000 Jews, antisemitism still raised its head in the suburban enclave.
Newborn said most people think of Long Island as a liberal bedroom community of Manhattan, but antisemitism has always existed there.
“There was antisemitism when I was a kid,” he said. “There were areas that were restricted where Jews couldn’t buy houses or join the country club. I remember in my own neighborhood people saying antisemitic things to my father — ‘You Saul, you’re a white Jew. You’re a good Jew.’”
Newborn will discuss his book “Sophie Scholl and the White Rose” at Beth El Congregation of the South Hills on Monday, Jan. 30
For all its warts, Newborn said that Long Island offered an escape from New York City after his father returned from World War II, thanks to the G.I. Bill.
He’s also quick to note that he still lives on the island and sees no reason to bad-mouth it. In fact, he said the Newborns were integrated into everyday life in the area. His father was one of the first Jewish elected officials on Long Island, and his mother sang soprano in the opera. And while the family wasn’t part of an underground network fighting antisemitism, like many Jewish-American families, they were touched by war and tragedy.
Newborn’s father was a chief squadron navigator in the Pacific who carried in his wallet a picture of a Jewish soldier with a star on his helmet.
He remembered as a 5-year-old finding a photo of faces he didn’t recognize in his grandmother’s bureau drawer hidden beneath blankets.
“I ran over to her and asked her, ‘Grandma, who are they?’ She turned her face away and said, ‘Don’t ask.’ That’s how I discovered my family had a Holocaust history,” he said. “My mother used to hear my grandmother crying at night, asking ‘Where’s my sister, where’s my brother?’ The letters stopped coming at some point.”
Newborn said his mother decided to have six children to symbolize the 6 million murdered in the Holocaust.
“So, the Holocaust had a role in my life, even though I am not the child or grandchild of Holocaust survivors,” he said. “Via my grandmother, I feel as if I have a deep connection.”
Newborn has found a way to entwine that connection to his vocation.
In addition to his book, “Sophie Scholl and the White Rose,” Newborn has been a lecturer, cultural anthropologist and curator. He is credited as a pioneer in the creation of Holocaust museums — he helped build New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage, serving as its founding historian and curator.
Scholl, he said, is an appealing character like Anne Frank.
“There were some real similarities in how they thought,” he said. “They could almost be seen as sisters in spirit.”
Despite Germany’s attempt to drive a wedge between the state’s population and the Jewish people, Newborn said that Scholl — a former Hitler Youth — and her brother Hans became leaders in the resistance movement and are regarded in their home country much the way Americans think of Abraham Lincoln.
“They stood up, they spoke truth to power in the most dramatic way and they did at a time that was so dark and dangerous. They were risking their lives,” he said.
Newborn was awarded the Anne Frank “Human Writes” Spirit Award by the Anne Frank Center.
for “Sophie Scholl and the White Rose,” as well as for also his passion and activism in his work on the Holocaust.
Newborn’s talk at Beth El was coordinated by Steve Denenberg, a member of the board and adult education committee.
Denenberg said he has known Newborn since the author was 2 or 3 years old.
“I was in the same second-grade class as his sister,” Denenberg said. “We see each other every five years at a high school reunion, we talk a couple of times a year. His sister kept telling me that, ‘My brother’s this Holocaust expert,’ and I just put it in the back of mind. Then, one day, for whatever reason, I looked him up online and said, ‘Wow, this guy’s pretty impressive.’”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh provided a grant that helped the Conservative synagogue bring Newborn to the city, Deneberg said. He’s excited about the possibility of the entire Pittsburgh Jewish community having the opportunity to hear his childhood acquaintance talk.
“We want a really big crowd,” he said.
Newborn, who, in addition to his academic work, won an Emmy while serving in the role of curator of celebrity and special programs at the Long Island Cinema Arts Center, said he is looking forward to his talk at Beth El.
“I’m really excited about talking at the congregation,” he said, adding that he has included a surprise in his lecture. For that, though, people will have to attend.
“An Evening with Jud Newborn” can be attended in person or on Zoom on Monday, Jan. 30 at 7:30 p.m. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at email@example.com.