Monday, July 4, 2011

Kareem Abdul Jabbar's Father Did Not Rescue Rabbi Lau

A few weeks ago I posted about a false story doing the rounds telling of how former chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau was rescued by the pope. Now there is another story doing the rounds, this time  claiming that Harav Lau was rescued from Buchenwald concentration camp by the father of Basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:

The former NBA star is making a film about none other than World War II, and will honor the final wish of his father. You see, Ferdinand L. Alcindor Sr., had one dying wish. He requested that his son visit Israel and meet the little boy that he personally rescued from Buchenwald and turned into a prominent Rabbi. This Rabbi is none other than Rabbi Lau!
This story has been debunked by none other than…Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:
 I have heard this amazing tale about your dad and a boy he helped liberate from a concentration camp at the end of World War II. Would you mind recounting briefly the story of Rabbi Lau and your dad? That story -- people have gotten that all mixed up. There was a reporter in Israel who put my father into the tank battalion that liberated Dachau. 
My dad was a police officer in New York. 
One of the guys that he was a police officer with was in a tank battalion that liberated Dachau. Rabbi Lau was a boy in Buchenwald, which was also liberated by black troops, but it was a totally different group than the one that my dad's friend was in. 
The group that helped liberate Buchenwald was the 183rd Combat Engineers, an all black unit. 
And that's who you wrote the book about? 
No, I wrote the book about the 761st Tank Batallion. That was the unit my dad's friend was in. They liberated Dachau. The reporter in Israel mixed all of the facts up, and got it all conflated. People were thinking my dad was a lieutenant in the 761st Tank Battalion. My dad was a lieutenant in the New York City Transit Police! 
And that's how he got to know Smitty, who was one of the liberators of Dachau and other camps. 
I met Rabbi Lau when I was in Israel in 1997. I just wanted to say hi to him because he had a particular regard for the black Americans that were involved in his liberation. I had participated in a couple of events they had in New York where they had reunited the people what were liberated with the people who liberated with them. Smitty, my dad's friend, participated in that. 

I don't know why Rabbi Lau is becoming the focus of so many false heroic holocaust rescue stories. I can only speculate that as a major "Jewish" celebrity who is famous for surviving the Holocaust, people naturally associate him with every anonymous story. I will confess that I am still amazed at the fact that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar actually met Rabbi Lau and remembered his story. The fact that he "Wanted to say Hi" to Rabbi Lau having heard that he has a "regard for the black Americans that were involved in his liberation" also means that Harav Lau's story must have become somewhat famous outside of the Jewish sphere – and is for me enough of a good story and a Kiddush hashem, without having to add a basketball player's celebrity to the story.

Sidenotes: Kareem seems to have gotten at least one detail wrong – Rabbi Lau was in Buchenwald concentration camp and not in Dachau.

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