UPDATE: It has come to our attention that the article below, based on information on the YNet website, had incorrectly reported many of the facts. The true story is also beautiful and we felt it important to share with you the facts straight from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar himself.
In an interview with ESPN, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sorts out the facts as follows:
Reporter’s Question: 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?
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 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.
Reporter’s Question: And that’s who you wrote the book about?
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 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.
For the full interview: ESPN
Below is the information from the YNet article that was reported with incorrect information:
Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau is a tall man who brightens any room with his Torah depth and stature. He is viewed as a someone who has achieved wondrous feats! From surviving the Holocaust and continuing on the Rabbinic dynasty that he hails from, to serving as the Chief Rabbi of Israel and now Tel Aviv—he remains a legendary figure to all of Jewry.
On the complete opposite spectrum stands the legendary Lakers Center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Born Ferdinand Lewis “Lew” Alcindor, Jr., he had a prolific college and NBA career becoming one of the best basketball players of all time. In 1971 Lew Alcindor converted to Islam and changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. To the naked eye it would seem that the only thing he shares in common with Rabbi Lau is that they are both luminous figures.
And yet, these two men—one a Jew and another a Muslim—are eagerly looking forward to meeting one another this July in Israel!
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!
Indeed, Rabbi Lau, who also serves as chairman of the Council of Yad Vashem remarked that, “the fact that such a famous basketball player, and a Muslim, is about to attach himself to the Holocaust issue is very exciting. I will certainly give my blessing to this initiative.”
Rabbi Lau said he clearly remembers how an African American soldier came up to him during the liberation, picked him up, and told the residents of the German city of Weimer: “Look at this sweet kid, he isn’t even eight yet. This was your enemy, he threatened the Third Reich. He is the one against whom you waged war, and murdered millions like him.”
Who would have thought these two figures would ever be mentioned in the same sentence—let alone meeting in The Holy Land!
For full article: YNet
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