Too Close for Comfort

The thing about car accidents is that they happen all the time, with hundreds, maybe even thousands, a day, and we are so accustomed to hearing about them that we don’t really care. We are exposed to so much violence and tragedy in the world that our mind has become numb to them. Car accidents have become a daily occurrence to why traffic is backed up and people are late for work.

But the other thing about car accidents is that they are literally terrifying.

And tonight I had a very close call with death.

I was driving home from work and sat at a red light waiting to cross over a divided highway with two lanes on each side.

My light turned green and I casually glanced in both directions, a habit that my dad taught me early on, because sometimes cars don’t stop. So I looked, no cars were coming and I slowly hit the gas to cross over. I almost reached the middle of the divided highway when a tractor-trailer sped through the red light. I braked and slammed on my horn, angry at the driver’s recklessness of ignoring the red light and driving way over the speed limit.

“Was the driver asleep? Drunk? Just didn’t want to stop?”

I kept driving and realized if I never paused at the green light, it could have been a much closer call. I surely would have been dead if the truck hit me. And being asleep or drunk are both such stupid reasons for someone to die.

Out of nowhere, tears welled in my eyes.

I think to myself, “I’m alive. Calm down. I’m still alive.”

And before I knew it my face was wet with tears and ugly crying noises escaped from my mouth.

“What if…What if…What if.”

I sobbed the rest of the way home.


The Boy I Never Knew



Glen Onoko Falls in Jim Thorpe, PA. Photo by Kellie Dietrich.

Hikers have been seriously injured and killed as a result of accidental falls from the trail and gorge overlooks.

I’ve never been afraid when I read this sign before today; before a boy two years younger than me, just 18 years old, fell 50 feet to his death.

I’ve hiked at Glen Onoko in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania almost every summer since I was ten years old with my Aunt, cousin, and sister. Besides some spray painted circles on tree trunks, there wasn’t much to guide hikers along the so-called path. If you didn’t know it, you would miss it.

My aunt knew the way and we hardly ever ran into anyone. It was our secret, peaceful place. Birds chirped and the sound of the river and waterfalls cleared our minds as we raced to the falls and splashed in the water.

I was a child, invincible, and with my Aunt, protected.

But seeing the sign today hits too close to home. Rahman Mustafa Hassan—I only know his name from reading news articles online—died one week and three days ago. He had a picnic with a group of friends at the second and tallest waterfall that hikers reach. On the top of the falls, there is a wide flat surface of dry stone that water travels around. Rahman and his friend Fadi Abboud dangled their legs over the falls’ ledge.

The police reported that a water bottle was dropped and both teens reached for it.

Fadi slipped. Rahman offered a hand. They both fell to the base of the falls.

Rahman was killed on impact. However, he died trying to save his friend. Because he grabbed Fadi’s hand, it slowed his fall and he was sent to the hospital in critical condition.

I never found out if he made it and I’d rather not know. It’s silly to die over a water bottle, so I’d like to think Rahman did save his friend’s life. Because even though I never knew him, he was similar to me. He was a college student with plans and hopes and dreams. He wanted to hike with his friends and have fun. It wasn’t too much to ask for, was it? But a spark changes to an all-consuming fire in milliseconds.

I think about all this while I head up the steep path. It’s a cloudy and wet spring day. There are more warning signs as we head to the first fall. I wonder if these signs were just added or if they were here before the accident. The signs warn visitors to wear proper hiking shoes and to turn back if you are wearing anything else.

I’m wearing sneakers and I’ve always worn sneakers here. I’ll be fine, I tell myself.

I slip on some rocks and it makes me nervous even though I’m not close to a ledge. At one point, my aunt has to pull me up because the rocks are slick and smooth. The temperature drops as we move closer to the falls. Gnarled, damp tree roots stick out of the ground and serve as handholds as we climb higher. We see less and less mountain laurels, my Aunt’s favorite flower, and the rushing water of the falls drowns out any birds or other signs of life.

When we reach the top of the second waterfall, we see ropes, my guess just added after the accident, to stop hikers from getting onto the flat rock or close to the ledge. The ropes don’t seem to have stopped anyone though. A couple has set up a hammock between the trees and a few other hikers admire the view, which is the best overlook of Glen Onoko. Mountains, leaves, and trees—green, green, green—as far as the eye can see.

I stay behind the ropes. I’ve been out farther before, but it doesn’t feel right today.

A Penn State baseball cap, soon to blow away with the wind, sits on a skinny tree trunk, about three feet high, to honor Rahman’s memory. A red “R.I.P” graffiti on a rock is already fading away.

I give a moment of silence to Rahman and Fadi as I listen. The water hits the rocks below with a thunderous roar, and I’m not sure why the sound overcomes me with peace.

Beautiful and deadly, nature is quite the hypocrite.



Holocaust Imposter Dr. Joseph Hirt, Who Spoke at DeSales, Apologizes

This past April, Dr. Joseph Hirt spoke at DeSales claiming to have escaped Auschwitz as a Holocaust survivor. However, earlier this month, The Minstrel received a letter to the editor from history teacher Andrew Reid. He reached out to several media outlets that had covered Dr. Hirt’s presentations and shared with us why Hirt’s claims were false.

8 June 2016
Dear Editor,

It gives me no pleasure to inform you and your readers that Mr. Joseph Bernard Hirt – who recently gave a presentation in Lowville on the night of 15 April 2016 in which he told of his alleged experience of being a survivor of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp – is a Holocaust imposter and historical fraud.

I attended Mr. Hirt’s presentation that evening. As a local History teacher, I also encouraged my students to attend. However, as a trained historian and teacher, several of his claims did not sound quite right. I believed I had a duty to my students, the community, and the truth, so I began researching Mr. Hirt’s claims and in doing so accumulated a vast amount of evidence that proves the majority of his story is false, including all of his alleged experiences related to the Auschwitz concentration camp.


Hirt spoke at DeSales April 12, courtesy of DeSales Knights of Columbus, Men’s Group and  L.I.F.T. Photo courtesy of Frances Fasanello.

The following are some examples of Mr. Hirt’s untrue claims and the historical facts (all of which can be easily verified by the public online) which prove they are false: (1) Mr. Hirt was never at Auschwitz during World War II – the Auschwitz prisoner list is available online at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum website and there is no record of a Joseph Hirt. The number he has tattooed on his arm – which he claims was his prison ID – is the real number of another prisoner from 1944. Camp records show only one escape in the months surrounding Mr. Hirt’s alleged date of escape, and that person was not Mr. Hirt; (2) Mr. Hirt claims to have come “face-to-face” with Dr. Josef Mengele while a prisoner at Auschwitz concentration camp before escaping 31 March 1942 – it is well-documented that Mengele did not arrive at Auschwitz until May 1943; (3) the picture of an emaciated man on a stretcher that he claims is him right before he escaped is, in fact, one that was taken by a soldier in the U.S. Army, Mickey Martin, a member of the 42nd Infantry “Rainbow” Division of the U.S. Army which liberated the Dachau concentration camp in 1945. All of this and much more is laid out in over 20 pages of evidence I have amassed as a result of my research. I have provided the editor of this publication (which unknowingly advertised and covered Mr. Hirt’s presentation) with a digital copy of this research – please feel free to contact the editor and request a copy.

Lastly, I want to be clear – I am not a Holocaust denier. In fact, the man who hired me for my first teaching job many years ago was a survivor of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and it is partly in his memory and for the preservation of the truth of what millions of people endured that I have taken upon myself the task of exposing Mr. Hirt’s shameful deception. It is my hope that Mr. Hirt will voluntarily recant his fraudulent claims and cease his public presentations.

Regretfully Yours,

Andrew R. Reid
3087 State Route 12D
Boonville, NY 13309

In response to Reid’s letter, Hirt has admitted he was never a prisoner in a concentration camp. He apologized to Reid over the phone and also wrote a letter to LPN.

“I am writing today to apologize publicly for harm caused to anyone because of my inserting myself into descriptions of life in Auschwitz. I was not a prisoner there. I did not intend to lessen or overshadow the events which truly happened there by falsely claiming to have been personally involved,” wrote Hirt.

“It wasn’t about me. I was wrong in using an untruth (my presence) in an attempt to enhance the important truth of the suffering and death of so many – not only Jewish people, but also others held is disdain by the Nazi movement. I was wrong. I ask forgiveness. I used poor judgement and faulty reasoning, risking a sullying of the truth I was trying to share.”

Hirt’s nephew Michael Hirt said that his uncle’s story is correct until he says he was kidnapped and taken to Auschwitz. According to him, his uncle was born in Poland in 1930 to Jewish parents. He and his family fled before World War II began and fled west. They first headed to Belgrade, Yugoslavia where they stayed until it was bombed by the Germans and eventually ended up staying in Italy until it was liberated in 1944.

Additionally, in Hirt’s letter, he states he is seeking help from his pastor and medical professionals to help him understand how his presentations swerved off path. He also explains his tattoo is to commemorate Primo Levi, an Auschwitz prisoner and survivor, who wrote many holocaust-related books. Hirt read most of them and said Levi was an inspiration to him and broadened his perspective.

Hirt read a wide variety of Holocaust literature and had unanswered questions about his own relatives who had died in concentration camps. He also spoke to many survivors living in the United States.

“But the more I learned, the more real the images became, and the more intense my feeling of responsibility for keeping the memories alive,” wrote Hirt. “How could I assure that the message of the Holocaust would be heard and understood?”

“Fear is still with me, expanded to include the possibility of that I may have interfered with a strong and important message by using faulty methods to keep it powerful and unforgettable.”

Hirt closes his letter with this:

“I ask that you forgive me if you can, forget me if you feel you must, but keep the truth and the memory of the Holocaust always in your heart and mind.”




An Analysis of the Brock Turner Case: Rape, Consent, Objectification

Originally published on The Minstrel, online (June 8, 2016). 

“This is not a story of another drunk college hookup with poor decision making. Assualt is not an accident.”

Brock_Turner mugshot WikiComm.jpeg

Brock Turner’s mugshot. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This is one of the statements that stood out to me in the letter the 23-year-old woman read to her rapist, 20-year-old Brock Turner, who sexually assaulted her when she was unconscious. The assault was only stopped when two Stanford graduate students biking across campus spotted Turner thrusting a half-naked woman behind a dumpster, and tackled Turner in order to stop him. His victim’s letter has quickly gone viral. Read her powerful story in full here.

Then Turner’s father decided to write a letter because he thought his son’s punishment of six months in a county jail with probation and having to be registered as a sex offender was too harsh. I think most people would agree that if you don’t want to be a registered sex offender, you shouldn’t commit sexual assault. Rape is rape, and nowhere close to “20 minutes of action,” as his father put it. Additionally, with good behavior, Turner could only end up serving three months.

Meanwhile, his victim’s life was put on hold for the hearing and trial.

“You have no idea how hard I have worked to rebuild parts of me that are still weak. It took me eight months to even talk about what happened,” her letter read.

Three or six months in jail are a slap on the wrist compared to the victim’s sufferings, and many people agree. So far, over 600,000 people have a signed a petition to remove Judge Aaron Persky from his position for the lenient sentence given to Turner. He feared a longer sentence would have a “severe impact,” on Turner, who was found guilty on three counts of sexual assault and could have faced a maximum of 14 years in state prison.

With all the background on the case: I’d like to discuss a few things:

1. Brock Turner

I’d like to stop seeing his smiling rapist face everywhere. Can we stop referring to him as a former Stanford student and swimmer who had plans for the Olympics? In this case, we should all be referring to him as a rapist. The rest is irrelevant unless you want to examine the privileges of white men, because I have a feeling that if he was not an educated white athlete at Stanford, he would have received a harsher sentence.

2. Rapists cause rape


Graphic by Kellie Dietrich.

Alcohol does not cause rape. So someone tell me why Turner said he wants to “speak out against the college campus drinking culture and the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that.” Mirroring the victim’s letter, why isn’t he talking about sexual assault, rape on college campuses and consent?

Another letter you should read is “To Brock Turner’s Father, From Another Father.” The author of this letter makes it clear that Turner is not a victim of alcohol and sexual promiscuity. He is not the victim at all.

“She is the wounded one. He is the damager.”

3. Consent

It seems a lot of people are confused about consent. Consent is hearing a verbal “yes.” This means someone must have the ability to say yes, and not be unconscious. You should not have to think that someone wants to have sex with you. You should 100 percent know that yes, this person wants to have sex with you. To learn more about consent, watch this video about comparing sex to tea:

4. Own up to your choices

The one thing that really disgusts me about this case is that Turner never apologized to his victim. He never owned up to what he did and does not believe raping her was wrong. In fact, he does not even think he raped her. He still insists it was the alcohol and sexual promiscuity. And his father, who should be teaching his son a lesson, is just as ignorant on the matter.

Turner deserves a sentence that has a “severe impact” on him to realize the seriousness of what he did because his actions will forever have a “severe impact” on the victim.

6. Do not objectify women

Lastly, women are not sexual objects to be dragged behind dumpsters to do with what you wish.

As the victim’s letter said, “If a girl falls down, help her get back up. If she is too drunk to even walk and falls down, do not mount her, hump her, take off her underwear and insert your hand inside her vagina.”

Again, sounds like common sense, doesn’t it?

I leave you with this: treat others with compassion, kindness and respect, and think about the choices you make because they do not just affect you. Your decisions can have life-altering impacts on others.