Mandate an End to Holocaust Ignorance


Photo from the National Museum of the USAF.

A recent Claims Conference study that showed Americans’ knowledge of the Holocaust was unexpectedly low, particularly among millennials, drew national attention but should come as no surprise.

The survey revealed that 66 percent of millennials could not identify what “Auschwitz” was, and 41 percent thought that 2 million or fewer Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.

Although the figures are startling, the detail of history becomes less relevant to subsequent generations as events recede into the past. It is not young people’s fault they don’t know these facts; the fault primarily lies with the people who decide what is important to teach them. The survey is not an indictment of a lazy millennial generation, but of an uneven educational environment.

The problem is not new. A survey conducted by Peter Shulman in 1992 showed similar patterns of ignorance. At the time, 38 percent of respondents could not identify Auschwitz, compared with the 41 percent in this most recent survey. A quarter of a century on and we are worse off.

Students will not spontaneously start reading about Auschwitz — they need structure.

There is no lack of organizations and teaching resources that can provide young people with the knowledge they need about the Holocaust. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a national remit funded by the federal government. There are scores of Holocaust centers and online resources such as “Echoes and Reflections,” a curriculum supported by the Anti-Defamation League, Yad Vashem and the USC Shoah Foundation (which I run). There are enough teaching resources for every child to know precisely what Auschwitz was, how many Jews were murdered during the Holocaust and much more.

So, how do we close the gap between the obvious need for students to learn and the provision of educational support and resources to meet that need? We need to come up with a national plan. More states must mandate teaching about the Holocaust, more school district supervisors must ensure compliance of such mandates, and more principals need to understand that teaching about the Holocaust is an opportunity to educate and engage students with much more than knowledge alone.

A well-organized, well-funded lobby is needed to achieve this goal.

Ivy Schamis, who teaches a semester of Holocaust studies at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., was in class, using the USC Shoah Foundation’s IWitness platform the day Nikolas Cruz shot and killed two of her students.  The students in her class talk about the meaning of Auschwitz in the contemporary world. Schamis told me the Holocaust class was introduced because of a state mandate, and the school’s principal also was intent on ensuring the school’s curriculum made the most of the opportunity to expose students to complex world issues.

Almost all of the students who have gained national prominence for their involvement in responding to the shooting took the Holocaust class. Cruz did not.

Of course, it is not only important what students learn, but what they do with what they learn. I accompanied Schamis to the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C., where one of her students told me: “We were in her class learning about hate, and then seconds later we experienced it first-hand.” The Parkland students had already thought through what it meant to counter hate. He told me the classroom they were in had a “Never Forget” poster. It’s no coincidence they chose the hashtag #neveragain for their campaign. They had lived the idea of “Never again” in Schamis’ class.

We have two options. Either we shake our heads at the latest survey results and decry the ignorance of the younger generation, or we begin a serious and concerted effort to ensure that there is a plan for states to implement mandates as well as online Holocaust training for teachers.

Students will not spontaneously start reading about Auschwitz — they need structure. And educators need a plan for implementing that structure. Either that, or 25 years from now we will be seeing the same survey results all over again — only worse.


Stephen D. Smith is the Finci Viterbi executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation.

Poll: Nearly Two-Thirds of Millennials Don’t Know What Auschwitz Is


Photo from Pixabay.

A poll released on April 12 shows that nearly two-thirds of millennials don’t actually know what Auschwitz is.

The Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study found that 66% of millennials couldn’t identify Auschwitz; among all adults that number was 41%.

In fact, 49% of millennials couldn’t identify a single concentration camp or ghetto; that number was 45% among all U.S. adults. Forty-one percent of millennials also thought that two million Jews or less died in the Holocaust and 22% didn’t even know or weren’t sure what the Holocaust was. Among adults, those numbers were 31% and 11%, respectively.

Making matters worse was the fact that the poll found that 70% of all U.S. adults felt that less and less people care about the Holocaust and 58% thought that something like the Holocaust could happen again in the future.

The aforementioned numbers could be due to the fact that 80% of U.S. adults have never been to a Holocaust museum and 66% don’t know a Holocaust survivor.

However, there was some good news in the poll: 93% of U.S. adults said that all schools should teach their students about the Holocaust and 80% think it’s “important” that people know about the Holocaust to ensure that it never happens again.

Still, the whole point of #NeverAgain is to ensure that people don’t forget about the horrors of the Holocaust, and the Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study shows that there are “significant gaps in knowledge” in the country. This is at a time when anti-Semitic attacks in the U.S. increased by 60% in 2017 and anti-Semitic incidents throughout Europe increased.

However, a recent study found that anti-Semitic attacks globally declined by 9% in 2017.

Read the full results of the poll here.

The Jewish Geography of — and in — Auschwitz


Photo from Wikimedia Commons

After two nights in Krakow, we were returning to Warsaw to finish our study trip to Jewish Poland. I packed, pulling out clothes for Sunday’s site visit: comfortable shoes, pants instead of a dress, black clothing to convey an appropriate somberness for Auschwitz.

My deliberations seemed like unintentional mockery — disrespectful in the
light of history that we all know well. When Jews packed before “resettlement,” they had no idea where they were going, and many may have suspected that packing was just an exercise. I knew how the story ended, that later that day, I would see those suitcases and the belongings that filled them.

In conversation, a trip participant mentioned that his parents had been deported from Hungary around June 21 or 22 in 1945. Transports took about 10 days for the journey to Auschwitz, so they would have arrived on or around July 2. Our visit to Auschwitz was on July 2, 2017.

Seeing on social media where I was, one of my friends messaged me, “Look for my daughter — she is also at Auschwitz.” Although it’s an informational statement (and in 2017, 2.1 million people visited), adding “at Auschwitz” to any sentence brings a flush of nausea. This contemporary game of Jewish geography had a troubling, alternate reality echo: Had inmates been desperate to see familiar faces, or did not seeing familiar faces mean maintaining hope that some had survived?

We’re here. They never would have dreamed we would be. But we are.

I had a solid Jewish education and already understood my responsibility to never forget. I’d read Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel, Simon Wiesenthal and Yaffa Eliach. I wrote a book about the Hidden Children of the Holocaust. I’d been to Yad Vashem, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and half a dozen other Jewish museums in various cities. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know about Auschwitz, about the people who passed under that famous gate, the “Arbeit Macht Frei,” that sets an ache into the Jewish heart. Now that we were there, our guide explained that it was a replica; the real sign had been stolen in 2009 and cut into pieces to fit into the getaway car. The original is in storage, he said. I imagined it in a government warehouse with endless rows of identically sized boxes, while its understudy played its part.

I had been prepared to feel every aspect of sadness in this space, but as I went from room to room, looking at the artifacts — shoes, hairbrushes, suitcases, uniforms — I felt the mildest version of sadness. Where were my tears? What was wrong with me? Was I too prepared? Or was it the damned replica gate, the fact that some of this experience had been constructed for tourists, that made me disconnect?

Then I saw the hair. Cut from the heads of the victims, the hair was horror, and the human loss it represented snapped me back into humanity. From that point on, I was emotionally tuned in.

One of the men on our trip wore his tallit throughout the visit, and I understood it was his way of proclaiming triumph: We, the Jews, are still here. I needed to find my own way to do that.

I pointed my phone’s camera toward the ground and walked; filming my feet, black sneakers on gravelly earth; not speaking, listening to the mostly quiet air, the sound of my feet as they hit the ground; feeling my breath as I walked and being both grateful and horrified.

I walked in their footsteps, in their memory, in an attempt to feel, understand and experience a new kind of Jewish geography — the mobius strip of communal memory, where location binds past to the present, and we all march into our unknown future.

Connecting with others who are here. Seeing the place. Feeling the gravity of the location beneath our feet. Inhaling the trauma of our history with every breath. Trying to process their loss and the triumph of our return. We’re here. They never would have dreamed we would be. But we are. I am.


Esther D. Kustanowitz, a 10-year veteran of Twitter, is a contributing writer at the Jewish Journal and an editor at GrokNation.com.

Remembering Why We Must Remember the Holocaust


Photo from Wikipedia

January 27th, the anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz, is the day designated by the United Nations as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Observed at the UN headquarters and in countries throughout the world, it is not the only Holocaust memorial day. Some countries observe dates that relate directly to their own Holocaust history. Jews throughout the world observe the 27th of Nissan in the Hebrew calendar — just after Passover and in proximity to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 — as Yom HaShoah .

It’s a fitting time to ask: Why should the world remember the Holocaust, which began more than 75 years ago and enveloped almost all of Europe?

Because it happened, we must understand the evil — systematic evil, state-sponsored evil, industrialized killing, mass murders — that was the essence of the Holocaust. We must understand its emblematic invention, the death camp and the people who served in these camps. Their assignment: mass murder.

Some were sadists and criminals – people unlike us – but many more were ordinary men trying to do their best, to fulfill their obligations. Some were even professionals, lawyers and doctors, ministers and economists who used the skills they had learned to become more efficient killers. Some were enthusiastic, others more reluctant.  All became killers.

Because it happened, we must understand the circumstances of the victims, who had to make choiceless choices between the impossible and the horrific, and who faced conditions of such utter powerlessness that they could do little to determine their fates. Yet even though they were powerlessness, they were far from passive. Resistance took many forms, courage manifest itself in many ways; taking up arms was but a last stand.

And we must understand the indifference of neutrality. In the struggle between powerless victims and an overwhelmingly powerful killing machine, neutrality is anything but neutral. Indifference is a death sentence. The bystander is also an enabler.

We can learn so much about evil in studying the Holocaust that it leaves us numb, that despair overtakes us, that we sense our own helplessness. Indeed, the Holocaust was an atrocity, senseless and anguishing. But there were a few — a precious few — men, women and even children who opened their homes and their hearts and provided havens for the victims, a place to sleep, a crust of bread, a kind word, a hiding place. What makes such goodness possible? Why were some people immune to the infection of evil?  We call them Upstanders. These are the people whose deeds we may wish to emulate, who can serve as models for how we want to behave and what we want to become.

The Holocaust began slowly. Age-old prejudice led to discrimination, discrimination to persecution, persecution to incarceration, incarceration to annihilation. Mass murder, which culminated with the killing of six million Jews, did not begin with the Jews nor did it encompass only the Jews. The violations of one groups’ rights are seldom contained only to that group. Scholars have identified stages of the Holocaust; it is far easier to stop a genocide in its early stages of persecution and discrimination before dehumanization and mass murder ensue.

We must understand the fragility of democracy: however precarious, it is ever more precious. Yet it can be undermined when leaders show a little commitment to democratic rule; when political opponents become enemies, denied all legitimacy; when violence in tolerated and ultimately employed to quash dissent; when civil liberties and freedom of the press are restricted and when democratic institutions are weakened.

Sadly, the issues raised by the Holocaust are not consigned to our past. Genocide, a word invented to give voice to the fate of the Armenians in World War I and the Jews in World War II, a crime outlawed by the United Nations, has recurred since 1945, even today. Refugees fleeing oppression and near certain death are still unwanted in most places on the globe. Inter- religious hatred flourishes; so too, intra-religious conflict.

The study of the Holocaust is not easy, emotionally or intellectually.

To understand this event, we have to confront death, yet the study of these deaths is in the service of life. The study of this evil is intended to strengthen decency and goodness.

The Holocaust shatters faith — faith in God, secular faith in human decency and faith in the inevitability of progress and even in Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s teaching that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. The Holocaust provides few answers, but raises many questions — questions that invite moral struggle against that evil.

The call from the victims — from the world of the dead — was to remember. Today we hear from those who were there and those who were not, the urgency of memory, its agony and anguish, the presence of meaning and its absence. To live in our age, one must face that absence as well as that haunting presence.


Michael Berenbaum is a professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at American Jewish University.

Charlottesville put focus on alt-right, but watch out for the anti-Semitic left


Protesters and counterprotesters clashing at Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

What can the hunt for Josef Mengele teach us about the challenges facing Jews today? With a debate stirring about whether left-wing or right-wing Jew-haters pose the greater threat, a new account of the decisions made by Israel’s leaders regarding the evil doctor of Auschwitz should give us some food for thought.

Author Ronen Bergman has written a new book about Israeli intelligence and contributed an op-ed in The New York Times concerning an enduring mystery of the Mossad: Why wasn’t Mengele brought to justice like Adolf Eichmann?

Israel made the capture of Eichmann — the man responsible for organizing the Nazi industrialization of murder — a priority mission for its intelligence operatives. After he was run to ground in Argentina and brought to Israel for trial and eventual execution, Mengele was the logical next target. Yet he evaded capture and died a free man in Sao Paulo in 1979.

Was he just too clever or lucky? No. As Bergman reports, Mengele was spotted in Sao Paulo in 1962 by a Mossad team. Had their commanders and their political masters ordered an operation to snatch him, he would have gotten the same just deserts Eichmann received. But they didn’t, and their reason provides an insight both into Israeli history and the choices that are often posed to the Jewish people.

As Bergman explains, the same day that the news about Mengele’s spotting arrived on Mossad chief Isser Harel’s desk, he learned Egypt was recruiting German scientists to build missiles. Harel oversaw the operation to get Eichmann but thought the threat from Egypt was more important than justice for Mengele. Had Gamal Abdel Nasser’s regime — which was then using chemical weapons in its military adventure in Yemen — acquired missile technology, that would have raised the prospect of Jews being gassed the next time Egypt attacked Israel.

With limited personnel at his disposal, Harel ordered the Mossad to stand down in Brazil and to concentrate on a campaign of intimidation and murder of Germans helping Egypt. Harel’s successor, Meir Amit, went further. He ordered his agents, “Stop chasing after ghosts from the past and devote all our manpower and resources to threats against the security of the state.” In other words, forget about old Nazis and concentrate on those Arabs and their allies trying to murder Jews now. Every Israeli prime minister concurred with Amit until Menachem Begin was elected in 1977. But Mengele died long before the Mossad was able to track him down again.

Yet the question lingers as to whether the Mossad’s decision to de-prioritize the hunt for Nazis was correct. Perhaps it might have been possible to do both, but it is not unreasonable to argue that a choice had to be made. Getting Mengele would have been just and emotionally satisfying, yet assigning its scarce resources to the more potent threat was probably the rational option.

Today, Jews face another portentous choice.

Because of what happened in Charlottesville, Va., last month, neo-Nazis are much on our minds. The imagery of a torchlight march of American racists chanting anti-Semitic slogans evoked the tragic past in a way that few events have done. With a small but noisy alt-right movement spreading Jew-hatred on the internet and social media, it’s also no longer possible to claim the anti-Semitic right is dead, as many of us had thought.

Yet, while Charlottesville has refocused us on neo-Nazis, the growing forces of the anti-Semitic left may be a far more potent contemporary threat. President Donald Trump’s inconsistent statements about Charlottesville were outrageous and have encouraged hate groups, but although we are right to worry about the alt-right, the ability of left-wing Israel-haters and their Islamist allies to mobilize far larger numbers of supporters in Europe and on American college campuses is a more serious problem. They can also influence popular culture and mainstream politics via the anti-Trump “resistance.” That presents a clear and present danger to Jewish communities and students that the marginal figures who assembled in Virginia do not.

Jews are capable of opposing both threats. Yet if, due to the antipathy Trump generates among many Jews, we ignore the left-wing anti-Semites in order to concentrate on the less dangerous right-wing haters, that would be a mistake. The Jews have more than one enemy, but the one that is still actively plotting the destruction of the Jewish state and the murder of Jews should remain the default priority. The lesson of Jewish history is not just “never again.” Meir Amit’s warning about chasing ghosts should also not be forgotten.


JONATHAN S. TOBIN is opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributing writer for National Review. Follow him on Twitter at @jonathans_tobin.

Jewish life and history are complicated in Poland


President of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust Paul Nussbaum, during a reflective moment at Auschwitz. Photos by Esther D. Kustanowitz

“There are no Polish concentration camps.”

I felt our group’s energy shift defensively at our guide’s proclamation. Quickly, there was a clarification: This was not a denial of Auschwitz and Birkenau’s existence, but a semantic edit — they were German Nazi camps on Polish soil, not camps established by Poles.

This is the murky, difficult-to-navigate space of contemporary Poland, a country eager to tell its national story but unsure of how to handle the more challenging stories within its history.

As a first-timer in Poland and guest of the Polish Press Office and the Polish government on a recent trip with seven other West Coast Jews, I had to balance the tales I’d heard of Poland’s anti-Semitism with the country’s contemporary, culture-celebrating face: Who has the right to shape the story of what happened in Poland in the 1930s and ’40s and put it into a contemporary Polish context? How could I acknowledge Polish pain within the deep wound of my Jewish pain? And how would being here inform my relationship with Poland and its people?

Joshua Holo, dean of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion campus in Los Angeles and one of the five local people on my trip, explained Polish attempts to present history are “a bit like a three-car accordion mashup.” As he explained, the first car (Nazis) rear-ends a second car (Poles), which then rear-ends a third (Jews). The Poles understand that the third car was damaged but don’t see themselves as responsible.

“In fact,” Holo said, “the Poles braked as hard as they could and heroically tried to avoid damaging the third car, but the violence of the collision proved too much. But the Polish version risks appearing defensive to many Jews and even partially distorted — distorted, that is, where it concerns us most.”

The week before she joined our trip, Rabbi Cheryl Peretz, associate dean at American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, was in Germany and noted how differently the Poles and the Germans handle acceptance of the Holocaust. In Germany, she said, “everywhere you go, there’s testimony to the existence of the Jewish people — memorials, museums, statues. With the Poles, that story is still sort of hidden.” She observed that the Germans are “clearer on their story,” and that “some of their acts of teshuvah (repentance) or reparations is to tell the Jewish story. Poles haven’t yet gotten to the place to say, ‘We were part of this’ because they feel like it was done to them.”

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust President Paul Nussbaum, a trip participant whose Hungarian parents survived Auschwitz, said he believes the responsibility to be vigilant in telling the truth is sacred.

“It is entrusted to us by those who cannot speak their truth themselves,” he said. “So when the truth is hijacked or attempted to be managed for petty political purposes, I am compelled to fight it with all my strength in order to honor my sacred responsibility.”

​Close-up of the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial

Everything we did in Poland had two layers — what is now, and what was and is no longer. And the transition often was an emotional and historical whiplash. For instance, our group took a train from Warsaw to Krakow on a Friday for a 650-person Shabbat dinner and a Jewish culture festival held in Kazimierz, which had been Krakow’s Jewish quarter before the Nazis deported the inhabitants. The following morning, we were at Auschwitz, making the weekend feel like a reductive, sped-up tour of the Jewish European experience: vibrant  Jewish culture suddenly, and drastically, dimmed at a concentration camp.

The trip presented contemporary Warsaw and Krakow as Poland’s current cultural and cosmopolitan face to accompany a troubled history. The Poles — at least those we met in the context of our trip — were fond of saying, “There is no Polish history without Polish Jewish history” —  often before reminding us again that the Poles were victims and that they weren’t responsible for the concentration camps.

It seemed like they were sincere and trying to say, “We’re all in this together.” But equating the Jewish and the Polish experience under Nazi-occupied Poland didn’t sit quite right.

At the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which opened in 2013 and is built where the Warsaw Ghetto once stood, our guide shared a legend: When the wandering Jews reached Poland, they saw the word “Polin” — Poland in Yiddish — written on a tree. They mistook it for the Hebrew po-lin, “rest here,” and they did for 1,000 years, until 90 percent of Poland’s Jewish population was destroyed in the Holocaust. The architecture of the museum entrance was designed to evoke the parting of the Red Sea and also the bridge of history — a rich Jewish life in Poland, disrupted by the Holocaust, and now moving forward.

The question of where Jewish culture and symbols belong in contemporary Poland is complicated. Because the Jewish population was decimated during the war, the Jewish culture has become for the Poles something exotic, somewhere between a fascination and a fetish. And the elevation of Jewish deference, even for celebratory or festival purposes, may still, for some Jews, feel more like anti-Semitism.

On Aug. 9, JTA reported on a fake Jewish wedding, held by a Polish cultural heritage group, involving a group of non-Jewish volunteers dressed in traditional Charedi costumes. Many Polish souvenir shops sell small figures of bearded Jewish men, called “Lucky Jews.” One of our guides said it’s not considered anti-Semitic, explaining that Jews are so rare as to have become the emblem of good fortune.

And then there is the annual Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, a week in June offering workshops, concerts, tours and lectures for thousands of people for the past 28 years. As the brainchild of Janusz Makuch, a non-Jewish Pole, the festival culminates in a massive, multi-act, outdoor, afternoon-to-night klezmer concert on Szeroka Street in Kazimierz. In the background stands the shul of Rav Moses Isserles (the Rema), considered to be the Maimonides of Polish Jewry.

Makuch spoke with us at a Morocco-and-Israel-themed coffee shop called Cheder Cafe, where many patrons spoke Hebrew. The menu offered Israeli snacks, kosher wine and charoset. The finjans (tea kettles) were authentic, Makuch bragged, from Nazareth.

Makuch grew up knowing nothing about Jews until he visited Kazimierz and realized “there had to be young Jews hungry for knowledge of the world we lost.” He credited young musicians for “bringing real Jewish light to this dark place” and expressed pride in the festival’s mostly non-Jewish volunteers.

The culture festival is curated, likely with the best of intentions, initiated by a new generation trying to apply cultural salve to what the wartime generation had wrought. But some Jews see the result as similar to Disney’s Epcot Center’s treatment of different countries: well-intentioned but inevitably displaying little more than cultural tropes and stereotypes. Jews of the world, ingrained with ancestors’ anecdotes over decades, may not always see this a positive, whatever the intent.

Still, what a marvel, I thought, that 70 years after near extermination, Jewish culture had returned to Krakow. And what a strange gloss on history such a vibrant, loud and musical return of Jewish culture to the main square truly is.

In Warsaw, the ground floor of the Jewish Community Center (JCC) resembles a cafe, with a coffee bar and tables. The JCC also hosts films, events, lectures and classes for its 400 members and 1,000 program participants, most of them young families. And in Krakow, the JCC is serving 630 members and actively building the Jewish community of tomorrow. Its preschool, pristine at the time of our visit, opens this fall.

While most online sources indicate that modern Krakow has “a few hundred Jews,” Jonathan Ornstein, a Polish and United States citizen who is the JCC’s executive director, estimates there are at least 100,000 in Poland and a few thousand in Krakow, but admits, “it’s hard to know.”

He painted a picture beyond verifiable statistics and our American-inflected understanding of “who is a Jew.” A Pole discovers, through a family confession or a box of relics in the attic, that she has a Jewish mother. She becomes involved, even religious. Her 12 other relatives are as Jewish as she is but do not care and do not become involved.

Ornstein knows this kind of story from personal experience. The weekend of our visit, he married his fiancée, Kasia, who had learned of her Jewish heritage only several years ago, after which she sought out the JCC to learn more.

“The people who are living there as Jews clearly want to tell their own story,” said Peretz, recalling another woman who had discovered she was Jewish but didn’t want to be told how to be Jewish. “She and her sons are exploring it, while no one else in their family is interested. We have to be willing to let them write their own story.”

Krakow has seven synagogues within walking distance of one another, and the JCC had 100,000 visitors last year, “after the Polin Museum and the camps, the most visitors,” Ornstein said.

“There’s the idea that we have to treat it [Poland] as a cemetery. Now, there’s a rebirth. Hey, March of the Living, come inside and see some Polish Jewish life,” Ornstein said.

As one example, he mentioned the Krakow JCC fundraising program, Ride for the Living, an 8-hour, 55-mile bike ride starting at Auschwitz and ending in the massive, JCC-orchestrated Shabbat dinner that happens during the culture festival.

“Why are we still around as Jews? We developed values and mechanisms for dealing with our tragic past,” Ornstein said. “We are Jewish despite the Holocaust not because of it.”

Nedda Black, an L.A.-based lawyer on the trip, found this future-driven spirit deeply resonant.

“Polish-Jewish children, no less and no more than American-Jewish children, need to feel loved, to laugh, to experience joy and to have a story that is their own,” she said. “I felt honored that so many Polish Jews shared their stories with me and allowed me into their community and homes to light candles, break bread, sing and dance together with them. In the end, we are all looking for the same things in life.”

Former Auschwitz guard, 96, found fit to serve prison sentence


Oskar Groening, then 93, arrives for the first day of his trial in Lueneburg, Germany, to face charges of being accomplice to the murder of 300,000 people at Auschwitz on April 21, 2015. Photo by Andreas Tamme/Getty Images

A 96-year-old former Auschwitz guard is fit to serve a prison sentence, according to prosecutors in the German state of Hanover.

Oskar Groening was convicted and sentenced in July 2015 to four years in jail for his role in the murder of 300,000 Hungarian Jews at the concentration camp in Poland. A federal appeals court rejected his appeal in November.

A doctor who examined Groening found him fit to go to prison with appropriate medical care, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office told The Associated Press. The prosecutor’s office then rejected a defense request to excuse Groening from going to jail.

A date for Groening to enter prison has not yet been set. He has remained free for the appeal and the decision on his fitness for prison.

Groening had admitted to being tasked with gathering the money and valuables found in the baggage of murdered Jews and handing it over to his superiors for transfer to Berlin. He said he had guarded luggage on the Auschwitz arrival and selection ramp two or three times in the summer of 1944.

During the trial, Groening asked for forgiveness while acknowledging that only the courts could decide when it came to criminal guilt.

Groening was held in a British prison until 1948. He eventually found work as a payroll clerk in a factory.

The first investigations of Groening took place in 1977, but it was only after the conviction of Sobibor guard John Demjanjuk in 2011 that the courts were emboldened to try camp guards on charges of complicity in murder.

Six-Day War: Voices after victory


A group of Israeli soldiers at the Western Wall after it was recaptured in the Six-Day War. Photo by David Rubinger

Few wars fought on any soil have had as profound an impact as the Six-Day War, which began June 5, 1967. The Jewish Journal asked Jewish leaders and thinkers to assess the war’s aftermath 50 years later.

Six Days, Followed by 50 Years of Palestinian Posturing

The Six-Day War was a turning point. Until then, Arab leaders were all about avenging Palestine; the defeat in 1948 swept the old elites out of power and brought in younger ones from the military. They made Palestine the central issue — not to resolve it but to use it internally and in their rivalries with other Arab leaders to see who could dominate the Arab world. Pan-Arabism — one Arab nation — was the idiom, and Palestine was the vehicle around which it was built. That, for all practical purposes, ended after those six days in June 1967.

Dennis Ross

Palestinians, who had left their fate to the Arabs after 1948, now knew they could not count on them. Unfortunately, the Palestinian leaders — while claiming they now would assume responsibility for fulfilling national aspirations — found it easier to focus on symbols and not substance, rejection rather than reconciliation, and grievance rather than achievement. Even today, their tendency remains more a flag at the United Nations than state and institution-building. There are those like former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad who recognize that the State of Palestine is far more likely to emerge when the rule of law becomes more important than seeking resolutions in international forums that deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem.

Israelis expected peace after the war. The Cabinet adopted a secret resolution on June 19, 1967, accepting withdrawal to the international border in return for peace with Egypt and Syria. More discussion was needed on the West Bank/Gaza. Israelis had not expected to be occupiers of what at that time were a million Arabs. The Oslo process was supposed to resolve the problem of occupation, but has not.

The challenge now — 50 years after 1967 — is for Israeli leaders to figure out how to avoid becoming a binational state when it is not clear that two states for two peoples can be negotiated, much less implemented, anytime soon.    

DENNIS ROSS is a former Middle East envoy and negotiator under four U.S. presidents.


From Auschwitz to Jerusalem and From Jerusalem to …

As the three-week buildup to the Six-Day War began, Jews sensed that Jewish life was again at risk, this time in the State of Israel. Once again, the world was turning its back. The United States would not come to Israel’s aid. The United Nations troops left.

Michael Berenbaum

A friend suggested that we bring the Israeli children to the U.S., where they would be safe. I decided that my place was to be in Israel. If the Jewish people were threatened, it was my fight, my responsibility. So instead of attending my college graduation ceremony, I left for Jerusalem. I was in the air when the June war began, and landed in Israel just in time to be in Jerusalem when the city was reunified.

I can still hear the words of the bus radio announcement as it was driving on old Highway 1: 

“An IDF (Israel Defense Forces) spokesman has said: The Old City is ours; I repeat the Old City is ours.”

I can still see the tears in the eyes of my fellow passengers as they embraced one another.

On the fifth day of the war, I went to Shabbat eve services and heard then-Israeli  President Zalman Shazar speak the words of “Lecha Dodi”: “ ‘Put on the clothes of your majesty, my people. … Wake up, arise.’ All my days I have prayed these words and now I have lived to see them.”

Never were those words more true. Never did they touch my soul more completely. I was a participant in Jewish history; I was at home in Jewish memory; I was embraced by Jewish triumph. However much skepticism — political and religious — has entered my understanding of that war and its consequences in the past 50 years, that moment is indelible in my soul and touched it, oh, so deeply.

My role in the war was anything but heroic. I organized a group of American volunteers to drive and work on garbage trucks. In that capacity, I helped clear the rubble of the war that divided Jerusalem at Jaffa Road and some of the stones from the homes demolished near the Wall. I was there on Shavuot when 100,000 Jews went to the Wall — under Jewish sovereignty for the first time in 1,878 years — and women in miniskirts danced alongside Charedi men, each fully absorbed in the moment, oblivious to the incongruity of what they were doing.

And yet, looking back, I think we are still fighting the Six-Day War, now a 50-years war. The “victory” has lost its majesty and mystery, though not its necessity. Even without walls in the center of Jaffa Street, Jerusalem is a divided city, nationally, ethnically and religiously. Repeated triumphs have not yielded security. The Jewish narrative is anything but simple: From Auschwitz to Jerusalem, and from Jerusalem of Gold to an earthly place divided and dividing. Time has made it more difficult to return to that heroic, miraculous moment -— more difficult but perhaps not less urgent.

MICHAEL BERENBAUM is a professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at American Jewish University.


Following Maestro’s Advice Changed His Life

Both of my parents are seventh-generation Israelis. On June 3, 1967, I was in medical school in Philadelphia studying for my med boards when the Arabs were surrounding Israel, screaming for its destruction.

Howard Rosenman

I flew to Israel,  volunteered as an intern in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and was stationed in Gaza. On the morning of June 8, my commanding officer, who knew of my family — called “Vatikay Yerushalayim” (“The Ancients of Jerusalem”) — said, “Tzahal [the Hebrew acronym for the IDF] is about to recapture the Old City. Go up to Jerusalem.”

I was there when Rabbi Shlomo Goren blew the shofar on Har ha’Bayit (the Temple Mount). It was the most important moment in my life.

I was then transferred to the Hadassah Medical Center, and Leonard Bernstein came to conduct Mahler’s “Resurrection Symphony” on the newly reconquered Har ha’Tzofim (Mount Scopus).

Bernstein came to visit the volunteers. “You look exactly like a waiter of mine at a discotheque in New York City,” he said to me.

“I am your waiter,” I answered. He immediately invited me to the concert.

Afterward, at the party at the King David Hotel, he offered me a “gofer” job on the documentary film of “the maestro” conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Judea and Samaria for the Tzahal, with Isaac Stern playing the violin. It was a war zone and you couldn’t go unless you got special clearance. 

Lenny encouraged me to leave medical school: “You are too good of a storyteller. Go into the arts. You will never bow to the Mistress of Science.”

Back in Philly, while assisting on an amputation, I decided to take a leave of absence. I called up Mr. Bernstein and told him, “I took your advice.”

Mr. Bernstein then introduced me to Katharine Hepburn, whose assistant I became on [the Broadway musical] “Coco,” and Stephen Sondheim … and my life was never the same again.

HOWARD ROSENMAN is a Hollywood producer.


An Unexpected Narrative

Eight years ago, I happened to be in Memphis, Tenn., where I visited the National Civil Rights Museum. The guided tour was led by an elderly gentleman, probably in his early 80s, who introduced himself as a civil rights activist and a personal friend of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Sharon Nazarian

As he walked us through the museum, we arrived in the hall showcasing an actual Freedom Rider bus. He proceeded to share with us the story of young students bravely coming to Memphis, in racially mixed groups, to show solidarity with the civil rights movement.

Knowing that many of the courageous riders were Jewish students, I raised my hand to ask his perspective on the role of the American-Jewish community in the civil rights struggle.

His answer has plagued me to this day. He said that at the height of the civil rights battles, the Jewish community had stood side by side with the African-American community, that is, until the 1967 Six-Day War.

During and after the war, he said, the attention and passion of the Jewish community turned completely toward Israel and away from the equal rights struggle in the United States. He went on to say that he, along with the leadership of the civil rights movement, felt completely abandoned and forgotten and continue to feel that way to this day.

Although this was a narrative I had never heard before, it helped explain what may have been the beginning of the deep rift that has taken hold between the Jewish and Black communities in the U.S., as felt and viewed from the perspective of the African-American community. We are still realizing the ripple effects of those momentous six days; this is another ripple that continues to impact our community here in the U.S.

SHARON NAZARIAN is president of the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation.


Millennials and the War

Jesse Gabriel

For my parents and many of their friends, the Six-Day War brings to mind David Rubinger’s iconic photograph of Israeli paratroopers standing in front of the Western Wall, their hopeful young faces an indelible reminder of Israel’s miraculous military victory less than 25 years after the Holocaust. But for many millennials, the Six-Day War is not what comes to mind when they think about Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict. On the contrary, my peers have tended to view Israel largely through the lens of more recent conflicts. As we tell Israel’s story on college campuses and to a new generation of U.S. policymakers, we should keep in mind that Israel’s incredible contributions to science and technology, its vibrant democracy and free press, and its commitment to treating victims of the Syrian civil war are likely to resonate more strongly than its struggle for survival in 1967.

JESSE GABRIEL is an attorney and board member of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.


Six-Day War: A Poem

Rabbi David Wolpe

The war
Became the wall.
But it was also
Families fleeing, fighters dying
Ghosts returning, rejoicing.
The city no longer a widow
The people no longer an orphan.
The tangle of promise and power
Tight as a schoolgirl’s braids.
And the Jews,
Bearing rifles and regulations
Dove deeper into history,
Brutal, fickle history,
Afraid
And unafraid.

RABBI DAVID WOLPE is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple.

Ex-Auschwitz guard, 95, dies while appealing conviction by German court


Former Auschwitz guard Reinhold Hanning sitting in the courtroom in Detmold, on June 11, 2016. Photo by Bernd Thissen/AFP/Getty Images

A former Nazi SS guard who was sentenced to five years in prison by a German court for his role as an accessory in the murder of at least 170,000 people in the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in Poland has died.

Reinhold Hanning’s lawyer told Reuters he found out about his client’s death on Tuesday, and did not go public with it until Thursday, and did not say what was the cause of death beyond noting that his client was elderly. Hanning, 95, was appealing his conviction and remained free at the time of his death.

He was convicted in June 2016 by the district court in Detmold, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Hanning, who had jointed the Hitler Youth in 1934, joined the Waffen SS in 1942 and was posted that year to Auschwitz where he served until at least June 1944.

He has denied participating in mass killings, but prosecutors argued that, as a guard, Hanning helped facilitate the murders.

He said during his trial that he was “ashamed that I knowingly let injustice happen and did nothing to oppose it.”

“I want to tell you that I deeply regret having been part of a criminal organization that is responsible for the death of many innocent people, for the destruction of countless families, for misery, torment and suffering on the side of the victims and their relatives. I have remained silent for a long time. I have remained silent all of my life,” Hanning said in court, reading from a written statement.

His was likely one of the last trials of Nazis in Germany.

Spicer and his critics are historically off


White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer speaks during a press briefing at the White House on April 11. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

My Passover holidays were interrupted by the news, shared by friends in the synagogue, that the press secretary to the president of the United States had just said that Syrian President Bashar Assad was worse than Adolf Hitler because Assad gassed his own people.

I was astounded and saddened by the comment referring to an event in the village of Khan Sheikhoun on April 4. Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s remark was not, as my distinguished colleague professor Deborah Lipstadt said in The New York Times, “anti-Semitism,” masked or real, but ignorance pure and simple, an ignorance that should disqualify one from so exalted a position.

My mood didn’t lighten as I read critique after critique discussing the murder of German Jews by gas in such “extermination camps,” to use the Nazi term for killing centers, such as Auschwitz and Treblinka.

Their critique overlooked the origin of Germans gassing their own population, which had nothing to do with Jews.

Forgive the history lesson, but permit me to explain.

Mass murder began with the death of a few individuals. In October 1939, Hitler signed an authorization permitting his personal physician and the chief of the Führer Chancellery to put to death those considered unsuited to live. He backdated it to Sept. 1, 1939, the day World War II began, to give it the appearance of a wartime measure. In the directive:

Reich leader Philip Bouhler and Dr. Brandt are charged with responsibility for expanding the authority of physicians, to be designated by name, to the end that patients considered incurable according to the best available human judgment of their state of health, can be granted a mercy killing.

What followed was the so-called euthanasia program, in which men, women and children who were physically disabled, mentally deficient or emotionally disturbed were systematically killed. They were termed “useless eaters” and “life unworthy of living.”

Within a few months, the T-4 program (named for Berlin Chancellery Tiergarten 4, which directed it) involved virtually the entire German psychiatric community. A new bureaucracy, headed by physicians, was established with a mandate to “take executive measures against those defined as ‘life unworthy of living.’ ”

A statistical survey of all psychiatric institutions, hospitals and homes for chronically ill patients was ordered. At Tiergarten 4, three medical experts reviewed the forms returned by institutions throughout Germany but did not examine any patients or read their medical records. Nevertheless, they had the power to decide life or death.

Patients who doctors decided should be killed were transported to six main killing sites: Hartheim, Sonnenstein, Grafeneck, Bernburg, Hadama and Brandenburg. SS members and other health care personnel in charge of the transports donned white coats to keep up the charade of a medical procedure.

The first killings were by starvation: starvation is passive, simple and natural. Then injections of lethal doses of sedatives were used. Children were easily “put to sleep.” But gassing soon became the preferred method of killing; 15 to 20 people were killed in a chamber disguised as a shower. The lethal gas was provided by chemists, and the process was supervised by physicians. Afterward, black smoke billowed from the chimneys as the bodies were burned in adjacent crematoria. Communities adjacent to these facilities could see that smoke even in the heat of summer and they could smell the burning flesh.

Families of those killed were informed of the transfer. They were assured that their loved ones were being moved in order to receive the best and most modern treatment available. Visits, however, were not permitted. The relatives then received condolence letters, falsified death certificates signed by physicians, and urns containing ashes. There were occasional lapses in bureaucratic efficiency, and some families received more than one urn. They soon realized something was amiss.

A few doctors protested. Karl Bonhoeffer, a leading psychiatrist, worked with his son Dietrich, a pastor who actively opposed the regime, to contact church groups, urging them not to turn patients in church-run institutions over to the SS. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by the SS just before the end of the war.) A few physicians refused to fill out the requisite forms. Only one psychiatrist, professor Gottfried Ewald of the University of Göttingen, openly opposed the killing.

Doctors didn’t become killers overnight. The transformation took time and required a veneer of scientific justification. As early as 1895, a widely used German medical textbook made a claim for “the right to death.” In 1920, a physician and a prominent jurist argued that destroying “life unworthy of life” is a therapeutic treatment and a compassionate act completely consistent with medical ethics.

Soon after the Nazis came to power, the Bavarian minister of health proposed that psychopaths, the mentally deficient and other “insane” people be isolated and killed. “This policy has already been initiated at our concentration camps,” he noted. A year later, mental institutions throughout the Reich were instructed to “neglect” their patients by withholding food and medical treatment.

Pseudoscientific rationalizations for the killing of the “unworthy” were bolstered by economic considerations. According to bureaucratic calculations, state funds that went to the care of criminals and physically and mentally disabled persons living in institutions could be put to better use, for example by loans to newly married couples. Incurably sick children were seen as a burden for the healthy body of the Volk, the German people. In a time of war, it was not difficult to lose sight of the absolute value of human life. Hitler understood this. Wartime, he said, “was the best time for the elimination of the incurably ill.”

Historian and Auschwitz survivor Henry Friedlander traces the origins of the Final Solution to the “euthanasia” program. The murder of handicapped people was a prefiguration of the Holocaust. The killing centers to which the disabled were transported were the antecedents of the death camps. The organized transportation of the disabled foreshadowed mass deportation. Some of the physicians and other health care workers and hospital personnel as well as ordinary guards and mechanics who became specialists in the technology of cold-blooded murder in the late 1930s later staffed the death camps. All their moral, professional and ethical inhibitions had long been lost.

Psychiatrists, voluntary participants in the German “euthanasia” program, were able to save patients, at least temporarily, but only if they cooperated by sending others to their death.

Gas chambers were first developed at the “euthanasia” killing centers. The perpetrators cremated the dead bodies. In the death camps, the technology was taken to a new level: Thousands could be killed at one time and their bodies burned within hours.

The Roman Catholic Church, which had not taken a stand on the “Jewish question,” protested the “mercy killing.” Count von Galen, the Bishop of Münster, openly challenged the regime, arguing that it was the duty of Christians to oppose the taking of human life even if this were to cost them their own lives. It seemed to have an effect.

On Aug. 24, 1941, almost two years after the “euthanasia” program was initiated, it appeared to cease. In fact, it had gone underground. The total number of people killed in the Nazi “euthanasia” program is estimated to have been between 200,000 and 250,000. The majority were Germans, but Poles and Soviet citizens of various nationalities were also among the victims.

The killing did not end; mass murder was just beginning. Physicians trained in the medical killing centers went on to grander tasks. Irmfried Eberl, a doctor whose career began in the T-4 program, became the commandant of Treblinka, where killing of a magnitude as yet unimagined would take place.

Again, gassing did not begin with the Jews; it began with Germans who found the presence of fellow Germans of special needs an embarrassment to the myth of the “master race” and an economic hardship. Hitler initiated the process but the participation of German society and even its elite psychiatric community was as widespread as is was essential.


MICHAEL BERENBAUM is a professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at American Jewish University.

Survivor Celina Biniaz: The youngest of Schindler’s Jews


Photo by David Miller

“Get in rows. March,” the block leader ordered the nearly 300 women in the Auschwitz barracks who had arrived from the Plaszow concentration camp only weeks earlier, in mid-October 1944.

Thirteen-year-old Celina Karp dutifully obeyed, though this was the first time in Auschwitz that she had been separated from her mother, who earlier that morning had volunteered to peel potatoes, along with 29 others, hoping to pilfer a few skins.

Celina and the others were marched to another barracks, where they were ordered to strip and form a single line. Dr. Josef Mengele stood facing them, pointing with a yellow pencil in one direction or another as each prisoner drew near. Most were shunted to his left, rapidly exiting the barracks. Celina was directed to his right, frightened to find herself on the wrong side. Then unexpectedly, Mengele ordered Celina’s group to repeat the inspection. This time, as Celina approached Mengele — “I don’t know what made me do it,” she recalled — she looked up at him and said, “Lassen sie mich.” (“Let me go.”)

He pointed to his left. She grabbed her dress and ran out, crying hysterically. “I’m 13 years old and I’ve just been given life by Dr. Mengele,” she recalled.

That was just one of the twists that allowed Celina to survive. Perhaps more famously, Celina is alive today, at age 85, because of the actions of Oskar Schindler, the Czech businessman memorialized in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film “Schindler’s List.” She is the youngest of the roughly 1,200 Jews Schindler rescued.

But she credits Spielberg, who brought to the screen so many of the horrendous incidents that she witnessed, with enabling her to speak about those experiences.

“I always tell Steven Spielberg that he gave me a voice,” she said. “I say, ‘You are my second Schindler. He gave me life, but you gave me a voice. Because for 40 years, I never was able to talk about it because I didn’t think that anybody would understand.’ ”

Celina Biniaz, since her marriage in 1953, was born in Krakow, Poland, on May 28, 1931, the only child of Ignac and Felicia Karp.

Both parents were accountants, and the family was comfortably middle class, living in a mixed neighborhood in a two-room apartment with a kitchen and bathroom. They celebrated Jewish holidays but were not strictly Orthodox. 

After Germany attacked Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, Celina’s parents decided that she would have to relinquish her beloved puppy, a white Spitz. Several days later, as they took the dog to the animal shelter, they saw from a distance three bombs fall on the radio station — the beginning of the Nazi occupation of Krakow — and ducked into a nearby building. They then continued to the shelter, where Celina painfully surrendered her dog.

Celina was eager to enter third grade, but schools didn’t open that fall. Additionally, Jews couldn’t work, and Ignac joined the many Jewish men who began walking eastward, fearing capture by the Germans. But as winter approached, he returned.

By that time, the Jews were being conscripted into slave labor. Celina and her parents worked, shoveling snow.

By late fall 1940, the Karp family, along with most of Krakow’s Jews, had been relocated to a ghetto in the city’s Podgorze section. Celina’s parents, who were given blue cards, or work permits, were assigned to work at a factory outside the ghetto that was owned by Julius Madritsch.

Madritsch, a 34-year-old businessman and anti-Nazi from Vienna, had been named administrator of the F.A. Hogo shirt factory in Krakow, which he relocated to Podgorze and converted to sewing army uniforms. Ignac, who had been an accountant for F.A. Hogo, became Madritsch’s accountant, helping him manage the business. Felicia worked as a bookkeeper.

Celina, meanwhile, worked in the ghetto, making envelopes and brushes. But as roundups increased, Celina’s parents, worried she would be apprehended, procured a blue card for her, falsifying her age as 12, two years older than she was. Celina joined her parents at the factory, sewing uniforms.

“[Madritsch] was an amazing human being,” Celina said. He and Raimund Titsch, his factory manager, hired as many Jewish workers as possible, training them and providing them with extra food and medications.

When the Krakow ghetto was liquidated on March 13 and 14, 1943, those working in the Madritsch factory, who were essential to the war effort, were transferred to Plaszow, which was then a labor camp, rather than deported to a concentration camp.

During the liquidation, Celina witnessed German soldiers swinging infants by the feet, bashing their heads against stone walls. “I kept asking my mother, ‘How could God allow this?’ ” she said. “I lost my faith.” The experience also reinforced her fear of authority, which has never left her.

In Plaszow, Celina and her mother lived in a women’s barracks, walking to and from the factory daily in groups of five. She often saw her father there.

Inside the camp, however, where Amon Goeth was the commandant, fear ruled. “He was a beast,” Celina said. She witnessed hangings, shootings and beatings.

During one of the selections, Celina watched as the Germans rounded up 10 or 15 children. They then trucked them up a hillside and shot them, while the German lullaby “Gute Nacht, Mutter” (“Good Night, Mother”) played on the camp loudspeakers. “So sadistic,” Celina said. “You can’t imagine.”

During that time, six children managed to hide in the latrines. Madritsch’s workers later smuggled them out to the factory under big coats, two with Celina’s group, and they were placed with Catholic families.

In September 1943, a new edict forbade prisoners from leaving Plaszow’s confines. In response, Madritsch opened a factory inside the camp.

A year later, as the Russians approached, the Germans ordered all factories in the Krakow area closed. Schindler suggested that Madritsch, who had become his friend, join him in relocating his factory to Czechoslovakia. Madritsch declined, but sent 50 or more of his workers, including Celina and her parents, with Schindler’s group.

The men were shipped out first. Two weeks later, the 300 women were loaded into cattle cars. A day and a half later, in mid-October 1944, the train came to a screeching halt. As the door banged open, the women heard, “Raus, raus” (“out, out”) and dogs barking. “All of a sudden, we realized we’re someplace we’re not supposed to be,” Celina said. “Auschwitz.”

The women were marched into a barracks marked “sauna” (bath) and told to strip. Celina’s hair was clipped very short, others were shaved, and all were shoved into the shower room. “This is when we don’t know … is it going to be water or gas?” Celina said. She was incredulous when water burst from the showerheads. “That meant we had another day.”

The women were given dresses and taken to a barracks. Mostly they remained inside, except for the three times a day they stood in roll call, often for hours in the cold.

A few weeks after Celina’s run-in with Mengele, the women were unexpectedly loaded into cattle cars, pulling into the town of Brunnlitz, 140 miles northeast of Prague, three days later. Schindler had secured their release with bribes.

The women slept in the attic of the factory, where components of V2 rockets were manufactured. “Schindler told us from the very beginning that nothing was going to leave that factory that would be useable,” Celina said. With her small hands, she was put to work cleaning the insides of the large machinery. She also worked on a lathe and a calibrating machine.

On May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered. Schindler escaped, but not before giving each family two bolts of fabric and five pairs of scissors to use as barter.

Two days later, the Soviets officially liberated the prisoners, and Celina and her parents walked and hitchhiked back to Krakow, a two-week journey. Celina was almost 14. She weighed 70 pounds.

Celina spent the summer being tutored and was accepted into high school in September. But four weeks later, a pogrom hit eastern Poland, and the Karps fled.

They were smuggled over the border into Slovakia and eventually reached the displaced persons camp in Landsberg, Germany. But after two weeks, having had enough camp life, they moved to Mindelheim, a small community about 20 miles east, where they shared an attic apartment with the widow of a Nazi.

Celina attended school in a semi-cloistered convent where an elderly nun, Mater Leontina, 90, taught her German and English. “She was the first human being who accepted me for who I was, a 14-year-old girl who needed help,” she said. Celina studied with her from December 1945 until May 1947, when she left for the U.S., and the two continued to correspond until Mater Leontina’s death at age 94.

Ignac’s brother, David Karp, who had sent affidavits for the family, met them when their ship docked in New York in June 1947 and drove them to Des Moines, Iowa, where he lived. Celina attended summer school, entering North High School for her senior year.

She attended Grinnell College, majoring in philosophy, and then Columbia University in New York, where she earned a master’s degree in education and where, in the international dormitory, she met Amir Biniaz. They married on Sept. 12, 1953, and moved to Wantagh, a town on Long Island, where Amir opened a dental practice.

In 1963, when their children — Robert was born in 1954, Susan in 1958 — were older, Celina began teaching elementary and learning disabled students. She retired in 1992. A year later, they moved to Camarillo, Calif. They now have four grandchildren.

The Holocaust taught Celina that “Evil can happen anywhere, with any human being, if you give it a chance.” But when Celina speaks about her experiences, which she has done since becoming active in the USC Shoah Foundation when it opened in 1994, she tells people:

“Don’t hate. Try to see the good in people. Nobody is better than anyone else.”

Letters to the editor: Fear of Muslims, praise for Bret Stephens, quiet Trump supporters


Photo from Pexels.

‘Kapos’ and Auschwitz

I read the letter from a survivor indicating that all “kapos” at Auschwitz were of the German criminal groups assigned to Auschwitz (Letters, Feb. 24). With all due respect, and I hesitate to take historical issue with survivors whose act of witness I revere, but I must. While that may have been true of his experience, it is not true of Auschwitz and certainly not of other camps.

Michael Berenbaum, Director of Sigi Ziering Institute, American Jewish University via email

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

My husband is not afraid of heights. He is not afraid of snakes. And he is not afraid of the sun (“The Rabbi Speaks Out,” Feb. 10). But, he is very scared of Muslims — Muslim mentality and Muslim savagery. I know because I have heard him repeat it daily for the past 46 years. 

He is afraid of Muslims because as a child living as a Jew among them, he was already witness to many atrocities committed by them.

Your mother-in-law’s aunts and uncles and cousins were murdered in the Holocaust, as were mine, but my husband’s kin were slaughtered in the streets of Algiers by Muslims.

Yes, Jews have been refugees and immigrants and have been given safe haven, myself included.

But Jews do not terrorize. Jews do not massacre. Jews do not create havoc worldwide.

I am proud of my husband because, unlike many North American Jews who either suffer from short-term memory or are brainwashed, he always remembers the inhumanity and is never afraid of being politically incorrect.

He is not afraid of speaking out against Muslims, the perpetrators of so much repeated evil against the Jews and against the world.

Naomi Atlani via email

Smart Words About Trump

I read your article on Bret Stephens taking on Donald Trump (“Five Dumb Words,” Feb. 24.) I have never been so moved. This put everything in perspective.

I want everyone I know to see this, even though I know true Trump supporters would make an excuse that this is liberal BS. They will not hear it.

Thank you for publishing this and do not stop.

Sherry Pollack via email

Daily Bruin Cartoon

I can see how some people would find the editorial cartoon that appeared in the Daily Bruin offensive, but as a Jew I believe it’s important not to assume that cartoons and articles critical of Israeli policies are necessarily either anti-Israel or anti-Semitic (“Bruin Cartoon Assailed as Anti-Semitic,” Feb. 17). I protested vigorously against the policies of the United States during the Vietnam War and approved of cartoons and articles that did the same. However, I certainly was/am not anti-American. Likewise, many of us who decry the continued building of settlements that encroach on Palestinian land are against this Israeli policy, but are not against Israel and are not anti-Semitic.

Barbara Bilson via email

No Bull From Suissa

Recently, I was introduced to David Suissa in a restaurant. When he asked me which side I am on, I responded, “On the right side: the left.” Thus, one might surmise that I often disagree with his views. However, in his recent column (“Is Trump Worse Than a Liar?” Feb. 24) he hit the nail on the head regarding Donald Trump. To summarize, he explains how bullshit is the greater enemy of truth than lies. While liars know, but manipulate the truth, bullshitters are unanchored to the truth and create “alternate realities.” I would go a step further. Although I am neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist, I believe that a tenuous connection to reality is usually diagnosed as schizophrenia. The more common term is madness. May God have mercy on us all.  

Michael Telerant, Los Angeles

Instigating the ‘Haters’

While I agree with the nuances covered by Shmuel Rosner (“Spite Doesn’t Make Trump Anti-Semitic,” Feb. 24), unless one has been and still is like a proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand, Trump’s vitriol, rhetoric and hate encourages haters to act out. Yes, some are anti-Semitic.

Whether or not he is a friend of Israel and has a daughter and grandchildren who are Jewish, actions have consequences and his are the worst ever in the White House.

Bottom line: Anti-Semitism is on the rise due to his comments and lack of respect for all.

Warren J. Potash, Moorpark

Silent Support for Trump

The demonizing of Donald Trump in the Jewish Journal will solidify his victory in the 2020 election, as it did in 2016. Unlike the liberal opposition, unlike the Democratic opposition, the backers of Trump are a quiet lot. They do not send hate letters, they do not burn office buildings, they respect the U.S. Constitution, they do not denigrate the founding fathers, but their determination to restore the values that enabled us to defeat the enemies of freedom in World War II will again prevail, thanks to them.

Philip Springer, Pacific Palisades

Calendar: March 3-9, 2017


Maya Avraham. Photo courtesy of YouTube.

SAT | MARCH 4

UNPLUG L.A.

Join Reboot and Open Temple for an “Unplugged Party” in celebration of Reboot’s National Day of Unplugging. Your phone will be checked at the door. Step off the grid to listen to live music, play board games, visit the analog photo booth, and more. Event dedicated to the late Levi Felix, founder of Digital Detox and Camp Grounded; $3 of each ticket will be donated to Camp Grounded in his memory. 21 and older. 7 p.m. $18; tickets available at eventbrite.com. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. nationaldayofunplugging.com.

A TOAST TO HEROES

Honor a group of 10 young Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers visiting Los Angeles who have been wounded in combat. Food, drinks and an open-bar after-party with a DJ spinning until midnight. All proceeds go to Lev Chayal’s program for wounded IDF soldiers. Black-tie attire. 8 p.m. VIP reception; 9 p.m. cocktails and buffet. $180 for individual reservations; $100 for young professionals ages 21 to 35. Tickets available at eventbrite.com. Venue TBA. levchayal.com.

SUN | MARCH 5

ALONG THE GOLDENEH LINE: JEWISH LIFE AND HERITAGE OF NORTHEAST L.A. AND THE SAN GABRIEL VALLEY

A chartered bus will take riders alongside the Metro Gold Line into the San Gabriel Valley on a tour that will focus on the area’s unique Jewish heritage and its contemporary community life. Wear comfortable walking shoes — the tour includes two miles on foot. Instructors include Stephen Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California since 1989, and Jeremy Sunderland, who is on the board of directors for the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California. Space is limited. Lunch on your own. 9 a.m. $58. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-9777. wcce.aju.edu.

NEFESH B’NEFESH ISRAEL ALIYAH FAIR

The ninth annual Nefesh B’Nefesh Israel Aliyah Fair offers the opportunity to gather aliyah information under one roof. Professionals will discuss financial planning and budgeting, choosing a community, building a strategic job search plan, navigating the health care system, buying or renting a home in Israel, and more. 10 a.m. for retirees and empty nesters; noon for students and young professionals. Free. Shalhevet High School, 910 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. nbn.org.

“HIGH NOON: THE HOLLYWOOD BLACKLIST AND THE MAKING OF AN AMERICAN CLASSIC”

cal-hign-noon“High Noon” is more than a Western; it is also a story about the Hollywood blacklist. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Frankel will discuss his book about  screenwriter Carl Foreman, producer Stanley Kramer, director Fred Zinnemann and actor Gary Cooper, and how their creative partnership was influenced — and crushed — by political repression and agendas. Book signing to follow presentation. 2 p.m. $14; $10 for students and seniors; $6 for children; free for members. Autry Museum of the American West, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles.

THE LOS ANGELES BALALAIKA ORCHESTRA

The Los Angeles Balalaika Orchestra presents its 22nd annual concert, featuring the voice of Mark Goldenberg, cantor at Young Israel of Century City. 3 p.m. $35-$45. Herbert Zipper Hall, 200 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (626) 483-2731. balalaikala.com.

“VISIONS FOR A SHARED SOCIETY: THE ‘TRIBES’ OF ISRAEL”

Elana Stein Hain, director of leadership education at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, will discuss the core values of some of the “tribes” that compose Israel today, and how a divided people build a shared society. Part of the Synagogue Collaborative Lecture Series. 4 p.m. $20. (Post-lecture dinner and discussion extra; RSVP only.) Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. shalomhartman.org/LAcollaborative.

“LABSCAPES: VIEWS THROUGH THE MICROSCOPE”

“Labscapes” presents vivid images from the mysterious and usually unseen wonders that exist under the powerful lenses of the microscopes of some of the world’s most renowned researchers at Technion — Israel Institute of Technology. A special presentation by students will be followed by the grand opening. RSVP requested: jose@ats.org or (310) 254-9899. 5 p.m. presentation; 6 p.m. reception and exhibit. Through March 27. Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. ats.org/labscapes.

MAYA AVRAHAM

Before joining The Idan Raichel Project, Maya Avraham was a widely sought-after backup singer for Israeli superstars such as Eyal Golan, Sarit Hadad and Shlomi Shabat. She will sing some of The Idan Raichel Project’s greatest hits as well as her own songs. 7 p.m. Tickets start at $35. Gindi Auditorium at American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-9777. wcce.aju.edu.

“FROM SHTETL TO STARDOM: JEWS AND HOLLYWOOD”

This panel discussion features Vince Brook of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television; David Isaacs, TV scriptwriter, producer and Emmy winner; Shaina Hammerman, Jewish film, literature, religion and cultural historian; Josh Moss, visiting assistant professor of film and media studies at UC Santa Barbara; and Ross Melnick, associate professor of film and media studies at UCSB. 6:15 p.m. dessert reception; 7 p.m. panel. Free. RSVP by March 3 at wbtla.org/shtetl or (424) 208-8932. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Irmas Campus, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 388-2401.

TUES | MARCH 7

GOOGLE FOR GENEALOGISTS

Learn how to use Google Earth and Google Maps to gather information about where your ancestors lived, and how to educate yourself and meet other like-minded individuals (and perhaps relatives) using Google’s social media. Mary Kathryn Kozy, who has been researching her family history for more than 35 years, will speak at this meeting of the Jewish Genealogy Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County. 7 p.m. Free. Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest, Thousand Oaks. (818) 889-6616. jgscv.org.

THURS | MARCH 9

ELON GOLD

cal-elon-goldComedian, writer and actor Elon Gold kicks off the Purim weekend with a night of comedy, drinks and a DJ. Also featuring Alex Edelman. 8 p.m. $40. Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (888) 645-5006. sabanconcerts.com.

“THE AUSCHWITZ VOLUNTEER”

Explore the ethical and religious implications of the Holocaust at this event. Wine and cheese reception will be followed by a multimedia program and discussion about the Polish underground’s mission that sent officer Witold Polecki into Auschwitz to gain intelligence and build resistance among the prisoners. 7:30 p.m. $8. Burton Sperber Jewish Community Library at American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-1572. wcce.aju.edu.

Progressives now trivializing Hitler, Nazism, Auschwitz


The main entrance to Auschwitz Birkenau

Those who wish to perpetuate the sacred memory of the Holocaust have long guarded against the misuse of the terms “Nazi,” “Hitler,” “Fascist,” “Goebbels,” “Auschwitz” and the like.

Jews and Jewish defense agencies have understood that the cheapening of these terms cheapened the suffering of those who endured the true horrors of the Nazi era.

Not anymore.

It is so common to call President Donald Trump and conservatives Nazi, Hitler and fascist that Jews have not only stopped condemning the practice, they have led it. And Jewish defense agencies have largely remained silent.

I could fill this whole issue of the Jewish Journal with examples. But I will suffice with only a handful.

Rachel Maddow of MSNBC interviewed in The Hill:

Maddow: “I’m studying Hitler to prep for Trump.”

The Hill: “How?”

Maddow: “By studying the first few months of Adolf Hitler’s tenure as German chancellor, beginning in 1934.”

Richard Cohen, Washington Post: Trump “is Hitlerian in his thinking.”

Henry S. Rosen, Daily Kos: “Any student of history can compare current times to the rise of fascism in the 1930s — when an electorate reeling from The Great Depression brought to power Hitler and emboldened Mussolini.”

Richard Cohen, Washington Post: “The differences between Weimar Germany and contemporary America are significant but so, increasingly, are the similarities.”

Natasha Lennard, The Nation: “To call Trumpism fascist is to suggest that it demands from us a unique response. … It is constitutive of its fascism that it demands a different sort of opposition.”

Neal Gabler, BillMoyers.com: “Like Goebbels before them, conservatives understood that they had to create their own facts, their own truths, their own reality.”

Dana Milbank, Washington Post: “Anti-Semitism is no longer an undertone of Trump’s campaign. It’s the melody. … When the election returns come in Tuesday night, it will be Nov. 9 in Germany — the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the ‘Night of Broken Glass’ at the start of the Holocaust when Nazis vandalized synagogues and businesses.”

The Hill: “MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said Friday that President Trump’s inaugural address was both ‘Hitlerian’ and meant to mimic Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

New York Daily News: “A group of Cypress Hills High School (Texas) students gave the Nazi salute and shouted ‘Heil Hitler’ and ‘Heil Trump’ while their class photo was being taken.”

University of Wisconsin Education Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab: “My grandfather, a psychologist, just walked me through similarities between [Wisconsin Gov. Scott] Walker and Hitler. There are so many — it’s terrifying.”

Charles Blow, New York Times: “[Trump is] the demi-fascist of Fifth Avenue … an arguably fascist and racist demagogue.”

Paul Krugman, New York Times: “It takes willful blindness not to see the parallels between the rise of fascism and our current political nightmare.”

Germany’s leading news magazine, Der Spiegel, headlined: “How Much Mussolini Is There in Donald Trump?”

To be fair, Donald Trump, too, recently tweeted about “leaked” fake news depicting him cavorting with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel: “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. … Are we living in Nazi Germany?”

Then Jewish spokesmen raised their voices in protest.

Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, intoned: “It is a despicable insult to Holocaust survivors around the world, and to the nation he is about to lead, that Donald Trump compares America to Nazi Germany.”

And Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, also weighed in: “No one should cavalierly draw analogies to Nazi Germany, especially the next leader of the free world. It is not only a ridiculous comparison on the merits, but it also coarsens our discourse and diminishes the horror of the Holocaust.”

What we have here is a cheapening of the unique evils of Hitler, Nazism and fascism. If Donald Trump is a Hitler, a Nazi or a fascist, then Hitler, Nazis and fascists were nothing special.

Even Auschwitz.

The most recent issue of the Forward, the oldest Jewish progressive newspaper, presented the nadir of the left wing draining Holocaust terms of their meaning in an article by a writer named Sophia Marie Unterman, titled “Is This Sugarcane Plantation ‘America’s Auschwitz’?”

After a visit to a Louisiana plantation serving as a museum of slavery, Unterman wrote:

“The phrase ‘America’s Auschwitz’ was used by now-mayor of New Orleans Mitch Landrieu in 2008, when he visited the site and spoke to the museum’s creators. … Landrieu used the term ‘Auschwitz’ to encapsulate the darkest part of a country’s history; in that, he was correct to call slavery our Auschwitz.”

“… Landrieu’s description was apt: Slavery is our country’s darkest chapter; and 150 years after Emancipation, we still don’t know how to talk about it.”

That Jews, the people who endured the unique evil of Nazi genocide, would align themselves with those who cheapen that evil, is just one more tragic testament to the poisonous effect of the left on Jewish life.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Record of over 2 million people visited Auschwitz museum in 2016


More than 2 million people from around the world visited the Auschwitz museum in 2016, setting a record.

The 2,053,000 visitors to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum were led by the host country, Poland, with 424,000, the museum said Monday in a statement on its website. The museum this year marks the 70th anniversary of its creation.

Rounding out the top 10 countries were the United Kingdom, with 271,000 visitors; the United States, 215,000; Italy, 146,000; Spain, 115,000; Israel, 97,000; Germany, 92,000; France, 82,000; the Czech Republic, 60,000, and Sweden, 41,000.

The numbers include 61,000 organized tour groups, and individually conducted tours by museum guides for 310,736 people, according to the museum. In addition, some 150 movie crews produced documentaries last year at the museum and memorial.

“In today’s world, torn by conflicts, increased feeling of insecurity and strengthening of populist tones in public discourse, it is necessary to re-listen to the darkest warnings from the past,” museum director Piotr Cywinski said in a statement announcing the 2016 numbers.

Last week, a Polish organization fighting for fathers’ rights compared Auschwitz to the obligation to pay alimony. On its website, the group posted a photo of the entrance gate of the camp, where the sign “Arbeit macht frei,” or “Work makes you free,” was changed to “Work on alimony makes you free.”

The group is demanding the elimination of the obligation to pay maintenance for fathers fighting for custody of their children.

The museum protested on Facebook and asked for the removal of the doctored photo.

“The use and instrumentalization of the tragedy of Auschwitz is sad and inappropriate, and painful for many people, including those who survived the nightmare of Auschwitz,” said the Facebook post.

The chief of staff behind Portman’s come-from-behind 2016 victory


His father’s first trip outside his small village on the Ukrainian-Slovakian border was when the Nazis shipped him to Auschwitz in 1944. His mother spent the tumultuous years of World War II secretly stored away as a hidden child in Central Europe. Against all odds, this child of two Holocaust survivors, Mark Isakowitz, rose to become the influential Chief of Staff for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). “The idea that a mere few decades after my parents stepped off the boat that I could do jobs like this, I was deeply honored,” noted Isakowitz to Jewish Insider in a wide ranging interview from his Capitol Hill office.

A graduate of Ohio State University and father of three children, Isakowitz played a critical role in one of the most important Senate races of 2016. With the Democrats pushing to take back the Senate, Portman’s seat appeared vulnerable. In the first public poll of the race, the Ohio Republican’s challenger led by nine points, but by the night of November 8, Portman coasted to victory by an astounding 21 percent.  Working with Campaign Manager Cory Bliss, Isakowitz and the team orchestrated a strategy of reaching out to groups generally distant from the Conservative party: achieving a tie with Democrats among millennials and obtaining the endorsements of labor unions. Isakowitz and his staff highlighted the Senator’s work, which they believe directly improved the lives of Ohioans such as combatting heroin addiction and protecting local steelworkers.

Isakowitz cites his father for pushing him towards the Republican Party. With no more than a middle school education, the elder Isakowitz, who was trained as a plumber in Europe, managed to create a small business that lasted his entire adult life. Mark emphasized, “Having an economic system under free enterprise where people have a chance to do that, I think is the greatest kind of system that you could set up.”

In addition to his public sector service, Isakowitz worked as a lobbyist for over a decade as President of Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock. When Portman asked him to return to Capitol Hill and run his Senate office, Isakowitz walked away from an almost $7 million salary, according to a Roll Call report. What motivated the Ohio native to abandon such a lucrative salary? Isakowitz explained his passion for public service, but as with many in Washington, relationships are critical. “I was a friend and a huge admirer of Rob Portman, and I always had in the back of my mind that if he asked me to do something for him, I would need to find a way to do it,” he added.

Judaism and Israel remain important elements of his identity. Having visited Israel approximately 20 times, Isakowitz proudly displays pictures with former President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu on his office wall. He is fluent in biblical storytelling. As if recalling details from yesterday’s legislation, Isakowitz enumerates various biblical examples of Jewish leaders from Abraham to heroes of the Purim story positively interacting with local political authorities. Isakowitz cited how Joseph counseled Pharaoh to “make the Egyptian economy work,” which sounded almost like a GOP campaign advertisement.

Colleagues are quick to praise Mark. Vincent Harris, CEO of Harris Media and former Chief Digital Strategist for Senator Rand Paul, highlighted the Chief of Staff’s commitment to public service. “To be involved in politics out of conviction rather than selfish ambition is rare in the Beltway,” Harris noted.  Nathan Diament, Executive Director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, who has collaborated with Isakowitz on Israel and religious liberty issues, praised his Capitol Hill experience. “Mark has a mastery of the politics and policy around the issues. He’s a great partner. “

Off Capitol Hill, Matt Brooks, Executive Director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, emphasized Isakowitz’s lighter side. He recalled the times their joint passion for the sitcom “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” watching the comedy show together when on work trips overseas. On a more serious note, “He is an uber-Mensch, the definition of a giving and caring person,” admired Brooks. “Mark represents the very best that Washington has to offer. He is a consummate professional…  and a great listener,” gushed Norm Brownstein, a prominent attorney and lobbyist active in national Democratic politics.

Climbing the ranks and running the Senator’s office, Isakowitz remains staunchly loyal to Portman. “I work for a really good United States Senator,” he asserted when describing the role of Chief of Staff. “I feel that a big part of my job is help set up his day so he can achieve what he wants to achieve.”

German court upholds conviction, prison sentence of former Auschwitz guard, 95


Germany’s highest federal court upheld the conviction and prison term of a 95-year-old former Auschwitz guard for being an accessory to murder.

The Federal Court rejected the appeal by Oskar Groening,  his attorneys said Monday, according to the German news agency dpa. Groening, an SS member during World War II, was sentenced in July 2015 to four years in prison for his role in the murder of 300,000 Hungarian Jews at the camp in Poland.

Reuters reported that the court had made the decision in September but only publicized it Monday. It is not known if Groening is well enough to be put in jail.

Groening had admitted to being tasked with gathering the money and valuables found in the baggage of murdered Jews and handing it over to his superiors for transfer to Berlin. He said he had guarded luggage on the Auschwitz arrival and selection ramp two or three times in the summer of 1944.

During the trial, Groening asked for forgiveness while acknowledging that only the courts could decide when it came to criminal guilt.

Groening was held in a British prison until 1948. He eventually found work as a payroll clerk in a factory.

The first investigations of Groening took place in 1977, but it was only after the successful trial against convicted Sobibor guard John Demjanjuk in 2011 that the courts were emboldened to try camp guards on charges of complicity in murder.

German court drops case against woman, 92, who worked at Auschwitz


A state court in northern Germany said it is dropping a criminal case against a 92-year-old woman who worked as a radio operator at Auschwitz.

The woman, identified by the Kiel state court as Helma M., is almost completely blind and deaf and was unfit to stand trial because she was weakened by an unnamed illness, the court said in a statement issued on Friday, according to news reports.

She was charged with 260,000 counts of accessory to murder connected to her work at the Nazi concentration camp as the radio operator of the commandant there.

In March, a former Auschwitz medic, 95, was found unfit to stand trial for his role in the murder of more than 3,600 people at the Nazi death camp. A court-appointed physician determined that Hubert Zafke’s health was too poor to go on trial in Neubrandenburg state court. Prosecutors said the medic’s unit in which he served placed the Zyklon-B pesticide crystals into the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Zafke did not deny he served at Auschwitz, but said he did not see or participate in any of the murders.

In June, Waffen SS member Reinhold Hanning, 94, was sentenced to five years in prison by the district court in Detmold, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, for his role as an accessory in the murder of at least 170,000 people at Auschwitz. He remains free as he appeals the verdict.

At Auschwitz-Birkenau, controversial sprinklers again make an appearance


Shower-like misters are back at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, one year after similar cooling devices were removed after an outcry.

Installed to help visitors beat the heat at the site of the former Nazi death camp in Poland, the misters are again leading to complaints that they are reminiscent of the decoy “showers” used by the Nazis to murder Jews.

On Friday, Rabbi Rafi Ostroff, who heads the religious services department of the Gush Etzion region in the West Bank, posted on Facebook photos of the mist sprinklers, which were installed inside a parking lot of Auschwitz-Birkenau to cool visitors on Friday, when the temperature reached 88 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Showers at the entrance gate to the parking lot of Birkenau,” Ostroff wrote. “I don’t know about you but I feel uncomfortable entering a shower at the entrance of a death camp.”

During the Holocaust, victims of the Nazis’ industrialized murder machine, including millions of Jews, were told to strip before entering gas chambers that they believed were showers.

“Granted, they mean well (to provide relief from the maddening heat) but, come on, show a little sensitivity,” Ostroff wrote. “Or am I imagining, yet again, insensitivity to the Jewish story on the part of the museum’s management?”

In September last year, after similar objections, management from the Auschwitz museum told Israel’s Channel 10 that they had removed the misting sprinklers, but maintained the reason for their removal was the drop in temperatures, and not consideration for the feelings of visitors who found them disturbing.

“Among visitors there are many people who come from countries where such high temperatures as we have this summer in Poland do not occur,” the museum’s media department said on Facebook last year, in response to complaints. “Something had to be done, as we have noticed cases of fainting among people and other dangerous situations.”

Meir Schwartz, the owner of Olam Katan weekly in Israel for young observant Jews, wrote on Facebook on Friday that the objections raised by Ostroff and others were unfounded.

“The main thing is getting the maximum amount of number of people to visit Birkenau,” he wrote. “Not everything is immediately reminiscent of [the Holocaust]. Let life go on, remembering the past but looking to the future.”

But Jonny Daniels, founder of the From the Depths Holocaust commemoration group, said that installing the sprinklers again after last year’s controversy was “unwise” of the museum.

“They could just put a water fountain,” he told JTA. “If there’s one place that people will be extra sensitive, it’s there, where visitors come to mourn their dead — and want to find fault and anger.”

The people running the museum “can’t lose sensitivity,” he added.

Hours after historic Auschwitz visit, pope says ‘the same thing is happening’ today in many places


Human cruelty “did not end in Auschwitz,” Pope Francis said.

In Krakow, following his historic visit to the Nazi death camp in Poland Friday, the pope compared contemporary atrocities around the world to the atrocities in Auschwitz, The Associated Press reported.

Citing torture and overcrowded prisons, the pope said, “We say, yes, there we saw the cruelty of 70 years ago, how people died being shot or hanged or with gas. Today in many parts of the world where there is war, the same thing is happening.”

In the past, Jewish leaders have sometimes bristled at comparisons between the Holocaust and other atrocities, particularly ones that have not involved genocide.

While at Auschwitz, Francis did not make any public statements, but engaged in silent prayer. He wrote in a guest book there, “Lord, have mercy on your people! Lord, forgiveness for so much cruelty!”

While at Auschwitz, the pope also met with 11 Auschwitz survivors and a group of Polish Catholics who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, in a meeting arranged by Poland’s chief rabbi, the American-born Michael Schudrich.

In a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Friday, Schudrich said the pope’s meeting with survivors was “something I have been thinking about for a while: what kind of non-material present, what kind of thank-you, can we give to the ‘Righteous’?”

While the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous offers them some financial help to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews, Schudrich told the AP he “wanted to come up with a spiritual gift and I thought that a special blessing from the pope would make them feel honored because of their unbelievable morality and humanity.”

In a statement Friday issued in advance of Pope Francis’ visit to Auschwitz, World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder praised the pontiff, who has forged ever-closer ties between the Catholic Church and Jews since his election in 2013.

“Pope Francis is one of the closest allies Jews have today in the fight against anti-Semitism, bigotry and hatred,” Lauder said. “He is a true friend of the Jewish people, a man who reaches out to others and embraces them. Never over the past 2,000 years have Catholic-Jewish relations been better.”

The pope’s visit “sends an important signal to the world that this dark chapter must never be forgotten and that the truth about what happened seven decades ago must not be obfuscated,” Lauder added.

The late pontiff John Paul II, who was born in Poland, visited Auschwitz in 1979. His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, visited in 2006.

“Pope John Paul II came here as a son of the Polish people,” Benedictus said. “I come here today as a son of the German people.  For this very reason, I can and must echo his words: I could not fail to come here.”

Auschwitz museum prohibits Pokémon Go play on its grounds


The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum is not buying into the Pokémon Go craze.

On Tuesday, the Holocaust memorial site tweeted that it will not allow visitors to play the new smartphone game because it is “disrespectful on many levels.”

New York magazine first reported Tuesday that some users of the Nintendo game, which allows players to capture its animated creatures on their phones at outdoor sites and buildings with the help of phone GPS systems, were playing at Auschwitz.

Others soon took to Twitter to report finding Pokémon at the popular memorial in Oswiecim, Poland, but their screenshots of game activity did not match the normal look of the game. The game has not been officially released in Europe.

On Tuesday, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt went on Twitter to call for the museum’s visitors to refrain from playing.

The same day, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., also issued a statement condemning playing the game on its grounds. The Washington Post reported that the museum contains three different “PokéStops” — real-life sites where players can redeem in-game items.

“Playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism,” Andrew Hollinger, the museum’s communications director, told the Post. “We are trying to find out if we can get the museum excluded from the game.”

Since its release last week, Pokémon Go has become the most popular mobile game in U.S. history, with over 20 million daily users. The stock of its parent company, Nintendo, rose 23 percent on Monday.

New York magazine reported that playing the game at other sites — such as Ground Zero in New York City, near a North Carolina statue of a Confederate general and at the site of multiple African-American mural memorials in Brooklyn — has also caused controversy.

The game’s developer, Niantic, ran into similar trouble last year when one of its games, Ingress, allowed players to battle for control over real-life locations that happened to include multiple former concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Dachau and Sachsenhausen.

Although it has yet to be officially released in Israel, multiple people — including Israeli President Reuven Rivlin — posted screenshots from the game in the Jewish state.

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau sheds tears on Auschwitz visit


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the Auschwitz memorial, wiping away tears several times.

Among those joining Trudeau on his tour Sunday of the former Nazi death camp was Nate Leipciger, a former prisoner there who immigrated to Canada from his native Poland in 1948 at the age of 18. Among others in the delegation were the Canadian minister of foreign affairs, Stéphane Dion, and Rabbi Adam Scheier of Montreal, vice president of the Council of Rabbis of Canada. Auschwitz Museum Director Piotr Cywinski welcomed the group.

Trudeau reportedly made a point of visiting the Auschwitz memorial following the NATO summit in Warsaw.

Members of the delegation visited much of the museum exhibition, including one block showing photographs documenting the arrival of a transport of Jews from Hungary. They also saw the room devoted to sorted looted property — shoes, bags, glasses and brushes — that in the camp jargon was called “Canada,” and visited the building of the first gas chamber and crematorium at Auschwitz I.

In the second part of the visit, Trudeau and his group visited the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau and walked along the railway ramp where the Germans carried out the selection of the Jews. They also saw the ruins of the gas chamber and crematorium III, where the delegation said Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.

“Today we saw the possibilities of deliberate human cruelty and evil. Let us remember always this painful truth about ourselves,” Trudeau wrote in the guest book of the museum. “Never enough tolerance. Humanity must learn to love its diversity.”

Canada is among the 36 countries that supported the Perpetual Fund of Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, which finances the maintenance of authentic remains of the concentration camp.

 

Netanyahu reportedly secreted Auschwitz blueprints to Israel


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought back original blueprints of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp to Israel from Germany seven years ago, likely without knowing he was doing something illegal, according to a German journalist.

The blueprints were given to Netanyahu on a trip to Germany, Kai Diekmann said in an interview for the latest issue of the expat Israeli magazine Spitz in Berlin with publisher Tal Alon. They are now in the archives at Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem-based Holocaust memorial.

Diekmann, the former chief editor of Bild Zeitung, Germany’s most-read daily, told Spitz the German Federal Archives and Ministry of Interior wanted to hold on to the historical documents, which were drawn by an Auschwitz prisoner and include the signature of Heinrich Himmler. But Diekmann thought they belonged in Yad Vashem and presented them to Netanyahu in August 2009 in Berlin.

Netanyahu could not have been prosecuted for simply accepting the gift and bringing it home, Diekmann said.

Diekmann’s colleague, Sven Felix Kellerhoff, an editor for Die Welt and the Berliner Morgenpost, apparently had agreed that the documents belonged in Israel.

The Bild Zeitung had decided to buy the drawings “because we did not want them to get into the hands of neo-Nazis or other such terrible people,” Kellerhoff told JTA in 2009. He also said in an email that it was significant that “we have originals of [these] plans in Germany.”

Holocaust historian Robert Jan van Pelt, one of the experts who helped verify the documents, told JTA on Wednesday that Kellerhof informed him in August 2009 “that the drawings would go to Yad Vashem. Nothing … suggested a cloak-and-dagger operation.”

The story of how these building plans came to light in the first place remains mysterious. An antiquities dealer reportedly offered them to the Bild Zeitung, an Axel-Springer newspaper, in 2008. The documents may have been held for years in the former East German secret service archives.

Historian Ralf Georg Reuth, a senior correspondent for Welt am Sonntag, told JTA at the time that he suspected the documents came “through the black market.” He noted that East German secret service authorities often “took over material that was used to discredit Western politicians.”

They were then found when an apartment was cleared out after its occupant’s death and later bought by the Bild Zeitung.

 

Auschwitz really happened — and this artsy architecture exhibit proves it


It’s been more than 50 years since the Nuremberg trials, yet proving the Holocaust actually happened remains an ongoing project.

Why? For one, the Nazis covered their tracks, deliberately leaving gaps in the historical record. (In the death-camp blueprints that survive, for example, gas chambers were often labeled as morgues or “undressing rooms.”) As the years pass, survivors and eyewitnesses are dying or suffering dementia. Add in social media — including the rise of the “alt-right” — and it creates an ideal environment for neo-Nazis to swiftly disseminate claims that the Shoah is a fiction.

Filling the breach in our understanding of the Holocaust is a relatively new discipline called forensic architecture, which analyzes renderings, documents, videos and photographs of buildings and infrastructure and uses them to re-create atrocities, ranging from drone strikes on apartment buildings in wartime to the gassing of millions of Jews at Auschwitz.

An example of how forensic architecture can be used to set the record straight is on display at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. Titled “The Evidence Room,” it runs though Nov. 27.

An exhibit about Auschwitz might seem out of place in an international gathering that typically showcases state-of-the-art architecture and cutting-edge building materials. (The massive show features the work of 88 architects in the main exhibition, plus works by architects representing their counties in 63 national pavilions.) However, this year’s Biennale is titled “Reporting from the Front” and the show’s curator, Alejandro Aravena, indicated that his agenda is to highlight how architecture can be utilized to further humanitarian aims.

Case in point: Robert Jan van Pelt, the curator of “The Evidence Room” and a professor at Canada’s University of Waterloo, tells JTA he considers Auschwitz’s crematoria “the most important building of the 20th century.”

But his assessment isn’t based on aesthetic merits. It’s “for the simple reason that it had changed the course of history,” he explains.

“The Evidence Room,” in which van Pelt aims to address the ethical responsibilities of architects, re-creates some of the definitive evidence used in a landmark British court trial 16 years ago that pitted the American Jewish historian Deborah Lipstadt against the Holocaust-denying British historian David Irving. The trial — soon to be dramatized in a major motion picture — is viewed as a watershed in the ongoing campaign against Holocaust deniers because it relied on actual physical evidence as opposed to anecdotal accounts.

“The Evidence Room” (Fred Hunsberger)

Some of this evidence is on display in van Pelt’s exhibit, which is located in a 500-square-foot space at the Biennale’s Central Pavilion. The walls are white plaster and adorned with bas reliefs that depict blueprints for the gas chambers, photographs and illustrations based upon eyewitness accounts, including an image of a kneeling naked Jewish woman being shot in the back of the head by a German officer.

What makes the exhibition stand out from familiar Holocaust museum exhibits, however, are three full-scale models of gas chamber apparatus designed by the Nazis. There’s a mechanical gas canister delivery system encased by sturdy metal grillwork; a rough-hewn door with a grill-covered peephole, and a wood ladder propped against a wall with a small, locked hatch. These items, designed and fabricated by University of Waterloo students and faculty based on photos and eyewitness testimony, are also painted white.

The intention is to use this aestheticized architecture exhibit to enable visitors to better visualize subject matter that has been relegated to history books and courtrooms.

“The forensic study of architecture was able to show that Irving had deliberately misrepresented historical evidence,” Aravena writes in his essay on “The Evidence Room” in the Biennale’s catalog.

Van Pelt, who curated “The Evidence Room” with fellow professors Donald McKay and Anne Bordeleau, along with arts producer Sascha Hastings, has spent decades studying the architecture of Auschwitz and gathering physical evidence to show the workings of the Nazis’ systems. Thanks to his research, many myths have been definitively debunked — including that deadly gas emanated from shower heads. (It actually came from gas canister delivery systems like the ones represented in the exhibit.)

Van Pelt, 60, who is Jewish and is named after an uncle who was murdered at Auschwitz, says his initial inspiration to study Auschwitz came in the 1970s, when a line in the film 1955 French documentary “Night and Fog” resonated deeply with him: “The architects calmly plan the gates through which no one will enter more than once.”

A decade later, as a graduate student, he decided that the study of Auschwitz was just as important to the history of architecture as the study of the Chartres Cathedral.

Van Pelt discovered many of the documents and plans for Nazi death camps in archives in Eastern Europe that were opened after the fall of communism in 1989. Later, in 2000, he used some of the materials during testimony he gave as an expert witness in the Irving-Lipstadt trial. Van Pelt’s research subsequently became the basis of his 590-page book titled “The Case for Auschwitz: Evidence from the Irving Trial,” which Aravena read several years ago and led him to invite van Pelt to the Biennale.

Robert Jan van Pelt, a professor at the University of Waterloo and the curator of “The Evidence Room.” Photo by Siobhan Allman

As it happens, near “The Evidence Room” is another exhibit featuring forensic architecture — this one by Eyal Weizman, an Israel-born professor at Goldsmiths, University of London. Unlike van Pelt’s work, which confirms accounts of events that Jews have long known to be unassailable, Weizman uses tools of the discipline to raise much more controversial questions about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

At the Biennale, Weizman’s exhibit is in part about the impact of Israeli drone strikes on buildings in Gaza and their occupants. His work has been used in investigations by organizations such as the United Nations and Amnesty International into state-sponsored violence.

Weizman, who coined the term forensic architecture and credits van Pelt as an inspiration, got his start documenting what he calls illegal occupations in Israel. The discipline comes from his efforts to implicate Israeli architects for violations of international law and and human rights.

“Many neighborhoods in the occupied parts of Jerusalem as well as in the West Bank are designed to control Palestinian communities and to generate material harm,” he says.

During a tour of his exhibition at the Biennale’s opening, Weizman explains that forensic architecture has become more critical to documenting contemporary war crimes because modern warfare increasingly involves the targeting of buildings in dense urban environments. As a result, in places like Gaza, “the home has become the most dangerous place for people to be,” he says.

As for van Pelt, his pioneering forensic research on Auschwitz has made him into a world authority on methods of mass murder. Recently he aided Mexican prosecutors investigating the incineration of the bodies of dozens of murdered students. Having studied how corpses were burned in open-air pits at Birkenau — as well as having researched a Nazi unit that was tasked with opening and burning mass graves, with the goal of erasing physical evidence of the Holocaust — van Pelt helped challenge the Mexican authorities’ version of the students’ abduction and murder.

These days, however, aside from assisting in occasional forensic investigations, van Pelt says he’s mostly focused on academic research and educating his students.

He says the history of Auschwitz serves as a warning for architects to be socially conscientious about the impact of the buildings they design. One example: the refugee housing being built in parts of Europe that van Pelt says “is starting to approach concentration camp conditions.”

“Architects should get the equivalent of the oath of Hippocrates,” van Pelt says. “When I teach my class, I tell them the story of Auschwitz — and I say whatever you do with your career, don’t do this.”

Auschwitz railcar finds new home on expanding Jewish trade campus


The 90-foot wooden train car that made its way earlier this month to a dusty hillside in Granada Hills once shipped entire communities of Jews from Warsaw to their inglorious end at Auschwitz. 

But in its new home on the campus of the Jewish Educational Trade School (JETS), it serves a very different purpose: to help inspire the Jewish youth who attend the vocational academy. A June 5 dedication ceremony unveiled the memorial and helped raise funds for a 300-bed expansion project at the live-in trade school, set to break ground in the next two months.

“These walls recorded the cry of our brothers and sisters,” said Toni Luskin, a professor at the school, speaking to a crowd of 500 in the school’s courtyard before black curtains were pulled aside to reveal the railcar. She called JETS a “symbolic repudiation of the Third Reich” for the part it plays in training Jewish tradesmen. 

The school’s purpose is to take young men, mostly yeshiva dropouts or alumni with troubled backgrounds or disciplinary histories, and prepare them to take up a trade. It trains Orthodox youth to be everything from emergency medical technicians to plumbers and programmers. 

The railcar takes its place as the school prepares to erect three new buildings that will increase its square footage more than fivefold, from 18,000 to 100,000 square feet, according to JETS founder and director Rabbi Mayer Schmukler, who started the school in 2005 with seven students.

He said the new buildings would include “all kinds of shops,” including electrical, HVAC, refrigeration and plumbing, as well as a film production wing that includes a movie theater and a state-of-the-art kosher kitchen. It also will add space for 303 people in dormitory facilities that more than triple the occupancy of the current, 82-bed campus.

A digital image of one of the new buildings planned at the JETS campus. Image courtesy of JETS

The former Chabad rabbi operates on the principle that many Jewish youth are not cut out to be lawyers and doctors, and the best thing for those youngsters is to learn a trade while maintaining their connection to Torah scholarship. He’s confident the new buildings are only the first whiff of a boom in Jewish vocational education.

“In 10 years, we’re going to have 50 schools like this throughout the world,” he said in a phone call with the Journal. “We’re revolutionizing Jewish education.”

After the unveiling of the railcar, a tearful affair, guests headed into a tent on the site of one of the future buildings, where the mood immediately flipped as a klezmer band took the stage to play songs from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Speaking to the black-tie crowd at dinner, Schmukler said the school would integrate the Holocaust memorial into its educational mission by using it as a meditative space where students can go to gain a sense of perspective. He said it had already had the desired effect with one JETS student who had arrived only recently and still persisted in blaming his parents and society for his problems.

“He walked in that train and he got a kick in the pants,” Schmukler said. “He got a lesson in life that changed him.”

The car not only commemorates Jewish blood spilled in Europe, but also stands on the site of the former North Valley Jewish Community Center (JCC) where, on Aug. 10, 1999, a white supremacist opened fire and wounded five. 

Speaking at the unveiling, Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander, who represents the northwest San Fernando Valley, said he “grew up at JCCs” and considered the JETS campus “holy ground.” He said that as the chief of staff for former Councilman Greg Smith, who represented the district, he fought to make sure the JCC building remained in Jewish hands rather than being torn down and replaced with residential units, as one developer had suggested.

Yet the site was not the first or even the second choice to house the train. Stanley Black, the wealthy real estate developer who paid for and procured the railcar — the last such car in the care of the Polish government, according to Luskin — told the unlikely story of its arrival to the audience at the unveiling.

The developer said that after seeing a Nazi cattle car on display in Mexico City, he felt he had to bring a similar memorial to Los Angeles. When he located a suitable train car, he began to make arrangements for its arrival with the help of fellow L.A. developer Severyn Ashkenazy, who has close ties with the Polish Jewish community.

By Luskin’s telling, the Polish government agreed to part with the train car after “intense negotiations and a significant outlay of funds” furnished by Black.

Before long, the train was on a cargo ship headed through the Panama Canal from Poland to California. Now, Black had a new problem: where to put 90-feet of metal and decaying wood.

At first, he called Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Museum of Tolerance on Pico Boulevard, to see if there was room there. There wasn’t.

“The boat’s still coming through the Panama Canal,” Black said. “I gotta think of something else.”

He tried to involve Hillel at UCLA and the USC Shoah Foundation. No luck.

“Now it’s past the Panama Canal,” he said. “It’s coming fast.”

Finally, he got in touch with Schmukler, who happily offered a spot on the sunny, nine-acre campus. The car came ashore at San Pedro, south of downtown L.A., and proceeded to the JETS campus.

“It ended up coming here for a special reason — because we’re going to take it and make it alive,” Schmukler said at the fundraising dinner.

Black is a major donor to the JETS expansion project, and one of the buildings will be named for him and his late wife, Joyce. Schmukler declined to say how much the school had raised or intended to raise for the construction project. 

But at the fundraiser, Max Webb, a 99-year-old Holocaust survivor and real estate developer, pledged to donate $500,000. Another donor, inventor Maurice Kanbar, who had promised to donate $1 million in 10 percent installments, said he had decided instead to write a single $1 million check after being moved by the railcar dedication.

Kanbar wasn’t the only one moved by the event. After climbing a wooden platform to peek into the darkened interior of the railcar, which was adorned with a mezuzah and a memorial lamp, Rita Korn wiped away tears while recounting her father’s journey aboard a similar train to Auschwitz. She said putting her hands on a Nazi cattle car is, in a strange way, “almost like touching my parents.”

“Right now, it hurts,” she said. “I don’t know why. It’s been so long.”

Drug abuse, shame and the Holocaust figure in film about family of notorious Dutch lawyers


In a country where 75 percent of Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, the Moszkowicz family of lawyers stood out as a unique Jewish success story.

Descended from Max Moszkowicz, a steel-willed Auschwitz survivor who became Holland’s first modern celebrity attorney, his four lawyer sons took the family business to new heights, turning their name into a household brand here with winning arguments in some of the country’s most famous trials.

Max Moszkowicz himself in 1987 obtained a mere four-year sentence for the kidnappers of the beverage mogul Freddy Heineken. His second son, Robert, in 1976 became Holland’s youngest person to pass the bar exam at 23 (he was a millionaire by 29). Another son, Bram, kept making international headlines – including through the 2010 acquittal of the anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders of hate speech charges.

 

The Moszkowiczes were widely recognized as legal geniuses in the media and at events held in their honor.

But over the past decade, they have fallen from grace. Three of Max Moszkowicz’s sons were disbarred for improprieties, starting in 2005 with Robert — a former heroin addict and flamboyant womanizer who was accused of cheating his clients — and ending in March with the oldest brother, David.

This month, the Moszkowiczes are again making headlines in Holland because of “We Moszkowicz,” the first revealing documentary film about the remarkable family. Made by the first-born son of Robert Moszkowicz, the television production retraces the Holocaust’s deep effects on three generations that for many represent Dutch Jewry’s struggle to return to normalcy after the trauma of the genocide.

Combining footage from Amsterdam, Jerusalem and Auschwitz, the critically acclaimed work by Max Moszkowicz — a 37-year-old filmmaker who is named for his 89-year-old grandfather — offers an unprecedented insight into the rise and fall of a now notorious family.

The filmmaker describes to his father his own panic as a child at seeing Robert – then still a celebrated and practicing lawyer — collapse into a drug-induced stupor at his mansion near Maastricht. Heroin was in plain sight at the father’s Amsterdam apartment, the filmmaker recalls. Robert told him as a child that the beige powder and tin foil were for making special flu medicine.

Standing opposite his father, Max Moszkowicz confronts him over his shame at elementary school following Robert’s publicized arrest. Over the space of six years, the filmmaker followed his father around, assembling the portrait of a vain, sometimes selfish and ultimately unrepentant man who never apologized for actions that apparently have scarred several of his nine children, whom he had with four women.

But “We Moszkowicz” is no damning indictment, filmmaker Max Moszkowicz told JTA in an interview last week about his film, which the Volkskrant daily described as “confrontational, moving and often painful.”

Rather it’s a story about three generations of a troubled but loving family, and an attempt to examine their dysfunctions in light of secondhand emotional damage in siblings attempting to live up to their fathers’ ideals and legacy. The film reveals that the patriarch, determined to rebuild the Jewish family destroyed by the Nazis, disowned Robert because he married a non-Jewish wife — the filmmaker’s mother.

The rejection was so absolute that in 1993, the elder Max Moszkowicz and three of his sons appeared as a family on a television talk show without ever mentioning Robert.

“Four musketeers,” Bram Moszkowicz told the host in describing his family on the show. “One for all, all for one.”

David concurred, saying with a grin: “I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

Filmmaker Max Moszkowicz said the images, which he saw at 14, “cut like a knife.”

“I wanted to understand what my father had done to be cut from the family as though he never existed,” he said.

Ostracized by his kin, Robert Moszkowicz, a handsome fast talker who enjoyed Italian designer suits and expensive cars — though he struggles with debts, he still owns a late model Jaguar — was driven over the edge following the death of his third child. Jair lived less than one year. Robert had him with his second wife, a heroin addict who kept injecting throughout her pregnancy.

Robert Moszkowicz in Amsterdam in 2015. Photo from Max Moszkowicz
 
Following his first arrest in the 1990s for drug dealing, Robert received a visit in jail from his father, who despite their harsh disagreements took on his son’s legal case because not doing so “would’ve meant losing my son forever,” as the patriarch said during a television interview.

During the charged jailhouse meeting, the father told his wayward son that the facility reminded him of the concentration camp.

“That’s what I want to experience,” Robert replied in what he explained in the film as “a typical desire to feel what my father felt” in the Holocaust.

It’s a key moment in the documentary for understanding the Moszkowiczes’ self-destructive streak, the best-selling Dutch Jewish author Leon de Winter told JTA.

“It’s no coincidence that three sons of this amazing family were disbarred,” de Winter said.

Bram Moszkowicz’s disbarment for mismanagement of funds was “disproportionate,” de Winter said, noting that it ultimately came from legal transgressions motivated by an insatiable drive to please the family patriarch, who lost his parents and two siblings as a teenager in the Holocaust.

Max Moszkowicz, right, with Bram Moszkowicz in Amsterdam in 1987. Photo from Wikimedia Commons
 
The patriarch Max “raised his boys to be invincible,” de Winter said. “And they, in their desperate love and dedication to him, felt the only way to get close and equal to him was to follow him into hell.”

And though they built an empire, the Moszkowiczes always remained outsiders in the Netherlands post-Holocaust, separated from the intellectual elites they frequented by their own traumas and weaknesses for flashy cars and expensive clothes.

“It’s as though they overcompensated in a delayed and tragic effect of the hell that Max Moszkowicz went through in Auschwitz,” de Winter said of the family.

For all its tragic retrospection, “We Moszkowicz” also offers a sense of hope and redemption.

The filmmaker and his father are close, their bond cemented on a two-week trip they made to Israel in 2014. In one of the film’s most moving scenes, Robert Moszkowicz, who is somewhat Jewishly observant and recites his prayers in Hebrew, is overcome with emotion at the Western Wall and is hugged by his son as he cries against the ancient stones.

Robert is also a devoted father to his youngest children with his fourth wife. Opening up in this unprecedented manner to his son’s camera, the filmmaker said, “is his way of making up for mistakes.”

It was with an eye to the future that the younger Max Moszkowicz began making the film in the first place, he said, not wanting to repeat his father’s mistakes with his own first son, Ilai, who was born last year.

“Six years ago, I came drunk to a house party with a bloody mouth that I got from falling down en route,” the filmmaker recalled. “I had an alcohol and drug problem. I saw my bloodied reflection in a mirror at the party and I could see my father’s self-destructive pattern.”

That evening, filmmaker Max Moszkowicz decided to take a hard look at his life that resulted in the film.

“I feel I treated my demons,” he said. “I can move on with my life.”

Verdict due in German trial of 94-year-old ex-Auschwitz guard


A German court is expected to announce on Friday its verdict in the trial of a 94-year-old former Auschwitz guard accused of being an accessory to the murder of at least 170,000 people.

In what could be one of Germany's last Holocaust trials, the prosecution has asked the court in the western German town of Detmold to sentence Reinhold Hanning to six years in prison for his role in facilitating the slaughter at the death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

The defense had called for the acquittal of the former SS officer, saying Hanning had personally never killed, beaten or abused anyone in his capacity as a guard at the camp.

Judge Anke Grudda is due to read out the verdict on Friday, the 20th day of proceedings in the four-month trial, with each day limited to just two hours due to Hanning's old age.

The trial included testimony from at least 10 Holocaust survivors, some of them about Hanning's age, who detailed their horrific experiences, recalling piles of bodies and the smell of burned flesh in the death camp.

Hanning remained silent and emotionless throughout much of the trial, avoiding eye contact with anyone in the courtroom.

He finally spoke up the end of April, apologizing to the victims and saying that he regretted being part of a “criminal organization” that had killed so many and caused so much suffering. “I'm ashamed that I knowingly let injustice happen and did nothing to oppose it,” he read from a paper.

Hanning is not charged with direct involvement in any killings. But the prosecutor's office in Dortmund and dozens of joint plaintiffs from Germany, Hungary, Israel, Canada, Britain and the United States accused him of helping Auschwitz to function.

A precedent for such charges was set in 2011, when death camp guard Ivan Demjanjuk was convicted. Last year, Oskar Groening, known as the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz”, was sentenced to four years in prison after he was convicted of being an accessory to the murder of 300,000 people at the death camp.

Germany is holding what are likely to be its last trials linked to the Holocaust, in which the Nazis killed more than six million people, mostly Jews.

In addition to Hanning, one other man and one woman in their 90s are accused of being accessories to the murder of hundreds of thousands of people at Auschwitz. A third man who was a member of the Nazi SS guard team at Auschwitz died at the age of 93 in April, days before his trial was due to start.

The prophecy of Primo Levi


In January 1985, a laudatory New York Review of Books review of Primo Levi’s “The Periodic Tablesent me straight to my local bookstore for a copy, which I devoured in one or two sittings. I’d never read anything like it — truly one of those rare books where, after finishing it, you’re a different person, seeing the world through new eyes.

The book tells the story of Levi’s personal experiences as a member of the Italian Resistance and survivor of Auschwitz metaphorically, refracted through the scientific properties of various elements he studied and worked with as an industrial chemist. It was such an instant commercial and critical success that its publisher, Schocken Books, persuaded the reclusive author to undertake a two-week speaking tour of the United States that spring. A few weeks later, by happy coincidence, a longtime friend, Rabbi Haim Beliak of the Claremont Colleges Hillel, called to tell me that Levi would soon be speaking there. Would I like to interview him for my radio station? I was working at the time for KBIG-FM, where I was the editorial director and produced documentaries and various short news features built around interviews with prominent authors. 

Levi spoke in Claremont on Sunday, April 21, 1985, three days after Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. A dapper and distinguished figure with a neatly trimmed beard and nimbus of white hair, Levi spoke with careful, elegant precision, as you might expect of a formally educated Italian scientist trained to meticulously and dispassionately record his observations.

Despite his slight build and self-effacing manner, Levi was an intimidating presence. After what he’d been through, after his eloquent and unsparing chronicles of that suffering over nearly four decades (his first Holocaust memoir, alternately titled “If This Is A Man” and “Survival in Auschwitz,” was first published in Italian in 1947, when he was only 27), after all his international acclaim, I suddenly felt inadequate for the task of interviewing him.

When it was over, I worried I’d blown the kind of journalistic opportunity that comes along rarely, if ever. Levi was nervous, guarded; the harder I tried to elicit more expansive replies to my questions, the further he withdrew. To top it off, ambient noise in the room rendered the audio useless for broadcast, which had been the point of the exercise. I filed the cassette and materials away with a nagging sense of failure.

Recently, amid the publication of Levi’s “Complete Works” and the accompanying resurgence of interest in his writing, I came across the cassette from that 1985 interview. I was pleasantly surprised at how differently I experienced our conversation today.

Levi sounds cordial and responsive, carefully framing his replies on such a familiar, yet inescapably painful, topic in what was, after all, not his native tongue (his conversational English was certainly adequate, but he had no translator). As I listened, he reappeared before me and I vividly remembered his bright eyes, frequent smile and self-deprecating struggles to find the right words — but there was also a hint of melancholy that hovered over him like a shadow.

Here is some of what Levi told me during our interview:

I know this is a difficult question: How did the Holocaust experience change your orientation to the rest of the world?

It is very curious. It is a question which I have received many, many times, and to [which] I am almost unable to reply. How could I forecast a future of my life, which did not come into existence? … If I had not had the experience of the concentration camp, perhaps I would have kept chemistry without turning into a writer.

Let me ask you about chemistry and writing. What preserved your interest in the profession of chemistry, given your obvious ability to write and your success as a writer?

Oh, it’s a very clear matter, because out of chemistry, you can make a living. Out of writing, it is very difficult, unless you consent to write commercially, I think — which I have always refused. I found it much more apt, for free writing, to keep to a material trade, a concrete trade … and to keep writing for Sundays, not to earn a living out of them. Of course, if you earn something out of writing, so much the good. But it came very late.

I wanted to ask you something to follow up on some remarks you made in your talk about these so-called “revisionists” who deny or minimize the Holocaust. How do you respond to questions from people who don’t have the kind of firsthand experience you do, or the background?

Oh, I get angry. I refused a discussion with [Robert] Faurisson, the French revisionist. I think the revisionist either an idiot or in bad faith. It can’t be together an intelligent man, and a sensible man, and in good faith. It is impossible. … I had a discussion, in fact, with a young man in Italy, a revisionist. And look, what convinced him was that — their argument, their point, as you know, is “nobody of you survivors has seen a gas chamber” — and I told him, in fact, that I didn’t see a gas chamber. But hydrogen cyanide was used every time lice [were] found in the barracks. And I had not seen the gas chamber, but I had seen the gas. And he told me arrogantly, “And how could you recognize hydrogen cyanide? How could you tell hydrogen cyanide from another stuff to kill pests?” I told him as a chemist, I recognized very easily hydrogen cyanide from another poison. And he felt a little crestfallen … embarrassed. 

How do you think the Jewish community, as a whole, should respond [to Holocaust denialists]?

With good sense. … It is not acceptable to state that every picture is a fake and that every witness is a lie. It’s too easy. This way, you could demonstrate that Napoleon never existed. It is enough to say that all historians that stated anything were liars. Liars! That the ruins of Ligne Maginot in France have been built by scenograph [a professional constructed set] and so on.

Let me just ask you a final question. Briefly, what is the relevance today of Holocaust observances and remembrances for the world of non-Jews? How would you convey the importance to them of this?

(Pause of several seconds, heavy sighing) Can I recoil? I am not able to reply. Too difficult. I apologize to you. I’m pretty exhausted.

What I could not have known I later learned from the detailed account of Levi’s American tour in Ian Thomson’s biography, “Primo Levi: A Life.” That Levi had undertaken the tour only under duress; that it had also been a tremendous physical and emotional strain for his wife, Lucia, who had accompanied him; that he had been suffering from and been treated for depression for several years; that he was preoccupied with the health of his invalid mother, whom he lived with and cared for in the Turin apartment where he was born; that by the time I spoke with him, he had already delivered several speeches, been overwhelmed and intimidated by the hothouse literary salons of New York and submitted to other media interviews (which he found sheer torment); and that after flying across the country, he had just traveled up from San Diego earlier in the day following a taxing series of family and social obligations.

In the space of three weeks, he had crisscrossed the country, delivered six speeches and sat for 25 media interviews. In retrospect, it’s a wonder that Levi was able and willing to talk to me at all, yet he handled it with as much grace, candor and courtesy as he could muster.

After 38 years, America had finally discovered, and embraced, Primo Levi. But despite his publisher’s hopes that he would return for another visit to the U.S, that first trip was to be his last. Two years later almost to the day, depressed and in poor health, Levi would greet his landlady as she brought him the daily mail, and then a few minutes later, without warning, step out of his apartment and pitch himself over the stair railing and plunge four floors to his death. He died instantly on the marble floor of the stairwell in the building where, apart from his internment and imprisonment, he had spent virtually his entire life. He was 67.

“It is not very probable that all the factors that unleashed the Nazi madness will again occur simultaneously but precursory signs loom before us,” Levi concluded in “The Drowned and the Saved” (1986), the last book he would publish during his lifetime. Sporadic acts of individual violence as well as government lawlessness were on display everywhere, he asserted. “It only awaits its new buffoon (there is no dearth of candidates), to organize it, legalize it, declare it necessary and mandatory, and so contaminate the world. Few countries can be considered immune to a future tide of violence generated by intolerance, a lust for power, economic difficulties, religious or political fanaticism, and racialist attritions. It is therefore necessary to sharpen our senses, distrust the prophets, the enchanters, those who speak and write ‘beautiful words’ unsupported by intelligent reasons.”

For Primo Levi, the memory of the offense lasted a lifetime. Were he still with us today, his heart would be breaking at how thoroughly we seem to have forgotten it all. 

Joel Bellman is a writer and columnist who served as communications deputy under three Los Angeles County supervisors, following a decade as an award-winning L.A.-based broadcast and print journalist.

Auschwitz guard’s death deprives survivors of justice they hoped for


The death of a former Auschwitz guard days before his trial in Germany has dashed the hopes of two elderly Jewish survivors of Nazi rule who wanted to see justice for their parents, who perished while the guard was on duty at the death camp.

Israel Loewenstein, himself a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor, and Henry Foner, a 83-year-old chemist, talked to Reuters at their homes in Israel a day before news of the death of Ernst Tremmel, the former guard, emerged.

They had hoped Tremmel would face justice late in his life.

“But then again we don't know if he would have even told the truth about Auschwitz – many of the accused don't, after all,” Loewenstein told Reuters on Friday after learning of Tremmel's death.

German courts are hearing two other Auschwitz cases. The trials of 95-year-old Hubert Zafke, a former Auschwitz paramedic, and of 94-year-old Reinhold Hanning, a former guard at the death camp, have already started. Both have remained silent on the accusations so far.

“It's a good thing (Germany) is doing it, but it doesn't touch my heart somehow,” Foner, who was evacuated from Germany to Britain with other Jewish children in 1939 as part of a Jewish initiative, said at his home in Jerusalem.

He had hoped to see justice done in the case of Tremmel, but said: “There can never be closure. Closure to me is meaningless – you can't get back what has been taken.”

Tremmel was a member of the Nazi SS guard team at the death camp in occupied Poland from November 1942 to June 1943. His trial had been scheduled to start on April 13, but a court spokesman said on Thursday he had died at the age of 93.

Although Tremmel was not directly involved in the mass killings at Auschwitz, German prosecutors said he had helped in the murder of at least 1,075 people during his stint of some eight months at the death camp. They said he volunteered to join the SS and started working as an Auschwitz guard at the age of 19.

Tremmel's platoon was regularly charged with overseeing the camp's 'selection process', forming a human chain around the arriving deportation trains to prevent new arrivals from escaping before they were either selected for forced labor or sent off to be killed in the camp's gas chambers.

Loewenstein, who survived the Holocaust in various forced labor camps, remembered the selection process when he arrived at the death camp in March 1943, at the age of 18.

“We came to Auschwitz in the middle of the night after four days on a train without food,” he recalled, speaking German at his home in Yad Hana, a former kibbutz in northern Israel.

“Suddenly, the doors were torn open, headlights were blazing, German shepherds were barking and we only heard the guards yell 'Get out! Get out!'”

From the group of 100 people Loewenstein arrived with in Auschwitz, only 17 survived.

Loewenstein's parents, Paula and Walter, as well as Max Lichtwitz, the father of Foner, arrived on the same deportation train from Berlin on Dec. 9, 1942. All three were selected to be killed and died in the death camp's gas chambers the next day.

Thanks to viral video, Holocaust survivor gets wish to sing at Detroit Tigers game


An 89-year-old Holocaust survivor will sing the American national anthem at a Detroit Tigers baseball game, after her granddaughter circulated a video of her that went viral.

Amid a flood of requests on her behalf, the Tigers invited Hermina Hirsch to fulfill her bucket list wish by singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at their May 21 game, Fox Sports reported.

“At my age, I figure that this would do it,” Hirsch, of Southfield, Michigan, told Detroit’s CBS Local. “I don’t want to die before I sing at a baseball game.”

Hirsch survived multiple concentration camps, including the Auschwitz death camp, and lost her parents, three brothers and other relatives in the Holocaust.

Asked by CBS Local if the prospect of singing before thousands of fans at Detroit’s Comerica Park made her nervous, Hirsch said, with a smile on her face: “If I lived through the concentration camp, it couldn’t be that bad.”

Born in 1927 in a town in what was then Czechoslovakia, Hirsch was deported to a ghetto in 1944, and then moved among five different concentration camps, including Auschwitz

“She was liberated from a concentration camp (she doesn’t remember the name) in either Germany or Poland on Jan. 21, 1945,” her granddaughter Andrea Hirsch wrote in an email to CBS Local. “She walked and hitched rides with strangers to get back to where she was born.”

Hirsch married Bernard Hirsch in 1947. The couple moved first to New York and then to Detroit. Hirsch sings the national anthem at weekly Holocaust survivor meetings at the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit and also sings in her synagogue choir.

“At first when I told her that her video went viral and there’s so many people that caught wind of her story, she didn’t really understand,” Andrea Hirsch told CBS Detroit. “You know, she didn’t really understand how or why, how something like this could happen through social media. She just couldn’t believe how it progressed. … I didn’t even believe this could happen. We’re so excited.”

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