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

Six-Day War: Voices after victory


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.

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

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


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.

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

Spicer and his critics are historically off


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.

Photo by David Miller

Survivor Celina Biniaz: The youngest of Schindler’s Jews


“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.”

Photo from Pexels.

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


‘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

Maya Avraham. Photo courtesy of YouTube.

Calendar: March 3-9, 2017


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.

The main entrance to Auschwitz Birkenau

Progressives now trivializing Hitler, Nazism, Auschwitz


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.”

Imre Kertesz, Nobel laureate and Auschwitz survivor, dies aged 86


Hungarian novelist and Auschwitz survivor Imre Kertesz, winner of the 2002 Nobel Literature Prize, died on Thursday at the age of 86 after a long illness, the state news agency MTI reported, citing his publisher.

Kertesz became a Nobel laureate for works the judges said portrayed the Nazi death camps as “the ultimate truth” about how low human beings could fall.

As a Jew persecuted by the Nazis, and then a writer living under repressive Hungarian Communist rule, Kertesz went through some of the most acute suffering of the 20th century and wrote about it in both direct and delicate prose.

He won the $1 million Nobel prize for “writing that upholds the experience of the individual in the face of a barbaric and arbitrary history,” the Swedish Nobel Academy said when it awarded literature's highest honor.

In his work, Kertesz returns repeatedly to the experience of Auschwitz, the camp in German-occupied Poland where more than one million Jews and other victims of Hitler's Third Reich died.

“He is one of the few people who manages to describe that in a way which is immediately accessible to us, (those) who have not shared that experience,” Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary of the academy, said in 2002.

Kertesz's defining first novel, “Fateless” – a first-person story of a boy's survival in a concentration camp – was written between 1960 and 1973, and rejected for publication at first by Hungary's Communist regime.

It was finally released in 1975 but initially largely ignored the public. Kertesz wrote about that in “Fiasco” (1988), seen as the second volume of a trilogy closed by “Kaddish for a Child not Born” (1990).

Kaddish is the Jewish prayer for the dead, and in that novel, Kaddish is said by the protagonist for the child he refuses to beget in a world that allowed Auschwitz to exist.

Born in Budapest in 1929, Kertesz was deported to Auschwitz in 1944, and on to the Buchenwald concentration camp in eastern Germany whose prisoners were liberated by U.S. forces in 1945. He returned to Hungary and worked as a journalist, but lost his job in 1951 when his paper adopted the Communist Party line.

Kertesz was the first Hungarian to win the Nobel literature prize, though Hungarians had already won Nobel science awards.

He spent the better part of the decade after winning the award in Berlin, where he produced his last works, and later returned to Budapest. He suffered from Parkinson's disease, and rarely left his Budapest home.

‘Tell the truth,’ Auschwitz survivor urges accused in Nazi trials


A Holocaust survivor said on Tuesday that four suspects accused by German prosecutors of being accessory to murder at Auschwitz must have known of the mass killings taking place at the camp because of the “unbearable stench” of burning bodies.

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

Three men and one woman in their 90s are accused of being an accessory to the murder of hundreds of thousands of people at the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

“I want to know what their motivation was, why so many joined in killing millions of people,” 95-year-old Leon Schwarzbaum, a state witness at the trial of two of the suspects, told Reuters in an interview.

“I just hope they all talk eventually. I want to hear it out of their mouths, what they did and why. I want them to tell the truth,” he said.

Schwarzbaum, who lost all of his 35 family members in the Holocaust, survived by working at a Siemens factory camp near the Auschwitz camp. After the war he briefly lived in the United States but then returned to Berlin where he married a German woman and opened an antique shop.

Images of the killings and the camp's horrors haunt him to this day, Schwarzbaum said.

He angrily dismissed claims by some of the accused that they had not been aware of the mass murders taking place.

“They lie. It's impossible not to have known what happened. You could smell the burning bodies. It was an unbearable stench, day and night, and not only there in the camp but across the entire area,” Schwarzbaum said.

“THERE HAS TO BE JUSTICE”

Sitting in his antique-furnished living room in Berlin and wearing a grey woolen sweater, he said he considered it his duty to speak for the dead and recount the horrors of Auschwitz.

“I don't care about the punishment and this is not about revenge,” Schwarzbaum said. “But there has to be justice.”

The trial 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. Neither has yet spoken in court.

In mid-April, 93-year-old former Auschwitz guard Ernst Tremmel will go on trial in the western German city of Hanau. 

Tremmel was on duty, overseeing the camp's selection process, when Schwarzbaum's parents arrived at the death camp in 1943, said Thomas Walther, lawyer for the joint plaintiffs in the case to be heard in Hanau.

No date has yet been set for the trial of the fourth defendant, 92-year-old Helma M., who worked as a radio operator at Auschwitz. She is accused of being an accessory to the murder of 260,000 people.

Survivor Fred Klein: ‘No name, no number’


The doorbell rang at 6:45 a.m. on Sept. 1, 1939, waking 17-year-old Fred (then Friedrich) Klein, who was at home in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, on vacation from art school in Prague. He heard a male voice address his father: “Alfred Klein, born May 17, 1887. Come with us.” Confused, Fred pulled his blanket over his heard. But he soon emerged from his room, making his way to the open front door, where he saw four Gestapo officers escorting his father down the circular stairway of their apartment building. “This is only for an interrogation,” one explained. As Alfred, fully dressed though unshaven, tipped his homburg to Fred in a silent goodbye, Fred had a premonition: This was the beginning of the end, and he would be the only survivor in his extended family. 

Fred, the only child of Hedwig and Alfred Klein, was born on Aug. 11, 1922, in Pilsen, an ethnic-German area of Bohemia. Alfred was a dermatologist as well as a master of the Grand Lodge of the German Freemasons. The family was assimilated and upper-middle class.

When Fred was 4 years old, two boys in a public park shouted at him, “Jew, Jew, you killed our Lord.” 

Fred ran to his mother. “I didn’t understand. I didn’t know I was a Jew,” he said. 

He grew up an introverted and bookish boy. At 18 months, and again at age 6, he fractured his collarbone, and his overprotective father forbade him to participate in sports. Later, when Fred was 13, Alfred encouraged his son to swim and hike, but Fred felt clumsy. 

Alfred also tried to shield Fred from the events unfolding in Germany. In October 1938, Germany annexed the Sudetenland, whose border was only a mile from Pilsen. Fearing that Fred would be barred from high school, Alfred sent him to Officina Pragensis, a private commercial art school in Prague, beginning Jan. 1, 1939.

Then, on March 15, 1939, Germany occupied the provinces of Moravia and Bohemia, which included Prague and Pilsen, but Fred remained in school.

In September, Fred and his mother learned Alfred had been sent to Buchenwald after being taken by the Gestapo. They also discovered he had been arrested as a Freemason, not as a Jew. (Alfred would die in the infirmary at Monowitz/Buna, then an Auschwitz sub-camp, on Nov. 17, 1942.) 

Despite increasing restrictions on Jews, Fred continued his studies in Prague until August 1941, when he was sent to a labor camp in Sazava/Velka Losenice, in Bohemia.

The 500 prisoners there worked 12-hour shifts building a railroad. Fred, unaccustomed to physical labor, struggled shoveling dirt into small rail cars, but somehow managed.

The following December, Fred was granted permission to return home. He had learned that transports would soon be leaving from Pilsen. And, in fact, on Jan. 18, 1942, Fred and his mother were among 1,000 Pilsen Jews loaded onto a passenger train and shipped to Theresienstadt. 

There, Fred joined a team of draftsmen who worked on statistics, drawings and monthly reports. One of Fred’s assignments was laying out the official route that the Red Cross commission would follow during its inspection visit on June 23, 1944. Fred revised the document 30 times.

Several months later, Fred was one of 2,500 men assigned to a transport. But before leaving on Sept. 28, 1944, he warned his mother not to volunteer for future transports. “You won’t be with me,” he said. (After the war, Fred discovered that his mother had volunteered for a transport just three days later and was immediately sent to the gas chamber.) 

Around Oct. 1, Fred’s group arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where strange men in striped uniforms hustled them out of the railway cars and into rows of five. As the men began walking amid the glaring lights and eerie quiet, Fred instinctively removed his eyeglasses, placing them in a pocket. Then, as the line dissolved into a single file, a German officer dispatched the prisoners to one side or the other. Fred was sent to the right. He noticed that many men were missing and that no one wearing glasses remained in his group.

As the men marched close to a barbed-wire fence, women prisoners shouted at them in Hungarian to throw their food over the fence. The SS began firing at the women, but they continued lunging for the food. “I was terrified. It was my first idea that this was a very bad place,” Fred said.

The men were then assembled in a large room to be processed. Afterward, Fred was given a dirty black yarmulke, a black overcoat with a bullet hole through it and stained with dried blood, rags for socks, a shirt with red electrical wire for buttons and a tallit for underwear. 

The men, however, were not tattooed. Fred doesn’t know why. But without a number, he was not traceable.

 At Birkenau, Fred spent hours standing at appel (roll call) and enduring semiweekly selections. He also didn’t eat much. He was never given a metal cup and resorted to using his yarmulke, which the soup seeped through. 

Several weeks later, desperate to leave, Fred volunteered for a forced-labor detail. He and about 150 others were transported to Friedland, a sub-camp of Gross-Rosen in Lower Silesia (Poland). 

While most prisoners worked in Friedland’s propeller factory, Fred, having disclosed he was an artist, was invited by the commander to work in the administrative building. There, he re-inked numbers on the prisoners’ uniforms, watering down the bottle of black ink to ensure he would have to ink each number twice, guaranteeing himself extra work. He also numbered the latrines and barracks.

When he ran out of projects, the commander commissioned a watercolor rendering of the camp, without the barbed wire, to send to his wife. Fred complied. 

But late that night, he was awakened by an SS soldier who, grabbing his neck, escorted him to a sign outside that read: “It is strictly forbidden to draw or photograph. You will be shot without warning.” Fred was certain he would be executed, but his only punishment was a transfer to the propeller factory. 

There, Fred worked 12-hour shifts bending propeller blades on a hydraulic machine. He had a quota of six blades per shift, but because of his weakened condition, he could manage only two.

One day in early May, the commander called all the prisoners to appel. “You will now be handed over to the civilian guard,” he said. “I hope you cannot complain about bad treatment.” Civilians manned the watchtowers, and the SS distributed the remainder of the food: a loaf of bread, two pounds of cooked potatoes, a liter of thick soup and a pound of margarine for each prisoner.

Then, on the night of May 7 or 8, the prisoners discovered that the civilian guards had also departed and the barbed wire was no longer electrified. They cut a hole and escaped. 

Fred, who weighed just 70 pounds, fled to the nearby hills with his cousin Bobby. “I was barely able to walk. I was dying,” he said. The next day, they walked into Friedland, which was deserted except for a young Soviet soldier who directed them to a German house where they found clothing and food. But Fred, too ill to eat, slept for 24 hours. When he woke, Bobby was gone. 

Eventually, Fred moved into the commander’s house. There he found a piece of paper, dated weeks earlier, ordering the commander to destroy the camp and its inhabitants, an order he had disobeyed.

 “He was very decent,” Fred recalled, adding that he has always wanted to nominate him as one of Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations but does not have his name or corroborating evidence.

Several weeks later, Fred returned to Pilsen, the only survivor, save for Bobby, of his extended family of 35 who had not emigrated before the war. He remained in Pilsen until the communist coup in February 1948, when he decided to leave.

With a 10-year wait for a U.S. visa, Fred contacted cousins in Argentina, and immigrated to Buenos Aires in June 1949. He worked as a commercial artist and later as a general manager for Hochtief Construction.

On Jan. 26, 1955, Fred married Susi Kaminski. Their daughter, Helen, was born in September 1957.

In 1963, the family immigrated to Los Angeles, where Fred worked as a commercial artist before joining Agnew Tech-Tran, where he specialized in machine translations. The company was acquired by Berlitz, and Fred became head of the German Department of Berlitz North America. He retired in 1990. 

In his semi-retirement, Fred volunteered at UCLA’s Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars, assisting German students to settle in Los Angeles. Fred, now 93, also wrote a book, “No Name, No Number,” which is available on blurb.com.  

“I don’t live in the past,” he said. “The past lives in me.”

Pope Francis to visit Auschwitz


Pope Francis will visit Auschwitz during a trip to Poland in late July.

According to a schedule released over the weekend, the pontiff will visit the former Nazi death camp on July 29 during a five-day visit to Poland to mark the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day.

Main Youth Day events are to take place in Krakow, about 40 miles from Auschwitz.

Francis will be the third pontiff to visit Auschwitz, where the Nazis murdered about 1.5 million people, the vast majority of them Jews. Polish-born Pope John Paul II was the first pontiff to visit Auschwitz, in 1979. His successor, the German-born Benedict XVI, visited in 2006.

Catholic Poles, Roma (Gypsies), homosexuals, Soviet prisoners of war and political prisoners were also murdered at Auschwitz. Among the victims were two people now revered as Roman Catholic saints – Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan friar, and the Jewish-born philosopher Edith Stein, who converted to Catholicism as a teenager and became a Carmelite nun.

Auschwitz is now a memorial museum; last year it had 1.7 million visitors. Administrators of the site have announced special visiting conditions aimed at the hundreds of thousands of young people expected to converge on Krakow for World Youth Day.

Former Auschwitz SS medic to stand trial in Germany


A 95-year-old former Nazi SS paramedic at the Auschwitz death camp, accused of being an accomplice to the murder of thousands, is to stand trial in Germany on Monday, one in a series of such recent cases. 

Hubert Zafke was serving as a medic in the SS at the biggest death camp in occupied Poland where he was deployed in 1943. During the trial, he will be faced with the accounts of at least two witnesses.

Prosecutors in the northern German city of Schwerin say that Zafke, in his function as a medic, supported the slaughter at Auschwitz, where over 1.2 million people, most of them Jews, were killed.

Zafke was responsible for treating SS members in case of sickness, not any of the inmates, but prosecutors say he was stationed directly on the path leading to the gas chambers.

According to initial investigations, Zafke did not deny having been an SS member at Auschwitz but he maintains not to have witnessed anything about the killings. The prosecutors say that, among being a witness to these gas chambers walks, he also must have been aware of the constant smoke arising from the crematoriums.

A precedent for such cases was set in 2011, when former Nazi guard John Demjanjuk was sentenced for being an accessory to the Nazis' mass murder during the Holocaust.

Demjanjuk's conviction, allowing the pursuit of those involved in the death camp apparatus even if no individual murder could be proven, paved the way for late Nazi trials, with at least four Auschwitz cases scheduled this year alone.

Germany's Nazi past has weighed heavily on the country and even today forms the backdrop to national debates on issues such as how to deal with refugees of war. These latest Nazi trials, among the last as that generation dies out, may help draw a line under this chapter in the country's history.

Trials are kept short on health grounds because the age of the accused.   

Zafke's charges focus on a month-long period between August and September 1944, when 14 deportation trains from Poland, Slovenia, Greece, Germany and the Netherlands arrived at the camp. 

One carried Anne Frank, the German-born Jewish writer, whose “Diary of a young girl” became one of the most widely known witness accounts of the Holocaust, documenting her life in hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

Anne Frank and her sister Margot were eventually transferred westwards to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where they died shortly before its liberation in April 1945.

Zafke has already been charged abroad for his role at Auschwitz. In 1946, a Polish court sentenced him to four years in prison. Afterwards, Zafke returned to Germany, where he worked as an agricultural salesman.

If ribs visible, you were candidate for crematorium, Auschwitz survivor explains at Nazi trial


Three survivors spoke on Friday of the smell of burnt bodies and piles of the dead at Nazi Germany's Auschwitz death camp, one of whose former guards stands accused of helping in the murder of at least 170,000 people.

“If your ribs were visible, you were a candidate for the crematorium,” said Leon Schwarzbaum, a 94-year-old survivor who lost 35 family members during the Holocaust.

He was speaking at the trial of former guard Reinhold Hanning, also 94, who remained largely silent on the second day of his trial, showing no emotions as the survivors detailed their horrific experience.

Hanning, sounding weak, was heard only once in court when asked how he was doing by judge Anke Grudda. “Fine,” he responded.

Dressed in the same brown tweed suit jacket as on Thursday, bespectacled Hanning – who was 20 in 1942 when he joined the camp as a guard – slowly walked into court where hearings are restricted to two hours given his age.

Defense lawyer Johannes Salmen said a written statement would be read out on behalf of Hanning at a later stage of the trial. He added that it was possible that Hanning would also give a statement.

Accused by the prosecutor's office in Dortmund as well as by 40 joint plaintiffs from Hungary,Israel, Canada, Britain, the United States and Germany, Hanning is said to have joined the SS forces voluntarily at the age of 18 in 1940.

Although Henning wasn't directly involved in any killings at the camp, prosecutors accuse him of expediting, or at least facilitating, the slaughter in his capacity as a guard at the camp where 1.2 million people, most of them Jews, were killed.

A precedent for such charges was set in 2011, when death camp guard Ivan Demjanjuk was convicted.

Cross-examining the three witnesses, prosecutor Andreas Brendel tried to determine direct knowledge of the guard's duties in Auschwitz but none of them knew Hanning personally.

In an earlier statement to the prosecution, Hanning has admitted to being a guard, but denied any involvement in the mass killings.

“We could see fire coming out the chimneys and it smelled of burned people unbearably,” Schwarzbaum said when asked if it was possible that the guards were unaware of the murders.

Erna de Vries, another witness, said she had to walk past piles of dead bodies each day on her way to forced labor in 1942, as the Nazis couldn't keep up with burning the bodies of people gased to death.

Hanning's trial is the first of four Auschwitz lawsuits, which are likely to be Germany's last Nazi war crime trials.

Both 94, Auschwitz survivor faces camp guard in German court


A 94-year-old survivor of Nazi Germany's Auschwitz death camp gave his testimony in court on Thursday, face to face with a former guard, who is charged with helping in the murder of at least 170,000 people.

Leon Schwarzbaum, who lost 35 family members during the Holocaust, calmly recalled the camp's horrors and when he had finished he directly addressed the accused, Reinhold Hanning, also 94, on the first day of his trial. 

“I want to know why millions of Jews were killed and here we both are,” Schwarzbaum said, his voice beginning to tremble. 

“Soon we will both stand in front of the highest judge – tell everyone here what happened, the way I've done just now!”

Hanning avoided eye contact throughout, showing no reaction to Schwarzbaum's account. He had shuffled slowly into court and sat hunched and motionless in what is is likely to be one of Germany's last Nazi war crimes trials.

The former guard was 20 in 1942 when he joined the SS Death Head Unit at the concentration camp in occupied Poland, where more than 1.1 million Jews were killed.

The international media frenzy surrounding the case forced authorities to move the trial from the court house in Detmold, a small town in western Germany, to a bigger venue in the suburbs.

There was a heavy police presence around the building with a squad of officers on horseback, as Hanning walked in, wearing black glasses and a brown tweed jacket and looking at the ground. The session was limited to two hours due to his age.

Prosecutors said Hanning had joined the Death Head Unit, the Nazi organization overseeing death camps, voluntarily at the age of 18 and fought in eastern Europe in the early stages of World War Two before being transferred to Auschwitz in January 1942.

He is accused by the prosecutor's office in Dortmund as well as by 40 joint plaintiffs from Hungary, Israel, Canada, Britain, the United States and Germany.

Hanning will not speak himself but his lawyer may read out a statement once all the witnesses have testified, defense lawyer Johannes Salmen said after the session ended.

Germany's Nazi war crimes office in Ludwigsburg has established that Hanning served in Auschwitz until at least June 1944.

He has admitted to having been a guard in a statement to the prosecution, but has denied involvement in the mass killings.

Investigators say he also served at Auschwitz's Birkenau sub-division, where about 90 percent of more than 1.2 million killings in the camp were carried out in four gas chambers. 

Prosecutors maintain that the Nazis' machinery of murder hinged on people like Hanning guarding the prisoners, and accuse him of expediting, or at least facilitating, the slaughter.

“The final decision over life and death was made by the SS men,” prosecutor Andreas Brendel said, after recounting the selection process of victims when they arrived at the camp.

Old and sick people, pregnant women, children under 13 and parents not letting go of their children were separated from their families and immediately sent to the gas chambers.

More witnesses are expected to testify in the trial, which is expected to go on until the end of May.

A precedent for charging former death camp employees as accessories to murder was set in 2011 when death camp guard Ivan Demjanjuk was convicted.

Last year, 94-year-old Oskar Groening, known as the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz”, was sentenced for being an accessory to the murder of 300,000 people in Auschwitz.

Three other former death camp workers in their 90s – two men and one woman – are due to go on trial in the next few months.

Because of their age, their hearings will also be restricted to two hours per day, assuming they are fit to face trial.

But Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff, responsible for war crime investigations at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said that age should not be an obstacle to prosecution.

“When you think of these cases, don't think of frail, old, sick men and women but of young people who devoted their energies to a system that implemented the Final Solution and aimed to obliterate the Jewish people,” he said, referring to the Nazi's plan for the systematic extermination of the Jews.