Survivors of Mauthausen beg for food through a barbed wire fence. Photos by U.S. Army photographer Ken Parker

Rare Holocaust photos resurface in North Hollywood home


The 13 black-and-white pictures sat in a cardboard box in a North Hollywood residence, half a world and seven decades removed from the horrors they captured.

In August, Robert Aguilar, 78, a retired truck driver, found the photos at the back of a cupboard as he and his wife, Paula Parker, 69, prepared to sell their townhouse and move to Nevada to live out their retirement. The pictures are presumed to have been taken by Parker’s father, Ken Parker, a U.S. Army photographer in World War II.

Found jumbled together with an Army uniform and a confiscated German pistol, the pictures appear to show the liberation of Mauthausen, one of the Nazis’ cruelest concentration camps. In graphic detail, they offer proof of the emaciated conditions of survivors, with their apathetic expressions and jutting ribcages, along with piles of corpses discovered by the Allies.

“I can’t believe human beings would treat others like that,” Aguilar said, his voice catching in his throat as he spoke on the phone. “Prisoners — they’re not supposed to be tortured to death.”

Aguilar, a Vietnam veteran, said the images reminded him of the American prisoners who were mistreated during the war in which he served. He called the Journal and offered to provide the photographs for safekeeping in the hope that they could be of some use.

“I didn’t want to throw them in the trash,” he said. “They’re history — World War II history, you know. I wanted somebody that could use them.”

Ken Parker was better known for the “girly pictures” of scantily clad models he took in the 1950s and ’60s — some of which still can be found on the internet — than for his war photography. But the photo prints found at the back of his daughter’s cupboard indicate that, for at least a few days in the waning moments of World War II, he became a witness to history, helping record the aftermath of some of the worst Holocaust atrocities.

Mauthausen — the hub of a network of smaller death camps outside of Linz, Austria — was notorious for its cruelty. It had all the horrors of Nazi sadism seen at many other concentration camps: a functioning gas chamber, torture instruments and evidence of grotesque medical experimentation. Other horrors were unique to Mauthausen: Prisoners were forced to carry 50- to 60-pound rocks up 186 steep, uneven steps from a quarry. Sometimes an officer would shoot a prisoner, toppling the rest like dominoes.

U.S. Army photographer Ken Parker in Nice, France, in 1945. Photos courtesy of Paula Parker

 

As the eventual outcome of the war became apparent, the camp’s leadership considered moving the remaining 18,000 prisoners into a tunnel system and sealing the exits. Instead, the SS simply abandoned the camp. The Third United States Army arrived on May 5, 1945, to find prisoners milling about in various states of starvation.

“Mauthausen, for a person going in, was absolutely bedlam,” Richard Seibel, the U.S. Army colonel who took charge of the camp after liberation, said in an interview recorded by the Dayton Holocaust Research Center in Dayton, Ohio, in 1989. “We had no water — everything had been disrupted before we got there — no water, no sewage, no food, no power, nothing. And here are 18,000 people being corralled, if you will, by combat troops who had no experience in handling a situation of this kind.”

“I’ve always heard stories about the Germans always trying to deny that they treated the people like that. Well, there’s proof in those pictures.”

Into this chaos walked Parker, who joined the war effort at 34, having already started a successful photography business in the Midwest. He easily endeared himself to colleagues, picking up nicknames like “Little Iron Man” for his compact size and tenacity, and “Tony” for his tan skin and slicked-back hair.

Before his deployment to Europe, Parker earned a reputation as a ladies’ man. He would sneak away from his Army base in Missouri and use a car he had hidden to hit the town and pick up women, according to his daughter.

As a member of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, a technology and communications division, Parker was assigned to document the U.S. combat mission, tailing Gen. George S. Patton and his troops through the Battle of the Bulge before arriving at Mauthausen.

With his camera — he favored a 35mm Nikon — Parker became involved in the documentation effort undertaken by the Allies for the twin purposes of prosecuting the Germans for war crimes and alerting the public to atrocities they had been only dimly aware of, if at all.

A soldier speaks with female survivors of Mauthausen shortly after the camp was liberated in May 1945.

 

American generals made a point of publicizing what they saw in the camps. Patton ordered the entire town of Weimar to march through Buchenwald so its residents could see the piles of emaciated corpses and a lampshade made of human skin, among other gruesome sights. Encountering the camps, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme Allied commander, ordered camera crews to film them as evidence of war crimes.

“It was as if the liberators, coming originally from Eisenhower, predicted the phenomena of Holocaust denial,” said Judith Cohen, chief acquisitions curator of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, D.C. “And Eisenhower said he wanted documentation so that people wouldn’t attribute this to propaganda. That’s an amazing thing, because, of course, we see Holocaust denial left and right these days.”

In sending the photographs to the Journal, Aguilar said he had the same thought.

“I’ve always heard stories about the Germans always trying to deny that they treated the people like that,” he said. “Well, there’s proof in those pictures.”

According to Parker family lore, some of his photos ended up in the hands of prosecutors at the Nuremberg trials.

Some of Parker’s pictures also made it into the USHMM Photo Archive, courtesy of Seibel. One of them, shown here on the top right, Cohen recognized as a particularly iconic image — a picture of a soldier speaking with female survivors. In the archive, however, the photos are missing the photographer’s name. While other members of the Signal Corps went on to win widespread fame, including movie director Frank Capra and film producer Darryl F. Zanuck, Parker remained largely anonymous outside the world of Hollywood glamour photography.


Emaciated prisoners in a bunk in Mauthausen shortly after the camp was liberated.

Cohen said large amounts of historically significant material — diaries, photographs and other documents — still are stored in people’s homes, as Parker’s photos were.

“There’s an amazing amount of material still in private hands,” she said. “And we desperately would like to get it.”

“We are in a race against time,” she added.

Rabbi Michael Berenbaum, a Holocaust scholar at the American Jewish University in Bel Air, agreed.

“The reality is we’re now at one minute to midnight in the lives of the survivors, of the living witnesses,” Berenbaum said during an interview in his office. “Kids are emptying out their parents’ homes. Survivors are dying every day.”

Parker, according to his daughter, hardly ever spoke about what he saw during the war.

Moving to California in the 1940s after his Army service, Parker became a Los Angeles Police Department photographer for 11 years. He was let go for moonlighting as a photographer of pinup girls, a career that later earned him some acclaim in Hollywood.

But what he saw in Europe evidently left him with an unusually strong stomach for horrific images. Paula Parker said her father photographed the gruesome Black Dahlia murder scene for police in 1947 and kept copies, although she later threw them out, not fully aware of their value.

A soldier poses in front of an oven at Mauthausen used for the cremation of human remains.

 

She recounted that once, during a family vacation, her father spotted a fatal train crash along the road and pulled over.

“My mother, she couldn’t stand blood anyway,” Paula Parker said in a phone interview. “She was so upset that my father would take time out of the vacation to take pictures of people dead.”

“After the war, nothing bothered him, I think,” she said. “My dad could do things that other people couldn’t.”

While the 13 Mauthausen pictures are unsigned and no independent source could confirm Parker shot them, his daughter — who saw the photos for the first time when she was about 30 — believes they came from his camera. He often developed his own photographs and kept duplicates as keepsakes, she said.

Moreover, the Mauthausen photographs were stored among hundreds of others she inherited that he shot over his lifetime. They showed family, friends, car races, golf games, Hollywood stars like Mae West and Bing Crosby (shot for Globe Photos), and images from other countries and of natural wonders that were taken for use in advertisements promoting American Presidents Line, a shipping company.

When she spoke with the Journal, Paula Parker said clearing out her father’s photos was a necessary part of  preparing for her Nevada retirement, after working in Jewish delis around the San Fernando Valley for 38 years, sometimes holding three jobs at once. She said she and Aguilar threw out most of her father’s photographs but kept a select few.

She was ready to pass along the pictures of starving prisoners, barbed-wire enclosures and piles of corpses.

“Oh, I’ve seen them enough,” she said, “and I’ll always remember. What am I going to do, hold on to them?”


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Out of jail, self-exiled Jewish author vows to fight Austria fraud conviction


Stephan Templ, a critic of Austria’s handling of Jewish property, was released from prison after serving eight months following his controversial conviction for fraud on his mother’s application for restitution.

Templ, 56, left Austria for his home in Prague in the Czech Republic shortly after his release Friday, in self exile over his conviction, which he said was false and designed as payback for his critical writings about Austria. In an interview Tuesday, he vowed to fight to have his conviction annulled based on new evidence.

The Austrian Supreme Court sentenced Templ in 2014 to one year in jail for defrauding the state by omitting the name of his aunt from an application for restitution he filled out for his mother. But the new evidence shows he named the aunt several times in restitution-related documents received by authorities.

The Anti-Defamation League and 75 Holocaust scholars implored Austrian authorities to avoid jailing Templ, noting the decision to do so seems connected to his 2001 book, “Our Vienna,” in which he criticized failures in offering restitution for property stolen from Jews by Austrians and Germans during World War II.

“It was a fabricated trial with trumped-up charges, full of lies,” he said.

Throughout the trial, which generated considerable media attention, Templ’s defense was based on the absence of laws requiring applicants to list all relatives, and the argument that Austria could not have been the victim of any fraud as it never legally owned the property it returned. Templ is represented by the human rights attorney Robert Amsterdam, who took the case pro bono.

During his imprisonment, Templ obtained evidence that he did in fact name his aunt on at least six applications, which Austrian authorities confirmed they had received. But the evidence was ignored.

Austrian authorities made conflicting statements about Templ’s case, including a 2014 written statement by a senior state attorney that the state has no claims against Templ.

Stuart Eizenstat, a former U.S. deputy secretary of the Treasury who helped set up Austria’s restitution system, spoke out against the conviction.

“This case should have been a civil matter between the Templs [Stephen Templ and his mother] and the sister,” Eizenstat told JTA in 2014. The conviction, he added, was “almost inexplicable.”

Templ said he has moved to the Czech Republic out of protest against what he said is “a great injustice” done to him by Austria.

“I don’t want to live in a place that stole my freedom for no legitimate reason,” he said.

 

Far-right Austrian presidential candidate’s narrow loss is wake-up call, Jewish groups say


European Jewish groups reacted with relief to the victory by a left-wing politician over a far-right candidate in Austria’s presidential elections.

Alexander van der Bellen, an environmentalist with a pro-refugee agenda, won with 50.3 percent of the vote on Sunday, despite early reports predicting victory for Norbert Hofer of the Austrian Freedom Party party, or FPO, in the runoff, the BBC reported. Hofer had 49.7 percent of the vote.

“While we are certainly satisfied with the result, there is little room to celebrate the high level of support for someone with such extremist views as Norbert Hofer,” European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor said in a statement Monday. “Unfortunately, the dissatisfaction with the moderate mainstream parties is providing oxygen to those like Hofer” and the Austrian Freedom Party.

“We are seeing signs of these trends across Europe, so it is incumbent on the more centrist parties to use this as a wake-up call and listen to the grievances of the people,” he said.

The Jewish Community of Vienna has shunned the Freedom Party, which it regards as having problematic ties to neo-Nazis. Party Chairman Heinz-Christian Strache has denied the allegations and recently visited Israel, where he met with Likud arty officials. In 2012, Strache apologized for posting on Facebook a caricature depicting an obese, hook-nosed banker wearing star-shaped cufflinks.

Striking a more optimistic note, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, said the result is “a clear sign that Europe is beginning to realize that hate and fear politics are not the answer to the many challenges we are facing as a continent.”

The Freedom Party has campaigned hard against the admittance of migrants from the Middle East, including refugees, citing their religion, Islam, which the party says is irreconcilable with European values. Austria has taken in 100,000 migrants from the Middle East over the past year — action that commentators say has generated a backlash of discontent that is helping the far right.

Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish Community in Vienna, told JTA: “I am very happy that van der Bellen won the election. He happens to be a good friend for many years to the  Jewish community and a very good friend of the State of Israel.” He also said he is “happy the other candidate didn’t win.” Many Austrians voted for Hofer out of protest against the government and “not because they are sympathetic to the FPO,” Deutsch said.

Liberal Green Party wins Austrian Presidency as Nationalist Freedom Party loses in a nail-biter


Alexander Van der Bellen, a 72-year-old economics professor and the former head of Austria’s Green Party, won a cliffhanger presidential election on Monday, narrowly defeating his far-right rival by the slimmest of margins – 50.3 percent of the vote to the ultranationalist Norbert Hofer’s 49.7 percent, a difference of about 30,000 votes, that was determined via absentee ballots.

Had Hofer won, on an anti-immigrant plank, he would have been the European Union’s first ultranationalist head of state in the 70 years since the Second World War.

The results were announced by Austria’s interior minister. The ultra-nationalist, anti-immigration Freedom Party and the Green Party were virtually tied in the runoff vote, laying bare the country’s political divisions four weeks after Hofer, the 45-year-old leader of the right wing party, led in first-round balloting. 

The outcome hangs on the some 740,000 mail-in ballots that were still feverishly being counted late Monday.

Pollsters project that Van der Bellen, 72, the Green Party candidate, needed 60% of the mail-in votes to win.

Since the end of World War II, Austria has been ruled by a series of “grand coalitions” cobbled together out of the two principal political parties, the Social Democrats on the center left and the Christian Democrats on the center right. Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, a Social Democrat, resigned following his party’s elimination in the first round, on April 24th.

“It is a very stressful time right now, waiting, waiting, ” Florian Klenk, editor-in-chief of the left-leaning Viennese weekly “Falter” told The Media Line, as he contested the popular point of view that elections for the Austrian presidency were akin to US midterm elections, or, in other words, not the main draw.

“The presidency here is a sleeping giant,” he said. “The former president didn’t use this power; he behaved like a state notary, but actually our constitution gives the president a lot of power, especially when it comes to appointing civil servants at the highest level in the ministries. But yes, it’s symbolic power. An important symbol: it’s a question of who our highest state representative will be: a right-winger who protests against refugees or a professor, a liberal, open hearted guy.”

Austria was split almost evenly in Sunday’s run-off for what has traditionally been perceived as a largely ceremonial role that actually has the power to dissolve parliament and guide national policy. Many Austrians say that the choice between diametrically opposed candidates calls for fundamental decisions being made about the country’s future political direction. 

The current predicament was, in part, created by a confluence of terrible political luck. Barbara Prammer, who was slated to be the Social Democratic candidate for the presidency, died of pancreatic cancer in 2014. Her party failed to reconstitute itself. The governor of Lower Austria, Erwin Pröll, who was expected to represent the Christian Democrats, bowed out of the election five months ago, leaving his party without a candidate.

Dr Hubert Sickinger, a political science professor at the University of Vienna who specializes in party organizations, told The Media Line that a principal reason for the standoff is “a very significant disconnect between the voters and the federal government.  The second reason,” he said, “was that none of the governing parties had a strong candidate.”

Sickinger outlined the ways in which the Austrian presidential elections for the titular head of state have little appeal to the average voter while offering the more committed voter the chance to protest through the ballot box. “We have to face the fact that in the eyes of the average Austrian voter, the election for the federal president is a second tier election,” he said. “It is not the important vote. The most important election in Austria is for the federal parliament. The presidency, the European Union parliament, also the provincial elections, these are second order elections.  They grant the voter the possibility to display his or her displeasure with the government without having a significant impact on the operation of government. It is important not to overestimate the importance of this vote, because we all know that neither the Freedom Party nor the Greens have any chance of getting 50% of the national parliament.

The refugee crisis, with Austria taking in some 90,000 Middle Eastern asylum seekers, which amounts to about 1% of the population, has had a major effect on the campaign, as have concerns about Europe’s economic fragility and the fear spawned by terror attacks on European soil.

Speaking with The Media Line, Euke Frank, editor-in-chief and publisher of the Austrian bi-weekly “Woman,” Austria's most popular women’s magazine, said that Austria’s current state of angst runs deep.

“For many years Austrians were convinced that life was constantly getting better: Five years from now I'll be better than today, 10 years from now even better. And our kids will definitely have a better life than their parents. This feeling of “being safe” has somewhat evaporated over the last years – because of the Euro crisis, the economic crisis, terrorist attacks in Europe and most recently the refugee crisis. The populist parties seem to have simple answers to these complex problems – and the basic answer is: We are the only ones who understand you, we know you are suffering, we know who the culprit is (the “system” and the “foreigners”) and we'll make the country safe again.”

She believes that Hofer’s strong showing is “primarily the result of widespread voter dissatisfaction with the established political parties in Austria which have ruled in grand coalitions for the greatest part of the last 70 years. And it is the result of a general sense of uncertainty in the electorate.”

Underlining the uncertainty, Florian Klenk said “we are at a crossroads that will determine the future of Austria. The Freedom Party, with all its problems and its focus on the past and on foreigners, versus the Green Party, pushing for an open Europe, a stronger Austria within the EU… We are, after all, talking about filling the post of the most powerful man in the Austrian coalition.” 

Far-right candidate wins 1st round of presidential elections in Austria


A member of the far-right Freedom Party in Austria won the first round of presidential elections, clinching the movement’s best electoral showing ever.

Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party, or FPO, took 36 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election, with the runner-up — an independent, left-leaning candidate — taking 20 percent. Hofer, whose campaign focused on keeping migrants from Syria and Iraq out of Austria, and Alexander van der Bellen, an environmentalist with a pro-refugee agenda, will face off in the final vote on May 22 for the largely ceremonial post..

Hundreds of thousands of the refugees have passed through Austria in recent months. Popular opposition to their arrival offers only a partial explanation to the FPO’s successes, according to Karl Pfeifer, a veteran journalist and anti-fascist activist who formerly edited the official publication of Vienna’s Jewish community of 8,000 people.

The Jewish Community of Vienna has shunned FPO, which it regards as having problematic ties to neo-Nazis. FPO Chairman Heinz-Christian Strache has denied the allegations and recently visited Israel, where he met with Likud party officials. In 2012, Strache apologized for posting on Facebook a caricature depicting an obese, hook-nosed banker wearing star-shaped cufflinks.

“The success of the FPO reflects the political center’s failure to provide an alternative,” Pfeifer told JTA on Monday. “Instead of confronting the FPO, the political establishment either ignored it or shifted rightward to steal would-be FPO voters, but the voters went to the source and cut out the middleman.”

Another independent candidate, the right-of-center former judge Irmgard Griss, garnered 19 percent of the vote. She has not yet endorsed either candidate in the final round. In France, mainstream rival parties put aside their differences and endorsed one another to keep the far-right National Front from winning.

“But this sort of behavior does not occur in Austria,” Pfeifer said.

If Hofer wins, Pfeifer said, “It is my opinion that the Jewish community will have no choice but to cooperate with him, as it is bound to work with Austria’s elected leadership.”

He added: “I fear for what this victory means for Austria and for Europe in general because it signals a slide into a restrictive democracy of the kind that exists in Hungary.”

Number of anti-Semitic incidents in Austria rises strongly


The number of anti-Semitic incidents reported in Austria increased more than 80 percent last year, with reported internet postings denouncing Jews more than doubling, an Austrian group said on Wednesday.

Jews across Europe have warned of a rising tide of anti-Semitism, fueled by anger at Israeli policy in the Middle East, while far-right movements have gained popularity because of tensions over immigration and concerns following militant Islamist attacks in Paris and Brussels.

The Austrian Forum Against Anti-Semitism, which began monitoring anti-Semitic incidents in 2003, said 465 incidents were recorded during 2015, over 200 of them being internet postings hostile to Jews.

The total number of internet postings reported to Austria's constitutional protection authority as offensive remained stable in 2015, but the number of postings liable to be used in criminal proceedings doubled compared to 2014, according to an interior ministry spokesman.

“The whole picture is terrifying,” Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish Communities of Austria (IKG), said.

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) urged the European Union and its member states in January to increase efforts to combat widespread anti-Semitic cyber hate, arguing that anti-Semitism in the region did not show any sign of waning.

IKG's Secretary General Raimund Fastenbauer said it was difficult to clearly tell who committed some anti-Semitic acts because offenders could not be identified and internet postings were usually anonymous.

But there was a clear trend of increasingly hostile behavior against the 15,000 Jews living in Austria from Muslims, the Jewish community representative said.

“There is an increasing concern in our community that – if the proportion of Muslims in Austria continues to rise due to immigration, due to the refugees – this could become problematic for us,” Fastenbauer said.

Austria has mainly served as a conduit into Germany for refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa but has absorbed a similar number of asylum seekers relative to its much smaller population of 8.7 million.

Germany arrests three suspects driving Belgian car


German police on Tuesday arrested three people in a car with a Belgian license plate near the border with Austria and launched an investigation into whether they had planned to carry out an attack, a police spokesman said.

The three suspects from Kosovo were arrested before the attacks that killed at least 30 people at a metro station and the international airport in Brussels, the spokesman said.

Police made the arrests on a motorway in the southern state of Bavaria after receiving an intelligence tip-off.

“Investigations have been launched into the suspected planning of a serious criminal act against the state because there was notification of that,” the spokesman said.

He said there was no indication so far that the three suspects had any links to the attacks in the Belgian capital, adding that this could not be ruled out.

Germany stepped up security measures at airports, train stations and the borders with Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg after the explosions in Brussels.

BDS activist to represent Holocaust survivors at Austrian state event


Austria invited Hedy Epstein, a Jewish pro-Palestinian activist whom the Anti-Defamation League criticized for demonizing Israel, to represent Holocaust survivors at a panel discussion about women during World War II.

In invitations sent out Friday by the office of the president of the Austrian parliament, Epstein, who has likened Israel to Nazi Germany, was described as a peace and human rights activist. She is the only Jewish guest slated to speak at the event, scheduled to take place March 8.

The ADL in 2005 listed statements made by Epstein, who was born in Germany and spent most of World War II in Britain, first among examples of anti-Israel campus activism that “would meet both the United States government’s and [Natan] Sharansky’s definitions of anti-Semitism.” The ADL statement was in response to a lecture given by Epstein in 2004 at Stanford University, in which she compared the Nazi treatment of Jews to Israeli treatment of Palestinians.

Epstein has participated in several actions to break Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip and has signed numerous petitions by the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

Born in Germany in 1924, she left the country in 1939 on a Kindertransport — the name for efforts to rescue European children of the era to the relative safety of Britain — where she spent the war years.

Austrian prosecutors: Mauthausen Holocaust survivors may be called criminals


Prosecutors in an Austrian city reaffirmed Nazi logic by failing to indict authors of a magazine article that called Holocaust survivors murderers and criminals, the president of Vienna’s Jewish community said.

Oskar Deutsch made the statement Monday concerning the recent decision by prosecutors in the city of Graz to close a probe into the publication of an article titled “At Mauthausen, Mass Murderers Walked Free” in the July-August edition of Aula, which is affiliated with the far-right FPO party.

The Justice Ministry in Austria is reviewing the case following the submission of queries to the parliament on the prosecution’s decision.

Mauthausen was a Nazi concentration camp built in 1938, where 119,000 people, including 38,120 Jews, were killed outright or worked to death.

“According to Graz prosecutors, Nazi logic must be continued in Austria,” Deutsch wrote following the decision not to prosecute the people responsible for the article. In what Deutsch said was a “heinous reversal of roles,” the article “labeled the victims, not the perpetrators, as mass murderers,” he added.

Mauthausen served as a prison for common criminals throughout 1938.  But in 1939, it expanded to become both a concentration camp and a killing center for political and ideological opponents, according to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The first transport of Jews arrived in Mauthausen in 1941 from the Netherlands.

Yet, according to the Der Standard daily, the Graz prosecutor’s office dismissed complaints against Aula, affirming that it is “understandable that the release of several thousand people from the Mauthausen concentration camp posed a nuisance to the affected areas of Austria,” and that lawbreakers were “undisputedly” among the inmates.

Christian Pilnacek, a high-ranking Justice Ministry official, told the daily that Aula’s article was “impossible to understand and inhuman” and that the decision not to prosecute is wrong. He did not say what actions, if any, the ministry intends to take on the matter.

Austrian prosecutor to review convicted Jewish historian’s discrimination claims


Austria’s economy ministry said it asked prosecutors to examine claims of discriminatory treatment in the trial of a Jewish historian facing prison for omitting his aunt from an application for Holocaust restitution.

Stephan Templ, the historian, is to report to prison on Sept. 28 to serve out his 2014 sentence of one year in jail for fraud against the Republic of Austria because he left out the aunt from the application he filed in 2006 on behalf of his mother.

The examination pertains to documents that suggest that an Austrian public notary, Helmut Scheubrein, also omitted at least one beneficiary whom he was told existed from a list of heirs to the asset for which Templ’s mother received restitution.

Scheubrein, who submitted the list in 2007, was not prosecuted while Templ — who in 2001 wrote a book highly critical of Austria’s restitution record — received for the same actions a punishment which the Anti-Defamation League described as “extraordinary” and raising “some uncomfortable questions.”

Templ said this showed “discriminatory treatment” of his prosecution, which he and other critics have called a vendetta, though Austrian authorities denied this.

“The allegations of Mr. Templ concerning Dr. Scheubrein are new to us,” Economy Ministry spokesperson Harald Hoyer told JTA Thursday, adding his office transmitted the information for examination by “the competent public prosecutor.”

On Wednesday, the human rights lawyer Robert Amsterdam, who is representing Templ pro bono, sent a harshly worded letter to Austrian President Heinz Fischer, whose office earlier this month cited declined ADL’s request to pardon Templ.

“Mr. Templ is now a convicted criminal because the Republic of Austria claims an application form he filled out for restitution is homologous with serious fraud. Unless and until you change that, Austria carries his conviction on its shoulders,” Amsterdam wrote.

Austria will not return Klimt painting to heir of Jewish owners


 An Austrian government advisory board recommended against returning a 112-foot artwork by Gustav Klimt to the heirs of the Jewish art dealer who sold it.

The panel, which examines claims over works of art looted by the Nazis, unanimously recommended Friday against returning “The Beethoven Frieze” to the heirs of the Lederer family, because, according to the panel’s members, it had been lawfully sold to the state, the German DPA news agency reported. Austria’s government declared that it would follow the panel’s decision.

The Austrian state already returned the painting once to the Viennese art dealer Erich Lederer after World War II, when it was seized by the Nazis along with other works owned by the Lederer family after its members fled to Switzerland in 1938.

But the family’s lawyers claimed that Austria would not let Erich Lederer export the Klimt masterpiece, forcing him to sell it to the state at a discount price of about $750,000 in the 1970s. The Secession Museum in Vienna, where the 1902 “Beethoven Frieze” is on display, disputed this claim.

Lederer’s heirs filed their claim for the return of the “Beethoven Frieze” in 2013, after Austria changed its laws on restitution and looted art. Since 2009, restitution laws have included works that were sold rather than stolen, but whose owners had been put under pressure to sell them.

Austria passed a law in the 1990s covering the restitution of artworks stolen by the Nazis, and thousands of them, including some worth millions of dollars, have been returned.

Premieres of Holocaust films in Germany show strong interest in Nazi past


Two starkly different images: a woman wrapped in shimmering gold, a man whipped and bleeding on a cold cement floor.

The first, a 1907 painting by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, is the centerpiece of “Woman in Gold,” a film starring Helen Mirren that had its world premiere last week at the Berlinale International Film Festival.

The second, of activist Georg Elser, who sought to assassinate Hitler in 1939 and paid for the attempt with his life, has been retold in a new German production, “Elser: 13 Minutes,” that also had its world premiere at the festival.

Neither film was up for an award at the Berlinale. But the fact of their premieres in Germany shows how the Nazi past remains a subject of intense interest here nearly 70 years after the end of World War II.

Watching these films at the Friedrichstadt Palast theater, it was easy to forget that, according to a recent poll, 58 percent of Germans think it’s time to put the past behind them.

“Woman in Gold” tells of the struggle for a small measure of justice decades after the genocide of European Jewry and the plundering of their property. The title refers to the art nouveau painting “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I,” which hung for decades in the Belvedere Palace museum in Vienna before it was restituted to Maria Altmann, Bloch-Bauer’s niece.

Mirren adopts a nearly flawless Austrian-accented English in her portrayal of Altmann, who fled the Nazis with her husband only to return decades later seeking the restitution of Klimt’s portrait of her aunt.

Maria faces stony refusals from Austrian museum authorities and nearly gives up, but her lawyer, Randol Schoenberg (played by Ryan Reynolds), and a young Austrian journalist, Hubertus Czernin (Daniel Bruhl), urge her to fight on. Eventually the painting is returned to Maria, who admits that her “mistake was thinking it would make everything all right, make it better.”

The return of great works of art to their rightful heirs has not been a frictionless process for Austria or Germany. Given that the film begins with Klimt applying gold leaf to his portrait of Bloch-Bauer, one might think that it would feed stereotypes about greedy heirs seeking to rob Austria of its cultural heritage.

But the screenplay by Alexi Kaye Campbell confronts these notions directly. In a wrenching flashback scene of the family’s final parting, Fredrick “Fritz” Altmann (Max Irons) reminds the young Maria of how his Jewish family started in Austria with nothing.

“We did everything we could to contribute and belong,” he says, asking one thing of his daughter: “Remember us.”

Remembrance is also a theme of “Elser: 13 Minutes,” which reconstructs the life and death of Georg Elser (Christian Friedel), a young Bavarian carpenter who became convinced that the top Nazi leadership had to be eliminated to end the war. The film is to open in German cinemas in April.

Elser involved no one else in his plot. He built and tested a bomb, and on Nov. 8, 1939 — two months after Germany invaded Poland — placed it behind Hitler’s lectern at a Munich beer hall. Hitler left the building 13 minutes earlier than planned, a gap that gives the film its title. Seven others in the hall were killed after Hitler was already out of range.

Bungling his escape, Elser was captured and tortured before confessing. But the torture did not end there. His interrogators — among them Arthur Nebe (Burghart Klaussner), chief detective in the Reich Security Head Office — were ordered to find out who else was involved in the plot and continued the beatings until they become convinced that Elser had acted alone.

Ultimately, Nebe himself, who is considered to have been sympathetic to Elser, though he was also commander of a Nazi death squad, is hung as an alleged member of the 1944 Claus von Stauffenberg plot against Hitler. In a grueling scene, we witness his hanging from behind. For more than a minute Nebe twitches, suspended from a piano wire in the Plotzensee prison in Berlin, while an official Nazi cameraman films the scene for later propaganda use. Some 5,000 filmed executions actually took place there.

After last week’s screening, director Oliver Hirschbiegel defended the graphic scene as a statement against the death penalty. He also said that the extensive depictions of Elser’s beatings were intended to demonstrate how torture “turns a human into an animal.”

But his main aim was to elevate Elser, whose act of defiance had been put on the back shelf after the war.

Elser was “less interesting than the noble von Stauffenberg, but he was the first true resister who said this has to be stopped,” said Hirschbiegel, whose 2004 film about Hitler, “Downfall,” was nominated for an Academy Award.

Screenwriter and producer Fred Breinersdorfer, who came of age in the 1960s when German students were angrily challenging their parents’ generation over Nazi crimes, said the film grew out of that conflict.

“It’s a confrontation that will not end,” Breinersdorfer said. “People from the resistance were still considered to be traitors after the war, and this is still the case today.”

“Woman in Gold,” on the other hand, needed no scenes of savagery; the violence is implied through its contrast with the beauty of the painting. In the huge movie theater in the former East Berlin, many wiped away tears during the scene of final parting. Applause began with the first rolling credits and did not end until the lights went up.

Even though he found some of the characters to have been caricatures, one audience member told JTA that he wants to see the film again – this time with family and friends.

Alexander Ferwer, 40, a Cologne businessman, said he “can’t understand” why some Germans say they have heard enough about this history.

“That’s really bad,” he said. “I think there can’t be enough films about this time. … It has to never be forgotten.”

Witnesses to Kristallnacht


On a Wednesday evening in late 1938, the sounds of broken glass shattered the quiet streets of Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland. Over the next 24 hours, Nov. 9-10, rampaging Nazi mobs would torch more than 1,000 synagogues; vandalize Jewish homes, businesses and cemeteries; and kill nearly 100 Jews. As many as 30,000 Jews were arrested and carted off to concentration camps. These coordinated attacks, which came to be known as Kristallnacht —  the Night of Broken Glass — mark the beginning of the Holocaust.

Survivors who lived to tell the story of the terror of Kristallnacht  — some quite young at the time — remember vividly the horrors of that night. These four, who share their memories on the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht, are among the lucky ones whose families were able to escape and who, eventually, made their way to Los Angeles. 


Herbert Jellinek, Vienna

Late on the morning of Nov. 10, 1938, Herb and his father, Leo, were walking home from their weekly visit to the public baths,when from a distance they saw the Turner Temple in flames. Only a year and four months earlier, Herb had become a bar mitzvah at this Vienna synagogue, but now Nazi Brownshirts, also called SA or Stormtroopers, were standing around with the local police, watching the building burn, and a crowd of Austrians had gathered and were cheering the sight. Herb and Leo stayed in the shadows. “We were very afraid,” Herb said. “We tried to get home as quickly as possible.”

They arrived at their apartment on Mariahilferstrasse, Vienna’s main shopping street, around noon to find Herb’s mother, Irma, in tears. Later that afternoon, Herb peeked out of their living room window and saw hordes of Brownshirts going from building to building, breaking the windows of apartments and stores where Jews lived and shopped. He also witnessed the Brownshirts roughing up Jewish men, dragging them out of their apartment buildings. Herb’s family fully expected the Nazis to come to their door to take Leo, and possibly 14-year-old Herb. They sat on the couch, wearing their overcoats because the apartment didn’t have central heat, and waited. 

Suddenly the doorbell rang. Irma opened the door and was surprised to find their electrician standing there, responding to their call from several days earlier to repair a broken radio. “I can’t understand what’s going on,” he told the Jellineks. “It’s ridiculous.”

Herb and his parents waited the rest of the night, listening to their newly repaired radio and staying quiet so as to not draw attention to themselves. They learned later that their concierge had steered the Nazis away, informing them no Jews lived in the building. 

The next day, Herb’s parents resolved to leave Austria. 

The situation had been deteriorating, especially since the Anschluss on March 12, 1938, when Germany annexed Austria. Three days later, Hitler had entered Vienna, the climax of a triumphant tour of Austria. Despite a warning over loudspeakers that anyone leaning out a window or leaving curtains open would be shot, Herb peered out to see Hitler riding in an open car with his hand raised. He heard people cheering and saw buildings adorned with swastika flags and banners. “It was like everyone all of a sudden became Nazi,” he recalled. 

Shortly after, Herb was forced to transfer from public school to a Jewish school, an hour’s streetcar ride, and at least weekly he found himself fighting members of the Hitler Youth. 

But Kristallnacht was the turning point for the Jellineks, and the following week Herb accompanied his father to the American consulate, where Leo filed an application to immigrate to the United States. But the waiting list was long, as it was at other consulates they visited. Weeks later, they learned that only Shanghai, which the British had established as a treaty port in the 1840s, would take them without a visa. With difficulty, Leo secured second-class tickets on an Italian passenger ship, departing Trieste in the spring.

In June 1939, Herb and his parents left Vienna. As they crossed the border into Italy and an Italian customs official entered their train car, they felt great relief. 

“A lot of people forget. You can’t forget what we went through,” Herb said. 


Rita Feder, Berlin

As evening fell on Nov. 10, 1938, Rita heard a huge crash outside her family’s apartment on Berlin’s Metzer Strasse. She looked out the front window and there, next to the entrance to their building, she saw four or five Brownshirts throwing cement blocks through the windows of the stores that occupied the ground floor. Rita’s mother, Fanny, started screaming. She dragged 10-year-old Rita away from the window and closed the drapes. 

 The Atterman family in Berlin in 1938. From left, mother Fanny, brother Jona (Heinz), Rita, brother Bill (Willy) and father Max

The family gathered in the living room, in the center of the apartment and away from the front windows and the back staircase. Rita sat in the dark with her parents and older brother, Bill (Willy). Her middle brother, Jona (Heinz), had immigrated to Palestine several months earlier. Time moved slowly. “I was so scared. It was the only time I was almost traumatized,” Rita recalled. While Max Atterman, her father, thought the Nazi hysteria would pass, Rita believed this was the end.  

The next day, Rita saw the store windows had been boarded up and the owners were sweeping up shattered glass. “There was not one store that wasn’t hit,” she said. Rita went to school that day, but no one talked about what had happened. 

Life had become increasingly unhappy for Rita as Hitler gained power. A gymnast and a sprinter, she had dreams of participating in the Olympics and desperately wanted to attend the 1936 Berlin Games. But Jews were not allowed. Her father did take her, however, to watch the men’s 50-kilometer walk, which took place along city streets.

About a year later, in 1937, Rita and her mother were walking near Alexanderplatz when the crowd began buzzing that Hitler was approaching. Everything quickly came to a standstill, and Fanny warned her daughter, “You better raise your hand now and scream, ‘Heil, Hitler.’ ” Rita shouted the salute as the Führer rode by in his open car, his arm raised. “I felt terrible,” Rita recalled.

Kristallnacht convinced Fanny that it was time to leave Germany, but Max wanted to stay. He thought again, however, as people around them began making plans to emigrate. Then, after visiting various consulates in Berlin, he discovered the world was blocked off to Jews. 

One day, a family friend came to visit. “We’re getting out of here, and you are, too. We’re going to China,” she told Fanny and Max. Max thought she was crazy.

In December 1938, Max made arrangements to send Rita to live with his niece in Antwerp, Belgium. When the smuggler came for her, Rita was frightened. “You have to go. It’ll save your life,” her mother told her. The man, who was Jewish, delivered Rita to her relatives. “They were wonderful people,” she said. 

In July 1939, the niece’s husband brought Rita back to Berlin, and a week later, Rita, her parents and her brother Bill boarded a train to Italy. “A stone fell off my parents’ hearts. They were getting away,” Rita said. They took a passenger ship to Shanghai, and in 1947, she and Bill immigrated to Los Angeles. 

“I have to give back to God and my country. I’m so fortunate,” Rita said.


Tom Tugend, Berlin

From his family’s second-floor apartment on Berlin’s Greifswalder Strasse, during the late-night hours of Nov. 9 or very early on Nov. 10, 1938, Tom heard the crashing of glass as bricks or rocks were heaved through the windows of the street-level shops. Tom’s mother, Irene Tugendreich, hustled Tom, 13, and his older sister, Brigitte, into her bedroom, and then his usually undemonstrative mother lay down and cuddled her children in the dark room. 

Tom Tugend, 14, and his mother, Irene Tugendreich, in 1939 in Philadelphia, their first year in the United States. 

At one point, the doorbell rang. The owner of the stationery store on the building’s ground level stood in the hallway, deathly pale and shaking. “Can you hide me?” he begged. The gentile landlady, who had answered the door and who also lived on the second floor, was too frightened to take him in; her Jewish husband had been sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp just a few days earlier. But she allowed the man to run through Tom’s apartment and out the back door. Tom didn’t feel particularly frightened at the time, he said, but, “I always remember his face, that absolutely horror-stricken face.”

Tom, his sister and mother returned to the bedroom. Tom continued to hear the shattering glass and the shouting mob. The three of them were grateful that Tom’s father was in the United States, as he undoubtedly would have been arrested.

The following day, Tom went to school. He remembers seeing the shattered glass on the streets and the stores being boarded up. But in a few days, life returned to what was then normal. He was riding his bike to school and playing soccer, the activity that mattered most to him at the time. 

His father, Gustav, a highly respected pediatrician and a World War I medical officer, had believed for a long time that Hitler was an aberration. But by 1937, when Gustav was no longer permitted to treat non-Jewish patients and when the family was forced to move from their upper-middle-class apartment to a smaller one in a working-class neighborhood, Gustav realized it was time to leave. Plus, he was likely influenced by Irene’s more pronounced sense of urgency. But by that time, most countries had closed their borders, and it was impossible to obtain visas.

Gustav, however, had tracked down the American and British Quakers, with whom he had worked in Germany in 1919 feeding hungry children. They found an immigration law exception for academicians and secured Gustav a one-year lectureship at the University of London in 1937-38 and one at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania the following year, thus qualifying him for a non-quota visa. Meanwhile, after the Munich Agreement in September 1938 and again after Kristallnacht, Gustav had been writing the family urgent letters from the United States, begging them to depart as soon as possible.

Finally, on April 20, 1939, with flags bedecking the city to celebrate Hitler’s 50th birthday, Tom, Brigitte and Irene boarded a plane from Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport to London. They then traveled to Southampton and sailed by passenger ship to New York. 

Tom cautions that the trouble with writing history is that you see it through the lens of what has happened since. “Nobody could imagine at that time, even after Kristallnacht, that the Holocaust could happen,” he said.

Since 1955, Tom has lived permanently in Los Angeles. He has been writing regularly for the Jewish Journal since 1993 and serves as a contributing editor.


Risa Igelfeld, Vienna

Before Kristallnacht, and even before the Anschluss, when Risa witnessed Nazi soldiers singing and marching along the streets, she saw many Viennese turning to Nazism. “They came up like cockroaches. It was a frightening time,” she said.

Risa Relles Igelfeld, center, in Vienna in 1928 with her older sister, Edith Relles, and half-brother, Paul Knie. The girls were given the maiden name of their mother, who died when Risa was 1. 

Risa was asleep in the early morning hours of Nov. 10, 1938, when the sound of boots kicking the front door of their house awakened her abruptly. “Where’s the money?” she heard the intruders shout. Risa, 21, and her older sister, Edith, who shared a bedroom, heard them enter their parents’ bedroom. “You’re coming with us,” they ordered Risa’s father, Ruben. The girls got out of bed and started dressing. “I was shaking like a leaf,” Risa recalled. The Brownshirts burst into their bedroom, searching for money, then left with Ruben. Risa and Edith stood together, holding onto one another. “I was so scared, just so scared,” Risa remembered.

About an hour later, Risa ventured into the living room. Daylight had broken, and she looked out the window onto Favoritenstrasse, one of Vienna’s main streets, to see other Brownshirts pulling away in Ruben’s first-ever new car. She kept pacing back and forth to the window. At one point, she saw SS and Brownshirts marching up and down the street, singing. Another time, she glanced at the window of the house across the street to see a neighbor sticking out her tongue at her. 

The following night, Risa’s half-brother, Paul Knie, managed to cross Austria’s border and head for Belgium. Then on Sunday, Risa was walking alone when she was stopped by the Brownshirts, who forced her to eat grass. She also saw elderly Jews she knew, on their hands and knees cleaning the sidewalks. “That was very upsetting for me,” she recalled.

The family did not learn Ruben’s fate until a month later, when they received a letter from him. He had been taken to Dachau and then Buchenwald. 

In early January 1939, Risa, following in her sister’s footsteps, left for London on a domestic visa sent by an English family looking for a servant. Soon after, she was promoted to the position of nanny for the couple’s two young children. 

Back in Vienna, Risa’s stepmother went to Nazi headquarters and bribed an SS official, who agreed to release Ruben with the stipulation that the couple leave Austria immediately. They boarded a boat to Palestine but were refused entry. Other ports were also closed. They finally landed on the island of Mauritius, off the southeast coast of Africa, where they were imprisoned for three years. 

Before Kristallnacht, Paul had gone to the American consulate to search its telephone books for people with their surname, Knie, writing letters pleading for help. A couple in Chicago, Max and Tesse Knee, who were not related, responded, offering affidavits for all the family members. “They were just good people,” Risa said. Her parents arrived in New York around 1944. Risa and her husband, Gershom Igelfeld, whom she married in London, immigrated to Los Angeles in 1949. 

Austrian chancellor urges end to religious tensions


Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann called for peace and tolerance after meeting faith leaders on Monday amid mounting religious tensions highlighted by a violent protest against an Israeli soccer team last month.

“Only the community can prevent a spiral of violence,” Faymann told reporters after inviting leaders of Austria's 16 officially recognised faiths to the chancellery.

The chancellor called the meeting after mostly Muslim protesters against Israel's offensive in Gaza invaded the pitch to attack Maccabi Haifa players at a friendly match against Lille in the Austrian town of Bischofshofen near Salzburg, causing play to be abandoned.

In addition, the Austrian-Israeli Society has accused President Heinz Fischer of bias for criticising Israel's response to rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip as being disproportionate and causing too many deaths.

Tensions with the Jewish community are especially sensitive in Austria, which became part of the Nazi Holocaust campaign when Adolf Hitler's Germany annexed the country in 1938.

The country's once-vibrant Jewish community has shrunk to around 15,000, mainly post-war immigrants from eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Fischer defended his comments at the weekend, saying not all criticism of Israel could be “raised to the level of anti-Semitism”.

Oskar Deutsch, leader of Austria's Jewish community, singled out Muslims to blame. According to police, about 20 youths of Turkish origin staged the protest against Maccabi Haifa with Palestinian flags and anti-Israeli placards.

“Incidents with an Islamic background are on the rise, especially on the part of the Turkish community,” he told the Kurier newspaper. “There is massive political agitation by Turkey. Radical-right incidents have stayed the same.”

“There have been a number of demonstrations at which people have screamed 'Death to the Jews' or 'Death to the Israelis'. Swastikas were also visible. This is a red line that cannot be crossed,” he added.

Roughly half a million Muslims live in Austria, representing about 6 percent of the population. They have complained as well about mounting Islamophobia, epitomised this month when a man attacked two elderly Muslim women in Vienna wearing headscarves.

Muslim religious sites have also been defaced by people who left severed pig heads or drew swastikas.

“We view with horror the increased attacks on Muslims and their institutions in Austria and Europe,” the head of the Muslim Youth Austria group, Tugba Seker, said this month.

Roman Catholic Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna said there was no place in Austria for discrimination based on religious beliefs.

“This is a basic principle of our country and we have to fight for it,” he told reporters after the meeting.

Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Tom Heneghan

Jewish Flash Mob in London


Pro-Israel flash mob demonstrations are spreading like brushfire. On

Israeli soccer team attacked by pro-Palestinians in Austria


Members of the Maccabi Haifa soccer team were attacked on the field in Austria by pro-Palestinian protesters.

The activists stormed the field and physically assaulted the Israeli players during a preseason match Wednesday against the French soccer club Lille. Some of the players retaliated, leading to a brawl on the field. No one was injured.

The game was not completed. A second game scheduled for the same venue reportedly was canceled.

“We experienced an uncomfortable atmosphere of violence on the pitch and in the stands,” Maccabi Haifa said in a statement after the incident. “The attack was premeditated and dangerous in light of the incitement in Turkish media.”

The protesters were mostly Turkish immigrants, according to the team.

Meanwhile, the  International Tennis Federation is considering a request to move the Davis Cup elimination round match next month between Israel and Argentina out of Tel Aviv because of the ongoing Gaza rocket attacks. The president of the Argentina Tennis Association, Arturo Grimaldi, made the request.

Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service internship in Los Angeles


As she described how amazed she sometimes feels at no longer being afraid of Germans or Austrians, Holocaust survivor Dana Schwartz apologetically patted George Stoellinger — her 22-year-old Austrian driver — on the shoulder.

Schwartz acknowledged how far Germany has come in publicly taking responsibility for nearly destroying European Jewry, and yet, she said, the child in her sometimes asks: “What are they doing being kind to Jews?”

Stoellinger took it all in stride. A Catholic from the small Austrian town of Mattighofen, near the German border, he was driving Schwartz from her Beverly Hills home to the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH), where she routinely shares her Holocaust story with visiting students and he takes part in a selective program that connects his countrymen with Holocaust memorials worldwide,

Stoellinger has been in Los Angeles for the past year as part of the Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service (AHMS). Known as Gedenkdienst in German, AHMS was founded in 1992 by historian Andreas Maislinger, and serves as an alternative to Austria’s compulsory national military service for men. About 50 male and female high school graduates out of 200 applicants per year qualify for the one-year AHMS program, which allows the participants to volunteer at a Holocaust memorial or educational institution abroad. 

According to Stoellinger, who graduated from high school in 2012 and wants to be an automotive engineer, Gedenkdienst is a response to a major gap in Holocaust education in Austria, a country whose government only recently admitted that it was not Hitler’s “first victim,” but rather an accomplice of neighboring Germany. (Much of the government and citizenry welcomed and assisted Nazi troops when they invaded in March 1938 and immediately annexed the country.)

George Stoellinger and LAMOTH employee Katherine Semel in front of the museum’s children’s memorial.  Photo by Jared Sichel

“They want to just push it away as fast as possible,” Stoellinger said of modern Austrians’ reaction to discussion about the Holocaust. “No one is comfortable with the topic. You can feel it everywhere.”

Although he said many of his countrymen visit the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in northern Austria, Stoellinger said that few Austrians ever meet any survivors or hear firsthand accounts. Instead, they learn about the Holocaust in the context of the rest of Austrian and European history.

“We never get to talk to a Holocaust survivor,” Stoellinger said. “We know all the historical facts, but it doesn’t make that much sense for me because you can’t keep them in mind. If you talk to a Holocaust survivor you can relate to their story.”

Speaking with the Journal via Skype from near Salzburg, Austria, Tobias Aigner — the North America coordinator for AHMS — echoed Stoellinger’s frustrations with his country’s Holocaust education. Aigner was in the same program as Stoellinger in 2012, working for a year at the American Jewish Committee in New York City.

“We focus a lot on the Middle Ages and the Stone Age, but we hardly have any time to talk about the Second World War,” Aigner said. “People are like, ‘Don’t talk to me about this. It’s uncomfortable.’ ”

Because of limited funding from the country’s Ministry of the Interior, AHMS can only afford to send about 50 participants per year to dozens of Holocaust education institutions throughout the world. This year, Aigner said, there are 10 partnering institutions in the United States.

And because the stipend these young Austrians get for a year abroad is only about $11,000, interns like Stoellinger often need to rely on family for additional support, which means this program is too costly for many to attend.

“It’s very important to give young Austrians the opportunity to deal with their own history and to learn the history of their grandpas and grandmas,” Aigner said. “It’s very important to learn from the past.”

Samara Hutman, LAMOTH’s executive director, feels that just “the existence of the program itself is a powerful piece of the work” that Austrians must do to come to terms with their country’s past.

LAMOTH has been an AHMS partner since 2007, with Stoellinger being the sixth Austrian intern to work at the museum. The other local AHMS partner is the USC Shoah Foundation, where Manuel Müller recently began a one-year position as an intern.

The selection and training for applicants is rigorous, Aigner said. Stoellinger, for example, first applied as a junior in high school but was only eligible to begin the program after extensive preparation, which included reading books by authors such as Primo Levi and Simon Wiesenthal, watching films such as “The Pianist” and attending a ceremony at Auschwitz in 2012 that commemorated that concentration camp’s 1945 liberation by Soviet forces.

His many duties at America’s oldest Holocaust museum include translating German documents, handling and cataloguing artifacts, leading tour groups and photographing events.

Stoellinger with Holocaust survivor Eva Brettler in Studio City.

While exploring the museum’s archive room, he rifled through some Nazi documents that he was helping to translate from German to English. He began reading aloud one headline from “Observer of the Citizen,” a Nazi propaganda newspaper:

“A real Jew on the throne of the United States. Behind Roosevelt there’s Rosenbaum,” Stoellinger translated.

Stoellinger reading from the Nazi propaganda newspaper, “Observer of the Citizen.”

On the same day, Hutman asked Stoellinger to give a tour to a group of four people not so dissimilar from himself — visiting interns from the German consulate also living in Los Angeles for the first time. Outside, at the museum’s Children’s Memorial — where 1.2 million holes are drilled into the stone walls to memorialize the children murdered by the Nazis — Stoellinger and the German interns compared and contrasted the attitudes toward Holocaust education in Germany and Austria.

Inside, Stoellinger walked them through “The World That Was,” an exhibit that details what life was like for Jews in Europe before the rise of Nazism. Standing next to the room’s memory pool — a massive tabletop touch screen that allows visitors to view tens of thousands of photographs and read biographies of pre-war Jewish life in Europe — Stoellinger answered questions and exhibited the remarkable depth of knowledge he has acquired during his year interning at the museum.

At one exhibit, an intern from the German consulate laughed at a Nazi propaganda poster that he considered particularly absurd: comparisons of inferior “Jewish” facial features to superior “Aryan” facial features. How did the Nazis not understand, the German intern asked rhetorically, that religion and nationality are not mutually exclusive? That one can be both a German and a Jew?

Stoellinger’s internship ends next month, and he will return to Europe to attend engineering school in Munich. And while the museum already has his successor lined up, Stoellinger said he’s thinking about visiting Los Angeles over Christmas break and possibly volunteering at the museum for a couple of weeks. 

Beyond that, he’s planning the next few years of his life, which will almost certainly place him in either Germany or Austria, where Hutman hopes he shares what he learned in Los Angeles.

“How could he not be changed?” she said. “How could he not now bring that consciousness and those relationships to bear in all his relationships he’ll have in his life going forward as an Austrian citizen?”

Survivors to mark 75th anniversary of Kindertransport


On the evening of Dec. 2, a small group of elderly men and women, some with their children and grandchildren, will gather at a Burbank mall to mark the 75th anniversary of a heartbreaking, yet uplifting, episode of the Nazi era, known as the Kindertransport (in English, Children’s Transport).

Susanne Goldsmith, 82, will be there, and so will Abraham (Abe) Sommer, 89, to recall the events of 1938 and 1939, when nearly 10,000 young Jews from Nazi-dominated Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia climbed aboard trains to find refuge in Great Britain.

In a world that generally closed its borders to Jews fleeing Hitler, the British offer to admit the children, following the mass pogrom of Kristallnacht, was a rare humanitarian gesture, but it carried a wrenching price.

The offer allowed for the admission of children only between ages 2 and 16, but not their parents or older siblings. Each family had to decide whether to send young children to be cared for by absolute strangers in a foreign land, with no assurance that parents and children would ever be reunited.

The first Kindertransport carried 200 children from a Jewish orphanage in Berlin that was destroyed by Nazi mobs during the Nov. 9-10 Kristallnacht. The group arrived in England on Dec. 2, 1938, less than a month after the night of arson and murder.

On Dec. 10, at the main train station in Vienna, 7-year-old Susanne Weiss (later Goldsmith) and her 9-year-old brother, Peter, bid their parents goodbye, in the first Kindertransport from Vienna, which was organized by British Quakers.

Goldsmith, now a resident of Burbank, recalled, “I cried all the way” — or at least until the train crossed the border into Holland, where a group of Dutch women distributed a then luxurious repast of thick slices of rye bread slathered with butter and sprinkled with chocolate.

Abe Sommer, who now lives in West Los Angeles, came aboard on the last Kindertransport to leave Vienna on Aug. 24, 1939. It arrived in London on Sept. 1, as newspaper boys were shouting that Germany had invaded Poland. Two days later, Britain and Germany were at war, spelling the end of the Kindertransport.

Even given the innumerable victories, defeats and catastrophes in the ongoing commemorations of World War II, the Kindertransport events still retain their hold on the imagination, particularly among writers and artists.

One who could not forget was TV producer Deborah Oppenheimer. When her mother was 11, she boarded a Kindertransport train in Germany, amid tearful assurances that the family would soon be reunited. Along with 90 percent of the evacuated children, Oppenheimer’s mother never saw her parents again.

Whenever Deborah tried to ask her mother about that part of her life, the mother broke into tears, so the child stopped asking. But after her mother’s death, Oppenheimer decided to find out all she could about the Kindertransport.

Viennese children on their arrival in London. Photo courtesy of the Austrian National Library

The result was the film “Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport,” which won the 2000 Academy Award for best documentary feature.

“At first, the kinder (shorthand for the Kindertransport evacuees) didn’t want to talk about their wartime experiences, feeling that these were insignificant compared to the suffering during the Holocaust, which claimed the lives of 1.5 million children,” Oppenheimer said in an interview last week. “Many didn’t start opening up until they reached their 70s or 80s.”

Oppenheimer, now executive vice president of Carnival Films and appointed last year by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, explained the appeal of their story today:

“It is difficult to grasp the idea of 6 million murdered in the Holocaust,” she said, “but everyone can understand the suffering of a child suddenly ostracized by all her classmates or abruptly separated from her parents.”

Once the kinder arrived in England, their fate was decided by the luck of the draw.

Some found loving foster parents who scrimped to feed an extra mouth; others were exploited as servants. Some were housed in baronial estates, others in freezing holding camps waiting to be adopted at weekly “cattle market” inspections.

Goldsmith and her brother were among the lucky ones. Their new foster parents turned out to be a wealthy Jewish couple who picked up their new charges in a Rolls-Royce and housed them on a large estate along with eight other evacuated children.

“Our parents made it to England after the war started; we never asked how,” Goldsmith recalled. “They looked haggard, like refugees, and neither Peter nor I wanted to live with them.”

The family ties were eventually restored, and parents and children arrived in New York in early 1940. The Big Apple didn’t appeal to the family, but they couldn’t decide where else to relocate.

At that point, young Peter reminded his father that he had always enjoyed Giacomo Puccini’s opera “The Girl of the Golden West,” set in an imaginary mining camp during the California Gold Rush.

In short order, the family crossed the continent and settled in San Francisco.

Abe Sommer was less fortunate. On arrival, he was housed on a large farm in central England in one of many tents for refugees — shelters that did nothing to keep out the cold in the winter.

In 1943, Sommer joined the Pioneer Corps, an engineering auxiliary attached to the British army. For two years after the war ended, his assignment, ironically, was to supervise German prisoners of war.

He moved to Palestine in late 1947, worked on a kibbutz, and 10 years later moved to Los Angeles and established an automotive electrical shop in Beverly Hills. In 1994, he retired to his home in Beverlywood.

Sommer married a fellow Kindertransporter and after her death married another women with a similar background.

These days, the one-time refugee children try to keep in contact through the loosely organized Kindertransport Association (kindertransport.org), with small membership clusters in major cities in England, the United States, Australia and Germany.

There are no figures available on how many of the original kinder are still living.

In the Los Angeles area, one of the main activists is David Meyerhof, a retired teacher living in Burbank, whose 92-year-old mother is a Kindertransport alumna from Germany.

He and Goldsmith organized the local 75th anniversary commemoration, which will include a program of music, poetry and oral history, Meyerhof said.

The Dec. 2 event, part of the Temple Beth Emet Chanukah program, will start at 7:30 p.m. on the second floor of the Burbank Media Center Mall, in front of the Burlington Coat Factory store at 245 E. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. The public is invited.

For additional information, contact David Meyerhof by e-mail at dmeyerhof@yahoo.com or by phone at (818) 261-2060.

Austria honors Bikel


Theodore Meir Bikel and his parents peeked through the drawn curtains of their Vienna apartment watching the street below, where Adolf Hitler, standing in his limousine, slowly rolled by, cheered on by frenzied crowds.

It was March 15, 1938, and Hitler formally announced that Nazi Germany had annexed Austria, changing forever the life of that nation’s Jews, as well as that of 13-year-old Theo.

During an interview at his West Los Angeles home, Bikel was preparing for a trip to Austria to appear, on Nov. 7, on the rostrum of the Austrian Parliament Building before an audience of the country’s highest government and cultural leaders to mark the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night synagogues throughout Germany and Austria were put to the torch.

Historians generally mark this event as the forerunner, if not the beginning, of the Holocaust.

Bikel was going to accept Austria’s highest honor in the arts and to perform an hour-long concert of mainly Yiddish songs, interspersed with a few numbers in English and German.

For the finale, Bikel planned to sing “The Song of the Partisans,” in Yiddish, asking the distinguished audience to rise as he rendered the powerful words and notes of the anti-Nazi resistance during World War II.

The irony and meaning of the occasion is not lost on Bikel. “The Nazi criminals are gone; I am still here,” he said.

“I think I was created for this occasion,” Bikel said of the Vienna commemoration.

That is saying a lot for a man who, during a 70-year career, has distinguished himself as an actor and folksinger on stage, screen and television, as well as an author, raconteur, union leader, advocate for the arts, and a champion of Soviet Jewry and human rights.

Of his many roles, Bikel said he most cherishes that of folksinger, presenting “the songs of my people, songs of pain and songs of hope.”

Growing up in a strongly Zionist home, he was an only child, named in honor of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. By coincidence, the two men also share the same birthday.

After leaving Vienna, the Bikel family settled in Tel Aviv, while Theo spent two years at an agricultural school, aspiring to the Zionist ideal of working the land. He then joined the Kfar HaMaccabi kibbutz, “but it soon became obvious that my talents lay elsewhere,” he observed wryly.

The kibbutz management came to the same conclusion and sent him to a three-week training course for actors, in Tel Aviv.

After his first taste of the limelight, “there was no turning back,” Bikel said, and he was admitted to the Habima Theatre school.

The man who was to gain international fame as Tevye in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” got his first paying role in the stage play of “Tevye and his Daughters.”

He played the Russian constable who warns the shtetl’s Jews that they better get out before the next pogrom. For his 29-word dialogue, Bikel received the equivalent of $5 per show.

Bikel’s Vienna trip was praised by the White House, through its Jewish liaison, Mathew S. Nosanchuk. “I cannot think of a better emissary to carry a message of hope, perseverance and survival — on behalf of the Jewish people — to Austria, as the world marks these dark days,” Nosanchuk wrote. “You are the living embodiment of Jewish art and culture.”

Interviewed two days before flying to Vienna with his companion Aimee Ginsburg, Bikel, at 89, clearly had no thoughts of retirement — he is currently in the midst of producing and starring in the documentary film “Theodore Bikel in the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem.”

As for his general health, while he hasn’t escaped the aches and pains of advancing age, he firmly proclaims, “I still retain the same mental vigor, the same energy and the same curiosity.”

But just in case, he has already planned the inscription for his tombstone: “He Was the Singer of His People” — in Yiddish.

‘Jewish Refugees in Shanghai’ tells story of survival


For Jews desperate to flee the Nazi regime but barred from entry almost everywhere, Shanghai was the Last Place on Earth and a rescuing Noah’s Ark.

Between 1933 and 1941, some 20,000 Jews, mainly from Germany and Austria, found a harsh but safe refuge in the Chinese port city, and a UCLA exhibit and symposium will bear witness to one of the rare Jewish experiences of the Holocaust era with a positive narrative.

The “Shanghai miracle” is “a story of remarkable survival and hospitality,” summarized professor Todd Presner, director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, who was one of the main organizers of the event, together with Chinese studies colleagues and the Shanghai Foreign Affairs Office.

Opening Oct. 27 and continuing through Dec. 14, the “Jewish Refugees in Shanghai (1933-1941)” exhibition will include historical documents, memorabilia, photos and artifacts, most on loan from the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum.

Two panel discussions on “Cosmopolitan Sounds and Jewish Music in Pre-1949 Shanghai” and “Transnational Shanghai, Modern Metropolis” will be followed by a celebration on Oct. 27 to mark the exhibit’s opening.

Participating will be Chinese and American scholars and artists, diplomatic representatives and two “Shanghailanders,” who will recall their childhood lives in the city.

One of the survivors is William Hant, who was 4 when his parents left Vienna for Shanghai in 1939 and stayed until 1947, long enough for young Hant to celebrate his bar mitzvah.

Hant, now a visiting scholar at the UCLA Electrical Engineering department, recalled a “good childhood” in the cramped quarters of the Jewish-Chinese neighborhood of
Hongkou.

A more somber memory is the July 1945 U.S. bombing of the city, which had been occupied by the Japanese Imperial Army since 1937. The bombs killed more than 30 Jews and some 500 Chinese.

In late 1942, Hitler started to put pressure on his Axis partner, Japan, to turn over the Shanghai Jews, so that they could become part of his “Final Solution.”

There are at least two curious explanations for the Japanese refusal to accede to the German demands. One goes back to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, when wealthy Jews in Europe and America — remembering the pogroms under the czars — supported the Japanese side, an action that the Tokyo government never forgot.

The other explanation rests on an episode that took place in late 1942, when the Japanese military governor of Shanghai called in the leaders of the Jewish community.

When they arrived, the stern general asked why the Germans hated the Jews so much, to which the Amshinover Rebbe Shimon Sholom Kalish quickly replied, “Because we are Orientals.” At that, the general smiled for the first time and deprived Hitler of 20,000 more victims.

However, in early 1943, the Jews who had settled in various parts of the city were ordered to move into a one-square-mile ghetto in the rundown section of Hongkou, sharing the already crowded and decrepit neighborhood with the Chinese residents.

The two ethnic groups got along well, and, as they did in other locations in exile, the German and Austrian refugees soon created mini versions of their old Berlin and Vienna lifestyles, complete with theaters, opera, schools, sports clubs, bookstores and pastry shops.

Quite a different Jewish lifestyle was added by a few hundred students and teachers of the famed Mir Yeshiva, last located in Lithuania, which became the only yeshiva in Nazi-occupied Europe to survive the Holocaust.

The refugees were fortunate in receiving aid not only from their Chinese neighbors, but also from two earlier waves of Jewish immigrants to Shanghai. First came the Iraqi, or “Baghdadi,” Jews, some of who became great merchant princes, and later the Russian Jews, following the communist revolution in 1917.

Chinese officials first broached the idea of the Shanghai exhibit to the UCLA Confucius Institute, one of more than 300 such institutes in 98 countries supported by the Beijing government to promote the study of the Chinese language and culture.

The UCLA Confucius Institute in turn enlisted the participation of campus experts in Chinese history, ethnomusicology, Hillel’s Dortort Center for Creativity in the Arts, the German consulate in Los Angeles and the UCLA Library, which will mount a satellite exhibition from its own collection.

The Chinese government initiative in proposing the Shanghai exhibit at UCLA is another indication of the country’s more open attitude toward Western academicians, Presner said.

In particular, many Chinese intellectuals have long felt a certain affinity for the Jewish people, he noted, as members of an ancient civilization with a history of suffering and discrimination similar to their own.

“Chinese scholars are particularly interested in examining how the Jewish people have been able to adapt to the modern world while still retaining their own culture,” Presner observed.

China’s growing interest in American academic life is indicated by the increasing number of its students enrolling in American universities. During this year’s summer session, some 500 “fully paid” Chinese students attended UCLA classes, said Susan Pertel Jain, executive director of the Confucius Institute on the Westwood campus.

The academic flow between the two countries runs both ways. One example is the Institute of Jewish Studies at Nanjing University, bearing the name of Los Angeles philanthropists Diane and Guilford Glazer.

Among co-sponsors of the Shanghai exhibit is Facing History and Ourselves, an international educational and professional development organization. It is hosting a Nov. 3 workshop for educators, focusing on using the personal narratives of rescuers and survivors to teach middle and high school students about history, compassion and creativity.

The “Jewish Refugees in Shanghai” exhibition will be open to the public without charge Oct. 27-Dec. 14, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m., at Hillel at UCLA, 574 Hilgard Ave. Paid parking is available on campus at Lot 2, at the corner of Hilgard and Westholme avenues.

To attend the Oct. 27 symposium and opening celebration, preregistration is required; call (310) 267-5327 or e-mail cjsrsvp@humnet.ucla.edu.

Artist displays what’s missing in a ‘Box’


It’s hard to believe that Dwora Fried — a native Austrian with unruly, fiery red hair, a lesbian, world traveler, mother of four and daughter of a Holocaust survivor — is able to create artwork just as complicated, dynamic and vivacious as herself, all within a wooden box that’s only 31 centimeters wide, 21 centimeters high and 8 centimeters deep.

Each box is open on one side, revealing a complex scene within. 

In one, chairs hang from the ceiling and walls, a young boy in a Nazi salute stands in an open door with his pants down, a young girl stands behind a screen, and slippers sit on the floor. 

Fried prefers not to discuss her work because she believes everyone should interpret the art in his or her own way, but every box has a story with meaning to the artist. 

The Hancock Park resident recently had her artwork displayed in the Museo Ebraico di Venezia (the Jewish Museum of Venice) in the New Ghetto of Venice, Italy, as the exhibition “Outsider in a Box.” The show ran from June 2 to Sept. 12. Next, it will move to Vienna, where it will be on display at the Galerie Benedict from Oct. 17 to Dec. 17. 

Born in the Austrian capital, Fried has been creating art for as long as she can remember. After growing up in Vienna, she moved to Israel in 1968, attending Tel Aviv University and Avni Institute of Art and Design, getting married and raising two children. In 1978, Fried moved to Los Angeles and met her current partner. The two celebrated their 32nd anniversary on Aug. 22. 

Fried has always focused on her artwork, but also spent some time working at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. Fried said it has taken her 62 years to finally fully dedicate herself to her art. 

Fried said she gains artistic inspiration from her background. Her recently deceased mother was sent to the Nazi death camp Auschwitz at the age of 11, stripped of any real childhood or innocence. She was later liberated in Bergen-Belsen after walking what was known as a “death march.” Then, weighing close to 70 pounds, she was hospitalized with typhus. 

Fried’s mother moved to Israel after the war with her sister and brother-in-law, eventually meeting Fried’s father and moving to Vienna, where she lived until her death in April 2013. 


Dwora Fried

In honor of her mother’s lost youth, Fried searches flea markets around Europe for kids’ toys from the 1940s and ’50s. Old toys, dolls, miniature figures and other children’s paraphernalia often appear in Fried’s work. 

There are specifically Jewish undertones, too. For Fried, Judaism is connected to the Holocaust — a negative connotation to her religion that creates a certain inner struggle. 

“What I’m trying to express is the dichotomy between growing up Jewish and having Judaism really be muffled by all the stuff that was connected to it,” Fried said.

As a result, Fried said she’s never felt any real sense of belonging anywhere during her life.

“I keep re-creating the feeling of what it was like growing up. That’s pretty much it, even when I do stuff that has nothing to do with my childhood per se, I can recognize that feeling of impending doom, not belonging, a kind of anxiety.” 

Fried said as a child she felt she had to tiptoe around her mother, afraid if she asked the wrong question her mother might keel over from a heart attack and die. 

In part, this anxiety explains Fried’s choice of a box as the vehicle for her art. She said the box can portray a lot but also captures the claustrophobic feeling a painting can’t, as it exceeds two-dimensional limits and has a foreground and background someone can touch.

Having lived in Vienna, Tel Aviv and now Los Angeles, Fried said she still searches for the feeling of home. Her art, she said, reflects this inability to handle a part of her identity.

Despite this struggle, she may have found a temporary solution in her work.

“I always used to see my friends being patriotic or religious or having some kind of thing that they belonged to, and I never had that feeling,” Fried said. “Doing art makes you belong to whatever you’re doing at that moment. I belong to my art.”

Concert celebrates simcha


Arnold Schoenberg and Eric Zeisl have a lot in common. Each of the late Austrian Jewish composers is renown for their contributions to the world of liturgical music. And each is a great-grandparent of Nathan Arnold Schoenberg.

So to honor their memory on the occasion of the boy’s bar mitzvah, his parents, Pamela and E. Randol Schoenberg, hosted a Community Celebration Concert featuring their music. Presented at Sinai Temple on Aug. 22, the free event drew more than 1,300 people.

And while it was a time for celebration, something more sober was evident as well: Holocaust remembrance arrangements were included in the program — Arnold Schoenberg and Zeisl fled during the rise of the Nazi Party, but the tragedy influenced their work — and the event was co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH), where E. Randol Schoenberg serves as president of the board and acting executive director. For Nathan’s bar mitzvah, he also worked with Remember Us to call attention to a boy who perished in the Holocaust.

Arnold Schoenberg was an accomplished self-taught musician and artist who later became distinguished as a composer. His music became widely influential as he developed a method of composing 12 tones as a way to organize modern music. His compositions are performed regularly by major orchestras around the world. 

Zeisl is known for works that are richly tonal. He fled from Austria after Kristallnacht, and eventually arrived in the United States in 1939. 

Undergoing a special sound installation to enhance the evening performance, Sinai Temple felt like a summer evening at the Hollywood Bowl. The packed sanctuary was treated to liturgical works performed by conductor Nick Strimple, composer and Holocaust music expert; the Los Angeles Zimriyah Chorale, a master choir dedicated to performing Jewish-themed music; and London-based Ian Farrington, a pianist and organist.

“My grandfathers would be thrilled to know that we are having a celebration of their music in honor of Nathan’s bar mitzvah,” said Nathan’s father, who as an attorney handled a number of cases involving looted art and the recovery of property stolen by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

E. Randol Schoenberg said they had an unshakeable resolve to compose music, and were inventive, creative and accomplished. 

“Both of my grandparents looked at music mathematically and were very interested in musical structures,” he said. “Zeisl was good at using tropes and structures, and Schoenberg looked at his music like physics — he was constantly using formulas.”

Connecting the past with the present, Arnold Schoenberg’s Kol Nidre, Op. 39 for chorus and orchestra, has special meaning to Nathan and his family. This selection premiered 75 years ago at the Ambassador Hotel’s Coconut Grove ballroom with the composer himself conducting at Fairfax Temple’s Yom Kippur services.

Ellie Simon, an alto in the choir, said that this music completes the whole picture of what it means to be Jewish. 

“Singing the Kol Nidre makes me feel like I am standing before God,” she said. “I’m asking for repentance and begging for His forgiveness.” 

During the time Arnold Schoenberg was working on Kol Nidre op. 39, his homeland of Austria was being invaded and destroyed, and the Jewish subject matter of the Kol Nidre particularly affected him. Although he had fled the Nazis in May 1933, he was occupied with the plight of his European family and friends, the Schoenberg family said. 

“My great-grandfather looked to music and wrote pieces to warn people about Hitler,” Nathan said.

Zeisl’s music and tonality is more approachable than that of the other composer, according to Simon. 

“His music is completely different; it’s written to give thanks and praise to God through song and instrument,” she said. 

Zeisl’s “Requiem Ebraico,” a setting of Psalm 92, was written in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, and became his most famous work. 

“My grandfather was very inventive and creative, and we felt this was the appropriate concluding piece,” E. Randol Schoenberg said.  

Michael Silberstein of Redondo Beach didn’t know what to expect from the performance, but he said he found the music provocative and moving. He said it left him reflecting on his religion and the plights of those in years past.

“It really made me think of what it must have been like for my grandfathers and previous generations,” Silberstein said. “We can maintain a connection through music — it rolls us back in time and it forces my mind into thinking of my ancestors.

The community event approached musical history in a meaningful and reflective way that was personal and relevant, audience member Tamar Simon Hoffs said. 

“I think that it’s just so special to have that desire to share this experience. The ‘Requiem Ebraico’ was beyond moving — I can’t stop thinking about it.”

Austrian peacekeepers start pullout from Golan


Austria began the withdrawal of its 380 soldiers from the United Nations peacekeeping force on the Golan Heights.

The Austrians, who comprise more than a third of the 1,000-member U.N. Disengagement Observer Force, crossed on Wednesday from the Syrian side of the Golan to a U.N. base on the Israeli side. Some of the troops were scheduled to arrive in Vienna later in the day.

Last week, Austria said it was pulling its soldiers after fighting between government and rebel forces in Syria’s two-year civil war placed them in danger.

Croatia withdrew from the peacekeeping force earlier in the year due to similar fears.

Soldiers from the Philippines and India remain on the force. However, on Tuesday, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said he also is considering pulling out his 342 soldiers.

The head of the peacekeeping force told an Austrian newspaper on Wednesday that he did not have enough time from Austria’s announcement to the withdrawal to find replacements.

Russian President Vladimir Putin last week offered to send Russian troops to replace the withdrawing soldiers, but was turned down since the 40-year-old cease-fire agreement stipulates that soldiers from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council cannot be included in the force.

The U.N. force has been stationed on the Golan for 40 years.

Putin: Russian troops can replace Austrians on Golan Heights


Russia is ready to replace peacekeepers from Austria in the Golan Heights, President Vladimir Putin said.

Putin’s statement on Thursday, Reuters reported, was in reaction to an announcement by the Austrian government, which said it would recall its troops from a U.N. monitoring force due to worsening fighting in Syria.

“Given the complicated situation in the Golan Heights, we could replace the leaving Austrian contingent in this region on the border between Israeli troops and the Syrian army,” Putin said at a televised meeting with Russian military officers.

“But this will happen, of course, only if the regional powers show interest, and if the U.N. secretary general asks us to do so,” he added.

Austria, whose peacekeepers account for about 380 of the 1,000-strong U.N. force observing a four-decade-old ceasefire between Syria and Israel, said it would pull out after intense clashes between Syrian government forces and rebels on the border.

Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of intelligence, international relations and strategic affairs, said in a statement Thursday the Austrian move was “regrettable” and “teaches a clear and simple lesson: Even under a peace agreement, Israel cannot rely for its security on international forces to replace Israel Defense Forces.”

Russia, a longtime ally and arms supplier to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is trying along with Western powers to bring the warring sides in Syria together for talks on a solution to the more than two-year-old conflict.

The U.N. Security Council will meet on Friday to discuss the Austrian withdrawal after anti-Assad rebels briefly seized the crossing between Israel and Syria, sending U.N. staff scurrying to bunkers before Syrian soldiers managed to push them back.

Austrian peacekeepers quitting U.N. force amid heavy fighting at Syria-Israel border


Austria withdrew its soldiers from the U.N. peacekeeping force on the Golan Heights following battles between Syrian troops and rebels.

On Thursday, Austria said it would be withdrawing its 380 soldiers — more than one-third of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force that has been stationed on the Golan for 40 years.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry called on the U.N. to maintain security at the border.

“While appreciating Austria’s longtime contribution and commitment to peacekeeping in the Middle East, we nevertheless regret this decision and hope that it will not be conducive to further escalation in the region,” the ministry said in a statement. “Israel expects the United Nations to uphold its commitment under Security Council Resolution 350 (1974), in virtue of which UNDOF has been established.”

The withdrawal came after rebels and government forces in Syria’s civil war exchanged control of the border crossing between Israel and Syria.

The Quneitra Crossing on the Golan Heights changed hands at least twice Thursday, with the rebels taking the area in the morning and the army of President Bashar Assad retaking control later in the day, according to reports. The crossing is located about 200 feet from an Israeli army post.

A day earlier, the Syrian army and its Hezbollah volunteers captured the strategic town of Qusair on the Lebanon border following a two-week battle.

Following the retaking of Qusair, the Syrian military threatened Israel, saying in a statement that the victory sends a “clear message” to the “Zionist enemy.”

Israeli farmers in the area were instructed to keep away from the crossing area, Ynet reported.

Meanwhile, Israel lodged a complaint with the United Nations over Syria’s use of tanks on the Golan, which violates a cease-fire agreement between the two countries.

Vienna Archbishop opposes recognizing Jewish, Muslim holidays


The Archbishop of Vienna has advised Austria’s government not to add Jewish and Muslim dates to the list of national holidays.

“Both the Jewish and the Muslim community are not big enough in Austria that their holidays should be holidays for the entire population,” Cardinal Christoph Schonborn said on March 30 during a television interview for the ORF broadcaster.

Schonborn said 80 percent of the country’s population was Christian and mostly Catholic. “It is necessary to take into account the views of the majority of the people in the country,” he said.

Schonborn was responding to recent calls by Muslim leaders to declare one day during Ramadan and the day of Eid al-Adha as non-working days for Muslims.

The secretary general of the Jewish Community of Vienna, Raymond Fastenbauer, told the local newspaper Kleine Zeitung that the community supported making Jewish holidays national holidays, but that this idea was rejected because of objections by people in commerce.

The Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ) estimates there are 400,000 to 500,000 Muslims in Austria – a country of about 8.5 million. About 15,000 Austrians are Jewish, according to the European Jewish Congress.

Austria’s president says Nazi past can’t be forgotten


Austria cannot draw a line under its Nazi past despite the desire of many Austrians to so do, its president said on the 75th anniversary of the country's annexation by Nazi Germany.

Adolf Hitler and his troops marched unopposed on March 12, 1938 into an Austria weakened by political and economic turmoil and were cheered by hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom took part enthusiastically in the Holocaust that followed.

“The wish was to leave this disaster behind and tackle the country's future on a fresh basis. The deep wounds of the past were supposed to heal. I can understand that,” Heinz Fischer said in a speech in Vienna's Hofburg palace on Tuesday.

“But only wounds that are cleaned can heal without risk of infection. And the cleaning of this wound was a long time coming,” he said, calling the day of the annexation, or “Anschluss”, a “day of catastrophe”.

Austria officially maintained that it was Hitler's first victim for decades until Chancellor Franz Vranitzky acknowledged in a 1991 speech in parliament that Austrian citizens shared responsibility for the pain the Nazis brought on others.

Addressing the question whether it was time to draw a line under the events of 1938-1945, Fischer said: “Individual people cannot draw a line under crimes of that dimension, nor can governments or parliaments decree that such a line be drawn.”

He said the crimes of Hitler's Third Reich could not have taken place without the help of the “countless perpetrators, accomplices, informants and Aryanisers” who worked as cogs in the Nazi machine.

SOME RESISTANCE

But he added: “There was also another Austria. And here, I mean those people who were horrified by the events of March 1938… Some ended their lives, others were willing and ready to engage in resistance. Many were arrested.”

A new poll published last week and timed to coincide with the anniversary found that 53 percent of Austrians thought the “Anschluss” was voluntary, while 46 percent saw Austria as a victim.

Only 15 percent of the 502 people polled thought the Alpine republic should have fought annexation, 42 percent thought a war with Germany would have made matters worse, and 43 percent said it would have made no difference.

Three of five wanted a “strong man” to lead the country, while two out of five thought things were not all bad under Adolf Hitler. That was more than in previous surveys.

Most of Austria's large Jewish community was wiped out in the Holocaust and the 15,000 living there now have become more vigilant again due to a recurrence of anti-Semitic incidents.

They are usually condemned by Austrian political leaders but also seen generally as a regrettable fact of life.

Many Austrian institutions whitewashed their Nazi-era record for decades after the end of World War Two, including the world famous Vienna Philharmonic, which published more details of its past on Sunday night.

The Philharmonic acknowledged that many of its musicians were Nazi party members during Hitler's rule and that its director may have delivered a prestigious orchestra award to a Nazi war criminal two decades after the end of World War Two.

Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Loyola marymount commemorates Kristallnacht


On the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938, brown-shirted storm troopers torched and looted hundreds of synagogues and destroyed 7,500 Jewish businesses throughout Germany and Austria in what is known as Kristallnacht, “the night of broken glass.”

On Nov. 8, Loyola Marymount University (LMU), founded by Jesuits, will host its annual citywide commemoration of the Nazi pogrom, which many historians mark as the beginning of the Holocaust. At LMU’s Westchester campus, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin will give an address titled “Why the Jews? Ethical, Spiritual and Historical Lessons.” 

This is the sixth year that LMU has sponsored a Kristallnacht commemoration, part of the Catholic university’s long-standing ties with the Jewish community and its scholarly interest in Jewish studies.

Among the initiators of the commemoration was William Elperin, president of The “1939” Club, an organization of Holocaust survivors and their descendants that is underwriting the event.

“It seemed to me then, and even more now, that it is really important to teach the Holocaust to non-Jewish students at a non-Jewish university,” Elperin said. “It is really not productive to preach only to the choir.”

Indicative of the LMU leadership’s philo-Judaic outlook is its support of a full-scale Jewish studies program, under the direction of professor Holli Levitsky, and the recent appointment of the first full-time rabbi, Ilana Schachter, as campus coordinator of Jewish Student Life and Hillel rabbi.

Levitsky regularly leads her mostly non-Jewish students in her course “Holocaust in Poland” on a summer trip to key Polish cities and Auschwitz. Two student projects that grew out of this past summer’s trip, a creative dance and an original composition, will be performed at the Kristallnacht commemoration.

Following will be the talk by Telushkin, author of a dozen books on ethics, Jewish history, humor and mysteries. Cantor Sam Radwine will open the ceremony, Cantor Leopold Szneer will conclude it, and a kosher reception will follow.

LMU’s friendly relationship with the Jewish community goes back a long way. Founded in 1911, LMU established a law school in 1920, which set no quotas on admitting Jewish students, in sharp contrast to most private universities at the time.

Currently, enrollment of Jewish students on the Westchester campus runs 250 to 300, or roughly 2.5 to 3 percent of the total number of 9,852 undergraduate and graduate students.

Because only students who specifically register as “Jewish” are counted as such, it is a fair guess that there are more than the official count reflects, Schachter said.

No exact figures are available for Jewish faculty members at LMU, or for Jewish student enrollment at the affiliated downtown Loyola Law School, but the general assumption is that the percentages are considerably higher.

Schachter, 28 and a graduate of the local Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said in an interview that the Catholic majority at the university shares the Jewish values of social justice and devotion to learning, and joins in the celebration of Jewish events.

 “There is an advantage to being at a relatively small college, where we tend to share things,” Schachter said. “For instance, celebrations of Jewish holidays are sponsored by the general Student Union, and during Sukkot, we had our Sukkah right in the middle of the campus.”

Much of extracurricular life at LMU revolves around service organizations, in which students of all faiths work together, such as this Friday’s Shabbat, devoted to fighting global hunger.

In return, Schachter officiates as chaplain at one of the Catholic service groups and said she enjoys “learning about Catholic tradition.”

LMU also has a sizable Muslim student population, but there have been no anti-Israel demonstrations on campus, in contrast to what has taken place at a number of California public universities.

 “We’re not a politically active campus,” Schachter said. “I am sure that feelings about Israel vary, but we have had no confrontations.”

Levitsky and Schachter jointly administer, and are equally excited by, a project tackling a frustrating problem shared by Jewish activists at every university — how to get uninvolved Jewish students to become more involved in Jewish programs.

Underwriting the effort is a $10,000 Student Engagement Fellowship Grant from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Goals of the program are to determine the needs of unaffiliated Jewish students and on that basis develop accessible and relevant Jewish campus experiences and events attractive to those students.

The Kristallnacht commemoration on Nov. 8 will start at 7 p.m. in the Roski Dining Room of University Hall. For parking, enter the LMU campus at the main entrance off Lincoln Boulevard.

The public is invited, and there is no admission charge, but reservations are required.

For more information, visit lmu.edu.

Survivor: Alex Friedman


The train arrived at Dachau one morning in late November 1944. As the doors opened, German soldiers wielding big sticks yelled, “Raus, raus” (“Out, out”). Alex Friedman and the other Jewish prisoners exited, were marched toward the camp and, outside in the snow and cold, ordered to strip. Alex gave up his warm coat and the tefillin he had carried from Hungary. The men stood in a long line, waiting to see an SS doctor, who examined them one by one. “How do you say belly button in German?” Alex asked a fellow prisoner. He had pain and wanted medical attention. When Alex’s turn came, he started to speak, but the doctor hurriedly pushed him forward. “I was naïve. I had no idea they were killing people,” Alex said, looking back. He was 23.

After Alex was processed, he was given a shirt, pants and wooden shoes, and sent to a barracks. “We had no time to be afraid. We gave up everything already,” he said. 

Alex was born Sándor Friedman on March 21, 1921, in Kiskunfélegyháza, Hungary, to Mihaly and Rachel Friedman. He was the youngest of six children in an observant Orthodox family with two girls — “the most beautiful girls ever,” Alex said — and four boys. Their father ran a general store and provided comfortably for his family.

“I was lucky. I had everybody. I was the youngest,” Alex said. 

Although anti-Semitism always existed in Kiskunfélegyháza, Alex said, especially on Easter and Christmas when “talking against the Jews” was widespread, it mostly had been subdued. Plus, his family was well liked. Local farmers who could not read or write sought help from Alex’s mother, who composed and posted letters for them, even paying for the stamps. 

But in October 1940, when Hungary became an ally of Germany, anti-Jewish measures took effect. Among other prohibitions, Jews could not buy merchandise. Alex, who was 19 at the time and running his father’s store, traveled to Budapest to find goods. “We were selling whatever we could get,” he said. 

On March 19, 1944, however, Germany invaded Hungary, and by April all the Jews in Kiskunfélegyháza were ordered to wear yellow stars and relocate to the ghetto. Alex and his parents moved into one room. “Everybody was thinking — though no one was saying it out loud — that they brought us to the ghetto to kill us,” he said. 

After 10 days of not knowing whether to flee or stay, Alex volunteered for forced labor. He was taken to an army barracks and sent to work each day at a private, German-owned canning factory five miles away, in Nagykoros, where he peeled apples, among other jobs. “We had everything,” Alex said, including all the apples they could eat.

But in mid-October 1944, as Hungary tried to make peace with the Soviets, German troops deposed Hungarian leader Miklos Horthy and replaced him with Ferenc Szálasi, head of the Hungarian Nazis, who stepped up deportations and executions.

Soon after, Alex’s labor unit was sent on a forced march. After five weeks, with intermittent stops, they came to a large, empty field in Zurndorf, Austria, where thousands of prisoners were “guarded by 16-year-old German boys with big guns,” Alex said. They were then loaded onto cattle cars and shipped to Dachau. It was the end of November 1944. 

 Alex had been in Dachau only a few days when he and a group of prisoners were sent to Mühldorf, a Dachau subcamp, where much construction was taking place. “We didn’t know what they were building,” Alex said. There they slept two to a bunk and subsisted on meager rations. 

A few days into the job, while unloading bags of cement weighing 50 kilograms (about 110 pounds) from a truck and carrying them up several flights of stairs, Alex was punched hard in the face by a soldier. The blow knocked him to the ground and caused so much swelling his friends didn’t recognize him. “I wasn’t working fast enough,” he remembered.

Alex remained at Mühldorf about five months, wearing the same shirt and pair of pants. Sometimes he carried bags of cement. Other times he shoveled loose cement into wooden boxes and hauled those. Then, around the third week in April 1945, when Alex was digging a runway and was “so weak he couldn’t even pick up a stick,” he overheard a German soldier say the war would soon end.

A week later, Alex and other Mühldorf prisoners were loaded onto cattle cars. “They want to kill us all in the mountains,” Alex heard people saying. But because American troops were advancing from several directions, the train never reached its destination and instead halted on a siding at Bavaria, where the prisoners were liberated by American troops on May 1, 1945. 

Alex spent three months in the Feldafing Displaced Persons camp, which was quickly established on the site of a former Hitler youth camp, near the train siding. 

In August, Alex returned to Kiskunfélegyháza, arriving at midnight. Unable to sleep, he spent the first night sitting on the synagogue floor. The next day, he went to his parents’ house, but he couldn’t go inside; he just sat on the curb.

Alex moved into his sister’s house. She and all his siblings, as well as his parents, had been killed in Auschwitz, with the exception of his brother Naftoli, who was liberated from Mauthausen and who lived with Alex until Naftoli’s death in 1987.

Of the 1,500 Jews living in Kiskunfélegyháza before the war, according to Alex’s recollection, only 30 came back. But it was there that he was introduced to Eva Goldman, who had spent more than a year in Auschwitz, and they married on Dec. 4, 1945. Their son, Andrew, was born on April, 26, 1947.

In 1949, when communists came to power in Hungary, Alex tried unsuccessfully to escape through Czechoslovakia with his family. They then settled in Budapest. But on Dec. 4, 1956, after the Hungarian uprising, they escaped again, walking all night until they safely reached Austria. In January 1957, they arrived in Los Angeles with little money and no English.

Alex found work as a typewriter repairman. He saved money and, after two years, began buying convenience stores, accumulating seven. In 1978, at 57, he retired, renting out the stores and making other real-estate investments. His wife died in 1998.

Today, Alex is 91 and, because of ill health, he misses attending services at Congregation Bais Naftoli on La Brea Avenue, named for his brother. But he enjoys spending time with his family — his son, four grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. 

“God was always watching me,” he said.

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