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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The trial of 95-year-old Hubert Zafke, a former Auschwitz paramedic, and of 94-year-old Reinhold Hanning, a former guard at the death camp, have already started. Neither has yet spoken in court.

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

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

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

Study: Nazi propaganda had lifelong effect on many Germans

Germans who grew up during the 1930s are far more likely than their younger countrymen to have negative attitudes about Jews, according to a new study of anti-Semitism in Germany.

The study, released Monday by American and Swiss researchers, found that anti-Semitic views were particularly strong among Germans raised in regions of the country that were known for anti-Semitism even before Hitler came to power, The Associated Press reported.

According to the researchers, who analyzed surveys conducted in 1996 and 2006, the findings indicated that Nazi propaganda was highly effective, especially when it confirmed existing beliefs.

“It’s not just that Nazi schooling worked, that if you subject people to a totalitarian regime during their formative years it will influence the way their mind works,” Hans-Joachim Voth of the University of Zurich, one of the study’s authors, told AP. “The striking thing is that it doesn’t go away afterward.”

Voth added that the propaganda was particularly effective when “the overall environment where children grew up was already a bit anti-Semitic. It tells you that indoctrination can work, it can last to a surprising extent, but the way it works has to be compatible to something people already believe.”

Airbus seeks deal to supply Germany with Israel drones

Airbus (AIR.PA) signed a deal on Wednesday with Israel Aerospace Industries to team up on a bid for a bridging contract to supply the German armed forces with military drones until 2020.

The armed forces currently use an IAI Heron 1 unmanned aerial system, which is made by the Israeli firm and operated by Airbus Defence & Space. However, Germany's contract with the two companies is due to expire in 2015.

Airbus Defence & Space said on Wednesday it had struck a deal with Israel Aerospace Industries to make an offer to supply Germany with an upgraded drone, the Heron TP, after 2015 to allow the country to keep its surveillance capabilities until the arrival of a European drone.

The German government would have the choice of either a purchase option or a lease for the system, Airbus said.

European aerospace companies on Monday put forward proposals for a medium-altitude long endurance (MALE) drone programme that would have to be agreed by governments in the region, before potential production for 2020.

Currently Europe relies on Israeli or U.S. companies for its drone needs, but ministers have said they want to see a European product brought onto the market.

Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Pravin Char

A German saves a Jew

It was 3 p.m. on a November weekday when Frank Hebroni found out who had saved him. He recalls the moment in perfect, vivid detail, a strobe of intense light after so much darkness:   

“It was nine hours ahead — midnight for him,” Hebroni, 26, said of his bone marrow donor, who lives in Germany. “My mom was, like, ‘I’m gonna call right now.’ He answered, but he barely spoke English. He said something in German. My mom was, like, ‘Bone marrow donation! America! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!’ ”

For Hebroni’s mother, Hengy, this was a victory call — a triumph of modern medicine over odds and distance, an achievement of humanity over the evils of history. She would not wait another minute to share this epic moment with the man who had saved her son from a ruthless foe.  

It wasn’t Hitler, but there had been a Pharaoh living inside Hebroni’s body. 

When he was 9, the Iranian-Jewish boy was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma (rab-DO-MYO-sarcoma), a rare malignant tumor that Hebroni described as “in my face, behind my eye, close to my brain.”  

Because of the tumor’s proximity to his cerebrum, doctors would not operate. For a year, Hebroni endured a punishing regimen of radiation and chemotherapy that forced him to miss the fourth grade. What would that matter, though, if it meant he would live?

Five years later, Hebroni was a freshman in high school when a routine check-up with his oncologist served him another blow: acute myelogenous leukemia, probably a result of the radiation he had undergone for the tumor.  

He spent a year of high school in isolation at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, watching and waiting as the poisonous chemo serum worked its magical madness on his cancer. And before he could surrender to the pain, nausea, hair loss, weight loss, loneliness, boredom or despair, the malevolent molecules disappeared into remission. 

“After being sick, you would think I would get disgusted by the medical field, by always being in the hospital and stuff,” Hebroni told me by phone last week. “But, after that, I wanted to be a doctor.”

Nine years passed. Then, in May 2011, as Hebroni was nearing the end of his second year at UCLA medical school and was about to take his board exams, he got a sore throat. It soon became a sinus infection, then bronchitis, then pneumonia. “At a party, just walking around the party, I was short of breath,” he recalled. “And I had a bad feeling in my gut. I thought, maybe I’m sick again.” 

The chances of his cancer recurring after nine years of remission were very low, but Hebroni insisted on a visit to the oncologist for a blood test. His heavy dread proved prescient; the leukemia had returned. 

“I got so mad,” Hebroni recalled of his third cancer diagnosis before turning 25. “I grabbed [the doctor’s] coat and started shaking him back and forth, yelling ‘You have to treat me or I’m gonna die!’ ” 

His family and friends were stunned when it took only one round of chemo for the cancer to retreat in remission. But Hebroni’s doctor was not relieved; if the cancer were to recur again, he explained to the family, the strain could be so aggressive that chemo might be powerless to stop it. “He thought we should really do something more permanent,” Hebroni recalled.

The solution would be a bone marrow transplant — if only a match could be found.

It was June 2011, half a world away in the tiny German town of Bad Lippspringe (population 15,000) in North Rhine-Westphalia, when 59-year-old Peter Entz was contacted through a donor registry and asked if he would donate stem cells. Entz had entered the registry some years earlier when a local donor drive was organized to save a young man with leukemia from his town, but before a donor could be found, the boy died. Now, Entz was approaching 60, the cut-off age for bone marrow donation. 

“When they asked me, I was speechless,” Entz wrote me by e-mail in his striving English. “I thought that I would be too old. I only needed some moments [to think about it] and I said, ‘Yes, of course, I do it.’ ”

A week before the procedure, Entz self-administered injections that gave him extreme nausea “and malaise,” he wrote. “Nevertheless, I still endured because I wanted to help the sick person. I never had any doubts.”

Entz was not given information about the recipient; after the donation, he was told it was a person living in the United States. 

At City of Hope National Medical Center, outside Los Angeles, Hebroni and his family were anxiously waiting for the transplant to take its course. For a mandatory 100 days, they watched as Hebroni’s body attacked itself, through a complication known as graft versus host disease (GVHD), a condition that made him supremely vulnerable to infection. For months he had to remain strictly isolated in a special unit of the hospital. Visitors had to wear full body gowns to see him. And almost daily he needed blood, platelet and electrolyte transfusions. He could only eat through an I.V. 

The complications from the transplant beset Hebroni with a series of illnesses and trials that would radically alter his life for years to come: his bones grew so thin he couldn’t lift a spoon; he couldn’t keep food down but had to swallow 45 pills daily; he lost 50 pounds. He underwent more surgery, and he had to wear a germ-repellent mask in public.  

After two years, Hebroni was finally able to contact Entz and tell him that he would return to medical school.

This Passover, Hebroni’s family invited Entz and his daughter to visit Los Angeles and share their seder. “It was an unbelievable feeling of happiness and thankfulness to meet Frank and his family,” Entz wrote to me. “Never before [have] I had contacts to anyone in the U.S.A. It is a great pleasure and grace for me, that life led us together.”

Of the seder experience, Entz added: “It was a deeply moving and impressive moment to experience this Jewish holiday in the circle of the entire family. We spent a wonderful night together with many conversations and Iranian dancing.”

The symbolism was so stark, I had to ask Entz what it meant to him that he had saved a Jewish life more than half a century after the Holocaust. 

“That I was able to save a human life is for me the greatest pleasure in my life,” he wrote. “The Jew[s] and the German[s] have a very bad past. I am very happy to have made a piece of redress through my donation for a Jewish person.”

The origins and meaning of Ashkenazic last names

This piece originally ran on jewishcurrents.org.

Ashkenazic Jews were among the last Europeans to take family names.  Some German speaking Jews took last names as early as the 17th century, but the overwhelming majority of Jews lived in Eastern Europe and did not take last names until compelled to do so.  The process began in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1787 and ended in Czarist Russia in 1844.

In attempting to build modern nation states, the authorities insisted that Jews take last names so that they could be taxed, drafted and educated (in that order of importance).  For centuries, Jewish communal leaders were responsible for collecting taxes from the Jewish population on behalf of the government and in some cases were responsible for filling draft quotas.  Education was traditionally an internal Jewish affair. 

Until this period, Jewish names generally changed with every generation.  For example if Moses son of Mendel (Moyshe ben Mendel) married Sarah daughter of Rebecca (Sora bas Rifke), had a boy and named it Samuel (Shmuel), he would be called Shmuel ben Moyshe.  If they had a girl and named her Feygele, she would be called Feygele bas Moyshe.

Jews distrusted the authorities and resisted the new requirement.   Although they were forced to take last names, at first they were used only for official purposes.  Among themselves, they kept their traditional names.  Over time, Jews accepted their new last names, which were essential as they sought to advance within the broader society, and as the shtetls themselves became more modern or Jews left them for big cities.

The easiest way for Jews to assume an official last name was to adapt the name they already had, making it permanent.   This explains the use of “patronymics” and “matronymics.”

PATRONYMICS (son of…..)

In Yiddish or German, it would be “son” or “sohn”  or “er”

In most Slavic languages like Polish or Russian, it would be “vich” or “vitz” ), anglicized to “wich” or “witz).

For example: the son of Mendel took the last name Mendelsohn; the son of Abraham became Abramson or Avromovitch; the son of Menashe became Manishewitz; the son of Itzhak became Itskowitz; the son of Berl took the name Berliner; the son of Kesl took the name Kessler, etc.  


Reflecting the prominence of Jewish women in business, some families made last names out of women’s first names:

Chaiken—son of Chaikeh

Edelman—husband of Edel

Gittelman—husband of Gitl

Glick or Gluck—may derive from Glickl, a popular woman’s name as in the famous “Glickl of Hameln,” whose memoirs, written around 1690, are an early example of Yiddish literature

Gold/Goldman/Gulden may derived from Golda

Malkov—from Malke

Leaman/Lehman–husband of Leah

Perlman—husband of Perl

Rivken—may derive from Rivke

Soronsohn—son of Sarah


The next most common source of Jewish last names is probably place names.  Jews used the town or region where they lived—or more likely where their families came from—as their last name, reflecting the Germanic origins of most East European Jews.

Asch—acronym for towns of Aisenshtadt or Altshul or Amshterdam



Berger—generic for townsman

Berg (man)—from a hilly pace

Bayer—from Bavaria


Berlin—Berliner, Berlinsky











Frankel—from Franconia, region of Germany



Gordon—from Grodno, Lithuania or from the Russian word gorodin, for townsman


Halperin—from Helbronn, Germany


Heller—from Halle, Germany

Hollander—not from Holland, but from town in Lithuania settled by Dutch

Horowitz, Hurwich, Gurevitch—from Horovice in Bohemia


Krakauer—from Cracow, Poland


Lipsky—from Leipzig, Germany

Litwak—from Lithuania

Minsky—from Minsk, Belarus

Mintz—from Mainz, Germany


Ostreicher—from Austria

Pinsky—from Pinsk, Belarus

Posner—from Posen, Germany

Prager—from Prague

Rappoport—from Porto, Italy

Rothenberg—from then town of the red fortress in Germany

Shapiro—from Speyer, Germany

Schlesinger—from Silesia, Germany


Unger—from Hungary

Vilner—from Vilna, Poland/Lithuania

Wallach—from Bloch, derived from the Polish word for foreigner 

Warshauer/Warshavsky—from Warsaw

Wiener—from Vienna




Ackerman- plowman




Cooper/Cooperman—barrel maker or coppersmith









Goldsmith —goldsmith


Kastner—cabinet maker


Kramer–store keeper


Nagler—nail maker






Spielman—player (musician?)


Wasserman—water carrier 


Garfinkel/Garfunkel—diamond dealer

Holzman/Holtz/Waldman—timber dealer


Rokeach—spice merchant

Salzman—salt merchant

Seid/Seidman—silk merchant

Tabachnik—snuff seller

Tuchman—cloth merchant

Wachsman—wax dealer

Wollman—wool merchant

Zucker/Zuckerman—sugar merchant





Related to tailoring


Nadelman/Nudelman—also tailor from “needle’

Sher/Sherman—also tailor from “scissors” or “shears”

Presser/Pressman—clothing presser



Wechsler/Halphan—money changer

Related to liquor trade



Kabakoff/Krieger/Vigoda—tavern keeper

Geffen—wine merchant

Wine/Weinglass—wine merchant

Weiner—wine maker


Altshul/Altshuler—associated with the old synagogue in Prague

Cantor/Kazan/Singer/Spivack—cantor or song leader in shul 


Gottlieb–God lover

Haver—from haver (court official)

Klausner—rabbi for small congregation

Klopman—calls people to morning prayers by knocking on their windows


Rabin—rabbi  (Rabinowitz—son of rabbi)

London—scholar, from the Hebrew lamden (misunderstood by immigration inspectors)

Reznick—ritual slaughterer



Schechter/Schachter/Shuchter etc.—ritual slaughterer from Hebrew schochet



Spector—inspector or supervisor of schools



Dreyfus—three legged, perhaps referring to someone who walked with a cane



Gottleib—God lover, perhaps referring to someone very devout

Geller/Gelb/Gelber—yellow, perhaps referring to someone with blond hair


Gruber—coarse or vulgar






Koenig—king, perhaps someone who was chosen as a “Purim King,” in reality a poor wretch

Krauss—curly, as in curly hair




Roth/Rothman—red head

Roth/Rothbard—red beard

Shein/Schoen/Schoenman—pretty, handsome

Schwartz/Shwartzman/Charney—black hair or dark complexion

Scharf/Scharfman—sharp, i.e  intelligent

Stark—strong, from the Yiddish shtark 

Springer—lively person, from the Yiddish springen for jump

Sussking/Ziskind—sweet child

Weiss/Weissbard–white hair/ beard


These were sometimes foisted on Jews who discarded them as soon as possible, but a few remain:

Gans–goose                                  Inkyk–turkey

Grob–coarse/crude                     Kalb–calf


It is common among all peoples to take last names from the animal kingdom.


eagle –Adler (may derive from reference to an eagle in Psalm 103:5)

camel—Gelfand/Helfand (technically means elephant but was used for camel too)










Hirschhorn–deer antlers


Rothschild—red shield




Strauss—ostrich or bouquet of flowers


Some Jews either retained or adopted traditional Jews names from the Bible.

The big two

Cohen– Cohn, Kohn, Kagan, Kahan, Kahn, Kaplan

Levi—Levy, Levine, Levinsky, Levitan, Levenson, Levitt, Lewin, Lewinsky, Lewinson

Others from the Bible

Aaron—Aronson/ Aronoff










Mayer/Meyer (Talmudic, not Biblical)








Baron—bar aron (son of Aaron)

Beck–bene kedoshim (descendant of martyrs)

Getz—gabbai tsedek (righteous synagogue official)

Katz—kohen tsedek (righteous priest)

Metz–moreh tsedek (teacher of righteousness 

Sachs/Saks—zera kodesh shemo (his name descends from martyrs)

Segal/Siegel—se gan levia (second rank Levite)

Shub/Shoub–shochet u'bodek (ritual slaughter/kosher meat inspector)


Leyb means “lion” in Yiddish.  It is the root of many Ashkenazic last names including Liebowitz, Lefkowitz, Lebush and Leon.  It is the Yiddish translation of the Hebrew work for lion—aryeh.  The lion was the symbol of the tribe of Judah.

Hirsch means “deer” or “stag” in Yiddish.  It is the root of many Ashkenazic last names including Hirschfeld, Hirschbein/Hershkowitz (son of Hirsch)/Hertz/Herzl, Cerf, Hart and Hartman.  It is the Yiddish translation of the Hebrew word for gazelle—tsvi.  The gazelle was the symbol of the tribe of Naphtali.

Taub means “dove” in Yiddish.  It is the root of the Ashkenazic last name Tauber.  The symbol of The dove is associated with the prophet Jonah.

Wolf is the root of the Ashkenazic last names Wolfson, Wouk and Volkovich.  The wolf was the symbol of the tribe of Benjamin.


Eckstein—Yiddish for cornerstone, derived from Psalm 118:22

Good(man)—Yiddish translation of Hebrew word for “good”–tuviah 

Margolin—Hebrew for pearl

Jaffe/Yaffe–Hebrew for beautiful


When Jews were required to assume last names, some chose the nicest ones they could think of and may have been charged a registration fee by the authorities.

According to the YIVO Encyclopedia, “the resulting names often were associated with nature and beauty.  It is very plausible that the choices were influenced by the general romantic tendencies of German culture at that time.”  

Applebaum—pear tree

Birnbaum—pear tree

Buchsbaum—box tree

Kestenbaum—chestnut tree

Kirshenbaum—cherry tree

Mandelbaum—almond tree

Nussbaum—nut tree

Tannenbaum—fir tree

Teitelbaum—palm tree

other “baum” names

Names with these combinations were also chosen or purchased:

Blumen (flower)                                                         

Fein (fine)                                                       combined with:

Gold                                                               “berg” for hill or mountain, “thal” for valley,

Green                                                              “bloom” for flower, “zweig” for branch, “blatt”

Lowen (lion)                                                   for leaf, “vald” or “wald” for woods and “feld”

Rosen (rose)                                                   for field

Schoen/Schein (pretty)

Other aesthetically pleasing names









Sender/Saunders—from Alexander

Kelman/Kalman—from the Greek name Kalonymous, popular among Jews in medieval France and Italy.  It is the Greek translation of the Hebrew “shem tov” (good name)

Marcus/Marx—from Latin, referring to the pagan god Mars

ANGLICIZED NAMES (or why “Sean Ferguson” was a Jew)

Jewish last names were often changed or shortened by immigrants themselves and their descendants— to sound more “American.”  (In rarer cases, immigration inspectors may have accidently changed the names of immigrants by misreading them. )

For example, Cohen to Cowan, Yalowitz to Yale, Rabinowitz to Robbins   

And this is good old Boston;

The home of the bean and the cod.

Where the Lowells speak only to the Cabots;

And the Cabots speak Yiddish, by God!   


What happened to the last names of Ashkenazic Jews who immigrated to pre-state Palestine and to early Israel???   

David Green became David Ben Gurion

Abba Meir became Abba Eban

Golda Meyerson became Golda Meir

Amos Klausner became Amos Oz

Syzmon Perski became Shimon Peres

Ariel Scheinerman became Ariel Sharon

Moshe Shertok became Moshe Sharett

Levi Shkolnick became Levi Eshkol

Yitzhak Jeziernicky became Yitzhak Shamir

Why?   To distance themselves from Ashkenazic Jewry.

For more, visit this piece on jewishcurrents.com.

Oy vey: Holocaust Instagrams

Smiley selfies from Auschwitz and Buchenwald? They’re trending, apparently.

Blogger Hektor Brehl, writing for the German version of Vice magazine, has a piece about the tendency of young travelers to post pics taken at Holocaust memorials in which they show off their new sneakers and crack “uncool” jokes.

Brehl collected an array of examples. His 25 top offenders include a girl in mittens giving a thumbs-up sign (hashtags: #auschwitz #birkenau… #chilly #willy”), a grinning girl posed so a Jewish star appears to grow out of her head (#juden #arbeitmachtfrei #treblinka #zyklonB #feelgood), a smiling girl posing at the Treblinka memorial in Poland (#Look #cool #hot #treblinka #Poland) and a photo of the Berlin Holocaust memorial with the hashtag #instacaust.

Most of Brehl’s top 25 are girls posing cutely. But he also notes another trend in which gay men trolling for dates post selfies taken at the Berlin memorial.

“Instagram seems to work like a Polaroid filter for some people’s brains,” Brehl concludes, “turning off the #commonsense function.”

He wonders which memorial will be first to post a sign that reads, “Please instagram responsibly.”

‘Aftermath’ exposes dark secrets in Poland

The Nazi occupation of most of Europe during World War II and the Holocaust tested the moral fiber not only of the individual citizen but also of entire nations.

Today, 68 years after the guns fell silent in Europe and the Far East, historians and filmmakers not-yet-born in 1945 are still wrestling with the questions of moral courage, indifference and depravity that comprised the human mosaic in that era.

Most films dealing with the years of the Holocaust focus on the bravery of the resistance and some on the villainy of collaborators, but only a handful of German and French movies have examined the much touchier issue of national guilt.

This is certainly true of American producers and directors, who can smugly pat their nation on its collective back, because it never had to face the harsh test of living under enemy occupation.

Given this preamble, the Polish movie “Aftermath” is a particularly valuable contribution to the examination of national guilt or fortitude.

In the collective Jewish memory, the old Poland was a hotbed of anti-Semitism, and there are enough personal and historical accounts to validate the attitude. Yet in the Yad Vashem listing of the Righteous Among the Nations, which honors non-Jews who risked their own and their families’ lives to shelter or otherwise aid Jews, Polish Catholics outnumber the rescuers of every other country.

But if the Polish nation, one of the chief victims of Nazi barbarity, had its heroes, it was also home to numerous perpetrators who happily denounced their Jewish neighbors and took over their houses, businesses and fields.

That duality is at the heart of “Aftermath,” a movie so powerful and provocative that its lead actor has received numerous death threats in Poland, while the movie won the Yad Vashem Award at this year’s Jerusalem Film Festival.

“Aftermath” is set in the recent past and opens with the arrival of Franek, who has lived for the past 20 years in Chicago and is returning to his native village in Poland to visit his younger brother, Jozek.

Jozek works the family farm, but, to his brother’s puzzlement, is the hostile target of the villagers, who throw rocks through his windows, paint Zyd (Yid) on his barn door, and finally burn his fields.

Gradually, Franek learns that Jozek’s initial offense was to damage public property by excavating the gravestones that had been taken from the Jewish cemetery during the war and used as road pavement. He carefully hauled the old headstones back to his farm, where he established his own impromptu Jewish cemetery.

Jozek has a hard time explaining this strange behavior, even to himself, except that “there was no one else to take care of them.” He has even taught himself the Hebrew alphabet to decipher the names on the grave markers.

But worse is to come. The young farmer starts exploring the village’s dark secret, and eventually Franek, though dismissive of Chicago’s money-grubbing “Yids,” joins in his brother’s quest.

After the German army occupied the village, two SS officers approved a plan by some of the leading citizens to avoid the bother of deporting some 340 Jewish men, women and children.

The proposal called for rounding up all the Jews, locking them inside a barn and then burning the place down. After the Germans gave the green light, the villagers put the plan into action with great enthusiasm, drinking vodka and cursing the incinerated “Christ killers.”

Afterward, the villagers took over the homes and fields of the dead Jews.

The main characters in the film are fictitious, but the central horror, the burning of the village’s entire Jewish population, is based on a wartime atrocity.

For decades, during Poland’s postwar communist regime, the official government version had it that the actual mass killing and burning were the work of the German army.

But in 2001, Jan T. Gross, a Polish-American professor, wrote the book “Neighbors,” which documented in devastating detail that the Polish citizens of the small town of Jedwabne had incinerated hundreds of their Jewish neighbors in a large barn on July 10, 1941.

The book’s revelations were contested and bitterly denounced by nationalist politicians and media as “part of a Jewish conspiracy to tarnish Poland’s reputation,” but among many younger Poles, the exposé triggered a curiosity about the Polish Jews they had never known.

One was the Polish filmmaker Wladyslaw Pasikowski, who started to write the screenplay for “Aftermath” 10 years ago.

In one interview, Pasikowski explained that the film is about one “one of the most painful chapters of Polish history. We already have a huge number of movies on the horrors committed by the Germans and the Soviets, and I think it is time to show the horrible things we did ourselves.”

(Originally, the film was to have been titled “Kaddish,” and the present Polish title, “Poklosie,” translates as “Consequences.” Either choice would arguably have made for a more apt title than “Aftermath.”)

The movie has its Polish heroes, foremost the brothers Jozek, played by Maciej Stuhr, one of his country’s best-known actors, and Franek (Ireneusz Czop), as well as an elderly priest, but it is unsparing in depicting the anti-Semitic mob mentality of the mass of villagers.

Predictably, “Aftermath” aroused a storm of controversy in its native land, split mainly along political right/left lines. The primary target has been the actor Stuhr, shown on magazine and newspaper covers as a traitorous “Zyd.”

In an e-mail exchange, Dariusz Jablonski, one of the film’s producers, noted that Stuhr was the public face and defender of the film, championing the “new” Poland against the prejudices of the “old” Poland.

Asked, “What made you decide to produce this film, knowing that many of your countrymen would bitterly resent it,” Jablonski responded, “It is not easy to tell uncomfortable truths to your nation, but that is an artist’s/filmmaker’s job. The truth is unconditional, and when I read Pasikowski’s script, I felt obliged to do it.

“We Poles have to acknowledge that being one of the main victims of World War II, and having at that time so many brave people saving Jewish lives, so often paying with their own lives, we also had a few perpetrators among us. Why do we have to do that? We owe it to millions of Jews who found their good life for centuries on Polish soil.”

Is the movie based on Gross’ book on the actual mass burning of Jews in Jedwabne?  “The film is not based on any single book or document, but every element in the film is credible and can be identified as coming from documented stories,” Jablonski responded to the Journal’s question.

Despite the controversy, “Aftermath” won the Critics Prize at Poland’s most important film festival at Gdynia, but it was not chosen as the country’s entry for the Oscars’ foreign-language film competition.

“Aftermath” opens Nov. 15 at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles, Playhouse 7 in Pasadena and Town Center in Encino.

Herschel Grynszpan: ‘The Boy Avenger’

Like stills from a film noir, the black-and-white photographs of a 17-year-old boy named Herschel Grynszpan that have come down to us — police mug shots, newspaper photos, a souvenir snapshot taken at a Paris street fair — capture the various faces that he presented to the public during the fall of 1938, when he boiled up out of a noisy Jewish neighborhood in a backwater of Paris and demanded the attention of the astonished world.

L’affaire Grynszpan, as his case came to be known, starts with a single act of violence behind the locked gates of the German embassy in Paris on November 7, 1938, when he fired five shots at a Nazi diplomat. Nowadays, when Grynszpan is remembered at all, it is because the Nazis seized upon the assassination as a pretext for Kristallnacht, the pogrom that marked the sudden and ominous escalation in Hitler’s war against the Jews. But it is also a story replete with shock and scandal, mystery and perplexity.  

Precisely what transpired inside the ornate German embassy in Paris on that day remains a puzzlement, but even more baffling is the black hole of history into which Grynszpan has fallen since the end of World War II. Herschel Grynszpan was briefly famous, and it was his fame — or, as the Nazis saw it, his infamy — that accounts for the trove of historical detail that is available to us today. We know how much he weighed, how tall he was, and how much money his family received in welfare payments because he was investigated by both French and German police officers, and he was examined by physicians, psychiatrists and social workers in the service of the French criminal courts and later by their counterparts in Nazi Germany, all in the greatest and most intimate detail. Grynszpan, still only an adolescent, was questioned by the famously efficient interrogators of the Gestapo and even by Adolf Eichmann, a self-styled expert on Jewish affairs in the Nazi bureaucracy and one of the masterminds of the Final Solution.

Today, however, Grynszpan remains a mystery, an irony if only because Grynszpan was among the most famous inmates of the Nazi concentration camp system. Perhaps the most vexing aspect of the Grynszpan case is the fact that he has never been embraced as the heroic figure he earnestly sought to be. His fellow Jews, suffering through the catastrophic aftermath of his act of protest at the German embassy in Paris, “generally disapproved of it as useless, dangerous and a great disservice to Jews everywhere,” according to Gerald Schwab, one of the principal investigators of the Grynszpan case. One of Grynszpan’s own attorneys, richly paid to defend him in the French courts, dismissed him privately as “that absurd little Jew.” Hannah Arendt pronounced him to be “a psychopath” and, even more shockingly, accused him of serving as an agent of the Gestapo. Jewish armed resistance against Nazi Germany is much studied and celebrated, but Grynszpan remains without honor even among the people whose avenger he imagined himself to be.

The effacement of Herschel Grynszpan, who wrote and spoke so ardently about his deed to lawyers, judges, politicians and reporters in the months and years following his arrest, would have broken the boy’s heart. His prison journals, which were carefully preserved and studied by both French and German authorities, reveal that the lonely and frightened adolescent yearned not merely for attention but for a place of consequence in the saga of the Jewish people. “He thought the only end to isolation was to reach the point where he was no longer separated from the true struggles that went on around him,” writes Don DeLillo of Lee Harvey Oswald in the novel “Libra,” but the same words surely apply to Grynszpan. “The name we give to this point is history.”

As we observe the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, we ought to pause and recall the 17-year-old boy who was among the very first Jews to fire a weapon in defense of the Jewish people during those dark years. “For three lines in history that will be written about the youth who fought and did not go like sheep to the slaughter,” insisted the martyred ghetto fighter Dolek Liebeskind, “it is even worth dying.” Yet the search to find examples of Jewish resistance has failed to acknowledge the exploits of Herschel Grynszpan.

At the end of the short, strange and turbulent life of Herschel Grynszpan — a life tainted by rumors of sexual scandal for which Herschel himself was the source — we are left with two ineradicable facts. Only weeks after the prime ministers of England and France had trembled before Hitler in Munich, Grynszpan walked into the German embassy in Paris and shot a Nazi diplomat, an “act of counter-violence” in explicit protest against Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. And, three years later, the same young man, alone and abandoned in a Gestapo cell in Berlin, succeeded in denying his Nazi captors the opportunity to justify the mass murder of the Jewish people in the show trial they had planned for him.

For these two acts of courage and defiance, the young man paid with his life. If Jewish armed resistance deserves more than “three lines in history,” then we are obliged to remember Herschel Grynszpan and to regard him as the hero he sought to be. 

Jonathan Kirsch is the book editor of the Jewish Journal. Excerpted from “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris” by Jonathan Kirsch. Copyright © 2013 by Jonathan Kirsch. With permission of the publisher, Liveright Publishing Corp. 

Last Hitler Bunker witness Rochus Misch dies at 96

Rochus Misch, the last surviving witness of Adolf Hitler's final days in the Berlin bunker who always referred to the Nazi dictator as “the Boss,” has died in his home at the age of 96, his book agent said on Friday.

Misch, who told Reuters in a 2007 interview at his home that there was a strange silence in the bunker as the battle for Berlin raged above in April 1945, had been suffering from the effects of a recent heart attack when he died on Thursday.

“His family was with him when he died,” Misch's agent, Michael Stehle, said. Misch died in the modest house in south Berlin where he had lived since 1938.

In the 2007 interview, Misch – who worked as Hitler's bodyguard, phone operator and courier for five years – said: “Life in the bunker was pretty normal. Hitler was mostly very calm.”

He said historians, filmmakers and journalists always got it wrong when they described the mood in the bunker as Soviet forces closed in on Hitler in the final days of the Nazi regime.

“It was much less dramatic than shown by many historians, filmmakers and journalists,” said the former soldier. “The worst thing was the silence … Everybody was whispering and nobody knew why. That's why it felt like the bunker of death.”

Misch remained neutral on Hitler up to his death.

“History is history, it was the way it was and nobody should lie about it,” he said, refusing make judgments about the past.

Misch was not ashamed to talk about pleasant moments with Hitler just as was depicted in the internationally acclaimed 2004 German film “Downfall”, which drew controversy for showing Hitler's rarely explored human, as well as brutal, side.


When asked about the happiest time in his life, Misch pulled out pictures of Hitler and his close associates at the Nazi leader's summer Berghof residence in the Bavarian Alps.

“The best time I ever had was Berghof,” Misch said. He pointed to a picture showing Hitler, surrounded by children and the Third Reich's architect, Albert Speer. “It was wonderful, like a holiday. The boss was very relaxed when he was there.”

Misch was the last survivor of the final days of the bunker. Another, Bernd von Freytag Loringhoven, died in 2007. Misch was a burly man with silver hair and appeared in a number of documentary films about Hitler and the bunker.

“No matter who wanted to see Hitler, no matter if it was (propaganda chief Joseph) Goebbels, (Luftwaffe chief Hermann) Goering or anyone else, they had to get past me,” said Misch. “Regardless of who called, I picked up the phone.”

The only soldier allowed to carry a weapon in the bunker, Misch joined the SS in 1937 aged 20 and was wounded in 1939 in Poland. He recovered and was reassigned to Hitler's chancellery.

He was captured after the war and spent nine years in Soviet prisons. Back home, he launched a house-painting business.

Misch said he stayed in the bunker even after Hitler let others leave. He said it was his duty as a soldier. With the war clearly lost, Hitler killed himself on April 30, 1945.

“I was prepared for it and was just waiting for the moment,” Misch said. “When the door opened I saw Eva (Braun) lying with her legs bent so that her knees almost reached her chin. I will never forget that.”

Later, Misch saw Hitler's corpse covered by blankets and with only his shoes protruding. “There was a complete silence,” he said. “I went to the commander and said: “'The Fuehrer is dead'. My colleague then said, 'Now the boss is to be burnt'.”

Rediscovering Ben-Haim

In 1920, Paul Frankenburger was 23 and an up-and-coming German conductor and composer. For the next four years, he assisted two of the greatest conductors of the 20th century, Bruno Walter and Hans Knappertsbusch, but by 1933, the Nazis had forced him to immigrate to Palestine. At 36, he had to start over.

Undaunted, Frankenburger changed his surname to Ben-Haim and went on to reinvent and refresh both his personal and musical identity, eventually becoming a national treasure of his adopted homeland. In 1957, he received the Israel Prize in music for his King David-inspired orchestral score, “The Sweet Psalmist of Israel,” which was conducted two years later by Leonard Bernstein in New York. A widely admired recording with the New York Philharmonic followed.

In his day, and in the decade following his death in 1984, Ben-Haim was celebrated by great musicians, among them violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who frequently programmed his Sonata in G minor for Solo Violin, and Itzhak Perlman, who recorded a dazzling rendition of his Violin Concerto in 1993 with the Israel Philharmonic, led by Zubin Mehta. 

But these days, the Israeli composer isn’t heard much in concert halls, and his catalog available on Amazon is scant. 

That may change with the release of “Chamber Works by Paul Ben-Haim,” the latest installment of Canada’s venturesome ARC Ensemble “Music in Exile” series. The vibrant recording, thrillingly performed, offers a rich musical portrait of the Israeli composer from 1921 to 1965.

The Toronto-based ensemble, in its 10th season, plans to explore works not only by Jewish composers who fled Germany during the 1930s, but also by the non-Jews who remained behind, resisting totalitarianism and becoming “internal exiles.” 

Furthermore, on Nov. 17, the eight ARC (“Artists of the Royal Conservatory”) musicians will perform a program of all-Polish music at the downtown Colburn School’s Zipper Hall, including Piano Quintets by Mieczyslaw Weinberg — in 2006, the ensemble’s RCA disc of his chamber music was nominated for a Grammy — and Szymon Laks.

The ensemble’s choice of repertoire is often initially proposed by its artistic director, guitarist Simon Wynberg, who then discusses the possibilities with the musicians.

“We thought it would be better to do something unknown, rather than the 150th version of Dvorak’s Piano Quintet or Schubert’s `Trout,’ “ Wynberg said by phone from Toronto. “We didn’t think we’d be adding to what’s already been said musically, so I started looking for groundbreaking repertoire.”

The ARC Ensemble (Artists of the Royal Conservatory). Photo courtesy of ARC

Wynberg said James Conlon, music director of Los Angeles Opera, became an early supporter of the ARC’s project. Conlon’s own earlier “Recovered Voices” series focused on little-known or forgotten operas pushed aside by the Holocaust.

“Ben-Haim was Israel’s best-known national composer,” Wynberg said, “and I wondered why so much of his music was still unexplored.” 

Wynberg started corresponding with Ben-Haim’s biographer, Jehoash Hirshberg, professor emeritus of musicology at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He studied the Ben-Haim music catalog included in Hirshberg’s book. 

“When I met Hirshberg in Israel, I asked him about the composer’s early Piano Quartet,” Wynberg said, “and he said it was well worth looking into, even though it’s stylistically very different from his Israeli works.”

The Piano Quartet, probably last heard in Europe on a 1932 German radio broadcast, is the first piece on the new recording. It’s a solidly crafted late-Romantic work, full of rhythmic drive and unforced lyricism. Exulting in every bar of the score, the ARC players make the 1921 piece sound freshly conceived.

Wynberg said the score was discovered still in manuscript, and not performed in Israel, probably because Israeli musicologists and musicians were less interested in exploring works written before Ben-Haim’s immigration. 

The new release offers Ben-Haim’s works from 1921 to 1965.

“No one had looked at it,” Wynberg said. “Ben-Haim’s musical language changed when he arrived in Israel. He heard things he wouldn’t have heard in Germany — folk tunes, traditional melodies.”

In some ways, Ben-Haim was a composer in the right place at the right time. He became a hugely successful tonal composer, whose colorful folkloristic style and exotic melodies were particularly relevant to the Israeli experience.

“This was a young country looking to provide an identity for itself,” Wynberg said. “Writing music as if you were part of a German conservatory was not going to cut it. It was a tabula rasa. You could do what your conscience and creativity pushed you to do.”

Wynberg said Ben-Haim’s style imaginatively melds “European conservatory training with the atmosphere of the Middle East.”

You can hear what he’s talking about in the recording’s riveting accounts of the quirky and restless Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet, the atmospheric “Two Landscapes” for viola and piano, and Improvisation and Dance for violin and piano.

Erika Raum, one of the ensemble’s violinists, whose teacher, Lorand Fenyves, was concertmaster of the Palestine Symphony (which became the Israel Philharmonic), said Ben-Haim “brought his central European training to the table, the development of complex harmony and extended forms.” 

Raum called Ben-Haim’s early Piano Quartet “a fabulous piece,” and rated Weinberg’s Piano Quintet, which will be performed at Zipper Hall on Nov. 17 — (alas, there won’t be any Ben-Haim on that program) — “up there with Shostakovich.”

While the ARC Ensemble can and does play canonical works like the Brahms Piano Quintet, Wynberg said “there is something particularly exciting about learning and performing a completely unknown piece.”

In a way, Wynberg suggested, perhaps it’s a bit like what Ben-Haim may have felt setting out on a new adventure in Palestine. “Creating a new culture,” Wynberg said, “must have been incredibly exciting.”

Rare ‘Schindler’s List’ documents sold at New Hampshire auction

Documents linked to Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist known for his efforts to save Jews from World War II concentration camps, were sold at auction for more than $122,000, a New Hampshire auction house said on Thursday.

The documents included a rare one-page letter, signed by Schindler and dated Aug. 22, 1944, sent from his enamelware factory in Krakow, Poland, where he employed more than 1,000 Jewish workers from a nearby Nazi concentration camp.

The letter was written on behalf of one of Schindler's employees, Adam Dziedzic, who had “received a clearings contract for unloading and assembling war-necessary machinery and has been sent to Sudetengau.”

Schindler's story was recounted in the 1982 novel “Schindler's Ark” by Australian author Thomas Keneally and became the basis of Steven Spielberg's film “Schindler's List” in 1993 that won seven Academy Awards.

Schindler had learned in the summer of 1944 that the Nazis planned to close factories unrelated to the war effort. Through bribery and personal connections, he won permission to produce arms and move the factory and its workers to Brunnlitz, in Sudetenland, or Sudetengau, in what is now Czech Republic.

The nine or 10 lists of employees he submitted to the Nazis became known collectively as “Schindler's list.”

RR Auction of Amherst, New Hampshire, said in a statement that an anonymous buyer bought the one-page letter on Wednesday night for $59,135 and paid $63,426 for construction plans that were part of Schindler's Krakow munitions factory used as a safe haven.

“These documents are especially desirable as there are very few from this period in Schindler's life, and their dates and locations 'bookend' the story surrounding the famous 'Schindler's List,'” RR Auction vice president Bobby Livingston said.

Editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool

Snowden says U.S., Israel created Stuxnet virus

Whistleblower Edward Snowden told a German magazine that Israel and the United States created the Stuxnet computer virus that destroyed nuclear centrifuges in Iran. 

Snowden made the statement as part of an interview with the German news magazine Der Spiegel in which he answered encrypted questions sent by security software developer Jacob Appelbaum and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras. Excerpts of the interview were published Monday on the Spiegel website.

Snowden was asked if the U.S. National Security Agency partners “with other nations, like Israel?” He responded that the NSA has a “massive body” responsible for such partnerships called the Foreign Affairs Directorate.

He also was asked,  “Did the NSA help to create Stuxnet?” Snowden responded, “NSA and Israel co-wrote it.”

Stuxnet in 2010 wrought havoc on equipment at Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant and complicated the manufacture of highly enriched uranium, which the West suspects is intended for making atomic weapons. The virus temporarily disabled 1,000 centrifuges being used by the Iranians to enrich uranium.

Snowden, a former technical contractor for the NSA and employee of the CIA, last month revealed the existence of mass surveillance programs by the United States and Britain against their own citizens and citizens of other countries.

He said Germany and most other Western nations are “in bed together” with the NSA.

Snowden said a private citizen would be targeted by the NSA based on Facebook or webmail content.

“The only one I personally know of that might get you hit untargeted are jihadi forums,” he said.

Snowden is a fugitive of the United States who is believed to be in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Three Latin American countries — Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia — have offered him asylum, NBC reported.

Report: Security guards fail to pursue assailants of German rabbi

Security guards at a shopping mall in Germany failed to pursue the youths who attacked a rabbi, a German news agency reported.

Mark Dainow, vice chair of the Jewish community of Offenbach, told the epd news service that six to eight youths, who appeared to be of “Middle Eastern origin,” attacked Rabbi Mendel Gurewitz at the southern German district’s KOMM-Center on the evening of June 2.

The youths reportedly shoved the the 39-year-old rabbi and shouted “s*** Jew,” “f*** off” and “viva Palestine.” Investigators are reviewing videotapes from security cameras.

Mall security guards and the alleged assailants reportedly demanded that Gurewitz erase images of the attack he had taken on his smartphone. One of the police officers who arrived after being called by mall security reportedly also told the rabbi to erase the images, which he reportedly did.

The head of the local police department later apologized to the rabbi, as did the mall manager for the behavior of the security personnel.

According to a report in the Hessischen Rundfunk radio online edition, Gurewitz phoned the head of the local Jewish community, Henryk Fridmann, during the incident. The latter reported hearing the words “s*** Jew” over the phone.

Dainow told reporters that the youths followed the rabbi out of the building, but that an acquaintance of the rabbi was driving past and picked him up. Gurewitz described the incident as “horrible, shocking.”

He has filed charges against the unknown assailants.

“The least we can expect now is a full explanation by the authorities,” Corrado Di Benedetto, president of the Union of Councils of Foreigners in the state of Hesse, said in a statement. He called the incident an “attack against the peaceful coexistence of all people in our region.”

Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, called the incident “shameful and shocking.”

The Conference of Orthodox Rabbis in Germany sent an appeal to the public to be more vigilant against anti-Semitism and racism.

“One can’t look away in denial when Jews are attacked, threatened and cursed in a public place, only because they are recognized as Jews by their head covering,” the group’s statement read in part.

Nazi role-playing at Santa Monica High School causes stir

Generally, expert advisers counsel against teaching about the Holocaust by having students do exercises that re-create the experience. Role-play activities can reinforce negative views, stereotype group behavior and are pedagogically unsound, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Yet some teachers leading classes on the Shoah have used such techniques, including re-creating the experience of being transported in cattle cars by having students cram into a small space, or holding the better-known “blue eyes-brown eyes” activity, with the teacher giving fewer privileges to the students with brown eyes. 

Two weeks ago, a class at Santa Monica High School was asked to participate in an exercise in which students were instructed to create propaganda posters and campaign speeches on behalf of the Nazis, and to present their material to the class.

“Your job is to get people to join your organization,” the assignment stated.

Shannon Halley-Cox, a ninth-grade social studies teacher, gave the assignment to about 40 students during an April 12 class as part of the freshman seminar standards, which encourages students to “confront the complexities of history” by analyzing such topics as the Holocaust, the American eugenics movement and racial tensions in Los Angeles, according to the Santa Monica High Web site. Santa Monica High School, one of three high schools in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, has a student population of 3,100 in grades nine through 12. 

This assignment — first reported on lukeford.net, a blog by Luke Ford that focuses on the Los Angeles Jewish community — echoes an incident that had occurred earlier this month at a high school in Albany, N.Y. There, an English teacher instructed students to write essays convincing the Third Reich of their loyalty by arguing why Jews are evil, based on Nazi propaganda.

According to The New York Times, which reported on the incident, the Albany high school teacher is facing disciplinary action. 

The Santa Monica High case prompted the teacher, Halley-Cox, to apologize to Ethan Milius, the parent of a student who complained about the assignment. Milius e-mailed the Journal copies of the assignment and the apology. 

Terry Deloria, assistant superintendent to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, said Halley-Cox’s “assignment specifically prohibited students from using any negative words about those that were persecuted or words that would promote violence or hatred.” Deloria denied that “students [were] asked to act out, role play or simulate being a part of these groups.”

By having students create their own Nazi propaganda, Halley-Cox sought to answer the question of why Germans in the 1930s were either bystanders or sympathizers to Nazi atrocities, the teacher explained in an e-mail exchange with Milius.

“The point of the assignment is to answer the question, ‘How could German citizens sit back and let the Holocaust happen?’ ” Halley-Cox wrote in an e-mail.

Milius’ daughter, Stephanie, is Jewish and a student in the seminar class where the assignment was given. Milius said that he understands the teacher’s intentions, but he does not think the assignment accomplished its stated purpose. 

“What possible lesson does an impressionable 15-year-old derive from pretending to be a Nazi German and telling her fellow students to pretend to have racist beliefs that resulted in the deaths of millions of Jews?” he said in an interview with the Journal. “There’s nothing you can learn from that.” 

Next year, students in the school’s freshman seminar class won’t be developing their own propaganda, Deloria says. “Upon reflection, the freshman seminar teacher team feels they can accomplish the same learning outcomes next year by having students view primary sources of historical propaganda,” Deloria said.

‘Lore’ sees Holocaust through German teen’s eyes

To help us grasp the enormity of the Holocaust, we have the testimonies of survivors, of liberators, even of bystanders, but what about the perpetrators and, even more, their children, who grew up worshipping Adolf Hitler?

“Lore,” the movie, grapples with that complex question from the perspective of the title character, a 14-year-old girl (impressively played by Saskia Rosendahl), daughter of a high-ranking SS officer and his equally fanatical wife.

As Germany collapses in the spring of 1945, the Allies arrest Lore’s father as a war criminal, as well as her mother. Before her mother departs, she charges Lore to take her four younger siblings, the youngest one little more than a baby, across the rubble-strewn fatherland to her grandmother’s farm in Bavaria.

Along the way, Lore and her charges get a lift from American soldiers; she is almost raped by a German farmer; she sees a brother shot dead by a Red Army guard and trades the family jewels for a loaf of bread.

She also encounters a cross section of her countrymen and women, barely able to comprehend what has happened to their fatherland and fuehrer, and confronted for the first time with the crimes of the Nazi regime.

As one who has lived through and participated in a good part of this history, I can attest that the reactions of many of these solid burghers ring absolutely true.

Shown the first photos of a death camp, an elderly woman averts her eyes and moans, “If the fuehrer had known what was going on, he would have put a stop to it.”

A man looking admiringly at a framed photo of Hitler blames the German people for letting the fuehrer down and admonishes the volk for “breaking his heart.” Still another patriot informs bystanders that the emaciated prisoners in an Auschwitz photo are actually actors hired by the Americans.

Lore angrily tears down the American “propaganda” poster but soon faces a more personal problem.

Thomas, a strange young man, attaches himself to the young refugees and becomes their self-appointed protector and food scavenger. Lore is drawn to Thomas (Kai Malina) emotionally and physically, until he produces his ID papers at a checkpoint.

The documents, and the tattooed numbers on his arm, identify him as a Jewish concentration camp survivor, a member of that race Lore has been taught to despise from infancy.

She threatens Thomas that her father, the imprisoned SS officer, “will deal” with him and lashes out that “all you filthy Jews are liars.” But is the young man actually a Jew or only impersonating one?

Toward the end of the film, Lore is still confused and torn, but gradually begins to question the deeds of a father and fuehrer she once adored and trusted unquestioningly.

In some respects, the film is a curious one. Young Saskia Rosendahl in the title role gives an impressive performance, and the portrayal of the average German confronting the collapse of his world is spot on.

At the same time, director Cate Shortland depicts the wandering of the five kids in a nightmare world at an oddly slow, at times static, pace.

Oddest, however, is that “Lore” was submitted into this year’s Oscar competition for best foreign-language film by Australia.

The Aussies can hardly be considered “foreign” (meaning non-English) under the rules of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Actually, the movie is entirely in German, with a cast of German actors. What makes it “Australian” is that director Shortland was born and bred Down Under.

During Shortland’s visit to Los Angeles to boost her film’s Oscar chances (it didn’t make the cut), the Journal asked her how she came to make a movie in a language she hardly speaks, and her answers were quite intriguing.

 “I have always been interested in the effects of living in a totalitarian society, and especially what that does to children,” she said.

Shortland also has given considerable thought to the issue of national guilt, noting that “Australians are still in denial [over] what their ancestors did to the Aborigines in settling my country.”

Her interests became even more personal when she married a Jewish man whose family had left Berlin in 1936 and settled in Sydney. Four years ago, she converted to Judaism, observing, “I am no longer Cate the shiksa.” The couple has added more diversity to their family by adopting two black children.

All these factors fused when she read “The Dark Room,” a novella written by Rachel Seiffert, whose protagonist’s experiences closely resemble those of the film’s Lore.

“I was terrified when I started out to make this film,” Shortland confessed, partly because of the language problem in interacting with the cast and crew, but also her fear that the film could be taken as an apology for the Nazi regime. 

The fear is unfounded. The Nazi indoctrination of German youth was intense beyond belief, and an acknowledgment that the German people — guilty or not — suffered greatly during the war in no way diminishes the unspeakable crimes committed by them and in their name.

“Lore” opens Feb. 8 at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles, Playhouse 7 in Pasadena and Town Center 5 in Encino, as well as at Edwards Westpark 8 in Irvine.

Youngest person on Schindler’s list dies

The youngest person saved by German industrialist Oskar Schindler has died.

Leon Leyson, who Schindler called “Little Leyson,” died of lymphoma on Jan. 12 in Whittier, Calif., at 83, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Leyson was 13 when he went to work at Schindler's factory in Krakow, Poland, where he had to stand on a box to operate the machinery.

He was a high school educator for nearly four decades and rarely spoke about his Holocaust experiences until the 1993 release of the Academy Award-winning film “Schindler's List.” Following the interest generated by the Steven Spielberg movie, Leyson traveled throughout the United States telling his story.

Two of Leyson's brothers were killed in the Holocaust, including one that Schindler added to his list but who refused to get off the train to Auschwitz because his girlfriend was not on the list, according to the Los Angeles Times. Schindler placed Leyson's mother and two other siblings on the list of 1,100 Jews along with his father, making it one of the few families that he protected.

Leyson's siblings later immigrated to Israel.

Leyson criticized the film for emphasizing Schindler's womanizing and profiteering as opposed to his decency and compassion, the newspaper said.

In 1949, Leyson immigrated to America and later fought in the Vietnam War. He taught machine shop and was a guidance counselor at Huntington Park High School, retiring in 1997.

He was the father of two and grandfather of four.

Holocaust, Jewish themes remain prominent among foreign Oscar offerings

The long-forecast “Holocaust fatigue” among filmmakers and their audiences has not yet arrived, judging by the entries for 2013 Oscar honors by producers and directors in numerous countries.

Each of a record 71 foreign — meaning non-English-speaking — countries has submitted its top film, ranging alphabetically from Afghanistan to Vietnam.

So broad a representation of the world’s tastemakers and opinion-shapers, though hardly scientific proof, tends to reflect the topics and themes likely to attract home audiences.

So, just as in Hollywood, there are lots of movies on love in all its permutations; high and low comedies; and spy, action and detective thrillers.

But also entered are five movies that deal directly with the Jewish fate during the Nazi era and its aftermath, one film with talmudic roots and one on the wartime clash between Russian and German armed forces.

Also of special interest to Jewish moviegoers are the Israeli entry, and, after an absence, a Palestinian film.

Probably the least-expected entry is “Lore,” submitted by Australia. While the Aussies speak in what might still be considered colonial dialect, that would hardly be considered a foreign language by the standards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

But “Lore” features an all-German acting and -speaking cast. The title character is a 14-year-old girl, the daughter of a high-ranking SS officer and his like-minded wife, who are arrested by Allied authorities in the closing days of World War II in Europe.

Lore is charged by her mother to take her four younger siblings, one still a baby, across rubble-strewn Germany, pass through the Russian-occupied zone and find the farm of her grandmother in American-ruled West Germany.

Along the way, Lore is befriended and protected by a young man, to whom the adolescent girl is physically and emotionally attracted. To her horror, the Nazi-suckled Lore discovers that her protector seems to be one of the despised and evil Jews she has been taught to hate all her life.

The only Australian part of the film is its director, Cate Shortland, and under the Academy rules, that entitles her country to enter “Lore” as its own.

Shortland, who with the Journal during a visit to Los Angeles, was asked why she would make a film on this particular topic and in a language she doesn’t speak.

“I have long been interested in totalitarianism and, especially, what it does to children,” she said, adding that it was challenging to view ultimate evil from the perspective of the perpetrators.

Her decision was reinforced by her marriage to a man whose German-Jewish parents arrived as refugees in Australia, and by her own conversion to Judaism four years ago.

Aside from “Lore,” the other four entries dealing with the Holocaust were made in Eastern European countries dominated in the postwar decades by communist regimes, which largely ignored the extermination of its Jewish populations during World War II.

One of the entries is from Macedonia and another from Serbia, two countries established by the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

“The Third Half,” by Macedonian director Darko Mitrevski, has some of the elements of a Hollywood product — poor boy falls in love with rich girl, and the underdog team beats the champion.

In this case, a scruffy, low-class workingman and part-time soccer player pursues the aristocratic daughter of a rich Jewish banker, and his laughable provincial team beats the league’s top team.

What sets “The Third Half” apart is the time — 1941 — and the locale of Macedonia, occupied by Nazi ally Bulgaria. The occupiers introduce all of Hitler’s racial agenda, including the graphically depicted humiliation and deportation of the Jews.

Bulgaria, which saved its own Jews but turned the Jews of occupied Macedonia over to the Germans, has bitterly protested the film as a perversion of history. According to Mitrevski, Bulgarian authorities have retaliated by blocking talks for Macedonia to join the European Union.

The director remains unfazed. “I am fascinated by the individual stories of Holocaust survivors,” he said. “There should be 11 million such movies of Jewish, Gypsy, homosexual and political survivors.”

In Serbia’s submission, “When Day Breaks,” an elderly music professor, who has always considered himself a Christian, discovers that he is the son of Jewish parents, who left him with a farmer’s family and later perished in the Holocaust.

As the stunned professor wanders through present-day Belgrade, he finds that few people remember the war years or that the city’s neglected fairground served as a concentration camp for the city’s Jews. With his musician friends, he set about to establish a memorial on the site.

Like the professor, “I cannot not remember,” said director Goran Paskaljevic in a phone interview. “If we forget the crimes committed during World War II, and later in Bosnia, that opens the door to new crimes.”

The Czech Republic’s entry, “In the Shadow,” starts as a film-noir detective story, but as it evolves, it leads to the anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic show trials of the 1950s, staged by the communist regime in Prague.

The Holocaust targeted not only Jews, but also other “racially inferior” people, particularly the Romas (Gypsies). Hungary, an Axis partner during the war, relives this past in its Oscar entry, “Just the Wind.” The movie depicts the murder of five Romani families in an isolated village and the subsequent trial of the suspects.

“White Tiger” is an enigmatic Russian film that centers on some of the devastating tank battles between German and Soviet forces during World War II. The title character is a massive German tank, which appears suddenly to destroy its Russian opponents and just as suddenly disappears into the void.

Critics have interpreted the film’s underlying theme as pointing to war as a natural part of the human condition or as a representation of the German lust for power and domination, which will fade away for some time and then suddenly reappear.

The Latvian movie, “Gulf Stream Under the Iceberg,” goes back to the biblical and talmudic legend of Lilith, the reputed first wife of Adam, who in subsequent reincarnations controls men through her sexual attraction.

Israel’s contender, “Fill the Void,” wrestles with profound issues of faith within the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) community of Tel Aviv. Director Rama Burshtein, a New York native who became fervently Orthodox after making aliyah, focuses the film on whether 18-year-old Shira will follow her mother’s wishes to marry the husband of her older sister, who died in childbirth.

Shira is caught between the strictures of her community — whose rituals and lifestyle are depicted in loving detail and not without humor — and personal choice.

In the Palestinian film, “When I Saw You,” Tarek is a precocious 11-year old, who flees his West Bank village after the Six-Day War and ends up with his mother at a refugee camp in Jordan.

Seeking freedom and adventure, Tarek leaves the camp and falls in with a group of militant anti-Israel fighters.

The motion picture academy will winnow down the 71 foreign entries to an initial shortlist of nine semifinalists and is scheduled to announce the results on Dec. 21. Subsequently, five finalists will be made public on Jan. 10. The Oscars will be presented on Feb. 24.

Among film critics, the favorites for the top prize are Austria’s “Amour” and France’s “The Intouchables,” which were both nominated for Golden Globe awards. However, Israel’s “Fill the Void” and Australia’s “Lore” also are considered likely contenders, and the selection committees for best foreign-language film are well known for their often-unexpected choices.

In the meantime, though, the academy has already announced its 15 nominees for best documentary choices. Included are “5 Broken Cameras” by directors Emad Burnat, a Palestinian, and Guy Davidi, an Israeli; and “The Gatekeepers” by Israel’s Dror Moreh. “The Gatekeepers” consists of lengthy and surprisingly frank interviews with six former heads of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, discussing the past and likely future of the tumultuous regional conflicts.

The man who snuck into Auschwitz

Have you heard of Witold Pilecki?

A new book, “The Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery” (Aquila Polonica: 2012), documents, in his own words, Pilecki’s remarkable exploits, and I can’t think of a better gift to give yourself for Chanukah. 

Pilecki was a Polish army captain who volunteered at age 39 for one of the singular missions of World War II: to get into Auschwitz.

Yes, into.

On Sept. 19, 1940, Pilecki left the hideout of the underground Polish Home Army, which he helped create, to deliberately enter a German roundup. He was taken to Auschwitz, where he survived vicious beatings, starvation and pneumonia, and, at the same time, set about organizing resistance units, boosting morale and documenting the murder taking place there.

Beginning in 1941, Pilecki used couriers to smuggle out detailed reports of Auschwitz atrocities, reports that reached the Polish resistance and the British government in London. In 1942, he helped organize a secret radio station, using scrap parts, that regularly broadcast the numbers of arrivals and deaths at the camp.

Courage, they say, is not the absence of fear, but the ability to overcome it. Pilecki was a devout Catholic and patriotic Pole. He was married with two children when he volunteered for Auschwitz.

[Read an excerpt from “The Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery”]

“The game that I was now playing at Auschwitz was dangerous,” Pilecki wrote in his report. “This sentence does not really convey the reality; in fact, I had gone far beyond what people in the real world would consider dangerous.”

Pilecki’s detailed reports of what was happening inside Auschwitz revealed the treachery of the “final solution” to a world that believed the camp only held Polish and Soviet prisoners of war. Perhaps because he wrote in factual, unemotional language, perhaps because he wasn’t a Jew, his observations continue to carry an irrefutable weight.

“They have told me: ‘The more you stick to the bare facts without any kind of commentary, the more valuable it will all be,’ ” he wrote, speaking of his commanders. “Well, here I go … but we were not made of wood, let alone stone, though it seems sometimes even a stone would have broken out into a sweat.”

Trained as an army captain, he quickly realized that only people with trades had a chance at survival here.

“ ‘Stupid f_____ intellectual,’ was the most insulting epithet in the camp,” he recounted.

Pilecki posed as a carpenter, and stayed alive by suckling from horses and eating their bug-infested bran. Despite the extreme hardship, he stayed true to his task of documenting the suffering around him.

Here is Pilecki describing how SS officer Josef Klehr murdered inmates with phenol, the first such record:

“At first the injection was made intravenously, but the victim lived too long — several minutes — so in order to save time the system was changed and the injection was made straight into the heart and the inmate lived much less — a few seconds. The still-twitching body was pushed into the toilet behind a wall and the next number entered.”

In the spring of 1943, frustrated with the Home Army and the Allies’ decision not to attack Auschwitz, Pilecki decided to escape so he could convince the Home Army commanders in person.

“Captain 159 [a fellow inmate] looked at me in some surprise and said, ‘… can one pick and choose when one want to come to Auschwitz and when one wants to leave?’ I replied: ‘One can.’ ”

Indeed, Pilecki joined a bakery detail, overwhelmed a guard and made good his escape.

Once free, Pilecki finished two more complete and detailed versions of his report. In them, he estimated that around 2 million souls were killed at Auschwitz. When the reports reached London, intelligence officials dismissed these numbers as an impossible exaggeration. They weren’t. 

Pilecki went on to fight in the Warsaw Uprising, then immediately after the war began working against Soviet domination. Despite repeated warnings that Polish authorities, now in league with the Soviets, were closing in on him, he refused to abandon his country and escape.

Polish communists captured Pilecki, accused him of collaboration with the West and sentenced him to death in a show trial. Pilecki told a friend that torture at the hands of the Soviet-trained Poles made Auschwitz look like “child’s play.” On May 25, 1948, Pilecki was executed in Mokotow Prison, his body dumped in an unmarked grave. He was 47.

Pilecki was posthumously exonerated only after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when he was elevated to the stature of Polish national hero and deemed a Righteous Gentile. “The Auschwitz Volunteer,” which also includes useful and moving essays by Pilecki scholars and admirers, is the first published translation of his report. 

Great good, like great evil, is mysterious. Pilecki’s Catholic background was the same as that of countless collaborators. Indeed, many of his torturers in the Soviet-era Polish security services were Jewish. His life complicates the all-Poles-were-bad narrative.

But this much I know about Witold Pilecki: Once he set his mind to the good, he never wavered, never stopped. He crossed the great human divide that separates knowing the right thing from doing the right thing.

“There is always a difference between saying you will do something and actually doing it,” he wrote in his report. “A long time before, many years before, I had worked on myself in order to be able to fuse the two.” 

On this holiday that celebrates courage, let us all work to follow his example, and celebrate Witold Pilecki, too. Happy Chanukah.

Read an excerpt from “The Auschwitz Volunteer” here.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

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.

Germany wants to ban screening of anti-Muslim movie in Berlin

The German government wants to ban a right-wing group from showing the controversial anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims” in the nation's capital.

The right-populist Burgerbewegung pro Deutschland, which reportedly has only a few hundred members, claims it has a full-length copy of the film and wants to show it in a Berlin movie theater or warehouse in November. The party did show the scenes from the film on its website briefly on Monday. Parties in the far-right and right-populist camps share a vehement anti-Islam platform.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday that the government must first check to see whether a public screening would endanger public safety, according to reports. Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said he expected that the screening would be prohibited for that reason, since it could be seen as a provocation. The release online of a 14-minute trailer dubbed in Arabic has sparked deadly riots and attacks on Western institutions, primarily in Islamic states.

At issue in Germany is whether a ban would amount to an attack on free speech. Merkel and Friedrich have both said that they are not seeking to ban the film outright, but rather its public screening in the capital. Others have argued for a total ban and accused the rightist party with aiming to incite violence. German law prohibits public abuse of religious beliefs with the aim to disturb the peace.

The head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Nurhan Soykan, expressed concern that a screening might spark violent attacks there from right-wing and Islamic extremists, and generate racist abuse against Muslims in Germany.

Meanwhile, the German news agency dpa reported that Germany has officially banned right-wing American pastor Terry Jones from entering the country. Jones had been invited by the Pro Deutschland party to show the film in Germany. His act of burning copies of the Koran in 2010 spurred violent protests.

In 2006, Merkel backed the Deutsche Opera in Berlin when it decided, despite warnings from a German law enforcement agency, to go ahead with a staging of  Mozart's “Idomeneo” that included the beheading of Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad and the handing out of the heads to the audience. The performances went off without a problem.

The current controversy involves neither art nor political cartoons, which German law would protect, but a film with the apparent intent to incite fear of Islam and Muslims.

Survivor: Masha Loen

As Masha Sapoznikow returned to the Kovno ghetto just past noon on March 27, 1944, she sensed an eerie quiet. German and Lithuanian soldiers, armed with machine guns, were uncharacteristically posted at the gate. Masha, looking older than her 13 years, was coming back, along with seven other women, from cleaning a German officer’s house when a Jewish man approached them. “Girls, you came at the worst time. They are taking the children under 15 and the adults over 45.” Four Russian White Army soldiers surrounded the group and directed them through the ghetto, where dead bodies lay in the streets, eventually releasing them at the ghetto works barracks, where Masha usually spent her days making bullets for the Germans.

Fearing that her mother and two younger sisters had been rounded up, Masha was desperate to see her father, who worked at the tailor shop across the street. Finally making her way there, she found him and some other men walking in a circle, holding their heads in their hands, crying uncontrollably. Through a window, they could see soldiers dragging away children and old people. Masha held her head and cried, too.

The Children’s Action, or roundup, ended at 3 p.m., and Masha and her father ran to their shack. Tables had been turned upside down, and sand covered the floor. “They’re dead, Papa,” Masha said. Then, from the attic, they heard knocking. Masha’s mother had hidden the three of them, drugging the girls with sleeping pills.

Mariaska Sapoznikow was born on July 28, 1930, in Slobodka, a suburb of Kovno, Lithuania. Her father, Berl, was a well-respected tailor and her mother, Michle, a homemaker. Masha’s sister Itale was born in 1934 and her sister Rosale in 1941, in the ghetto.

As a child, Masha loved to play volleyball and ice skate. She attended the Jewish gymnasium through the fourth grade, until June 1940, when the Soviet Union took control of Lithuania, disrupting Jewish life.

A year later, on June 22, 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union and German planes began bombing Lithuania. Masha’s family started running toward Russia. Three days later, however, learning that the Germans were near Leningrad, they smuggled themselves back. In Slobodka, they saw blood everywhere. Bands of Lithuanian thugs and Einsatzgruppen, paramilitary death squads, had gone on a rampage against the Jews.

In late July, Masha’s family moved to the ghetto. Masha’s father became part of the Jordan Brigade, Jews who made useful things for the Germans and were issued Jordan passes, named for the ghetto’s SS Capt. Fritz Jordan.

The Jordan pass saved Masha’s family during the many actions in which the Germans rounded up Jews and executed them, primarily in the notorious Ninth Fort, one of several military fortifications surrounding the city built by the czars. In one early action, both sets of Masha’s grandparents were killed.

On the morning of Oct. 28, 1941, the Jews were ordered to assemble in Democrats Square. There, an SS official making the selections recognized Masha’s father. “Brother tailor, take your family and go,” he said. In this “Big Action,” more than 9,000 men, women and children were taken to the Ninth Fort where, after undressing, they were pushed into large pits and machine-gunned.

On July 8, 1944, with the Soviet army approaching, the ghetto was liquidated. Masha and her family were loaded onto cattle cars and taken to the Stutthof concentration camp, east of Gdansk, Poland.

There, Masha’s father was taken to Dachau, and Masha, separated from her mother and sisters, was searched vaginally for hidden gold and taken to a barracks. A Nazi soldier, whom Masha called Max the Sadist, told her, “Black devil, you are going to be the room leader.” Masha, confused, answered, “What?” He slammed her head hard against the barracks wall. Blood gushed, but Masha didn’t cry. “He thought I was superhuman and never touched me again,” she said. She still bears the scar.

A week later, Masha’s mother and two sisters, dressed in civilian clothes, came to the fence separating their barracks and told her they were being sent to a camp. Masha never saw them again.

Three weeks later, Masha was transferred to a forced labor sub-camp. The youngest in a group of 200 women, she worked digging foxholes and peeling potatoes in the kitchen. The women lived in tents, moving frequently. The camps, however, were always near lakes, where Masha washed herself, even in winter. “I kept myself clean. I wanted to be left alive to take revenge,” she said.

On Jan. 23, 1945, as the Russian army advanced toward Stutthof, Masha’s group was sent on a death march. After three weeks, unable to proceed, they were confined in a silo in a village near Lauenberg. Typhus was rampant, and Masha contracted it.

At one point, hearing people screaming, Masha covered herself with straw and fell unconscious. She awoke in a German house with Russian soldiers caring for her. She had been liberated on March 10, 1945.

Masha worked in a Russian hospital and was then was sent to a Russian farm to work with cows and study veterinary nursing.

In the summer of 1946, Masha’s father, who had survived and was living in Lodz, sent for her. Soon after, she made her way to Bratislava, Slovakia, and then to Austria, where she lived in DP camps near Linz and where she met Cornelius Löwenberg (later Loen), a survivor from Yugoslavia. They married on Oct. 30, 1947, intentionally setting their date near the anniversary of the “Big Action.”

Masha and Cornelius came to Los Angeles in August 1949. Their son, David Michael, was born in 1958.

From 1953 to 1961, Masha operated Masha’s Knit Studio in Sherman Oaks. She attended English classes at Hollywood High School, where she met other survivors who together helped establish what is now the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. Masha still serves on the board, though ill health prevents her from speaking there.

Now almost 82, Masha receives some assistance from Jewish Family Service. She spends her days doing crossword puzzles, writing poetry and, as she’s done since liberation, talking to people about the Holocaust.

“I didn’t let Hitler get me down,” Masha said.

German Jewish leaders meet in Hamburg as neo-Nazis march

One day after violent clashes erupted at a neo-Nazi march in Hamburg, Germany’s top Jewish leader urged Germans to declare their country “a fascist-free zone.”

Speaking in Hamburg Sunday, Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said everyone should follow the example of the 10,000 local residents who held a peaceful rally June 2 under the slogan “Hamburg shows its true colors.”

Graumann’s remarks capped a weekend-long gathering of 240 Jews from around the country, titled “One People, One Community,” which coincidentally occurred on the same weekend as the neo-Nazi march.

A selection of community leaders, rabbis and volunteers were gathered at the Hotel Atlantic, discussing issues ranging from the state of Jewish arts in Germany to the state of Jewish identity, and holding both Orthodox and liberal Sabbath services. Communal issues, such as conversion and acceptance of those with only a Jewish father, were debated over meals and in pauses between workshops at the weekend-long event.

Graumann said his aim was to “help build a completely new Jewish community, fresher, more modern, and more positive.” Holocaust remembrance will always play an essential role, he added. But what unites Jews is “not only sadness, but the enormous, positive aspects of Judaism.”

Still, the goal of achieving normalcy has not been reached “as long as the synagogues here still need police protection and video cameras,” Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz told attendees on Sunday. The mayor, who had joined the anti-Nazi protests over the weekend, said it was “a question of decency to stand up against the right-wing demons; there is simply no alternative in democratic Hamburg.”

Graumann said the federal courts should try again to ban the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany, which has an estimated 7,000 members nationwide but reaches far more through various forms of propaganda. In recent years, the party has gained enough votes to earn a few seats in local parliaments, which qualifies it for taxpayer funding.

In a scenario that often marks neo-Nazi demonstrations in Germany, fights broke out in Hamburg June 2 when about 4,000 left-wing protesters tried to block an estimated 700 neo-Nazis from marching. Of more than 4,000 police deployed to keep the groups apart, 38 reportedly were injured; 26 demonstrators (six neo-Nazis and 20 protesters) were arrested and 63 taken into custody.

Survey: Israel losing ground with Germans

A new survey suggests that Germans have lost some love for Israel over the past three years.

In the poll of 1,002 citizens, 36 percent said they liked Israel, down from 59 percent in a similar survey conducted in January 2009. Also, only 21 percent believe that Israel cares about human rights, down from 31 percent in the earlier study.

Seventy percent of those polled May 15-16 said that Israel pursues its own interest without consideration for other peoples—11 points higher than the ‘09 survey. Fifty-nine percent of respondents find Israel to be “aggressive,” up from 49 percent in 2009.

The number of those who outright challenge Israel’s right to exist—13 percent—has remained steady.

The survey revealed that 60 percent of Germans feel their country has no particular responsibility toward Israel 67 years after the end of World War II. Thirty-three percent believed, however, that Germany still has a special duty to stand by Israel because of the Holocaust.

On the Palestinians, 65 percent of Germans want their government to recognize a Palestinian state, while 18 percent think now is not the right time for such a move.

The survey was conducted by the Forsa research institute for Stern magazine ahead of next week’s Middle East visit by German President Joachim Gauck.

‘Mein Kampf’ being prepared for German students

A new annotated edition of “Mein Kampf” is being prepared for German high school students.

The ministers of science and finance in the German state of Bavaria met recently to discuss ongoing work on an annotated edition of Adolf Hitler’s 1924 manifesto, whose copyright—held by the Bavarian Finance Ministry—is to run out in 2015. Up to now, the ministry has barred publication in Germany in order to limit the spread of Hitler’s ideology.

In 2010, however, the ministry granted permission to the Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History to reprint the work in 2015 in an annotated, scholarly edition.

This week, the Bavarian authorities announced that a version for youth would be prepared as well.

“It should show exactly where the dangers are in the text,” a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Science told JTA.

She also said that an additional $660,000 from the finance and science ministries would be granted to the Munich institute to expedite the project.

Theoretically, once the copyright runs out, anyone can publish the manifesto. The ministers hope that a special edition for schools would preempt the spread of editions with no historical context or that illegally promote Nazi ideology or incite hatred, the spokeswoman said.

German author Grass says Israel endangers world peace

Nobel Prize-winning German writer Guenter Grass has attacked Israel as a threat to world peace and said it must not be allowed to launch military strikes against Iran, in a poem that led one German newspaper to brand him “the eternal anti-Semite.”

Grass, 84, a seasoned campaigner for left-wing causes and a critic of Western military interventions such as Iraq, also condemned German arms sales to Israel in his poem “What must be said”, published in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily on Wednesday.

His words were criticized in Germany, where any strong condemnation of Israel is taboo because of the Nazi-perpetrated Holocaust. Grass’s own moral authority has never fully recovered from his 2006 admission that he once served in Hitler’s Waffen SS.

“Why do I say only now … that the nuclear power Israel endangers an already fragile world peace? Because that must be said which may already be too late to say tomorrow,” Grass wrote in the poem.

“Also because we – as Germans burdened enough – may become a subcontractor to a crime that is foreseeable,” he wrote, adding that Germany’s Nazi past and the Holocaust were no excuse for remaining silent now about Israel’s nuclear capability.

“I will not remain silent because I am weary of the West’s hypocrisy,” wrote Grass, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999 for novels such as “The Tin Drum” chronicling the horrors of 20th century German history.

Israel is widely assumed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear weapons, which it neither confirms nor denies. These could be carried by Dolphin submarines it has bought from Germany.

The Jewish state has threatened to take military action, with or without U.S. support, to halt what it sees as a nuclear threat from Iran. Tehran says it is developing nuclear technology for purely peaceful purposes.

Germany said recently it would sell Israel a sixth Dolphin submarine and shoulder part of the cost – but also warned its ally that any military escalation with Iran could bring incalculable risks.


The poem called for an international ‘agency’ to take permanent control of both Israel’s nuclear weapons and Iran’s atomic plant.

The Welt newspaper called Grass “the eternal anti-Semite” in a front page article commenting on the poem, which was widely circulated in advance of its publication.

“Grass is the prototype of the educated anti-Semite who means well with the Jews. He is hounded by guilt and feelings of shame and at the same time is driven by the wish to weigh up history,” the newspaper wrote on Wednesday.

The American Jewish Committee in Berlin said Grass’s poem was an attempt to delegitimize Israel’s security policy.

“Guenter Grass has turned the situation on its head by defending a brutal regime (in Iran) that has not only for many years systematically disregarded international agreements but also trodden them underfoot,” said its director Deidre Berger.

“Grass does terrible harm to German-Israeli friendship when he describes Israel’s necessary security policies as a crime…”

Asked about Grass’s poem at a news conference on Wednesday, a German government spokesman declined to comment but said that artists in Germany enjoyed freedom of expression.

Grass is for many the voice of a German generation that came of age during Adolf Hitler’s war and bore the burden of their parents’ guilt.

But Grass, who for decades urged Germans to come to terms with their Nazi past, lost much of his moral authority after his belated admission in 2006 that he had once served in Hitler’s Waffen SS.

One of the most powerful organizations in Nazi Germany, the SS was first an elite force of volunteers that played a key role in the Holocaust, operating the death camps in which millions died. But by the war’s end, most were drafted and many under 18.

Grass said he was called up to join the SS as a teenager and insisted that he never fired a shot. But some critics inside and outside Germany said this explanation had come too late.

Grass made the confession shortly before publishing his autobiography “Peeling Onions” which details his war service.

Additional reporting by Alexandra Hudson; Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Tim Pearce

German court orders museum to return poster collection to Jewish heir

Germany’s top appeals court ruled Friday that Deutsches Historisches Museum must return a collection of more than 4,000 posters to the son of Hans Sachs, a Jewish dentist who fled Nazi Germany.

The son, Peter Sachs, is a retired airline pilot from Sarasota, Fla.

Gestapo officials seized the posters from the senior Sachs in 1938, saying that Joseph Goebbels wanted them for a new museum.

The government-run Berlin museum has estimated that the posters are worth $5.9 million, according to Bloomberg News. The court issued a statement saying that “the owner of art lost due to Nazi injustices must be able to demand it back from the person who possesses it now, in a case where the work was missing after the war, and therefore couldn’t be returned according to Allied restitution laws.”

“I can’t describe what this means to me on a personal level,” Sachs reportedly said in a statement distributed by his attorney. “It feels like vindication for my father, a final recognition of the life he lost and never got back.”

Plans to publish ‘Mein Kampf’ in German postponed

A British publisher has postponed plans to publish segments of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” after threats of legal action.

Peter McGee said Wednesday on the website of his weekly magazine Zeitungszeugen that he would not begin publishing the segments Thursday as planned until the legal issues were ironed out.

McGee earlier this month announced plans to publish three annotated excerpts of the text, which remains under copyright protection in Germany until 2015, 70 years after Hitler’s death.

The Bavarian Finance Ministry holds the copyright to “Mein Kampf” in Germany. In 2010, the Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History was granted permission to reprint the work after the copyright lapses. Historians there are working on an annotated edition.

The book is available to researchers in libraries, but it may not be published in Germany. However, translations of the book are available abroad and sometimes make their way into Germany. In addition, unauthorized versions are available on far-right and Islamic extremist websites based outside of Germany.

“Holocaust survivors are relieved that the nightmare of Hitler’s handbook openly sold in the kiosks of Berlin has been lifted,” Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said in a statement. “Make no mistake: The issue here was not of free speech, but rather that of a sensationalist publisher seeking to make material profit at the emotional expense of victims of Nazi terror. Indeed, even in Germany, legitimate scholars or inquirers can easily obtain reference to ‘Mein Kampf’ through the Internet or academic libraries.”

Making ‘Mein Kampf’ available in German may be illegal

Plans by a British publisher to make segments of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” available in the German language may run into legal trouble.

Publisher Peter McGee said he plans to publish three annotated excerpts of the text, which remains under copyright protection in Germany until 2015, 70 years after Hitler’s death, according to the Associated Press. The Bavarian Finance Ministry, which holds the copyright, said on Jan. 17 that plans to print excerpts in Germany before then may violate the law.

While a U.S.-based Holocaust survivors’ organization opposes McGee’s move, Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told Der Spiegel that he would not object to the annotated publication of the text in Germany. Hitler wrote his anti-Semitic diatribe in 1924 while in prison in Landsberg. He later left the printing rights to the state of Bavaria, which has banned publication in Germany and tried to prevent it elsewhere.

In 2010, the Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History was granted permission to reprint the work after the copyright lapses. Historians there are working on an annotated edition.

Bavarian authorities have reiterated frequently that they would not lift the ban prematurely in Germany out of concern that right-wingers could legally use it. But Stephan Kramer, secretary general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told reporters in 2009 that it made sense to publish the book “to prevent neo-Nazis from profiting from it” and to “remove many of its false, persistent myths.”

The book is available to researchers in libraries, but it is currently not legal to publish it in Germany. However, translations of the book are available abroad and sometimes make their way into Germany. In addition, unauthorized versions are available on far-right and Islamic extremist Web sites based outside of Germany. Germany bans public display of Nazi symbols and hate material, including on the Internet.

German radio host brews storm with Holocaust rant

German radio host Ken Jebsen has come under fire for comments on the Holocaust in a private e-mail, but he will stay on the air.

Despite a call by the German Jewish community for “tough measures,” Jebsen, 45, will continue to broadcast his weekly “KenFM” show live on station RBB. He was suspended earlier this month but was reinstated Nov. 12. Jebsen will be required now to submit any political scripts to his bosses.

The storm began with an e-mail that Jebsen sent recently to a listener, who offended by the comments, forwarded the missive to polemic Jewish journalist Henryk Broder, a columnist for Die Welt. Broder posted the Jebsen e-mail on his blog, “the Axis of Good.”

Jebsen wrote, “I know who invented the Holocaust as PR. It was Freud’s nephew. [Edward Louis] Bernays” – the Viennese-born American public relations pioneer. The statement has been interpreted as Holocaust denial, which is illegal in Germany.

In his rambling e-mail to the anonymous recipient, the 10-year radio veteran also blamed two American companies—IBM and Standard Oil—for enabling the Nazis to select its victims and fuel its fighter jets. The CIA is criticized for “supporting every dictator it can use.”

RBB spokesman Volker Schreck told JTA that editors met with Jebsen after the story broke and told him that such statements were unacceptable. Program director Claudia Nothelle later told the Berliner Morgenpost that Jebsen’s on-air statements— such as that the 9-11 attacks were the work of the CIA—were “crazed.” 

Schreck said Jebsen’s comments were “crazed and rubbish, but he is not an anti-Semite or Holocaust denier.”

Jebsen “did not say that the Holocaust had been invented,” Schreck said. “He said that the Holocaust was used as PR.”

In statement aired Nov. 12, when his program resumed, Jebsen insisted that his words were “not Holocaust denial,” and that he “was only addressing the issue of propaganda and its mechanisms. The answer came from Bernays himself.”

Jebsen’s e-mail was easy to misunderstand—and that’s how he probably intended it, Jewish community spokeswoman Maya Zehden told JTA.

“It sounds like he is blaming the Jews themselves for their own downfall,” she said.

Berlin Jewish Community president Lala Suesskind in a statement issued Tuesday praised Nothelle’s initial decision to suspend Jebsen’s broadcast. But further steps should be taken, she said.

“It’s not a question of whether Mr. Jebsen is an anti-Semite or not,” Suesskind wrote. “The question is whether one can just get back to normal after such statements have been made. Because the whole process has triggered a series of anti-Semitic comments, particularly on the Internet.”

Broder has reprinted hate mail he has received since publicizing Jebsen’s e-mail.

Jebsen, who also wrote in his controversial e-mail that he has Jewish and Iranian roots, says he and his listeners were “shocked by the extent of personal attacks” he had received.

German fund head rejects project containing anti-Semitic stereotypes

The head of a German fund established to compensate victims of forced labor under the Nazis says he regrets an “ambiguous project publication” supported by the fund containing illustrations that “could be seen as containing anti-Semitic stereotypes.”

Martin Salm, director of the 11-year-old Memory, Responsibility and Future Fund, which also sponsors educational programs, said he was sure that the controversial illustrations in the HEAR student exchange publication were “not motivated by anti-Semitism.” But Salm added in a statement that the foundation “cannot permit criticism of societal conditions to be used to delegitimize the State of Israel. We take the misunderstanding surrounding this project as an opportunity to examine our funding practice with regard to this program.”

The student publication raised alarm bells after the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot broke the story last week.

The Future Fund was established after international pressure led German industry to join the government in compensating Nazi-era forced laborers of all backgrounds. The fund also is mandated to support international and domestic educational projects, most of them having to do with commemorating Nazi victims, promoting Jewish life in Europe and promoting human rights and understanding between nations.

It was under this mandate that the fund reportedly had provided more than $28,000 to the HEAR exchange program between students in Nazareth and former East Germany under the auspices of the Europeans for Peace program.

In the resulting booklet, illustrations purport to show differences in educational content offered to Israeli and Palestinian pupils. One depicts a “Jew” standing atop “Jew” history, holding a key to a padlock around “Palestine” history. In another illustration, two classrooms are juxtaposed: An apparently shiny new “Jewish School,”
with five smiling pupils, versus a crumbling “Palestine School” crammed with unhappy pupils.

According to reports, the Future Fund pressured Yediot and its sister publication, Ynet, to withdraw its story about the booklet, suggesting it was unfair. Salm later said in a statement that “he regretted deeply” that the illustrations produced by the teens were “seen as anti-Semitic from the Israeli point of view.” While he said he recognized which images could be seen that way, he was sure “they are not motivated by anti-Semitism.”

Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office, told JTA she thought the incident provided an opportunity for the fund to review its procedures.

“They have taken a generic approach that has lost all specificity to the issues of major importance to this foundation,” Berger said. “I do not believe that there is any malice or ill intent on the part of those organizing these programs, but it does not change the fact that the foundation is doing at the moment very little in terms of combating anti-Semitism, promoting a better understanding of Jewish life and advancing an understanding of modern Israel.”