Bjorn Hoecke, a top AfD leader

German Jews Shaken By Election Results

The recent German national elections that saw the nationalistic AfD  (Alternative for Germany) Party gain nearly 13 percent of the vote — placing it third with 94 seats in the Bundestag, up from none in the last elections — stunned many in the establishment, not least the Jewish community.

A non-Jewish German friend of mine shocked me by suggesting that Germany got the government it deserved, and that German Jews should consider leaving.

The Shoah was supposed to be the “never again” watershed tragedy heralding a genuine enlightenment that included contrition and remorse. Yet, this new post-unification Germany that held the promise of a modern dynamic and diverse society based on liberal values has stumbled with growing populism and xenophobia.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was bitterly opposed to German reunification, fearing a resurgence of unbridled nationalism. At the time, Chancellor Helmut Kohl (current German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mentor) assured Thatcher that a united Germany was now “a good Germany,” though acknowledging that it had a longer history of dictatorships than democracy.

Despite misgivings about a future new pan-Germanism from other European leaders, such as Italy’s Giulio Andreotti — who joked that he “loved Germany so much, he preferred to see two of them” — German reunification formally occurred in 1990. The year before, Jewish-American conductor Leonard Bernstein led a passionate performance at Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt of “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which he renamed  “Ode to Freedom” for that occasion.

Twenty-seven years later, the joy has turned to anger, angst and divisiveness.

From the right, there are neo-Nazi sentiments expressing vulgar hatred of “outsiders,” and from the left, there is support for groups that endorse Israel’s demise in different ways through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), misleading anti-Israel propaganda in the media, Holocaust distortion and inversion, and annual Al-Quds marches.  According to a German federal government study, modern anti-Semitism rose sharply between 2014 and 2016.

And so Germany’s Jews are uneasy. They no longer enjoy the confidence and optimism they had in the early 1990s.

Indeed, Bjorn Hoecke, a top AfD leader, questioned how Germany could shame itself by having a Holocaust memorial in the center of its capital, something that no other self-respecting country would do.

Germany’s mirror seems cracked.

On the one hand, a Nazi salute is against the law, yet on the other hand, the annual Iranian-sponsored Al-Quds marches calling for Israel’s annihilation are permitted.

On the one hand, the government says that Israel’s existence is linked to modern Germany’s raison d’etre (questioned by AfD co-founder Alexander Gauland), but on the other, Germany funds radical NGOs such as B’Tselem, Zochrot and Al-Haq that promote the demise of Israel as a Jewish state through BDS, lawfare and violence.

On the one hand, Germany guarantees the security of its Jews, but on the other hand, the Wuppertal Court of Appeals ruled that the firebombing of a synagogue was a form of protest against Israel’s policies.

On the one hand, Germany strongly rejects anti-Semitism, yet Martin Schulz, the leader of Germany’s second largest party, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), not only accused Israel of stealing Palestinian water but also applauded Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’  European Union (EU) parliament speech accusing Israeli rabbis of plotting to poison Arab water, reminiscent of medieval canards.

Martin Schulz, the leader of the Social Democratic Party.


Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s foreign minister, condemns anti-Semitism but embraces an  Iran that sponsors a Holocaust cartoon contest and forgoes diplomatic norms by choosing to meet with a radical anti-Israel NGO rather than the Israeli prime minister. He also told the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper in April that “the current government is not Israel,” and he previously called Israel an “apartheid regime.”

Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s foreign minister.


Germany’s Jews have fallen into the cracks between right and left, preferring not to observe the observable.

Jewish life has become largely security-centered, fighting anti-Semitism as an end itself, to the point where German authorities advised the Jewish community to send official mail in plain envelopes without logos. Most German Jews do not put up a mezuzah, and those who do place them concealed inside their front doors.

Jewish leadership needs to ask itself whether Jewish cultural life in the broadest sense has been reduced to armed police at synagogues, the Holocaust and combatting BDS. Several times when looking for a particular synagogue, smiling pedestrians directed me to “where you see a group of police guards.”

German Jews still are arguing yesterday’s issues. Not too long ago, I heard a sermon in which the rabbi asked, “Are we Germans of the Mosaic [Jewish] faith or Jews living in Germany?”

German Jews debate whether the stolpersteine (small brass memorials to murdered Jews inlaid on the pavements outside their former homes) are disrespectful or not, given that people and dogs walk on them.

Are post-war German Jews today equipped to sustain Jewish life?

A community program called Rent-a-Jew was started in Berlin whereby people “could engage with Jews, rather than about Jews.” Spokeswoman Mascha Schmerling told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle that “we want them to see that we’re completely normal people.”

Some 70 years after the Shoah? Really?

A few years ago, a German politician told me that Germany could not indefinitely commit to a foreign policy that considered Israel’s interests. With Holocaust survivors and perpetrators dying out, Germany would align more with the EU. This is clear already.

Germany was the first EU country to recommend the labelling of Israeli products over the Green Line in addition to voting with such countries as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and China against Israel at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

On the other hand, some cities such as Munich and Berlin finally are making an effort to block BDS activities.

While German Jews focus on anti-Semitism, Holocaust memorials and adequate security, Germany is drifting from the United States and Israel, and embracing a guilt-free nationalism. If the British and French can honor their soldiers, “we Germans should also honor our soldiers from both world wars,” according to Gauland, ignoring the fact that thousands of these “soldiers” were savage murderers of men, women and children, as happened at Babi Yar.

As Germans break taboos and return to populist nationalism and speak with forked tongues about Jews and Israel — increasingly discarding historical guilt — German Jews need to adapt to reality and focus on strengthening Jewish youth, particularly with education and identity. I have come across young Jews who confused Passover and Purim and had no idea who Chaim Weizmann was. Assimilation rates are high.

Germany’s challenge is to rethink the direction in which it is going.

The challenge for the Jewish community is not only to know what it is fighting against, but to understand what it is actually fighting for.

Ron Jontof-Hutter is a fellow at the Berlin International Center for the Study of Antisemitism and author of the satire “The Trombone Man: Tales of a Misogynist.”

Alexander Gauland, left, and Alice Weidel, co-leaders of the right-wing Alternative for Germany party, speaking at a news conference in Berlin on Sept. 25. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Alternative for Germany leader says Jews have nothing to fear

Jews should not fear the strong election showing by the Alternative for Germany, a leader of the populist far-right party said.

“There is nothing in our party, in our program, that could disturb the Jewish people who live here in Germany,” co-party head Alexander Gauland told reporters Monday, a day after AfD garnered more than 13 percent of the vote to finish third in German national elections.

Gauland also said that he was ready to meet with German Jewish leaders “at any time.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel was re-elected to a fourth term and reportedly has rejected the idea of including AfD in a coalition government.

“Unfortunately, our worst fears have come true: A party that tolerates far-right views in its ranks and incites hate against minorities in our country is today not only in almost all state parliaments but also represented in the Bundestag,” the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dr. Josef Schuster, said in a statement issued late Sunday.

“I expect all our democratic forces to unveil the real face of the AfD and to expose the party’s empty, populist promises. The goal that should unite all democratic parties: to make it clear to the voters that the AfD is not an alternative, so that it can land where it belongs — under the 5 percent hurdle! ”

The council called on the parliament to “fight for democracy and to defend its values ​​vehemently” in the face of the AfD successes.

The Anti-Defamation League called AfD’s entrance into the national parliament “a disturbing milestone in modern German politics,” saying the party is “proudly extremist, anti-immigrant, and anti-minority.” The party leaders have made anti-Semitic statements and played down the evil of the Nazi regime, the ADL also said in its statement.

“Chancellor Merkel has a strong track record of protecting the Jewish community and other minorities,” CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said. “We appreciate that she has excluded the possibility of AfD joining her coalition, and we count on her strong leadership going forward to diminish the appeal of AfD among German voters.”

Hundreds of protesters gathered in cities throughout Germany on Sunday evening to protest the AfD’s election successes. In the Alexanderplatz public square in central Berlin, protesters chanted “Racism is not an alternative,” “AfD is a bunch of racists” and “Nazis out!”

Karen Ulric, who traveled to Germany on a tour of Jewish heritage sites in July, observes a Holocaust memorial in Frankfurt. Photos by Eitan Arom

Seven decades after the Holocaust, can a Jew enjoy a German vacation?

Our gaggle of mostly Jewish, mostly American travelers stepped off a tour bus on the outskirts of Nuremberg, Germany, pointing cameras this way and that and ambling onto a seemingly unremarkable, wide-open expanse of pavement surrounded by parkland.

It was a glorious Sunday in July, and the Nurembergers were soaking it in, gliding by on bicycles and rollerblades, for the most part ignoring the monolithic concrete structure looming over a set of bleachers. Nobody seemed particularly bothered by the fact of what brought us there: About 80 years earlier, Adolf Hitler stood high atop the structure to review a parade of goose-stepping Nazi troops.

As we fanned out across the former parade ground, snapping photos, I thought to myself: This is an odd way to spend a vacation.

I had my reservations about traveling to Germany. I had been to Ukraine and Poland, seen killing fields and the ruins of ancient synagogues, but venturing into the heartland of the Holocaust seemed a daunting prospect. It wasn’t a trip I likely would have taken had I not been invited to go without paying a dime.

In June, I hadn’t given a second thought to accepting an invitation from the Encino-based travel company Uniworld to join a river cruise down the Rhine and Main Rivers on one of its inaugural tours of Jewish heritage sites in Germany.

After all, who says no to a free cruise?

But as my July departure date drew near, my hesitation mounted. I grew up in a home where German cars were strictly verboten. My current bedroom is home to piles of books about the Holocaust, with names such as Elie Wiesel and Hannah Arendt staring at  me from their spines. And as a reporter on the Jewish world at a time when racist ideologies are on the rise, Hitler’s handiwork is never far from my mind.

I decided my trip would be a test. Germany is a modern, beautiful country abounding with history and culture. I would be sailing in style down two scenic and storied rivers. I intended to find out, more than 70 years after the gas chambers were shut down, whether a Jew like me could enjoy a luxurious German vacation.

At first, things looked promising. Our group of writers and reporters met our ship, the River Ambassador, while it was docked near Frankfurt. It was an elegant, elongated vessel, designed to fit precisely through the locks on the rivers. As soon as I stepped on board, a glass of white wine materialized in my hand, proffered by the hyperattentive cruise staff. I then retired to my stateroom to lie back and watch the rolling hills and quaint river towns glide by my window.

Nurembergers cycle past a podium where, about 80 years ago, Adolf Hitler reviewed goose-stepping Nazi troops on parade.


The next day, I awoke from this pleasant dream into a crueler reality.

We disembarked and took a bus to Frankfurt, where Uniworld had arranged for us to meet a member of the local Jewish community, a graduate student active in Hillel International and the Jewish Student Union Germany. Despite his attempt to paint a rosy picture of Germany’s future, he seemed to return constantly to its grim past and uncertain present.

“We have a functioning community,” he reassured us. (Tepid praise if ever I’ve heard it.)

“There is a future in Germany. There’s a young movement coming that wants to change things, that doesn’t want to be afraid to be a Jew in Germany,” he said.

Later, we stood outside the aging hulk of a synagogue used by all three major denominations of Frankfurt Jews, a magnificent edifice that had seen better days. It was closed to the public and looked abandoned but for a few Orthodox men hurrying in and out via side entrances. As we stood shifting our feet, I wrote a sad little poem about the massive shul. It was only Day One of the cruise and Germany already was throwing me for a loop.

The author took a river cruise down the Rhine and Main Rivers on a tour of Jewish heritage sites in Germany. Photo from Wikimedia


After that, it was back to the ship for an evening of sailing, fine dining and drinking at the open bar. Before dinner each evening, the ship’s bartender and sommelier addressed the passengers in the spacious lounge to apprise us of the evening’s fermented offerings.

“Good evening, ladies and gentleman, it is wine o’clock,” she said, psyching us up for her nightly pun. “Remember, everything happens for a Riesling.”

The cruise continued in much the same way: Day trips focused on Germany’s painful Jewish past and diminished Jewish presence, followed by evenings of merriment and luxury.

Even in seemingly innocuous locales such as Rothenberg, a walled town of nearly pristine medieval architecture, our tour guides told stories of unthinkable terror visited upon generations of unfortunate Jews.

Emerging from one of the cobblestone alleys into a square, we caught site of what seemed to be a Jewish star hanging at the site of Rothenberg’s first Jewish quarter. But our guide quickly disabused us of any such hope. In Germany, that particular six-pointed star symbolizes beer: An upside-down triangle for water, plus an upright triangle representing fire — in a truly German feat of addition —  means beer. Here in Rothenberg, it signaled the presence of a pub.

The disappointment in our ranks was palpable.

We did learn, however, that the synagogue that once stood in the square was demolished after all 450 Jews who lived in Rothenberg in 1298 were flayed or burned alive.

For the great majority of the 2.2 million tourists who visit Rothenberg every year, the place is a medieval playground of gift shops and sidewalk cafes. For my fellow travelers and me, it was a graveyard.

The trip continued in much the same way, with the members of our little group keeping our chins up as we ambled through centuries of persecution.

The next day, I sat in Nuremberg’s historic main square with a belly full of pork sausage, drinking a shandy beneath a glorious blue sky as a reggae band tuned up for a free concert. Sipping my beer-and-lemonade mixture, I tried — perhaps too hard — to prove to myself that I could have a good time immersed in secular pleasures, Jewish history be damned. 

The author enjoys a shandy in front of the Church of Our Lady in Nuremberg, built on
the site of a synagogue destroyed during a 14th-century pogrom.

Opposite me, a looming Gothic church scowled across the throngs that choked the square. Our guide had informed us as that the Church of Our Lady was built on the site of a Jewish synagogue destroyed in 1349, when Nuremberg’s Jews were burned alive as scapegoats for the Black Plague.

No marker indicated the Jewish significance of the church. But the fact of its origins darkened my mood. I felt doomed to walk like a ghost through a landscape of long-forgotten horrors.

Had I not known about the 1349 pogrom, I wondered, would I have enjoyed my sausage and shandy in peace?

The emotional climax of the trip was a visit to Dachau, the labor camp-turned memorial complex. The morning of our visit, on the second-to-last day of the trip, my stomach tied itself into knots as we stepped off our ship and boarded a bus. The Jewish heritage sites on the trip’s itinerary were optional, with other day-trip options on offer, but nearly our entire group chose to visit the camp.

I moved with practiced stoicism through Dachau’s gravel-strewn complex until we reached the area of the camp’s crematory, a lustrous green clearing in the woods that stood in stark contrast to the hot, barren expanse where the prisoners’ barracks were once located.

In a corner of the clearing was a landscaped patch with bushes and ferns, and a stone monument with a Jewish star bearing an inscription in German, English and Hebrew: “Do not forget.” A footstone read: “Grave of Thousands Unknown.”

The words of the Mourner’s Kaddish jumped into my mind and tears into my eyes.

To visit Germany as a Jew without paying heed to our painful saga there is to miss an opportunity to mourn a deep and staggering loss.

You can ignore history or drown it with a bottle of wine, but like all of life’s challenges, that doesn’t make the horror go away.

Perhaps without the grim reminders from our tour guides, I might have seen Germany’s fairy-tale villages and ancient castles as the quaint locales and proud landmarks that beguile millions of tourists — rather than elements of a multigenerational crime scene.

But I doubt I could ever take it all in without being haunted by the pain and suffering that took place there. I’ve had too much Elie Wiesel in my life, too many visits to Holocaust museums and too many family stories from the grim years of 1939 and 1942 for me to uncritically sip beer and scarf sausages like the average tourist.

If you’ll forgive the pun, that ship has already sailed.

There are good reasons why Europe’s Jews are so worried

The Weimar Republic, Germany's flawed experiment in democracy in the 1920s, has become today's paradigm for the failure of state and society. By the end of Weimar, the government seemed to have lost control – vigilantes from the political extremes claimed they were keeping the streets safe while beating up vulnerable minorities, above all Jews. So it is shocking when citizens in Germany and France – and elsewhere in Europe – increasingly cite Weimar when discussing their society today.

The European Union now does sometimes resemble a replay of Weimar's combination of institutional perfection with violent and nationalist forces aimed at tearing down the “system.” Though Germany's 1919 constitution, written in the city of Weimar, was widely viewed as a model document, throughout the 1920s the constitutional dream seemed ever more disconnected from public life.

The political leaders of France and Germany today deplore anti-Semitism and make striking gestures of solidarity with their country's Jewish population, but the gestures seem helpless. The number of anti-Semitic incidents, as tracked by such bodies as the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, is on the rise. Many Jews in many European countries, but above all in France, are contemplating leaving because they believe their homelands have become so unsafe. The political establishment tries to reassure them with the argument that the parallels with 1933 are really too much of a stretch.

To a degree, the reassuring voices are correct. Many of the most prominent recent European incidents are not the outcome of an old-style anti-Semitism in France or Germany. Indeed, the right-wing French National Front under Marine Le Pen has distanced itself from its older positions – as articulated by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was convicted of Holocaust denial after calling the wartime Nazi occupation of France “not particularly inhuman.” In fact, today's National Front sometimes refers to Israel as an ally against Islamism. In the new grass-roots anti-immigration movement in eastern Germany, PEGIDA, the explicit target is “Islamicization,” and Israeli as well as Russian flags were prominently displayed in some of its early rallies.

At the beginning, Weimar's political institutions were skillfully designed to be as representative as possible. Most Germans viewed their society as remarkably tolerant. German Jews in the 1920s often emphasized that they lived in a more inclusive society than France's, which was still riven by the legacy of the Dreyfus case, when the army and the church prosecuted an innocent Jewish officer for espionage, or than the United States', where prime real estate and universities were often not open to Jews.

This misconception about German stability lasted a long time, indeed extending for a time after Adolf Hitler became chancellor on Jan. 30, 1933. Right up until April 1933, when the regime launched a “boycott” of Jews, many German Jews refused to accept that anti-Semitism could be politically serious.

Today, the most obviously violent threats clearly come from Islamic terrorism, from groups affiliated to or imitating Islamic State. That is the story of the attack on the Jewish supermarket in Paris, where four were killed last January, which came in the wake of the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. It is also cited to explain the attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels, or of some of the many synagogue attacks. The Agency for Fundamental Rights even tries to register incidents separately and attributes some of them to “foreign ideology,” meaning radical or jihadist Islamism.

Yet the jihadist incidents are – in numerical terms – a minority. There is, however, an intellectual contagion, in which native far-right radicals often use anti-Israel and anti-American slogans that proliferate in the Middle East as part of their anti-Semitic arsenal. In France and Britain the “quenelle,” a version of the Hitler salute, popularized by the French comedian Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala has become popular with the racist right.

In addition, arguments about anti-Semitism have spilled over into the discussion of the refugee crisis confronting Europe. For some, the large-scale inflow of more than a million refugees in one year, from the Middle East and North Africa, is bound to lead to an inflow of actual terrorists, who can easily conceal themselves in the crowds of migrants. But it is also being blamed for a possible influx of terrorist ideas. Anti-Semitic texts such as Mein Kampf or the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are widely available in the countries from which migrants are moving; and anti-Semitism, usually linked to anti-Israelism, is a natural ingredient of the social and cultural milieu that is moving into Europe.

Critics of large-scale immigration use the supposed anti-Semitic culture of many migrants as an argument against migration. They then make a case about the superiority of their native or indigenous culture – which can also, paradoxically, include hostility to aliens. So Jews feel vulnerable on two fronts: vulnerable because of who is attacking them, and vulnerable because of who is defending them.

The classic liberal answer to the new threat is that the state has an absolute and unconditional duty to protect all its citizens. That is the position that Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls insistently, and rightly, defend.

But many people will also ask whether the state can really offer so much security. It is increasingly obvious that the police are overstretched. That was true even before the flood of refugees. A long trial currently under way in Munich, Germany, has highlighted the way in which the intelligence service that was dedicated to “protection of the constitution” Verfassungsschutz) against right-wing terrorists was for a long time blind to the threat. Instead, it had undermined its efforts by engaging members of far-right-wing groups as informers. Dealing with the new kinds of threat demands a far greater security presence, as well as new methods of surveillance.

As more and more incidents demonstrate police ineffectiveness, new groups will mobilize for self-protection. The incidents on New Year's Eve in Cologne and in other German cities, in which criminal groups, composed largely of migrants from North Africa, stole from and sexually harassed women, have led to the formation of citizens' patrols. In many cases, the personnel of these patrols come from the far right and its sympathizers.

That brings the story back to Weimar. In the last years of the republic, German streets were controlled not by the police but by paramilitary groups, of the left (the communist Red Front Fighters' League) as well as the right (the Nazi Stormtroopers). Then, even the parties of the center believed that they, too, needed their own defense organizations, and built up their own leagues. When the government tried to ban the Nazi Stormtroopers, the army objected on the grounds that it believed it could not effectively fight all the different leagues simultaneously.

One lesson of Weimar is that it is very dangerous for the state to give up its legal monopoly of violence. One key feature that makes modern life civilized is precisely that we don't take the law into our own hands. But the existence of threats, real or imagined, creates a great deal of pressure for “self-defense.”

There is a second, related lesson. Violent and ostensibly antagonistic ideologies may be quite capable of fusing. Sometimes in Weimar, the far right and far left just fought each other; on other occasions, they joined together in attacking the “system.” Today in Europe, there are the same curious blends, sometimes of jihadism with traditional anti-Semitism, or anti-jihadism and anti-immigrant populism with traditional anti-Semitism.

The fusing of dangerous ideologies makes members of small groups vulnerable. They are additionally vulnerable when the state promises protection that it cannot actually deliver. That is why Europe's Jews are so worried.

Harold James is the Claude and Lore Kelly Professor in European Studies and professor of history and international affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of “A German Identity,” “Making the European Monetary Union” and “The Deutsche Bank and the Nazi Economic War Against the Jews,” among other books. The opinions expressed here are his own.

The origins and meaning of Ashkenazic last names

This piece originally ran on

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

Kristallnacht, honored musically

On Nov. 9, music by Samuel Adler, Steve Reich, Arnold Schoenberg and Eric Zeisl will observe the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht as part of the enterprising Jacaranda concert series. 

Kristallnacht was the night in 1938 when the Nazis launched a two-day pogrom throughout Germany. Jews were beaten and murdered; synagogues were burned, Jewish stores ransacked. Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night” or “Night of Broken Glass”) was the tipping point of the Holocaust.

“The subject of the Holocaust really burrowed into my soul,” Patrick Scott, Jacaranda’s artistic director and co-founder, said by phone from his office. “Even if few people attend, there’s no way I wouldn’t do something for such an important anniversary.”

Scott wondered if he would have received more support if the program were instead presented at a synagogue rather than at the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica, but added, “This dimension is exactly what makes it special — the fact that it’s taking place in a church.”

“Does the Holocaust belong exclusively to the Jews? I hope not,” said Jonathan Kirsch, author of “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris,” the story of the young man blamed for igniting Kristallnacht (for an excerpt, see p. 18.) “The Holocaust is an event that affects everybody and should be present in everyone’s minds. And a Holocaust remembrance, whether it’s about Kristallnacht or something else, is entirely appropriate to take place in a church or mosque or synagogue or secular venue.”

Kristallnacht was deemed a failure by the Nazis. “It’s that turning point where they realized they couldn’t  chase the Jews out, and they couldn’t kill the Jews in place, because it was inefficient and destructive of German property,” Kirsch said. “But if you put them on trains and took them to the swamps of Eastern Poland, where nobody was watching, you could murder them by the millions.” 

The central piece on Jacaranda’s program is Reich’s Grammy-winning, 1988 “Different Trains” for string quartet and tape, which will be performed by the Lyris Quartet. One of the most powerful musical statements ever composed about the Holocaust, the score’s three movements literally give voice to the past.

The score was initially inspired by train trips Reich took as a child, traveling between the homes of his divorced parents, who lived in New York and California.

“The first movement is about my childhood,” Reich said. “It has nothing to do with the Holocaust. In fact, I didn’t even think the Holocaust would be part of the piece. But when I made those trips across the country, I thought, ‘What years did I do that? In 1937, ’38, ’39.’ If I had been born in Europe and not in America, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

In the first movement, Reich used recordings of his former governess, Virginia, and Mr. Davis, a retired Pullman porter. “As they reminisced about their lives, I took their speech melody,” Reich said. “In the case of a woman, I give it to the viola; a man, I give it to the cello. Then I thought, ‘What if I were to find Holocaust survivors on tape and then do the exact same thing?’ “

The score, commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the late Betty Freeman, an influential Los Angeles-based patron of contemporary composers, uses the voices of three Holocaust survivors in the middle movement, with all five coming together in the third, because the survivors came to America.

Technically, Reich said, the work was “unbelievably difficult” to prepare. “It was totally unlike anything I’d ever done before,” he said. “One of the rules I made for myself was, as they speak, so I write. And people don’t speak at the same tempo or in the same key, so I had to choose things that made sense musically.”

Reich said he chose people who not only had incredible stories, but who also had a musical tone of voice. “I’m a composer, and it’s not just what they say, it’s how they say it,” Reich said. “The people who spoke had very melodic voices.”

Jacaranda will present the 2006 digital restoration of “Different Trains.” “The recordings of Holocaust survivors were done from a Yale archive on cheap cassette recorders from the 1970s,” Reich said. “They’re pretty funky, but they’ve been cleaned up, and it’s better than it was.”

Scott said he plans to include the libretto in the program book.

The Jacaranda program begins with Adler’s Canto XIV “Klezmer Fantasy.” After intermission, Mark Alan Hilt, Jacaranda’s co-founder, conducts three a cappella choruses by Schoenberg and concludes with Zeisl’s moving “Hebrew Requiem,” a setting of the 92nd Psalm for choir, soloists and chamber orchestra.

Composed in 1944-45 in memory of his father and other relatives lost in the death camps, the “Requiem” is among the earliest pieces written about the Holocaust.   

“It’s an affirmative, triumphant piece,” said Hilt, “with everybody singing full out at the end. The themes are beautiful, and Zeisl’s inscription on the score speaks of ‘consolation rather than sadness.’”

Indeed, Hilt ‘s comment goes a long way toward countering Scott’s worry that such a program may seem like a downer. “I hope people will feel they had an experience and will be better for it,” Scott said.

‘Jewish Refugees in Shanghai’ tells story of survival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merkel takes Morsi to task over Jew comments

German Chancellor Angela Merkel used a meeting with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to criticize his past remarks on Jews.

During their meeting Wednesday, according to German media, Merkel raised the issue of recorded remarks Morsi made in 2010 in which he called Israeli Zionists “descendants of apes and pigs.” Morsi responded that the comments were taken out of context and said that, as a religious Muslim, he is “not against Judaism as a religion. I am not against the Jews who practice their faith,” according to the Austrian newspaper Der Standard. Morsi reportedly said he is against religious practices in which blood is spilled.

Merkel's criticism of Morsi's remarks drew praise from Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, who was in Berlin to address a controversy over the center's Top 10 list of anti-Semitic statements of 2012 — which included the work of rominent German journalist Jakob Augstein.The list was topped by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

Cooper said Thursday he hoped Merkel's confrontation of Morsi would “send a signal not only to Egyptians but to leaders in Europe who show up to commemorations to dead victims of the Holocaust but unfortunately are all too absent when it comes to standing up for the rights of Jews.”

Kristallnacht family Torah reaches new generation

It was the “Night of Broken Glass” in Germany, Kristallnacht — a national pogrom of death and destruction of Jewish property and the rounding up of Jews — and Dietrich (David) Hamburger was in hiding.

Hamburger was the leader of a small congregation that met in his home in Fürstenau, a countryside village in what now is the state of Niedersachsen, or Lower Saxony. Someone had warned him about the coming onslaught, and on Nov. 9, 1938, he went into hiding in the local Catholic hospital.

“The cover story was that he was in for a hernia,” said Edith Strauss Kodmur, his granddaughter and the family’s historian.

This spring — 75 years later and a continent away at a California winery — Kodmur’s granddaughter will have her bat mitzvah. And Charlotte Ruth Smith on that day will read from the Torah scroll that her great-great-grandfather rescued soon after that tragic night.

But Hamburger would need to escape Germany and the Torah would need to find its way back to his family.

“By prior arrangement, one of his hired hands met him in the hospital garden while the nuns were at Mass,” Kodmur recalled from detailed notes. “He drove -Dietrich back to his home, where he packed, taking an oil portrait of wife Rosa [he was a widower] and the community Torah with him.”

Kodmur thought Hamburger had removed the rollers, or etz chaim, to make the Torah easier to transport.

“He then boarded the train to Holland, to Winterswijk, to his daughter Bette,” said Kodmur, whose family as well as her uncle Siegfried, Hamburger’s son, had left Germany for the United States in 1938.

Kodmur as a small child had visited her grandfather frequently, she said, recalling that he would sit in the garden with his children on the Sabbath, reading to them and discussing the Bible.

“He was very adventuresome, and well-dressed. Involved with the horse and cattle trade business,” she said.

A memorial book for the Holocaust victims of Winterswijk titled “We Once Knew Them All” uses quotes from the people who lived in the eastern Holland town to tell what happened to Hamburger and his family.

“My parents had a Jewish person in hiding during the last year of the war, a Mr. Hamburger. We called him by his alias, ‘Uncle Derk,’ ” a community member recalls in the book. “His daughter, son-in-law and their children died in the concentration camps. He also had a son in America.

“Once we were threatened by a posting of German soldiers at our home. Uncle Derk hid behind a wardrobe. Obviously we noticed that Mr. Hamburger was very afraid of being discovered. My Father told Uncle Derk to act differently, otherwise everyone might be arrested.

“On the morning of liberation, I woke up Uncle Derk. He was so shaken by my excited talk that his false teeth fell out: into the chamber pot!”

From another community member: “Father Hamburger stayed a while in Winterswijk after the war. My, my how that man cried over his grandchildren.”

After the war, while Siegfried was visiting his father in Holland, Hamburger gave him the Torah scroll to bring back to his home in Redwood City, Calif. It stayed there until Siegfried died.

Kodmur, who lives in the San Diego area, knew that Siegfried had given the Torah to his son Steven. But she had lost touch with that part of the family and was uncertain of its whereabouts.

In 1996, Kodmur’s daughter Julie Ann and her fiancé, Stuart Smith, attended a pre-wedding counseling session with Rabbi Jerry Winston in San Anselmo, Calif. The rabbi mentioned that he had officiated at the marriage of Julie Ann’s cousin.

Julie Ann had heard the stories of her great-grandfather’s escape with the Torah and its unknown whereabouts, and in the whirr of Jewish geography and family history that ensued, both Julie Ann and Winston soon realized that Steven Hamburger had given the rescued Torah to the rabbi.

“I didn’t even think to ask him for it,” said Julie Ann, thinking back on that meeting.

In 2000, Winston officiated at the baby naming for her daughter Charlotte, but Julie Ann and the rabbi would lose touch.

It was more than a decade later, when Julie Ann began thinking about her daughter’s bat mitzvah, that her thoughts again turned to the Torah. Beginning a search last year, she soon discovered that Winston had died and the small congregation he led had disbanded. Could he have given the Torah to another synagogue?

She called the big synagogue in the San Francisco Bay Area’s Marin County, Rodef Shalom; the historic synagogue in San Francisco, Temple Emanu-El; and many others, leaving messages. Then she received a call back.

“The woman had a German accent and said she was a friend of Rabbi Winston’s. She told me that his sons had given the Torah away, to Rabbi Alan Levinson of Sausalito,” remembered Julie Ann, who lives with her husband, Stuart, and Charlotte in the small town of St. Helena, Calif., near the family-owned Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery.

After contacting Levinson, who had been a longtime friend of Winston’s, they quickly exchanged what each knew of the provenance of the scroll. It was the one. “His plan was to give it to another synagogue,” Julie Ann said.

Meanwhile, Julie Ann also was looking for a rabbi to prepare Charlotte for her bat mitzvah. She connected with Rabbi Jerry Levy, who worked with students via Skype. She had known Levy growing up in San Diego; he had been the rabbi at her brother David’s bar mitzvah.

Levy also was the chaplain at AlmaVia, a faith-based elder care community in San Rafael, Calif., where, according to the rabbi, 18 to 20 of the 120 residents are Jewish. Julie Ann inquired if Levinson would consider giving the Torah to Levy for use in his community. Levinson agreed and this month, Levy held a dedication at AlmaVia.

With Levinson, Julie Ann and Charlotte present — she helped roll the scroll to the correct reading — the scroll to be known as the Hamburger/Fürstenau Torah was dedicated.

“They were kvelling,” said Levy of the AlmaVia residents on hand.

Speaking at the ceremony, Charlotte recounted her great-great-grandfather’s escape on Kristallnacht and the Torah’s travels.

“We found it, and not only would I be able to use it for my bat mitzvah, we could give it a home here at AlmaVia,” she said.

“This coming spring, I will borrow the Torah from all of you here at AlmaVia for my bat mitzvah. And the story will continue.”

Jewish studies flourish in China

The last quarter century has witnessed a veritable explosion in the academic field of Jewish studies. During that time, Israel solidified its place as the global center in the field, while in the United States virtually every university and college of note has established its own program, center or chair. In these two venues, the growth of Jewish studies has been closely linked to the presence of Jews, though in the United States an increasing number of non-Jews have entered the field. In other parts of the world where the field of Jewish studies has been expanding, such as Germany, the field is populated almost exclusively by non-Jews. 

Surely one of the most interesting sites of the new Jewish studies — and one of the most promising in terms of growth — is China.  

Jewish studies in China? Yes, there is a burgeoning Jewish studies presence in the most populous country in the world. The most established program in the country is based at Nanjing University, and it is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The founding director, professor Xu Xin, followed his banishment to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution by undertaking graduate studies in English language and American literature. While engaged in his studies in the late 1970s, he discovered the riches of American Jewish literature, particularly the work of Saul Bellow — and from there developed a wider interest in Jewish studies. Xu Xin has been at the forefront of the growth of Jewish studies in China, raising several generations of students who now direct Jewish studies programs at other Chinese universities. He is a dynamic, passionate and worldly man whose savoir-faire persuaded Los Angeles Jewish philanthropists Diane and Guilford Glazer to endow his program.

[Related: The Jews of Kaifeng]

It was the Glazer Institute of Jewish Studies ( that invited me to Nanjing to teach a concentrated seminar for its graduate students. I had very little idea of what to expect from my academic experience there before arriving. I asked Xu Xin if it would be possible to visit Kaifeng, and he answered affirmatively. When I arrived in Nanjing, he told me we would be going to Kaifeng later that day and that I’d be giving three lectures there. Little did I know that the lectures would be at a conference on Holocaust studies and Jewish history held at Kaifeng’s Henan University! And not just that, but a conference held at a relatively unknown, regional university of more than 40,000 students, housed on a new campus graced by scores of new, architecturally designed buildings. This calls to mind one of the most striking impressions during my time in China: the frenetic pace of building. There is building everywhere, suggesting not only the rapid growth of the country, but also massive investment by the government in infrastructure and higher education, in stark juxtaposition to the defunding of both in our own country.

Meanwhile, I was stunned to enter the lecture hall in Henan University to see nearly 75 master’s and doctoral candidates in Jewish studies, all of whom were Chinese. Assembling that number of graduate students in Jewish studies in the United States would be nearly impossible. How much more unlikely in China! But the students were eager, curious and attentive. About half of the lectures were given in Chinese by local professors and graduate students, and the other half were given in English by conference organizer Jerry Gotel, a London-based American and patron of Jewish studies in China; Glenn Timmermans, an Anglo-Jewish scholar of English literature and the Holocaust who teaches at the University of Macau; and me. The students whom I met all read English and had a good passive command of spoken English, though they varied considerably in their ability to speak.

Why, one might ask, do these students devote many years of their lives to studying Jewish history? As a number of them told me, they sense an affinity between their people and the Jews. Both peoples possess a noble ancient history, have large dispersions outside their homeland and are marked by an entrepreneurial spirit. Perhaps most centrally, for both, education is an almost sacred pursuit. In fact, one of the most winning features of the Chinese students is their unabashed reverence for the teacher. The Confucian ideal, parallel to the Jewish precept of “kevod ha-moreh,” is alive and well today. Unlike the consumerist approach to education in the United States, where students demand attractively presented products from their teachers, students in China feel happy to receive the pearls of wisdom that issue from their teachers’ mouths. At times, this leads to a certain passivity in the classroom on the students’ part. But the overall effect, especially for a short-term visitor from America, is wondrous.

Following the Kaifeng conference, I had the privilege of teaching a group of 25 graduate students — again, a rather astonishing number — in an intensive seminar on modern Jewish thought at the Glazer Institute in Nanjing. We spent three hours a day exploring thinkers as diverse as Baruch Spinoza, Moses Mendelssohn, the Hatam Sofer, Samson Raphael Hirsch, Franz Rosenzweig and Hannah Arendt. We did close readings of primary sources together in class. This was a novel experience for most. Graduate students in Jewish studies in China write theses and dissertations on a vast range of subjects, from the Second Temple period to Maimonides’ philosophy to the Holocaust to contemporary Israeli society. But their research is based not on an analysis of archival sources in the original languages, which is the standard in the United States, but on a survey of recent secondary scholarship on a particular theme. In this sense, Chinese students are somewhat behind their American, Israeli and European counterparts. Nevertheless, they are quick learners and exceptionally hard workers. They will catch on soon.

Some already have. Lu Yanming is a postdoctoral fellow at Nanjing University who seems to know everything about Chinese history and virtually everything about modern European history as well. He understands the norms of scholarship in the West and is aiming to meet them in his current research on Jews who returned to Germany after World War II. Meng (Jeremiah) Zhenhua is a fine young professor of ancient Judaism at Nanjing, who has done extensive training in Israel and speaks Hebrew. As it happens, he is also the Communist party representative in the department of philosophy and religion, a curious reminder of the lingering presence of the old regime in new China. And Fu Cong just received her bachelor’s degree and is entering the master’s program in Jewish studies at Nanjing. She was one of the most perceptive, sophisticated and confident of all the students in the seminar, and represents the newest generation who can be expected to do outstanding work in the field, most likely in her case by continuing her graduate studies in the United States.

Encountering these students made clear how remarkable and worthy an enterprise Jewish studies in China is. It’s important for China, it’s important for the field — and, it almost goes without saying, it’s important for Jews that the Chinese develop an informed understanding of their past and present in the 21st century.

Germany’s Jews won’t be punished for circumcisions

Germany’s Jews and Muslims will not be punished for breaking the law if they carry out circumcisions on young boys, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said.

“For everyone in the government it is absolutely clear that we want to have Jewish and Muslim religious life in Germany,” Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said Friday according to Reuters. “Circumcision carried out in a responsible manner must be possible in this country without punishment.”

Earlier this week Europe’s main Orthodox rabbinical body held an emergency meeting in Berlin after a Cologne court ruling that said the religious ritual could be considered a criminal act. Regardless, the rabbis urged Jews in Germany to uphold the commandment to circumcise newborn sons.

The decision came in the ruling in the case of a Muslim boy taken to a doctor with bleeding after circumcision. The Cologne court said the practice inflicts bodily harm and should not be carried out on young boys, but could be practiced on older males who give consent. The ruling by the Cologne Regional Court applies to the city and surrounding districts.

In a press conference held Thursday at the Amano Hotel in central Berlin, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, said his organization was ready to back Jews in challenging the May ruling by a Cologne district court, which Jewish groups see as symptomatic of a trend across Europe against some Jewish rituals.  Rabbi Goldschmidt did not give details about what actions his group could take.

The rabbinical conference also announced that it is joining with the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany to create an association of mohels, or ritual circumcisers, to be supervised by the Association of Jewish Doctors and Psychologists

Goldschmidt, who is chief rabbi of Moscow, told JTA he didn’t think “that 70 years after the Holocaust a German court would put a parent or a mohel in jail for performing a Jewish religious commandment.”

The Central Council of Jews in Germany has condemned the court’s decision and promised to work with German lawmakers to reverse the ruling. Muslim groups also have proposed bringing a test case to German courts.

Goldschmidt said his rabbinical group applauded the Central Council’s action and wanted to back it with moral and religious encouragement on a European level. He also said that the rabbinical conference had received assurances from Germany’s ambassador to Israel, Andreas Michaelis, that the German government will work on legislation to rectify the legal situation.

Seibert, according to Reuters, said that Merkel’s office would continue to work to resolve the legal issues.

The German Medical Association has advised doctors to not perform circumcisions until the legal questions are resolved, according to Reuters.

Germany adds payouts to some Soviet flight cases

Germany has agreed to changes to one of its restitution programs that will add payouts of approximately $3,300 to some 10,000 Jews, the Claims Conference announced.

The changes, which will affect the Hardship Fund, will expand the class of World War II survivors eligible for one-time payouts to those who fled Soviet areas between June 22, 1941 and January 27, 1944 that were never occuppied by the Nazis but were within about 62 miles of the Nazi line. Until now, only survivors from areas that eventually were occuppied by the Nazis were eligible. The new rules, which go into effect Jan. 1, 2012, recognize that even if their cities never fell to the Nazis, the Jews’ flight from them under the threat of Nazi occuppation constitutes hardship caused by Nazi Germany.

We are gratified to be able to attain recognition for these now-elderly Jews who suffered,” Gregory Schneider, the executive vice president of the Claims Conference, told JTA. “Jews who lay in the path of the Nazi onslaught had every reason to fear they would be massacred. Having fled to avoid this fate, their experience as Jewish refugees deserves acknowledgement.

The change will expand eligibility to Jews who fled Moscow and Stalingrad—now known as Volgograd—as well as those who fled Leningrad prior to the Nazi siege of the city. However, the payouts are open only to those who have since moved to the West; those currently living in former Soviet bloc countries remain ineligible.

Other changes to the Hardship Fund that take effect Jan. 1 include payments to citizens of certain Western European countries during the Nazi era who have not received any other payment from German sources and payments to Jews living in former Soviet bloc countries who were born after 1927 and were orphaned due to the Nazis.

German president Wulff honored for solidarity with Jews, Israel

German President Christian Wulff said he shared his nation’s “shock and indignation” at recent revelations of a far-right-wing murder wave aimed at immigrants in his country.

Wulff said in a speech Tuesday while accepting the German Jewish community’s top annual award that he would organize a memorial ceremony for the victims.

“We cannot stand silent in the face of the bereaved,” he said in accepting the Leo Baeck Prize from the Central Council of Jews in Germany at a gala dinner at the Jewish Museum Berlin.

Wulff, 52, also said that Israeli and Palestinian leaders should both have “the courage to make difficult and unpopular decisions, including the subject of settlements. There is no time to lose” in the quest to establish two states, he said.

As the 53rd recipient of the Baeck award, named for a leader of Germany’s liberal movement, Wulff was honored for his “genuine empathy and deep solidarity” with the Jewish community in Germany and with Israel, said Dieter Graumann, president of the Central Council. Wulff was appointed president in June 2010.

Graumann called Wulff “a man of clear words and unequivocal signals.” Among Wulff’s first official acts was to attend the dedication of a new synagogue in Mainz and to visit Israel, where he took his teenage daughter to the Yad Vashem memorial, “making a clear statement about the continuity of responsibility and the future of all people in Germany,” Graumann said.

Graumann, 61, who traveled with Wulff last January to ceremonies marking the 66th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in Poland, said Wulff was “moved and moving” as the first German president to speak at the annual commemoration.

Wulff in accepting the prize spoke of “a renaissance of Jewish life in Germany that brings new challenges,” and applauded the Central Council for its role in representing Jewish communities from the religious to the secular.

The Central Council represents the 105,000 official members of Jewish congregations in Germany. It is estimated that another 120,000 people of Jewish background are not affiliated.

The German presidency is a symbolic office whose holder is considered to represent the country’s moral conscience.

VIDEO: Israeli Olympic athletes remembered

YouTube member JewishFan writes of his video:

Remembering the massacre, and the brutality and tactics of the Arab terrorists, is important and relevant: There are millions of radical Muslims today who, if they had the chance, would kill all the Jews and even be willing to blow themselves up to do it.

It reminds us that Israel cannot let its guard down for one moment nor can we, as Jews. There are murderers out there wanting to kill us; in fact, plotting to kill us even as this is being written.

Photo montages, vintage news footage, music (Enya.)

Balancing the seen and unseen is a juggling act

In the defining moment of Sara Felder’s performance piece, “Out of Sight” — about a mother and daughter who clash over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — she juggles machetes while precariously balancing on a rola bola.

“There’s danger in trying to ‘see’ someone you [oppose], and in being seen,” says Felder, who brings her semiautobiographical monologue combining storytelling, vaudeville and circus arts to the Skirball Cultural Center May 21 and 23. “The show is about whether we can have an intimate relationship with someone with whom we sharply disagree, how we can ask questions and open up dialogue.”

Felder manipulates shadow puppets to create images of seeing and not seeing throughout the show, which is partly inspired by her own arguments with her late mother.

“I tell the true story of how my mother lost her eyesight as a girl by staring too long at a solar eclipse,” Felder says. “She was so transfixed she couldn’t look away, even though her eyes hurt, and for that she paid a terrible price. All my life I have been haunted by that story, and I thought it would be a good way to approach the metaphors in the play.”

Felder began writing the piece several years ago when she realized she had never discussed Israel in a play, despite decades of dissecting her Jewish and lesbian identities onstage. The politically progressive Felder says she remained silent out of respect for her mother, Francis, a passionate Zionist who had come of age during the Holocaust.

“When asked about her regrets in life, my mother would never say, ‘It was the day I looked into the sun — she would say it was the day she did not chain herself to the fence to protest President Roosevelt’s policies about Jewish refugees from Hitler.”

After refugees aboard a German trans-Atlantic liner were turned away by the Roosevelt administration and forced to return to Nazi Germany, Francis Felder vowed to support Israel so Jews would always have a safe haven. Sara Felder grew up in a proudly Zionist household, and, while at UC Berkeley, eagerly signed up to spend a school year in Israel.

“It was right after the Camp David accords, a quote-unquote peaceful, optimistic time,” the artist recalls. “Then on a class trip to Gaza, this Palestinian kid threw a stone at the bus. In the play, I tell the tale as if he threw it directly at me, because that’s how I experienced it. It was just a small moment, but it completely changed my perspective.” Felder sought to learn about the Arab perspective and came to feel that “everything my mother had taught me was wrong. Or at least, incomplete.”

In the play, Felder uses a balancing trick (invented by W.C. Fields) to build a block wall while describing the rift between the fictional mother and daughter.

“When I create a show, I look for objects that can tell the story more efficiently than words ever could,” she says.

Now 49, Felder learned to juggle in college and as a member of the Pickle Family Circus in San Francisco. She incorporated the craft into her own monologues when she discovered that viewers “would listen to whatever I said, so long as I was juggling; it opened people up to different points of view.”

As for juggling knives, she says she’s only bled once onstage: “As soon as a machete leaves your hand, you know if it’s a good throw or not, and you can decide whether to stick out your other hand to catch it or to let it fall to the floor.”

Felder has juggled everything from boom boxes to latkes (which she says are harder than machetes, because they’re greasy) in solo shows such as “June Bride,” which is loosely based on her own Jewish lesbian wedding.

Tossing machetes on a rola bola could described how she sees much of her work. “I like to explore the balancing act of being Jewish in America today,” she says.

Sara Felder will also deliver a lecture, “From Fanny Brice to Woody Allen to You: A Short History of Jewish Humor,” on May 22. For information about her lecture and performances, visit

Rescuer and rescued reunion aids Polish talks on Shoah claims

Arranging a reunion between a Jewish woman hidden during the Holocaust and her Catholic rescuer might have paid unseen dividends for Jewish organizations fighting a property restitution battle in Poland.

A day after Jozefa Tracz Czekaj and Miriam Schmetterling saw each other for the first time in more than 60 years, pictures of the women embracing graced the front pages of Poland’s largest newspapers and were shown on every television channel.

The meeting between Czekaj, the rescuer, and Schmetterling, who had not been in Poland since the end of World War II, was the main event at a Feb. 27 luncheon, held at the Lauder Morasha Jewish School, for 60 Poles recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations — non-Jews who helped save Jews during the Holocaust.

The event was organized by the Claims Conference, whose representatives met with Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski less than 24 hours later.

“Clearly, having this event a day before such an important meeting and having the prime minister see these newspaper articles made the climate of such difficult talks more positive,” said Gideon Taylor, Claims Conference executive vice president.

Newspaper stories credited the Claims Conference with uniting the women. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous contributed to the planning of the event.

The Claims Conference, which was holding its first executive board meeting in Warsaw, and the World Jewish Restitution Organization had come to press their case for compensation for private property looted by the Nazis, then taken over by the communist regime and never returned.

Restitution has been an unpopular cause in Poland, but extensive television and newspaper coverage showing the rescued hugging the rescuer, feel-good stories about Polish efforts to help Jews during the Holocaust and Claims Conference gratitude to the righteous Poles set the tone for the meeting with Kaczynski.

“The prime minister said he was committed to passing a law on compensation this year and seemed genuinely affected by the positive feelings about Poland we expressed,” Taylor said.

Poland is the only country in the former Eastern Bloc, besides Belarus, that has not passed a restitution or compensation law on private property confiscated by the Nazis and then the communists. In the case of Poland, it’s estimated that only 20 percent of the property nationalized by the communist regime was owned by Jews before World War II.

However, since Jewish groups have been the most vocal in pushing for restitution, media coverage of their demands has suggested that Jews consider Poland anti-Semitic and hold it responsible for their suffering during the Holocaust. Such charges make conservative nationalistic politicians like Kaczynski particularly uncomfortable.

The Claims Conference salute showcased how Polish citizens took tremendous risks to save their Jewish neighbors.

Schmetterling, 83, who now lives in Germany, was ushered into a room amid flashing cameras, tape recorders and an audience of approximately 160 guests to meet Czekaj, 79, who helped her parents hide Schmetterling and her husband for 10 months in the eastern town of Kopyczynce.

Originally from Lvov, Schmetterling fled as 50,000 Jews from the city were sent to the Belzec concentration camp. She, her husband and his parents hid in the attic of the Tracz home only a few feet from Gestapo headquarters. Czekaj would play the piano when visitors came, to prevent them from hearing the strangers upstairs.

Schmetterling and Czekaj had not seen each other since 1944, when Soviet troops liberated Kopyczynce from the Nazis.

“I am here today only because she and her family risked everything to save us,” Schmetterling told the crowd, looking at Czekaj. “Now, to see her here in Poland, is more than I could have imagined.”

Schmetterling thanked not only Czekaj but everyone in the room who had saved Jews. Taylor lauded the rescuers, too.

“In Jewish teaching, we say to save a life is to save the world. You in this room have saved the world many times over,” he told the elderly guests.

Taylor noted the symbolism of holding the luncheon in a Jewish school. He said that through the efforts of rescuers, people like Schmetterling, a mother of two, could bring a new generation of Jews into the world.

Before Schmetterling entered the room, Czekaj sat nervously, eager with anticipation. The events of the week had forced her to recall the horrors of the Holocaust: classmates she saw being carted off to camps or Jews rounded up and killed by the Nazis in front of her house, which was next to the town hall.

But Czekaj’s unease turned to elation when Schmetterling embraced her. Asked why her family risked their lives and the lives of their children to help a work acquaintance — Czekaj’s brother-in-law worked for Schmetterling’s father-in-law, a doctor — Czekaj answered, “I am a Catholic; everything we did was on a religious basis. That is all I need to say. If a situation like that occurred again, I would not hesitate to do what we did again.”

At a time when the League of Polish Families, a Catholic-oriented party with a history of anti-Semitism, is in government and several incidents of anti-Semitism have occurred in Poland, the Claims Conference’s focus on the righteous garnered intense media attention for a country still coming to terms with its past.

There were approximately 3 million Jews in Poland — more than in any other European country — before the Holocaust. About 90 percent of them were killed.

However, Polish politicians noted that more Polish citizens are recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations than any other nationality. Approximately 6,000 Poles have been so recognized; an estimated 800 are still alive and living in Poland.

Most of the week’s honorees were children of parents who hid Jews.

The children helped obtain food for the Jews and sometimes invented elaborate ruses to keep the Germans at bay.

Making sense of today’s Jewish Germany

In 1961, as an all-knowing 22-year-old rabbinical student, I was thinking a lot about postwar Germany. I figured (accurately) that before long I would get to visit the country in which I had been born, and I wrote with youthful certainty that while quite evidently there would never again be a Jewish community in Germany, people of my generation would nevertheless have to come to terms with a world in which we would inevitably encounter Germans; we would need to learn how to react to that inescapable reality.

As I have continually revisited Germany since my first visit in 1963, and even lived in Berlin from 1998 to 2000, I learned to be amused at my earlier shortsightedness about European Jewish life.

With the fastest-growing Jewish community in Europe, Germany is both a somewhat comfortable haven for recently arrived Jews from the former Soviet Union, and a rather settled home for those Jews (mostly former displaced persons) who ended up there shortly after the war.

There are still a number of American Jews unwilling to set foot on German soil — often people who appear totally comfortable with visiting Austria, which is probably an indication that Jews share their fellow Americans’ well-known ignorance of history. But many others are traveling to post-communist/reunited Germany, and especially to Berlin, which seems to exude a special kind of allure not unconnected to its history as the capital of the Weimar Republic.

Despite the exaggerated image of German Jews as assimilationist, including those who were pioneers in a vast range of academic endeavors and those who garnered Nobel Prizes, Berlin was also hospitable to many prominent Ostjuden. Marc Chagall went there to study printmaking with the prominent Jewish artist, Hermann Struck, a close friend of Theodore Herzl. Struck lived in the same building as my grandparents, drew my grandfather’s death mask (in 1926), and made aliyah to Haifa in the early 1920s. He also nurtured my father’s early Zionism. Haim Nachman Bialik and Isaac Bashevis Singer are among the many writers who spent creatively formative time in Berlin. Even Roman Vishniac, revered for his photographs of pre-Holocaust Polish Jewish life, lived and worked in Berlin for some time.

Whether any of these energies can be recaptured in today’s Germany remains to be seen. But there are plenty of creative folks trying. The work of American conceptual artist, Arnold Dreyblatt, is complexly informed by his living in Berlin, and has garnered him commissions worldwide. In 1999, I traveled to Magdeburg for the premiere of an opera about Ethel and Julius Rosenberg; the Berlin-based Yale-graduate composer/conductor, Ari Benjamin Meyers — who was not yet 30 — assured me that such an opportunity would not be possible in the States.

There’s an astounding level of activity suggesting that Germany may yet again become an important Jewish cultural center, even if it’s not there yet.

German immigration laws favoring the entry of Jews, as well as the various levels of local and federal government support (of a kind that would be wholly unthinkable to us) have enabled the development of a wide range of community institutions — from synagogues to museums.

Given historical memories of Jew-counting, there isn’t really an accurate census of Jews in Germany, but it appears to be in the range of plus or minus 100,000 and growing (broadly defined, including unaffiliated and intermarried Jews). That’s not a whole lot in a country with over 80 million people, but we need to remember that the pre-Holocaust Jewish population was only in the range of 500,000 — numbers that don’t begin to indicate the ways in which Jewish culture interlaced with German life.

The memory of that mutual influence married with the persistence of the Holocaust as a defining part of German history, not just Jewish history, has made for endless inexplicable oddities in the German-Jewish relationship.
Perhaps the most publicized institution is Berlin’s new Jewish Museum, of which I had the honor of being deputy director; it opened a couple of days before Sept. 11.

The famous building by Daniel Libeskind houses a federally funded institution, and is much larger (and richer) than the Jewish-community-based Centrum Judaicum, yet another Jewish museum, which has the advantage of its historic site — what’s left of the Neue (New) Synagogue, in one of the areas rich in Jewish historic sites.

My grandfather’s will divided up the family wealth in conventionally unspecified ways (leading to nasty lawsuits), but made certain that his seat in that grand synagogue would go to my father. When I attempted to reclaim my place, I was told that, like the actual sanctuary itself, the seating plan no longer exists.

There’s probably something tiresome about people like me seeking ways of reconnecting with a past that can’t possibly be recaptured. But that’s not nearly as interesting as the fascination with all things Jewish that has lots of young Germans traveling to Israel, getting advanced degrees in Jewish studies (Judaistik, it’s called there), and working in what seems like a wholly disproportionate number of Jewish institutions.

A recent manifestation of that is the exhibition, Heimat und Exil (Homeland and Exile), which opened at the Berlin Jewish Museum in September and will travel to museums in Bonn and Leipzig, into 2008. I have loaned a number of items from my family archive, including the large 48-star American flag that was hanging in our house for my parents’ citizenship party in 1943.

It’s an excellent, scholarly, and fascinating exhibition, tracking many of the individual experiences in various lands to which German Jews emigrated. But it represents something very unfamiliar to me, since my parents never used the words “heimat” or “exil” to describe their situation. While treasuring whatever memories could be rescued from the pre-Hitler years, they certainly never thought of Germany as their “homeland” — a word that might best be saved for the U.S.A. or, in the case of my verbrennte Zionist parents, Palestine (as it then was called).

And they certainly didn’t feel themselves in exile, either!

Millions of Shoah records will finally be revealed

When Jews too weak to work were routinely marched from their concentration camp barracks into oblivion, when shrieking families with arms and fingers outstretched were torn apart during deportations, when the winds of politics and opportunity scattered refugees and survivors throughout the world, many rightfully thought that the story of their persecution and fate would be as indistinguishable as a single ash rising from a chimney.

Even though millions did not survive, much of their story did. The details are embedded within the miles of records housed by the International Tracing Service (ITS) located at Bad Arolsen, Germany.

But for 60 years those records have been secret, available only to survivors and their nuclear families tracing loved ones, and even then only after years of heartbreaking persistence.

After a decades-long international effort, the sensitive ITS archives will soon be pried open. The unlocking follows a hard-negotiated accord among the 11 nations that comprise the commission that owns the archive. Those countries are the United States, France, England, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland and Israel, plus the two former Axis powers, Italy and Germany.

The International Red Cross was given custody and control of the archive, but only pursuant to the agreement.

Only an estimated 25 percent of the prodigious ITS collection relates to Jews. The remainder covers the fate of Gypsies, Poles, Dutch and numerous other groups targeted for oppression and destruction.

The implications for Holocaust and Nazi-era research are staggering.

Among the many by-products of the ITS revelations is vast additional proof of IBM’s minute-to-minute involvement in the 12-year Holocaust, new insights into the corporate beneficiaries of Germany’s slave and forced labor programs, an explosion of evidence that insurance companies participated in and benefited from the decimation of the Jews and the dark details of persecution suffered by millions of individuals who would have otherwise disappeared into the bleak vastness of Hitler’s war against humanity.

Some of the most important archival details of the nearly impenetrable archives have finally been revealed, exclusively to this writer.

At the forefront of the campaign to open the ITS files has been a passionate group of senior officials of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). These include director Sara J. Bloomfield; senior adviser Arthur Berger; Paul Shapiro, director of the museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies; and the State Department’s Edward O’Donnell, an ex-officio member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.

Berger, in an interview, recalled his part in the frustrating struggle to open the archive: “We tried for years to work quietly behind the scenes — since 1991.” He added, “Paul Shapiro went with a group, and they refused to even let him tour the archive.”

A USHMM senior official, speaking on background, specified with irritation that the 11-member nature of the governing commission “would meet once per year for one day, each year in a different city. They received a dog-and-pony show from the ITS director, had a good lunch and went home. It was run like many a company board of directors.”

Finally, Berger went public on March 7, 2006, issuing a press release openly criticizing the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), charging, “the ITS and the ICRC have consistently refused to cooperate with the International Commission board and have kept the archive closed.”

Momentum and pressure resulted in a multinational agreement initiated May 16, 2006, to finally “open the archives,” allowing a full copy to reside in each nation’s designated archive. USHMM officials took center stage, vowing that America’s copy would be in their possession within months. Despite the inflated publicity, the digital transfer of the records has not happened and is not scheduled any time soon.

Bad Arolsen sources, in mid-January 2007, said the prodigious task of digitizing their mega-million record collection is progressing only slowly and is years from being complete. Sources on both sides of the Atlantic say the inter-governmental paperwork is not nearly complete.

The ICRC, for its part, has scoffed at the museum’s tactics, including Berger’s March 2006 press release. Asked if the press release attacking the Red Cross was accurate, one senior ICRC official in Geneva quipped, “I wouldn’t believe everything you read.”

Indeed, this reporter determined that USHMM guesswork had been the source of much of the inaccurate and unverified reporting in the media about ITS holdings. For example, Shapiro stated that the ITS held “30 [million]-50 million pages of records” divided into three collections: prisoner records; forced and slave labor; and displaced persons, but no one knew the details because the ITS has refused to reveal any information. Shapiro stated he based his remarks on “various statements by various people.”

In point of fact, this reporter has exclusively determined that ITS records number approximately 33.6 million pages divided into four record groups:

Section 1, dubbed “Incarceration Records,” concern concentration camps and other forms of imprisonment, totaling more than 4.42 million pages, dated 1933 to 1945, constituting 12.5 percent of the holdings.

Within Section 1, record subgroup 6 is a trove of prisoner cards organized by numbers and not names. These numbers were by and large assigned according to the Hollerith punch card system designed by IBM engineers. Forty-nine camps and ghettos are listed in this section, most assigned an alphabetically sequential number by the ITS. The Amersfoort police torture camp in Holland leads the list, numbered 1.1.1; the trio of Auschwitz camps in occupied Poland is 1.1.2, but those records hail mainly from the transport camp, with very little from the Birkenau death camp, and almost nothing from the Monowitz labor camp. The Warsaw Ghetto is listed as 1.1.4. Buchenwald is listed as 1.1.5.

Section 1’s subgroup 1.2.1 includes prisoner transport lists that were organized by IBM Hollerith and generally referred to in Nazi documents as “Hollerith transfer lists.” Subgroup 1.2.3 contains Gestapo registrations.

Section 2, dubbed “Forced Laborers,” with documents dating from 1939 to 1947, includes corporate involvement and insurance matters, and totals more than 4.45 million pages, or 13.5 percent. These files include the names of companies that benefited from slave labor. They are divided mainly by the Allied zone of occupation that captured the files. The American Zone is subgroup 2.1.1; the British Zone is 2.1.2. Nazi employment bureau records, such as the Employment Exchange in Warsaw numbered 2.3.3, are also contained in this collection. An IBM customer site in almost every concentration camp organized slave labor through the Abteilung Hollerith or Hollerith Department in each camp’s Labor Assignment Office. IBM personnel serviced the machines on site in the camps. These documents often carry IBM’s stamp of authenticity, “Hollerith erfasst,” that is, “registered by Hollerith.”

Goldhagen Book Rocks Germany

The message is not new, but it still smarts in Germany: The Catholic Church stood by during the Holocaust and full atonement is long past due. That’s the message of American scholar Daniel Goldhagen’s latest controversial book, which is under attack from the church.

Acting on complaints that a photo caption was incorrect, a German court recently issued a recall of some of the books in Germany. Goldhagen said the injunction was a ploy by the church.

"This is a desperate attempt on the part of the church to try and torpedo this book and avoid a real discussion," he said Oct. 11 at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

The photo was misidentified by the archive that provided it, Goldhagen told reporters at the fair. A new German edition is now in bookstores. The book is scheduled to appear in the United States at the end of October.

Goldhagen is known for his book "Hitler’s Willing Executioners" (Knopf, 1996), which argued that there was a unique German "eliminationist anti-Semitism" that allowed ordinary Germans to participate in the Holocaust. The book was a bestseller in Germany, although it was panned by critics and historians.

During an Oct. 13 presentation of "A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair" (Knopf, $17.50) the extent of the disagreement between Goldhagen and church officials became clear. Before a packed audience in a Berlin theater, Goldhagen said that if it wishes to repair centuries of injustice that culminated in the Holocaust, the church must make the fight against anti-Semitism "a core teaching" alongside its traditional messages of "love and goodness."

Goldhagen’s book examines church actions and inactions regarding persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany and proposes radical acts of atonement, including issuing new editions of the Christian Bible

Hans Joachim Meyer, president of the board of the Central Committee of the Catholic Church, said at the Oct. 13 debate, "This is not an historical book [but] an agitator’s pamphlet."

Both Goldhagen and his critics were heckled during the debate.

On stage with Goldhagen and Meyer were Julius Schoeps, director of the Moses Mendelssohn Center for European Jewish Studies in Potsdam, and Georg Denzler, historian emeritus at the University of Bamberg. The discussion was moderated by Jan Ross, an editor for the weekly newspaper Die Zeit.

"It is false to say the Shoah could have been stopped by the church," said Meyer, who added that the church already had rejected its historical anti-Semitic teachings.

Schoeps agreed, but noted that German bishops successfully protested against the Nazi "euthanasia" program. Thus it is fair to say that the church could have done more to stop or slow the destruction of European Jewry, he said.

Denzler, a prominent Catholic critic of the church, joined Meyer in condemning Goldhagen’s work. Calling Goldhagen irresponsible for producing a work with "no source list," Denzler asked whether the author really believes that "the main message" of the Christian Bible "is to beat the Jews to death."

"My conclusions are difficult to listen to," Goldhagen said. He called the book "a moral, philosophical investigation" rather than a work of history.

"There is no argument about the need for a debate," Meyer said. "But is this a book that encourages debate?"

"Without it, there would be no debate," Schoeps replied, drawing cheers and boos from the audience.

The contentious atmosphere is bound to follow Goldhagen throughout his current tour of Germany and Austria. From Berlin he was to go to Hamburg, Cologne, Munich and Vienna.

At the Berlin presentation, Goldhagen said he had come to his latest subject by accident after being asked to review several new books about the church’s role during the Holocaust.

"I was dissatisfied with where they stopped and the questions they didn’t ask," Goldhagen said.

So he took on the task of "expanding the notion of restitution and repair from money to a discussion of moral issues. That had not been done in any systematic way," he said.

In the past 10 years, Catholic Bishops in several European countries have made official statements recognizing their shared responsibility for the fate of European Jewry under the Nazis. Pope John Paul II prayed for forgiveness in 2000, at Jerusalem’s Western Wall.

Both the Catholic and Protestant establishments in Germany have officially ceased any mission aimed specifically at converting Jews. And in September this year, the head of the German Bishops’ Conference, Mainz Cardinal Karl Lehmann, challenged the Vatican to open all its Nazi-era archives.

"I praise the church for what is has done, and for what Catholic clergy did to help Jews [during the Holocaust]," Goldhagen said. "But there is still much more to do."

One People

Standing a bit under five feet, the speaker surprised his audience with the passion and power of his voice.

The Purim message he delivered was born on a hurried journey a half-century before, but its impact was timeless.

"Haman convinces Ahasuerus to exterminate the Jews. ‘There is one people, scattered and dispersed … and it is not befitting the king to tolerate them (Esther 3:8),’" said Rabbi Yaakov Galinsky, today a major rabbinic luminary in Israel.

"The comment by the rabbis of the Talmud," he continued, "is remarkable: One people — that say ‘Hear O Israel, Hashem is God, Hashem is One.’ Why would the evil Haman reference the ‘Shema,’ the classic affirmation of Jewish faith? Why would he care? I found out on a wartime railroad platform.

"The Germans were advancing upon my town in Lithuania," Galinsky explained. "I was a young yeshiva student, and many of us had no other plan but to put as much distance between ourselves and the Nazis. Trains were still running, and I purchased a ticket eastward, as far as I could get. We all figured that we were better off with the Soviets.

"I got off in a strange location, not knowing anyone, with the winds of war threatening to blow in at any time. Where could I go? I looked for a Jewish face on the railroad platform and found none. I did notice a figure at the other end, shining shoes and wearing a cap. Jews commonly wore such caps, but then again, so did many others.

"I could hardly go over to him and ask him if he were Jewish, and give away my identity and vulnerability. Without uttering a word, I sat down at the shoeshine stand, and the local fellow began to work, without even establishing eye contact. After a minute or two, I turned my head to the side, and quietly muttered the first line of the ‘Shema’ under my breath. I figured that if the fellow was not Jewish, he would hardly take notice.

"He did not look up, and continued his rubbing and polishing. But the words that escaped his lips were unmistakable: Baruch shem kavod malchuto l’olam va’ed — the familiar response to the first line of the ‘Shema.’ The fellow took me home, hiding me for a week before I could find transportation further east. That week enabled me to survive, and to eventually reach Siberia, where I took refuge for the rest of the war."

Galinsky paused before bringing the point home to his Los Angeles audience.

"We did not know each other," he continued. "But that ‘Shema’ immediately established our brotherhood and common fate. I understood that this is what the rabbis meant. Haman could not have cared less about the ‘Shema,’ or any line of our liturgy. But he did notice that it takes but a few words — albeit the right ones — for unrelated Jews to prove themselves brothers.

"Jews share a history and a belief system that unites them, that makes them one. Their unity, their rallying around common convictions, is a mystery to others. To some, like our enemies, our instant connection arouses jealousy and hatred."

Rabbi Yehuda Loew, the 16th century Maharal of Prague, struggled with tradition’s embrace of drinking — even in moderation — on Purim: It just doesn’t seem like a Jewish thing to do. Indeed, he said, Jews ordinarily should not dull their minds with drink. There are too many important decisions that we must make everyday. One day of the year, though, on Purim, we are struck by our inexplicable survival through the help of God. We are so appreciative of the gifts of Jewishness, that we trust ourselves to comport ourselves properly, intoxicated with our love of God.

Beset by troubles, we have much to be thankful for, least of which is our miraculous survival, and our ties to each other.

Happy Purim!

From L.A. to Germany

Dr. Dagmar Weiler, whose Bridge of Understanding program sponsors tours to Germany for American Jewish students and young professionals, wants to make one point perfectly clear:

“What we are offering are not memorial trips to the past but a chance for first-hand encounters with today’s Germany, warts and all,” she says.

Such face-to-face meetings are vital, she believes, as a reality check for both Germans and American Jews, who wrestle, often obsessively, with the Nazi era and its legacy.

Bridge of Understanding was launched in 1993 by the Office of German-American Cooperation at the German Foreign Ministry, and Weiler has been the project’s director almost from the beginning.

But for a faint German accent, the perky Weiler comes across at times as more American than the Americans. She received her doctorate in U.S. history from Washington State University, with a focus on the labor movement in the South, is up on the latest slang and loves baseball.

A typical Bridge tour, largely underwritten by the German government, lasts three weeks and consists of some 20 people with similar interests. The initial trips were for college students affiliated with Hillel, but now are tailor-made for young Jewish legislators, journalists, rabbis and rabbinical students and professional community workers.

Bridge, with a $500,000 annual budget, generally organizes six such tours during the year.

Although the trips concentrate on contemporary Germany, with its Jewish communities and large foreign minorities, the past cannot be ignored entirely. There are usually visits to the memorial sites at the Dachau or Sachsenhausen concentration camps, with talks by survivors.

So far, participants in the program have come mainly from the East Coast, and Weiler says that the main purpose of her current trip was to establish ties with West Coast institutions.

Weiler met with leaders of Mazon, a hunger-fighting organization, and the Board of Rabbis, but her main host was Dr. Steven Windmueller, director of the Irwin Daniels School of Jewish Communal Service at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

Windmueller views the Bridge program as a likely test run for many of his students who plan careers with international Jewish communal organizations, such as the Joint Distribution Committee and the American Jewish Committee.

“The Jewish world is getting smaller,” he observes, and Germany in particular, with the fastest growing Jewish community in Europe, “is not just the story of the past, but also of the future.”

Additional information on Bridge of Understanding,headquartered in Munich, is available on its Web or by e-mail to .

Sounds of Healing

Half of Tina Feiger’s family fled from there in 1938. Barbara Ravitz became so anxious on a visit there in 1969 that she hasn’t been back since. Sherri Lipman, like so many American Jews, has never been there.

On Nov. 25, they will be in Germany, part of a huge, largely Jewish choral ensemble singing music based on a Jewish text, written by of one of the world’s most renowned Jewish composers. They will be not just in Germany, but in Nuremberg, where the Nazi regime generated its restrictive anti-Semitic laws. Not just in Nuremberg, but in a concert hall built over the rubble of the arena where thousands of Germans gathered in the 1930s to affirm Adolf Hitler’s hate-filled rants.

Southern California’s premier Jewish choral group, the Los Angeles Zimriyah Chorale (LAZC), will be joined by several other local ensembles and choirs from Canada and Israel to perform Leonard Bernstein’s ” Symphony No. 3, Kaddish,” in Nuremberg on Nov. 25 and 26.

LAZC and members of the other local groups – the Choral Society of Southern California, the Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church Chancel Choir, the El Camino Real High School Camerata and the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra – will also perform the symphony at UCLA’s Royce Hall on Nov. 13.

The European trip, billed as Sounds of Healing, includes a performance at the Musica Judaica Festival in Prague on Nov. 19 in a program of pieces composed at the Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp, along with works by American and Israeli composers.

For many of the Jews involved in the tour, the prospect of visiting Germany and performing in the Bavarian city where the Nazis had spewed so much anti-Jewish hate was daunting. In Nuremberg, Hitler wanted to create “a Nazi Orlando, a theme park where Germans could express their love for the Reich,” said Paul Buch, a Zimriyah member who is producing a documentary film about the trip. “We’re doing this concert on grounds that were consecrated by Hitler to be a Nazi Disneyland.”

In addition, on the Czech leg of the trip, participants will have the option of visiting Terezin, which is a 90-minute drive from Prague.

After the Nuremberg concerts, Tina Feiger plans to visit the southern German city of Karlsruhe, from which her mother’s family fled in 1938. “I suppose on some level there is some unfinished business for me, especially since my mother had just died this past year,” she said. “I want to be more able to visualize her life as a young child and adolescent, [but] I’m quite certain I will have many mixed emotions.”

“I had to think long and hard about whether I wanted to go to Nuremberg,” said Lipman. “I had never been in Germany due to a long-standing antipathy born of my awareness of the horrors of the Holocaust.”

Because of the potential for anxiety and even trauma among chorale members, LAZC held a session in September led by psychotherapist Esther Hess, herself a Zimriyah member and daughter of a Holocaust survivor. Hess outlined warning signals of possible trauma, such as disturbances in eating or sleeping, depression, nervousness, frequent crying and even numbness, and she said that signals of stress could appear before, during or after the trip.

Hess assured the singers that there was nothing wrong with an emotional response to what they experienced unless it knocked them out of commission. “If you start crying at Terezin, that’s normal,” she said. “If you can’t stop crying three months later, that’s a problem.”

Being able to talk about feelings is key, Hess added. To that end, the tour organizers will have a rabbi, a chaplain, a doctor and a psychologist on staff to talk with anyone who needs help during the trip and also plan to provide opportunities for participants to share feelings with one another.

During the session, Barbara Ravitz told the group that she was overwhelmed by the emotions she felt on a visit more than 30 years ago. “Every time I saw someone who could have been alive during the war, I became terribly anxious, and I had to leave the country,” she said. Ravitz thought about sitting out the November tour, but, she said, one of the chorale’s leaders convinced her of “the importance of Jews going to Germany in a public capacity.”

Hess agreed, saying that the chorale’s highly visible and audible visit to Nuremberg represents a blow against prejudice and hate. “Genocide happens when the world is asleep,” she said.

The impetus for the Nuremberg trip originated with Nick Strimple, music director for LAZC, the Choral Society and Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church. Strimple, who was raised Baptist in Amarillo, Texas, has been working with music of the Holocaust since the mid-1980s, an interest that grew out of his doctoral work in Czech music.

During a visit to Terezin, Strimple said, he “got really hooked” on the evocative, emotion-laden works that had been composed there. When word got out that he was interested in Holocaust music, “people started coming up to me with tunes they had heard in the camps,” he said. “I just became kind of a magnet.”

He had also, over the years, been batting around the idea of a large-scale choral concert in Nuremberg with the former director of the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra. That project reached “now or never” status a couple of years ago, when the Nuremberg director decided to leave the orchestra and began planning his final season, 2000-01.

They decided the most auspicious time for a concert would be November, which brings together the 10th anniversary of Bernstein’s death, the 62nd anniversary of Kristallnacht and the culmination of Nuremberg’s celebration of its founding 950 years ago. Around the same time, the city will open a new museum about its role in the Nazi era.

Meistersinger Hall, where the “Kaddish” concerts will take place, was built on the site of Luitpold Arena, where Hitler staged his early rallies, a site captured in many newsreels and in Leni Riefenstahl’s documentary “Triumph of the Will.” Today, the city has a growing Jewish population, currently numbering about 900, that supports a synagogue and a Jewish community center.

The Los Angeles-based chorales, plus the Tel Aviv Chamber Choir, the Efroni Children’s Choir of Israel and Lachan Jewish Chamber Choir of Toronto, will form a choir of some 200 voices for Bernstein’s haunting work, which combines a number of musical styles, including folk, jazz and neoclassicism. The Nuremberg Symphony’s current conductor, Jac van Steen, will conduct an orchestra that includes members of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony. Cantor Ira Bigeleisen of Adat Ari El in North Hollywood, one of the LAZC’s directors, will be a soloist in the Prague and Nuremberg concerts.

“Kaddish,” composed in 1963, was not written specifically to memorialize the 6 million Jews who perished in the Shoah, Strimple said, but he considered it an appropriate selection for the Nuremberg concerts not only as a way of remembering the Nazis’ victims but to mark Nurem-berg’s transition from a city best known as the launching pad for the Nazi regime to one that has reinvented itself as a place dedicated to the promotion of human rights.

“To say ‘Kaddish’ in that place,” Strimple said, “sort of reclaims the area.”

Sounds of Healing includes a number of educational components, the most important of which is a 90-minute documentary about the concert in Nuremberg. Delbert Mann, who has won the Academy Award, the Emmy and the Golden Globe for his work in feature films and television and who directed many of Bernstein’s popular television specials, will direct the film.

Mann, 80, is a member of Beverly Hills Presbyterian and has narrated the church’s Christmas program that Strimple directs each year; the Sounds of Healing film project “dragged me screaming and kicking out of retirement,” he said. He also dropped bombs on Munich during the war as a member of the 8th Air Force and remembers, as a college student, hearing radio broadcasts of Nazi rallies. “Hitler’s ranting and raving, distorted by the shortwave transmission, and the
storm troopers shouting ‘Sieg heil!’ is an indelible memory,” Mann said. (One of the choristers, Wilbur Richardson, also flewwith the 8th Air Force, logging 30 mis-sions over Europe in 1944 before being seriously wounded.)

The film will include footage of rehearsals and performances and interviews with concert participants before and during the trip, plus background on Nuremberg today and stock footage of the 1930s rallies. Designed for television viewing, the documentary will be packaged as a video for use by schools, civic groups and other organizations.

Sounds of Healing is also recruiting school groups to attend the dress rehearsal of the UCLA concert the morning of Nov. 13. Participating schools will receive curriculum materials prior to the concert.

The various concerts, the film and scholarships for musicians who can’t manage the cost of the trip, among other expenses, add up to an impressive sum, and Sounds of Healing, which has raised more than $500,000 in cash and in-kind donations since early this summer, still needs another $100,000 to $120,000 to meet its obligations. Operating under nonprofit status, Sounds of Healing has been able to attract some major sponsors, including the Jewish Community Founda-tion of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and the Los Angeles-Tel Aviv Partnership, along with other foundation, Jewish communal, civic and corporate support.

Sounds of Healing project manager Judy Fenton, a founding member of LAZC, said about a third of the chorale members have been actively involved in fundraising. The project still needs about $25,000 to cover scholarships for choristers who can’t afford the trip and $20,000 for the orchestra for the Royce Hall concert, plus expenses of bringing the Israeli choirs to Germany.

As the UCLA performance and the departure date for Europe draw near, whatever apprehension individual chorale members feel at this point seems to be subordinated to the excitement of making the trip – and making history. “It became clear to me that the past is a reflection, but the present is where the action is, and I wanted to be a part of the action,” Lipman said. “I wanted to help build a bridge through my music that could open doors and minds to altering patterns of the past.”

Fenton agreed. “I don’t want my grandchildren growing up hating Germans because they’re Germans,” she said. “We need a model, and maybe that model is music.”

Sounds of Healing will present Bernstein’s Symphony No. 3 on Mon., Nov. 13, at 8 p.m. at Royce Hall, UCLA. Ticket prices are $100 (two for $180, premium seats), $36 (general), $25 (each in groups of 10 or more) or $15 (students). For tickets or more information, call (310) 825-2101 (UCLA) or (213) 480-3232 (Ticketmaster), or visit the UCLA Performing Arts Web site at or Ticketmaster at

To receive more information about Sounds of Healing, call Judy Fenton at (310) 670-5080 or visit the project’s Web site,

Survivors of Forced Labor Deserve Tax-Free Reparations

The horrific racial persecution of the Holocaust is all too familiar to us. That dark period in history was marked by the brutal deaths of millions of innocent people and also involved the virtual enslavement of more than 10 million foreign laborers in Germany.

During World War II, the Third Reich deported millions of Jewish, Polish, Czech, French, Dutch and Soviet men and women from their homelands against their will and forced them to work in Germany under deplorable conditions to sustain Germany’s wartime economy.

Of the 10 million foreign laborers forced to work in Germany, only about 2 million survived. After the war, the survivors, or “displaced persons,” returned to their own countries. Today, they are well into their 70’s and 80’s and are living around the world, including in the U.S. They are our neighbors, family and friends. Many survivors are elderly and infirm and face poverty daily. Now they will finally receive reparations for their servitude.

Recently, a settlement was reached among the governments of the U.S., Germany, Israel, and European countries, German industry, victim organizations and plaintiffs involved in class action lawsuits against the German companies to provide reparations to former slave laborers. The Remembrance, Responsibility and the Future Fund will be established with contributions from the German government and more than 3,000 German companies that used slave labor. More than $5 billion will be available for reparations, and payments are expected to begin before the end of the year.

The main goal of the fund is to provide the survivors with a meaningful amount as quickly as possible that will, in some small way, acknowledge and redress the evils of the Nazi era. The foundation will also include funds to support programs that will educate current and future generations about tyranny, human rights and social justice to help us learn from the past, so it’s not repeated.

Certainly, no amount of money could ever fully compensate the survivors for the brutal oppression they suffered. But this monetary apology is an important first step for the German government and the modern-day versions of the German companies to take moral responsibility for the decisions of their predecessors. Without the labor deportation scheme orchestrated by the Nazi regime and German industries, it would have been impossible for Germany to sustain required production levels the war demanded. War vehicles needed to be built and the German people had to eat. German historians estimate that thousands of companies used forced or slave labor, and hundreds are still in operation today, including Daimler, Siemens, Volkswagen, BMW and Bayer.

It is speculated that forced labor contributed to the growth and modernization experienced by German industry during and after the war. In fact, many argue that the German economy recovered quickly after the war and is strong today in part because of the use of forced labor. It is only right that the survivors receive compensation for their role in that recovery.

It is very heartening that the international negotiators have reached agreement on this settlement. Now, we must ensure that survivors who reside in California and receive reparations benefit fully from these funds. Therefore, I carried legislation this year to exempt these reparations from state income taxes to help survivors in California, many of whom live on the edge of poverty. While the settlement is an international issue among the survivors, their governments, their attorneys and German companies, AB 1728 is an opportunity for the State of California to acknowledge and support the survivors living here.

AB 1728 received unanimous support in the Legislature and is now awaiting the Governor’s signature. The survivors of slave labor are courageous individuals who lived through hellish conditions during the war. The least we can do is spare them from paying taxes on what they rightfully earned decades ago.

Antonio R. Villaraigosa is the former speaker of the California State Assembly. He represents the 45th Assembly District in Los Angeles. Individuals who think they may be eligible for reparations from the Remembrance, Responsibility and the Future Fund may contact his district office at (213) 483-2730 for more information on how to apply.The horrific racial persecution of the Holocaust is all too familiar to us. That dark period in history was marked by the brutal deaths of millions of innocent people and also involved the virtual enslavement of more than 10 million foreign laborers in Germany.

A Look at Jewish Germany

When I first lived in Europe I had no desire to go to Germany. I was not interested in seeing the country where the Holocaust evolved, nor was I interested in supporting the German economy. However, over a period of time, I have changed and have now visited Germany several times over the past few years. Moreover, during a recent visit, I discovered that the modern democratic Germany is the only nation on the continent that has really dealt with the Holocaust. It has demonstrated remorse for the atrocities committed by earlier generations, and the nation makes every effort to educate its people.

While I can understand how Jews and non-Jews alike might feel about walking down streets where Hitler once reigned, for travelers from all over the world, Germany offers an array of exciting and fulfilling things to do and see. For the Jewish traveler it is a country filled with a poignant, thought-provoking kaleidoscope of experiences that I believe are crucial to examine, so history is critically understood and such horrible acts are never repeated.

Throughout the nation you will find hundreds of fascinating memorials remembering victims, as well as Jewish sites both old and new.

A half-century after the Holocaust, most of Germany’s Jews are found in big cities and, as a result, Jewish life, synagogues and kosher restaurants are also mostly found in big cities. What is particularly noteworthy about these communities is that Germany has a growing Jewish population.

At the center of Jewish life is Berlin, the capital of the reunified Germany. More than any other place, it is emblematic of how the transformed Germany is today. About 10,000 of the city’s 12,000 Jews are non-Orthodox. However the estimated 50,000 Jews outside Berlin follow Orthodoxy, which is recognized as Germany’s “official” Judaism and thus the communities receive government funding.

In Berlin, at the headquarters of the Berlin Jewish Community, and not far from the Kurfurstemdamm, you will find Arche Noah, Berlin’s only truly kosher restaurant. You can also find kosher foods in the KaDeWe, Berlin’s impressive department store. (Check the food hall on the 6th floor.) Also noteworthy is the sign across the street at the entrance to the Wittenbergplatz subway station. It reads, “Places of terror that we are never allowed to forget.” The sign then lists the names of concentration camps where Jews were sent. This sign, like others throughout the nation, was deliberately placed so that even the casual passerby cannot fail to remember the past.

The Community Center in Berlin also serves as the focal point for many Jewish activities. It sponsors lectures, concerts and dances. During the high holidays a synagogue in the building is used for services. Otherwise, there are five synagogues that regularly hold services.

Not to be missed in Berlin is the new, postmodern Jewish Museum, which was designed by architect Daniel Libeskind. Standing adjacent to the former border between east and west, in the center of the city, is the very impressive museum. While there are not yet any artifacts inside, the museum is incredibly powerful and everywhere you stand you are a bit disillusioned due to sloped angles and zigzagged lines.

The Oranienburgerstrasse Synagogue is also worth seeing. This vast Moorish-influenced structure was torched and partially destroyed on Kristallnacht and, in 1945, allied bombers completed the destruction. Now the synagogue is newly restored and is used as a memorial and museum called Centrum Judaicum.

Only a mere 7,000 Jews live in the Frankfurt metropolitan area today. However, like many other German cities, it does not forget those Jews who once lived there. Behind the Judengasse (Jewish Alley) Museum is Frankfurt’s oldest Jewish cemetery. It’s surrounded by a high stone-wall where plaques with the names of 11,000 Frankfurt Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust are remembered.

It is said that Jews have lived in Stuttgart since the Middle Ages. Although many would think of this as just a city where cars are manufactured, it is a city that has great charm. In 1931, there were some 5,000 Jews living in Stuttgart; today the Jewish population numbers 1,600.

The synagogue in Stuttgart was opened in 1952 on the site of the former synagogue, dating from 1861, which was destroyed by the Nazi’s on Kristallnacht. The premises is also home to the Jewish Community Center for all of the Baden-Wurttenberg region.

At the center of contemporary Cologne Jewry is the Great Roonstrasse Synagogue, which is the only synagogue in Cologne to survive the Nazis. The building also serves as the community center and also has a kosher restaurant called Koscheres. The menu is extensive and offers several meat, fish, soup and dessert dishes. While in Cologne, also interesting to see are the remains of the medieval mikva near the Rathaus.

The Rykestrasse synagogue in East Berlin was the only large Jewish prayer house not destroyed by the Nazis during Kristallnacht because it was attached to other buildings. The synagogue was restored in the mid-1980s. Out Of The Shadows, Edward Serotta

Country code for Germany: 49

Koshser and Jewish-Style Restaurants

Arche Noah, Koscheres Restaurant,

Fasanenstrasse 79-80, 10623 Berlin,

Tel: 30-884-20-339

Café Oren, Oranienburger Strasse 28

10117 Berlin,

Tel: 30-282-8228



Oranienburger Strasse 26

10117 Berlin.

Tel: 30-283-840-32

Salomon Bagel, Joachimstaler Strasse

(Inside a mall across from Potsdammer Platz)

10785 Berlin,

Tel: 30-881-8196

Koscheres Restaurant, Roonstrasse 50

50674 Cologne,

Tel/Fax: 221-240-44-40

Sohar’s Kosher Restaurant

Juedisches Gemeindezentrum

Savignystrasse 66, 60325 Frankfurt

Tel: 69-75-23-41,

Fax: 97-40-51-67

Schalom Kosher Restaurant, Hospitalstrasse, 36

70174 Stuttgart,

Tel: 711-294-752

Out of the Dustbin

Inna Orlowski sits at an outdoor cafe near the Jewish high school here, sipping a cappuccino. Bicyclists pass, sending long shadows across the cobblestone street.

It is a long way from Russia’s Ural Mountains, where Orlowski, 20, with close-cropped blond curls and a ready smile, was born — and a long way from Israel, where she wants to be.

Across town, Inna Slavskaja, 44, a Yiddish singer from Birobidzhan, smokes another cigarette. Her husband, Igor, died three years ago and she is raising their son, Genja, now 11, alone.

“I see myself as Jewish,” says Slavskaja, a small, dark-haired woman with sad eyes. But Genja, though born in Ukraine, feels like a German.

These people are among the tens of thousands of Jews who, instead of going to Israel, caught the wave of freedom that swept the former Soviet Union after the fall of communism and rode it into the land they always associated with Hitler and death camps.

In the last decade of the century, their arrival has dramatically changed the Jewish landscape of Germany, more than doubling Germany’s Jewish population and making Germany the only country in Europe whose Jewish population is significantly growing.

In fact, since 1990, Germany’s official Jewish population has risen from 35,000 to 75,000, nearly a fifth of its prewar level.

With Germany settling its immigrants on a per-state quota basis, new Jewish communities are being established virtually overnight in towns and cities where no Jews have lived since World War II. In some cities, like Munich, Berlin and Frankfurt, the Jewish population has soared.

“I believe in the year 2004 we will have 100,000 Jews in Germany, making one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe,” said Michel Friedman, a Frankfurt attorney and member of the board of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. He is a possible contender to replace the late Ignatz Bubis as council president.

There are now nearly 12,000 Jews in Berlin alone, a tiny minority in this city of 3.8 million inhabitants — but Berlin now has a Jewish community larger than that of Milan, Italy, and many other major European cities.

“The immigrants brought back life into a community that was in danger of being very overaged, to put it lightly,” said Nicola Galliner, director of Jewish adult education programming in Berlin. “We have two Jewish junior high schools and one high school in Berlin, and none of these schools would have been possible without these immigrants.”

The immigrants are old and young, resigned and hopeful.

Pushed to leave the former Soviet Union because of economic hardship, anti-Semitism or fears for the future in chaotic new conditions, all have personal reasons for choosing Germany over Israel, where hundreds of thousands of other ex-Soviet Jews have immigrated since 1990. These reasons include Germany’s liberal policy of accepting ex-Soviet Jews, not to mention a desire by many to live in a country which is both a solid democracy and a firm member of the European Union (E.U.).

“It’s very difficult to get to America, you can’t get into England,” said a Berlin Jewish activist who asked to remain anonymous. “Germany has the highest standard of living in Europe. It’s Germany or Israel, and if you are desperate you will go anywhere.”

Germany’s open door for Jews is no accident. It is connected with responsibility for the Holocaust. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Germany established a liberal immigration policy for Jews. They are eligible for housing, financial aid, language instruction and help in finding work.

They may also become German citizens more quickly than usual, a right usually extended only to immigrants from ethnic German families. Under European Union regulations, citizens of one member country have the right to live and work anywhere in the E.U.

The influx has presented major challenges as well as rewards.

How does the established Jewish community integrate a largely non-religious population? And how does Germany justify its liberal policy toward Jewish immigration when more than 4 million Germans are unemployed and when Israel wants these Jewish immigrants for itself?

To be sure, Germany’s Jewish newcomers often have little connection to the Holy Land, and little more than a piece of paper certifying their Jewishness.

Raised in the Communist atheist tradition, they usually have more cultural than religious bonds to Judaism. But the Hebrew stamp on one’s passport — once associated with discrimination — is now virtually a ticket out of a world whose poverty and growing xenophobia outweigh the advantages of free speech and free enterprise.

With enough rubles, one can buy proof of a Jewish maternal grandmother on the black market.

Newcomers need to learn German, and find homes and jobs. Jewish leaders would like them to show an interest in religion, and not just to use Judaism as a ticket for social help.

For some, the process has produced resounding success.

“In Frankfurt we have had an unbelievable infusion of oxygen into Jewish life with these former Soviet Jews,” Friedman said. “They are creative, a lot of them are artists, and the younger generation is very quickly integrated.”

But many who work with new immigrants express frustration and even cynicism.

“After 10 years, people here still make their Passover seders in Russian,” said Judith Kessler, who has been handling immigration issues for the Jewish community in Berlin since 1990, coordinating language classes, vocational training, social clubs, and publishing a German-Russian Jewish magazine.

And Andy Steiman, who until recently was acting rabbi for the former East German state of Mecklenberg, dismissed the idea of a real “Jewish revival.” It’s just numbers, he said.

He told of a young couple who met because of a Passover seder, which they attended because it means a free meal. “When they got married,” he said, “they didn’t want to have a chupah because they think it is antiquated. And when they had a baby boy, they didn’t want to have him circumcised because they claimed it is a human right not to be harmed bodily.”

Ironically, some of the new immigrants who most want to be involved Jewishly are, as children of Jewish fathers and gentile Mothers, not considered Jewish according to halachah, or Jewish law, and thus, according to community regulations, cannot take part in all official communal activities.

“It’s a big problem,” said Kessler. “They say, rightly, ‘In Russia we were Jews, and here we are Russian. Why will no one have us?’ ”

But some, she said, are getting “closer to Judaism” in a variety of ways. Some, for example, are taking conversion classes, with some men even being circumcised. Others are immersing themselves in a cultural rather than religious Jewish orientation.

For example, Inna Orlowski, a member of the first graduating class of Berlin’s new Jewish high school, is part of a back-to-Judaism movement among young people.

“My grandparents had decided against Jewish life and for Communist ideals,” she said. “Now, we can begin again to rebuild the relationship to Judaism. If I don’t do it, then for my children it would not be possible.”

Throughout the postwar period, the prevalent view of world Jewry was that no Jews should live in Germany.

The fact is, however, that, 10 years after the fall of communism and more than half a century after the Holocaust, Jews are in Germany, building new lives.

‘The Danger Is Still Great Here’

The man whom many call the conscience of Germany has announced that he has failed.

In an interview with the newsweekly Stern, Ignatz Bubis gave a somber, often pessimistic assessment of his efforts to bring Jewish and non-Jewish Germans closer and to ensure that the Holocaust is never forgotten.

Bubis, who is nearing the end of his seven-year term as president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, added that he was wrong to have ever thought he could call himself a “German of the Jewish faith,” as Jews did for centuries before the Holocaust.

Jews remain perpetual outsiders in German society, said Bubis, who was born in Breslau and survived several concentration camps.

Perhaps most poignantly, Bubis, who is 72 and ailing, said in last week’s interview that would prefer to be buried in Israel than in Germany, where his grave might be desecrated — as happened to the man who preceded him as the leader of Germany’s Jews.

Last December, Heinz Galinski’s gravestone in Berlin was blown up. An anonymous letter claimed that the bombing was prompted by plans to rename a Berlin street for Galinski. The case remains unsolved.

The frank words, together with photos of the Jewish leader in a contemplative mood, made front-page news across the country. They drew strong reactions from those within the Jewish community and invited speculation — which Bubis tried to quash — that he was not planning to seek re-election in January.

In contrast to Bubis’ pessimism, other Jewish leaders here painted a brighter picture of German-Jewish relations — despite reports of a growth in right-wing activity, increased attacks on foreigners and repeated incidents in which monuments and graves are desecrated.

Only last week, a sculpture depicting Holocaust victims was partly destroyed in Weimar. And, in another incident, three neo-Nazi youths were arrested outside Berlin, allegedly for beating up a police officer.

But these are exceptions, say many observers. Miguel Freund, a Jewish leader in Cologne, said the relationship between Jews and non-Jews has actually improved during the last decade. Young Germans, he added, are searching their towns and cities for traces of the Jewish life that once was there.

The vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Charlotte Knobloch, disagreed with Bubis’ pessimistic assessment of his own efforts, saying he has brought recognition to Germany’s Jewish community.

Council member Michel Friedman echoed that assessment, saying Bubis has presided over a period of unprecedented growth in the German Jewish community — from 40,000 at the start of his term to some 80,000 today, according to official figures.

Friedman, who is sometimes mentioned as a possible challenger for the presidency, said Bubis should be re-elected.

Council member Michael Fuerst said Bubis was unfair to suggest that today’s politicians want to forget about Germany’s past. He suggested that Bubis, who was recently confined to a wheelchair, is depressed because of his current health problems.

In fact, “relations between German officials and Jews have changed for the better” under Bubis, said Richard Chaim Schneider, a Jewish journalist in Munich. It is “not only a reaction to the Holocaust, but has to do with Jews and Germany today.”

But Schneider agreed with Bubis that Jews here still cannot identify themselves primarily as Germans, then as Jews.

“He is an honest man, and he is expressing now his deepest emotions that he has been trying to hide,” Schneider said.

Andreas Nachama, head of the Jewish community in Berlin, said Bubis should not be so pessimistic. Just the same, Nachama agreed to some extent with his fears.

“If a society allows gravestones to be destroyed, and not only Jewish gravestones, then it is really an alarm sign,” he said.

Nachama’s words are significant in light of the attack in Weimar last week on the work of British artist Stuart Wolfe. Vandals destroyed six of the 16 figures — representations of Holocaust victims — that were recently on display in Weimar, which is located only a few miles from the former concentration camp at Buchenwald.

This year, Weimar is Germany’s “cultural capital,” with exhibits and performances attracting throngs of international tourists.

Attacks on memorials have increased in recent years. A stone commemorating the deportation of Berlin’s Jews has been vandalized three times since December 1997.

More troubling are the attacks on people — such as last week’s brutal beating of the police officer in Eberswalde, near Berlin. The youths whom the officer tried to arrest reportedly kicked him in the head with steel-toed boots when he tried to stop them from singing Nazi songs, which are illegal in Germany.

Such stories rarely make the front page, and most observers say they do not reflect the true state of affairs in Germany.

But Bubis has not been one to let things go. Last year, he took German writer Martin Walser to task for saying it was time to stop haranguing Germans about Auschwitz. With newspapers covering their argument blow by blow, it became a topic of everyday conversation. Many Germans felt liberated by Walser’s views and expressed resentment of being reminded about the Holocaust.

Around this time, someone released a pig on the broad plaza of Alexanderplatz in Berlin, with a Jewish star painted on one side and “Bubis” on the other.

But such incidents have not deterred Bubis from speaking out. In the interview with Stern, he said that he does not want to incite feelings of shame or guilt when he calls on Germans to remember their wartime past. Instead, he said, he wants to instill the responsibility to learn about and fight right-wing extremism.

“I tell young people, ‘I don’t expect you to take a pile of ashes and throw it on your head, but you have to know what people are capable of doing,'” he said.

Bubis said that he has spoken to 600,000 people over the years, but that he should have spent more time addressing teachers instead of their students.

He also spoke of the nightmare image of his own grave one day being defaced.

“The danger is still great here,” he said, “that the dignity of the dead can be violated. Especially when one is a public figure. I’m realistic. I want to be buried in Israel.”

Pesach on the Autobahn

It was nearly midnight when Louis Roth’s seder ended and we packed ourselves into my old Bug. My wife, Kyongcha, rode shotgun; Steve, my 12-year-old brother, shared the cramped back seat with a case of matzo and boxes of kosher-for-Passover canned goods from the chaplain’s office. It was enough to supply each of the seven Jews in my U.S. Army signal battalion.

Just south of Frankfurt, we hit scattered patches of fog, frightening seconds zooming through a white tunnel of reflected headlights, before bursting into the clear. Soon we were in an impenetrable cloud.

Outside city limits, the autobahn admits to no speed limit; neither night nor fog deter the German driver from going as fast as his engine will propel him. There are frequent multiple-car crashes, many involving hundreds of vehicles, often with fatalities; nobody seems to care enough to slow down.

On that Pesach night of 1970, the fast lane was Mercedes and Audi sedans cheek-to-jowl with sleek Porsche and boxy BMW sportsters, all running flat-out at upward of 100 mph. We Volkswageners shared the “slow” lane with titanic trailer trucks, five feet between our bumpers, everyone charging heedlessly headlong into the fog.

I was doing 85, white-knuckled, wide-eyed and scared half out of my wits, when the engine quit. The driver embracing my rear bumper flashed his lights impatiently as I coasted onto a shoulder barely wide enough to park. “Out of the car! Hurry!” I yelled, with rolling metal screaming by, inches from my open door. I punched the emergency flashers and bailed out as Steve extricated himself from the back seat.

From 10 feet away, we could barely see the flashers, so I moved my family back another 20 feet, and then retrieved the flashlight from the glove compartment. I gave it to my wife and told her to hug the wall, well away from the car. I then set out at a trot through the thick vapor; somewhere behind us, there must be a service station. After perhaps 20 minutes, a petrol stop suddenly loomed. The lone attendant was huge, well over 6-foot-6, with broad shoulders, olive skin and a fierce, dark mustache.

“Do you speak English?” I asked.

Nicht English. Kleine Deutsche,” he returned. No English, a little German.

Ich bin ein Turskische.”

He was a Turk, one of many guest workers Germany imported to scrub toilets, wash dishes and work graveyard shifts. They were usually treated with the same contempt and suspicion reserved for swarthy Spanish-speakers in U.S. border towns.

“Mein Volkswagen is kaput,” I said, and he nodded.

Amerikanish?” he growled, and I returned the nod.

“Ja,” he said, dropping a screwdriver and wrench into his coveralls and grabbing a light. He followed me, a great cat effortlessly keeping pace as I trotted alongside the swooshing trucks. I suddenly stumbled into my VW. My family was huddled in the car, trying to get warm. Fearing for their safety, I got them out, noticing the Turk’s odd expression as my tiny, beautiful Korean wife was illuminated by the flicker of passing headlamps. I raised the hood to expose the engine, and he played his light over the innards. Abruptly, he straightened up, set the light down.

A knife appeared in his hand, its long blade glittering in the passing lights. The Turk peered at me, then at Kyongcha and Steve. He stepped forward, menacing in the weird, twilight haze. Fear washed over me; I had once taught hand-to-hand combat at Fort Benning; even so, at 5-4 and 150 pounds, I was no match for this giant.

It flashed through my mind that my family’s only chance to survive was to shove the Turk onto the autobahn. I would probably die as well, but at least Steve and Kyongcha would be spared. I turned to her. “Run,” I said, in a low voice. “Take Steve and run.” But she stood wobbling on high heels, frozen.

Steeling myself, willing away emotion, preparing to die, I intended to smash his knees, to keep pushing till he went down. I pictured the chain-reaction crash this would start, smashed cars and trucks, flaming gasoline, the screams of the maimed and dying. I thought of the irony of surviving Vietnam to die here. I thought about how much I loved my wife and brother. My heart threatened to burst from my chest, but just before I launched myself, a long string of trucks hurtled by, and by the light of their passage, the Turk turned away to peer into my car. I crabbed sideways for an angle that would let me drive him straight into the autobahn.

He looked at me, astonishment on his face. “Matso? Matso shel Pesach?” he said in Hebrew. I nodded, watching the knife, and he returned to the engine, dropping to his knees, beckoning to me. Still wary, I approached, and he handed me the light. I shined it where he pointed, and, with his blade, he quickly scraped insulation from both sides of a broken wire, then twisted the ends together. Rising to his feet, he folded the knife and dropped it into a pocket.

I turned the key, and the engine caught immediately.

Yosef Toleadano, as this Turkish Jew was known, refused money, but allowed me to stuff his pockets with jars of gefilte fish, and cans of meatballs and stuffed cabbage. I borrowed his knife to open the case of matzo, and gave him several boxes.

“Next year in Jerusalem,” he said in Hebrew, and then vanished into the mist.

A few miles down the road, the fog lifted; as I relaxed at the wheel, I realized that on this Pesach night, as on the first, the Angel of Death had again passed over my household.

Marvin J. Wolf, no longer married, is writing his 10th nonfiction book, an illustrated history of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He can be contacted at Marlene Adler Marks will return next week.

Laborers File Suit for Wartime Injustices

Jews who worked as slave laborers during the Nazi era are one step closer to receiving some measure of compensation for their ordeal.

After months of torturous negotiations, an agreement has been reached to establish a $5.2 billion fund for these victims of the Holocaust, according to several lawyers and Jewish officials involved in the talks.

The money will come from Germany, a group of German companies, and U.S. companies whose German subsidiaries used slave labor during the war, said Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which was among the groups negotiating on behalf of the laborers.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is slated to be in Berlin on Friday for the announcement of the agreement.

An issue still to be decided — which may prove as contentious as the negotiations themselves — is the process of distributing the funds to survivors.

The allocation “is still being discussed,” Taylor said.

The German offer would affect some 250,000 concentration camp survivors — 135,000 of them Jewish — who were enslaved by German companies during the war.

It would also compensate between 475,000 and 1.2 million non-Jewish forced laborers from Central and Eastern Europe who were deported and sent to work in Germany.

Payments would also go to other victims who never received reparations.

In addition to the $5.2 billion, claims against German insurers being handled by the International Commission on Holocaust Era Claims also are expected to be included in the fund, though this part of the agreement remained unclear.

The commission, which is headed by former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, was scheduled to meet Wednesday in London.

“We hope that this will be a much delayed measure of justice for Holocaust survivors,” Taylor said.

Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat, who is representing the United States in the negotiations, declined Tuesday to give any details about the agreement before making a formal announcement Friday, according to his office.

The agreement came after months of difficult negotiations.

During the past several days, there was a flurry of activity. On Monday, lawyers for survivors reduced their demand to $5.7 billion. Earlier in the talks, the lawyers had demanded $28 billion. Germany and the group of German companies recently offered $4.2 billion to create the fund.

With the latest — and much reduced — demand from the victims’ representatives, the German side increased its offer and a compromise was achieved.

Michael Witti, an attorney for survivors based in Munich, said Tuesday that even with an agreement, there would be “no feeling of victory on the side of the victims.”

“You can never repay people for what they suffered,” he said.

A similar sentiment was expressed by survivor Hans Frankenthal, 73, who for 22 months during the war worked as a slave laborer at an armaments factory in the Mauthausen concentration camp and at I.G. Farben’s chemical factory near Auschwitz.

An agreement would mean a “guarantee that there would be no more suits,” said Frankenthal. “But you can’t take away” the history of the war.

Frankenthal, who recently published his memoirs, never received any compensation for his years of slave labor.

So far, 17 German firms have signed on to the industry initiative, and about 60 are considering doing so, according to industry spokesman Wolfgang Gibowski.

Among the U.S. firms with German subsidiaries that employed slave labor, a spokesman for Opel AG, the German branch of General Motors, said on Monday that Opel would join the industry fund.

Though the amount of the contribution has not been decided, “we are confessing our responsibility,” Opel spokesman Bruno Seifert said on Monday.

A Ford spokesman told reporters Monday that the company is one of some 200 companies with German operations that are considering taking part in the industry fund.

Publicity over the slave labor issue has achieved mixed results in Germany.

On one hand, a recent opinion poll suggested that the wrangling over money had caused latent German anti-Semitism to resurface.

On the other hand, some Germans have reacted with disgust to the news that many existing German companies whose predecessors used slave laborers are not joining the compensation fund.

A German newspaper this week published a letter from one reader, who hoped that “many, many people will boycott the products” of those German firms unwilling to participate in the fund.

“I for one don’t need any Bahlsen cookies or AGFA film or WFM tableware, nor Miele washing machines.”

JTA correspondent Toby Axelrod in Berlin contributed to this report.

The Arts

Max (Clive Owen, left) and Horst (Lothaire Bluteau) in”Bent.”

What a peculiar piece of work is “Bent.” The film version ofMartin Sherman’s play, first presented on the London stage in 1979,and later on Broadway, has taken almost 20 years to come to thescreen. It’s not difficult to see why. Not only is it turgid stuff,with a paucity of unfilmable ideas, but in an industry that sometimesseems to specialize in specious history, it will be hard to matchthis one for irresponsibility.

The chief character, Max (Clive Owen), a playboy, a main player inthe decadent gay night life of 1930s Berlin, has the misfortune ofpicking up a soldier in a cabaret-style nightclub owned by thetransvestite Greta. (The scene, incidentally, is a dreadful pasticheof every depiction of German decadence, from Christopher Isherwood to”The Damned.”) Max’s one-night stand turns out to be a chum of NaziCommander Ernst Roehm, and the evening of their tryst was the nightof the Long Knives, when Hitler purged open homosexuals from hisregime. Max’s entertainment for the evening meets a bloody end, andMax and his steady boyfriend, the cabaret dancer Rudy, take to thewoods, hotly pursued by the SS and their dog packs.

Once in the concentration camp, Max chooses to pass as a Jew,donning the yellow star instead of the pink triangle of thehomosexual prisoner; Jews get better treatment than gays, who are,according to this tale, the lowest of the low.

The argument is ludicrous. It is bad art and even worse history.That it deserves to be pilloried is obvious to anyone who cares todraw the line between fact and fiction. That it will probably not beis testament to our politically correct times.

Almost 20 years ago, when Sherman’s dubious metaphor — he wastrying to make some sort of statement about the perils to gayself-respect of remaining in the closet, at a time and in a placemuch different to ours — was being attacked in the English press,the playwright who is both gay and Jewish, and, therefore, accordingto him, incapable of being offensive to Jewish sensibilities,insisted that the criticism was misplaced. Only the plight of theJews, he said, was a strong enough image in our consciousness to makeaudiences aware of the degree of gay suffering. Arguing that the playneeded to be judged by political rather than aesthetic standards,some of the gay press, though by no means all, agreed.

Historian Barry Davis, in a review for the London-based magazineGay Left, decried what he called “the mercantilism of compassion” –the dangerous game of who suffered most.

“Whatever Sherman’s intention,” he wrote, “he appears to diminishthe suffering of one persecuted group to highlight the suffering ofanother.”

Davis, among others, was at pains to correct Sherman’s skeweredhistory, pointing out that while homosexuals were often sent toconcentration camps, they rarely ended up in death camps, at leastfor the sin of being gay. The Nazis did not exterminate gays as theydid Jews and Gypsies.

In the absence of records, estimates of the number of gays killedunder the Third Reich range anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000, butthere is no way to assess how many of those were killed because theywere gay, or how many were Jews who also happened to be gay. Gaysreturning from the camps after the war, surprisingly, were notreluctant to discuss the reasons for their incarceration.

It was a crime, punishable by death, to be homosexual in the SS.But in the German population at large, preventative detention, notdeath, was the punishment for the “crime” of being gay.

Ironically, to today’s radical right — the militias, theNeo-Nazis — Jews and homosexuals are one and the same, but in moresophisticated circles, to equate being gay with being Jewish issentimental at best and nonsense at worst.

A homosexual in the face of Nazi persecution could choose to stayin the closet. In the film, Greta, the transvestite nightclub owner(played by Mick Jagger), simply burns her wardrobe and becomesGeorge, a respectable German burgher. A Jew had no such option.

British historian Davis believes that Sherman may have based hisplay on the writings of Bruno Bettleheim in “Survival and OtherEssays,” in which the author described a camp where gays were indeedthe lowest of the low. But it was not a death camp. Those were earlydays in the war against the Jews, and Bettleheim had escaped toAmerica by the time the mass exterminations began.

In the England of the 1970s, long before we had lesbian love onprime-time sitcoms and red ribbons on every lapel, Martin Sherman maywell have felt persecuted, not least in a Jewish community that couldfind little role for an openly gay man. We hope times have changed.

Piggybacking the woes of one group onto the suffering of anotheris always tempting — witness the overheated rhetoric of some of theearly radical feminists who would have had us believe they had it ashard as the passengers in the slave ships — but it is a dangerousbusiness that can come back to bite those who avail themselves of it.

Homosexuality was rife among the SA and the SS in a culture thathad its roots in the German male-bonding ethos, the Mannebund. Andthere is little doubt that many of the female guards in the campswere lesbians.

“The trouble with creating instant victims,” says Davis, “is thatyou have to do your sums, and, in this case, there were probably moregays among the oppressors than there were gays oppressed.”

This double-edged sword was demonstrated graphically at aninternational gay and lesbian convention not long ago in Israel. On avisit to Yad Vashem, delegates were spat upon by demonstrators, oneof whom yelled, “My uncle was raped by homosexual guards in thecamp.”

It would indeed be a tragedy if Sherman’s work were to set Jewsand gays against each other in a juvenile and ridiculous “Hitlerhated me more” argument.

Happily, “Bent” is such a poor film that, with any luck, few willsee it.

Sally Ogle Davis writes about entertainment from Ventura.

All rights reserved by author

A French Twist

La Libre Parole an illustrations from “The Accused, the Dreyfus Trilogy” 1996

A French Twist

‘The Accused’ addresses the Dreyfus Affair,

and the anti-Semitism of 1890s France,

from various, odd angles

By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Few, other than historians of the period, will recognize July 12 as a date of any significance in the annals of European anti-Semitism.

On July 12, 1906, France’s Supreme Court annulled the “guilty” verdict against Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, a Jew who was framed by the French army staff and convicted, in 1894, of betraying national secrets to the Germans.

On July 12, 1935, Dreyfus died, having lived long enough to see the beginning of a new, and much deadlier, wave of anti-Semitism sweep from Hitler’s Berlin across Europe.

The emotional link between the anti-Jewish fervor that gripped France at the turn of the century and its supreme manifestation in the Germany of the 1930s was expressed by the political philosopher Hannah Arendt.

Writing in her “The Origin of Totalitarianism,” Arendt wrote that “the main actors of the Dreyfus Affair sometimes seemed to be staging a huge dress rehearsal for a performance put off for more than three decades,” that is, until 1933.

Arendt’s observation is cited in an odd and fascinating book, “The Accused: The Dreyfus Trilogy” (Inter Nationes, $34.95). It is a beautifully and expensively produced volume, addressing the Dreyfus Affair from various angles.

Foremost, the book gives us the words and illustrations of three works created and performed in Germany during the 1994 Dreyfus Centenary: the musical satire “Rage and Outrage” (shown initially as a TV production in Germany, France and England), a two-act opera, and the dance drama “Dreyfus — J’Accuse.”

To re-create not just the historical facts but the milieu of the era, the three works are based on the period’s popular songs, dances, writings and the exhortations of contending orators.

At the opposite pole to the great writer and humanist Émile Zola stood Edouard Drumont, “the Pope of Anti-Semitism,” whose vicious fulminations would have pleased a Goebbels and whose “La Libre Parole,” with its obscene caricatures, was a worthy forerunner of “Der Stuermer.”

But nothing quite echoes the later sounds of Munich and Nuremberg as the street songs of Paris and Toulouse 30 years earlier.

Where the Brownshirts marched along, bellowing, “When Jew blood spurts from the knife, everything will be better than before,” French mobs sang the “The Yids’ Polka,” with the words:

Here in the streets of Paris

Only Yids are to be found,

At each and every turn

Only Yids are seen around.

Such a race of vermin

With their pathetic grins,

Should either be thrown out

Or else be done right in.

And if anyone should miss the point, there was “La Marseillaise Antijuive” — The Anti-Jewish Marseillaise, with its refrain:

To arms, anti-Semites!

Form your battalions!

March on, march on

May our fields be drenched with their &’009;

tainted blood!

To close the cycle of viciousness, in 1943, only eight years after the death of Dreyfus, his granddaughter, Madeleine Levy, was deported from Drancy to Auschwitz, where she perished.

“The Accused,” profusely illustrated with the drawings, photos, cartoons and song sheets of the period, is published under the imprimatur of Inter Nationes, a semi-governmental German agency that deals primarily with cultural and media relations between Germany and other countries.

The publisher’s nationality raises a suspicion that the book may implicitly try to justify the Germany of the Hitler era by pointing to the anti-Semitic example and excesses of neighboring France between 1894 and 1906.

George R. Whyte, author of the book and creator of the Dreyfus trilogy works, does not directly confront this point. However, he unsparingly indicts the xenophobia and anti-Semitism he sees rising again in Germany.

The book, and the trilogy on which it is based, is intended as a warning, Whyte writes, that has progressed from “Beware, it can happen again” to “Beware, it is happening again.”

The author’s jacket blurb, by the way, is tantalizingly vague about Whyte’s background. He is described as a “musician, director and producer…of Hungarian extraction, and the loss of many members of his family in the Holocaust has left a deep mark on him. His interests have increasingly focused on the role of the arts in the battle against social injustices, especially racism.”

A final observation on 1890s France and 1930s Germany: In France, there arose men of the mettle of Emile Zola, who risked life and liberty; officers such as Marie-Georges Picquart; and politicians such as Jean Jaures and Georges Clemenceau, who risked their careers to fight for justice and secure the vindication of Dreyfus.

In Germany, there were no such men, or if there were, their voices, finding no echo among the people, were quickly extinguished.