German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking to the media in Berlin, Germany on June 29, 2015. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Germany says trust in Israel ‘shaken’ by legalization of West Bank settlements on Palestinian land


Germany condemned a controversial new Israeli law that retroactively legalizes settler homes built on private Palestinian land.

Berlin said Wednesday that the “regulations law” undermines trust in Israel’s seriousness about reaching a compromise with the Palestinians.

“Many in Germany who stand by Israel and feel great commitment toward it find themselves deeply disappointed by this move,” a German Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement. “Our trust in the Israeli government’s commitment to the two-state solution has been fundamentally shaken.”

The law, which the Knesset passed in a raucous late-night session Monday, allows the state to seize private Palestinian land on which settlements or outposts were built, as long as the settlers were not aware of the status of the land. In cases where the landowners are known, they are entitled to compensation.

Censure of the law has come from governments around the world, including the United Nations, the European Union, France, Britain, Turkey, Jordan and the Palestinians. The United States has refused to comment. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday that it “will be obviously a topic of discussion” when President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet later this month.

Most of Israel’s political opposition and even members of the governing coalition oppose the legislation. Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has said he would not defend it before the Supreme Court. It was the first time that an Israeli attorney general has made such a refusal, legal experts told JTA.

“In view of the many reservations which the Israeli attorney general, among others, has affirmed once more, it would be good if the bill could soon undergo a critical legal review,” the German statement said. “We hope and expect that the Israeli government will renew its commitment to a negotiated two-state solution and underpin this with practical steps.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, whose Jewish Home party was the law’s staunchest supporter, is meeting Wednesday with her German counterpart, Heiko Maas.

‘Yolocaust’ satire sparks debate in Germany


Pass by Germany’s vast national memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe and you will see young visitors hopping from stone to stone, playing hide and seek, stopping for a smoke, taking selfies for Tinder, catching rays.

Israeli-German writer and satirist Shahak Shapira had enough of it.

Shapira, 28, copied a dozen selfies posted online that were taken at the 12-year-old memorial and imposed them over actual photos documenting Nazi crimes. He put the resulting montages on line last week on a website he dubbed Yolocaust — tacking on the acronym for “you only live once” for an extra jolt.

It went viral quickly, as shocking images tend to do.

If you run your cursor over the original photo, the happy, leaping tourists suddenly appear against a much different background.

In one photo, a gleeful girl balanced atop the memorial is suddenly teetering among corpses at the Kaufering slave labor camp in Bavaria as the local population stands staring, forced by liberating American troops to view the scene in April 1945. (Shapira does not identify the historical images, but some are quite famous.)

In another, two fellows who posted themselves as “Jumping on dead Jews” are suddenly seen leaping smilingly over contorted corpses.

And there’s the guy juggling pink balls in a photo he titled “what an incredible place.” Presto, he’s performing his act inside a pit filled with freshly shot victims, seemingly oblivious.

Released the week before International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz by Red Army troops on Jan. 27, 1945, Shapira’s satire has triggered a public debate, much of it carried out on social media. At issue is just how far one can go in using images of suffering to make your point.

Among those chiming in is the memorial’s designer, New York-based architect Peter Eisenman.

“[P]utting those bodies there, in the pictures, that’s a little much if you ask me,” Eisenman told the BBC. “[T]here are no dead people under my memorial. My idea was to allow as many people of different generations, in their own ways, to deal or not to deal with being in that place. And if they want to lark around, I think that’s fine.”

But the director of the nearby Topography of Terror documentation center, at the site of the former Gestapo headquarters, thinks Shapira “puts his finger on a crucial point.”

“I pass by there very often,” Andreas Nachama, who is also the former head of Berlin’s Jewish community, told JTA. “And whenever I walk by I see something which doesn’t make me happy, let’s put it that way.”

It’s not the first time critics have pointed out that visitors are using the memorial, as well as authentic sites of Holocaust history, as backdrops for smiling selfies.

“Instagram seems to work like a Polaroid filter for some people’s brains, turning off the #commonsense function,” blogger Hektor Brehl wrote in the German edition of Vice magazine in 2013.

On his Yolocaust website, Shapira noted that “About 10,000 people visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

every day. Many of them take goofy pictures, jump, skate or bike on the 2,711 concrete slabs” of the structure.

He offers to remove a photo if its author contacts him at an email address provided. Two have, and Shapira deleted their pictures, he told the Tagesschau TV news program on Saturday.

“Just imagine, your grandfather – or you – lost your entire family in the Holocaust, or half of them,” Shapira told Tagesschau. “And then you go to Berlin to this memorial, and then you see how someone hops around here on their bicycle, or mountain bike. I don’t know if you’d find it cool.

“And I find it dangerous, that this is becoming normal. It kinds of suggests that people are not dealing with the real purpose of this memorial.”

Survivor Michele Rodri: Shuttled from place to place until danger passed


On a Thursday afternoon in April 1942, Michele Rodri (née Rosenberg) was playing hopscotch with three non-Jewish girlfriends outside her family’s home in the Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine when two SS officers approached them. 

“That’s a beautiful child,” one of them said, lifting Michele’s chin. 

Danke schoen,” answered the 7-year-old, who was fluent in German, French and Yiddish, which was her first language — and who also was wearing a yellow star.

The officer then blew a whistle, summoning a German military truck with a canvas-covered cargo bed that pulled up beside them. As the soldier hoisted Michele over the truck’s tall tailgate, she glimpsed the silhouette of her mother in their living room window being steered away from the partially opened drape. 

The truck was packed with adults and some children, crowded together on benches lining the sides or on the floor, many of them crying. “They were making a roundup, a razzia,” Michele said. A woman came over and held her. “Don’t cry,” she told her in Yiddish. But Michele did not feel reassured. “I was very scared,” she said.

Michele was born on March 26, 1935, to Chaim and Hana Rosenberg, who had moved to Paris from Krakow, Poland, around 1920. She had three older brothers: Abel, born in 1922, David in 1923 and Maurice in 1925. 

Chaim owned a business manufacturing threads. “He was very kind and generous but very strict in terms of behavior,” Michele said. Hana cared for the family. “She was an angel,” Michele said. “She could do anything.” 

The family, who was comfortably middle class and religiously observant, lived in a two-story house in a quiet, residential neighborhood, with a garden in back. The neighbors, who were mostly Christian, knew the Rosenbergs were Jewish, but, Michele said, “Everybody lived very harmoniously.” Her family was well-respected, and her father and brothers were especially friendly with the town’s police commissar, Monsieur Sigean.

Everything changed, however, when Germany attacked France on May 10, 1940, eventually entering Paris on June 14. 

Soon after, Michele’s older brothers, Abel and David, joined the Maquis, the French resistance. “They were very patriotic,” Michele said of her brothers, though she didn’t know their destination at the time. Her youngest brother, Maurice, remained at home to help the family. 

The few Jewish students who attended Michele’s public school began being harassed. Other children refused to sit with them or accused them of killing Jesus. Michele, however, was never physically harmed. 

In 1942, when the German military truck transporting Michele pulled up to Drancy, an internment camp in a northeast Parisian suburb of the same name, she and the others were led into a large hall, with the children clustered in one area. They were fed coffee and a piece of worm-infested bread in the morning — “I picked [the worms] out,” Michele said. “I had to eat the bread” — and in the evening, “horrible” soup with rutabaga or potato peelings. During the day, they were allowed outside in the yard, where they played ball. 

Michele talked only to a 5 1/2-year-old girl named Nicole, the daughter of a non-Jewish political prisoner, whose mat lay next to hers. The girl constantly wept, but, Michele said, “I felt a little humanity.” 

One day in July 1942, after Michele had been at Drancy for three months, she saw her oldest brother, Abel, walk in, wearing an SS uniform. “He looked at me — he had these beautiful green eyes — and I knew I was not supposed to move,” Michele recalled. “Schnell, machen,” Abel said in perfect German to the SS soldier following him, one who worked at the internment camp. “Let’s do this quickly.” Abel pointed to Michele and Nicole. “I want these two children,” he said.

Michele and Nicole followed Abel and the SS soldier outside, where what looked like an official German car awaited. “Get in,” the driver ordered, pushing them a bit roughly into the back seat. Abel sat in the front, silent. Finally, after they had driven several kilometers, he turned to face the girls. “I’m going to take you to safety,” he said. 

They drove to a convent, which Michele believes was near Grenoble. There, she and Nicole lived with the nuns, attending public school in the town, though Michele didn’t talk to other girls, afraid she would divulge her identity. At the convent, Michele sang in the choir, which she loved. But she refused to kneel, as she had heard her father say, “Jews don’t kneel,” and she feared something terrible would happen. Meanwhile, the nuns, who were otherwise mostly kind, punished her for each transgression, lashing her lightly with a martinet, a leather whip, which she found embarrassing. 

One day her youngest brother, Maurice, visited her. “It was really dangerous,” Michele said. He had come without wearing his yellow star or telling their parents. But he brought her a pair of roller skates, something she had long coveted, that he had purchased on the black market. “They were so beautiful,” Michele recalled. 

Then, after 13 months at the convent, Michele and Nicole were picked up by a man who drove them to a small villa in Épinay-sur-Orge, a village about 20 miles south of Paris, where they lived with Monsieur and Madame Godignon, an older couple who had agreed to take the girls in exchange for money from Chaim, Michele’s father. 

Madame Godignon was very strict, slapping the girls if they broke a glass and feeding them meager portions, even though Chaim had paid handsomely for their room and board. “I was always hungry,” Michele said. And while Michele found extra pieces of bread at the bakery when she was sent there on errands, she also suffered stomachaches from eating unripe fruit from the backyard trees. “You dirty Jews have all the money,” Madame Godignon taunted her on a daily basis.

Monsieur Godignon, however, showed the girls kindness, such as tucking them into their beds every night. “He had a heart,” Michele said. And one day in fall 1943 or spring 1944, he took Michele to the train station to see her mother, who had undertaken the dangerous journey to visit with her daughter for only the few minutes the train was stopped. Hana hugged and kissed her — “My whole neck was full of tears,” Michele said — and also brought her a meatloaf sandwich, Michele’s favorite. 

In late August 1944, Michele was listening to the radio when she heard Winston Churchill announce that Hitler had capitulated and American troops had reached the outskirts of Paris. Soon after, her parents and two older brothers came to fetch her.  

Once home, Michele looked everywhere for Maurice, thinking he was playing hide-and-seek. She then learned that he had been picked up while riding the train to school in May 1943. A non-Jewish friend who had been riding with him reported to Chaim and Hana that the Germans had boarded the train, ordering all the males to drop their pants. Maurice and the other Jewish men were rounded up and taken to Drancy. 

After Maurice’s capture, Monsieur Sigean, the police commissar, protected Chaim and Hana, who hid in their house behind blacked-out windows. He also brought them food that he bought on the black market with money Chaim gave him. 

After the war, the Rosenbergs, who had changed their name to Lambert, learned that Maurice had been murdered in Auschwitz. Michele’s parents never recovered from that news. Hana lit a yahrzeit candle for Maurice every day for the rest of her life. And, Michele said, “There isn’t a day that I don’t think about him.”

In addition to Maurice, Michele lost 207 relatives in the Holocaust, including grandparents, aunts, uncles and first and second cousins. Her two grandfathers, who lived in Krakow, were hanged, separately, by the Nazis because they were Orthodox. 

In 1956, Michele traveled to Los Angeles to visit her brother David, who was living there at the time, and stayed. The following year, she married Robert Lazaruk, and their son, Kirk, was born in December 1958. The couple divorced in 1960. 

On July 4, 1962, Michele married Jack Cohen-Rodriguez (aka Rodri), a survivor from Holland who had been imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen. She helped Jack in his various businesses, including representing sports figures and running a medical oxygen company. 

Jack died in 2004, preceded by Chaim in 1972, Hana in 1984 and David in 1996. Abel died in 2014. For Michele, now 81, her family members, including her son, daughter-in-law and grandson, are most precious to her.

Around 2009, Michele began talking about her Holocaust experiences, first at the Stephen Wise Religious School and later at various public and private schools as well as the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. “I want to speak as long as I’m here,” she said. 

Michele encourages the young people she addresses to speak up, as citizens of the world, if they see something that is not right.

“Being silent,” she said, “is the most terrible thing.”

Israeli tourist injured, wife missing in Berlin terror attack


An Israeli tourist was among the injured in Monday’s deadly terror attack in the center of Berlin and his wife was still missing.

The husband was located in a Berlin hospital, where he is undergoing emergency surgery, Elio Adler, a family friend in the German capital, told JTA.

The couple were in the Christmas market near the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church when a truck plowed into the crowd, killing 12 and seriously injuring at least 48.

Chabad has planned a Wednesday evening memorial service in Berlin.

Chabad Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, a part of Berlin’s official Jewish community, told JTA that he had been to the scene of the attack on Monday night with colleague Rabbi Shmuel Segal to see if they could help. Teichtal told JTA that plans for the annual public menorah lighting ceremony at the landmark Brandenburg Gate would go ahead as planned, albeit with higher security.

Teichtal said he hoped that “more people than ever” would come to the event.

“We have to have zero tolerance for terrorism,” he said, “and at the same time reach our hands out.”

Expressing sorrow for the victims and their families, Berlin Jewish Community head Gideon Joffe said that Berliners are proud of their tolerant and cosmopolitan city and would fight to keep it that way.

“We can’t let terror determine our lives,” he said, adding that he urged all Berliners to attend the Chabad candle-lighting ceremony on Dec. 27, “especially in times like these.”

According to local news reports, the Polish driver of the truck was shot and killed. Police arrested one suspect after he tried to flee on foot. He reportedly came to Germany from Pakistan more than a year ago.

Early Tuesday afternoon, police announced that the arrested man was not the driver in the deadly attack and that he had been released. Police also said there is a possibility that the suspected perpetrator remains armed and running loose in the city and called on residents not to go out.

The truck was driven nearly 90 yards through the Christmas market, which was filled with holiday shoppers. Berlin police said they believe the incident was not an accident.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany in a statement called the attack “disgusting” and added: “Our thoughts and actions must not be overcome by fear and terror … May the messages of our two holidays give us strength in these difficult hours.”

“We are deeply shocked. Especially in the pre-Christmas period, when our society focuses on values like charity, goodness and peace, our country was once again hit by this disgusting attack,” said the statement, which was attributed to its president, Josef Schuster.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement issued Tuesday condemned the attack and sent condolences to the families of the people killed and the government of Germany.

“This attack joins [other] reprehensible attacks; terror is spreading everywhere and can be stopped only if we fight it, and we will defeat it, but we will defeat it much quicker if all free nations under attack unite,” Netanyahu said.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Refugee promise, immigrant fear


Many European countries characterize the refugee crisis as a “German problem.” This is absurd — it should concern all member states, many of which have a dismissive attitude toward refugees. In stark contrast stands German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with her now famous expression, “We can do it!”  She has emphasized the human duty to receive men, women and children in need. 

Merkel has been firmly in power for 11 years. Now, thanks to her pro-immigrant stand, she’s being challenged for the first time as opposition to the asylum law increases. 

I am proud to know Angela Merkel personally. I admire her, because she always keeps her dignity and is true to herself. Among all of Europe’s rulers, she is, without a doubt, a true friend of the State of Israel. On her, one can rely 100 percent. It was Merkel, after all, who pointed out the danger toward Israel’s existence from the Iranian nuclear threat. 

In East Germany, where she grew up, Merkel openly witnessed anti-Zionism. The murder of 6 million Jews under the Nazi regime and Germany’s resulting responsibility for the safety of the Jewish state made a deep impression on her. She often had problems understanding why many of her fellow German citizens did not see the misdeeds of the Holocaust as an enormous burden for Germany’s worldwide reputation. It was important to her to correct that reputation, which suffered greatly from World War II, with an especially warm, generous refugee policy of open frontiers.

Anyone who appreciates Merkel for her generous humanity no doubt hopes she will not remain a “lonesome chancellor,” but that she can regain the confidence of her people and remain in power. It is important to take into account that no German citizen is doing worse due to the refugees. Social benefits have not been reduced, governmental institutions are still strong. Hence, one can and should see the influx of refugees as an opportunity, not a danger. 

Of course, the opportunities do not come without concerns. For Natan Sharansky, president of the Jewish Agency since 2009, the main concern is that Europe does not lose its identity. Many refugees do not share European values and have great difficulty respecting the norms of democracy. More important is whether European citizens have the inner strength to stand up for essential European norms and to appreciate and protect the value of freedom. “If refugees are received as new citizens,” Sharansky said, “without requesting them to accept the common rules, Europe is in danger.”

 “Within five years, the State of Israel has mastered a population increase of 20 percent,” he said, referring to the massive influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. “When we attempt to integrate people that are not willing to share our values and norms, our most important plan won’t succeed. Integration can only succeed if they want to be part of the country’s history, culture and political traditions, and deeply connect with the society. Only then.”

Continued acts of anti-Semitic violence underscore those concerns. In 2015, there were 108 serious physical attacks on Jews in France — an increase of 30 percent. Additional statistics illustrate the feeling of fear among Jews living in France. 

“Today, even small children in France know not to let themselves be recognized as Jews in public,” said Meyer Habib, the Jewish representative of the French parliament. “The immigration of Muslims in France and the new type of anti-Semitism only have one clear meaning: There is no future for Jews in France!”

In Switzerland, where I live, Islam is the strongest growing religious community. After every assassination by Islamists, Europe’s (and Switzerland’s) Muslims are asked to distance themselves from the terror. 

But perhaps more is needed. 

“Ashamed dissociation from terror is not enough,” secular Moroccan writer Kacem El Ghazzali said. “It is more important to fight the movements that lead to terrorism. Islamic terror has indeed something to do with Islam. And whoever criticizes Islam is still far from being [an] Islamophobe.” 

Each and every moderate Muslim has a responsibility to act and to publically compete with the prevailing fundamentalist interpretation of the Quran, El Ghazzali said.  

It remains to be hoped for that more moderate Muslims take on this responsibility.


ARTHUR COHN is a multiple Academy Award-winning producer based in Switzerland.

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


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

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

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

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

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

With gratitude toward Donald Trump


No one compares to Adolf Hitler. He was incomparably evil.  Nothing in American politics compares to Nazism. Nothing, not now – and hopefully never!

And yet, I am grateful to Donald Trump because he has made my job of explaining the rise of Nazism and political support for Hitler so much easier.

Permit me to explain: 

When I would tell my students that many of Hitler’s supporters did not regard themselves as antisemites or racists, they would look at me quizzically. “How could they not?” they ask. After all, Hitler made secret of his anti-Semitism. He spoke of it openly, directly and repeatedly. He did not use dog whistles but said what he meant and meant what he said.

When I would mention that many did not believe that he would carry out what he had been saying, they were skeptical. After all, he had repeated his threats against the Jews time and again, how could they believe that once in office he would not follow through?

When we would learn that some of his voters were put off by his antisemitism but liked other parts of his platform such as his strong nationalism, his return to national pride, his attacks on the ineffective Weimar Republic and their leaders, his anger at German humiliation with the defeat of World War I and the foreign imposition of the Versailles Treaty. They craved his projection of strength and decisiveness after what many had viewed as ineffective leadership from the German political class, My students would protest. But he was antisemitic and racist. And you are telling me that his supporters did not regard that as disqualifying? They roll their eyes when I tell them that had he not been an antisemite he might have gotten even more support.

When I would mention that Hitler came to power with a minority of seats in a coalition Cabinet and his political partners assured one another and the President that once in office he would be forced to moderate and move toward the center. They would whisper: “he knows nothing and we are men of experience, seasoned, reasoned, disciplined and informed, we can control the man and force him to bend to our will. They would look skeptically at me. Given what they know happened shortly after Hitler took office, they wondered: how could they be so sure, how could they be misguided?

When I would describe the reasoning of Germany’s Conservative political leadership: better to bring this angry man and his angry hordes inside the tent looking outward that outside the tent continually raging, they would throw up their hands in frustration: how could they be so naïve as to imagine that the rage would not continue and once in power become institutionalized, bureaucratized, legalized? Couldn’t they understand that power would only embolden them and that such power would only entice them to use it effectively and cruelly?

And finally, when I would say that no one in his inner circle could stand up to Hitler, could tell him to stop and cut it out, change direction or that Germany did not have, at least not after the Emergency Decrees of March 1933 have the checks and balances and the separation of powers that restrained the exercise of power. I would show them two pictures, one of Hitler receiving a briefing from his Generals in 1939 — when the wars were proceeding well for Germany he listened attentively to what they were telling him — and another in 1942 when Hitler was making decision after decision that would bring them to defeat, the Generals listened obediently to what he was instructing them. My students would ask timidly, did the man have no friends, could no one tell him the truth?

Again Hitler was Hitler and Trump is Trump. No equivalence is possible. Trump does not have a coherent vision positive or negative to implement. He only has himself and his sense of self-aggrandizement.

And yet now my students now will have much easier time understanding that while everyone hears Trumps tirades against Muslims and Hispanics, Mexicans in particular, his promises of exclusion and deportation, for many that simply is not disqualifying. 

They do not regard themselves as racists and could not imagine themselves to be and are uncomfortable if not distraught by his racism but other aspects of his program appeals to them: America First, the “lousy” trade deals, the reversal of globalization, the restoration of American greatness, the hatred of the political class – Washington that evil, awful place – and the promise of American jobs.

My students will now be able to see first-hand how the wise men of Germany could be so mistaken. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan condemned the Republican nominee’s statements about an Indiana born Federal Judge as racist and speaks with rightful respect about Gold Star mothers and fathers who children died in the service of our nation. He is not in favor of excluding Muslims or deporting Mexicans and yet supports his party’s nominee because Trump will advance Conservative causes and appoint a Conservative Supreme Court. I do not know what he is feeling in his heart of hearts but if I judge by his actions, I presume that he believes he and not Trump can set the agenda, the Republican controlled House of Representatives and the Senate can moderate Trump and negate the racist and un-American aspects of his agenda.

I have no such confidence. I suspect that the Presidential nominee of the Republican Party believes that he will bend the Ryans and McConnells to his will just as he broke 15 other candidates for President and made the toughest of them Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey appear like a lap dog, taking scraps off the master’s table.

While I have no confidence in Republican leadership who are deluding themselves and the nation with the notion that they will triumph in a contest of ideas; and while I am appalled by the so-called  “religious leaders” who want to make the nation more Christian – Jesus preached a gospel of compassion and human dignity, gratitude and grace, he reached out to the widow and the orphan, the stranger and the dispossessed — while they support a man who is the embodiment of values antithetical to religiosity. , 

I do have confidence in the American people who, no matter how angry, will reject the politics of exclusion and bigotry and vote for inclusion and decency. I pray that I am not deceiving myself,

Let me conclude with a story: many years ago Steven Spielberg and I met with a man who spent the meeting telling Spielberg how important he was. When the meeting concluded and we stepped outside Spielberg turned to me and said:

 “What was that about?”

“He wanted to tell you how important he was,” I answered. 

He said: “I know he was important, otherwise I could not have met with him.” 

I said: “he has a big ego.” 

Steven corrected me immediately. “No, he has a small ego in need of enlargement. I have a big ego and need not enlarge it at another’s expense.”

I keep remembering that story whenever I hear Trump speak of size of hands, of private parts, of height and or fortune. Only a man with a small ego in need of enlargement would become obsessed by size. 

Beware of such man and most especially so such man preaching such a philosophy.

The rise of Germany’s new right-wing party


Germans are following the Trump-Clinton showdown in the United States with interest, especially as Donald Trump has denigrated Hillary Clinton as “America’s Merkel,” saying Clinton would open U.S. borders to scores of Syrian refugees, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel did last September.

Yet Germans also have their own elections to follow, also charged by the immigration issue. The party known as Alternative for Germany (AfD), the only German party categorically challenging Merkel’s asylum policy, could see a meteoric rise in three regional parliamentary elections to be held in September. If it does, that could ultimately threaten the steady rule of Merkel’s party — the Christian Democrats (CDU) — whose support has plummeted since a group of migrants committed numerous sexual assaults last New Year’s Eve, and, more recently, after individual migrants committed a string of terrorist attacks on German soil.

In the run-up to the Berlin state elections on Sept.18, posters for the CDU, Social Democrats (SPD), Die Linke (The Left) and even the Pirates parties line the streets of Berlin, but while AfD is polling at about 10 percent in the German capital, its posters have only just begun to appear, high up and out of reach. According to party officials, they get torn down. Mention AfD in casual conversation in the traditionally left-wing Berlin, and someone will invariably throw out the words: Nazis. Racists. Anti-Semites.

One incident has given validation to the last of those labels. In July, a debate rose within the party over Wolfgang Gedeon, an AfD parliamentarian in Baden-Wuerttemberg who has written books filled with anti-Semitic tropes. He and his supporters were eventually forced to resign. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) in Berlin flagged the affair.  

“It hasn’t taken long for the hidden anti-Semitism in the AfD to flare up,” Deidre Berger, director of AJC Berlin, told the Jewish Journal. “The list of alleged isolated incidents is getting even longer, which point to an endemic problem in the party. Partly leaders have also dragged their feet confronting the ever more evident anti-Semitism in their own ranks.”

But Michael Klonovsky, an author, poet and veteran journalist who recently came on board as the party’s self-described “spin doctor” to assist with AfD branding and messaging, told the Journal in an interview in Berlin that the AfD has and will continue to own up to, reject and, in the case of Gedeon, eject anti-Semitism from within its party. 

 “There are half as many anti-Semites in the AfD than you would find in the Left party,” he said via a translator, speaking only basic English due to having grown up in East Germany. Himself married to an Israeli-Russian pianist, he said he would not have worked for a party that was anti-Israel or anti-Jewish. “The Green Party in Germany is always stigmatizing Israel. but the AfD does not. The AfD is careful to exclude anti-Semites. Never has a party in Germany brought so many anti-Semites to its ranks than the CDU.”

By CDU’s “anti-Semites,” he is referring to the 1 million refugees and alleged opportunists from Muslim Arab countries who have poured into Germany since last year. Israel does not officially figure into AfD’s platform; its target is Islam, a religion the party views as at odds with German values, law and society. While the AfD emerged in 2013 as a Euro-skeptic party opposing Merkel’s bailout of Greece, it has since evolved and grown as the only party strongly opposing Muslim immigration.

“Islam cannot belong to Germany, because only people can belong to Germany,” Klonovsky said. “Any individual can freely decide if they want to belong to Germany, and many do this, and many don’t. And those who decide not to belong to Germany, we’d like them to return to their homelands.”

Do Jews belong to Germany? 

“Absolutely,” he said. “In 1933, we had 500,000 Jewish Germans in Germany, and now we have 5 million Islamic people, and now we have to make a bill. How many Nobel prizes, and how many doctors, professors and artists were from those 500,000 Jews compared to the 5 million Muslims?”

Sacha Stawski, a pro-Israel community organizer and head of Honestly Concerned, the German media watchdog organization, expressed fear at the rise of the AfD but said he understands its appeal. He has observed small German villages where native Germans have been outnumbered by Muslim refugees who resist cultural integration. 

The AfD’s outspoken stance against Islamic terrorism, the kind that has plagued Israel, has led some of Stawski’s pro-Israel friends and acquaintances to forgive the party of its perceived faults. 

“But I think it’s not enough to have one common enemy and forget about all the other issues and everything else that the party stands for,” Stawski said. “That thinking’s way too shallow.”

Nor does it comfort him that Israeli flags occasionally pop up at AfD rallies.

“I would not trust the AfD on any issues relating to Judaism or Israel,” Stawski said, remarking that the AfD has attracted people who align with the National Democrats (NPD) — the closest Germany gets to a modern Nazi party — although, according to Klonovsky, the party denies membership to anyone affiliated with the NPD.

The AJC is also wary. 

“The AfD instrumentalizes the debate about anti-Semitism amongst refugees to underscore their rejection of immigrants and Muslims in general,” Berger said. “It is for good reason that the Central Council of Germany warns that a party that foments hatred of Muslims and Jews is a danger to democracy.”

The AfD has dropped early proposals that alarmed the Jewish community, such as the banning of religious head coverings, ritual slaughter and circumcision. 

 “The target of that was never the Jewish population,” Klonovsky said, noting that Muslims circumcise boys at the onset of puberty, unlike in Judaism. “The Jews are collateral damage.”

Henryk Broder, a prominent pro-Israel, German-Jewish columnist for Die Welt, believes the organized Jewish community’s concern with the AfD is imbalanced, symptomatic of a “ghetto mentality.” Echoing Klonovsky, a personal friend, he thinks Jewish groups should be far more concerned with the anti-Semitism, expressed in anti-Israel sentiment, of ruling left-wing parties.

“They have one yardstick about politics: Good for us or bad for us,” Broder  said in an interview at a Berlin cafe. “They still don’t consider themselves as part of German society. They still consider themselves a special-interest group. So do the Arabs.”

With AfD having suffered from public infighting and clumsy campaigning, Broder likens AfD to a lottery winner who blew the winnings. But Jews need not fret.

“The Jewish community is fighting ghosts, demons. ‘Excuse me? Do you have a dybbuk for me?’ Yes, it’s the AfD,” he said in his signature satirical style.

Klonovsky was hesitant to draw parallels between the rise of the AfD and the rise of Trump or to comment on American elections, but he said Germans disenchanted with Merkel and frustrated with stifled debate around the refugee crisis are drawn to Trump’s style.

“Let’s make our problems public,” Klonovsky said. “To hell with political correctness. That’s the message.”

Keeping alive the pre-war golden age of Jewish music


Even as life for German Jews grew ever more constrictive in the early 1930s, a Berlin bookseller named Hirsch Lewin started his Semer record label, beginning the audio documentation of a little-known golden age of Jewish music. 

That the archive should be lost in the ensuing decades would surprise no one, especially after his store was attacked and 4,500 recordings were destroyed. By some tiny miracle, though, most of the Semer catalog has been collected, and a present-day band — based in Berlin — performs that repertory to great acclaim.

A selection of the Semer songs made for a well-received 2012 concert at the Berlin Jewish Museum, and its success begat a 2015 performance, now available as a CD, “Rescued Treasure” (Piranha). The sounds and genres of the music represented, though varied, punch into a collective trove of memory like a swallow of sweet Manischewitz.

Keeping that musical legacy alive is 61-year-old Alan Bern, an American living in Berlin who heads the Semer Ensemble octet. He’s best known for Brave Old World, the klezmer band he co-founded in the early ’90s after his tenure in Hankus Netsky’s Klezmer Conservatory band. Bern, who plays accordion and piano, has found a renewed sense of mission in his Semer Ensemble and its music. 

“I’m bringing back to life a nearly forgotten body of recorded work by Jewish artists in the 1930s,” he said by phone from Berlin. “The instrumental level of the performances on these records is so high that its absence would be like a decade of classical music history had been lost.”

Operating out of the Scheunenviertel, Berlin’s Boyle Heights, Lewin sold all manner of Jewish-themed books at his Hebräische Buchhandlung store on the old Grenadierstrasse. In 1933, it was decreed that German Jews could only perform for Jewish audiences and record for Jewish-owned record companies, and for five years he worked at a fever pitch, recording as many artists as he was able.

“Most of those musicians,” Bern points out, “were trained symphony and chamber music players. They had to do something with their talents. Some of the recordings are of Jewish music, some of international music, like chanson, theater and cabaret. There are even a couple of straight German beer-drinking songs.”

“Rescued Treasure” is made up of a dozen pieces from the Semer catalog, performed somewhere between scrupulous reproduction and modern individual interpretation. 

“I try to be faithful to the purity of any music,” Bern stressed, “whether it’s Hungarian Gypsy music or bebop. Then I ask, what part of me can I bring to this? I’m of the post-Coltrane, post-Hendrix generation; when we have material that requires wailing — like ‘Das Kind Liegt in Wigele,’ where a child’s mother dies — we felt we had to really push it.” 

A native of Bloomington, Ind., Bern’s parents were of Eastern European stock and Yiddish was spoken at home. “I was raised to be a true-blue American,” Bern said grinning. 

At Indiana University, he recalls a culture where cello icon János Starker (1924-2013), a Distinguished Professor of Music, would unwind at post-recital parties by playing klezmer tunes with his friends. “People my age were calling into question the idea of our identity — like, what was Ashkenazi culture before it was dissolved into America?”

The klezmer revival of the ’80s coincided with interest in ethnic and cultural identity. “We discovered,” Bern said, “that our own ancestral sound is the music of our grandfathers. But we didn’t have the entire spectrum of Ashkenazi culture available to us — we only had fragments. It was a fascinating mystery to try and piece that puzzle together; I compare it to archaeology.” 

Bern prevailed upon singer, keyboardist and Klezmatics founder Lorin Sklamberg to be a featured performer for the 2015 concert. As sound archivist at New York’s YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Sklamberg was aware of the Semer recordings. 

“I knew Rainer Lotz, who reassembled almost all of the Semer catalog,” Sklamberg said from his New York home. “The music was interesting to me because I realized the huge variety of the material; it was extremely diverse. The performers who made these recordings were quite phenomenal singers and instrumentalists. They weren’t field recordings.”  

The recordings remain a source of inspiration for the likes of Bern.

“Berlin in the 1920s and ’30s was a terrible place to be a Jewish musician,” Bern said. “But the music of Semer shows that even as things got worse and worse, there were still good things to be done — and therefore hope.”

The EU, Terror and the Transparency Bill


On the 7 December 1970, German Chancellor Willy Brandt knelt solemnly before the Warsaw Ghetto in contrition. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Israel faced annihilation, the same Willy Brandt denied German landing rights to US planes carrying emergency supplies to Israel. 

Chancellor Merkel occasionally says that Israel’s “right to exist” is Germany’s raison d’etre.

Like Willy Brandt, Germany appears to be two tongued when it comes to antisemitism. Like the EU,  Germany makes a distinction between antisemitism and objecting to Israel’s policies, which on paper seems to be fair. Thus, giving the Hitler salute and denying the Holocaust are illegal. On the other hand, the annual Iran sponsored Al Quds March through downtown Berlin, calling for the destruction of Israel is legal. Berlin constantly turns a deaf ear to appeals to ban that march.

The JCPOA (Iran Deal) was enthusiastically supported by Germany enabling Iran to fully develop its nuclear program after a decade, whilst currently testing “Death to Israel” marked missiles. However, the same Germany decided that nuclear facilities for peaceful purposes were too risky for Germans. They are to be phased out by 2022.

Germany maintains it has a “special relationship” with Israel while the EU ambassador to Israel explained that Israel is singled out because “you are one of us.”

The EU countries support various NGOs despite being termed “non-government.” Germany’s Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) provides funding to NGOs as part of its foreign aid programs. Recently Prof Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor exposed the doublespeak of Germany yet further. The German government annually pays 4 million Euros to NGOs in Israel, of which 42% goes to organizations that support BDS and worse, like The Popular Struggle Coordination Committee which advocates violent riots in Judea/Samaria. The German Embassy in Tel Aviv does not deny the funding, but blandly states that Germany does not support boycotts of Israel. They donate to “organizations supporting peace.”

Some of the NGOs funded by the EU are Zochrot, Grassroots Jerusalem and Baladna Arab Youth Association, all of which are committed to getting  Palestinian refugees and their third and fourth generation descendants to “return” even though most have never been to Israel.  I have met some of these “refugees” who lead comfortable middle class lives, in Australia. They certainly do not fit the image of a refugee we see on TV. In my recent satire, “The trombone man: tales of a misogynist,” the story depicts one such comfortable refugee who, like his parents, has never been to Israel. Despite these anomalies, the EU generously funds these organizations that are dedicated to Israel’s disappearance as the Jewish State.

The EU therefore supports some organizations dedicated to Israel’s demise, while paying lip service to its “right to exist,” whatever that means. The EU, led by countries such as Germany, also supports labelling people and products from beyond the Green Line or “Auschwitz Lines” as former dovish foreign minister Abba Eban called it. Thus, while officially declining to support BDS, the same EU countries fund NGOs that do—all with a straight face.

Unlike the vicious murder of Hallel Ariel (z”l) and countless others before and after her, the EU, committed to democracy and human rights, has been “deeply concerned” about the recent transparency law passed by the Knesset, even though there is no suggestion these NGOs would be banned from practising their dubious activities. The State Department termed it “chilling,” despite its funds being surreptitiously used to help influence the outcome of Israel’s last election. In the meantime, Europe is reeling with regular terror attacks, for which Europeans cannot find an answer—except to insultingly compare Israel to Putin’s Russia and be “deeply concerned” with their fellow democracy that struggles to maintain some balance in civil rights while upholding its citizens right to life.

Israel remains a vibrant democracy despite the underhand tactics of the EU. As Europe grapples with increasing terror, their exaggerated concern with an ally threatened daily by internal and external terror is misplaced and misguided.

NGO Monitor has shown in great detail the doublespeak of the EU countries which mouth unconvincing platitudes regarding Israel’s “right to exist,” but simultaneously fund many NGOs that promote exactly the opposite.

At the end of the day, it should be remembered that the hidden agendas of many of these NGOs have little to do with “human rights” per se but more to do with providing conditions that would end  the State of Israel, by stressing the Nakba, hope, resilience and the “right of return” of refugees and their descendants.

That is why it is always worth remembering Willy Brandt 1970 and Willy Brandt 1973. It sums up Europe perfectly.

Ron Jontof-Hutter is Fellow at the Berlin International Centre for the Study of Antisemitism. He recently authored of the satire “The trombone man: Tales of a misogynist.”

Pokemon Go played at German Holocaust sites, UK Jewish cemetery


The Pokemon Go craze has hit Holocaust memorials in Germany and a Jewish cemetery in Britain, in what some Jewish community representatives said was a show of insensitivity that the game’s developer should help prevent.

According to news reports, players have been gleefully seeking Pokemon creatures using their cell phones at a memorial for the 320 murdered Jews of Aurich, a town in Lower Saxony. Pokemon Go is a game that superimposes animated figures onto the video feed of smartphone cameras. Players can “catch” the animated figures if they stand near enough to the geographical area designated by the program as a PokeStop.

Gunther Siebels-Michel, on the board of the German-Israel Society in East Frisia, told the NWZ online newspaper he was outraged, calling the behavior “completely inappropriate.” He said that the society would likely lodge a complaint with the U.S. developer of the game, Niantic.

This is just one of many memorial sites in Germany where players of Pokemon Go have turned up in recent weeks.

Pokemon Go players have been spotted at the national Holocaust memorial in Berlin, where visitors can have a feeling of being overwhelmed and even lost among the grid of more than 2,000 concrete slabs. A memorial spokesperson told the Tagesspiegel newspaper that officials were trying to get the Pokemon app barred from the site. Meanwhile, she said she expected visitors “to behave in an appropriate and respectful manner” and not to play the game in the memorial.

In London, Pokemon-playing youngsters were found walking over graves in a Jewish cemetery in Edmonton search of the game’s virtual monsters. Stanley Kaye, a local historian, asked the teens to refrain from doing so at Federation Cemetery on Monday, The Jewish News of London reported.

Meanwhile, in Sandhorst, near Aurich, players have turned up at a memorial to slave laborers who were forced to dig anti-tank ditches in 1944.

And in southern Germany, Karl Freller, director of the Foundation for Bavarian Memorials, has written to Niantic asking them to keep the memorials at the former Dachau and Flossenburg concentration camps off the app.

According to the Evangelical Press Service, agency, the Foundation for Memorials in Lower Saxony has not spotted any Pokemon Go players at the Bergen-Belsen camp memorial, but attributed this to the fact that school is out for the summer, and there are fewer pupils visiting the site.

In Poland, the administration of the memorial at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau already has asked Niantic to take the site off its app.

While memorials are trying to keep Pokemon fans at more than an arm’s length, museums reportedly are enjoying the extra attention they’re getting, even if players are looking at their phones rather than at the art.

But in Russia, the main Jewish religious group, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia said on Tuesday it does not mind people playing the hit smartphone game “Pokemon Go” around synagogues and other cultural buildings.

The group, which is a Chabad-affiliated umbrella, said on Tuesday that it is not against the game as long as it is not disturbing the congregation. “We don’t see any problem,” the Jewish federation’s spokesman Andrei Glotser told the Tass news agency. “Let them come and search (for the Pokemon), maybe even something useful will come out of this!”

In St. Petersburg, the Grand Choral Synagogue even offered a prize – a kosher wine bottle – for anyone who catches a Pokemon on the premises.

Multiple deaths reported at shooting in Munich shopping mall


Gunmen went on a shooting rampage in a shopping mall in the southern German city of Munich on Friday, killing and wounding many people, police said.

It was the third major act of violence against civilian targets to take place in Western Europe in eight days. Previous attacks in France and Germany were claimed by the Islamic State militant group.

Munich police said they suspected it was a terrorist attack.

Authorities were evacuating people from the Olympia mall but many others were hiding inside. Munich's main railway station was also being evacuated.

A Munich police spokeswoman said multiple people were killed or wounded. No suspects had been arrested yet, she said.

“We believe we are dealing with a shooting rampage,” the spokeswoman said.

Bavarian broadcaster BR said six people were dead and many wounded in the shopping mall.

NTV television had reported the Bavarian Interior Ministry as saying three people were dead, but the ministry said later it would not confirm this.

More than one gunman was believed to be involved, the police spokeswoman said.

“We believe there was more than one perpetrator. The first reports came at 6 p.m., the shooting apparently began at a McDonald's in the shopping centre. There are still people in the shopping centre. We are trying to get the people out and take care of them,” she said.

Police special forces had arrived at the scene, NTV said.

Munich police said on Facebook that witnesses reported three different people with weapons. Shooting was also reported on Hanauer Street and Ries Streetet, near the mall.

The police told people to stay in their homes or take cover in buildings. Authorities were evacuating people from the Olympia mall. But many others were hiding inside, an employee told Reuters by telephone.

“Many shots were fired, I can't say how many but it's been a lot,” the employee, who declined to be identified, said from the mall.

“All the people from outside came streaming into the store and I only saw one person on the ground who was so severely injured that he definitely didn't survive,”

“We have no further information, we're just staying in the back in the storage rooms. No police have approached us yet.”

Munich transport authorities said they had halted several bus, train and tram lines.

The shopping center is next to the Munich Olympic stadium, where the Palestinian militant group Black September took 11 Israeli athletes hostage and eventually killed them during the 1972 Olympic Games.

IS SUPPORTERS CELEBRATE

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but supporters of Islamic State celebrated the rampage on social media.

“Thank God, may God bring prosperity to our Islamic State men,” read one tweet.

“The Islamic state is expanding in Europe,” read another.

Friday's attack took place a week after a 17-year-old asylum-seeker wounded passengers on a German train in an axe rampage. Bavarian police shot dead the teenager after he wounded four people from Hong Kong on the train and injured a local resident while fleeing.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas told Bild newspaper's Friday edition before the mall attack that there was “no reason to panic but it's clear that Germany remains a possible target”.

The incidents in Germany follow an attack in Nice, France, on Bastille Day in which a Tunisian drove a truck into crowds, killing 84. Islamic State also claimed responsibility for that attack.

Friday is also the five-year anniversary of the massacre by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway. Breivik is a hero for far-right extremists in Europe and America.

The Munich assault was also reminiscent of Islamist militant attacks in a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2013 and on a hotel in Mumbai, India, in November 2008.

Islamic State supporters hail deadly Munich shooting on social media


Supporters of the Islamic State militant group celebrated on social media a shooting rampage in a shopping mall in the southern German city of Munich on Friday that killed and wounded many people.

“Thank God, may God bring prosperity to our Islamic State men,” read one tweet in Arabic on an account that regularly favors the radical Islamist movement.

“The Islamic state is expanding in Europe,” read an Arabic-language tweet on another account also known to support Islamic State.

The attack was the third major act of violence against civilian targets in Western Europe in eight days. Previous attacks in France and Germany were claimed by Islamic State and Munich police said they suspected the latest assault was a terrorist attack.

Authorities were evacuating people from the Olympia mall in the Bavarian capital but many others were hiding inside.

A Munich police spokeswoman said multiple people were killed or wounded. “We believe we are dealing with a shooting rampage,” the spokeswoman said.

Bavarian broadcaster BR said six people were dead and many wounded in the shopping mall. NTV television reported the state's interior ministry as saying three people were dead, but the ministry said later it would not confirm this.

It was not immediately clear who carried out the attack, which took place a week after an axe-wielding teenager went on a rampage on a German train, wounding four people before he was shot dead. Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack.

Gunmen launch deadly attack on Munich shopping mall, whereabouts unknown


Gunmen attacked a busy mall in the German city of Munich on Friday evening, killing at least eight people and sending shoppers running for their lives from what police said was a terrorist attack.

Authorities told the public to get off the streets as the city – Germany's third biggest – went into lockdown with transport halted and highways sealed off.

A police spokesman said three gunmen were on the run after the initial shooting subsided. The city was placed under a state of emergency as police hunted for them.

“We are telling the people of Munich there are shooters on the run who are dangerous,” he said. “We are urging people to stay indoors.”

Police said later that eight people had been killed and an undetermined number wounded. A ninth body had also been found and they were checking to see it was one of the gunmen.

Munich newspaper TZ said one of the shooters was dead. German news magazine Focus said a gunman had shot himself in the head. Reuters could not immediately confirm either report.

As special forces deployed in the city, some people remained holed up in the Olympia shopping centre which police said had been evacuated.

“Many shots were fired, I can't say how many but it's been a lot,” said a shop worker hiding in a store room inside the mall.

It was the third major act of violence against civilians in Western Europe in eight days. Previous attacks in France and Germany were claimed by the Islamic State militant group.

A police spokesman said there was no immediate indication that it was an Islamist attack but it was being treated as a terrorist incident.

Friday is also the five-year anniversary of the massacre by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway in which he killed 77 people. Breivik is a hero for far-right militants in Europe and America.

IS SUPPORTERS CELEBRATE

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but supporters of Islamic State celebrated on social media.

“The Islamic state is expanding in Europe,” read one Tweet.

Two witnesses told n-tv television that they saw a man dressed as Santa Claus walking away from the scene of the shooting with a crowd of people. One said the man had blonde hair, was not carrying a weapon but had a suitcase.

A video posted online – whose authenticity could not be confirmed – showed a man dressed in black outside a McDonalds by the roadside, drawing a handgun and shooting towards members of the public.

A worker at a shop in the mall, Harun Balta, said: “We are still stuck inside the mall without any information, we're waiting for the police to rescue us.”

Police spokeswoman said six people were killed and an undetermined number wounded. Thye were treating it as a terrorist incident.

Witnesses had seen shooting both inside the mall and on nearby streets, he said.

Munich's main railway station was also evacuated. BR television said police had also sealed off many highways north of Munich had been shut down and people were told to leave them.

The shopping centre is next to the Munich Olympic stadium, where the Palestinian militant group Black September took 11 Israeli athletes hostage and eventually killed them during the 1972 Olympic Games.

Friday's attack took place a week after a 17-year-old asylum-seeker wounded passengers on a German train with an axe. Bavarian police shot dead the teenager after he wounded four people from Hong Kong on the train and injured a local resident while fleeing.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas told Bild newspaper's Friday edition before the mall attack that there was “no reason to panic but it's clear that Germany remains a possible target”.

The incidents in Germany follow an attack in Nice, France, on Bastille Day in which a Tunisian drove a truck into crowds, killing 84. Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende said on Twiiter: “Horrible killings in Munich. Taking place on the same day as we mourn & remember the appalling terror that hit Norway so hard five years ago.”

U.S. President Barack Obama pledged support for Germany.

“We don't yet know exactly what's happening there, but obviously our hearts go out to those who may have been injured,” Obama said.

Axe attack in Germany demands ‘early warning system,’ say Jewish leaders


German Jewish leaders warned that all German institutions, not just Jewish ones, should take extra precautions against terrorism in the wake of an ISIS-inspired axe attack on a train in Wurzburg.

“(We) are just as concerned about such attacks as are non-Jews here,” Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told JTA following the Monday night attack, which left five people injured, including four members of one family visiting from Hong Kong. Two of them are in serious condition. The perpetrator, a 17-year-old Afghan refugee, was shot dead by police.

The gruesome attack shows that an “early warning system” and cooperation from Muslim groups in Germany are urgently needed to root out Islamic extremism, Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Jewish Community in Bavaria and Munich, said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Such terrorism “points to the urgent need to focus on integration” of refugees from Muslim lands, said Schuster, who lives in the Bavarian city of Wurzburg. More than one million people from war-torn countries — mostly Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq — have sought asylum in Germany in the past year.

ISIS on Tuesday identified the perpetrator as Muhammad Riyad. Riyad, who reportedly had shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) before launching the attack, also had sent out a video claiming his allegiance to ISIS and his anger with Western coalition attacks on the Islamist group’s strongholds.

Deidre Berger, head of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office, said there was particular concern about “more than 100,000 unaccompanied minors” among the new refugees “whose lives are uprooted” and who have expectations of life in the West that may not be fulfilled.

“They are highly susceptible to the easy answers of radical Islamist ideology, which empowers them to be a hero instead of an underdog,” Berger said. “As we see in this most recent act of terrorism, it is not just the Jewish community that needs to be vigilant against future acts of terror.”

Though this attack might highlight fears about radical Islamists slipping in with genuine refugees, “It’s not OK to blame or fear all refugees because of the act of one,” said Schuster, who has backed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s safe haven policy while urging vigilance.

Man with axe attacks passengers on German train


This is a developing story

A man with an axe attacked passengers on a train near the city of Wuerzburg in the southern German state of Bavaria late on Monday.  

Several people were critically wounded, a police spokesman said.

The attacker was a 17-year-old Afghan refugee who was living in the town of Ochsenfurt, according to Bavaria's interior minister.

The Bavarian Interior Ministry confirmed early on Tuesday that the attacker was shot dead by police.

Joachim Herrmann, the Bavarian Interior Minister,  told public broadcaster ARD that the young man appeared to have made his way to Germany as an unaccompanied minor.

Herrmann declined to speculate about the motive for the attack.

Netanyahu reportedly secreted Auschwitz blueprints to Israel


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

94-year-old Nazi war criminal deemed unfit to stand trial in Germany


Prosecutors in Stuttgart are shelving their war crimes investigation of a 94-year-old man who already was convicted of Nazi war crimes in Italy.

Former SS soldier Wilhelm Kusterer of Engelsbrand —  who was found guilty of involvement in the massacre of 770 civilians in Marzabotto, Italy, in 1944 and sentenced to life in prison in absentia in 2008 — was too ill to stand trial, the prosecutors said. A spokesman for the prosecutors said there was not enough evidence to get a conviction in Germany, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The German investigation was launched in 2013.

In March 2015, Kusterer, who had served for years in the Engelsbrand parliament as a member of the Social Democratic Party, received an honorary medal for social services from his town. But he returned the medal last March following protests mounted from Italy against honoring a convicted war criminal.

Hebrew U supporters want German museum to pick Einstein’s brain for new exhibit


The German branch of Friends of Hebrew University is campaigning to make a walk-through model of Albert Einstein’s brain the centerpiece of a Frankfurt museum’s planned exhibit.

The Senckenberg Museum for Natural Sciences is seeking public input for a modernization and expansion that will include a giant brain that visitors can walk through.

Visitors to the museum’s website can vote through June 29 among the brains of Einstein, primatologist Jane Goodall and German soccer star Karl-Heinz “Charly” Körbel. Voters can also nominate themselves and have their own brains scanned for the exhibit.

The German branch of Friends of Hebrew University has jumped into the fray, spreading the word and drumming up votes for the iconic German-Jewish physicist, a founder of both the university and its fundraising arm.

The Senckenberg Society for Natural Sciences was founded in 1817, and its largest museum is nearly as old, a museum spokeswoman said. She added that she knew of no other “walk-in” brain sculptures. There is a walk-in heart in the children’s museum in the German city of Fulda, and a giant heart at The Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia.

The project is a brainchild of the Hertie Foundation, a museum sponsor, and the museum’s general director, Volker Mosbrugger.

In real life, Einstein’s brain was at the center of bizarre chapter in pathology. After his death on April 18, 1955, the Princeton, New Jersey pathologist attending his body stole the brain in the interest of scientific research. Einstein’s son eventually gave permission for the brain to be sent to Philadelphia, where it was sliced into pieces and preserved.

For decades, the pathologist took the brain in a glass jar with him on travels around the country, and sent pieces of the brain to researchers all over the world, according to Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, where some slices are on display.

Man opens fire in German cinema complex, shot dead by police


A masked man opened fire in a cinema complex in the small western German town of Viernheim, near Frankfurt, on Thursday, German media reported.

Police shot the man dead after elite forces stormed the complex, the Mannheimer Morgen newspaper reported, citing the interior minister of Hesse state.

The Darmstaedter Echo said 20 to 50 people had been wounded. But Bild daily said that according to police, about 25 people were hurt because of exposure to tear gas.

Earlier, Focus Online magazine reported that German police had arrested the man.

Police were not immediately available for comment.

Several media reported that the man had entered the cinema complex at around 3 pm local time. The Frankfurter Allgemeine said it was unclear if there was a political or ideological motive or whether it was a robbery that went wrong.

German lawmaker accused of anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial


A right-wing lawmaker in Germany accused of anti-Semitism in his writings has avoided being expelled from his party, at least for now.

Dr. Wolfgang Gedeon will remain a voting member of the Baden-Württemberg state parliament with no party affiliation after temporarily waiving his rights on Tuesday to represent the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany following a lengthy meeting with party leaders.

The leaders decided to postpone a decision on removing the lawmaker until after Gedeone produces an expert opinion on writings over the years in which he referred to the Holocaust as a “civil religion of the West,” called the Holocaust memorial in Berlin “a memorial to certain crimes,” and referred to Holocaust deniers as “dissidents.”

 

The party reportedly will reconsider the matter in September.

Gedeon, a medical doctor by profession and member of the state parliament since March, also has admired “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” calling the 19th-century anti-Semitic hoax a “brilliant concept of domination,” according to the Die Welt newspaper.

Minimizing or denying the Holocaust is illegal in Germany.

A spokeswoman for the state parliament, Bettina Schreitmueller, told JTA that Gedeon remains in the legislature and can attend all meetings as well as present queries in writing. He cannot speak in a plenary session unless his faction asks him to do so, which is unlikely, according to Schreitmueller.

Speaking to the German media on Tuesday, Baden-Württemberg Gov. Winfried Kretschmann of the Green Party called Gedeon an “obvious anti-Semite” and said he expected the lawmaker would be ostracized.

Gedeon told reporters that he had acted in order to avoid splitting the party. The head of his faction, Jörg Meuthen, had warned he would step down if Gedeon were not expelled and said no expert opinion would likely change his mind.

Israel-German Congress aims to ensure support for Jewish state


A year after the 50th anniversary celebrations of Israeli-German diplomatic relations, Israel advocates held the fourth Israel-German Congress in Frankfurt on June 19, expressing concern that Germany’s proclamations of support for Israel are becoming disingenuous. 

Germany’s recent vote singling out Israel for health rights abuses at the World Health Organization assembly at the United Nations, German ministers’ rush to forge ties with Iran in the wake of last year’s nuclear agreement and the influx of migrants from Muslim countries were cited as signs Germany may be sliding backward in its historic support of Israel. 

The weekend event attracted 3,000 participants, a 350 percent increase from the first Congress held in 2010. It is the largest pro-Israel conference in Western Europe, indicating Germany remains a safe haven for Israel supporters who hope to stem what they see as troubling developments. 

“You have the German declarations in the government to stand up for Israel’s security — that’s more theory than practice,” said Sacha Stawski, the congress’ founder and president of the pro-Israel lobby and media-watchdog group Honestly Concerned and the Israel advocacy group I Like Israel. 

Mathias Döpfner, CEO of the Axel Springer media group, whose newspapers and magazines generally counter anti-Israel bias common to German media, also expressed concern over the disparity between the German government’s words and actions. Support for Israel’s right to exist is built into Axel Springer’s platform.

“Many positive things have been said in the diplomatic arena in both directions, but when considering the German-Israel relationship nowadays, I think the love is kind of lopsided,” Döpfner told the audience after receiving the Arno-Lustiger Prize for his efforts in building German-Israel relations. He cited a recent survey indicating that 70 percent of Israelis view modern Germany positively, while an equal number of Germans view Israel as a world threat, ahead of North Korea. “They are of the opinion that Israel is involved in escalation of [conflict in] the Middle East.”

With the participation of Jewish and Christian leaders, as well as local and federal German politicians and Israeli embassy officials and politicians — including former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Member of Knesset (MK) Nachman Shai (Zionist Union), Druze MK Ayoob Kara (Likud) and MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Biteinu) — the event exhibited a united front for Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin appeared via video.

But Eldad Beck, a conference speaker and the author of “Germany at Odds,” a book skeptical of Germany’s reconciliation with its past, noted the absence of German government ministers.

“The most interesting thing about this conference is the fact that the political level keeps on snubbing it,” he told the Journal.

Last year, salutations from Chancellor Angela Merkel were included in the program. She declined the invitation to attend this year, and no salutations appeared, because, Stawski said, they weren’t requested. Despite concerns with the current German Chancellery, Stawski fears a post-Merkel era and also what he perceives as the ascendance of an anti-Semitic right.

According to professor Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor and a conference presenter, anti-Israel nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that promote anti-Israel and “lawfare” campaigns, and which are recipients of German federal funding, are increasing in influence.

“Germany is part of Europe, and it’s really a virus that’s growing inside of Europe. In the past, Germany has largely stood up against that, but that’s no longer the case. The barriers are breaking down,” Steinberg told the Journal. 

American-born Deidre Berger, director of the Berlin office of American Jewish Committee (AJC), moderated a panel that featured debate about the influence of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in Germany. She noted that Jews in Germany don’t face the kind of anti-Israel harassment seen at California college campuses, but that BDS-oriented ideologies are nevertheless prevalent at German universities. 

“It’s not organized here,” she said. “There’s not campus life in the same way. They don’t have that field of operation, but, that said, I’m not sure the attitudes of professors here vary that much from those in the U.S.”

The AJC is lobbying to implement, at the German legislative level, the European Parliament Working Group on Anti-Semitism’s Working Definition of Anti-Semitism, which includes the demonization of Israel. 

On the surface, the congress was marked by optimism. Booths dedicated to Israel and Jewish programming dominated two floors of the conference center. A DJ played Israeli pop music at a Tel Aviv-style “chill-out” area, while shops sold Israeli goods. 

On the previous night, hundreds gathered at the Leonardo Royal Hotel for dancing to Mizrahi hits and a performance by Nadav Guedj, Israel’s “Golden Boy” act at last year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Under the conference banner of “Building Partnerships,” a delegation of Kurds waved Kurdish and Israeli flags, expressing solidarity for Israel as they battle ISIS and fight for independence. 

“If we build more on the business side and more on the cultural side, and other issues uniting Germany and Israel at this point in time — if there is enough pressure there — we could influence the political side of things,” Stawski said.

Shifting Israel-German discourse away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Holocaust and toward the countries’ common values and interests emerged as a new strategy for Israel advocacy at a time when third-generation offspring of the World War II era are distancing themselves from Nazi crimes.

“I think it needs to be rebuilt so that young Germans understand in coming decades that this relationship is important not only because of history, but because Israel is the only reliable democratic partner in the Middle East,” Berger said.

Volker Beck, a pro-Israel member of Germany’s parliament and critic of the current Israeli government, nevertheless favorably compared Netanyahu’s resolute condemnation of Islamic terror in the wake of the Orlando terror attack on a gay nightclub to what he saw as a wishy-washy statement from Merkel. 

“Israel is an open, vivid, civil society,” Beck said, “and we could all learn from them.”

Döpfner closed his remarks at the conference with a similar sentiment: “We have unbelievable vital interest to support Israel and its right to exist. So if we don’t do it for altruistic reasons, let’s at least do it for egoistic reasons.” 

Cemeteries initiative has preserved 70 Eastern European graveyards


A German-funded pilot program for protecting Eastern European Jewish cemeteries has helped preserve at least 70 graveyards since 2015, the effort’s initiators told Council of Europe delegates.

The briefing Wednesday in Strasbourg about the European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative, or ESJF, came two years after its inception with an initial budget of $1.35 million, Yossi Beilin, a former justice minister of Israel and a member of ESJF’s advisory board, told JTA.

The briefing at the Council of Europe, a body of 47 member states that aims to encourage pan-European cooperation and dialogue, was partly intended to help “find more resources for the next steps” and make ESJF into a permanently functioning body with core funding, Beilin said.

The initiative has restored cemeteries in Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic, Belarus, Serbia and Moldova, Beilin said.

“The goal is to locate those cemeteries disappearing in the forests, build a fence around them, install a gate, pave an access road, install a plaque and then, if possible, connect the cemeteries with local schools so authorities can use them as educational tools to teach children about the Jewish communities that once existed there,” he said.

The Council of Europe, a non-executive body that is unconnected to the European Union, does not directly fund the initiative, Beilin said, but it presents an avenue for approaching individual governments and organizations for funding to sustain it.

Poland and Slovakia alone have approximately more than 2,000 Jewish cemeteries between them, many of them in disrepair. Just the fencing for all of Poland’s 1,400 Jewish cemeteries would cost approximately $32 million, according to the country’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich.

In April, Thorbjorn Jagland, the secretary general of the Council of Europe, visited a Jewish cemetery in Frampol, Poland, which was one of the 70 worked on by ESJF. The project was carried out with help from a local school, “which was totally recruited for this project, and introduced students for the first time to the fact that there existed a Jewish community there 70 years ago,” Beilin said.

All of Frampol’s Jews were killed in the Holocaust. The genocide and subsequent emigration decimated once-large Eastern European communities, making it financially impossible for the small congregations that remained to bankroll restoration and upkeep of Jewish cemeteries.

In 2012, the Council of Europe adopted a nonbinding resolution placing responsibility for the care of Jewish cemeteries on national governments. The resolution was based in part on a report that said Jewish cemeteries are “probably” more vulnerable than other cemeteries.

In addition to frequent vandalism, including for anti-Semitic reasons, at Jewish cemeteries, the report also noted instances of cemeteries in Eastern Europe that have been turned into “residential areas, public gardens, leisure parks, army grounds and storage sites; some have been turned into lakes.”

 

Israeli officials deny increased tensions with Germany following news report


Israeli government officials have denied Spiegel Online magazine’s recent report of increased tensions with Germany.

Ties between German Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union Party and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are strong, according to Israel Hayom. A source suggested the negative reports were due to attempts by some German politicians to undermine those ties.

In their news analysis for Spiegel Online – titled “Foreign policy shift: Skepticism of German-Israeli friendship growing in Berlin” – published April 29, Ralf Neukirch and Christoph Schult said prominent politicians in Germany’s mainstream parties believe Netanyahu’s settlement policies are blocking the road to a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

They named several German politicians, including the chancellor, as being increasingly sympathetic to Palestinian views of the conflict, and cited Bundestag legislator Rolf Mützenich, deputy chair of foreign affairs, defense and human rights for the Social Democratic Party, or SPD, as saying that Netanyahu appears to be “instrumentalizing our friendship.”

Before the weekend was out, Israeli government officials denied that there was a shift in relations with Germany. An unnamed official told Israel Hayom that ties remain strong and positive.

Criticism of Israel’s settlement policies from the highest political levels is not new in Germany.

Most recently, the mayor of a city in the former East German state of Thuringia had written to Merkel demanding an end to her “one-sided approach to the State of Israel,” according to a report Sunday by the German press agency DPA.

The mayor of Jena, Albrecht Schröter, a member of the Social Democratic Party, urged Merkel to fight against Israel’s settlement policy, which he defined as “land theft” and an attack on Palestinian civil rights. His remarks reportedly were triggered by the recent construction of a security wall in Jena’s Palestinian partner city,  Beit Jala.

Former Auschwitz guard apologizes at trial, says it was ‘nightmare’


A 94-year-old former Auschwitz guard on trial in Germany apologized in court to victims on Friday, telling them he regretted being part of a “criminal organization” that had killed so many people and caused such suffering.

“I'm ashamed that I knowingly let injustice happen and did nothing to oppose it”, said Reinhold Hanning, a former Nazi SS officer, seated in a wheelchair in the court in Detmold.

Hanning is charged with being an accessory to the murder of at least 170,000 people.

Holocaust survivors, who detailed their horrific experiences at the trial which opened in February, have pleaded with the accused to break his silence in what could be one of the last Holocaust court cases in Germany.

Hanning finally broke the silence he kept over the course of 12 hearings, each limited to two hours due to his old age.

Reading in a firm voice from a paper he took out of his gray suit pocket, he said: “I want to tell you that I deeply regret having been part of a criminal organization that is responsible for the death of many innocent people, for the destruction of countless families, for misery, torment and suffering on the side of the victims and their relatives”.

“I have remained silent for a long time, I have remained silent all of my life,” he added.

Just before, his lawyer, Johannes Salmen, had given a detailed account of the defendant's view of his life and particularly his time in Auschwitz.

In this 22-page long declaration, Hanning admitted having known about mass murder in the death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

“I've tried to repress this period for my whole life. Auschwitz was a nightmare, I wish I had never been there,” the lawyer cited Hanning as saying.

The accused was sent there after being wounded in battle and his request to rejoin his comrades on the front had been rejected twice, he said.

“I accept his apology but I can't forgive him,” said Leon Schwarzbaum, a 95-year-old Holocaust survivor and co-plaintiff.

She said Hanning should have recounted everything that happened in Auschwitz and “what he took part in”.

Although Hanning is not charged with having been directly involved in any killings at the camp, prosecutors accuse him of facilitating the slaughter in his capacity as a guard at the camp where 1.2 million people, most of them Jews, were killed.

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

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

Hanning on Friday said however that his stepmother, a member of the Nazi-party, urged him to join.

A verdict is expected on May 27.

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

In addition to Hanning, one other man and one woman in their 90s are accused of being accessories to the murder of hundreds of thousands of people at Auschwitz.

A third man who was a member of the Nazi SS guard team at Auschwitz died at the age of 93 this month, days before his trial was due to start.

US, Germany: Golan Heights not part of Israel


The United States and Germany both criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration that the Golan Heights “will forever remain part of Israeli sovereignty.”

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday that the Obama administration does not consider the Golan Heights to be part of Israel, despite Netanyahu’s assertion at a Cabinet meeting there Sunday, Haaretz reported.

“The U.S. position on the issue is unchanged,” Kirby said at a daily media briefing at the State Department in Washington. “This position was maintained by both Democratic and Republican administrations. Those territories are not part of Israel and the status of those territories should be determined through negotiations.”

Earlier in the day, a spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry said, “It’s a basic principle of international law and the UN charter that no state can claim the right to annex another state’s territory just like that,” according to Haaretz.

The Arab League and Hezbollah also criticized Netanyahu’s statement about the Golan Heights.

Israel wrested control of the Golan from Syria during the Six-Day War of 1967 and officially annexed it in 1981, a move never recognized by the international community.

Netanyahu’s declaration came following reports that a draft of a peace deal aimed at ending Syria’s 5-year-old civil war involves Israel relinquishing control of the area, where 21,000 Israeli citizens and 22,000 Druze Arabs live. The Druze there opted to retain Syrian citizenship rather than taking Israeli citizenship.

While giving up the Golan as part of a land-for-peace deal with Syria was widely discussed in the 1990s, few Israelis support the idea today.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holocaust survivor, 92, hosts Reddit forum, describes hellish life in Nazi camps


A 92-year-old survivor of seven German concentration camps participated in a Reddit Ask Me Anything question-and-answer session, detailing his harrowing near-death to liberation story.

Henry Flescher of Aventura, Florida, participated in the forum with the help of his grandson, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported Wednesday. He had not heard of the social news-sharing site Reddit before the session earlier this week.

“Most people are never happy and complain too much,” Flescher said. “It’s too hot out, it’s too cold out. Life is beautiful, no need to complain so much.”

Flescher, a native of Vienna, escaped to France during World War II but was captured in Lyon. He spent the next three years in the Nazi camps, including Auschwitz.

He described being transported to a camp by a cattle car packed with prisoners and one bucket to use as a toilet.

“The smell was unfathomable,” Flescher said.

After enduring six days in the car, 300 prisoners were taken off the train and the others were shipped off to be killed at Auschwitz. Flescher said he was number 298.

“I will never forget the number 298,” he said.

Flescher went on to work in a shoe factory at the Ohrdruf camp and helped build bridges at the Peiskretscham camp. He also worked at the Blechhamer camp, a place he called “hell” and where he witnessed a friend be hanged for using a telephone wire as a belt to hold his pants up.

“Punishments were a daily routine and my front teeth were knocked out here,” he said.

Flescher nearly gave up hope when he contracted a bad case of dysentery at the Gross Rosen camp.

“I lived for tomorrow. I was always positive,” he said.

He was eventually found hiding in a chicken coop by American soldiers in 1945.

“I have always believed in God. Before and after. God didn’t kill the people, the Nazis did,” he said.

Numerous celebrities and thought leaders, from Jerry Seinfeld to President Barack Obama, have participated in Reddit AMA sessions, which solicit questions from users in the website’s social network community.