Hidden in plain sight


Harry Davids was about 6 years old when his parents called him into the bedroom of their home in South Africa to deliver a message he will never forget.

“They say, ‘Are you aware we’re not your real parents? We’re your uncle and aunt. Your parents were killed in a big war.’ ”

Since that day, Davids’ life — the Encino resident is now 71 — has been one big research project to discover the horrible truth of a war that stole more than 60 members of his family. 

His story begins in Holland. Although Davids’ parents were from western Germany, hyperinflation in the mid-1920s, followed by the fallout of the Great Depression, forced them abroad in search of work. Both found jobs at high-end department stores in Amsterdam, albeit competing ones. 

In 1940, Germany invaded Holland. Davids’ parents married the following year, but by this time, restrictive rules were imposed on Jews, who were stripped of their civil rights, and many went into hiding. It was into this world that Davids was born in the fall of 1942; a few months later, he was given to someone in the Dutch resistance. 

“I’ve never been able to find that person,” he said, though he suspects it was a Jewish-German nurse. 

Over the next several months, Davids was shuttled at night by barge along canals to the north of Holland. The resistance sought a permanent home for him, but boys were especially hard to place: Circumcision revealed their true heritage.

By the time Davids arrived in the city of Dokkum, he was very sick. A Protestant family from Engwierum, a village seven miles away, agreed to take him, but the village doctor would not treat him because he was Jewish. Instead, he told them of another doctor hours away.

“The mother of my family travels five miles by bike and takes me to the train station, to a distant place almost in Germany in the dead of winter,” Davids said. “The doctor treats me. She brings me back to the village, and I get sick all over again. Now they send me with the oldest daughter, and they get me cured.”

Davids’ new family, the Bakkers, told two cover stories about the 1-year-old boy. To neighbors, he was a sick child they were nursing to health who required the curative powers of the ocean air. To German soldiers who occasionally passed through, he was the youngest of their five children. The ruse was supported by Davids’ white-blond hair and blue eyes. 

It worked, but after the war, when laws were passed requiring people harboring refugees to turn their names over to the government so they could be reunited with family, things got complicated, Davids said. 

He had no papers — it was how the resistance had wanted it. He had only his name, an unusually English one for the region. His birth parents, both killed in 1943 at the Sobibor extermination camp, gave it to him because they intended to move to South Africa, where they had relatives. 

This is how Davids’ extended family found him. But even after an uncle in South Africa agreed to take him, his Dutch family was not eager to give him up, and all manner of paperwork and legal barriers resulted in a closely contested court case, he said.

Finally, in May 1947, Davids was able to join his new family. This is where his memory takes over the telling.

“I don’t remember saying goodbye to my old family,” Davids said. “I remember misbehaving. It was an incredibly long plane trip. My ears were bleeding. That was very common in those days. Planes were not pressurized. I remember meeting my new mother and new sister, and a Great Dane named Tiger.

“I remember arriving to this new country, and the bright sunshine. I remember squinting a lot. I was unaccustomed to the light. I remember spacious homes, compared with Holland, where everything is cramped. Seeing black people for the first time. And I had to get into a new role. In Holland, I was the baby of the family. Now I am the oldest in the family, expected to protect my siblings.” 

Soon after arriving in South Africa, Davids started receiving packages in the mail. They were filled with chocolates and other goodies. 

“My parents were upset about these packages,” he said. “I was the only one in the family getting them. My parents wanted us to learn that no one should be favored. I was very young and self-centered. I was disinclined to share the contents. So my parents decide to contact this family in Engwierum and tell them to back off on the packages. After a few months, I become aware I was not getting packages. I wanted to know what was going on, and I started badgering them.”

That’s when they called the boy into their bedroom to tell him the truth.

“I am totally shocked to hear this,” Davids remembered. “It created all kinds of problems.”

Part of it was a great sense of insecurity.

“I wondered, ‘What have my parents done that was so wrong?’ In the early years, I had problems sleeping. But the main thing that stayed with me was distrust. I could no longer accept things that were told to me because everything was like a lie.” 

Most of all, though, Davids was overwhelmed by curiosity and questions his new parents could not or would not answer.

And so began Davids’ 65-year quest for answers, a quest that continues to this day. He unveiled part of the mystery when he turned 21 and his uncle handed over the complete dossier from the Dutch court case. But he said the Internet has provided the richest research cache. He has binders filled with birth certificates and death certificates, photocopies of black-and-white photos, including one of him, a towhead, with the family in Engwierum. He shares these with visitors to the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH), where he also serves as a docent. 

LAMOTH Executive Director Samara Hutman called him “a treasure of the museum.” 

“He impresses people with his earnest passion and workmanlike dedication to teaching this history,” she said. “He had to teach himself his own history, so he’s particularly poised to walk someone through that same path.”

Never married, which he attributes to his difficulty trusting people, at least in his youth, Davids moved to Southern California — first San Diego, then Los Angeles — because of the political climate of South Africa. Telling his story is something Davids has done full force since retiring from his job as an accountant six years ago. 

“For me, it is a form of giving back to the community because of my very good fortune during the Holocaust, in one sense, and as opposed to 64 members of my family [who perished],” he said.

Sharing his story is also a way for him to shine a light on the Bakkers, an extraordinary family who risked everything to save him.

 “Without people standing up for others, how many of us would really have survived?” Davids said. “My hope is that people will learn something from this story and say, ‘Yes, we can have a little courage; we can stand up.’ ”

Davids has found camaraderie in groups such as the local chapter of the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Descendants, where he serves on the board. Even so, Davids does not consider himself a “survivor.” 

“I am not comfortable with that label,” he said. “To compare me with someone in a camp —  they carry a huge load. I was a baby when this all happened. The fact I survived didn’t have anything to do with something I did. I consider [the Bakkers] the real survivors.”

Davids worked for three years to have Berend and Jeltje Bakker added to the list of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem. The two were recognized in 1987.

“These people are considered heroes in my story,” he said. “Upstanders in a world of bystanders.”

Dutch museum to move, reopen as synagogue


A city in eastern Holland has pledged nearly $750,000 for restoring a museum to its previous function as a synagogue.

The switch will become possible in 2015, when the natural science museum in Nijmegen leaves its current building, the Dutch regional daily De Gelderlander reported Thursday.

Jem van den Burg, the head of a nonprofit called Big Synagogue, a Jewish Future, told the daily that the municipality has agreed to finance his plan to the tune of $734,000.

Den Burg has until 2014 to present a business plan for the construction of a Jewish cultural center and synagogue in the building.

The city council will vote on the plan this year. Alderwoman Hannie Art told De Gelderland she was confident that it would pass.

The building served Nijmegen’s 500-odd Jews from 1913 to 1943, when the Nazis killed almost all of them along with 75 percent of Holland’s pre-Holocaust Jewish population of 140,000. Nijmegen’s few Holocaust survivors could not shoulder the costs of keeping the synagogue operational and the building was sold.

Van den Burg oversees the Jewish cemetery as well as archival research about the Jewish municipality.

Since 2012, three Dutch municipalities, Werkendam, Amsterdam and Vlissingen, have transferred five large properties to Dutch Jewish communities.

Dutch commission calls for freezing ties with Israel


Holland’s ruling party rejected a recommendation by the country’s foreign policy advisory council to negotiate with Hamas and freeze ties with Israel over settlements.

The recommendations on Israel came in nonbinding conclusions listed in a recent report by Holland’s Advisory Council on International Affairs, or AIV, a government agency tasked by Parliament with advising on foreign policy.

Titled “Between Word and Deed, Perspectives for Sustainable Peace in the Middle East,” the 58-page report states, “As long as Israel’s actions in occupied territories do not change,” they should “lead to the freezing and limiting of [Dutch-Israeli] relations, especially in economic and military areas.”

The Netherlands is considered one of Israel’s closest allies in Western Europe.

Coauthored by a nine-man commission of Dutch scholars and Middle East experts, the AIV report says it is “desirable to negotiate with all relevant parties, including (the democratically elected) Hamas movement” and that “the Western boycott of Hamas creates additional complications in peace talks.”

The report’s introduction describes the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as between “the victims, and the victims’ victims.” The AIV says that “Israel is in fact, within the pre-1967 borders, already a binational state with an Arab minority of roughly 20 percent … The position of Premier [Benjamin] Netanyahu reveals, however, that this is a reality he is not prepared to recognize.”

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans of the Labor Party has declined to comment on the report, but the ruling center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD Party, called the document “an astonishing combination of wishful thinking and biased, unrealistic recommendations.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the report “cannot be taken seriously.”

Wim Kortenoeven, a Middle East specialist from The Hague who analyzed the report, said it was “the malicious product of political activism, whose only objective appears to be Israel bashing.”

On Tuesday, Kortenoeven, a former lawmaker and pro-Israel activist, published on his website the first exhaustive analysis of the AIV report, which he says contains factual errors, including a reference to the nonbinding United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 on Israel — which calls on Israel to allow the return of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war — as a binding Security Council resolution.

Timmermans was scheduled to comment on the report before July 5, when Dutch Parliament goes into recess, but has not so far and declined to comment to JTA.

AIV Executive Secretary T.D.J. Oostenbrink declined JTA’s request for a comment on criticisms regarding the report.

Han ten Broeke, a senior lawmaker for the VVD ruling party, said in a statement his party was “astonished”  by the document, which ten Broeke said was “unbalanced and unfair, and makes hard demands from Israel based on international law requirements, which are not applied to the Palestinians.”

He added that the VVD had “criticism on Israel, for example on departures from the Green Line in the route of the Security Barrier,” and the detention of minors for stone throwing, “but we also certainly make demands of the Palestinian Authority.”

In a statement earlier this month, Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, called the report an “error-rich flatbed” that “cannot be taken seriously” and “engenders by logical deduction a whole set of expectedly misled and misguided analytical statements.”

Survivor: Charlotte Seeman


Charlotte Seeman — then Charlotte Leiter — spotted the barbed-wire fence ahead. She and her companions — a young woman from Vienna as well as the woman’s boyfriend and uncle — climbed over and continued walking. It was a cold night in December 1938, and they had crossed the German border near the intersection of Belgium and Holland. They were headed to Holland but didn’t know their way. After awhile they saw a sign in French and realized they were in Belgium. They circled around and kept walking. When they heard dogs barking and saw searchlights scouring the area, they laid down motionless on the snow-covered ground. They then crossed more barbed-wire fences, still unsure of their direction. Finally, after hours of walking, they saw a sign with words that weren’t French or German. They had reached Holland.

Glimpsing lights in the distance, they made their way to the village of Venlo. Charlotte and the uncle entered an inn, while the woman and her boyfriend waited outside. Charlotte phoned her brother in Amsterdam. She went back outside to tell her companions, but didn’t see them. “The people are gone,” a bystander said. “The Germans picked them up.” 

Charlotte was born on Nov. 17, 1920 in Vienna, Austria, to Mina and Bernard Leiter. Her brother, Israel, was born in 1906, and her sister, Peppi, in 1913. Charlotte’s father, who was from Brody, Poland, was stationed in Austria during World War I and never left. He had a business making brushes from animal hair.

Charlotte went to public school until age 14 and then attended a private school where she learned typing, bookkeeping, English and shorthand. 

On March 15, 1938, Charlotte was walking to school when, amid commotion and shouts of “Heil, Hitler,” she saw Adolf Hitler riding by in a car.  The Anschluss, or annexation of Austria, had begun three days earlier. Charlotte rushed home along back streets. 

Charlotte never returned to school. Her father, who was sick with stomach cancer, was bedridden, and Charlotte stayed close to home.  

On Nov. 9, 1938, a loud knock on the front door awakened Charlotte and her parents. A downstairs neighbor, someone her mother had often helped, though they knew he was SS, came looking for Charlotte’s brother. It was Kristallnacht.

The next day, Charlotte saw piles of books smoldering on the street and neighborhood shuls vandalized. 

Charlotte’s brother, Israel, and his wife immediately left for Holland. Soon after, Charlotte decided to join them. 

Charlotte and her travel companions left Vienna by train early on Dec. 12, 1938. They arrived in Cologne, where they spent the day in the Cologne Cathedral pretending to pray and avoiding attention. At nightfall, they rode the trolley to a stop near the border. 

Charlotte’s brother arrived in Venlo and took Charlotte and the uncle to Amsterdam by train, cautioning them to be silent.

Charlotte lived in the small apartment her brother shared with his wife and mother-in-law. All four received 6 guilders and 25 cents a week from the Committee for Jewish Refugees and were not allowed to work. 

They pooled their guilders to pay rent and buy some food. They also managed to send small food packages to Charlotte and Israel’s parents in Vienna. 

Charlotte’s father died on May 22, 1939. 

On Saturday nights, they attended a dance at a Jewish center. One evening they overheard someone talking about smugglers. Charlotte and her brother befriended the man, Abraham Seeman, as they hoped he could help their mother escape Vienna. Although that didn’t happen, a romance ensued. Abraham, who was originally from Poland, had been living in Amsterdam since the early 1930s.  He and Charlotte married on Sept. 11, 1940, in Amsterdam’s Great Synagogue and lived in an apartment behind Abraham’s shoe repair shop.

The situation for Jews continued to deteriorate. When Germany invaded Holland on May 10, 1940, ration cards were instituted, as were curfews. Still, Abraham sometimes went out at night to watch Allied planes flying overhead on their way to bomb Germany. 

One evening he saw a young couple standing near his shop, taking refuge from possible falling shrapnel. He invited them in for tea. And that’s how Charlotte and Abraham became friends with Lucie and Jan Kloek, though it was forbidden for Christians and Jews to socialize.

As the Nazis stepped up deportations of Jews, Charlotte asked Lucie if she and her husband would consider hiding them. They agreed, and on Dec. 5, 1942, Charlotte and Abraham moved into the attic of their narrow four-story apartment building, not far from Anne Frank’s secret annex. 

During the day, Charlotte and Abraham moved freely around the Kloeks’ third-floor apartment, helping to care for the Kloeks’ baby daughter. At night, they retreated to the attic. Sometimes they heard screaming in the darkness. “It was very, very scary,” Charlotte said. 

One night, when Jan and Lucie were at the hospital awaiting the arrival of their second child, Charlotte and Abraham heard pounding footsteps and a loud knock on the door. They didn’t move. They knew it was the SS. 

Jan appeared later that night, “white as a sheet,” according to Charlotte, and helped them onto the roof and into the attic of the adjoining building, where they lay on a pile of coal. “We were waiting for the SS, but they never came,” Charlotte said.

Jan then moved Charlotte and Abraham into his carpentry shop. By day Abraham donned coveralls and worked as Jan’s assistant while Charlotte hid in the bathroom. At night they slept on the sawdust-covered shop floor.

Six weeks later, Charlotte and Abraham returned to the attic. In February 1945, however, with severe food shortages and worries about their two small children, Lucie and Jan decided to go to Groningen in northern Holland, where their families lived.

The Kloeks helped Charlotte and Abraham obtain false papers as Christians. They rented a vacant apartment where they slept on the floor and, with no electricity, used a tin can for a stove, fueling it with wooden cobblestones that Abraham collected on the streets. They had little food.

Then, on May 5, 1945, Charlotte and Abraham walked outside to see Canadian troops marching down the streets. Amsterdam had been liberated. They met Jewish soldiers who gave them cigarettes, white bread and margarine. 

After liberation, Abraham worked odd jobs. Their son, Barry, was born in September 1948, and in December 1948 they immigrated to New York, where they lived for 10 years. 

In 1958, they moved to Denver, and in 1965 to Los Angeles. In 1970, they opened a Levi’s store in San Fernando. 

With the help of Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom, Charlotte arranged for Lucie and Jan Kloek to be recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. Charlotte is still in contact with the couple’s daughter, Maja.

Abraham died in 1998 and Barry in 2010. 

In September 2012, Charlotte moved into the Los Angeles Jewish Home, where, at 92, she enjoys knitting, attending lectures and “everything that is available.” She spends every weekend with her family, which includes two grandsons, Michael and Danny, their wives and her four great-granddaughters.

“As long as God will give me, I will live,” Charlotte said.

Historic mikvah to be displayed at Holland museum


A mikvah uncovered during construction will be restored in a museum as the oldest testament to Jewish life in Holland to date.

The Jewish ritual bath will be restored this week in the Limburgs Museum in the city of Venlo, the same southeastern Netherlands city in which it was uncovered several years ago.

The mikvah dates to the13th century, more than 300 years before it was believed that the first significant Jewish community in Holland was created by Jews who fled the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal, during the late 16th century.

“This mikvah proves there was a Jewish presence in Holland more than 700 years ago and proves that although the Jewish community may have been small, they had a mikvah, a testament to a flourishing and dedicated community,” said Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, the chairman of the Rabbinical Council for Netherlands and a member of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe.

According to archeologists, the mikvah was in use for several decades before it was put to other uses. It is believed that the Jews were driven out of the area in the wake of a deathly plague.

The mikvah, weighing approximately 180 tons, will be placed in a newly constructed wing of the museum created especially for the purpose of displaying the mikvah and educating about it and Judaism, according to the Rabbinical Centre of Europe.

Hirsi Ali, critic of Islam, honored for courage


A tall African-born woman, raised a devout Muslim but now one of Islam’s sharpest critics, last week calmly dismantled some of the favorite shibboleths of American liberalism.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was in town to accept an inaugural award for her remarkable personal and civic courage from Community Advocates, Inc., in front of some 600 Angelenos of various political stripes.

In an interview, and in parts of her remarks at the downtown Japan America Theatre, she questioned the virtues of multiculturalism, the West’s understanding of Islam and its comprehension of the roots of terrorism.

Hirsi Ali, 38, was born in Somalia, was an ultra-devout Muslim during adolescence, but changed gradually, and then radically, when she found asylum in Holland in 1992.

She was elected to the lower house of the Dutch parliament in 2003 and became an international figure in 2004, after she wrote the screenplay for the short film “Submission,” a barbed indictment of Islam’s treatment of women.

That same year, the movie’s director, Theo van Gogh, was assassinated on an Amsterdam street by a young Muslim, who pinned a death threat against Hirsi Ali to Van Gogh’s chest.

She now lives under constant police protection in America and continues to write and speak out as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

In 2005, she made TIME’s list of “100 of the World’s Most Influential People.”

Her categorical denunciations of Islam have been questioned, but never her personal mettle. It was for the latter characteristic that she was honored with the inaugural Ziegler Prize For Courage of Conviction by Community Advocates, Inc. (CAI) chairman and former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan, together with CAI President David Lehrer and Vice President Joe Hicks.

The accompanying citation reads: “In recognition of your indomitable courage and spirit, which teaches, offers hope and provides inspiration to humanity.”

In her acceptance response and during her interview with The Journal, Hirsi Ali also faulted the West for its choice of weapons in fighting threats from Iran and Islamic militants.

“The United States has the option of using military force against Iran, which it may still have to do, or diplomacy, which has not worked so far,” she said.

But the West has failed by not promoting its ideology in the “clash of ideas and values,” Hirsi Ali declared.

“When Saudi Arabia spends $2 billion abroad for hospitals, mosques and schools, it conditions the aid on the recipient’s acceptance of Saudi Arabia’s fundamentalist form of Islam,” she said. “But Western private and public philanthropy comes with no message, it’s value free.”

What the West must do, she urged, is to attach a clear message to its aid inculcating the values of individual responsibility, the equality of men and women and a scientific approach to counter tribal superstitions.

The West also fails to understand that there’s little basic difference between Islamic “moderates” and “extremists,” Hirsi Ali argued.

“When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, we may consider him crazy, but the concept that Jews are vermin is accepted throughout the Islamic world,” she said. “In none of the 57 nations that make up the Organization of Islamic Countries is the Holocaust taught.”

Hirsi Ali recalled, “I was raised in an educated family, and my father led the opposition to the Somali dictatorship, but I heard nothing about the Holocaust until I came to The Netherlands.”

Another Western mistake lies in its admiration of multiculturalism and its exclusive focus on white racism, Hirsi Ali maintained.

“It is a fallacy that all cultures are equally valuable and must be preserved,” she said. “Some cultures are superior to others. Some value human rights, while others justify the subjugation of women.”

Along the same line, “While white racism is properly denounced, we’re too shy to address black racism or Islamic racism.”

CAI, headed by the white liberal Lerner and the black conservative Hicks, has made a name for itself by frequently challenging the accepted wisdom and strategies of mainstream civil rights and human relations groups.

In its writings and actions, CAI states, it seeks “to promote critical discourse about issues that transcend race, ethnicity, gender and religion.”

Films: Romantic triangle survives in the midst of hell


“I’m a very special Holocaust survivor,” Jack Polak says. “I was in the camps with my wife and my girlfriend, and, believe me, it wasn’t easy.”

This may sound like a line from the new genre of Holocaust films with humor, but Polak (who is Jacob on his birth certificate, Jack in America, Jaap to his Dutch friends and Jab to his wife) is just stating the facts in the documentary feature, “Steal a Pencil for Me.”

Another shorthand way of summarizing the storyline: Jack, an accountant in Amsterdam in the early 1940s, is married to Manja, but falls in love with Ina. All three are deported to Bergen-Belsen, where Jack and Ina carry on an intensive romantic correspondence.

The three survive, Jack divorces Manja, marries Ina and they move to the United States.

The story doesn’t end there. We caught up by phone with Jack, who will be 95 on Dec. 31, and Ina, 80, at their home in Eastchester, a New York suburb, shortly after they celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary.

Not slowed down by some hearing problems, Jack recalled his odd experiences with gusto, though, as with most old married couples, Ina had to correct him occasionally on a few historic points.

Fame has come late to the Polaks, but both obviously enjoy starring in their own life story.

“I’m the oldest-working actor in America,” Jack remarks proudly.

Their story, and the film, begins during the Nazi occupation of Holland in 1940. While many Jews were deported and, like Jack’s parents, subsequently murdered, the young accountant manages to keep going, though locked into an incompatible marriage.

At a birthday party in 1943, he meets Ina, a 20-year-old beauty raised in a wealthy diamond manufacturing family, and it’s love at first sight.

The looming love affair appears aborted when a couple of weeks after Jack meets Ina, he and his wife are deported to the Dutch transit camp of Westerbork.

As fate would have it, two months later Ina is deported to the same place, where the rules allow Jack to spend some time with both wife and girlfriend until the 8 p.m. curfew.

Soon the trains started rolling from Westerbork to the concentration camps, and in February 1944, Jack and Manja are sent to Bergen-Belsen. Jack says goodbye to Ina, with the words, “I hope you will soon follow me.”

Three months later, it’s Ina’s turn and she is put in a boxcar headed for Auschwitz. At the last minute, orders are changed, and the train is routed to Bergen-Belsen in northwest Germany.

Though the regime there is much stricter and more brutal than in Westerbork, Jack and Ina manage to see each other occasionally, and, under the circumstances, they are fortunate in other ways.

Jack is assigned to work in the camp kitchen, and Ina, who knows German shorthand, to office work at a diamond plant set up by the Nazis.

At every opportunity, the two write long impassioned letters to each other, to the point that Jack’s one pencil stub is soon worn down to the nub. Since Ina works in an office, Jack begs her in one letter, “steal a pencil for me.”

Manja becomes increasingly suspicious and annoyed with Jack’s liaison, but is generous enough to share some of her scarce bread with Ina when her rival falls ill.

Most concentration camp recollections speak of unbearable filth, degradation and, foremost, the constant hunger that obliterated all other thoughts.

But for Jack and Ina, their love was even stronger.

“It was this love that kept us alive,” they say.

As the British army neared the camp in early April 1945, the lovers’ luck seemed to run out. The Nazis put Jack on a train going east, and Ina on a train going in the opposite direction.

Ina’s train was liberated within a week by American troops, and she remembers marveling at the great teeth of the GIs, wondering “whether they all went to the same dentist.”

Russian soldiers freed Jack’s train a week later, and by summer, husband, wife and girlfriend were back in Amsterdam.

In August 1945, Jack divorced Manja, he and Ina became engaged two months later, and married in January 1946.

“Like any good Dutch Jewish girl, Ina came to her wedding night as a virgin,” Jack said .

They moved to the United States in 1951, and have three children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The family maintained friendly relations with Manja, who never remarried and died two years ago in Holland.

A fellow prisoner in Bergen-Belsen was Anne Frank, and although the Polaks never met her, Jack headed the American support group for the Anne Frank Center for many decades. He was knighted for his services by the Dutch government.

Eventually, the Polaks decided to write down their experiences, and their book, “Steal a Pencil for Me,” was published in the United States in 2000. Manja had asked that the original Dutch version of the book not be published in Holland in her lifetime, and Jack and Ina honored her request.

“I never thought our story would be made into a movie,” said Ina, but life had yet another surprise in store for the Polaks.

Their daughter, Margrit Polak, had become an artists’ manager in Los Angeles, and an active member of Temple Israel of Hollywood. Her daughter attended the synagogue’s day school and was in the same class as the daughter of filmmaker Michele Ohayon.

Born in Casablanca and raised in Israel, Ohayon is a noted director of offbeat documentaries, whose 1997 film, “Colors Straight Up,” received an Oscar nomination.

Margrit, who had helped translate her parents’ book into English, mentioned their story to Ohayon. Although she was working on another project, Ohayon put everything aside for the next five years to research and film “Steal a Pencil for Me.”

In directing the film, Ohayon lets her two lively and expressive narrators, Jack and Ina, carry the action, while never stooping to sly winks or cheap humor. Historical footage of the concentration camps and 1940s Holland complement the narration.

The Polaks are among the film’s most ardent fans.

“We have seen the picture six times, and we always have our handkerchiefs ready when we go,” said Ina. Added Jack, “I like it better each time I see it.”

The film opens Nov. 9 at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills and the Town Center in Encino. For additional background information, visit http://www.stealapencil.com.

‘War on terror’ needs Muslims to be part of solution


Imagine for a moment a Muslim teenager somewhere in Europe, “with the Internet in his living room, the world in his mind and his heart torn apart by a million
identities,” as Swiss-born Muslim intellectual Tariq Ramadan described him.

How do you prevent that young Muslim from being lured by radical ideas? That was the question at the heart of a conference organized at The Hague recently by the Dutch national coordinator for counterterrorism.

The answer often depended on the religious background of the speaker. Muslims said historical grievances — real or imagined — that had left the Islamic world feeling wronged by the West must be tackled. The sense of being wronged, they said, fuels anger that could push a young Muslim into the arms of radicals.

Non-Muslim speakers said the gap between the values practiced inside the home of that European Muslim teenager and those practiced outside his front door were the points of vulnerabilities. The truth is somewhere in the middle and probably best understood by Muslims who live in the West.

Unfortunately, not enough of them were present to offer their solutions. Ramadan and I were the only ones on the conference list of speakers. One Dutch Muslim was co-chair of one event. Had more Western Muslims been invited to speak, they could have posed some questions — about historical grievances, about values — that would demand self-criticism from all of us.

Historical grievances are indeed important, but how far back should we go? The Spanish defeat of Muslims in 1492? The end of the Ottoman Empire in 1912? The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent Palestinian dispossession? The European colonization of several Muslim countries during the 20th century? The two U.S.-led wars in Iraq, the second of which continues its bloody spiral to this day?

Radical groups are particularly fond of using the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and numerous studies have shown what a jihadi magnet the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has become. It is foolishly dangerous to deny that.

Who can forget Shehzad Tanweer, the 22-year-old British-born-and-raised Muslim, who killed himself and six others in one of the suicide attacks on the London Underground on July 7, 2005? In a message he recorded before the attacks and aired on their anniversary a year later, Tanweer warned of more attacks in the United Kingdom unless it pulled its soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq and stopped its “financial and military aid to America and Israel.”

But Muslims must acknowledge and take responsibility for the manipulation of historical grievances, as Osama bin Laden’s latest message clearly shows. In an audio recording that appeared on a jihadi Web site during our conference, Bin Laden called on followers to go to Darfur to fight “Crusader invaders” — by which he meant a U.N.-African peacekeeping force to be sent to the war-torn Sudanese region.

But here’s the catch: Muslims are killing Muslims in Darfur. This is no Israeli occupation or U.S.-led invasion with which he inflames the masses. Bin Laden is manipulating the sheer ignorance among many Muslims about events in Darfur. And just as importantly, he is playing on grievances, which in this instance are only perceived.

The sad fact is that more Muslims today are dying at the hands of Muslims than by acts of Israelis, Americans or any other perceived enemies, whether it’s from almost weekly suicide bombings in Pakistan, intra-Palestinian fighting or sectarian violence in Iraq.

History shows external influences have certainly been brutal in all those areas, but a clearer focus on the present could help Muslims realize it is not all about “us vs. them,” but also “us vs. us.”

It would be na?ve to deny that there is a problem over common values in Europe today. When Muslim men deny their wives treatment at the hands of male doctors in the emergency rooms of European hospitals, it’s a problem. When young girls and women are considered “too Western” and murdered by their families for the sake of honor, of course it is a problem.

But it would be simplistic and prejudicial to assume that all Muslims share such views or values. Had more Western Muslims been invited to the conference to share their experiences — dealing with radicalization or as liberals who identify with “European values” — that diversity would have been made clearer.

At one point, frustrated by questions of “where are the moderate Muslims” from various European delegates — one even said his country had invited a liberal group all the way from Indonesia, because they could not find one closer to home — I offered to connect them with various “moderate,” liberal and secular Muslim groups I had found throughout various countries on the continent. It was disheartening to think that I had found them while some from the counterterrorism community could not.

As Ramadan reminded the conference, preventative methods are bound to fail unless they include Muslims as part of the solution. To only view Muslims as potential radicals is the quickest way to alienate the very people needed to solve the problems.

The word “prevention” is not heard enough in the chatter over the “war on terror.” So kudos to the Dutch for including it on their counterterrorism agenda.

They would be wise to also include European Muslims in future conferences on how best to promote that prevention.

Mona Eltahawy is an award-winning New York-based journalist and commentator and an international lecturer on Arab and Muslim issues.

Anti-Semitism Acts Climb in Holland


Anti-Semitic acts in Holland rose significantly in 2002, but few cases were serious, according to a new report.

Written by the University of Leiden and the Anne Frank Foundation in Amsterdam, the report, presented in Amsterdam last week, also noted a marked decrease in violence directed against Muslims and Muslim targets. Likewise, violence from the extreme right dropped to 264 registered cases from 317.

Jews didn’t fare so well, however. Anti-Semitic incidents rose to 60 in 2002, up from 41 in 2001. About half of the cases were related to soccer games. Dutch fans — especially opponents of Amsterdam’s Ajax club, which for various reasons is identified in the public mind with Jews — often shout things like, "Hamas, Hamas, hang the Jews in the gas."

According to the researchers, immigrant youths in Holland were less involved in anti-Semitic attacks than in the past. In 2001, immigrant youths were responsible for about 20 percent of the anti-Semitic incidents, but the figure dropped to just 5 percent in 2002, with most of the attacks carried out by non-Muslim Dutch, particularly at anti-Israel protests.

The Jewish community didn’t react to the report. The community generally believes the report’s methodology is flawed. For example, it doesn’t include incidents at school, where many Dutch Jews think anti-Semitism is becoming a problem.

The Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI), the Dutch equivalent of the Anti-Defamation League, renewed a request to the government to follow anti-Semitism more closely. The last time CIDI asked a few months ago, its request was rebuffed. The government has not yet responded to the most recent request.

Most of the incidents included in the report aren’t too serious, the researchers said. Apart from the shouts at soccer games, Jewish organizations receive threatening letters on an occasional basis.

Also, pro-Palestinian demonstrators at political rallies often express anti-Jewish statements, and anti-Semitism can be found on some Dutch Web sites. However, there were nine cases of physical harassment, such as beatings on the street of people who were obviously Jewish.

Since the beginning of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000, many Jews have opted not to show visible signs of their Jewishness. Many remove their yarmulkes in public, for example.

Experts say there probably are more anti-Semitic incidents than are registered with police, because most incidents remain unreported. Also, it’s not clear whether the decrease in anti-Semitic incidents by immigrant youths is real or not.

The Anne Frank Foundation, which co-authored the report, has no means of investigating material that is not written in Dutch. Moroccan newspapers and Arabic textbooks used in Islamic day schools or after-school religious classes are not monitored in Holland, and the foundation also doesn’t monitor mosque religious leaders.

During the past year, school curricula and religious leaders made headlines in Holland for their overtly anti-Semitic statements.

World Briefs


Lieberman Blasts Saudis

Saudi Arabia must reduce its support for terror or suffer
the consequences, Democratic presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman said.
Speaking Sunday in New York, the Connecticut senator said he told the Saudis
during his recent trip through the Middle East that if they don’t change their
backing for terror, “our relationship with them will not go on as before.” More
than 1,000 people attended the program in which Lieberman and his wife were
interviewed by Rabbi David Woznica from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los
Angeles at the 92nd St. Y. Others watched by video hookup in cities across North
America.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
reportedly recommended that Secretary of State Colin Powell name Saudi Arabia a
“country of particular concern.” The move by the government agency opens the
possibility of diplomatic or economic sanctions against the Saudis, according
to The Washington Post.

Jewish P.M. in Holland?

Amsterdam’s mayor is trying to become Holland’s first Jewish
prime minister. Job Cohen could assume the nation’s highest post if his Labor
Party wins Wednesday’s elections. Labor is running neck and neck in opinion
polls with the ruling Christian Democrats. Cohen was nominated as Labor’s
candidate for the premiership on Sunday.

Conservative Movement to Open Yeshiva
Program

The Conservative movement is launching a one-year yeshiva
program in Jerusalem this fall. The Conservative Yeshiva’s program is designed
for high school graduates who want a year of Jewish study before beginning
college. The program was slated to begin last fall, but the opening was
postponed “to allow for more intensive recruitment efforts,” according to a
statement from the Conservative movement.

Rabbi Sentenced to Life

A New Jersey rabbi was sentence to life in prison for hiring
two men to kill his wife. Capping a nine-year drama, the sentence was handed
down Jan. 16 after Fred Neulander was convicted last November of murder and conspiracy
to commit murder in the death of his wife, Carol. Wearing a waist shackle,
handcuffs and bright orange prison overalls, Neulander sat silently as Carol Neulander’s
three siblings took turns describing him as a cold, narcissistic, selfish
killer of a loving and caring person, according to Court TV.

Two of Neulander’s adult children, in letters read aloud in
the packed courtroom, said they wanted nothing to do with the man they
described as “evil” and “maniacal.”

Iranian Student Wins Asylum

A Yeshiva University student who fled Iran because of
anti-Semitism has won asylum in the United States. The 20-year-old student,
whose identity is being kept private for fear that relatives still in Iran
would face persecution, recently won political asylum, according to the Hebrew
Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). The student arrived in the United States as a
tourist with his family in 1998, but remained when they returned home.

His parents faced increasing anti-Semitism at a time when 13
Iranian Jews were accused of spying for Israel, and HIAS helped the other
family members flee to Vienna.

Pro-Israel Ad Features MLK

A new pro-Israel TV ad features the words of slain civil
rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The ad, sponsored by the
Washington-based Center for Security Policy, features King saying, “Israel must
exist.” It ends with a voiceover: “Martin Luther King understood courage. Stand
with Israel.”

Al Hirschfeld Dies at 99

Al Hirschfeld, who drew caricatures of Broadway
personalities for more than 75 years, died Monday in New York at 99. He was
known for his drawings of personalities ranging from the Marx Brothers to Carol
Channing to Sammy Davis Jr., many of which appeared in The New York Times. “My
contribution is to take the character — created by the playwright and acted out
by the author — and reinvent it for the reader,” he said. Among Hirschfeld’s
drawings is one of the late Chabad-Lubavitch rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Florys Story


In the living room of her Newport Beach home, Flory Van Beek reaches up to a shelf and takes down a plain-white book the size of an encyclopedia and engraved with a Star of David. “This was published by the Dutch government,” she says. “It has the names of the almost 140,000 Dutch Jews who died during the war.” Flory flips through the book, searching for her mother’s name.

Flory is one of the 5,000 Dutch Jews whose stories didn’t come to an end with this book. Her incredible tale of hiding from the Gestapo is told in intimate detail in the recently published “Flory: Survival in the Valley of Death” (Seven Locks Press, 1998).

Little has been written about the Jews in hiding in rural Holland during the Holocaust. Because so few of them survived, and because of what Flory calls “the serious, private nature of the Dutch,” many stories went untold. But Flory filled a suitcase with her meticulous documentation of the war: newspaper clippings from the early 1940s, family documents, and her deportation summons from the Germans.

“I had received a summons,” she says. “I tried to ignore it. I went out to do some shopping for my mother, and while I was walking back, I stood before the canals, thinking how I could kill myself. A man saw me with my star on my clothes, standing there, and he jumped off his bicycle and asked me in very colorful language, ‘What the hell are you doing here with that damned star on your blouse? Take that damned thing off and follow me.’ I ripped the star from my clothes. I had never seen this man before in my life. For some reason, I felt safe in his company; I instinctively knew I was in good hands.”

The man was Piet Brandsen, the head of the Dutch resistance in Amersfoort.

Soon after, Flory decided that she and her friend Felix would marry and go into hiding in the Brandsen home. They lived in a small room for a year and a half and did administrative work for the resistance to pass the time and make themselves useful. It was during some of these “office hours” when the Gestapo came into the house to arrest Brandsen.

Flory recounts the scene in her book: “Gripped with panic and disbelief, we crawled into the [hiding] place. There had been no time to hide the numerous papers on the table. The screaming downstairs was earsplitting…. Suddenly, we heard footsteps coming up the staircase. We knew exactly how many steps there were. As the person arrived at the top stair and reached for the doorknob, a voice yelled out in German: ‘What are you doing there? There is nothing upstairs.’ Holding onto each other, Felix began whispering the ‘Kaddish’…finally there was silence.”

Brandsen had been taken away to a concentration camp. Flory and Felix, familiar with the habits of the Gestapo returning soon after a visit, slid down a gutter and fled into the winter night. Five miles later, they arrived at the home of the Hornsveld family.

“It was so incredible, I remember,” Flory says. “We showed up at the house, and there was this young teen-age boy and his mother. His mother asked her youngest son, Bertus, who was the man of the house while his father was away, if they could take us in. I will never forget his answer: ‘Yes, we can.’ This became the phrase that got me through it all — ‘Yes, we can.'”

After the war, Flory and Felix came to America, where Felix entered the home furnishings business. The couple sponsored Bertus Hornsveld and his brother Hannie for immigration to America, where the brothers became building contractors. They built the home in Newport Beach where Flory and Felix, married 56 years, now live. “We all should recognize the role that we must continue,” says Flory, “to fulfill the dreams and goals of those whose voices are stilled forever.”