Same old United Nations, Sarkozy [hearts] Israel, Gilad Shalit turns 21 in captivity


Groups Assail U.N. Conference

A U.N. conference under way in Geneva is as bad as expected, watchdog groups say. In reports from Switzerland, two major U.N. watchdog groups said the conference – the first in a series of preparatory meetings for the follow-up to 2001’s notorious anti-Semitic Durban conference against racism – was following the path of its predecessor.

Anne Bayefsky, editor of the Eye on the U.N. Web site, called the meeting’s opening session “a slap in the face to every state and nongovernmental organization that really cares about equality and nondiscrimination.”

Egypt, speaking Monday on behalf of the African group, singled out Israel for its “continued occupation of Palestine and violations arising there from.” Pakistan, speaking for the Organization of the Islamic Conference, urged the conference to “move the spotlight on the continued plight of Palestinian people” and accused critics of waging a “smear campaign” against the gathering.

The conference is intended to combat racism and discrimination. Even before the conference began, critics warned that the process could lead to a repeat of the 2001 Durban conference, where an event ostensibly aimed at fighting discrimination became a platform for the dissemination of anti-Semitic propaganda and the singling out of Israel.

Sarkozy Reaffirms Pro-Israel Stance

French President Nicolas Sarkozy reaffirmed his affection for Israel and hostility toward Hamas.

“I have the reputation of being a friend of Israel, and it’s true. I will never compromise on Israel’s security,” he said Monday in his first foreign policy speech since taking office in May.

While he said France would continue to cultivate rich ties with the moderate Arab world, Sarkozy drew a line at engaging Hamas or allowing Iran to procure nuclear weaponry. He described the Gaza Strip as “Hamastan” – a term seldom heard outside Israeli political circles – and said the Islamist Palestinian group must be curbed, lest it take over the West Bank as well.

Sarkozy, who was speaking to French diplomats, further urged Iran to abandon its nuclear program or for effective international sanctions to be imposed on Tehran. Otherwise, he hinted, there could be military intervention.

“This tactic is the only one that allows us to escape from a catastrophic alternative: an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran,” he said.

Captive Israeli Soldier Turns 21

Israelis marked the 21st birthday of captive soldier Gilad Shalit. Supporters of Shalit held a rally in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, the conscript sergeant’s second birthday in Palestinian captivity. Newspapers and other media carried fresh coverage of his family’s ordeal.

Shalit was abducted in a June 25, 2006, cross-border raid by Hamas-led gunmen in the Gaza Strip. Two of his comrades were killed in the incident.

His father, Noam, said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was not doing enough to recover his son from Hamas, which wants a prisoner exchange. Olmert has signaled a willingness to bargain for Shalit’s return but has ruled out the lopsided swap demands by Hamas.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said Monday that a deal was almost clinched to trade Shalit for 350 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, but that it fell through over the types of prisoners the Olmert government would release. Israel has said it will only release prisoners not involved in killings.

YouTube Under Fire in Germany Over Hate Videos

The Central Council of Jews in Germany has joined the call to punish YouTube for failing to remove hate material from its Web site. YouTube, the online video sharing portal, has been accused of spreading neo-Nazi material.

According to a report in the ARD television magazine, anti-Jewish propaganda from the Third Reich and music by the banned neo-Nazi group, Landser, can be viewed unhindered on YouTube. Such material is illegal in Germany. The report said some of the material had been online for several months.

The federal Ministry of the Interior has recommended filing charges. German officials reportedly have warned YouTube more than 100 times to remove the material but without a response. The vice president of the German Jewish Council, Salomon Korn, has asked that Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Justice Ministry intervene to stop the online publication of offending video clips.

YouTube, which is owned by Google, is based in California and thus beyond Germany’s legal reach. But German officials could come down harder on Web companies with operations in Germany.

Israeli Holocaust Assets Listed Online

Israeli assets believed to have been left behind by Holocaust victims can now be claimed by their heirs over the Internet. The Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims Assets, which was set up in 2006 following disclosures that Israeli banks hold many accounts and properties that have gone unclaimed since World War II, has set up a Web site with the names of some 7,000 original owners believed to have perished at the hands of the Nazis.

Heirs of those who appear on the list can apply for restitution at www.hashava.org.il. The site is in Hebrew with English translation. The site does not deal with living persons or properties and accounts outside of Israel.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegrapic Agency.

Jewish Groups Help Sept. 11 Victims


The stench in New York after Sept. 11 reminded Julia Millman of Europe.

"I have seen it. I know what it’s all about," said the 76-year-old survivor of Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen.

In addition to losing her 40-year-old son, Ben, in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center — he was a construction worker on the 101st floor of Tower One — Millman said the death and devastation revived gut-wrenching memories of her family’s murder in the Holocaust. As a young girl, Millman was forced to tie a rope around her dead mother’s neck and drag her gassed body to a pile of other victims. Now those old feelings of motherlessness and abandonment have returned.

"If it wasn’t for my social worker that tried to console me, that tried to help me in my sorrow, I don’t know if I would be here today," Millman said.

Millman is one of thousands who have received assistance from Jewish social service agencies for traumas associated with Sept. 11. For the most part, they praise the aid they received.

The Jewish community launched a massive, coordinated effort to help both Jewish and non-Jewish victims of the attacks. The UJA-Federation of New York raised funds in New York, where two of the planes hit, and the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella group of North American federations, raised funds throughout North America.

In areas affected by the attack, Jewish federations and their affiliated social service agencies also received government grants or private funding from foundations and/or individual donors. The funds have been used to provide support groups for victims and those re-traumatized by the incident, including Holocaust survivors or new immigrants. The funds also were used to provide cash assistance and job counseling and to help victims navigate the bureaucracy to obtain financial aid from government and private agencies.

The UJA-Federation of New York, one of 13 major charities comprising the 9/11 United Services Group, a resource for victims in New York City, has been at the center of the Jewish communal response. As of mid-August, the federation had raised $7.6 million in special funding for its agencies to expand services for Sept. 11 victims.

Of that sum, $2.1 million came from the UJC, which plans to add another $166,000 in the coming weeks, and $3.5 million came from The New York Times 9/11 Neediest Fund. The UJA-Federation raised the other $2 million.

On a smaller scale, the American Jewish World Service, an international development organization, distributed more than $650,000 to community-based organizations providing assistance to undocumented and low-income workers unable to obtain relief from mainstream sources. The organizations that received assistance included the Arab-American Family Support Center, Chinese Staff and Workers Association and American Pan-African Relief Agencies.

For its part, the UJC has raised $5.28 million, dispersing $3.9 million of it for immediate needs. It plans to disperse the rest by the end of the year for long-term services, such as tuition assistance and additional trauma counseling.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington — in the city where the third plane hit the Pentagon — received $100,500 from the UJC. The UJC also allocated funds to hard-hit New Jersey commuter areas like Monmouth County, which received $210,600, and Bergen County, which received $133,121.

Barry Swartz, vice president of UJC consulting, said the federation system did a "remarkable" job of quickly coordinating a response to the crisis. "We told federations right away, if families need money, they’re to disburse the funds, and we would reimburse" them, he said.

Several direct service providers said they were pleased with the response from the organized Jewish community. There wasn’t "one second that we felt that we were out there alone," said Jeff Lampl, executive director of Jewish Family Services of Bergen County. That was mainly due to the federation system and the local federation, "which immediately supplied us with a small amount of money to get going," he said.

The agency’s client pool "doubled almost overnight" after Sept. 11, Lampl said. "Almost to this day, taking care of these families has become the central concern of this agency," he added.

Many of those who received services praised the response. Robin Wiener, who lost her brother, Jeff, 33, in the attack on the World Trade Center, said the sibling support group she attended — sponsored by the Jewish Social Service Agency of Greater Washington, the primary Jewish organization responding to local victims there — was "amazing." The sibling support group, sponsored by the agency, was formed following a February gathering of friends and family members of Sept. 11 victims.

The "emotions you go through and the loss that you feel is a loss that is unique to the relationship you had," said Wiener, 38. "My brother and I were very close and very similar in many ways, and I just always assumed he’d be there."

Weiner’s brother, a senior financial executive, had been about to leave on a vacation in Spain with his wife and had been planning a family, she said. It "breaks my heart for him, what we lost together.

"I never realized how small our family was until now," she said. To know there are other people out there going through the exact same thing" is "kind of eerie, but it’s also extremely helpful."

Robert Alonso praised the Jewish Child Care Association, which helped his family. When the planes hit, Alonso’s wife, Janet, 41, managed to make a quick phone call from the 97th floor of Tower One to tell her husband that she loved him. The call was their last conversation. The sudden death of his wife, the family’s primary breadwinner, left Alonso and his two young children — one of whom has Down’s syndrome — reeling.

The Jewish Child Care Association has provided weekly meetings with a psychologist for Alonso’s children Robbie, 2, and Victoria, 3. It also has helped him obtain the maximum government funds for his family.

Gregory Hoffman, 37, said he "would not have survived" without the Twinless Twins of Sept. 11 program, which he and his wife, Aileen, created. Since his identical twin, Stephen, a bond broker at Cantor Fitzgerald, was killed in the World Trade Center, Hoffman says he feels like Tower One before it fell — still standing but "out of balance," separated from its twin and with a gaping hole inside it.

To date, the Hoffmans have identified and contacted 38 twins who lost siblings in the attack. Six of them participate in the weekly support group meetings led by a twinless twin, and 22 have participated in social outings. Many of the participants have become close friends.

For Marjorie Judge, caseworker Joan Kincaid, director of the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged’s Pets Project, has been "exceptional." Judge, 82, who lived four blocks from the World Trade Center, was evacuated from the building and prevented from taking her cat. Police later rounded up the pets in many buildings, but not in Judge’s.

One week later, aided by police and Judge’s building superintendent, Kincaid entered the evacuated building — dark from failed electricity and reeking of rotten food — and climbed eight floors to rescue Sheba, who was waiting, parched, at the door. All that for a cat Kincaid "hardly knew," Judge said.

While many victims praised the Jewish communal response, some had complaints. Several family members of victims in Washington said there was no outreach from the organized Jewish community, except for their synagogues, according to the Washington Jewish Week. The federation defended its work, saying it was the first agency in Washington to hold a memorial service for victims, and that the Jewish Chaplaincy immediately called the families of Jewish victims to offer help.

The federation has dispersed the nearly $500,000 dollars it raised in its Sept. 11 fund to Jewish and non-Jewish agencies, according to a federation official. UJC funds were earmarked for Jewish needs, the official said, adding, "We really did everything we could."

Wiener, of the sibling support group, saw it differently. There was "plenty of comfort, but not a lot of information," she said.

And while Millman raved about her nurse, Rebecca Bigio, she also complained that "she’s not enough." Bigio said she and a social worker visit Millman at least twice a month and call frequently. But Millman, an ailing widow, said she needs more attention so that she won’t "feel so alone and so lost."

Louise Greilsheimer, vice president of agency and external relations of the UJA-Federation of New York, who coordinated its response to Sept. 11, said complaints are inevitable. "You are always, with this quantity of people, going to find issues," she said. But, she added, "I haven’t heard one horror story in the Jewish community."

"I truly believe the agencies came together and put together not only a coordinated approach," but one that was thoughtful, caring and ongoing, Greilsheimer said. "We’re staying here to follow up and to be able to work with communities that need the support."

Heroic Actions of the Few


An upcoming television special and a recently formed educational foundation are out to change the stereotype of Jews as passive victims of the Holocaust, by documenting the little-known feats of Jewish partisans who fought behind enemy lines.

“Resistance: Untold Stories of Jewish Partisans” will air on PBS on Thursday, April 4, at 8 p.m.

In the one-hour documentary, 11 surviving partisans stand in for 20,000-30,000 fellow Polish and Russian Jews who harassed and sabotaged the Nazi armies facing Soviet troops, blowing up supply trains, and, whenever possible, rescuing Jews from the ghettos.

While other indigenous partisan groups could concentrate on fighting the Germans, the Jewish partisans had to battle on many fronts. The ghetto elders of the Judenrat frequently tried to discourage the would-be fighters, fearing harsh Nazi reprisals.

Even while hiding out in forests, Shalom Yoran recalls, “You are one fighting all the world. The Nazis, they try to kill you. The Soviets, they hate you. The local population, they hate you.”

Despite such odds, some Jewish partisan groups actually built small towns in the Russian forest, one holding 1,200 men, women and children. Sulia Rubin recalls, “We made ammunition, we fixed the guns, we had little factories, we made cheese, we had bakeries, we had shoemakers.”

Missing, obviously, were film cameras to record the partisan raids, so the PBS documentary has to rely on stock footage of forests and German and Soviet troops to link the fascinating remembrances of the Jewish veterans.

Attempts to take the feats of Jewish resistance beyond the research of Holocaust scholars, and give them wider popular recognition, is apparently an idea whose time has come.

Last November, the NBC miniseries “Uprising” dramatically recreated the Warsaw Ghetto revolt. At about the same time, French director Claude Lanzmann (“Shoah”) completed a film on the breakout of 365 prisoners from the Sobibor death camp.

Mitch Braff of San Francisco has taken the idea one step further after he was startled to learn that an old family friend had been a partisan.

Despite a good Jewish education, the 35-year-old-documentary filmmaker had never heard anything about Jewish partisans and he decided to do something about his own — and the public’s — ignorance.

Braff established the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation. He started tracking down surviving partisans in the United States and Canada and videotaping their recollections in interviews averaging four hours, but some went as long as for nine hours.

Braff hopes to complete 30-40 more interviews and then do a half-hour docudrama on the partisans for classroom and general use. He is now setting up an educational, interactive Web site and trying to raise $1 million for the project.

Through the 1939 Club, a Los Angeles group of Holocaust survivors and their families, Braff has tracked down three local ex-partisans, who have been interviewed by Zepporah Glass, a veteran of Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.

Ben Kamm of Studio City escaped from the Warsaw ghetto and joined a small partisan group, which obtained its first weapons by ambushing local police or buying them from peasants. Later, he joined a larger, better-equipped unit, which in 1943 alone destroyed 541 trains and killed hundreds of their German guards.

Jeffrey Gradow of West Los Angeles escaped from a forced labor camp as a 15-year-old and joined a group of some 150 ill-equipped partisans. In late 1943, Russian planes started dropping military hardware with which Gradow and his comrades blew up railroad tracks and local police stations. In a larger operation, the group held a bridge that the Germans wanted to blow up to slow the Soviet advance.

Max Cukier of West Los Angeles turned down a position on the Judenrat after the Germans occupied his small Polish town. Instead, he joined the “Tel Aviv” partisan group of some 300 people, which attacked small towns with Nazi garrisons, planted mines, destroyed bridges and cut phone lines.

Noted Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum praised Braff’s foundation as “a noble effort to reconstruct the history of Jewish resistance while the last of the partisans are still alive to tell their stories.”

Braff’s first priority now is to track down as many partisans as possible.

To contact Braff about his project, call (415) 896-1415,e-mail mitch@jewishpartisans.org, or visit www.jewishpartisans.org .

Agreement Reached for Slave Laborers


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The agreement came after months of difficult negotiations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JTA correspondent Toby Axelrod in Berlin contributed to this report.